How often do you hear, "sorry, I will change," but then nothing changes or if there is change, it only lasts for a short period of time?
At Trobak Holistic Counselling, we suggest that a person should not trust a change in behavior until it has consistently changed over a period or 3-6 months minimum.
The promise of change can be made simply to passify you but it can also be said in the hopes that the behavior truly will change. The challenge is this change in behavior takes a conscious effort that has to be applied over a significant period of time in order for it to become a true, long lasting change. This required conscious effort over a significant period of time often significantly reduces the chances the change will be long lasting.
General rule to remember is do not trust a promise of change until you've seen this change happening consistently for a minimum of 3-6 months. Then slowly start trusting the change. Don't jump in right away, slowly trust the change over some more time.
Remember the Golden Rule? Do onto others as you'd have done onto you. This can be a helpful thing to remember in a relationship.
It takes work to maintain a healthy relationship, it doesn't just happen. It is important for each person in the relationship to do something for the other partner on a daily basis that shows appreciation, love and gratitude. This doesn't have to be anything big or expensive, just little things that show the partner he/she is being thought about. Things like asking to bring a cup of tea, giving a foot massage or painting toenails, sending a text, sending a song he/she will like, picking up his/her favorite bagel etc.
Doing something for each other on a daily basis helps develop a healthy relationship. This doesn't mean just days where it is easy, when the couple is getting along etc. It means doing something every day, even when the partner is grumpy and struggling, even when there seems to be some disconnection, frustration and exhaustion. It is easy to do something nice when the couple feels connected and is getting along, it is much more of a challenge to do something nice when the couple is struggling or frustrated with each other, this is when doing something nice for the other person is most important.
How you choose to treat your partner says more about you than it does about your partner.
Healthy Relationships: Stop trying to fix the relationship.
by Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
January 15th, 2018
As a counsellor we often are asked to help a couple fix their relationship. It is important to remember that a relationship is not a concrete object. A relationship is a product of the people in the relationship. When a couple focuses on trying to make a relationship healthy, they are likely not going to be very successful as the focus cannot be on the relationship but rather has to be on the individuals in the relationship.
Often in struggling relationships it is easy for one person to see what the partner is doing that is damaging the relationship and often this becomes the focus. The challenge with this is that a person cannot control or change another person’s behavior. In order for a relationship to change, each person must look inward and focus on his/her own behavior and what he/she can change.
How healthy a relationship is, is directly dependent on how healthy the individuals in the relationship are. If people in a relationship are healthy, the relationship will be healthy; if the people in the relationship are unhealthy, the relationship will be unhealthy.
If one person is healthy and the other is unhealthy, the relationship will reflect this as well.
If the people in the relationship are respectful, empathetic, cooperative and trustworthy, the relationship will reflect this. If the people in the relationship are controlling, manipulative and disrespectful, the relationship reflect this.
A relationship can only be as healthy as the people in it.
Many people don’t really stop and think about what a healthy relationship looks like. For many people, they grew up in a home with parents who didn’t have a healthy relationship and often didn’t see a lot of heathy relationships around them. If a person hasn’t seen many heathy relationships it makes it much more challenging to create a healthy relationship because they don’t know what that looks like.
In order to develop a healthy relationship a person needs to spend some time thinking about what a healthy relationship looks like. This should be a very detailed list looking at things like loyalty, trust, shared responsibilities, parenting, major decision making, finances, sex, recreational activities, individual time, couples time together, and many more.
We recommend individuals each make their own list and then the couple meets to discuss each others lists with each other. This will help the couple see how much they are on the same page and areas where they see things differently. This can lead to more conversations and there will likely be areas each person will need to think about that were missed. How a couple handles these conversations also says some thing about how healthy the relationship is.
Now the hype, busyness and stress of Christmas is over….and it is January. It is cold out and the days are short, leaving mostly darkness with only a few hours of daylight each day. Add to this the financial strain of Christmas becomes even more obvious as the bills start to come in. All this can make for a pretty blah January. And don’t forget about flu season too.
There are some things people can do to help with the January Blues.
Often people over-eat and over-drink during the holidays and the foods eaten aren’t always the healthiest. It can be very helpful in January to focus on a healthier diet, eating lots of fruit and veggies to help get the body back feeling healthy. Staying hydrated is also important, any time of the year, January is no exception. Staying hydrated helps the body feel better and also helps flush out any toxins etc that built up over the Christmas season. Alcohol removes vitamins and minerals from the body and dehydrates the body as well, so drinking water after consuming a fair amount of alcohol can also be very beneficial for the body.
All of these also help with fighting off the flu. It is also important to remember to wash hands regularly and wash common areas if the flu is in the home or work space. It is also good to get the flu shot to prevent getting infected with the flu or, if the flu does hit, the flu shot can prevent the flu from being as severe.
Get outside during the day if you can. The sunlight and fresh air are both beneficial in helping a person feel better and ward off the January Blues. Even if it is too cold to be outside for any length of time, open the curtains and let the sun into the home.
Get some exercise, outdoors is great, but if it is too cold get some exercise inside. Dance in the living room, go to the Rec Centre or pool, whatever is needed to get the body moving.
Reflection is also good. Take some time to look back on the Christmas season and think about what was done well, what is appreciated and what would be good to continue for next year. It is also good to look at what changes could be implemented next Christmas to reduce stress, increase connections with people that are important and increase overall enjoyment of the Christmas season.
Make a financial plan. If you went over the allotted Christmas budget (or didn’t have a budget and now wish there was one) take some time and look through the bills and figure out how much more spending happened than originally planned and then create a plan to pay off the Christmas spending. Most people don’t want to deal with their Christmas debt so they just put it off and ignore it. Unfortunately, debt isn’t going to go away if it is ignored. It is important to take responsibility for it, calculate the amount spend and create a plan for paying it off and then follow the best as best possible.
Keep positive. It is also important to remember the shortest day of the year was Dec. 21 so the days are now getting longer, even if only by minutes, they are getting longer.
One of the most important things to instil in children is empathy. Empathy involves being able to understand what another person is thinking or feeling. Christmas gift giving allows for great opportunities to teach children about empathy, especially younger children. It is important to have children purchase or create gifts for others and to talk with the child about who the gift is for and what that person is like and talk to the child about what the child thinks the person would like or appreciate for a gift rather than just what the child wants to give them or what the parent thinks should be given. For example, if a child is getting or making a gift for grandma there should be conversations about what kinds of things grandma enjoys doing like baking, walking, doing puzzles etc and her favorite color is purple. Then help the child figure out a gift that is based on what the child thinks the grandma would appreciate, like a new cookie sheet, a purple outdoor jacket or a puzzle with purple flowers. If the child is going to make a Christmas card discuss with the child what grandma likes so that can be part of the card, like grandma’s favorite color is so the child can incorporate that color as well. Help the child think about the likes, interests, hobbies etc of others when making or purchasing a gift so the child is also learning empathy.
It is also important to remember that children learn most from watching others and parents are the ones they watch most when they are young. As parents, it is important to talk about the gifts being purchased and why certain people are getting certain gifts so the child can learn about empathy by watching and listening to the parent as the parent uses empathy to give gifts to others. If a child hears the parent talking about just giving everyone chocolates because it is easy and quick, they are learning lessons from this, but if a child hears a parent talking about why he/she purchased a certain gift for someone and it is based on what that person likes and needs, the parent is teaching the child something different, he/she is teaching about empathy.
It is important to remember, children are always learning. What lessons are being taught during Christmas? Are children being taught to be anxious and overwhelmed and sacrifice themselves for others through Christmas or are they being taught about empathy, being genuine, appreciation and gratitude during Christmas. The lesson is up to the parent.
Christmas can be a very busy and often stressful time of year. There are many Christmas parties and activities to attend, baking and cooking that needs to be done, extra cleaning, decorating, visiting with family and friends and visiting with those family and friends that may create more stress and anxiety. Then there is also the financial impact of Christmas as all these usually involve money in some way. There is also the purchasing of gifts, worrying the gifts will be appreciated and often also feeling taken for granted or not appreciated for all the hard work put into making Christmas special.
All of these things can increase anxiety and stress, which in turn, can cause parents to be less patient, short tempered, hyper-sensitive, less attentive and less engaged.
While Christmas can be a magical time for children it is also important to remember that children feed off their parents, children are a reflection of what their parents are feeling. If a parent is worried and anxious about going to a family function because she doesn’t want the child to be loud or rambunctious, she struggles handling another guest’s sarcasm and put-downs disguised as humor etc the child will sense this worry and anxiety. The child will then also have more anxiety which could also lead to more rambunctious and loud behavior. The exact behaviors the parent is worried the child will exhibit are often, in fact, being created by the parent’s own anxiety and worry because the child is a reflection of the parent’s emotional state.
It is important for parents to manage Christmas rather than letting Christmas be in control. It is ok to say no to some invitations, it is ok to go for short visits if they are stressful or not go at all. Adults need to be aware of their own anxiety, stress, worry, overwhelmed feelings and then also know these emotions impact the children. If the parent is feeling overwhelmed, take a break, breathe, reign in the number of activities and instead, spend some quality time with the children, decorate together, read a story, play a game, go for a walk. It is important to do something to reduce these emotions so the parent feels calm, settled and confident as these are the feelings the children are exposed to and in turn, the child feels calm, settled and confident.
It is important for families to have traditions for various special events like birthdays and Christmas. Traditions are important because they help build a person's identity and, if done well, help create a sense of belonging and can be something a person can take pride in.
Creating traditions around Christmas can be something to pass on to the children and hopefully they pass it on to the next generation and so on.
Traditions should be more about activities the family can do together and should have very little to no cost, rather than about presents, purchases and "things." Traditions can be things like playing board games on Christmas Eve, going sledding Christmas day in the afternoon, watching a special Christmas movie as a family (my favorite is A Christmas Story), making and decorating cookies or a gingerbread house or making homemade Christmas decorations. Pick a couple things (not too many so it becomes a chore or overwhelming) that can become the family traditions.
Another great idea for a family tradition is giving back to the community. This can be having the children help pick out a toy for a child or donating food to the local food bank etc. It is a good idea to pick a charity/cause or two to support and then make it a family tradition, where everyone in the family takes part in helping. So rather than the parent just doing it, the children are part of giving back to the community as well.
It is important for parents to use natural consequences when helping children learn to manage their behavior. If the parents’ focus of parenting is for the children to learn to take responsibility for their own behavior, natural consequences are the best way to teach this.
Natural consequences means the natural effect or impact for a behavior.
