Posts Tagged ‘divorce’

Blending Families – what you should know

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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:

  1. Conflict over differing boundaries – what is and isn’t okay in each family.
  2. Confusion and anger about differing rules and consequences.
  3. 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).
  4. For children to embrace a stepparent may feel like a violation of loyalty to the child’s biological parent.
  5. 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.
  6. Sharing of one’s home, personal belongings, community space, bedroom may trigger anger and further feelings of loss for children.
  7. 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.
  8. Parents may struggle to form attachments with their step children and stepchildren may struggle to form attachments with their stepparents.
  9. Relationships with ex-wives and ex-husband’s take on another degree of complexity for adults that affect the children.
  10. 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/

Trauma – identifying and alleviating it with EMDR

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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/

Divorce – A Child’s Perspective

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog


Divorce is an incredibly complex issue for children and teens to understand. A critical factor when considering how children and adolescents might be impacted by separation or divorce is their egocentricity. What is meant by egocentricity is that children and teens look to themselves, almost always, as the cause of problems that arise in the family and this can provoke great stress and anxiety for them, especially in the case of divorce.
No matter how much you as a parent might try to assure your children that they are not the cause of the break up, none the less they tend to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that they are in some way the cause. They may contemplate thoughts like, ‘If I had been a better kid or a smarter kid, this wouldn’t have happened.” I once had a young adult client whose parents had separated several years earlier, right after a baseball game in which he played poorly. A part of him still felt his inadequacy at the game had somehow tipped the marriage, which ended, over the edge. Added to children’s thoughts of blame is usually the enduring hope that the family will come back together again. This hope may span many years. Assurances by parents that kids are not to blame and the reasons for the break up must be consistent and repeated over time as must the fact that the family has changed permanently. Children’s self blame can manifest in behaviors such as acting out, tantrums, bed wetting, sleeping issues and depression. For adolescents, drinking and the use of drugs or other substances are symptomatic of painful feelings they cannot tolerate because they lack the needed coping skills.
Sadness and loss are normal reactions for all of those in the family affected by divorce. However, if your child or adolescent is exhibiting behaviors that concern you, consider whether the help of a therapist might be appropriate—both for them and for yourself. Whether you’re contemplating separation or divorce, in the midst of one, or dealing with the aftermath, I encourage you to reach out for support. Don’t struggle through this difficult time alone.