What do you grab on to, when all you know is gone?

 

Change and transformation.  Many people are fortunate enough not to be faced with having to change or transform themselves during their lifetime.  Most people who are fortunate in this way, don’t ask or have to ask those inner-world questions such as, “who am I separate from my parents?” “Do I believe [xyz] like my parents do?”  “Am I living for the approval/validation of my parents or society?”   Change is difficult but transformation is gut-wrenching.  You can change jobs, cars, houses, cities, spouses, lovers and friends, but transformation is about altering or creating a new self-identity.  I disliked the word transformation when used for counseling and coaching, because transformation is such a loaded word with so many expectations attached.  But, I do use it when there is no other word to describe a situation for someone having to build themselves again from the ground up because everything they’ve known has been removed or torn away.

Identity is like a house.  To build a strong or sturdy house, you need a foundation that supports it.  Guess who primarily laid that foundation?  Your parents or primary caregiver and to a lesser extent, society.  Who you are, who you believe yourself to be, are shaped by your family and environment.  Your parents, no matter how old you get, are still a foundation.  As a child, you relied on your parents for comfort, support, love, nurturing, feeding, shelter etc.  You may be an independent and self-sufficient adult,  but this subconscious feeling of relying on your parents doesn’t necessarily go away, until you have to grapple with the finality of the loss of your parents.

Identity, in this society is also shaped by work.  We live to work (sadly), so work is important.  It’s important because it provides a foundation for you as an adult in which you rely to take care of yourself. Providing for yourself allows you independence from your parents and an opportunity to create and provide for your own family.  However, we, through society have intertwined who we are (be-ing) with what we do (do-ing/job).  Don’t believe me?  A common question we ask children is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We ask a college-aged person the same question in the form of, “What do you want to study?”  As you get further into adulthood, when you first meet someone, how long in the conversation until someone asks, “So, what do you do?”  I get it.  Knowing what someone does for a job may tell you a little, a lot or nothing about that individual.  It’s  the ‘I do” vs ‘I am (Be).’  For instance, I do counseling vs. I am a counselor, I practice law vs. I am a lawyer, I practice medicine vs. I am a doctor.  The job can be anything.  Mom, Dad, Welder, Writer, Plumber, Chef etc… We often identify ourselves by what we do.

But what happens when your foundations are removed?  How sturdy is a house without a foundation?

Tiger woods was recently arrested on a DUI and his mugshot plastered across every news outlet.  There seemed to be a certain amount of glee in the media.  Understanding someone else’s experience leads to compassion and empathy.  In 2010, it was reported that Woods entered an in-treatment facility regarding his behavior (multiple women).  Since that time, I have wondered if Woods would remain in competitive golf or give it up.  First let me state my disclaimer.  ***I don’t know Tiger Woods.  Period. Because I don’t know you, the reader personally,  your individual behaviors or family dynamics, I cannot use your personal experiences as examples to explain psychology, behavior and family insights to educate, so I identify people already in the public eye.  Although we’re all different, we all pretty much have similar family and life issues no matter how much money or fame you have.  Ok, end of disclaimer.***

Here’s why I wondered about Woods’ remaining in golf.   When someone enters into in-treatment rehab, the program usually consists of 4-5 weeks of intensive inner-work. The individual is invited to excavate and explore their inner world.  Part of that program, depending on the facility, focuses on what led to this behavior such as family history, family patterns and looking at and sharing past experiences that may or may not be trauma related.  So, when Tiger entered rehab he most likely looked at those aspects of self.  I figured it was only a matter of time that he would let go of competitive golf.

 

 