Many parents take away electronics or send children to their room as a way to try to get children to do what the parents want. This is not very effective. It is much more effective to teach children to be accountable for their behavior. Natural consequences help children understand the impact their actions have on themselves and others as well as how to take responsibility for their actions.
Natural consequences are things like: Take all the toys out when playing: need to put all the toys away before doing the next activity Spilling food: clean it up Hit a sibling: do something nice for the sibling Not doing chores: can’t do anything else until the chores are done
Often when parents are trying to implement consequences to address behaviours they go to the “all or nothing” approach. The family is planning on going swimming, one of the children is inappropriate so the consequence is no swimming, the children are playing outside, one child is aggressive so is not allowed to play outside for the rest of the day. These “all or nothing” approaches can be hard to consistently implement, negatively impact the rest of the family, make more work for the parent and/or be too significant for the behaviour.
Society often swings from one extreme to the other, finding the middle ground can be very beneficial and make managing behaviours and being consistent much more likely. Removing a child from an activity for a period of time can be a much more effective way of implementing consequences for inappropriate behaviours than completely removing the activity.
Some examples of what this may look like are: Sit out for 5-10 minutes, review what expectations are and then allow child to participate again.
Inappropriate behaviour at the pool: sit on the side of the pool for 5 minutes, talk about the concerning behaviour and what is expected and let the child return to the pool.
A child being too aggressive outside with other children: have the child sit inside at the kitchen table for 5 minutes, talk about the concerning behavior and what is expected and allow them to play outside again.
If a child hasn’t completed a chore etc: rather than not being able to participate in an activity at all, when he/she have completed the activity he/she can participate in the activity.
The child wants to play with a friend but hasn’t made his/her bed; rather than the child not being able to go play at all, the child can play with his/her friend once his/her bed is made.
This approach makes the child accountable for his/her behaviour, rewards appropriate behaviour and takes the child into consideration rather than just being about “the rules.”
It is important for children to have responsibilities. When a child has a responsibility, something he/she takes ownership for, the child feels a sense of purpose. When the child takes on this responsibility he/she feels pride, accomplishment and confidence. As a child ages, the responsibilities should also change to reflect the child’s ability as he/she grows up.
Chores should be an important part of a child’s responsibilities. There are many different charts on the internet of different types of chores children can perform at various ages.
Trobak Holistic Counselling suggests that chores are not something that a child is paid for. In order the family to function, everyone has to work together. This means chores. Each family member should have chores they perform as part of helping the family function, not as something they should be paid for.
It is important for children to learn to manage money as well so an allowance is important but should not be tied to daily chores. Children can get paid for doing “extra” chores but regular daily chores should not be paid.
If a child is refusing to complete a chore the parent can remove all the other things (TV, games, playing with friends etc) until the chore is done. Once the chore is completed, and completed well, the child can participate in the other activities. This should not be a power struggle but rather a simple statement that will be followed through on.
Often when implementing something new children will fight against it and often take it to a more extreme level to try to get the parent to back off and go back to the way things were. It is important for the parent to know this is likely going to happen and to have a plan to manage it. This will help prevent the parent from becoming overwhelmed and getting into a power struggle with the child. The plan should be ways the parent will address chores getting done without a power struggle.
Some suggestions are: No other activities until the chores are completed Adding other chores if the chore isn’t done in a certain time. An example is the chore is to sweep the kitchen, if that is not done is 20 min (giving lots of time so child is highly likely to be successful), then he/she will also have to empty the dishwasher. Then set the timer and remind the child every 5 minutes or so.
It is important that parents support their children so the children learn to problem solve, make decisions and think critically rather than doing things for children, rescuing them which teaches children to wait for the parents to do things for them.
Many parents rescue their children rather than encouraging their children to sort things out for themselves. This is quite damaging. Every time a parent solves a problem for a child, the parent is taking away an opportunity for the child. Each problem solved by a child, allows the child to feel more confident and believe in his/her ability to handle a situation, so when a parent solves a problem for a child, the parent is taking away the child’s opportunity to become more confident.
Of course, the level of responsibility for each child can vary and also depends on the age of the child. As a child ages, he/she can take on more and more responsibility. The amount of opportunities a child has been given to solve problems also plays in how much responsibility a child should be taking on. For example, if child has never made his/her own decisions because the parent has always done it for the child, then expecting the child to do this a lot is not realistic. This needs to be a gradual increase so the child’s confidence grows as the amount of times the child can solve his/her own problems also increases.
Supporting a child creates a problem solver, critical thinker, confidence, decision maker, independence and a strong belief in self.
Rescuing a child creates self doubt, anxiety, dependency, lack of confidence, indecisiveness and insecurity.
The words “I love you” have been over used. Parents say, “I love you” to their children, but people also say, “I love hot dogs,” “I love swimming.” The meaning of the words “I love you” have been watered down because of the commonality of how often the words are used.
In counselling, when children are asked if their parents love them, almost all of them say yes. But when asked why their parents love them the two most common answers Trobak Holistic Counselling hears are, “I don’t know” or “because they have to?”
A parenting strategy Trobak Holistic Counselling recommends is for parents to tell their children a reason they love them. Trobak Holistic Counselling recommends doing this one-on-one every evening before the child goes to bed. This is then the last thing the child hears before he/she goes to sleep.
The statement needs to be done as a way to show the child the things parents appreciate about them and NOT used as a tool to manipulate the child. If a parent starts using this strategy the parent cannot withhold it because the child was challenging that day, it should happen every day, no matter what happens in the day.
This should also be genuine where the parent thinks of something about that day that is specific to the child and should be different for each child.
This should not be done to reward the child for achievements but rather to acknowledge characteristics that the parent appreciates.
Parents can say things like, “I love you because you…” have a great smile. were very helpful with chores. played well with your sister. are a great Lego builder.
If a child does well on a test, rather than saying, “I love you because you got an A on your test.” Parents can say, “I love you because…you studied a lot for your test, you feel proud about how well you did on your test, you studied on your own without me having to remind you etc.” This is appreciating the process rather than the outcome.
Even if the child had a very hard day and was very challenging, parents still need to find something they can acknowledge about their child. “I love you because even though we had a hard day… it is good that you have a voice, you still asked me to read to you before bed, you brushed your teeth when you didn’t want to.”
Doing this activity helps the child give the words “I love you” much more depth and emotional connection between the parent and child
Improving Communication between Parents and Children.
By Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
October 23rd, 2017
There are a variety of different ways parents can improve communication with their children. There are different levels of communication, surface communication and then a deeper more emotion-based level of communication. Most families are ok with the surface type of communication but often families don’t practice the more deeper, emotion-based communication. There are different things that parents can do to help communication be more indepth. The following are some tips parents can use to enhance communication with their children.
Ask open-ended questions. Simply reframing questions can make a big difference in the amount of information children talk about. Try to avoid asking questions that require a one word answer like “yes,” “no,” “good” etc. Simply changing, “How was school?” (where the answer will likely be “good”) to “What did you learn today in Math?” or “Telling me something that happened in school today.” These questions require more than just a yes/no/good answer. The two most important questions a parent can ask his/her child are, “What are you thinking?” and “What are you feeling?” These are open ended questions that allow the child to say whatever he/she wants to say.
“I don’t know.” Don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer. This statement is used over and over again because it allows people to get out of answering the question. For some they become anxious because they don’t know the answer for sure. This can be challenged by acknowledging they may not know for sure, but what to do they think it might be. This reducing the pressure of “knowing” and allows them to guess or approximate an answer or give a suggestion. If the child doesn’t want to answer, they should learn to say, “I don’t want to answer that,” rather than “I don’t know.”
Beef/Bouquets or Best/Worst. A great family activity is Beefs and Bouquets or Best and Worst. This is a great activity to do at the dinner table. The family goes around the table and everyone talks about the best thing about their day and the worst thing about their day. There are a few rules, only one person can talk at a time, no one puts down what anyone else has to say and people don’t have to participate if they choose not to. This allows the parents to hear about the child’s day and if anything comes up, the parent knows to touch base with the child later and talk further if needed.
Do activities. Often sitting face to face to talk can be a little overwhelming for kids/youth, especially if something significant is going on for them. Doing an activity can help calm things and often leads to conversation. Doing things like playing a board game or cards can make things more relaxed and often allow conversations to start because of the activity. Also doing things where there isn’t direct eye contact can help encourage conversations. This can be things like going for a drive, going for a walk, playing basketball etc. Eye contact sometimes can create pressure so doing something so there isn’t eye contact can make things more relaxed and therefore increase the possibility of communication. Avoiding eye contact isn’t always necessary but can be beneficial if the parent can see that the child is needing to talk but struggling with getting the information out.
Emotions. It is important to talk about emotions, what a character in a movie or book may be feeling, what a child crying in the store may be feeling, what the child is feeling. The more common conversations are about emotion, the more comfortable the child will be in talking about his/her own emotion when he/she is struggling with something and feeling emotion.
Spanking: Why do parents spank and what are the consequences?
By Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
October 16th, 2017
There are still many parents who choose to spank their children. Before parents choose spanking as a way to parent their children, parents should ask themselves several questions.
Question 1: What does the parent want to create and develop in the child?
If parents want to create a healthy relationship, where their children can talk to them about anything, they should not spank, as spanking creates fear and then children hide things more and more from the parents in order to avoid spanking.
If parents want their children to be open and honest, they should not spank as spanking creates fear and stops children from being open and honest because of fear of being hurt.
If parents want their children to trust them and want a strong relationship with their children, they should not spank, as spanking damages the relationship between the parent and child. If a parent doesn’t believe this to be true and does spank, they should look into their child’s eyes after they spank, they will see the damage in trust and relationship in their child’s eyes when they spank.
Spanking teaches children to use force, intimidation and bullying to get what they want.
2. Does spanking help children to make healthy choices and become confident? Typically, spanking doesn’t help children to make healthy choices, it teaches children to obey. Parents need to really think about whether they want their children to obey or whether they want their children to learn to respectfully express themselves and stand up for what they believe in.
Spanking children so they obey teaches children that they should obey the bigger, stronger person. As a child gets older and has to deal with peer pressure and various other scenarios, it is important that a child has a voice to say no, no they don’t want to let someone cheat off of them, have sex when they are not ready, steal from the local convenience store etc. If parents want their children to stand up for themselves, they need to teach them to do this. Spanking does not teach children to have a voice; in fact, it does the opposite.
If parents want to teach their children to stand up for themselves, have a voice and be confident, they need to do this through respect and dignity, not through spanking.
3. How is spanking connected with control? Spanking is generally not about the child, it is about the parent. The parent is feeling overwhelmed, not heard, powerless, vulnerable, fear, anxiety, insecurity, not good enough etc and the parent doesn’t want to deal with these emotions so needs the child to obey so he/she doesn’t have to feel this way. Spanking doesn’t resolve these emotions it just hides them, pushes them away for the time being.
