Teaching our kids healthy compassion

The other day I came across a blog post on the popular parenting website Scary Mommy. The post titled “Why I no longer tell my child to be inclusive and kind” is written by a mom who taught her child to always be inclusive especially to the child that was disruptive, had problems at home and was the child no one else wanted to include. The mother instructed the child to be “compassionate” because you don’t know what other people might be going through. In the end, the mother got a call from the school counselor who informed her that same child that her daughter was trying to have compassion for was now stalking her. The mother, as any mother would be, was upset by this news and decided to no longer tell her child to be all-inclusive. 

As a counselor, this post stopped me in my tracks. It raised some good questions and presented a topic I feel needs to be discussed. Rather than instructing our children to stay away or avoid compassion and empathy for others because of fear that the person might be a danger, or might not be a good person to associate with, we need to practice healthy compassion. 

Healthy Compassion

There is a difference between practicing discernment and boundaries with compassion. Being kind and having compassion for another does not mean letting that person do whatever they want. It does not mean condoning the bad or uncomfortable behavior. There is what we call blind compassion, which establishes no boundaries, and healthy compassion with boundaries. It is important that we teach our children to have an open mind about others and practice compassion because as the mom wrote: “we don’t know what other people are going through.” However, we need to make sure our children learn how to establish healthy boundaries with others. 

Being kind to others does not give them a free pass to walk all over us, or to treat us in ways that make us feel wrong or bad in some way. We can be kind but also let that person know that they can’t treat us that way. Teach your children it is ok to say “no,” and walk away or to tell an adult if an uncomfortable situation is present. Teach your children rules go both ways, it is not ok for them to hit or push or for them to be hit or pushed. These are important life lessons for all.

Finding YOU after pregnancy

You went through the whole nine (really 10) months of pregnancy and were excited, scared, anxious, elated about the new little human entering your life. Now the baby is here and you are consumed with sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and a profound loss of who you once were.

Having a child is a major life change—we all know this—but what can be shocking is that feeling that you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. It is important that you reconnect with your old self, embrace your new normal, and not lose sight of what is meaningful to you. Yes, of course, that new bundle of joy is your world and he/she is at the top of the list all day every day but you also need to care for yourself. By failing to take time for you—even if it is a short coffee outing with a friend or a solo trip to the gym—you are hurting yourself. If you don’t take care of you, it is a lot harder to take care of the others in your life.

It is common for moms to feel like that is all they are— “I am a mom, but what
else?” It is the new mom identity crisis and it can be rough. So what can you do to reconnect with yourself after pregnancy?

Reconnecting with YOU

1.) Connect with friends in new ways—Instead of late nights at bars or concerts,
meet your friends for book clubs, coffee dates, or playdates at the park. You need
to continue to have adult conversations and adult time, and support from others
who understand your challenges.

2.) Embrace a hobby—Maybe it is going for a run, hiking, knitting, painting, or writing…whatever it is that makes you feel alive and gives you a sense of accomplishment make time for it. It can be daunting to think about adding another thing to your list, but this stuff is important for you, your happiness, and the happiness of your family.

3.) Don’t compare— You are your own person. It does you no good to compare yourself to others. The mom guilt is there, we all have it but it is not necessary. You need to care for yourself, and you should not feel guilty that you are doing something for you rather than staring at your sleeping child for hours on end. It just hurts your soul.

4.) Ask for help — Don’t be afraid to ask a grandparent or a friend, or hire a part-time babysitter so you aren’t doing it all, all the time. If you are feeling like you could really use an hour away then take it. Losing your cool and your sanity isn’t going to be helpful for you or baby.

5.) Take care of you—Find time for that shower, or to get that haircut. Take naps when you are tired. Forget about the laundry, it will get done eventually. Take a deep breath. You will get through.

If you are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, sad, alone, or you just feel like you could use someone to talk to seek out a qualified counselor. And, know you will find yourself again.

Guilt & Shame: Whose Life is it Anyway?

Guilt, we all know that deep-down gut feeling and some of us know it all too well. We feel it all the time. About everything. But why? What real reason do we have to condemn ourselves to such feelings all the time? It is draining and it makes our life events less enjoyable. 

Clients come to me all the time telling me they feel guilty for taking a break, for actually using the vacation time given to them, and for choosing to stay at home when feeling sick or drained. I always ask them, what does that guilty voice say? Whose voice is it? And, whose life are you living? Is this your life, or the voice of life’s past?

Why do we feel guilty all the time?

1.)We want people to like us. We are people-pleasers.