  1. He most likely looked at golf from various perspectives.  Perfection being one.  His dad was in the military, so there’s a certain amount of perfection that gets passed down to kids, even subconsciously.  I haven’t met an adult child raised in a military family that doesn’t have some sort of perfectionism, no matter the outward appearances, me included.  Golf is a game of perfection.  You compete, first with yourself then with others.  After so many divots, I didn’t have the patience for it.  Bye-bye golf.  Anyhoo, the amount of pressure that comes with sustaining perfection is unsustainable.  At some point, there is a breaking point.  Sustaining perfection for many years only leads to combustion.  Many people can cope with perfection, striving for perfection their whole life, but for the most part people get burned out and tired.  Or they find some unhealthy coping mechanism to blow off steam.  Perfectionism is also about what you tell yourself mentally, do you ruminate over and over about your bad decisions with regret, wanting to do it over, perfectly or the right way?  Otherwise, a mistake = failure.  This is the psychology of perfection and it eats away at your spirit.
  2. Tiger was introduced to golf at a young age by his father.  It was a shared experience with his father, something that they bonded over.  How many fathers bond with their sons through sports?  How many fathers want to bond with their sons through sports?  How many fathers don’t know what to do or how to bond when their sons don’t like sports? Lastly, how many sons who may or may not be athletically inclined want to bond with their father?   Umm..every son.  This is a form of enmeshment, where the needs/desires of the parent takes precedence over the child’s needs.  The parent who subconsciously lives through their child, covertly or overtly pushing their child to fulfill the parents’ unfilled passions, desires or dreams.   Example: pageant moms.  This is an extreme example, but this can be any dream, passion or family business such as lawyer, military, police, fireman, politician, etc etc…Now, I’m not saying that was the intention of Tiger’s father or any parent.  It could’ve been simply wanting to share his passion with his son, but the parent’s passion became the son’s.   It’s like wearing a coat of your parents and you make it fit, but after a while, as you grow up, the coat becomes a bit too tight realizing that the coat was never really ‘you’ to begin with.  Most, if not all kids will do what pleases their parent even if it’s not important to the parent.  This could be going into a certain line of work, study, marriage, or family business, based on your parent’s desire or to make your parent proud.
  3. Tiger Woods began golfing at the age of 3! He is now 41. He has trained for hours, daily for years on end. Golf was and has been his LIFE.  This is like a 40 year marriage.  Did Tiger go into this as a professional because he enjoyed it and excelled or were those by-products of choosing a profession that would make his father proud?  Did Tiger really enjoy playing competitive golf, or was it what he knew or was expected to do? There is no doubt that Tiger’s identity is and has been intertwined with golf and his father.  Golf has been, virtually his longest relationship.
  4. Tigers marriage also dissolved, yes, due to his own behavior.  That’s another loss.  I’m not making excuses for his behavior nor absolving his accountability.  Woods himself, has repeatedly owned up to his behavior throughout his process, at least in the public eye.

If any of the answers above were because it was expected, implied or would make his father proud, then golf was not his true choice and had a definite shelf life.  After the passing of his father, there was nothing really tethering him to golf.  It’s as if his body has been telling him, “I’m done with golf” but his mind said otherwise.  Golf has been a foundation in his life, something that he knew, was comfortable with, excelled at, relied upon, and enjoyed unlimited success, until he didn’t any longer.  Grief alone is a loss of foundation and extremely overwhelming to navigate.  No matter what your relationship with is/was with your mom/dad, the loss of your parent is the loss of a foundation.  Someone who nurtured you, supported you, loved you no matter what.

I understand the difficulty for people to have compassion and empathy for someone who has the financial means to give up a career and explore their next stage in life without the fear or worry about taking care of their needs. Most people, who lose their foundations, or just about everything, don’t have the luxury of financial freedom.  However, losing and building your self-identity is a struggle regardless because your self-identity isn’t linear, tangible, nor can you hold it in your hand like you can an object. Your self-Identity is fluid.

Without a foundation, or with your identity in flux, is like standing on a piece of flat wood in the middle of the ocean.  You’re alone, struggling to feel some sense stability and strength within yourself, and grasping at something that isn’t there to support you.  This seems to be what Tiger has been doing since 2010, trying to catch his footing but he’s been doing it by going back to the thing that he’s outgrown; golf.  Golf is no longer sustaining him, and he hasn’t yet ‘found’ what will.   Have you gone back to an old lover only to be reminded that, “Oh, yeah. That’s why we didn’t work out the first time.” Or, maybe you went back to an old job position or career because you don’t know how to change it, or you can’t see another, better possibility.   What about remaining in job or relationship in which the stress is literally making you sick? Would you find it easy to leave?  Would you find it easy to leave a 40 year marriage?  No one jumps from the fall of an identity directly to a new fully-formed identity (foundation).  It is a process that could take someone months or years to create.  The best anyone can do in times of major flux is to let go and work with the flow. There is no control in that, and that’s scary..for everyone.

Questions to ponder:

What makes up your identity?

If all you knew was gone, what would you reach for?  When there is uncontrollable change in your life, do you attempt to control it or go with the flow?  Have you ever gone back to something familiar knowing that it wasn’t the best decision for you, knowing that you’ve outgrown it?

 

**Lastly, there’s a caveat to this situation.  Woods clarified that it wasn’t alcohol but a mixing of prescribed pain medications. Unless he was just being honest, there’s an issue with this statement because it implies a justification of use and a DUI because they were prescribed medications.  For many people, the fact that the pills are prescribed means they cannot abuse them. It’s like a glorified drug-user. By no means, do I think or know if Woods’ has an issue with pills, but the statement would lean toward a future possibility.  I hope I’m wrong.

 

The Gift of Grief

In our society, you are revered when you ‘don’t let your emotions get the best of you.”  Grief is rarely talked about openly and is considered taboo. The average bereavement time a person receives after the loss of a family member is around 3 days and that might be generous. Three days is just enough time to attend the funeral/memorial services but not enough to mourn, yet we are expected to return to our jobs and lives without missing a beat and be fully functional. The loss of a family member is a devastating experience that alters a person for the remainder of their lives.  Grief can encompass many losses in your life such as divorce, loss of a job, house or a stage of life.   Even with good changes, there is still a feeling of sadness and loss of what was.  Grief is relative.  Some people say that divorce is like a death, and it is in the aspect that your hopes and expectations die, such as of growing old with your partner and being a support to one another.  However, with the change and death of a relationship, you still have a choice on how you want your Ex to be a part of your life going forward. When you lose a family member to actual death, you have no choice.  You have no choice on burying the hatchet in the future, sharing time or a conversation with each other, or co-parenting.  These are all choices that you still have, whether you choose to exercise them or not.

