Learning From Royalty

Prince Harry recently shared about the grief he experienced when his mother, Princess Diana, tragically passed away. He participated in a refreshing interview conducted by Bryony Gordon for her podcast, Mad World, in which he confessed, “losing my mum at the age of 12 and, therefore, shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but also my work as well.” His confession was in part to promote the Heads Together campaign, created to fight the stigma associated with mental health. Prince Harry’s primary message is that while he did not seek professional help for anxiety and aggression until he was on the verge of a breakdown, there are millions that could learn from his mistakes and walk through healing much more quickly.

This isn’t the first time public figures have come out regarding their personal challenges with mental health. Lady Gaga has shared about her battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through an open letter posted on her Born this Way Foundation website, and her declaration gave permission to all her fans to express their struggles with PTSD and/or other mental health issues. When high profile individuals expose their personal challenges with mental health, it normalizes the experience for all who look up to them and encourages those who are suffering in silence to speak up and choose to stop suffering alone.

Why are we afraid to talk about our painful emotions?

We all experience them. We are bombarded by disappointment, fear, hopelessness, doubt, insecurity, and the list goes on and on. But many of us refuse to speak up, largely because this is what has been modeled for us either growing up or in the society around us. This way of coping leads to a false hope that depression; anxiety or grief will erode away over time. We may fear merely talking about our emotions or facing them because they could get out of control. And when they don’t go away, we may resort to self-medicating with food, drugs or relationships. For a moment, we may feel confident that we have our emotions under control, but, once we realize this approach isn’t helping, we might choose to talk to someone about it or to continue to suffer in secret until the situation becomes worse. In reality, the avoidance of emotions can only last so long, and as counselors, we often receive phone calls of desperation, when a person is fed up with their life course and truly believe their sole option is ending it all. Avoidance is merely a temporary fix, and true healing requires a deeper and more intentional approach.

So What Do I Do Now?

Family and friends are not always equipped to help with mental health concerns, although that’s a great first step. Sometimes talking about personal struggles with a trustworthy friend is all we need to feel relief. Other times, professional help is necessary to tackle more debilitating concerns.

We might believe that professional help for mental health is only for severe cases. The truth is, counseling is for anyone experiencing any mental distress, which can include: life transitions (good or bad), loss of a loved one or a job, difficulty making decisions, feeling overall dissatisfied with life or unhappy in a relationship or alone. I’ve had clients express concern that they’re not sure they even need counseling and others who call and ask questions about the counseling process but aren’t yet ready to schedule an appointment. This information gathering process is very healthy, and once they feel ready, they call and schedule their first appointment.

The initial step to get help is always uncomfortable and feels unnatural. Finding a counselor, with whom you can share, your deepest most personal concerns with can be daunting. If you’re not totally sure about what you need, it could help to find someone who could point you in the right direction, like a primary care physician. They usually have referrals available for their patients. Be honest about the symptoms you are experiencing, and if you are having suicidal thoughts, share it with your doctor or call 911 if you fear you’re in danger of hurting yourself. If you need to call or email a counselor to ask questions about counseling before meeting with them in person, do it. Psychotherapists are aware of the fear and hesitation that most clients experience before they make their appointment. If the counselor you meet doesn’t seem like a right fit, that’s okay too. Find someone who works for you.

Prince Harry and Lady Gaga are human just like us, but because of their very public lifestyle, it’s hard to imagine that they have hard days or that they struggle with their mental health. In reality, we all struggle, and now it’s our turn to break the cycle of avoidance in our own lives and choose healthy living.

To The Mamas of Teenage Boys

Things change quickly when boys begin turning into men. They look weird. Their voices change. They always smell one of two ways, sweat or an entire bottle of Axe cologne. They spend WAY too much time in the shower, and…the girls. It can be difficult, particularly for moms, to adjust to the physical changes as well as the emotional withdrawal that takes place during puberty. As a mom, our desire is to connect with our children emotionally. We want to be there for them. We would happily suffer through the awful smell and cracks in their voice if they would just, for a moment, let us IN. They don’t want to let you in, because it’s weird to talk to mom about anything. Frankly, it’s awkward for you too. You don’t know what to say or how to start and the old ways of communicating just don’t work anymore.

Here is the truth…it HAS changed. All of it changes, and it happens way too fast. This adjustment, although it feels tougher than all the other ones, is simply an adjustment. Just like when he started school or when he learned to use the potty. It all worked itself out then and it will now. You do, however, need some tools to get through this one. Luckily, there are some good tools that can make this time a bit easier to navigate through. If used correctly, you may even see a glimpse of that precious little one who wanted to share everything with his mommy first!

  1. Know that there are changes, BUT do not pretend to UNDERSTAND all of them: You have NO idea what it’s like to be a teenage boy. Not emotionally, not physically. Additionally, remember that HE has no idea what it’s like to be a teenage boy; he too has never been one! Rather than focusing on the physical changes, focus on how it must FEEL in his body. You don’t know what it must be like for a boy, but you do know what it feels like to be awkward, confused, and hormonal. This is an out-of-control feeling that nobody likes. It can lead to anger, outbursts, and frustration. Use these moments of anger to connect rather than respond emotionally. Take a step back, breathe, listen, and provide a reasonable consequence for the behavior.
  2. Set Boundaries: In therapy I often hear parents of teens become so overwhelmed with the emotional outbursts that they choose a hands-off approach. They don’t want to deal with the fluctuating emotions and behavior so they quit trying. NO, NO, NO! Boys in particular need structure. They need safety at a time when things can feel out of control. Don’t remove boundaries; adjust them so that they are age appropriate with clear
  3. Model Healthy Behavior: If you are not in control of your emotions or relationships, he will not know how to be in control of his emotions or relationships. If you know this is an area you struggle with, work on it. He will not learn how to treat a woman with respect if you are not setting that expectation for the men in your life. He needs you to SHOW him, much more than he needs you to TELL him.
  4. Accept & Embrace Dad’s Time to Shine: Let’s face it – this is a time in which boys need a father figure. They will need more time with Dad or uncle, or male pastor, ect. They need somebody who understands, yes more than you, how to be a man. Leave room for this. Encourage this. Help them find this if they don’t already have it.
  5. Give them Responsibilities: Teenage boys are busy. With increasing school loads, after school activities, and friends there is not a lot of room left for chores. Some parents worry that giving them responsibilities is adding to an already heavy load and so they remove the burden. Remember that teenage boys need a sense of control in a chaotic time. Rather than removing chores all together, change them. Have them create and cook dinner once a week. Give them three options for a weekend chore that allows for an added sense of control such as:

1) Not just re-mulching the yard but going to the store to buy mulch and telling him he will need to figure out the best option for the yard on his own.

2) Have him pick a person to assist with a task, chore or errand in some             way once a month. This can be a neighbor, teacher, friend, ect.

3) Take a sibling to a book store monthly, buy a book, and read it to them             once a week.

  1. Balance: It might be time to LET GO a bit mama. I know, it’s hard but they need some space. You want to set boundaries, give responsibilities, and GRACE. The hardest part can be trying to hold on to the developmental stage that they were in before. If you let go a bit and embrace the time rather than fight it – you will see that underneath the smell, through the hormones, and around the corner from the girls is the MAN you worked so hard to raise. You did well, Mom. Let him show you!