Mindfulness

Settling Activation with Intention

savingPNG-3We humans are attuned to each other in very complex ways. We can feel uplifted by a person who’s in a good mood, understood by a person showing compassion, and even anxious when someone else is anxious.

Be the conscious creator of your mood. If you start to feel ungrounded in the company of others, take a moment to assess what’s going on. What is the conversation about? What body language and tone of voice are those around you using? What energy are you picking up on from them?

Then, take a moment to connect with your breath, and the connection of your feet on the ground. Breath in deeply and fully through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Acknowledge your ability to be kind, and to live with intention. Project that outward, and watch what happens. Chances are you will start to influence the energy of those around you. And, you’ll feel way more grounded in the process. 🙂

The Process of Therapy

But What are We Going to Actually Do?

Trauma Therapy Explained

People tend to know they need counselling for a long time before they reach out to start it up. Making that initial phone call can stir up fear and uncertainty. And once an appointment is scheduled, actually attending it can stir up anxiety and doubt. I believe it does take a tremendous amount of courage to start up counselling: to entrust your story to a stranger invites vulnerability. Yet for each courageous soul that takes the first step, there is hope. Hope says “This will help”, and “I can get through this”.

So for all the folks out there wanting to take that first step but feeling weighed down by uncertainty, I’d like to demystify the counselling process.

When it comes to working with trauma, I use the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model, which was developed by Judith Herman in the 1980’s. I use the model as a framework within which all therapeutic interventions launch from.

Please Note: Each client is unique, and therefore counselling is not a one-size-fits-all service. While you read the following information, please know that it might look a little different for each person. Also, rarely do we move through the model in a fully linear manner, (stage 3 often initiates during stage 2 work).

Stage 1 – Safety and Stabilization

Counselling often begins with history taking. I typically ask about what brings a person in for counselling, and gain an idea of their history in a “newspaper headline” manner. I use the newspaper headline approach because at this point, I am still a stranger to the client, and he or she may not yet feel comfortable sharing a detailed portrait of their life. Then, we collaboratively develop treatment goals.

Within the first stage, the focus is on safety and stabilization. That refers to external (living environment) and internal (emotional safety). Elements in this stage may include:

  • External safety: advocacy, growing a support network, information-sharing on topics relevant to the individual client
  • Internal safety: Resourcing to tap into and foster inner strengths to shift out of strong emotion. This involves learning to regulate emotion and manage symptoms that may be causing suffering or causing a person to feel unsafe
  • Information sharing to assist folks in understanding symptoms, their felt sense of emotion, and the effects of trauma
  • Exploring impacts to core beliefs
  • Developing and strengthening skills to manage painful and unwanted experiences, and minimizing unhelpful responses to them.

According to Judith Herman (1982) the goal of stage 1 trauma work is to create a safe and stable life-in-the-here-and-now, which can enable folks to safely remember the trauma, and not continue to re-live it.

I often have folks tell me they want to jump right into trauma processing. They feel a sense of urgency to “feel better” or to “heal this right now”. However, there is great importance of stage 1 work, and we can not skip over it. Think of it this way: If you had a car with shoty brakes, no seatbelts or airbags, no horn, bald tires, and a foggy windshield – you could still get from point A to point B. However, you would likely feel terrified the entire way. The resourcing and affect regulation strategies of stage 1 are like the safety features in a car: they enable you to get from point A to point B without full-blown panic and emotional overwhelm.

Stage 2 – Coming to Terms with Trauma

Once an individual has developed the ability to regulate emotion and achieve a level of internal emotional safety, trauma processing can begin. As we work through a trauma, I keep a keen eye on resourcing to ensure a client isn’t become too flooded with emotion. Techniques are used to modulate this process, and I employ several end-of-session strategies to assist folks in stabilizing emotion prior to leaving the office. Here are some elements stage 2 may include:

  • Trauma processing using EMDR
  • Art, play or sand tray-based approaches (for children and teens)
  • Exploring and re-working the inner trauma narrative
  • Working with negative cognitions resulting from trauma and movement towards installing positive adaptive beliefs and cognitions

Stage 3 – Integration and Moving on

As we work through trauma processing, elements of the third stage begin to show up. Some of these elements include:

  • Working to decrease shame
  • Developing a new narrative and life goals that reflect post-trauma meaning making
  • Working to foster a greater capacity for healthy attachment and decreasing alienation

As a result of doing the work of trauma therapy, the trauma starts to feel farther away, as something that happened but that is no longer a daily focus disrupting life.