Parents need to deal with their own insecurities and fears of parenting rather than putting their fears and insecurities onto their children. To prove this, next time a parent wants to spank his/her child, he/she should walk away for 20-30 minutes and then see if the parent still wants to spank the child. The likelihood he/she would still spank is not nearly as high because the parent has allowed time to pass to calm the emotions and no longer feels the need to spank because the parent no longer needs to suppress these emotions.
4. How is spanking abuse? Spanking can be considered physical abuse, especially if it leaves marks on the child. A vital thing to remember about physical abuse is, physical abuse also creates emotional abuse. The physical pain of being spanked dissipates fairly quickly but the emotion pain of being spanked lasts a life time. The emotional abuse connected to spanking affects a child’s ability to trust in others and this can last a life time. A parent is someone the child is supposed to be able to feel safe with, to feel loved unconditionally. When a parent spanks a child, the parent betrays this trust and the possible long term result of this is, when the child is an adult, he/she can still struggle with trusting those close to him/her because he/she worries about the trust being betrayed again. Spanking starts to create a disconnect between the child and others in his/her life that lasts well into adulthood.
Trobak Holistic Counselling believes one of the most significant goals of parenting is creating an environment where children can talk openly to their parents about anything. How a parent manages his/her emotions plays a significant role in the child’s ability to talk to his/her parents.
It is vital that parents remain neutral when their children are around. Children need to see their parents can handle ANYTHING in order for them to trust in being able to talk to their parents.
Parents need to be able to talk about anything, even very emotional subjects, like they are talking about the weather. The more comfortable the parent looks when having these difficult discussions, the more confident the child will feel in talking to the parent.
Parents must present as calm and confident most of the time though, not just about the difficult conversations. If a parent freaks out over the garbage not being taken out, or becomes overwhelmed with daily chores, the child is going to see the parent as stressed and overwhelmed with daily living and therefore, is not going to talk with the parent about big things. The child is not going to want to overwhelm the parent or create more stress for the parent so the child will not talk to the parent.
If the child looks at the parent and thinks the parent is handling daily life and is calm and confident, he/she is going to be much more willing to talk to the parent because the child is going to believe the parent can handle the conversation.
If an adult thinks of his/her own parent and if the parent is someone he/she is able to talk to, the reason why the parent is someone to easily talk to is usually because the parent can handle it. Many people who don’t talk to their parents say this is because they don’t think the parent can handle it, they don’t want to burden, overwhelm or add stress to the parent.
Parents need to teach their children about emotions by helping the children acknowledge, label and feel the child's emotions and talking about emotions of the child and others (friends, characters, people they see in public etc) but not by showing their own emotion. Generally, when a parent shows emotion, the child shuts his/her emotion off because they don’t want to add to their parent’s emotion. When a parent shows his/her emotion, the children no longer feels it is safe for them to feel their own emotion, so they shut their emotion off.
This creates a tough balance for parents because parents need to be able to feel their own emotions, but not in front of the child. This means parents need to learn to put the emotions aside until there is a time for them to sort through their emotions in privacy. This can be tricky because once the emotions are put aside it is easier to just leave them and not go back and sort through them. It is important though that the parents take the time to go back and allow themselves time to feel their own emotions when the children are not around.
Parents can tell their children, “You can talk to me about anything,” but until the children BELIEVE the parent can handle this, they won’t.
Parenting: Teaching Your Children to Feel Their Emotions
by Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
October 2nd, 2017
It is important that parents create a supportive, caring environment where children feel safe, but this also needs to be balanced with allowing children to express and feel their emotions and teaching them they can handle feeling emotions. Starting when children are babies, they are taught to suppress their emotions. When a child cries, the parents tries to calm the child, this ultimately teaches the child to shut his/her emotions off and stop feeling them. The intention of the parent is good; to try and make the child feel better, but this is not always what is best for the child. Life is not all happy and safe. Life is full of sadness, loneliness, frustration, fear, anxiety, anger, rejection etc. If parents don’t teach their children to sort through these emotions, the child will have to suppress these emotions in order to cope with life. This is not in the child’s best interest, children need to be taught to sort through all emotions and allow themselves to feel the emotions.
If a child is hurt, sad, angry, scared, lonely etc., he/she should express this. When parents calm the child, the emotion stops, it is not expressed. The child is not releasing the emotion, instead he/she is suppressing the emotion and over time this emotion grows and grows. This leads to bigger and bigger explosions of emotion or finding other ways to suppress the emotion.
Parents who stop their child from feeling emotion, aren’t doing this because of the child, it is about the parent. The parent doesn’t like to feel his/her own emotion when the child is crying, so the parent tries to stop the child from crying. The parent is feeling frustrated, powerless, out of control, embarrassed, not good enough, and/or scared etc. when the child is crying so the parent needs to get the child to stop feeling emotion so the parent doesn’t have to feel his/her own emotion.
If a child hasn’t talked much about emotion, to start doing this, can be very overwhelming for the child. They may not know how to express and label these emotions so learning more about emotions is very important. It also creates emotion when a child talks about it, so if they have been suppressing a lot of emotion, to start talking about emotion can be very overwhelming and they can feel very vulnerable, thus, making them shut down. This is why Trobak Holistic Counselling suggests parents start to talk about emotions in other people rather than emotions in the child. It is much easier for a child to tell the parent what he/she thinks someone else is feeling rather than to talk about what he/she is feeling. When watching a show or movie, reading a book, seeing something happen in the community, a parent should talk to the child about what he/she thinks the person is feeling. Children don’t really know what the other person is feeling, the answer they give is about what they would feel in that situation. This allows them to start to express themselves safely.
When starting to talk about emotions with a child, start with the 4 basic emotions, happy, angry, scared, angry. As a child becomes more comfortable talking about emotions, parents can add other emotions like frustrated, worried, anxious, jealous, loved, lonely etc.
When starting with the 4 basic emotions, children may even struggle with being able to verbalize these emotions. Parents can take a piece of paper, divide it into 4 and then draw 4 circles, one in each section. Then have the child draw a face to show each emotion and write the name of the emotion below each drawing. Having the child create the drawing makes it more their own creation and therefore increases the chance the child will buy into using it more. When the child is feeling emotion, the parent can use the chart to have the child point to the emotion he/she is feeling. This way they are starting to acknowledge the emotion without having to verbalize it. This may need to happen for several months before the child is able to verbally express what he/she is feeling.
When a child is able to acknowledge his/her emotions, he/she is starting to feel the emotion and then can let it go rather than suppress it.
A key thing about teaching children to feel emotion is parents must also be able to acknowledge and label their own emotion. Parents should not show their emotions around their children but they do need to be comfortable feeling their own emotion so they can help their child work through the child’s emotion. If the child’s emotion triggers emotion in the parent and the parent doesn’t like to feel emotion, the parent will shut down the child’s emotion in order to stop feeling their own emotion.
Anger occurs in a cycle that is repeated over and over. The cycle of anger starts with the explosion. This part of the cycle is when the anger is happening. The anger can look different for each person, because each person’s anger can be different. This can be yelling, swearing, throwing things and hitting, or it can be the silent treatment, dirty looks and sighing or anything in between.
The next step of the cycle is the honeymoon stage. During this stage people reconnect. The angry person has let out a bunch of emotion, (anger is a coping strategy for suppressing other emotions, see last week’s post for more details) so he/she is feeling calmer and the family is feeling relief because the anger is over so the people in the cycle relax a bit. The honeymoon stage can be dinner, gifts, intimacy, saying “I am sorry,” “I love you,” “I won’t do it again” etc. or it can just be calm.
It is common for the angry person to say things like sorry or it won’t happen again and generally, this is genuine when it is said. These things can be said as a way to manipulate the others in the family but generally it is said with the hope that he/she won’t get angry again. Unfortunately though, hope is not enough to stop the anger from reoccurring.
The next stage is daily life. During this stage, life goes on; the anger is over, the family has reconnected and everyone is feeling relief that the anger is over. Then daily life happens and the stress, anxiety, suppressed emotion builds and builds and builds. This build up of stress and suppressed emotions makes it more and more challenging to cope with daily events and not get angry. The angry person struggles more and more with not getting angry and the family living in this cycle gets more and more anxious because they can sense the angry person is getting more and more stressed and they know it is only a matter of time before the anger happens again. This part of the cycle can last anywhere from hours to days to weeks and for some, even months.
The final stage of the cycle of anger is the trigger. The trigger is anything that triggers the angry person to get angry. This can be anything, mechanical problems with a piece of equipment, shoes not neat in the front entrance, things not going the angry person’s way. Anything the angry person can use to release his/her anger. When the anger is triggered, the explosion part of the cycle occurs and the cycle starts all over again.
This cycle of anger can look different for each family, but the cycle of anger is predictable. The amount of time it takes to complete a cycle can vary from minutes, to hours, days or weeks and sometimes even months but it will happen again. The thing about the cycle of anger is it is a circle and circles don’t have an ending, they keep going and going and going. This makes it very difficult for people living in the cycle of anger to step out of it and break the cycle of anger.
Anger is a very common strategy people use to deal with anxiety. There are many many men who have “anger issues” but for most of these men, anger is a coping strategy used to cover up and hide anxiety and other emotions.
Anger works very well in the moment with helping a person cope with anxiety. When a person gets angry other people leave him/her alone and end the conversation so the person’s anxiety goes away because the situation stops. If the arguing does continue, it often changes and becomes an argument about the person's anger. This also reduces the anxiety because the topic of the argument has changed and the person is used to arguing about anger, so it is more predictable and therefore, creates less anxiety.
Anger works because it keeps people at a distance, not just when the anger is happening, but most of the time. People are aware of the potential for anger even when it isn’t happening so they tippy toe around the angry person in order to try to prevent the person from getting angry, this then also helps keep the anxiety lower.
Anger is not a stand alone emotion, there are other emotions or thoughts under the anger that a person is not wanting to feel. Rather than feeling the underlying emotion, the person switches to anger.
Emotions under the anger are: anxiety fear rejection unloved not valued lonely sad insecure/self doubt not good enough abandoned not belonging powerless not appreciated vulnerable
To reduce or possibly eliminate the anger, a person needs to sort through and feel the emotions underneath the anger. Anger is used to suppress the underlying emotions, so if a person feels these underlying emotions, the anger is no longer needed and the anger goes away.
In society it is more ok for men to show anger than these other emotions. Men are not supposed to feel these other emotions, so men often grow up learning to suppress these other emotions with anger.