We don’t talk about grief, unless it comes in the form of a divorce or loss of a job, things we know we can replace.  Your grief will unknowingly make people uncomfortable.  It’s easier for people to digest the loss of a job, house or relationship because they often come with inspirational sayings such as, ‘when one door closes another one opens,’ or ‘you’ll get a better job, there’s someone better suited for you out there’ and on and on.  But, when you lose someone to death, the people around you won’t know what to say or what to do, some may even disappear from your life.  As you attempt to step outside of your grief for a brief moment and into your old routine seeking some normalcy or respite from your new reality, people may wonder ‘how can they do (that),’ ‘why aren’t they at home grieving,’ ‘there’s no way I could do that?’  This will  have little to do with you, and more to do with the person’s difficulty and inability in dealing with the enormity of the situation and sometimes their own emotions. The secondary experience of grief may feel too intimate, too real for someone in your orbit.  I don’t necessarily think this is a fault, it is just a response, some people just can’t be present to another person’s pain or because they can’t take your pain away and fix it.  Grief can make the people around you take stock in their own lives, questioning what is real and worthy in their own lives and this is uncomfortable for most everyone regardless of the circumstances that precipitated it.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has identified the 5 stages of grief, but know there is no right or wrong way to grieve there is only your way. The stages of grief are fluid.  You might stay in one stage much longer than other stages, you may go back and forth between the stages and right when you think and feel you’re at the tail end to acceptance, you might circle right back to the beginning stage during your grief. Because of this, grief can feel like it’s The Never-ending Story or Groundhog Day the movie only not a fantasy nor funny. Grief isn’t linear and if you think it is, you are being a disservice to yourself and others.

 


One thing for sure is that grief will change you in some may. One never really heals from the loss, instead you accept the circumstance.  To ‘heal’ would suggest that you are the same as before the loss, that you will never feel the pain or think of the loss.  You may be able to organize the loss in such a way that it ‘makes sense’ to you, but you can’t really go back to who you were prior to losing someone close to you.  The term, “Time Heals All Wounds’ really isn’t true.  What Time gives you is the opportunity to accept the reality of the loss and get comfortable with not seeing, hearing, speaking to or sharing milestones with your loved one.

The loss of a loved one can set the stage for self-examination and can be an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to you.  What you value may become crystal clear to you and others.  This is the biggest gift because the loss may propel you to live as authentic and honest as you want. Forget about living via the constructed expectations of society, family, friends, or self.

Loss will change you, even when you think it hasn’t.  The experience of losing someone you love is traumatic and therefore will alter you in some way. You will be changed regardless of how much you want to be yourself prior to the loss. Loss is experienced viscerally in the depths of your nervous system. The bigger the shock the bigger the trauma. Put it in simpler terms, shock gets experienced by your body (nervous system) and becomes registered in your long-term memory. Once an overwhelming experience becomes locked in your long-term memory, you register it as trauma. Because this trauma is recorded in the limbic system, your behavior may change based on subconscious experience.  For instance, abandonment and trust issues may be amplified.  Such as, ‘I don’t (subconsciously) trust you to be here for me, you will leave me, I can’t rely on you.’  Have compassion for yourself.

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The loss of a family member is devastating, even when a loved one has lived a long life. To lose a parent is tantamount to losing the foundation beneath you. You are having to grapple with the loss of your life-long and unconditional support/love and not being ‘taken care of’ any longer even though you’ve been self-sustaining for years and also have your own family. To lose a child, well, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  To lose a sibling is like losing your childhood, your camaraderie.

For myself, the loss of my brother in my teens changed me and family. It is no wonder that I became fascinated with psychology with ‘what makes people tick’ and spirituality with ‘what does all of this mean?’ in a search to answer my own internal questions.  Since the loss, what I value most is Time, family and real, honest conversations.  I value the time that I have and others take to spend together, however mundane.  I also value deeper conversations with others, so I have little interest in the superfluous conversations.  Money, things, jobs I can always replace, but I can never get back Time to spend with my brother.

Activity:

What or whom have you lost?

What do you value most now?

 

Know that:

You will laugh again, for real.

You will feel joy again.

Your life may change to exemplify what is truly important to you.

Your empathy may increase.

Remember to:  Be patient with yourself. To love yourself. To have compassion for yourself.

 

It really does take a village….

“You can tell the wealth of a nation/country by how well its women and children are treated.”