If you are thinking of starting up therapy, and have some questions, please feel free to reach out and ask. The decision to move towards self-growth and healing can be empowering and freeing. I hope you give it a go!


If you’d like to learn more about the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model by Judith Herman, check out these resources:

Mindfulness

The Shortlist Series: How to get Unstuck from Negative Looping Thoughts

The quote in the image above describes an idea that is so simple and yet not very easy. When we find ourselves stuck in negative looping thought-patterns, we often need a way out – a life preserver of sorts to pull us to safety. Here are  four suggestions that might help you exit those negative thought cycles. And as always, if you have a strategy that works for you to healthfully exit negative looping thoughts – please add it to the comments.

unstuck

1. Anchor to the Present Moment

When we find ourselves stuck in negative thinking, we may be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. We can not change the past, and when we worry about the future, we are robbing today of its strength. Returning to the present moment may be just what you need to let your nervous system settle. Once you shift out of that worry or fear loop, your problem-solving brain can come back on-line, and the negative loop is interrupted. Not sure how to get back into the present moment? Here are some ideas:

5-4-3-2-1: Look around the room you are in, and carefully describe 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch (actually move around and touch the items), 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

Ground with Colour: Look around the room you are in and take notice of everything you can see that is blue. Go slowly, pausing to notice what the item is and its particular shade of blue. Move on from blue to notice everything that is green, then orange, and so forth until you have gone through all the colours or until the looping thoughts have settled.

Letter Association by Word: Pick a word any word, and then break it down letter by letter, coming up with as many other words that start with each letter of your chosen word. (For example: if your word is COPING, start by thinking of as many words as you can that begin with the letter C, then O words, then P, then I, then N, then G.)

(These strategies are helpful because they focus our attention in a directive manner, and thus can interrupt the negative or looping thoughts that so often accompany anxiety. And the result? You return to the present moment, and the looping thoughts are interrupted.)

2. Connect with Compassion

When we are caught up in negative looping thoughts, our heart tends to be closed off. In other words, we might be thinking about the worst-case scenario, putting ourselves down, feeling as though things will never get better, and even thinking negatively of those in our lives. To exit the negative loop, try mixing in some compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff writes, “instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”. Having self-compassion means that you honour and accept your humanness – not self-downing but just being present with loving kindness. Not sure how to connect with self-compassion? Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk kindly to a small child
  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk kindly or encourage a friend or someone you care deeply for
  • Try this breathing exercise for self-compassion: As you exhale, picture yourself exhaling stress, anger, worry, and frustration. As you inhale, picture yourself inhaling peace and acceptance. Continue slowing and deepening your breath, exhaling the worry, etc., and inhaling what you need.
  • Look at a picture of yourself at a younger age and remember you were once a child deserving of kindness and understanding
  • Look at a picture of a loved one (or look at them if you are near them) and think of 3 things you love about them
  • If you have a pet, take a few minutes to pet or play with them, and soak up some impromptu pet therapy!

3. Refreshen Self-Awareness

What is beneath your upset? Are you feeling unheard, unworthy, or unaccepted? Sometimes when we are caught up in a negative cycle, we start telling ourselves things that serve to keep the cycle going. These might be called thinking traps, negative core beliefs, or psychological defences. Regardless the name you use – take a moment to deepen your self-awareness and tune in to the narrative you are telling yourself. If it is negative, take a few moments to breathe deeply and return to the present moment with loving-kindness. You might want to question that negative narrative. For example, is what you are telling yourself 100% true, 100% of the time? What would you rather be telling yourself, or what could also be true instead? The latter question will start you down the road of connecting with the positive belief you would like to build.

