The Gift of Silence

Jill Blog Pic

Pain, heartache, and struggle are all part of the human experience.   We have all struggled. We have all experienced the excruciating emotions that accompany loss. We have all been in the dark trenches life drops us in at one point or another. Why, then, do we get uncomfortable when someone else is hurting? We clam up, feel uneasy, and say things we regret a minute later.

One possibility is that feeling the emotions that accompany a loss are not so pleasant, and embracing these difficult feelings puts us way out of our comfort zone. We don’t like the way it feels to hurt and it is almost worse to witness others hurting so we do everything possible to fix it. We say things like, “Time will heal this”, “He wasn’t the right guy for you anyway”, “You can have more children” “At least he isn’t in pain any more”.   All of these comments are meant to be helpful but have the potential to minimize the loss, put a timeline on grief, or even relay the message that I can’t bare your pain so hurry and fix it. This leaves the hurting friend feeling as though they are not valid in their pain and often times folks suppress it and eventually put on the happy face those around them desire.

We spend a good portion of time planning the “just right” thing to say and get ourselves worked up when it is time to say it, when the reality is that what the hurting person might need doesn’t involve words at all.

This friend in pain might simply need your PRESENCE. Someone who is willing to put on their tall work boots, grab their flashlight and trudge through the mud and darkness with them.   Many times when a tragedy occurs, communities of people swoop in to help and comfort those in pain. However, these well-meaning folks may tap their toe in the mud but quickly jump out and provide encouragement from a place of distance where it is dry, clean, and not so dark or messy.  While the encouragement is nice, the heartbroken person is still down in the dark pit alone. What they need most is someone, anyone, who is willing to jump in and get dirty with them. Someone who is willing to walk next to them, in the dark, where the light at the end seems just out of reach.   With this commitment comes the possibility that your own emotions might be triggered. However, if you are willing to jump in, it just might be the best possible gift they could receive.

Benjamin Allen sums it up perfectly in his quote:

“There have been so many beautiful people who have stopped to be with me in my brokenness. The special ones didn’t shy away from my sorrow or shun my sadness. They sat as close as they could in silent support. Without them being there, I wouldn’t be here.”

The next time you experience a friend in pain and feel unsure as to how to help, consider one of these alternatives:

  1. Offer your presence. There are no words that can reverse what has happened or lessen the pain.   Sit next to your friend and say nothing at all. Just being present in the room says, “ I care about you and I am here for you.”
  1. Simple acts of kindness.   With struggle comes exhaustion. Emotions are absolutely fatiguing. Prepare meals, run errands, send a card, or bring by flowers. Offer to pick up groceries or just drop off groceries at the door.
  1. Let them vent and simply listen.  You don’t need to say much at all. Let them express their anger, sadness, or frustration.   Listen.   Don’t feel the need to have all the answers or provide the most insightful feedback. More than likely, they do not desire feedback or advice. Just provide an ear to vent to.
  1. Walk with them through the entirety of the struggle. When a community of people get word that one of their members is hurting, everyone initially wants to help. At first, the hurting might even feel overwhelmed with care, phone calls, meals, and kind words. Unfortunately over time, these caring individuals go back to their busy lives and the outpour of care slows down. Continue to walk with your friend through the length of the healing process. Be patient and know that this is a very very lengthy process.

 Notice that not one of these suggestions requires saying the “just right thing”. Most of them actually do not call for any words at all.   Next time, your friend is hurting, put on your boots, grab your flashlight, jump in the mud with them, and just place your shoulder right next to theirs.

Beauty, Brains, and Cash… We Want MORE!

Is it better to have more or less?  This is the newest marketing ploy presented by AT&T.  The commercials take place in elementary school classrooms.  In one particular scene the adult asks the question, “Who thinks more is better than less?”  The young girl finishes her answer with, “We want more, we want more, like, you really like it, you want more.”  It’s not complicated, says AT&T, “more is better.”

Though this is a brilliant marketing tool and the commercials are adorable, I have to disagree.  These marketers are capitalizing on the fact that the desire for MORE is the very thing that drives our society.  However, it is also the very thing that often leaves us unfulfilled, unhappy, and wondering what happened to the enjoyable life we used to know.  I would have to argue that more is NOT always better.

Here’s the tricky part.  More usually feels better in the moment.  It feels good and provides instant gratification but it doesn’t always last.  You know the saying, “I’ll feel better when…”  We’ve all said it.  This is how marketers keep us coming back for the next gadget or the newest upgrade and why most Americans spend life hopping on and off the hamster wheel, running at a very fast pace, looking for more.  We want more money, more technological devices, more clothes, more success, more dates, a bigger house, a fancier car, to lose more weight, and the list goes on and on, and we are never content.

