Five Ways to Help Your Child through Divorce

Divorce is hard. Divorce is hard on you. Divorce is hard on your spouse. Divorce is hard on your children. There are many factors that contribute to the difficulties during the divorce process, including very intense emotions. It can be especially difficult to think of effective ways to help your child through this process while in the middle of your own grief and pain. While divorce is unique and complicated by different personalities, legalities, and mixed emotions here are some practical tips to keep in mind while communication with your children.

  1. Be Realistic: Sometimes in an effort to avoid their own pain a parent might hyper-focus on their children’s pain. Although paying attention to your child’s hurting and finding help when needed is appropriate, the expectation that you can somehow remove all pain from your child is not realistic. Grief is part of the process. Instead of trying to “fix” your child’s feelings allow them to express them in safe ways. If your child is angry then let them be angry as long as their anger is not being expressed in ways that are harmful to themselves or others.
  2. Communicate Change Timely and Effectively: Change can happen very quickly in a divorce and sometimes these changes are not communicated effectively to children. If schedules are changing discuss what those changes will be like and ask for suggestions from your children. Make sure you communicate ahead of time so that they have a week or two to process the changes prior to a major move. Always take responsibility for the final decisions but take into account how these changes might affect their daily lives as well. Your therapist can help you create age appropriate schedules and charts to help your child wrap their minds around new routines.
  3. Be Reassuring: Depending on the age of your child their ability to process very complicated emotions is limited. When children have complicated emotions they do not always understand how to express them and may act out angrily or ask disconnected questions such as, “Will I get a new Mommy and Daddy now?” It can be very easy to simply say NO or brush off the question because you don’t know what to say. I encourage you to ask them more questions and keep the conversation going to find out more details about what kinds of emotions are going on inside. Reassure them that regardless of what is happening now in their lives you will always be their Mom and Dad. They may continue to ask these types or questions, keep reassuring them.
  4. Control Your Emotions: This might seem like an impossible task to ask of you when every day might be full of emotion for you, however, children are experts at soaking up the emotions around them (NOT experts at processing those feelings, though) and can read you better than you think. Children will begin to internalize their own emotions for fear of burdening you with theirs. I am not encouraging you in any way to not express your own emotions – it is absolutely VITAL for you to do so preferably with a counseling professional. I do encourage you to wait until your children are away or asleep to have a breakdown.
  5. Take Care of Your Family: If there is ever a transitions in which you should seek professional help for you and your children it is in the midst of a divorce. The effects of a divorce can be lifelong and life changing for all involved. Additionally, attempting to take care of others while in such a raw place emotionally can prove to be futile. Get help. Reach out to a doctor, therapist, pastor, or group to give you professional emotional support through this difficult time. 

We at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants are here to help you and your family through this emotional time. Please reach out when you need help through a divorce or during any other time of change.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!

Sometimes we need a good cry

So I recently went to see the movie Selma. I was warned ahead of time that it was emotional and I thought I was prepared to experience some sadness. But I wasn’t. It was an unbelievably moving movie and I don’t remember crying that much for any movie. Ever. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie, but I cried during and well after the movie was over! As I usually do when I see a good movie, I shared with my friends that it was a ‘must see’. But I also warned them to be ready to cry. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response of my friends of: “I don’t want to cry, I’m not going to see it”, or “I hate crying, I’ll pass.”

I don’t consider myself a crier, however, I do appreciate a good cry every now and then and usually feel better afterwards. So why do we hate crying so much? And where did the saying “have a good cry” come from? I dug a little deeper and here is what I found.

One of the most important functions of crying is protecting our eyes from irritants like dust. It also helps lubricate our eyeballs. However, crying can have healthy psychological benefits. Crying is a natural emotional response to feelings such as hurt, sadness or happiness. Crying is also thought to give us a psychological boost by reducing stress and giving us a sense of relief because it is a physical response to an emotional situation. Studies have found that tears (specifically tears linked to emotions) have a higher level of ACTH which is a precursor to the “stress hormone” cortisol. Cortisol is increased during emotional stress and we can literally cry out the stress. Crying also helps lift our moods and deal with painful experiences.

Crying can help express deep emotions that may be inexpressible in any other way. You may even feel cleansed or lighter afterward. In fact, 89% of people in a survey feel better after crying. Crying can also lead to some sort of physical contact when shared with someone. We tend to hug or hold someone we see crying, and physical touch has also been linked to helping stress reduction.

Researchers have also found that those who view crying as a resolution to a distressing event are most likely to find relief, so it helps to find peace in the situation. And if you don’t feel better after crying, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes crying helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, frequent or prolonged crying may be a sign of more serious condition, such as depression. If you feel like you can’t control your crying, see your doctor or counselor.

The poet Ovid wrote “It is a relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears.” So go ahead and have a good cry.

Grieving during the holiday season

It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. That’s how I feel about the holiday season this year. It’s the best of times because I love the holiday season, who doesn’t? I eat so much I can’t move, I see family members that I seldom see and I get time off of work. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

But this year is very different because my mom isn’t here. She passed away suddenly a few months ago. So this year, I’m truly dreading celebrating the holidays because it will be a constant reminder that my mom isn’t here to celebrate with me. Rather than being a time of thanksgiving, laughter and cheer, this holiday may bring feelings of sadness, emptiness and loss.

Grieving a loss during the holidays is incredibly difficult. Your loss may look different than mine. You may be grieving a loss of a relationship/divorce, a job, a pet, a home, a friendship, a miscarriage, a financial loss…..the list goes on. So how are we going to get through this holiday season with all this grief?

My plan this year is to just get through it. The first holiday season is usually the most challenging. If your loss is fairly recent, just focus on getting through the next few weeks.