Anger is a coping strategy to avoid feeling other emotions.
Typically these posts have been about anxiety, and while this post can still be applied to anxiety, the focus is more about hate and empathy because of the recent events in the news.
It is obvious to most that hate, gangs, bigotry and terrorism are major problems but unless it is understood why these are a problem it makes it difficult to truly resolve them. A deeper look is necessary in understanding why these are an issue in today’s society. Like a car that is not running properly, the mechanic must find the source of the issue to truly repair the car, society must also truly understand the source that feeds hate, gangs, bigotry and terrorism.
A person’s core belief is the internal voice that creates what a person believes about her/himself. Core beliefs are believing either a person is: good enough or not good enough important and valued or not important and not valued loved or unloved
These core beliefs vary from mild to significant. Someone who sort of feels not good enough sometimes will have different beliefs, values and behaviors than someone who significantly believes he/she is not good enough all the time.
There are some basic things that feed a person’s core beliefs, a few are, having a voice or feeling heard, self-worth or self confidence and a sense of belonging or being a part of something.
When we examine gangs and racist and terrorist groups, all three of these driving forces play a significant role. Each of these groups pray on children, youth and adults who don’t feel they have a voice, have low self-worth and do not feel like they belong. Gangs, racists groups and terrorist groups exploit a person’s beliefs that he/she doesn’t have a voice, has a low sense of self-worth and lacks a sense of belonging and create an unhealthy sense of these within their own group, creating an intense sense of loyalty with their members.
Each group ONLY exists because they are meeting a need for their group members. Each group gives its members a sense of belonging, allows them to feel heard and thus increases, in an unhealthy way, a sense of self or self-worth.
So what can each person in each community do to help eliminate these groups?
To stifle these groups people should be aware of their personal impact on those around them. People have an impact in helping others to feel heard, have a stronger, healthy sense of self-worth and feel like they have sense of belonging.
Parents play a significant role in this with their children. Parents need to ensure their children feel they have a voice, are developing a strong sense of self-worth and feel they belong.
If each person has a voice, a strong self-worth and a strong sense of belonging he/she doesn’t need to search for this elsewhere, like in gangs, racists groups and terrorist groups. These gangs and racist and terrorist groups only have power because they meet the need of their members, they give them a voice, an unhealthy sense of self-worth and a sense of belonging. If each person has developed these through his/her own family, friends and community then gangs and racist and terrorist groups lose their power and ability to control their members.
People who have an intense sense of feeling not heard, having no self-worth and feeling like they don’t belong are at a higher risk of becoming a part of one of these groups.
When people have a voice, a strong sense of self-worth, and a sense of belonging, they are then able to help create and develop these in others around them.
Empathy is the ability to understand and accept others. When people are empathetic towards others, they are, ultimately, reinforcing a voice in others, as well as a healthy sense of self-worth and a sense of belonging in others.
To challenge gangs, racist groups and terrorist groups people must connect with each other and help develop and create a sense of feeling heard, a healthy sense of self-worth and a sense of belonging. People must make a conscious effort to empathize and connect with those around them and this, in turn, will reduce the need for gangs and racist and terrorist groups.
There are other contributing factors as well, as this is a very complex issue, but these play a significant role.
When a person senses danger, the FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE response kicks in. Fight: fight a way out of the danger Flight: run away from the danger Freeze: paralyzed, can’t move, hide, blend into the environment
Fight, Flight, Freeze has been going on since the beginning of time in all living creatures. A bear senses danger, it will fight A deer senses danger, it will run away A frog senses danger it will freeze and try to blend in. If that doesn’t work it may hop away.
If this danger is real, anxiety or Fight, Flight, Freeze, is a good thing, it keeps people alive.
If the danger isn’t real, it is more perceived in a person’s thoughts, anxiety can become overwhelming and have a significant negative effects on a person physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
When anxiety is worrying about things that may or may not happen and this happens throughout most days it has a very negative impact on a person.
Worrying about things that “might” happen “
What if”, thinking constantly, what if this happens, what if that happens etc.
Looking for or focusing on the negative
Playing “worst case” scenarios over and over in a person’s head.
THESE THOUGHTS CREATE ANXIETY WHERE THERE ACTUALLY IS NO DANGER. THIS IS ANXIETY A PERSON CREATES IN HIS/HER OWN BRAIN. IT IS NOT BASED ON WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, ON ACTUAL DANGER BUT WHAT THEIR THOUGHTS ARE SAYING.
When a stressful event happens, like a fight with a partner, the person will go into Fight, Flight, Freeze response. Then every time the person thinks about that event or worries it will happen again, she/he will go into Fight, Flight, Freeze again. So one anxiety provoking event, can be responsible for hundreds or even thousands of Fight, Flight, Freeze responses. Anxiety doesn’t just happen when an anxiety provoking incident happens, but every time a person thinks about it. If no event has occurred, but a person thinks anxious thoughts, anxiety will occur. Anxiety is created by thoughts, not by the event.
If a person is driving up a steep busy hill and his vehicle breaks down and he thinks, I don’t have time for this, why do things always happen to me, now what do I do, I am going to get in trouble if I am late for work, the person is going to feel anxious, fear, anger, frustrated etc. If a person is driving up a steep busy hill and his vehicle breaks down and he thinks, good thing I have road side assistance, I will pull over as far as I can and turn my hazards on, I will call my work and let them know I will be late, he will feel confident, neutral, comfortable and if there is anxiety, it will be significantly lower than in the previous example.
IT IS NOT THE EVENT THAT CREATES ANXIETY… IT IS WHAT A PERSON THINKS ABOUT THE EVENT THAT CREATES ANXIETY.
Anxiety often feels like a cloud that takes over a person. This is not true, people create their own anxiety.
Emotions are created by thoughts. Thoughts create a chemical reaction, which then creates a physical response in the body; the corresponding emotion. An anxious thought creates anxious emotion, happy thought creates happy emotion, angry thought creates anger emotion etc.
We often hear people have anxiety about heights. If it was actual heights people had anxiety about, then every living person would have anxiety about heights….but not everyone does have anxiety about heights.
If a person doesn’t believe he/she can handle heights, he/she will have anxiety. If a person believes he/she can handle heights, he/she will NOT have anxiety.
It is not about the event, but a person’s belief in his/her ability to handle the event. A person’s thoughts about an event create the emotions about the event.
If a person doesn’t believe he/she can handle an event she will have anxiety. Anxiety is lack of belief in self and LACK OF CONFIDENCE.
Anxiety can look very different in different people, however, there are many common symptoms of anxiety, different people can have different combinations of symptoms of anxiety. Below are anxiety symptoms are broken down into physical symptoms, mental symptoms (common thoughts/thought patterns) and behavioral symptoms.
It is important to note that these are not all just symptoms of anxiety, they can also just be behaviors people use (like humor), or connected to other areas (illnesses, disease etc). When reading through the lists, it is important to think about each individual, and if the strategies are used to try to cope with anxiety or if they are symptoms of what a person's anxiety looks/feels like. Notice that some strategies are done a lot more than others. Some seem to be used when the anxiety is very high, while others seem to be happening more throughout each daily, when anxiety may not be as high. Symptoms and coping strategies for anxiety can change over time as well, so there maybe some that are currently being used and some that were used in the past but are no longer present.
There are many items on the lists. It is important to question if the item is connected to anxiety or not, as some may be symptoms of something completely different. For example, if "Burning eyes" is a symptom, but it only happens when cutting onions, then it is likely more a symptom of cutting onions than it is a symptom of anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
rapid heart beat shortness of breath shallow breathing loss of breath holding breath gasping for breath clenched fist clenched jaw grinding teeth tight shoulders tight back/neck feeling very hot or very cold shaking/trembling numbness tingling headache feeling detached from one’s self stomach problems (IBS, ulcers, indigestion etc) tight chest sweating weak in the knees knot in stomach stomach drop dry mouth lump in throat metal taste in back of mouth crying fidgeting fatigue paranoid itchy light headed hyper eye twitch burning or watery eyes poor circulation
Mental Symptoms of Anxiety
Angry thoughts Negative thoughts Pessimistic thoughts Critical thoughts Thoughts of potential threats Thoughts of being trapped or cornered Worry thoughts Constant thoughts Catastrophizing Judgement Self doubt Obsessing Easily distracted Disoriented “I don’t know” shutting down/blank cannot slow down thoughts shameful thoughts rigid thinking/stubborn thinking questioning/self doubt indecisiveness can’t focus zone out/shut brain off fear insecure unsure repetitive thoughts worrying about things beyond your abilities (earthquakes, global warming) forgetful controlling thoughts compulsive thoughts (counting, checking, timing etc) dreams of chasing, falling, teeth falling out
Behavioural Symptoms of Anxiety
Avoidance Controlling Arguing, anger, rage Physical fighting Throwing things Feeling physical pain, feeling “sick” Moody Numbing self emotionally Trouble sleeping Yelling Isolating self or needing to constantly be with others Binge eating Drinking alcohol drugs Not eating Hard time focused Difficulty completing a task from start to finish Don’t invest time, effort, energy into things Depression Giving up Inability to understand others Nail chewing Lack of interest in sex or overly sexual Pacing Running away from things (physically, emotionally or mentally) Manipulating Rigid in beliefs (my way or highway) Marijuana smoking Cigarette smoking Blaming Excusing Denying Justifying Gambling Purging Cleaning Organizing Planning List making Checking things Counting things Seeking attention (center of attention) Drinking coffee Leg shaking/bouncing up and down Foot tapping Lethargic, not motivated, don’t want to do anything Getting things done quickly Talking quickly Not talking much at all Using large words/high educational words/catch phrases Avoiding eye contact Playing with hair Chewing hair Picking at skin Pulling hair/eyebrows/eyelashes Cutting Self harming behaviors gossiping Humor Sarcasm Putting other down Chewing on things (toothpicks, gum, candies etc) Biting lip Arrogance/cocky Perfectionism Feeling sorry for self Procrastination lying “no care” attitude “water off a duck’s back” attitude call in sick, skip school interrupting
Generally, as the day progresses, anxiety increases. Typically, people feel more anxiety at the end of the day than they do in the morning. Being aware of anxiety as it progresses can be very beneficial. Throughout the day, people also have times when their anxiety is higher and times when it is lower. It is important to become aware of what a person’s anxiety looks like as it increases. Using the list of symptoms of anxiety from last week’s post, a person can start to become aware of what his/her anxiety looks like as it increases.