However, what these marketing ploys and our society in general seem to be missing is that, at our core, human beings are relational people.  We were created to relate, connect, and love one another.  In the quest for more, the things that each individual person values the most get pushed aside.  Leaving us with a society in which external feedback is the source of esteem.  We look for affirmation from others, job promotions, more Facebook friends, or comments about how smart or impressive our kids are to fill our sense of self.  The hamster wheel does not allow time for a meaningful conversation with a friend or a quiet read on a beautiful day.

Sadly, our children are being born in to a society in which the idea that “more is better” is a way of life.  They won’t even have the understanding that at one point there was a society in which wanting more was not the norm.  What are we to do, you ask?   As parents and leaders of the younger generation, we have the opportunity to make a change and it starts by transforming our perspective and our behavior.  It starts when we get off of the hamster wheel ourselves and let them follow our lead.  Here’s an idea of a place to start:

  • Get to know yourself again.  The part of you that doesn’t need goggles and rain gear to protect you from all the debris that flies your way as you continuously spin through life.   I bet that person remembers the very values that were pushed aside when society told you to jump on this wheel and leave everything behind.
  • Identify the values you discover in this process.  Write them down.  Own them.
  • Create goals that will allow you to honor these valuesPick a value that ranks at the top of your list.  Identify a plan to honor that value and follow through.  Example:  I value the opportunity to be creative. To honor this value, I will dedicate a 2- hour period every Thursday morning to work on the poetry I love to write.

As you begin to live more congruently with your value system, your esteem will naturally build and you will find you have everything you need within yourself.  You won’t need more in order to be fulfilled.

TAAS and TAKS and STAAR……OH MY!

For many young students in Texas these three familiar acronyms represent something much scarier than lions and tigers and bears.

STANDARDIZED TESTING, as we know it today, often leaves students and teachers feeling caught in the tornado nightmare Dorothy experienced in the Wizard of Oz.  Everyone wants to go home.

The cheerful buzz of spring and the excitement of summer peeking around the corner have become overshadowed by the emphasis placed on standardized testing.  The STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness), which replaces the former TAKS test, has promised an increased level of rigor and greater depth of cognitive complexity.

Students and teachers all over Texas are feeling the heat to perform.  An increased number of children, as young as third grade, are presenting signs of test anxiety.  How does one differentiate between normal levels of nervous energy and increased levels of anxiety that can significantly impact performance?   If you notice any of the following symptoms in your child, he or she may be struggling with test anxiety.

  • Physiological: changes in eating patterns, upset stomach, nausea, headaches , increased heart rate, or muscle tension
  • Emotional: changes in mood, such as sadness, anger, frustration, or nervousness; fatigue, cries often, feels helpless, fears failure
  • Cognitive: irrational, negative self-statements (“I don’t get it. I know I will fail.”), reduced self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts about performance

What can parents do to help?

  • Encourage children to replace negative self-talk with positive statements.  For example, if your child says, “Math is my worst subject.  I am not going to pass this test.”  They could replace this thought with, “I have studied hard and will do the best I can on this test.”
  • Practice relaxation.  Encourage children to take long, deep breaths before and during the test.
  • Develop a plan for taking breaks during the test.
  • Provide opportunities for physical exercise at home before test day and encourage stretching during the test.
  • Guide children in developing good study skills and creating a quiet environment to work in at home.
  • Speak with teachers and school counselors to offer support in the classroom and on test day.
  • And of course, don’t forget the basics; make sure children are well rested and properly nourished on test day.

If your child is struggling with anxiety this testing season, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the counselors at HBHC.  We are happy to assist in developing strategies to decrease test anxiety so that your child can step into any testing situation in a calm and confident manner.

I Hate Valentine’s Day!

By Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT and Jill Early, M Ed, LPC-Intern

When the 14th starts looming over the mid-February horizon, MANY people who are not in the mythical, perfectly loving, and romantic relationship start thinking something like:  “Oh no, another Valentine’s Day SEASON!  It’s like Christmas… they start advertising at Halloween about the perfect gifts and how wonderful the SEASON is going to be.  I’ll be glad when it’s over!”

This group of people often feel the pain and/or sadness of not being in a “special” relationship for any of the reasons that are a real part of life… breakup, divorce, death, thinking they are unlovable or unwanted, etc.  Like most people, they have accepted the myth as truth that it SHOULD be a super special day.  However, day 45 of the calendar year is just like days 44 and 46, in terms of relationship.