Ok, I don’t remember who said this, but this quote speaks volumes.  The connection between mother and child is paramount to your development.  Needless to say, your development impacts society as a whole.  Our connection to our mothers has been found to impact our overall current and long-term health and well-being. Studies have linked stress levels in children to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety and addiction (Neil Schneiderman, Gail Ironson, and Scott D. Siegel).  This is not to negate the role of fathers, by any means. Fathers are, of course equally important (we’ll get to that later in another post), but the focus is on women today due to 1. Women being the ones actually carrying to term and giving birth and 2. Women still being the majority primary care-giver.  Because the connection between mother and child is paramount to development, we must look at the environmental factors that can impact this bond or connection.  BTW, environmental factors don’t start for the child when they are birthed, it begins in utero, but that’s another post also.  There’s so much stuff to get to!

Sustained subtle stressors = trauma.  Overwhelming stress = trauma. Stress and trauma impacts you, because it impacts/impacted your development in some way. If stress and trauma impacted/impacts you, your relationships and your health (mental, emotional, physical) are all also impacted.   In a nutshell, environmental factors and your connection with your mother (and father) impact your health, work and relationships

In this country, we have been conditioned to think in terms of  ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ ‘My’ and ‘Mine.’ We think about how something (system, experience) or someone can help or hinder Me and My family. We don’t think about how a system, circumstance or experience will impact the ‘We,’ ‘Us,’ or ‘Our.’ This is the reductionist, individualist, competitive social society that doesn’t fully foster or allow for Connection. However, Connection (attachment) is about all of us as connection contributes to the strength and health of a nation (society).

We’ve read of studies about connection as it relates to loneliness and the negative effects on physical health and an increase in depression.  Studies have indicated that the stress and trauma a child experiences can contribute to their physical, mental and emotional health as an adult. Stress and trauma can contribute to the rise of addiction, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, stress and trauma have been linked to anxiety, depression and other mood disorders (Neil Schneiderman, Gail Ironson, and Scott D. Siegel). Our healthcare system is and has been at a crux with the increase of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke being among the top ten killers as well as the increase of drug/alcohol use and addiction contributing to a rise in death rates primarily among White Americans. These are for the most part, preventable diseases.

If we as a society began to view parent-child connections (relationships) and the systems that can support the relationship as a necessity to the long-term productivity, success and health of our society, then we (society) can begin to alter our long-term health and healthcare system through preventative care. The probability of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and addiction would likely be reduced, due to the reduction of stress endured, therefore reducing the long-term need and long-term cost of maintenance band-aid healthcare.

I don’t know who the Artist is to give credit.

What systems (communities) impact the connection (relationship) between parent and child?

Childcare. Childcare is expensive.  Infant childcare can range between $5,000+ to $16,000 a year depending on which state you live in.  Childcare, on average takes 10%-25% of the yearly joint income of a married couple, while single moms have to spend 30%-80% of their yearly income on childcare.  HALF! of your yearly income just on CHILDCARE! so moms can go to work to provide for their families.  For a family on or near the poverty line? They’re looking at an average of 50%- above 100% of their income on childcare.  This means, that people on or near the poverty line ‘spend’ what they don’t have on childcare, or the cost of childcare is contributing to their financial loss.  This. shit. is. CRAZY. when you look at the numbers.  The yearly cost of childcare is often running close to or near the cost for one year of in-state college tuition.  Living pay-check to pay-check increases the stress which often trickles down to children with parents unable to be physically and emotionally present due to working long hours/multiple jobs and then coming home to do the cooking, cleaning etc. How present would you be?  You can view the cost of childcare in each state at http://www.usa.childaware.org.

Healthcare.  This is a no-brainer.  Infants and children need to go to the doctor, many might be for emergency purposes.  Needless to say, adults also need medical care without going into debt or becoming bankrupt.  Prior to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) maternity care was NOT covered AT ALL, which meant being a woman was a pre-existing condition!  In addition to maternity care, Family Planning  is also necessary. Family planning including insurance covered, free or minimal cost for birth control as well as the right to choose for having a baby.  Taking away funding for Planned Parenthood sets up an increase in possible STI’s and an increase in unwanted children coming into this world  with little financial means or emotional development to support the child (teen pregnancy).   There are 14.5 million children living in poverty in this country today and lack of funding for Planned Parenthood would only increase these numbers.  How can one be against abortion yet be ok with taking away universal maternity care as well as meals for children?  Aren’t infants and children just as valuable as a fetus? With universal healthcare,  women and children would get the care they need, without the nagging worry about going bankrupt or further into debt.  Personally, an overhaul of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries should be held accountable and tackled.   We’re coming up on tax day, and believe me, every year I throw my fists up into the air cursing Uncle Sam.  However, I’m all for universal healthcare and education even with higher taxes. At least these great financial burdens would be lifted and I (we) would get a direct payoff instead of my taxes contributing to corporate wealth.  I know many people are against universal healthcare, but can someone tell me how Cuba, a country with universal healthcare and education, yet considered well below the economic growth rate has created a vaccine (Cimavax) to halt the spread of lung cancer?  One of the deadliest cancers? Yet, billions have been raised for the Komen foundation for breast cancer, and yet there’s still no cure?  Can someone say Profits over people?