Most people are aware of what their anxiety looks like when it is really high, 7,8,9 or 10 out or 10 but aren’t aware what it looks like as a 3, 4, 5. If people don’t know what their anxiety looks like when it is not as significant it is very likely they won’t be managing it. If people wait until anxiety is a 7,8,9 or 10 to address it, it is going to be way harder to manage the anxiety and, because it is already, really high, it is going to take more time and effort to bring the anxiety down. However, if a person knows what his/her anxiety looks like when it is 3, 4, 5 or 6, then he/she can start to put strategies in place to bring down anxiety, before it get too high.
For many people, this takes some time to sort out and increase awareness of what anxiety looks like as it increases, so while a person is sorting this out, it can be beneficial to take time throughout the day to breathe, every 1-2 hours take a 3-5 minute break and breathe. This will help keep anxiety lower and will also help a person become more aware of what anxiety looks like at the lower levels and as how it changes as anxiety increases.
Once a person is more aware of what anxiety looks like, when it is a 3, 4, 5 etc. out of 10, the more a person can start to put strategies in place much earlier, thus reducing the amount of times anxiety gets to 8, 9 or 10. Again this takes time and lots of practice.
The photo shows what it may look like for a person as the anxiety increases. Putting strategies in place when the symptoms of lower levels of anxiety are present helps keep the anxiety from getting higher.
Strategies for dealing with anxiety: Making a plan.
by Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
August 14th, 2017
The previous strategies of breathing and controlling thoughts can work very well but the strategies do not address the thought that is creating the anxiety, the strategies just block the thought. Anxious thoughts don’t go away, they often can be unrelenting.
Anxiety is sort of like a small child. If the child's mom is in a room, behind a door, and has presents, ice cream, and other treats and the child knows her mom is in the room and starts knocking and calling to her, if the mom ignores her, the child is not going away. In fact, the opposite is true, the child will very likely get louder and louder and louder until the parent has to acknowledge her. Once the mom acknowledges the child, the child will settle, even if this is telling the child she needs to wait a couple minutes. Anxiety is sort of like this, if a person tries to ignore anxiety, it just gets louder and louder. However, if a person answers the anxious thought, it will usually settle. Anxiety is sort of like the small child; if a person acknowledges the thought and creates a plan to handle it, the thought quietens.
Remember, anxiety is lack of confidence, not believing in self, not believing a person can handle something. Putting a plan in place significantly increases the belief in self to handle the situation. Listen to the thought and figure out what can be done to handle it.
People can create a plan in their head, and it works, but writing it down is even more effective. The brain likes visuals; when something is written, it makes it more real. Writing down a plan is more effective than just thinking about a plan.
What if?... People do this to themselves all the time. They think, “what if…” but then the thought stops here and repeats and repeats and repeats. Try taking this “what if…” thought and answering it. For example:
What if..... a person goes for dinner with a bunch of people and no one talks to her?
Answer: *she will call another friend who is going and ask to go together and sit with her. *she will smile and try to start conversations with others who are there. *she can leave early if she is not having fun. *she can look at the phone if no one is talking with with her. *she will listen to the conversations of the people around her if she is not actively talking in a conversation.
What if a person gets fired from work?
Answer: *she will start looking for other work right away *she will see if there is any interm work while trying to find something more permanent. *she will apply for EI right away. *she will have to really tighten up on spending. *she will find out about resources for financial support in the community. *It will be hard, and exhausting, but, bottom line, she will get through it, she can handle it
Creating a plan for the “what if’s” quietens them and makes them much more manageable. Often they will even go away completely after a plan is created to address them.
Once a plan is in place to address the anxious thought, a person's confidence increases and she believes more in her ability to handle the anxious thought. If a person believes they can handle the situation and feels more confident in her ability to handle the situation (because she has a plan to deal with the anxious thought), anxiety will go down, often significantly.
Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety: Realistic Expectations
by Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
September 11th, 2017
Realistic Expectations. Another strategy that can help a person manage anxiety is being aware of how realistic his/her expectations are of self and others. Many people have anxiety because the expectations they put on themselves and others are way too high and then they feel defeated and not good enough when the expectations are not met. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy of setting oneself up for failure and continuing to increase anxiety.
The need to take things into consideration and really think about whether a person's expectations are realistic is extremely important in managing anxiety. If the expectations are too high, they should adjust them to better ensure success.
This is often called perfectionism. Perfectionism is a significant symptom of anxiety that also increases anxiety. Perfectionism is unrealistic expectations, expectations that are too high and not based on past behaviors.
Expectations should be based on past behaviors. Many people have expectations of what they want to do or want others to do but there is no history of the behavior happening in the past. This means it is unrealistic to expect it to happen today, tomorrow or in the near future. If a mother expects her child to make his bed in the morning but the child has never done this in the past, then the mother needs to have realistic expectations; bed making is not going to happen today or tomorrow.
This doesn’t mean a person doesn’t set a goal of making the expectation happen but this takes lots of practice over a period of time in order for the behavior to start happening. If the mother teaches her son to make his bed and then helps him and then reminds him over a significant period of time, then it is more realistic to expect the child to make his own bed. This is now more realistic because there is a "short" past history of him making his bed.
This is true of having a partner who cheats. A woman can have an expectation that he won’t cheat, but if the past behavior shows repeated cheating, then the expectation should be that he will very likely cheat again. It is only after no cheating (and lots of work on self) for a significant period of time that these expectations should change.
Realistic expectations can significantly help manage anxiety as well as anger. Again, make sure expectations are realistic, meaning there is a previous history of the behavior already in place to support the expectation. If there is no history of the behavior, then it is important to adjust the expectations to reflect this, otherwise the chances of feeling anger, frustration and anxiety become significantly higher when these expectations are not met. Expectations need to be based on already existing, past behaviors.
Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety: Thoughts and Breathing.
by Sabrina Trobak B.Ed, MACP, RCC
August 8th, 2017
As mentioned previously, thoughts create emotions, so if people control their thoughts, they can also control their emotions. Using this information can be very beneficial in learning to manage the thoughts, thus managing the anxiety.
As mentioned last week, breathing also significantly helps manage anxiety. Deep breathing for 3-5 minutes stops cortisol from being dumped into the brain.
Combining these two pieces of information, controlling thoughts and breathing, can be highly effective tools in managing anxiety.
There are thousands and thousands of breathing strategies for anxiety on the internet and it really is about finding the ones that work best for each person. However, here are a few that seem to work well for many people.
Breathe in cool, calm … Breathe out warm, worry. Breathe in through the nose and notice the air feels cool, say silently, “breathe in cool, calm.” Then breathe out through the mouth and realize the air feels warm, say in silently, “breathe out warm, worry.” Repeat this for 3-5 minutes.
Count backwards from 100. Visualize the numbers, breathe in 99, breathe out 98, breathe in 97, breathe out 96 etc. Do this for 3-5 minutes. There is no need to get to 0. Depending on the level of anxiety, it may only be necessay to go to 72, 56, 49 etc.
Breathe in and count to 4, hold breath for 2 and then release until it feels comfortable and then repeat. Again, do this for 3-5 minutes.
Deep breathe and think of a favorite place, happy memory etc. Try to visualize the details, colors, details of the space, smells, sounds etc. for 3-5 minutes.
There are many more breathing strategies on the internet, and many apps that provide breathing strategies as well. Many of these use visuals where people can watch an object change, breathing in and then out as the object changes shape again. It is trying different ones and finding the ones that work for each person.
With all of these strategies, the thoughts are being controlled, thinking breathe in calm, cool, out worry, warm, counting backwards from 100, breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4, hold 1, 2, release or visuals you have to focus on these specific thoughts. These all stop the anxious thoughts and change the thoughts to be whatever strategy each person uses. Stop the anxious thoughts, stop the anxious emotions.
The brain is an amazing thing but it can only have one conscious thought at a time, so if people control their thoughts and think the above strategies, the anxious thought goes away. When the anxious thought goes away, so does the anxious feeling; remember thoughts create emotions.
However, for people who have struggled significantly with anxiety for many, many years, the anxious thoughts can come barging back in pretty quickly and often with vengeance. It takes practice and time to be able to keep these thought strategies in place for 3-5 minutes. Many people, when they start, can’t get through “breathe in calm, cool… breathe out worry, warm” one time without the anxious thought popping back in their heads. Try not to get frustrated if the anxious thought keeps interrupting your breathing strategies, keep at it!
When anxiety happens it creates a chemical reaction in the body. Adrenaline is dumped into the body so a person can “FIGHT” or “FLIGHT" (see more about fight, flight, freeze in June 26,2017 post). This takes an incredible amount of energy. This energy doesn’t just appear, it has to come from somewhere. All of a person’s non-vital organs are zapped of energy so the energy can be used to fight or flight. Stomach, bladder, bowel, kidneys, immune system, endocrine system, nervous system etc. These all get zapped of energy so the energy can be used to run or to fight. If this happens once in a while, the body can recover from it, but if someone has high anxiety, this is likely happening 100’s – 1000’s of times a day, having a significant negative impact on the body. This becomes very hard on a person’s body.
While adrenaline is being dumped into the body, cortisol is being dumped into the brain. Cortisol, in large doses, is a toxin, a poison; it shuts down the brain. When there are high levels of cortisol in the brain, the brain cannot process information effectively.
High levels of cortisol affect the ability to: Use logical and reason Understand consequences Sequence events Connect to emotions Memory
All these brain functions are significantly halted when there are high levels of cortisol.
Anxiety creates lack of responsibility. Anxiety is lack of belief in self to handle situations; lack of confidence. If people have anxiety, lack confidence and don’t believe in themselves, they will also avoid responsibility.
In order to take responsibility, people have to be confident in their ability to take responsibility.
All of the above are ways people avoid responsibility. Rather than taking responsibility for their actions, people blame others. This isn’t really about the other person, it is being used to avoid responsibility. This is similar for justifying and excusing, rather than taking responsibility people will justify their actions or excuse their behavior, again this is to avoid responsibility. Distracting is another common form of avoiding responsibility. People distract with a large variety of different ways including but not limited to things like alcohol, drugs, socializing, cheating, reading, cleaning, organizing, gambling, working, spending money, shopping; all the things people do to avoid dealing with responsibility are distractions. Distractions in extremes where they are being used in excess are more concerning.
Anger is also commonly used to avoid responsibility. When people get angry, others often stop engaging. If people get angry, others will often walk away, this in turn, allows the person to avoid responsibility. If people don’t walk away and engage in the argument, the argument usually changes topic, still avoiding responsibility. The argument usually focuses on to “you”….. rather than “I”. When this happens the conversation has turned to blaming and justifying; both ways of avoiding responsibility.