2.)We are focusing on the “shoulds”— the stuff we tell ourselves we should be doing. We should be cleaning the house. We should be folding the laundry. We are comparing ourselves to what we think other people are doing with their time, instead of caring for ourselves.

3.)Perfectionism—we have a fear of letting people down, of not allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

4.)Childhood conditioning—we were taught as children to always put people first and to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like we are failing to live up to the expectations of others.

5.)Manipulation—we are susceptible to having our buttons pushed by other people. You are exhausted and desperately need a break, yet when your boss calls you to come in two hours early to work on a project you do it. 

Next time you feel guilty over caring for yourself, take a breath and think about that voice in your head. What do you really think of what it is saying? What would you say to someone else in your situation? This will help you to live by your own standards, rather than someone else’s.

You must take care of yourself before you can fully take care of you. If you find it difficult to care for yourself without feelings of guilt, then it may be time to seek out a licensed professional counselor to help. After all we are here in this world to live it, to enjoy it, and to enjoy those around us. If we are constantly consumed by feelings of guilt or shame for doing things that make us happy, then we can’t fully live. 

Are you really being ‘fake’?

Clients tell me all the time that they feel “fake.” They are not their “true selves” when they are at work or with certain groups of people. But, is that really being fake? I often ask my clients ‘what are they pretending?’ And, then I ask them to consider if it is possible to be an authentic person but be different in different contexts of life? 

Having an authentic voice in different environments is a flexible, adaptive personality trait. It is a desirable and positive skill to have as a person, and some people struggle their whole lives to attain such a skill. We are made up of many different parts that together make our whole selves. Just because we might act differently in different environments doesn’t mean we aren’t being true, we are just acting on that part of our personality at that time. Think of ourselves as being onions with many different layers. We are not two-dimensional. 

Maintaining strong relationships

Being able to adapt your behavior, improves your ability to make and maintain strong relationships with people. I think we can all agree that in many cases we should be different people at work than at home. There are things that we do or say or wear, in the comfort of our home, or with friends, that would not be acceptable in a place of business. There are also different groups of friends or family that we may act differently around, for example, you are probably going to be different with your grandma than your college roommate. That doesn’t mean you are being fake. 

The traits that make up our true selves, tend to be the moral ones—the qualities of ourselves that lie deep down.  The traits that have been ingrained in us since we were children—be kind, be truthful, don’t hurt another, don’t steal, etc. Those traits stay consistent across all situations. Those are the core of the onion. 

So, next time you fear you are being fake, take a minute to think about what you are pretending? Are you really trying to be someone else? Or are you just a different genuine version of yourself? 

The weight of holding a grudge

Holding a grudge is tough work. It weighs you down, it is exhausting, and it is bad for your health. A study done by Hope College researchers found that people who imagined situations in which they had been unforgiving, experienced an increase in physiological symptoms. Those who were holding a grudge had higher heart rates, more sweating, and higher blood pressure than those who had chosen to forgive. 

I have met with several clients who are depressed and angry as they struggle with past experiences.They have become all encompassed in these moments and the unfavorable feelings they have for those that have committed wrongdoing towards them. In some cases, these clients can’t sleep, focus, and they aren’t eating well. They cry all the time and feel lost and unengaged in their current lives. When these same clients were able to find it in themselves to forgive, they felt lighter, happier, and were able to obtain more success in their personal lives.

An obstacle to healing

Holding on to that deep-rooted anger does no one any good. It won’t fix the past or prevent things from happening in the future, it just adds to stress levels. Some of us hold grudges not because we want to stay mad forever, but because we just don’t know how to let go. Grudges come with an identity — you are the victim and you were wronged, and that is part of who you are. In order to let go and forgive, you have to be willing to drop that part of your identity. That can be a hard thing to do. Yes, this bad thing did happen to you by this person but it doesn’t have to become you. You were someone before this bad thing happened, and while you aren’t the same as you were entirely you don’t need to let these experiences define you. And, certainly making yourself sick over it is not helping you.

A grudge becomes an obstacle to healing. You must find some way to accept that the past happened, and move forward—grudges don’t allow for that kind of healing. If you are finding it difficult to let go, it can be helpful to meet with a qualified counselor. They can help you work through those feelings and find the strength to move forward as a happier, healthier you.

When your wife “doesn’t love you anymore”…

We get it. It is earth shattering when your wife tells you something is wrong with your marriage. You might have thought everything was good and bam! You are blind-sighted. 

Rome doesn’t take one day to build. Things may have lost connection long before you noticed. Somewhere along the way, things got lost, and your wife doesn’t feel like she wants to—or can—open up to you. Resentment may have built along the way. Maybe you were too busy to notice she was acting different, more distant from you. 