Ok, off my soapbox…Next.

Paid Maternity Leave.  Not just maternity leave, but Paid Maternity Leave. Having a newborn is one of the greatest gifts and joys, yet employs the biggest stressors.  As a parent, you are on duty 24/7 no matter what.  Your underlying feeling is worry.  Worry that you’ll be a good parent, worry that you provide for your child, that they get a good education, worry that you raised a good functional child into adulthood, worry that your child is safe especially when you have no control.  As your children become adults, you worry less and less often but the underlying worry is never-ending. Well, until you die.  But I digress. Having a newborn is stressful and a complete change of your life. Paid maternity leave is important in establishing a connection/bond with your infant through holding, cradling, feeding, soothing, eye contact, speaking, bathing, cleaning etc.  All of these actions are bonding, especially breast-feeding.  Maternity leave would allow for bonding between parent and child without the stress of financially providing by having to rush back to work.  Some people get three weeks paid, some get 6 weeks, while others get 3 months and others get leave without pay.  3- 6 weeks are not enough. Three months leave, much better.  Paid maternity leave is needed for every family, but for the single mom (dad) and the parent with minimal support, it is imperative.

Which brings us to….

Equal Pay (and a Livable Minimum Wage).  US Department of Labor states that 57% of women work outside of the home. Statistics share that women make .60-.86 cents to every dollar a man makes, with women of color (Black, Latina) making the least. This impacts all women and especially single moms who carry the majority of responsibility for day-to-day child rearing.  For the single parent household, the stress of financially providing for your child and the stress of keeping the job is most likely increased (overwhelm), which impacts the connection between your child. Women will lose 800+ BILLION dollars! this year alone due to inequality in pay. If the Equal Pay rights became law, this would greatly benefit women, single women and single moms by reducing  financial stress with the ability to provide more for their child or children.  In addition, many families have to work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet and often that isn’t enough.  Here’s where the livable wage increase happens.  Wages have NOT increased with inflation through the years contributing to the 14.5 million children living in poverty.  Kids not receiving basic care, such as food, healthcare and for some, shelter. Basic needs.  I don’t know why this isn’t an outrage in America and with our politicians.

Yes, these are all separate issues affecting women, but these are all connected.  These systems are environmental factors that impact the well-being and development of children.  To think that a child’s development is solely impacted by the individual family is not seeing the entire picture for child rearing and development.

The lack of these systems being made available to support parents can contribute to increased stress.  You’ve read multiple times already in this blog, that’s how important it is.  Sustained stress becomes a form of trauma and therefore affects your reasoning which impacts your ability to think rationally. Stress also affects your emotions (i.e. being quick to anger, lashing out at your child or your partner), and affects your behavior with coping mechanisms like alcohol, drugs, food, tv, phone, FB and anything else to checkout (Frone, M; Russell, M; Cooper, M. Lynne,  1997).  Stress taken alone doesn’t sound so insidious, but sustained stress is deadly.

I could’ve written separate blogs regarding each system, but that would take this subject and make it linear with a one-dimensional view, when in reality many systems impact mother-child (parent-child) bonds.  Furthermore, when we see that there are many elements to supporting women and children, thus society as a whole, then maybe we can see that we are all connected and it really does take a village.  Maybe then, we are liable to take action in the direction of the whole rather than the individual.

 

Attachment Theory Explained through the Senses- Part 2

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Attachment theory is based on the connection between parent and child. How we connect to our parents can impact how we connect as adults to partner’s as well as impact our long term health and well-being. Part 1 discussed the importance of eye contact and touch in development.  Here’s part 2.

Voice (Tone/language).

Tone-

Often when we speak to our baby (babies), we often use a rhythmic or melodic tone.  This also builds a comforting connection with your baby because it is soothing. Tone is important obviously, because tone can also be rage filled, angry, or aggressive etc and your child’s nervous system will pick up on that too as it is stress inducing.

Language-

Reading to your baby/child has been the foundation for early childhood education.  Every teacher knows that reading and engaging your child in conversation helps to engage your child’s brain, creating more neural networks (brain pathways). In doing so, it increases your child’s learning ability.  There have been studies regarding the differences in learning abilities of children from affluent environments and less affluent environments, with children from affluent environments flourishing in school while children from the less affluent environments have difficulties excelling.  How does this happen?  There are various layered reasons or contributing factors as to why children from more affluent environments have been found to have greater learning abilities, but I’m only going to address one aspect contributing to this issue: Stress.  Stress impacts your connection with your child.  Stress impacts every connection in your life, period.