Core belief starts to develop even before a child is born. Core belief is not so much created by events, but rather by how events are handled or not effectively handled. Core belief is the inner voice telling a person what to believe about him/herself. For many the core belief is “not good enough,” “not important,” “unloved,” and “worthless.”
Core belief drives everything a person does. People are constantly trying to prove to themselves what they believe about themselves is true. Many people seek counselling to deal with a specific symptom and often can feel a sense of accomplishment in dealing with this issue in a short period of time. Unfortunately, this does not often result in long term success. Trobak Holistic Counselling uses a long term therapeutic approach focused on creating a long lasting core belief of “good enough,” “important,” “worth,” and “loved.”
Most people seek counselling for issues like anxiety, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, cheating, unhealthy relationships, pornography, lying, stealing, re-offending behaviors, alcohol, drugs, inability to cope with daily living, insomnia, not feeling fulfilled at work, social problems, academic struggles, abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, verbal), neglect, attachment issues, eating disorders, feeling a lack of belonging, grief and loss etc.
These are all symptoms of underlying issues. These are coping strategies people use to suppress emotional pain and past trauma. Distractions are also used to avoid dealing with underlying issues. Symptoms develop as masks to avoid dealing with past emotional pain and trauma.
A person’s core belief is what feeds these behaviors. The core belief is the “underlying issue.”
Creating Critical Thinkers, Problem Solvers and Decision Makers
by Sabrina Trobak, B.Ed, M.A.C.P., R.C.C.
September 9th, 2015
Parenting with Purpose (part 1)
Why do you parent? Why do you discipline? Why do you instill boundaries for your children?
When parenting your children, the first question you should ask yourself is what type of person do I want my child to become? The second question you should ask yourself is, does my approach support what I want to develop in my child? A third question is, what if you were in your child’s position?
The first question.
What type of person do you want your child to be?
The general answer to this question is usually most or all of the following:
Respectful of others
Respectful of self
Positively contributes to society
Cooperative/works well with others
Able to financially support self and his/her family
Able to stand up for him/herself in a respectful manner
While these are all healthy qualities in a person, they are not instinctual. Children are not born with the ability to be all these traits, they must be taught and learned. If you, as a parent, are not teaching your child these qualities, the likelihood your child will develop these qualities becomes significantly less.
What do you do to develop these qualities in your child?
How does your parenting strategy develop these qualities?
In order to truly answer this question, you must first look very closely at the impact of your parenting strategy on your child.
The second question.
Does my parenting strategy support what I want to develop in my child?
Many parents believe the way they are parenting their children is helping to develop the type of person they want their child to become. However, when we look closely at what is really being taught, the message is often not what we were hoping for.
In many cases parents want to be in control. This, in turns means, the child does not have control and is learning how to be controlled or fight against control. How does this support the traits you are trying to develop in your child? Quite simply, it doesn’t.
Controlling your child is about your needs not about your child’s needs. Parents need to feel in control because they believe, and society tells us, if they can control their child, they are “good parents”.
Not true. In order to teach your child “self control” you must display self control as the parent.
Many parents want their children to obey them and do what they are told. Teaching your child to not question you or challenge you or offer other opinions is not creating the type of child most parents want to try and develop.
What type of person do you want your child to be?
Having a child who does what he is told, does not fit with the type of person you are trying to mold your child into. Simply obeying and doing what is ordered of him, does not support any of the characteristics you are trying to instill. He isn’t learning to respect others or himself, isn’t learning to become confident, isn’t learning to have a voice and speak up for himself in a respectful manner.
Think about it in bigger terms.
If you teach your child to obey and never stand up for himself: How will he handle peer pressure, the friend who wants to steal from the store, the girlfriend who wants to have sex when he’s not sure if he is ready, the boss who makes him work overtime but then doesn’t want to pay him for it.
When you teach your child to obey you, you are not teaching him to have a voice, to stand up for what he wants. You are teaching him to sacrifice himself for others, for you.
If your child never learns to challenge you, how will he learn to challenge others? You are his main influence. If you don’t teach him to challenge you, he will not be as likely to challenge others.
Teach your child to respectfully ask questions to gain understanding, to offer other options, work together with you to find solutions, as well as, how to accept having to stop doing what they want in a respectful manner.
The third question.
What if this was you?
What if someone came up to you and just told you what to do without any explanation? Would you be resistant to what they were asking? Most likely yes. People of all ages do not like to be told what to do. Why would this be different for a child?
What if you were watching a really good movie or the last 10 minutes of a sports game and someone walked in and said to shut the TV off. Would you want to shut if off? Would you be resistant?
As a parent do you expect your child to do what you say without questioning you and without you explaining to him? If so, how often do you respond positively to this in your life now? Likely not much at all. If you, as the parent, would not react positively to a situation, don’t expect your child to.
Put yourself in his shoes and think about how you would react if the situation was the same for you. Doing this is also teaching your child empathy, a trait that creates compassion and working well with others.
Why is it important for parents to have boundaries for their child?
Many would answer this question by saying, boundaries are important so our child stays in control. This may be why parents have boundaries, but it not the best benefit for children to have boundaries. The parenting strategy should be about meeting the child’s needs, not the parent’s needs.
The ultimate goal of boundaries is to teach our children how to create and put their own boundaries in place. How do they do this if boundaries are just put in place but there is no explanation as to why these boundaries are in place. How are you teaching your child to manage his own behavior and put his own boundaries in place if he has never learned how to do this from you, all he has learned is there are boundaries and he needs to follow them.
Boundaries are vital to parenting, there is no question about that. The important thing to remember as a parent is, it is important to talk to your child about boundaries and why they are in place. Boundaries should change as the child gets older and is capable of more responsibilities. Boundaries can also change with different situations and there can be different boundaries for different children.
Parenting, like most other behaviors in our lives, are often to one extreme or the other. Either there are strict boundaries without explanation or discussion or compromise or there are little to no boundaries in place. Neither of these extremes are beneficial to the child. The most beneficial, long term approach is in the middle, where there are boundaries and the boundaries are reviewed regularly, discussed, flexible, open to change and allowed to be challenged.
The other extreme of no boundaries does the same but in an opposite way. Having no boundaries does not teach children how to create their own boundaries or manage their own behaviors or how to handle others’ behaviors.
Creating Critical Thinkers, Problem Solvers and Decision Makers
by Sabrina Trobak, B.Ed, M.A.C.P., R.C.C.
December 9, 2015
Part 2: Angry Parents.
There are many parents who use yelling, anger, intimidation, embarrassment, control and manipulation to parent their children. These types of behaviors have a significant impact on children.
Anger is a coping strategy; it is used for a variety of different reasons.
Anger is used to avoid responsibility. When a person is being made accountable for his/her actions or behaviors, he/she will often get angry. This anger is used to distract away from the issue at hand (what he/she is being held accountable for) and the focus is now on the anger. The person no longer has to take responsibility for the action/behavior because of the anger.
Anger also increases the chance the other person will retaliate with anger, what is often called “fueling the fire”. If the other person gets angry then there is even a greater chance of being able to avoid responsibility.
If we take for example, a husband (John) and his wife (Sally) and the wife asks for some help with caring for the children. Sally says to John she needs him to bath one of the children and get the child ready for bed. John becomes angry and says that he’s tired and is busy doing his stuff. Sally argues back stating that she always does the work and he always gets mad whenever she asks him to help. She says she can’t ask for help without him getting angry.
The conversation has now changed from John helping with the children to his anger. He doesn’t have to follow through on helping with the child because they are now focusing on his attitude/anger.
As the conversation continues, it escalates. Sally says she’s tired of doing everything all by herself and she hates that he doesn’t help her. John says if she was better at what she did, he wouldn’t need to help her as much.
Now it is highly likely that he will not be helping with the child bath routine because she is not going to want him around her so she will likely tell him she will do it and for him to leave.
Sally escalates and continues to aggressively tell John how she doesn’t know why she stays with him, she does everything and he never helps or appreciates what she does.
Now it is likely that Sally’s anger has created an excuse for John so he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his behavior. He can now justify his behavior by saying to himself she always freaks out and yells and doesn’t give him a chance so why should he even bother trying.
The anger in this scenario distracted away from the topic of needing help with bath routine, created a situation where he is more likely to leave the room and not help and he can also justify his behavior by focusing on her anger.
Anger often prevents people from addressing issues with people because of the potential of anger. If a person regularly gets angry, people avoid dealing with this person because while, they don’t know when, why or how the anger will happen they are certain it will happen. Angry people will often saying things like, “I wasn’t even angry,” or “I haven’t been angry is weeks.” While this may be true, people around them know the potential is there so they avoid conflict with the person in order to avoid the anger.
Cycle of Violence/Anger.
There is a cycle of anger or violence that many families live in. It starts (or ends) with the explosion of anger. After the explosion, there is a honeymoon period. During this time it can be calm or it can be “I’m sorry”, buying small gifts, going for dinner or on a small trip etc. It is the time where people reconnect and feel loved. Then life continues and over time, stress builds and builds and something, could be anything, is a trigger and then the explosion happens again.
This pattern repeats itself over and over. It is a cycle, there is no end to it. It just keeps happening over and over and over.
Children who grow up in this cycle become normalized to it. It becomes their way of life; all they know. This translates later in life, and they will likely continue the cycle of anger by either being in a relationship with someone who is angry or being the angry person in the relationship. The cycle of anger will become their way of life, what is normal to them.
For people in the family living with the angry person, the waiting period, before the trigger, is the most stressful time. The family is waiting and waiting for the anger to happen and their stress increases the longer this period lasts. During this waiting period, people who are around the angry person often believe that the longer the person goes without getting angry, the bigger the anger will be when it does happen. In some cases people around an angry person will even try to poke and get the angry person to explode so it is over with and they don’t have to deal with it waiting for it to happen.
Many people see anger as control, when, in fact, anger is a symptom of feeling out of control. Anger is used when a person feels like they are loosing control or have no control and he/she does not know how to regain that control. He/she will often turn to anger to try and regain that sense of control.
Sadly, this strategy often works in the moment so the pattern continues. Anger often does stop the scenario from escalating as others will often back away or avoid the situation altogether. The anger works in the moment but causes significant problems in the long run. People often do not want to spend time with the angry person so the angry person becomes more and more isolated, feeling alone and insignificant, thus likely increasing the anger in order to cope with the emotions.
Anger also covers up other emotions. In the society we live in, it is ok to feel happy and angry but most other emotions are usually pushed away, buried or suppressed.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It is the emotion people use to avoid dealing with what is really underneath the anger.