There are at least three things on which to focus that have the potential for being helpful if Valentine’s day creates these kinds of feelings.

  • Honestly evaluate what our role might be in not being in one of the so-called SPECIAL relationships, learn from that evaluation, and make a plan for how to change ourselves in the next 364 days so that we can experience what we might prefer.
  • Accept and rejoice that we are not faced daily with the challenge and effort required to create and maintain a healthy relationship that might slightly resemble the mythical one which is the focus of Valentine’s Day.
  • Focus on the other significant relationships we have and challenge ourselves to give THEM the experience of knowing how they are important, loved, adored, valued, and cherished by at least one person, us.  How wonderful it might feel to anticipate the day knowing that we were going to offer those SPECIAL feelings for someone else to fully experience and enjoy.  How wonderful it might feel to go to bed (yes, alone) that night with the feeling it would give us knowing what we had done for someone else that day.  Focusing outward on what we can extend to others can be even more rewarding than focusing on what we lack.

Decoding Valentine’s Day

By Jill Early, M Ed, LPC Intern and Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT

Valentine’s Day is a time designated for demonstrating how much we value another person. Some people associate it with things like chocolates, jewelry, expensive dinners, and/or greeting card companies making billions of dollars.  Unfortunately, it is also a time when many people feel anxious about whether they are right in their “guessing” what would demonstrate that sense of being valued for the other person.

Therein lies the problem in most relationship decisions.  We tend to operate as though “I should just know” or “he/she should just know” when it comes to most decisions regarding what helps the other person feel loved in a close relationship.  This could include holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weekends, social preferences, or simply where to go to dinner. This belief often leads to a fear of simply asking or simply telling each other our preferences. We act as if telling each other what we prefer diminishes the thoughtfulness of what is given, done, or expressed, and then “it doesn’t mean as much”.

This belief also reveals another relationship challenge called “ignorance”.  That word may sound pretty harsh and is laden with emotion; therefore a definition is important for clarity.  It means the absence of information.  Our culture, our families, our schools, (pick someone to blame if you want), only teach us to talk, not communicate.  If we ask for the solution to above-mentioned problem, most don’t know the answer because we were never taught or had it modeled for us.

The solution is to learn how to:

  • express our honest feelings
  • ask for information that we need but don’t have
  • discover what another person INTERPRETS as being an expression of love, adoration, and being highly valued

Consider these steps:

  • Both partners read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Discuss what you read
  • Clearly TEACH the other person what helps YOU genuinely believe you are loved

An example for Valentine’s Day that can be applied to everyday situations might sound like this:

“Because I love you so much, it is really important to me that I make Valentine’s Day the best day it can be for you in ways that you would most want for me to do them.  Would you be willing to let me know what some of those ways might be?”  The answers will vary widely from the usual to the unexpected, from jewelry/chocolate/flowers to vacuum out my car, clean the big window in the den, give me a massage that isn’t sexual, or just ignore it altogether.  The list of answers could be infinite and surprising.

May you have the courage to ask then act on what you learn.  May your Valentine’s Day and your relationships be more rewarding and intimate because of your efforts!

Dating Danger Signs

Do not be fooled, this article is for you! Whether you are currently in a dating relationship, hoping to date soon, or even if you are in a long-term, committed relationship and want to be able to provide good advice to your loved ones who are in the dating world, pay attention to this information!

We’ve all heard it said, “He’s the one. He’s perfect.” As joyful as those words sound and how desperately we long for the fairy tale love story, the butterflies do eventually flutter away. We find that this “perfect” person is actually human and does make mistakes after all. Every relationship will have its trials and tribulations and every couple will have differences. However, it’s extremely important to know when these differences are too much? The red flags below are significant signs that your relationship is at risk or has the potential to become hazardous.

Your relationship may be in dangerous waters if you:

• Participate in frequent arguments over the same issues.
• Get involved physically sooner than you desire.
• Experience abuse of any kind: verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual.
• Avoid sensitive subjects in fear of hurting your partner’s feelings and/or starting an argument.
• Notice an absence of spiritual compatibility.
• Remain in the relationship out of fear.
• Always do what your partner wants to do and have few shared interests.
• Find the people who love you are strongly against the relationship.

Beware if your partner:

• Displays a lack of trust: overly jealous, suspicious, or questions your motives.
• Continually makes excuses for not keeping a job or lacking money.
• Responds with angry outbursts, extreme reactions, or highly defensive remarks.
• Constantly criticizes who you are or what you do.