Here’s how stress can impact the child’s learning abilities.  A parent(s) from a lower socio-economic situation is concerned with the basic survival of their family.  In addition to raising their child and worrying about their well-being, parents from a lower socioeconomic background have the stress of making/finding enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table etc.  Single parents can go in this category too.  The more stressed you are, the more limited you get in your thinking.  Meaning, you don’t have the time, space or the luxury to contemplate the meaning of (your) life.  This can carry over unknowingly in how a parent interacts and engages with their child.  One’s scope gets smaller under stress and that can include language. The parent may be focused on “don’t do that, you can’t do that, stop it, be quiet etc.”   If this is the most of the conversation you have with your child, then your child’s vocabulary will reflect that, limited vocabulary.  Lack of engagement also impacts the brain’s development where the brain becomes pruned in that area (no new brain networks are created), limiting their learning abilities as they grow older.  Expand your child’s language through conversation and reading and you expand their ability to learn. With each conversation, you’re  helping your child create new brain neural connections and pathways.  From an attachment perspective, when you’re reading and engaging with your child, you’re also being present with them, connecting with them.  This is something that you can do and change right now, in your own home.  Teachers can only do so much.

Which brings us to Energy.  This isn’t one of the 5 tangible senses but it’s important because it’s about being present, energetically present to your baby/child. I know it’s impossible to be 100% present 100% of the time, but in the field of attachment (connection) we’re concerned more with consistency and quality.   Many adults will often say, “My child is too young to realize what’s going on.”  Ummmm…yes they do.  Children/babies soak up their environment and their experiences through their senses and nervous system (body memory).

A parent can be physically present but not energetically/emotionally present and various behaviors can contribute to a sense of disconnect, such as depression, addiction (including workaholic), substance abuse, video games etc.   This can translate into a parent being physically present yet emotionally/energetically distant and unavailable.  Some of you reading can relate personally to this, or some of you can relate by the men/women you attract into your life.  If you’re still negating the energy aspect of this:  Think of a time you spoke to someone, a family member, partner, spouse or co-worker. As you spoke, they bobbed their head to acknowledge they were listening, however, you could feel or sense that they weren’t really listening to you. They were physically present, but not energetically present to you and you felt a disconnect in that moment.   It’s the same for a baby/child.

Lastly, smell.   Babies can identify you and connect through their sense of smell. Having a blankie with your smell on it as they go off to childcare will keep your baby connected to you through smell.

In the theory of attachment, connection is the name of the game.  Connection = Better Health.

Attachment Theory Explained Through the Senses- Part 1

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I’ve been interested in attachment theory since I studied the theory during my master’s program. I look at the world through the eyes of attachment (connection),  how that connection can be altered or disrupted,  how does connection or lack there of affect a child’s development (and adult) and how can it help us heal.  I know, it sounds like I’m in a proverbial existential crisis.  For me, attachment is actually the science of spirituality of all things being connected. So, let’s get started.

Attachment theory was created by John Bowlby and further studied with Mary Ainsworth. Attachment theory is basically the study between parent and infant/child. The way I interpret this is: it’s a theory based on connection.  And how we connect with infants and children is through the senses.  We feel life, we feel through life.  We are all experiential beings, and kids more so simply because their brains aren’t developed to organize or make reason from their experiences like you can.  For this video, I explain the theory of attachment through the senses of eye contact and touch.

Eye contact is beneficial in creating and maintaining a bond with your child. When you look into your infant’s/child’s eyes and they look at you, a wonderful thing happens. You release a chemical called oxytocin which is the feel good, ‘Im in love’ chemical.  That’s why new moms will often say, “I’m so in love with my baby!” And its true. You are.  This feeling is also great because if you’re feeling so good, so in love then you’re more likely to continue caring, bonding and connecting with your baby/child. This is necessary for your baby’s survival.

The area of the eyes is important because this is also how your baby can develop mirror neurons by teaching through your facial expressions and emotions.  Facial expressions allow your face to come alive and show emotion and we connect through mirror neurons.  When your face expresses sadness, anger, frustration, joy, love, guilt etc, you’re teaching your baby to attune to you which in turn your baby/child will attune to others. This helps in emotional development, emotional recognition (emotional intelligence) and empathy. When this area around the eyes and forehead are in a state of freeze (expressionless) through brow lifts and botox, this can disrupt the emotional development of your baby because you aren’t mirroring those emotions via your face making it more difficult for your baby/child to fully develop the part of the brain that identifies and expresses emotions.  As adults, we can see and know (cognitively) that we are connecting with another regardless if they have had a brow lift or botox.  A baby’s/child’s brain isn’t nearly developed as adults.  They can’t make sense of it and the child may feel a ‘lack’ of connection to their parent because they have difficulty ‘reading’ the parents face.  I have wondered about the long-term impact on children as they grow up – will this stunt their ability to attune to another, to have empathy for another and to identify and express their own emotions.  Also, what is the impact on their relationships as adults?

The second sense is touch.  Healthy touch is imperative for the development of children on all spheres: mentally, emotionally, physically.   There is a school of thought of letting your baby cry themselves to sleep-on a regular basis.  In the theory of attachment, that would be a basic no-no if done on a consistent basis. The reason?  When your baby/child is crying they’re usually in a state of distress and when they’re in a state of distress, their little bodies are flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone.  If the parent doesn’t come to the baby’s rescue or protection to provide nurturing or consoling, then the baby can get the message that:

  1. She/he cannot fully rely on you when upset and distressed (stressed)
  2. The baby/child will have to learn to take care of their own distress and emotions the best way they can. And the only way a baby can take care of her/his own feelings is to fall asleep.