Repairing what is broken

Take a deep breath, and consider these five tips:

1.)Don’t try to fix it. Fixing it is more about your own anxiety about what is happening with your spouse than your relationship with your spouse. Listen.

2.)Stop being defensive. Both parties had a role in the unfolding of this relationship. This is not one-sided and it does not help anything to think or act like it is. Accept and understand there are things both of you need to improve if you want to make this work. 

3.) Don’t ambush her. Every time you see her in the hallway or the kitchen don’t turn it into an in-depth conversation about the state of your relationship. It is no doubt a stressful time but there is a time and a place to talk. Find a time when you are both ready to sit down, and not feel pressured or rushed. Don’t make it constant.

4.)Don’t expect, or try, to jump right into the lovey-dovey stuff like before. Try for liking each other first. Things are not going to go from 0-60 in an instant. This stuff takes time. Instead take it slow.

5.) Don’t try to dig out alone. A qualified couples counselor can help you through it. A counseling office can provide neutral territory and a counselor can make sure the right questions are being asked. 

This is a difficult time, but marriage isn’t supposed to be easy. This stuff takes work and effort from both parties. Take the time. Talk. Listen. Open your mind to understanding. Come up with a plan. Call a qualified counselor, such as Women’s Therapy Institute where we can help. 

Anxiety as a mom: Turns out, its part of evolution

I have always struggled with a small degree of anxiety, but I was not prepared for what happened after I had kids. Now my anxiety is full blown. I worry a lot, nit-pick at my spouse for not doing the dishes fast enough or right (aka the way I would have done them). I have feelings of my heart racing and my head overflowing with worry all too often, but why? Why is my anxiety so much worse as a mom than it was before?

It turns out a lot of it has to do with the brain, and the love hormone: oxytocin. 

Oxytocin first surges during pregnancy and continues to surge to promote bonding after the child has arrived, according to researchers. The hormone increases with a simple look from a mom to a child, a snuggle, or tears from a “boo-boo.” And moms aren’t alone, researchers have found similar changes in the brains of dads who provide a lot of caregiving (source: theatlantic.com). 

The Oxytocin Effect

The same hormone that creates those feelings of unconditional love, strengthens bad memories. Research by Northwestern University suggests oxytocin could be the reason why events that cause emotional pain, such as being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, can have effects that linger long after the event is over and can trigger anxiety in the future. The hormone has been shown to strengthen the social memory of the brain.

Researchers found when a negative or stressful social experience takes place, the hormone activates the part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increased feelings of being fearful and anxious during stressful events occurring long after the original event. 

So, yes the same hormone that is increasing feelings of love and making you drool over your child. The same one that makes you want to pick up and cuddle your child—even when they are keeping you up all night, or getting snot all over your shoulder —is the same one that is increasing fear and worry of bad things happening. Is it really the worst thing if the dishes aren’t done the way you want them? 

The good news is now that we know about the double-edged sword of oxytocin, we can use the power of other parts of our brain to reign it in. To stop and assess the situation before immediately getting to high-anxiety level. To be mindful. While you are in the midst of imagining the worst that could possibly happen to your child, your child is playing quietly next to you. Rather than sending yourself into a tizzy, stop, breathe, and talk to yourself about what is happening at the moment, right here, right now. Find out if there is immediate evidence that makes you feel this way, if there is no evidence and you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety then it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Call a qualified counselor, such as the Women’s Therapy Institute, where we can help.

Are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?

Sitting in a restaurant one day with my five-year-old, I noticed a sign that said: “some days you are the pigeon and some days you are a statue.” I had a little giggle about it and thought this might be a fun way to teach my children about the ups and downs of life. 

The truth is some days you will be the pigeon, going about your business and living a carefree existence, and other days you will be the statue getting pooped on by the pigeon—metaphorically, of course (unless it is really one of “those days”). So now when they are having a tough day, I ask my children in a humorous tone “are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?” It helps my children to identify the ups and downs of their life, talk about it, laugh about it, let it go, and understand that life is not all good all the time. 

All in the way we think about it

Life is not easy, we all know this, but we have control over the way we process life’s ups and downs. It is all in the way we think about it. Some days don’t go as planned—you overslept, the hot water in the shower was used up, your toast was burnt, you were late to work, it can go on and on and on… and these moments have the ability, if you let them, to disrupt the rest of your day and rub off on the people around you. Rather than sulk about how much your life sucks, at that point in time, laugh it off. Except that today you are the statue, and maybe tomorrow you will be the pigeon. 

