Bullying: An Introduction

Is it my imagination or does it seem like there is a surge in reported incidents of bullying? I was led to this question because the topic of bullying appears to be frequently covered by the news media and reports can range from children bullying out on the playground to teens and young adults engaging in targeted harassment carried out online. In fact, a quick Google search for 2015 news articles related to bullying among children, adolescents, and teenagers netted several thousand results. Additionally, my brief search returned another somber finding: a recent meta-study now indicates a connection between bullying and suicide. As I began reviewing page after page of results, questions began flooding my mind: Who is this happening to? What are the warning signs? Where does bullying mostly take place? Why is this still happening, and how can we prevent it?

Bullying pic

“Will I ever be… (accepted, liked, left alone)?”

I’m sure the same questions race through the minds of others after reading a news article or watching a TV report about the latest bullying incident. In an instant the desire to protect our loved ones wells up in us and simultaneously we feel compassion and want to help end these tragedies. Yet, we are all so busy and life seems to have a way of redirecting our thoughts back to our most immediate and pressing needs. Also, based on the number of Internet search results alone, it would take tons of time to sort through and dissect all of the information that is available and, understandably so, most of us are currently too tapped out for that kind of time commitment.

Thus, it is my goal to provide you with helpful facts you can quickly read and readily use. Since this topic has many pathways of information, I will try to pair it down to what is most relevant and will include links in case you want to read further.

Therefore, to begin we must understand what bullying is and be able to distinctly identify the nature of the behavior.

Definition:  Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

+ An Imbalance of Power: Individuals who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

+ Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as:

+ Making threats

+ Spreading rumors

+ Attacking someone physically or verbally

+ Excluding someone from a group on purpose

CONSIDER

If any of the information above is resonating with you because it seems a friend or family member is experiencing some of the same behaviors, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. Sometimes we don’t have it in our ability to fix the situation for one reason or another or, perhaps, we may be unsure that bullying is actually taking place. Either way, by opening up to someone we know, we can avoid the isolation that comes from being unsure. Moreover, creating a dialogue also creates awareness and provides the opportunity to receive guidance from individuals and resources that can ultimately help.

Source: “What is Bullying?” http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html

Stay tuned for… Types of Bullying

Life Lessons from my Lab (George) #4: I Love You No Matter What

George inside the back door when I get home.
George inside the back door when I get home.

As I turn the key to unlock our back door, I can’t help but laugh. Through the glass, I watch as George springs into the air awkwardly. I use the word awkward because my VERY large yellow lab does not look anything like a dog when he jumps to greet me after a long day at the office. Instead, he resembles a cat. Let me see if I can describe a snapshot of him in mid air. He takes off of all four paws at the same time. When he reaches maximum altitude his back is dramatically arched and his toes are pointed like a weird ballerina dog… Do dogs point their toes?!? I digress. He does not touch the back door. He does not put his paws on the glass. He leaps into the air over and over again, reaching the same height each time, a good 3 feet off the ground. At the top of his bounce he has a grin on his face and his tongue hangs out of his mouth. Okay, tell me that’s not AWKWARD!

The interesting thing is, though I can expect George’s excited reaction when I come home, it still makes me smile every day. Yes, he is a dog, but George accepts me no matter what I do. Even when I neglect to walk him in the morning, or even when I get home later than expected, George’s reaction does not change. This got me thinking about human relationships: relationships with ourselves, relationships with others, and the ways we allow our judgments to interfere with the potential for deeper connection. Ask yourself the following questions, and it might shed some light on the ways you may be hindered in your relationships.

Do you value yourself based on what you do or based on who you are?

Are you hard on yourself when you make mistakes? Are you hard on others when they make mistakes?

Do you consider yourself to be a human-doing? Or a human-being?

Does your acceptance of others change based on what they do or do not do?

Do you withhold love and kindness from those close to you when they mess up?

Do you withhold love and kindness from yourself when you mess up?

Do friends/family/loved ones show you their imperfections? What about your reactions makes you a safe or unsafe person to open up to?