4. Let it out

Sometimes talking it out can help. Is there someone in your life that you could vent to? Not for advice (unless you want it) – but rather a sounding board who can witness your tidal wave and be waiting on the shore as you ride the surf out. Emotional settling can occur when we connect with a caring friend or family member and feel heard.

If no one is around, try venting by writing out what you are feeling. You can also draw, doodle, scribble, or paint. Click here if you haven’t used writing to vent and want to hear some ideas on how to get started.

Have you discovered some ideas that help to healthfully shift out of negative looping thoughts? If so, please add what works for you in the comments.

Mindful Parenting · Mindfulness

Turn your Internal Compass Toward Loving Kindness

loving_kindness_meditation

I first learned the loving kindness meditation during a training course. I had been so taken by it that I immediately began integrating it into my personal life. Over the years, I have brought it forward into my counselling practice.

The loving kindness meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition as a means to develop compassion. Its simple sentences aim to foster unconditional acceptance, love, and compassion for self as well as for others, with no expectation of anything in return.

In this post, I am sharing two versions of the loving kindness meditation. The first one is longer and may take approximately 10 minutes, and the second one is abbreviated for those days when we feel pressed for time.

Here are some suggestions on when to use the loving kindness meditation:

  1. To get centred in the morning and set your intention for the day. Take a few minutes each morning, and create space for loving kindness in your life.
  2. To tune your heart. Elisha Goldstein writes about using compassion to tune the heart, and places this action in the context of a natural antidepressant.
  3. To let go of the emotional journey of others, and still feel as though you are helping. There will be moments when we want to help those in our lives, but we can not carry their emotional suffering for them. The loving kindness meditation creates space for you to connect with compassion for others, in a way that honours their strength and ability.  I have often directed my loving kindness meditation to my children, when they have appeared to be struggling with peers or with the pressures of adolescence. I have directed it toward my husband, when I have known he was entering into stressful times at work. I have directed it toward family members, when I have been keenly aware of the miles between us and my inability to reach out and hug them. When sitting with the loving kindness meditation, picture the individuals in your life, their inherent goodness, and their desire to be happy. Wish the words of the loving kindness meditation to them, with an open heart, unconditional acceptance, and without judgment.

The loving kindness meditation can help you cultivate compassion for self and others. Challenge yourself to use it daily for 2 weeks, and notice with curiousity the beneficial impact it can have on you and your relationships!

loving_kindness_shortened

 

Resources:

  • The loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the first image) was shared with me by Counsellor Mahara Albert, in Vancouver BC, during the Stopping the Violence core training by EVA BC (2008)
  • The shortened version of the loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the second image) is by Jack Kornfield

Prefer to have the meditation read to you? Check out these options:

 

Mindful Parenting

The Whole-Brain Child, by Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson

canoe3I have so much praise for The Whole-Brain Child, written by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. The book explains brain growth and brain functioning in children, and ways parents can interact during difficult moments based on understanding neurobiology. There is minimal psychological jargon, and even includes strategies for parents to teach their children about their growing brains!

Something that stood out for me near the beginning of the book, was Siegel’s explanation of mental wellness and unwellness. Please note:  my overview pales in comparison to the explanation provided by Siegel – this book is worth the read!

In order to explain these concepts, Siegel uses the analogy of paddling down a river in a canoe. Imagine, just paddling down the river in a canoe. As you stay in the center of the river, the waters are calm. However, toward each river bank, the waters become choppy.  To one side of the river, the river bank represents chaos. To the other, rigidity. Floating down the center of the river represents mental wellness. Yet, in everyone’s life, there are times when our canoe floats towards the river banks. If your canoe were to float to close to chaos, you would feel out of control, confused, and in constant chaos and turmoil. If you float too close to rigidity, you would begin to impose control on everything and everyone around you. On the bank of rigidity, people become unwilling to adapt, unwilling to compromise, and unwilling to negotiate. Our thinking can be flexible and adaptable, and our emotions accurate for the situation when we are in center of the river. Siegel goes on to describe the analogy in much more detail, explaining how all mental illnesses can fit into either the bank of chaos or the bank or rigidity.