Let it go, take a deep breath, and look for the positive in the situation. Maybe you missed some early morning drama at work because you were late, maybe you had a couple extra minutes to spend with your kids, maybe you treated yourself to a special coffee or a chocolate bar, or maybe you just need to accept that tomorrow is a new day. 

The way we react to the ups and downs of our days can teach our children a lot. It is important that we set good examples and help them process their feelings. Maybe they forgot their gym shoes or didn’t get the seat they wanted on the bus, or the cafeteria ran out of pizza before it was their turn —teach your kids to reassess, to look for the positive, to understand they will have pigeon days and they will have statue days. Little moments don’t need to lead to a pile-up of unhealthy emotions, they need to be let go.

Why do we lie?

We have always been taught lying is bad. It is socially unacceptable. It is wrong. Good people don’t lie. But, let’s get real here—everyone does it. 

There are the bad lies. The ones that could be detrimental to the future of your relationships, the ones that could ruin your image and unravel your life as you know it. Then there are the ones that don’t seem as significant—“I was late because I was stuck in traffic” but really you were distracted by your phone or the dishes in the sink. There are a million reasons for someone to choose to tell a lie. 

So why do we do it?

Lying is a means of wanting to keep a relationship but in a conflict-avoidant way. Humans are social animals, we crave love and connections—who wants to spoil that? We lie because we are wanting to remain loved, and avoid rejection. We lie because the truth is painful to others, we lie because we don’t want to start an argument, we lie because it is easier. And, we lie because in our minds we believe the truth would be unacceptable to the person we are lying to. We lie to please others. If you have ever faked an orgasm, you have lied.  

Lying is ingrained in us. It is part of our cognitive evolutionary biology (according to Psychology Today). It has become a tool in our survival kit. It appears in young children when they throw fits to get attention and only grows as we move into adulthood. 

That doesn’t mean it is ok to lie, of course, it isn’t, but it is part of being a human. 

Many times people lie to protect their own egos, making it easy to convince themselves what they are doing is ok. They are ashamed and are afraid of the consequences, like when a friends husband told her he was dieting and she later discovered an arsenal of donuts and cookies in the trunk of his car. It is isn’t that he was dishonest across the board, but he wasn’t mature enough to own up to the fact that he didn’t really want to participate.

It can become a vicious cycle if you let it. If you do find that a spouse is lying to you in a repetitive fashion, the best way to handle it is to talk about it—let them know how you feel but be careful not to throw hurtful things in their face. After all, the reason they didn’t come clean, to begin with, is that they want your acceptance. 

Is Broken Bad?

Everyone feels “broken” at some point on their journey through life. It is that unbearable pain, that adversity, feelings of hopelessness, and despair that shapes us. These experiences teach us about who we are, and they help us grow as people. 

As hard as it is when you are in the thick of suffering, as a counselor I don’t see being “broken” as being a bad thing. The only real way to live a full, happy, evolving life is to overcome the challenges thrown our way. Think of a seed—a broken seed sprouts and germinates generating new roots. 

It is easy when caught up in a moment of despair to avoid life—to go forward with feelings of regret, pain, disillusionment, and sadness. Rather than living in fear of those “broken” moments, I encourage you to embrace them—to focus on the positive, the future, and persevere. 

What do you do if you feel broken inside?

Here are a few tips to help you when you are feeling broken inside:

1.) Remind yourself change is inevitable. We cannot avoid change, it is part of life. Rather than fight it—accept it.

2.)Embrace the power of choice—you have the choice to control your thoughts. As hard as it may seem to shape what we do and how we feel, you can make the decision to live your life. To choose to search for the positive. To continue to get up and get dressed and get going during those moments of despair. You do you. 

3.)Ask for help if you need it. Life is hard, and you aren’t expected to know all the answers. Sometimes it takes a conversation, a new perspective to help lift us up and pull us out of the holes we sometimes fall into—and that is ok. Make an appointment for therapy, call a friend or a relative. It is ok to not be ok. 

4.)Be in the moment. Mother Teresa said “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” We don’t know what tomorrow has in store, and there is no point in wasting time regretting things of the past. You are here today—so be here. 

5.) Focus on the things in life that bring you joy. Those things will help to bring you out of your place of pain. Whether it be exercise, cooking, spending time with family—do the things that bring a sense of happiness to your being.

6.) Find hope. Tomorrow is a new day, and anything can happen. You will get through this moment and you will find happiness again. 

No one can predict the future. There will most likely be more times you feel “broken” but those times will only continue to help you grow, to learn more about yourself, and be the best version of you.