Another aspect is, if your baby/child becomes flooded with stress (cortisol) on a consistent basis with little/no nurturing/consoling, then it can set up your child to turn to other ways of soothing their distress (emotions, stress) as they get older which may impact their emotional, physical and mental well-being.

As always, I hope you learned something new or different.

Remember, if you don’t have kids,  you were one.

 

Laughter really is the best medicine

 

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Laughter really is the best medicine.
Yes, I know it sounds cliché and much too simple, but it really is the best medicine. Laughter is actually the second best way to reduce your stress. Why do you think cat/dog videos are so popular? Because they make you feel good and laugh.

Life doesn’t always go as you planned or as you want it to. Sometimes you get served a big bowl of sh!t and still have to eat it. I know, gross.  In those times, it’s often difficult to see the silver lining or even imagine that things will get better. In those times, you can be susceptible to situational depression, consistent sadness, confusion, being in the doldrums where your perception is doom and gloom.  With enough consistency of that thought process and experience, your brain continues to play mean games with you by focusing on all the things in your life such as your work, your home, your body that are ‘wrong.’  You know, all the things that you say to yourself such as, “I have to, I need to, or I should or I can’t.”  When you are in this state, there isn’t much room for laughter because your mind won’t quit, it’s as if your mind is on a perpetual loop refusing you to relax and enjoy the moment, any moment. Hence, you create more stress, angst, and dislike toward yourself and your environment.

Here’s where laughter comes in.

Laughter breaks up that pattern. Laughter breaks up any stress pattern. Comedians are adept at this. They take painful experiences and tell it in a way that makes it funny.
Laughter actually sets off chemicals and hormones that make you feel good by increasing dopamine levels. If you’re flooded with dopamine, you’re feeling pretty good, thereby reducing your stress levels by reducing the cortisol and epinephrine in your system.  This increases your immune system and mood.

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What Joy in this little face.

The field of psychology has many theories and thought forms with positive psychology being one disciple.  Positive psychology is self-explanatory, focusing on the positive (your strengths) changes/increases your mood and overall satisfaction in life. This is a fairly different perspective than primarily focusing on problems (what’s wrong) within your therapy.  For some people, positive psychology may sound too simple, quackish or too woo-woo.  But, you don’t treat or heal trauma and stress with more trauma and stress. Doesn’t happen. That’s science.

Truth be told, there was a time in my life where I struggled with situational depression/overwhelm meaning that I was so focused on feeling sad, focused on what was wrong that I trained my brain to keep focusing on what was wrong, what needed to be fixed or changed in some way instead of what was right as it was. When I was stressed to the point of literal burnout and my health was impacted, intuitively my body turned toward joy and laughter.  I was so stressed that I literally couldn’t take in any more trauma or stress in any way, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or energetically. Instinctively, I stopped watching or surfing the news online, if I did look at the news, it was only good news. I didn’t look at anything gruesome or violent nor any entertainment gossip. I didn’t reach for my phone first thing in the morning.  Here’s what I did. I only looked at feel good cheesy movies, good news, funny tv shows,  stand-up comedians, and movie cartoons. Although movie cartoons always make me cry, a la The Lion King etc., I laughed and enjoyed myself more often than I worried or felt stressed.

Guess what happened next?  My stress levels went down, I began to lose weight without trying, I wasn’t anxious, sad or irritable, I slept through the night, and my body began to heal.  I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the silver lining, the possibilities in my life.

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Even the President takes time to laugh…

Colleagues and friends looked at me strange after I disclosed, thinking I put my head in the sand, away from the world or lived in woo-woo land. I didn’t put my head in the sand but I did disconnect from taking in all the doom and gloom, the violence, abuse and neglect that permeates the news, many people’s experiences and the world in general.

I recommended and still recommend unplugging from stress as homework to clients. However, clients are also hesitant to do this as homework, even though they want to change their lives and experience less stress.  They often think, “How can something I see online or TV, or the conversations I have with others impact my sadness or depression?”  There is often resistance for various of reasons,

  1. It’s ‘too simple.’
  2. It’s work. Some say they want change but don’t really want to do the work.
  3. It disrupts their life in a different way, meaning it changes their life in some way.
  4. They’re stuck in their negative frame of thinking.

We are taught to believe that ‘it can’t be this simple,” but it can.

For the person who has difficulty with seeing the positive in self, life, or your environment, begin with laughter.  Laughter is contagious, it lifts your mood, helps you forget just for a moment about what’s ailing you. Laughter decreases your stress hormones and increases your feel-good chemical hormones, thereby increasing your immune system.

