Dysfunction Junction aka Thanksgiving

family counseling

People often ask me if the office schedule is slow during the holidays and actually it’s one of my busiest seasons. That’s undoubtedly for different reasons depending on the client but overall the holidays have a tendency to become like a huge magnifying glass that highlights concerns within our relationships and/or finances.

I will address financial stresses during the holidays in a different blog post but for today, let’s talk about Thanksgiving (t-minus 48 hours and counting) and relationships.

If you are one of those people who absolutely loves getting together with your extended family and it always goes super smooth, no big relationship hiccups, and just can’t relate to people who dread the holidays for worry of what the day together might bring, then you are welcomed to continue reading but this post for all the others!

Alright team, how do we get through Thanksgiving with as little emotional trauma, stress, tears or high blood pressure as possible? I really like the old saying “less is more” in these types of situations; less time, less booze, less conversations about the worthiness of ObamaCare, less people-pleasing, less trying to get everyone to get along, less, less, less!

Our best approach is become like Switzerland; the appearance of being very neutral on all topics. Thanksgiving is NOT the day to hash out some long standing dispute with your mother-in-law, sister, brother, uncle or even the dog. Just be and breath. There are other days for dealing with issues that probably need to be addressed but Thanksgiving day isn’t it.

At the end of Thursday, as you lay your head on your pillow, what do you want to be feeling and what do you want to have happened in the day? Be intentional about your efforts because they won’t just happen. Maybe make a short list of what your best hopes are for the day and hide in the bathroom reading it from time to time if you need a good pep-talk. Is there another family member who desires to have a healthy Thanksgiving that you can partner with to hold each other accountable in keeping to the list of less that I mentioned above? What pre-self care do you need to do before Thursday so you don’t walk into the situation already drained and anxious?

Today is Tuesday so you have the rest of today and tomorrow to get a game plan. God intended families to be a blessing and a place of acceptance. If other relatives are not interested in those things, maybe the change needs to start with those of us who desire good family relationships.

Best of luck to you on Thursday!

Issues Know No Class

teen counseling

My Master’s Degree is in Social Work so every two years, I have to do continuing education hours that is specific to the field. In every training I have attended, everyone goes around the room to introduce themselves and where they do their work. Inevitably, after I share my name and that my work is in private practice in Southlake Texas at least one if not more attendees pipes up to the group and says something like “Southlake?! What problems do people in Southlake have? Can’t decide which BMW to buy?” and then there are chuckles throughout the room. Being me, I do my own piping up and inform the group that making assumptions based on preconceived ideas about a specific group of people has a name for it and I highly doubt they want to be seen as “those” types of people that are, gasp, prejudice. I also remind them that tears are tears and it doesn’t matter where they are cried, pain feels the same no matter what zip code you live in. That usually quiets the room and the instructor moves on to the next person for introductions. I really adore and value my clients and how dare anyone in a training put them down? I have a little justice streak in me so going to bat is a comfortable place.

With that said, I have dealt with the professional mocking, if you will, for having a counseling practice in Southlake Texas, which in 2008 was named by Forbes magazine as the nation’s richest community. Not sure how the economic shifts since then have affected Southlake’s standing but you get the point.

So with this perception by “outsiders” that no one in a community like Southlake, Colleyville, Coppell or the other surrounding cities  have any real problems to speak of, I was relieved to see the December 2o13 issue of Psychology Today have an article titled “The Problem with Rich Kids.”  The researcher has found that “in a surprising shift, the offspring of the affluent today are more distressed than other youth.” What? Yes.  The article states that research shows that affluent youth are at equal or higher risk than their lower socioeconomic counterparts for “substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cheating and stealing. It gives a whole new meaning to having it all.” Our kids are hurting and finally someone outside of us is noticing.

I am so thankful that an article such as this has been published in a well distributed magazine like Psychology Today. It is high time that the serious concerns facing the youth of affluent parents is being talked about at a broader level than community based.

What are we to do for the youth in our neighborhoods, schools and homes? The same thing that myself and other therapists in the area have been talking about; help youth find their individual giftedness and interests without putting excessive pressure on their daily schedules. I know it’s hard to break the mold of what everyone else is doing and what is needed to be competitive when preparing for college. We have to give our youth the ability to get off the figurative treadmill for breaks and refreshing.

The pressures that our youth feel within this geographical region won’t go away tomorrow. But we do have to teach them to value self-care as much as maintaining the highest GPA possible.  I would much rather youth learn to balance the many demands they face and not need a stint in rehab to give them a break from a high pressured life.

We have some incredibly sweet, loving, smart and gifted youth in our community. I am proud to own a business in Southlake and work with the clients I am privileged to do life with. I am very thankful that the concerns many of us have been facing regarding our precious youth is getting the much needed attention it deserves. Maybe next time I attend a social work training, there might be more enlightenment in the room. I can only hope.

Share With Others

Sharing doesn’t come easy for most people. Watch a group of toddlers and it will make you think that the human condition is hardwired to not share.  I love the scene in “Finding Nemo” where the pelicans all say “mine, mine, mine!” Yes indeed, sharing our possessions is challenging. You know what’s even harder? Sharing our hopes, goals, dreams, fears, insecurities and weaknesses. Yeah, those are real tough ones to let other people in on.