If any of these danger signs resonate for you, PAY ATTENTION. Take a step back and further evaluate the situation. Have the confidence to ask for help. Trust yourself. If your heart tells you that you need out, RUN, don’t walk!

New Year Bandit

The fireworks pop. The confetti sparkles. The New Year is here and ready to take over. The Christmas decorations and holiday music took us by surprise when they appeared this year before Halloween. Watch out folks. Christmas has nothing on the New Year. Before the last ornament is back in the box and the final Christmas hymn is sung, the New Year comes in like a thief, grabbing us by the horns, flinging us back to the chaos and rush.

Don’t let the fact that January 1st has passed steal your calm, your chance to reflect, plan, and consider new changes, new goals for a great year to come. Turn off the technology, take a deep breath, and nuzzle in to a quiet spot. Write it, draw it, talk it out with a friend or call your counselor. Do whatever it takes but do not let the moment get swept away or placed on the to-do list for another day.

Where do I start?  Consider these five areas of your being:

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Social

What do you value in each of these areas? Over the past year, were you able to balance and acknowledge your needs in each area or did you find yourself immersed in only one and ignoring the others? If you felt overworked, stretched thin, or that something was missing last year, you might have been putting too many eggs in one of these baskets, leaving yourself empty and unfulfilled in the others.

Consider this example as you reflect and develop goals for change in each area:

Spiritual: It is important to me that I share a Christian example with others. To do this, I would like to be a more loving person. My spiritual goal is to act in a more loving way. What will this look like? One example is that I will consciously choose to act in a more loving way by being aware of how I drive on the freeway. I will drive with more consideration for others and exemplify less rage and frustration. Another example of living out this goal to act in a loving way is by taking my family to serve at the homeless shelter and pick a person whom I can treat, anonymously, with a random act of kindness.

Dedicating the time to reflect on the important changes you would like to see in each of these areas of life, developing the action plan, and defining how you will know you are working towards that goal will help keep your feet on the ground and your base strong when the daily grind of another year tries to sabotage your goals.

Updating the Parent Toolbox

As each school year begins, our children embark on a new journey filled with excitement, challenges, successes and mistakes. There will be days when children come home from school devastated by a fight with friends, a low test grade, or an unpleasant classmate. When these things happen, parents often desire to shield their children from these hurtful experiences.

Often, our natural reaction is to pull out the “fix-it” toolbox, in an attempt to protect our children by navigating the situation ourselves or running to their rescue before they experience any pain. Well… I hate to break it to you, but it is time to update the toolbox. We must throw the old “fixing” tools in the recycle bin and replace them with the new and improved “preparing kids for life” tools.

This tool box includes the skills needed to raise kids who can work to resolve their own problems, make mistakes, cry sometimes, learn valuable lessons, and head into life prepared and competent.

The tools:

  • When your child comes home from school with a problem… EMPATHIZE. Do not jump in and try to save them or give advice. Simply listen and show understanding. Say something like, “It sounds like it was a hard day at school today” or, “I can tell you are really worried about this.” The message is that you hear, feel, and understand their pain. You can experience the situation from their point of view. This does not indicate that you agree with everything they believe or do, but that you acknowledge what they are saying and validate their feelings.
  • Ask questions that imply they are capable of solving the problem. “Do you have any ideas of how you would like to handle this situation?” “What do you think you will do first?” Affirm that you are available to listen or help brainstorm possible solutions. Do not tell them what to do. Engage in thoughtful discussion rather than attempt to control.
  • Allow children to make mistakes. Step back and let them make the decisions regarding how they would like to handle the specific problem. This may not be the decision you would make or recommend, but let them find out in their own way and make mistakes along the way. Watch them experiment safely and learn from the experience.
  • Evaluate decisions and outcomes together. Spend time discussing choices, mistakes, and behaviors. Was it a success? Did it result in a different outcome? How did the other person react? Discuss lessons learned and provide the opportunity to brainstorm new solutions or choices if needed.

Keep in mind that your mission is to raise children who will someday effectively manage their own lives. You are your children’s teacher. Replacing the old “fix- it” tools with these will help develop independent, well-rounded, socially competent young children who can face life’s problems with confidence and handle situations with resilience.

Author Jill Early has spent several years in the classroom environment helping children and parents build lifelong tools for success academically and in life. For more information or support fine-tuning your toolbox, please contact Jill at 713-365-9015 or jearly@heritagebehavioral.com.