What is under the anger?
unappreciated unlovednot important
not valuednot good enough
not heard out of control powerless
not belonging taken advantage of
When parents gets angry when dealing with their children, it is usually not because of the child or the child’s behavior. The parent is angry because he/she feels out of control, unsure, helpless, powerless, guilt, or not good enough etc. Rather than acknowledging that the parent feels out of control, unsure how to handle the situation, inadequate in his/her ability as a parent, he/she switches these emotions over to anger and projects this anger onto the children so these emotions get suppressed. The anger often creates fear in the child and stops the child’s behavior so the parent doesn’t have to feel these emotions…for the time being. The anger is used to stop the parent from feeling the parent’s emotions; it is not about the child’s behavior.
Anger affects children long term. When children, all people, have to cope with anger they go into “fight, flight, freeze.” Fight, flight, freeze (FFF) is the survival response living things go into when they sense danger. The danger can be real or perceived. All living things go into FFF when they sense danger, some animals fight, some run away and some freeze and try to blend into their environment or hide. FFF has been happening since the beginning of time.
In humans, FFF has become to be over stimulated and for many people FFF happens many times a day, often hundreds or even thousands times a day. Children who live with angry parents experience FFF many, many times a day.
FFF doesn’t just happen when a parent is angry, it also happens when a child thinks the parent may be angry. FFF doesn’t just happen when there is danger, it happens when a child thinks there may be danger or when they worry about there possibly being danger. FFF happens when a child thinks about previous angry outbursts as well. FFF happens when there is danger, when they worry about potential danger and when they remember past danger.
FFF is a physiological response in the body. Adrenaline is dumped into the body so the child can fight his/her way out of the situation or run away from the situation. Fighting and running take a great deal of energy so adrenaline creates this energy. However, when FFF happens all non-vital organs (skin, bladder, bowel, kidneys, immune system, stomach etc) are zapped of energy so FFF can occur. If FFF is happening hundreds or thousands a times a day it takes a significant toll on the body. We often see people with high anxiety also struggling with stomach problems, bladder infections, often with colds or flus or generally more sickly etc.
FFF also creates a chemical reaction in the brain. During FFF the brain is flooded with cortisol. Cortisol is a toxin, a poison, that stops the brain from functioning properly. Cortisol affects the brain’s ability to use logical and reason, connect to emotion, sequence events, understand consequences and memory. Cortisol shuts down the brain so all it can process is the basics of survival, do I fight, run away or hide.
Children who go through FFF many times a day have cortisol being dumped into the brain many times a day; this damages the brain. High cortisol levels are connected to attention deficit, learning disabilities, behavior problems etc.
Parents who use anger, yelling, intimidation etc as forms of parenting are damaging their children’s brains. This damage can have a long term impact on the child and it can last the child’s life time.
In summary, angry parents have a life long impact on their children. Angry parents teach their children to use anger to cope, to accept anger from others, to cope with other emotions through anger and to try and gain control through anger.
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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in our society. We often think of anxiety as being a woman freaking out or being unable to handle things. While this can be what anxiety looks like, it also takes on many other forms. Anxiety also looks very different for men.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a lack of belief in one’s self. People often say that events cause anxiety. This is not true. Take, for example, anxiety about talking in front of a large group of people. If talking in front of a group of people created anxiety, everyone in the world would have anxiety when talking in front of people. This is false, there are many people who enjoy being front of people and many who are comfortable doing it as well. If a person believes he cannot handle talking in front of a group of people, then he will have anxiety. Anxiety is not about the event, it is about his belief in his ability to handle the event.
Anxiety is lack of confidence. If a person does not believe in himself, does not have confidence, he will have more anxiety. Many men feel confident in their work environment. This is usually because they have training, education, experience, mentors, supervisors or rules/policies/procedures in place. These help with direction and guidance and allow a man to feel more confident in his ability to make decisions at work. If men had these types of things in place in regular daily living, their confidence would be significantly higher in other areas as well, thus reducing their anxiety. Lack of confidence creates anxiety.
So, what does anxiety look like in men?
One of the most significant ways men cope with anxiety is through anger. When a man (or woman, it applies to both) gets angry, people generally back off and leave him alone. This in turn, reduces anxiety because they no longer have to deal with the situation or the subject changes to “why are you always angry” as opposed to the topic that was creating the anxiety.
Anger works in the moment to get others to back off and not challenge him but anger also works when there is no anger. Men who use anger often are known for being angry, so even when they are not angry, people walk on egg shells around them in order to avoid the possibility of anger happening. People tippy toe around him and try not to challenge him in order to avoid the possibility of anger.
Anger not only stops the situation from happening, thus reducing anxiety, it is also a coping strategy to avoid feeling other emotions. Anger is a secondary emotion. Under the anger are emotions like fear, anxiety, vulnerability, shame, embarrassment, rejection, jealousy, lonely etc. Men don’t want to feel these other emotions so they switch to anger so they don’t have to feel these other emotions.
The most common way people deal with anxiety is through avoidance. But, a sure way to increase anxiety is also avoidance.
People don’t like to feel anxious so they avoid situations that make them feel anxious. The longer a man avoids anxiety-invoking situations the higher the anxiety becomes. Remember, anxiety is not about the situation, it is about his lack of belief in himself to handle the situation. The more he puts it off, the more doubt he has in his ability to handle the situation.
As a therapist, it is much easier to help a person over come his anxiety of heights when he is 12 as opposed to when he is 40 years old. The 12 year old has only avoided heights for a short period of time, so he hasn’t had as many opportunities to tell himself he cannot do it. A 40 year old adult has told himself he cannot do heights so many times that he believes it way more than a 12 year old. This repeated message over many years, makes it much more challenging for him to overcome his anxiety around heights.
People don’t like to feel anxiety, so avoid situations that create anxiety, thus, in turn, creating more anxiety. Often when a couple has an issue that is creating conflict they do not want to discuss the issue because “things are going well”, they don’t want to rock the boat and create conflict. However, waiting to address an issue when there is already conflict is extremely unproductive, so often the issue never gets resolved and continues to create problems in the relationship for years.
Many men work away from home for most of the day. When they return home after work, it can often be challenging for them to find their place in the family. The mother and children have their routine and roles for the day and most of this does not include dad. So, when dad gets home, he often isn’t sure what his role or responsibility is. This creates anxiety, which is often dealt with by avoiding. Slowly over time, the man, or Dad, of the family starts to withdraw. Withdrawal can come in many different forms. It can be handing decisions off to the wife, sleeping or napping during the day or after dinner, doing activities with friends rather than being with his family, spending more time at work, zoning out in front of the television or just not engaging with his family members. Often men will also use alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to check out. Men, in general are often more likely to use alcohol or drugs to cope with anxiety.
This checking out behavior can be from anxiety around not having a place in the family but can also be created from general anxiety (meaning anxiety that he had been carrying with him for years). When a man feels more vulnerable, he will often have more anxiety about feeling vulnerable. This triggers the strategies he uses to cope with anxiety, like checking out. Being around and connected to people he loves the most and who are the most important in his life, like is partner and children, make him feel more vulnerable, which creates anxiety, which creates the need to cope with anxiety by checking out, or using other strategies.
When he uses anger to cope with feeling vulnerable around the people he loves, he creates a disconnect between him and his family, (feeling angry towards them or them feeling angry towards him) thus reducing the vulnerability (through sense of connection) and then reducing anxiety as well.
Numbing emotion rather than feeling emotion is also a significant strategy men use. Men grow up in a society that tells men they are supposed to be strong. They are told to “suck it up,” “be a man,” “stop being a sissy,” “man up,” etc whenever they experience emotion. Society says men can feel two emotions, happy and angry, that’s it! Society says if a man show anxiety, fear, sadness, vulnerability etc he is weak.
Men are human, they do feel these emotions but they are taught to suppress them, to push the emotion down, bury it. In order to do this, they numb themselves. This pushing down emotions and not being allowed to express emotions all creates anxiety. Anxiety is lack of belief in self. If a man is not allowed to show his emotion, he is not allowed to be himself. Lack of confidence is created by not being who he is, suppressing a part of himself, like his emotion.
When an adult man has been carrying all these buried emotions for decades, numbing becomes a survival coping strategy. If they were allowed to feel all these emotions they’ve been carrying for decades, it would be way too overwhelming so they have to keep numbing these emotions. The more they numb and avoid the emotions, the more the anxiety increases.
The more they numb the emotions, the more disconnected they feel from their families so the more they avoid their families. The more they disconnect and avoid from their families the more anxiety they create for themselves.
Lack of responsibility
Taking ownership or responsibility for one’s actions is directly connected to a person’s anxiety level, or belief in self. Responsibility happens when a person believes in himself enough, that he can handle taking responsibility. If a man does not believe he can handle taking responsibility for something, he won’t do it. Avoiding responsibility comes in a variety of different ways. People avoid responsibility by blaming, justifying, avoiding, denying, or excusing.
Strong belief in self --> confidence --> ability to take responsibility.
Lack of belief in self--> lack of confidence --> lack of ability to take responsibility.
The inner voice
People are constantly trying to prove to themselves what they believe about themselves is true. If a person believes he is not good enough, not valued, worthless, unlovable, he will be drawn to situations and people that prove to him this belief of self is true.
If people believe they are not good enough, not valued, worthless, unlovable, they will have self doubt.
If people believe they are not good enough, not valued, worthless, unlovable, they will have anxiety.
In order to reduce anxiety, a person must first become aware of his true inner voice, what he really believes about himself. If he is not aware of what he believes about himself, he cannot change it. Once he is aware of his true inner voice, or core belief, then he has to make conscious decisions to challenge that voice and change it. The more he challenges that core belief and changes the core belief, the more confident he will become and the less anxious he will be.
The foundation of the information presented in this paper was acquired through training with Tony Martens of Martens and Associates. Martens and Associates’ data and research was developed through treatment centers in Alberta Canada for regressed sex offenders and their families. Unless otherwise stated, information presented was gained through this collection of data and research.
Sexual abuse by an immediate, extended family member, or someone known to the family is by far the most common type of abuse to occur (Sexual-Offender-Treatment.org, 2007). For the purpose of this paper the focus will be around a family where the father, a regressed sex offender, is sexually abusing his own daughter. This is an intricate look at each member of the family and how they are tangled together, decreasing the possibility the abuse will be disclosed.
There are different types of sexual offenders who offend against children; the three most common being pedophiles, hebophiles and regressed sex offenders. For the purpose of this paper, the father is a regressed sex offender, the most common of the three, and also significantly different than the pedophile and hebophile.