I believe the reason we have so much trouble with authentic transparency is not because there isn’t an innate need in our souls to know and be known by another person, there is. The reason we don’t share is because we’ve been burned by people in the past. Having another person with whom you can say anything to and not have them judge you is an incredible gift. I think many people do not have that nowadays. In some religious circles there is a lot of sweeping the personal challenges under the rug so everything looks perfect.

A lot of us have opened up our hearts to someone, only to sadly regret it later.  We have been real and vulnerable, then had the other person use the information we shared or our love for them against us. So we clam up and stop saying as much or saying anything with substance to those around us. That begins the process of emotional isolation and it’s a slippery slope from there into social loneliness. We might still physically be around people but they only get the billboard version of our lives; that we have constructed to show the world.

How do we heal if we have lingering hurts from trust gone bad in the past? We pick better next time. We look for character qualities in those around us that would make for a special confidante. Then we take the small gradual steps to share more of our real selves.

Keep your eyes open around you too; perhaps you could be that person for someone else.  We are not meant to live in emotional isolation but we do have to use  a lot of wisdom when we decide to share.

 

Keep Your Own House Clean

Seven years ago I moved from the west coast to the south. There are numerous adjustments when making a move that includes such a radical cultural shift. Most of the differences between the west and the south have appealed to me and I am happily integrating into the southern culture. While on the phone the other day, I said ya’ll and even after it was pointed out to me, I still didn’t believe I said it. I wasn’t trying to say it! It just happened in the middle of the flow of the conversation. That’s when you know you’ve acclimated to being a southern woman.

One of the first things I noticed about my adopted region was the housing. The homes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth suburbs are typically bigger, more beautiful and shockingly less expensive than in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The manner in which homes are decorated is very different too. Time, energy, thought and money go into many of homes in the burbs of Dallas/Ft. Worth. Some homes look like museums and that absolutely no children or pets have ever resided there; even though they do. It’s a magic trick to keep those appearances up!

When I first moved here, I actually enjoyed focusing more on the decorating aspects of Texas life. But…as is true with many things, there is an underbelly. An underbelly to decorating? Yes. It’s called female competition. Lots of suburban ladies (women, chicks, girls, gals – whatever word you would like to use is fine) enjoy decorating their homes and don’t really have an opinion about how YOU or I decorate our homes; they simply like our company. However, there is a strain of ladies who come to our homes and while giving us a hug, their eyes are scanning our baseboards for dust or a perceived mismatch of color choices. Yes, we all know these ladies and yes, they really are judging our homes.

So, here’s my solution: I don’t invite these types over twice. Pretty simple. I have zero tolerance for competition among friendships. Life is hard, short and full of twist and turns. We need our girlfriends to be safe harbors of sisterhood, not cattiness.  I promise that if I come to your house, I won’t be looking for dust bunnies; I will be thankful for the invite and enjoying your company. I ask that you do the same when at my house too; otherwise, you might not be invited back. Seriously.

New Trend: Lonely College Students

During the summer, I get to see clients who are home from college. Over the last couple of years, I have started noticing a new trend. More college students are reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness while at school. At first I thought it was just a few students who maybe didn’t have a lot of strengths in making and keeping friendships. However, this summer has changed my assumptions. The trend of college students returning home and not having made great friendships while in school is increasing within my practice.

This honestly is a shock to me. Back in the days of when I was in college, if you lived in the dorms or on campus, you were guaranteed an active social life. Sure, there were always a few students who kept to themselves and never really integrated into the college lifestyle. But those were the exceptions. Now it seems that happy, friendly, bright and socially normal college students are lonely and not making the lifelong friendships they thought they would while in school.

So what’s happening? How can a student be among so many other people in the exact same life circumstance and feel alone? There are a few common factors to the lonely college student. Listed are the common problems, as well as some suggestions:

PROBLEM: Too many students are floating between different groups of friends and not rooting into any one group. Having a lot of  acquaintances does not make for deep connections. It keeps things at a surface level and doesn’t allow for true friendships to develop.

SOLUTION: Pick one group to connect with the most. Stay with that group even if you feel like an outsider for awhile. It takes time to graft into a group. In time you will know the inside jokes, have been included during fun memories and will have a feeling of belonging within the group of friends.

PROBLEM: Many college students are pre-occupied with a boyfriend or girlfriend from home who is not at their school. Some students will go through the motions of doing school but when it’s time for socializing, they retreat to their dorm rooms or apartments to get on the phone or skype with their beloved from home.

SOLUTION: Set up a schedule to talk to or skype your boyfriend/girlfriend from home and make sure the schedule allows for enough time and energy for making friends at school. Isolating while at school is always a recipe for poor school performance and can lead to feeling depressed. It’s important that a couple not be so dependent on one another that they fail to really nurture other friendships. If this is the case, the relationship is headed to becoming toxic quickly.

Encourage your college student to balance school & friendships. If you are a student, make sure you don’t neglect your social life because it does have a direct impact on how well you do in school and your level of enjoyment overall.