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For a 1 week: Shut off the news, watch only things that make you laugh or feel good. Engage in conversations that are positive.  If you find this difficult to do without hurting others’ feelings, take some alone time away from the situation or people involved if you can.  Notice what happens. Notice what happens if you find it difficult to do. Do you automatically reach for something negative, that will induce negative feelings and stress in you such as judgement, scorn, sadness, anger, apathy, or overwhelm?

I’d love to know how it goes, if you’re willing to share.

 

I love the woo-woo with a science eye.

 

Touch as Food

images-6Can you recall a time as a child when your mom/dad cradled or held you?  How about if mom/dad touched your forehead to determine if you were really telling the truth about feeling sick enough to stay home from school?  What about when you cried? Or were elated and excited about something?

Touch is the most important element in development and nourishment for life itself.  I know, some may be thinking, “Wrong! We can’t survive without food, or we’ll die.”  That’s also true.  There have been various studies on the power of touch on infants and development.  One troubling study involving infant monkeys that were fed food but touch was withheld.  The result: they withered and died. The video was and is heartbreaking, extremely painful to watch and I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s basically animal cruelty in the name of science.  Yes, all beings need food, but touch is the elixir of life.

Touch is such a powerful healing tool, but our world, especially as adults, lose that element.  As adults, we are often much more focused on work, keeping our lives and family afloat that we often forgo touch.  We get caught up in the daily grind of living and we think touch is expendable.  It’s not.  We may have spouses and partners, accessibility to touch within our grasp, but we still forego it.  Unfortunately, many children and adults don’t get touched enough or at all, by no choice of their own.  One may have grown up in a family system where “Hugs, physical nurturing and I love you’s’ were sparse if not rare, so the outward expression of love through touch may be uncomfortable.

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Touch and physical nurturing are imperative to our growth and development as children and it doesn’t stop being important just because we grow up.  Often times, people think that only the elderly suffer lack of touch, but that isn’t so.  The elderly population may be the largest population, because we are a consumer-throw-away culture of anything or anyone that gets too worn and old. However, in addition to the elderly population, lack of touch impacts children, singles, couples and the closest of long time married couples.  Couples will often report a lack of touch or sustained (intimate) eye contact with their partner.  Even the closest relationship can be devoid of hugs, hand holding or sustained eye contact, just because.

Let me be clear, the touch I’m speaking about is safe, kind and loving. Intimate touch where you connect with another in a non sexual way.  Sexual touch has many benefits, closely linked to the benefits of non sexual touch.  However, sex can often be confused and expressed as the only touch resource.

When I work with clients, using energy healing such as Reiki and cranio-sacral, I have noticed that by just holding the clients head, or placing a hand on the forehead often elicits feelings of love and sadness in addition to relaxation.  The client often remembers nurturing touch, yet realizes how much that doesn’t happen in their life presently, leading to a feeling of sadness and longing.  We are so much in our heads, our minds never stopping to the point that we negate our bodies.  I have found in my experiences that a whole session can be based around cradling the clients cranium.

There are various reasons why touch is such powerful healing tool.

  • Being touched, such as hand holding, being held, or hugged can mimic a time when you were a child being lovingly touched by your parent or caregiver.
  • Because of the previously mentioned, touch helps yourself and another to regulate your emotions.  For example, if you’re feeling sad, angry, or fearful, a touch of hand or a hug can calm you down by calming your nervous system.  You can do this for another too.
  • The body, your body, holds memories of experiences in your life that are remembered (stored) on a conscious and subconscious (body) level.  Past experiences that you think don’t currently matter or impact you, actually do.   Working through the subconscious through touch allows the deep memories and experiences that may have no language to surface.  This can assist you in becoming aware of and releasing old emotions and beliefs.
  • If you have experienced abuse (physical/sexual) or neglect (haven’t been physically/emotionally nurtured as a child), touch can help you to become re-acquainted or know what healthy nurturing touch is and what it feels like.   People who have been sexually abused can become highly sexualized and equate most touch as sexual.  Furthermore, the individual’s identity is often wrapped up in sexualization of self and others.
  • Touch build’s intimacy and trust between partners as well as parents and children and friends.
  • Touch is imperative to thriving child development.  Touch helps the brain and body to develop. Without touch for the child, the brain can atrophy in certain areas and make brain development (emotional intelligence and cognitive development) more difficult.  Lack of touch can also greatly affect a child’s immune system decreasing their physical health.

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Touch is food. Food for the mind, Food for the Body and Food for the Soul.

Whether you’re single or in relationship, recall how often you get touched in a way that feeds your depth, feeds your soul, or makes you feel loved as you are.

Mantra:

7 Hugs a day for a healthy heart.  The number is negotiable.

Exercise:

Ask someone close to you, parent, child, partner, friend for a hug.  They most likely need one too.

 

What is Stress? Big T and little t stress

 

 

I’ve written about this previously on this blog some time ago.  This is the second video in a series about stress for your health and wellness.  Each video will build upon the next, and I keep this stuff light, you can tell by my graphics.

If you have any questions or something to be researched email me at info@tejwest.com.