Pedophiles and hebophiles have a predisposed sexual attraction to children (Sexual-Offender-Treatment.org, 2007) and believe there is nothing wrong with sexually offending against children. In fact, they may see their behaviors as a way of helping the child become a more confident sexual adult. Pedophiles are sexually attracted to smaller children ages 5-9 and hebophiles are attracted to older prepubescent youth, ages 9-13. Regressed sex offenders are attracted to people their own age (Wikipedia, 2011) and offend against children who are available rather than a specific type of child. Pedophiles generally offend against boys and regressed sex offenders generally offend against girls (although they may offend against boys if boys are more accessible than girls; regressed sex offenders are opportunist offenders). Regressed sex offenders do not have a type of child they offend against but rather offend against children they have access to. Regressed sex offenders, therefore, often offend against their own children, children in their extended family or children in families they know. The regressed sex offender is attracted to people his own age and is not attracted to children, and offends because of blurred boundaries and maladaptive coping strategies for dealing with stress, not because of a predisposed sexual attraction to children (Martens, 1988).
The regressed sex offender, also known as the non-exclusive sex offender in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM -IV (2000), is sexual attracted to people his own age. He knows what he is doing is wrong, feels guilt and wants to stop abusing the child, and tells himself he will never do it again, but ends up offending over and over. A regressed sex offender has maladaptive ways of coping with stress and his boundaries are blurred. With in-depth, long term, proper treatment, regressed sex offenders can overcome this behavior. D. Richard Laws states that rather than treating these offenders as risk-laden deviants, they should be treated as fellow human beings who can achieve more productive lives with proper guidance (Franklin, K, 2011).
SETTING THE STAGE
The father is attracted to a woman his own age and commits to a relationship because they are in love. The relationship becomes strained and they start to fight and argue more, they don’t communicate effectively any more and both feel unappreciated by each other. When the father comes home from work, the wife doesn’t really respond but his young daughter runs to him and gives him hug and kiss and makes him feel loved and cared for. As the father continues to struggle in his relationship with his wife and feels more and more rejected by his wife, he feels more and more connected with his daughter. The father feels the daughter loves him, and he may believe she is the only one who truly loves him.
This father-daughter relationship may lead to sexual abuse but it is not premeditated by the father to purposefully lead to sexual abuse. Pedophiles and hebophiles purposely set the stage to sexually abuse against children. Regressed sex offenders do not premeditatively plan for the abuse to happen.
Meanwhile the mother sees the relationship between the father and daughter and becomes resentful to the daughter because, ultimately, she wants to feel loved by her husband, the love he is giving to his daughter. The mother’s relationship becomes strained with the daughter because of the jealousy the mother feels towards the daughter. The mother feels the daughter is taking the love and attention from the father and the mother feels she is being denied this love and attention.
PROCESS OF THE SEXUAL ABUSE
Before the sexual abuse starts the father is nurturing, caring and supportive of his daughter. Overtime this nurturing turns into sexuality. Often the sexual abuse starts as incidental touching. This can be things like he becomes aroused when his daughter sits on his knee, “accidentally” rubbing up against her or brushing against her bottom or breasts. The most common form of incidental touching is through wrestling. The father “accidentally” puts his hand between his daughter’s legs or brushes against her breasts etc. The daughter may be aware of this but often the child isn’t even aware but the offender is sexually aroused and aware of what is happening. During times of wrestling if there is incidental touching and the mother is in the room, the daughter may wonder why the mother isn’t saying anything, why she is letting him do this to her daughter. The mother is most likely not aware it is happening. This causes more strain between the mother and daughter and reduces the trust the daughter has in the mother to protect her.
Generally, something will happen and the father will become extremely stressed and then there will be a fight with his spouse. He will then be drawn to his daughter, the only one he believes loves him, and he will sexually offend against her. After this first incident, he will be disgusted with what he has done and swear to himself he will never do it again. Sexually offending is a way he releases the stress he was under but then when he realizes what he has done his stress level increases again because he has to deal with what he has done. The stress continues to build and build and then he ends up offending again. This cycle continues.
The father has maladaptive ways of coping with stress and his boundaries are blurred. Often alcohol can also blur boundaries; often when he offends the second time and so on, he will have a drink of alcohol. Most offenders are not really drunk when then offend, however, they drink enough so it can be used as an excuse. The father may drink more after the abuse as a way of coping with the fact he has sexually offended again.
Once the father has offended against his daughter he will work very hard a creating a relationship with the victim to try to ensure she doesn’t tell. He will work at continuing to distance the relationship between the daughter and everyone else in the family. He will tell the daughter her mother is not nice to her and doesn’t care about her to keep the daughter from confiding in the mother.
The father may use verbal or physical threats to get the victim to keep the secret or he may make promises of buying her things or taking her on holidays etc.
The mother becomes jealous of the relationship between the daughter and her father and this causes the mother to distance herself from her daughter. The more time the father spends with the daughter, the more the resentment builds. She may even start to see her daughter as being another woman in the house.
The stress of this is often overwhelming and the mother will leave the home so she doesn’t have to be around and see the relationship between her daughter and husband, the relationship she wants to have with her husband. This causes even more distance because the daughter feels abandoned and cannot understand why the mother would leave her alone with her father who sexually abuses her when her mother was out of the house. The daughter sees her mother’s absence as her mother failing to protect her and resentment builds in the child towards the mother.
Often mothers will turn to the medical field as well. The mother feels stressed because of the relationship she is in, and feels unloved and not cared for. She realizes if she goes to the doctor, she will get some attention and someone will listen to her and this feels good. The mother then starts seeing the doctor regularly. She may even be admitted to the hospital from time to time. When she is in the hospital it is very likely that the father will offend against his daughter. Again this feeds the abandonment the daughter feels towards her mother because her mother is not there to protect her.
All the medical attention the mother gets may be seen by the daughter as the mother being weak or fragile. This also reduces the chances the daughter will tell the mother because she sees the mother as being too weak to handle it if the daughter discloses the abuse.
The sibling of the victim also sees the relationship between the victim and her father. The sibling also wants that sense of belonging, feeling loved and cared for by the father and starts to resent the victim or feel jealous of the relationship the victim is having with the father, one the sibling doesn’t have but wants to have.
Often when the abuse is disclosed and the sibling finds out what happened the sibling wonders what was wrong with him/her that he/she wasn’t even good enough to be abused. Siblings are often forgotten about in the therapeutic process that occurs after abuse is disclosed because the abuse didn’t happen to them but the siblings are most definitely in need of therapy as well.
The daughter’s relationship with her mother and siblings becomes strained and she sees her father as the only one who really cares and loves her. The other family members are distant and the daughter turns to her father for emotional support. Then when he abuses her, she has no one to turn to.
The first time the sexual abuse occurs the daughter is in shock and usually becomes almost paralyzed. She freezes and doesn’t say anything. In her head she thinks it must have been a mistake or she may hope it was a dream. She cannot believe the one person who she feels loves her would now do this to her. After the first time she convinces herself that it won’t happen again but then it does happen again. She experiences a great sense of disbelief and cannot believe the only one she trusts would hurt her.
She now feels trapped and doesn’t say anything. She feels she should have said something after the first time it happened and now it is too late to say anything. She may believe that she some how made him think she wanted him to do this to her or that she likes it. This guilt she feels in believing this will stop her from telling. She will then think it is her fault the abuse continued.
The daughter may also start to isolate herself from her friends as well. She may feel too scared to tell her secret to someone or that it may slip out by accident or someone may be able to tell, so she stays away from others. She may also notice her father is more edgy when she is with her friends so she stops socializing with friends because she doesn’t want to upset her father. She may also isolate herself because it is too exhausting constantly being on guard to protect her secret.
Her father may also feed this isolation but taking away her cell phone, not allowing friends over or her going to friends’ houses and/or by monitoring her very closely. The daughter feels she cannot speak openly and honestly about her experience without unwanted consequences. She may fear the family as she knows it will be lost, her parents will split up, her father (the only one she believes loves her) will be in trouble, hurt or angry at her, her family will be angry at her, or she will be removed from her home. There may also be a fear of her loosing her sense of power, security, identity, sense of belonging, predictability, familiarity, and sense of family. She may also feel a sense of responsibility for allowing the abuse to continue and feel responsible for the family tension. The daughter may also experience a strong sense of loneliness as she has no one to tell; she had to keep the secret to herself. As long as these fears are present it is less likely she will disclose the abuse.
HISTORIC SEXUAL ABUSE
According to Martens and Associates (2011) 90% of women in relationships with men where the man abuses their child were also sexually abused as children. Data collected from the sexual abuse treatment centers associated with Martens and Associates states that 65% of women who were sexually abused also became offenders. Women often sexually abuse during teen and early 20’s and then they usually stop. Mathews, F. (1996) also states that many self report studies show a high percentage of men say they were sexually abused by women. He adds that a high proportion of rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men state they were also sexually abused by women when they were young. If a woman was abused and hasn’t dealt with the abuse, it will be significantly more difficult for her to believe, help and support her daughter if her daughter discloses abuse because her daughter’s abuse will trigger memories of her own abuse. If the mother was not only abused, but also became an offender, she is even less likely to believe her daughter as she in not only in denial of her own abuse but also her own offending.
90% of regressed sex offenders were sexually abused and virtually all were abused in some way; physically, sexually or emotionally and were discouraged or not allowed to express their emotions. According to Martens and Associates data, the two most common offenders who offended against these regressed sex offenders when they were children were their sisters or aunts. Women were the common offenders who abused these men who then, in turn, abused against their own daughters (Martens and Associates, 2011). Mathews, F (1996) states that boys who were abused by women, if in turn, they become offenders, almost exclusively offend against females.
The victim will not tell authorities because of society’s perception that offenders are horrible creatures. The victim is not going to turn in her father, the only one who seems to love and care for her, to people whom she believes hate and despise him. Helping families of sexual abuse starts with understanding the family dynamics and the perception of each family member. Showing the victim that her father made horrible choices but, ultimately, is understood and can get help will increase the likelihood that she will tell.
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Martens, T. (1988). The Spirit Weeps: Characteristics and Dynamics of Incest and Child SExual Abuse with a Native Perspective. Edmonton Ab: Nechi Institute.
Martens, T (2011). Personal training with Tony Martens of Martens and Associates. February 2009-present. Surrey BC.
Mathews, F. (1996). The Invisible Boy: Revisioning The Victimization of Male Children & Teens, Central Toronto Youth Services, For The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Health Canada.
Sexual-Offender-Treatment.org (2007). Review of Myths and Facts about Sexual Offenders: Implications for Treatment and Public Policy by Fortney, T., Levenson, J., Brannon, Y., & Baker, J. Retrieved from http://www.sexual-offender-treatment.org/55.html