If you are able to do more than just bear through the holidays, here are some suggestions for dealing with grief this holiday season:

  • Allow yourself to enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself laughing, having a good time or even forgetting your grief for a moment. You are entitled to experience some joy. Surround yourself with supportive and comforting people who will encourage you to be yourself and will accept your sadness and your joy.
  • Accept the sadness. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be happy all the time. Allow yourself times of solitude but do not isolate yourself. Letting yourself feel sad or cry is actually good for the grief process.
  • Talk about it. Permitting yourself to feel grief and openly talking about it will actually help you feel better. Talk to people you trust and be honest about how you are really coping. Sharing memories can also be a source of comfort. Ignoring the grief and pain will only lengthen the grief process.
  • Modify old traditions. New traditions don’t have to be established right away but finding a way to make new traditions to fit your new situation will help with grief. Some may find comfort in the old traditions while others find them terribly painful. Be open with your family and friends about how changing or keeping old traditions affects you.
  • Say no. Feelings of loss can leave you physically fatigued. You may not be able to do as much as you have in the past. Listen to your body, do what you can and only what feels right. Don’t feel obligated to participate in anything that you don’t feel up to.
  • Honor your loved one. It’s important to find a way to honor your loved one. You can make their favorite dish to honor them or spend some time reflecting on their life and how they impacted you. You can even incorporate them into your celebration of the holidays.

Getting through this holiday season while grieving will be extremely difficult. Believe me, I know as I am experiencing it myself. The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season while you are grieving a loss. However, if you are experiencing hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, change in appetite, loss of enjoyment or thoughts of hurting yourself, make an appointment to see a therapist as these are signs of depression. Love yourself enough this holiday season to get the help that you need.

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.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… or does it? What we know about depression and genetics.

Today we throw around the word “depressed,” like it has the same meaning as the word “sad”.  It seems that many of the people we know have dealt with some sort of depression at some point in their lives.  If you have experienced depression before or know someone in your family that has dealt with depression, you may have asked the following questions: What really constitutes clinical depression?  What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

What really constitutes clinical depression?

There are three things that people confuse: Grief, Sadness, and Depression. Grief is acutely reactionary. For example, if you have a large loss, then you will most likely feel extreme pain after that loss.  Six months later, if the sadness is still there but is a bit less intense, then you are experiencing grief.  This grief will most likely resolve itself in some measure over time.  On the other hand, if you experience a catastrophic loss and six months later you can barely function, then you are probably suffering from depression that was triggered from the catastrophic circumstance.  The trajectory tells us a great deal.  Often out of misunderstanding, people think of depression as sadness.  The idea is that it’s just too much sadness, or too much grief at far too slight a cause.  This is not true.  Sadness is simply the emotion felt due to a loss.  Clinical depression is characterized by loss of interest in almost everything.  Someone who is clinically depressed will not want to do any of the things that he previously wanted to do.  In addition, for this person small tasks that used to be easy to accomplish become too much work.  For example, emptying the dishwasher or checking his voicemail both seem like daunting tasks.  This is much more complicated than the emotion of sadness.

What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

Depression is the result of a genetic vulnerability (that is presumably evenly distributed in the population) and triggering circumstances.  At least 10% of the U.S. population will experience major depressive disorder (clinical depression) at some point in their lives, and two times as many women as men experience major depression.

If you have a parent or sibling that suffers from depression then you are probably at a 2 to 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (or around 20-30% instead of 10%).  The situation is a little different if the parent or sibling has had depression more than once (“recurrent depression”), and if the depression started early in life (childhood, teens, or twenties).  This kind of depression is less common.  The exact percentage of the population is not known but is probably around 3 to 5%.  But the siblings and children of people with this form of depression probably develop it at a rate that is 4 to 5 times greater than the average person.

If you are reading this article and fall into one of the categories talked about above, don’t freak out!  Research shows that someone who suffers from depression and seeks treatment in the form of medication and therapy is less likely to have another depressive episode.  When used together, medication and psychotherapy have been proven to help alleviate depression, and thankfully we offer both of those options here at Heritage.  They key to feeling better is getting into treatment as soon as possible.  So call us and make an appointment if needed and we can help get you on track to feeling better.

Rebuilding Your Life After Divorce

Divorce is difficult  – for the couple, for their friends and family, for the children, for everyone involved.  The effects of a divorce have a significant impact on you and those around you.   No one can really understand how difficult it is until they experience it personally.

There are many ways to grieve and many ways to heal.  Following this outline and learning the tools to walk through each step of the emotional rebuilding process will help you through those difficult stages by offering genuine hope, assurance of forgiveness, and restoration of your sense of self.

Look at it as an insurance policy that you can choose to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again!

WHERE DO I BEGIN?

An architect’s blueprints represent the project goals. The builder’s plans are the sequential steps necessary to complete the project. To begin our personal remodeling, we first need to develop a blueprint (what we want to accomplish) and a plan (how we will achieve those goals) to get us from where we are now in our grief to where we want to be in the future.

WHAT NEXT?

Realize that “Remodeling”:

  •      Has a cost – time/energy/money
  •      Causes discomfort/there is a labor involved
  •      Is inconvenient
  •      Requires tearing down the old structure
  •      Is a process that does not happen overnight
  •      Requires a personal investment – How much will you invest?

Get a Vision:  Map out a plan and prepare for inconveniences to the best of your ability.

Get the Materials Together:

  •      What resources will you need?
  •      Consider people, tools, books, manuals, and/or videos
  •      Where will you get help or will you try to work alone?

Divorce, like other loss, brings with it significant life changes, and Divorce Recovery can be a daunting task. But, with good planning, the right tools and professional guidance, you can successfully complete your personal “remodeling.”

If you would like more information on Julie’s Divorce Recovery Program, please click here.