What if we were all able to see one anther honestly, for who we truly are?- loveable, imperfect people in need of grace.

Identifying Passions, Behaviors, Motivations and Interests

The holiday season is typically NOT a time where we allow ourselves the “space” to sit back and think. Why do we do the things we do?  What makes my child behave that way? What motivates my colleague? What interests me enough to pursue it as a hobby, college major, or job. NOPE. It’s the time where we push all  of these questions to the back burner of our minds and think, “I’ll deal with that when I have time.”  Newsflash: two weeks off from school, a couple days away from work, and a more flexible schedule (that is, when you’re not traveling!) is exactly the time to consider these things.  This year, I’m offering some office hours for feedback sessions during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s  to accommodate people who’d like to come in to receive their feedback while they’re away from work or school.

It may seem like a daunting task to approach questions like those above.  Five years ago, I was faced with some tough questions regarding myself: where to work, who to marry, and how to interact with my family.  Then the Birkman…

Oh, the Birkman (short for Birkman Method assessment).  It’s a  298 question (250 true-false, 48 multi-choice) that you take online whenever you’d like (home, office, vacation, etc) and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The results available immediately after completion and are then sent to me for report preparation. The questionnaire is translated into over 20 languages and, yes, we offer Skype sessions for feedback. There are dozens of report formats for individuals, pairs, and groups. These options make the Birkman a great tool for exploring a college major, switching careers, pre-marital or marital counseling, family counseling, and “figuring out” what makes your relationship with your teenager or spouse thrive or plumit.

What I once thought was just a couple of pieces of paper telling me more about my personality has turned out to be so much more.  I’ve utilized my own results to land a stable career at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, marry a man who I can communicate and be vulnerable with, and connect with my sister in a way I never thought possible. If you’re willing to make the time to invest in this tool, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Call us today (713-365-9015) to receive a quote for your assessment and schedule a feedback session. Spots for the holiday weeks are limited.

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.

10 Ways to slow down and tell your children, “I Love You”

It is crazy how quickly the lazy days of summer can turn into the mad rush of summer camps, play dates, and activities. Since children spell love T-I-M-E, here is a list of things you can do to slow down and say, “I love you.”

  1. Pull out an old photo album and tell the kids funny stories about when they were little.
  2. Have a water balloon fight.
  3. Play a board game.
  4. When you are having a conversation, put down your phone and really listen.
  5. Lay in the grass and find animals in the clouds.
  6. Turn on some music and have a dance party.
  7. Turn off the screens (tv, phone, computer, tablets, etc.) for a set amount of time.
  8. Run through the water sprinklers.
  9. Have a make-your-own mini-pizza night. Everyone will be in the kitchen together while making their own dinner.
  10. Laugh with your kids.

These ideas might be simple, but these are the type of things that your children will remember when they grow up. In fact, this blog entry is rather simple and short because I was too busy laughing and spending quality time with my children. And that’s a good thing.

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.

Am I Addicted to Social Media?

When standing in the grocery store line turns into a opportunity to check your Facebook messages or waiting in the doctor’s office is the perfect chance to scroll through your Instagram posts…you might need to pause and consider the impact social media is making on your life.

First, let’s make sure we’re all operating on a similar definition of social media. For the purposes of this casual article, we’ll consider social media as interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

So what social media outlets are you engaged in?  Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, MySpace, blogs, Linked In, etc? They are avenues to interaction with other people…or are they?  Many people will unashamedly admit that they spend more time on social media, email, and texts than they actually spend talking to another human being WITH THEIR VOICE (i.e., face to face conversations, phone calls, meetings, dates, etc.)  Now before you think this is turning into an article about how to teach the younger generation how to learn people skills, keep reading.

I’m not suggesting that social media is wrong, immature, or mentally numbing. There are great things that come from social media: job interviews, connections with friends who live in other cities, product marketing…BUT I am proposing that we have to be careful how much, when, and why we take part in social media.