Imagine how you could use the canoe analogy in your life. For example, after a hard day of work, likely feeling emotionally drained and stressed out – start noticing which shore your canoe is veering toward. Do you tend to float more toward chaos, or rigidity? When under stress, if you veer more toward chaos, you might experience a sense of losing control, or helplessness. You might experience yourself cycling through many strong emotions, such as anger, sadness, and anxiety. You may even catch yourself yelling, whining, or on the brink of tears. When under stress, if your canoe floats more toward rigidity, you might experiencing yourself as the task master, acting in a demanding manner and trying to control everything and everyone around you. When they don’t comply, the resulting behaviour might be anger, or anxiety.

Using the image of the canoe, noticing that your canoe is getting off track and visualize steering yourself back to centre. Be gentle with yourself and use positive words to self, such as  “I choose to keep my canoe in the center”. And when it starts to go sideways (as things often do!), take a break: try taking a moment to breathe, and to visualize your canoe moving back to center. It’s a powerful image – and I am grateful once again to Daniel Siegel for his powerful contributions to brain-based parenting.

Reference:
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind. By Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson.

This article was originally posted on September 7, 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Swapping out Trigger Thoughts for Coping Thoughts

polar bear and cubThis morning I was running late for work. Last night, rather than tidying and preparing lunches for school, I was tired. I decided to put my feet up: I watched tv, and I chatted with my husband. Shirking the evening household responsibilities felt great! But as a result, this morning I was running late. My morning agenda read: get ready, get kids ready, get lunches ready, drive kids to school, drive self to work. However, my six year old daughter had a different agenda. Despite the many times I informed her that I was running late and that we needed to get out the door, she dawdled.

The reality is, I was frustrated with myself for not being prepared for the morning – and sadly I found myself directing this frustration at my daughter. As I saw myself nagging ineffectively, I noticed my inner dialog also changing: “Why can’t she just help me with this? She is so disrespectful…”. Funny thing about such negative, labeling comments – they seem to always intensify angry feelings.

Researchers McKay and Fanning (1996), call these ‘trigger thoughts’ because the thoughts tend to trigger in us negative emotions. When parents are stressed, thinking thoughts that serve to magnifylabel, and assume intent distort the situation – these thoughts make the situation seem worse than it is, and make your child’s behaviour seem deliberate and bad.

Trigger thoughts lead parents to forget the real reasons behind their child’s behaviour (such as developmental level, reinforcement history, needs, temperament, and so forth). And, as the trigger thoughts spiral us into anger, we are left feeling helpless. Once we cool down and the situation is over, we are still left with an unresolved issue and have now lost an opportunity to problem solve with our child(ren).

Trigger thoughts also have a negative impact on our kids. When our anger prevents us from seeing a situation clearly and acknowledging  underlying causes of behaviour, we send negative messages to our children. These messages can lead kids to see themselves as bad, to grow less cooperative with us, and to become alienated from us and angry. The impact of chronic anger on our children sure is worth our attention in changing our patterns when under stress!

McKay and Fanning, in their 1996 research study, found that parents with low levels of anger tended to use more positive coping statements (in place of trigger thoughts). The seven coping thoughts that seemed most effective were as follows:

  1. It’s just a stage. Kids have to go through these stages
  2. This is natural for his/her age
  3. Don’t take it seriously/personally. Keep a sense of humour
  4. This is just natural (age-appropriate) impulsiveness
  5. He/She isn’t really trying to do this to me. It’s just how he/she is coping right now
  6. He/She can’t help (crying, being angry, interrupting, needing attention, etc.)
  7. Just get through it. You can cope. You don’t have to get angry

These are such fantastic coping statements and parents so often forget to use them. If you need assistance in remembering to use the positive coping statements, you could post them on your wall, or use the sticky dot technique! If these coping strategies don’t fit for your situation, spend some time creating your own. The more the coping statements are unique to your life, the more likely you are to remember to think them in the pace of trigger thoughts.