A few months ago, I found myself intrigued with an article in the January 2014 edition of Real Simple magazine all about this topic. They surveyed women to discover how they report feeling when they use social media: 19% reported that they feel “connected”, 19% entertained, 19% informed, 8% bored, 7% inspired, 7% overwhelmed, 6% relaxed, 5% inadequate, 4% jealous and 3% isolate. Wow! The effects of social media are definitely mixed…but did you notice that half of these reported feelings are emotions that people usually don’t want  to feel (bored, overwhelmed, inadequate, jealous, isolated). So why do we do this to ourselves?  What’s the gain?

While it definitely helps us to feel a sense of connection with friends, family, or long-lost school-mates, some might argue this is a false sense of connection.  Why false? Glad you asked.  When you are “connecting” (e.g., tweeting, posting, pinning, and vining), do you ever put the hard stuff out there…you know: the picture of yourself when you roll of out bed, the kids screaming at each other during mid-afternoon meltdowns, an image of your computer screen during another mundane day at work, or the pile of laundry that needs to get done. If you answer “no” to this, then you’re amongst the majority. So here’s the catch: we spend hours looking at or reading about each other’s pleasurable moments: the summer vacation scenes, the posed family pics, the new baby sleeping, or someone’s new house… but we don’t know what’s really  happening in their lives. Maybe the family on vacation had a horrible fight over dinner. Perhaps the new baby sleeping is one born to parents after multiple miscarriages. What if the new house is full of dishes to still get washed or laundry to be done.  You get it yet? To really connect with someone requires us to see the whole picture.  Otherwise, we might be tempted to compare our not-so-pitcture-perfect lives with someone else’s and wonder how we get there.  I’m NOT suggesting that you get off of social media…unless that would be a healthy experiment for you. I AM proposing that we use it wisely: considering our motives, it’s effects, and the reality behind it.  Also, I’m recommending that we see it for what it is: an avenue towards real relationships but not a substitute for them.

So maybe you’re like me and you notice that you have a tendency towards social media addiction. What do we do about it? Digging deeper into the practical implications of the Real Simple January 2014 magazine article, I followed a link to one author’s recommendations. She had several recommendations for people who are looking for ways to reduce the allure of social media in their lives.  A full list of her ideas can be found here  Amongst my favorite, practical ideas were these:

 Sign Off for a Weekend. A two-day respite isn’t enough to cure you of your habit. You’ll still be anxious when you return to the onslaught of electronic messages, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., the author of iDisorder ($16, amazon.com). But a little time away from the screen reminds you how nice life is sans status updates.

Check With Purpose. Most of us wander onto social media aimlessly—usually when we’re bored. To cut back, set a higher bar for logging on. Ask yourself, Do I have a specific, positive reason for this? If you can’t come up with one (say, wanting to see a relative’s wedding photos), resist the urge and do something that will boost your mood, like calling a friend or diving into an engaging book.

Be a Tough Editor. Before you post a status update or a photo, question your motive: Are you just trying to prove that you’re having a good time? Is this the fourteenth picture of your baby that you’ve posted this week? If the answer is yes, try chatting with a friend or texting the picture to your mom. You could also jot down your thoughts in a notebook, or if you’re somewhere lovely, sketch the spot….Posting a photo has the opposite effect: You stop thinking about your experience and start contemplating other people’s responses to it.

I’ll add one to the list that has been useful for me.

 Choose a time and set a timer. Decide when you’d like to take some time to engage in social media and then set an alarm clock on your phone or computer to limit the endless online wandering.  I’ve found that I’m more intentional about what I am looking at and which social media avenue I’m on when I know that my “time” will be up in five or ten minutes. This way, I still get the pleasure of “catching up” on people’s lives but I’m not wasting hours perusing photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. It also frees us up to be present in real-life social situations. Just last month I found myself actually having a conversation with a woman in the waiting room because I wasn’t staring at my phone. I found it refreshing to sit and talk!

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

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.