Most importantly, start becoming aware of how you feel anger in your body. Then, when you feel that sensation, check in with what is going on for you at that moment. What are you saying to yourself about the situation? Are you labeling your child in a detrimental way? Is that problem suddenly feeling magnified? Are you assuming some unruly motive to your child? If so, you are most likely using a triggering thought. Swap it out with a coping statement– and believe the coping statement.

Our children really aren’t out to get us! They are just navigating their way through some significant developmental milestones and often feeling helpless, powerless, frustrated, anger, etc. at the process!

Reference:
McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (1996). When anger hurts your kids: A parent’s guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

This article was originally posted on January 24, 2011, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Oh… How Easily we Become Distracted!

messy-roomA friend and I were chatting over coffee recently – a mix of giggles and moans as we gushed on the amusements and perplexities of life with kids. My friend had been expressing frustration about trying to get her children to clean their bedrooms. She shared with me that she would ask them to tidy their rooms, even provide specific directions as to what needed to be tidied, and yet return later only to find them playing in their rooms with no amount of tidying completed! My friend expressed exasperation and admitted to being unsure of how to proceed. As I had sat listening to my friend describe her dilemma, a sudden rush of self-awareness swept over me. I too have experienced frustration when my children were requested to tidy their rooms and instead found themselves distracted in the process. I too have found myself curiously wondering how on earth I can motivate them. I too have berated myself for cutting to the chase and cleaning their rooms myself. Despite these acknowledgements, the realization I had was more powerful: it had to do with the way I carry out my own chores and obligations.

All too often when it is time to prepare dinner, I wander into the kitchen and see dirty dishes in the sink. Well, I can not start dinner with dirty dishes hanging around – so I wash them. As I am washing them, I realize that the dish towel is dirty. I walk to the laundry room with it so that I will remember to put it in with the next load. As I am there, I realize that my cat is laying in the window, bathing in the sun. I take a moment just to stare at him – so peaceful, so comfortable. Then, I walk over to him and pet his soft fur. As I am petting him, I realize that I should probably feed him. So, I go get the can of food, and scoop some into his dish. Then I think I should feed the dog, too. I grab the dog’s bag of food, and feed her. My dog happily lops over to me, and I sit on the step to scratch her behind the ears. I smile as I contemplate how loving my pets are. Then suddenly I remember that I was going to prepare dinner! I quickly walk to the kitchen and start taking items from the fridge. As I am doing so, I see a few leftovers that have remained a little too long in the fridge. Of course they must be thrown out. I start pulling them out of the fridge, and  dump some of the leftovers into the compost bucket. Ahhh… it is almost full. I should take it out. I am about to put my shoes on, when I remember that I am actually in the middle of making dinner… !

So I have to ask: how often are we guilty of the very same behaviours we are scolding our children for?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
– Carl Jung

What I needed in my moment of distraction wasn’t someone yelling at me. I needed to gently remind myself to get back on track. I even smiled at myself, giggling at how easily I was getting everything else accomplished aside from the task at hand! That too is how I need to approach my children. Not with frustration, not with exasperation – but with gentle encouragement.

Depending on the developmental level of our children, they are likely struggling with their own impulsivity.  I read once that our ability to control our impulses isn’t fully developed until age 24 (sorry, I don’t have a reference for this, it is simply something I read once that stuck with me). And, because our impulses are related to root drives, we tend to experience heighten impulsivity when we feel hungry, tired, hurt, and anxious. If that is the case, shouldn’t we be even gentler on ourselves and our children?

Additional ways to encourage and motivate children with their chores:

  • Acknowledge how tough the task can be. Normalize it instead of sending a message of shame: “I know, it is super hard to stay focused with all these neat things in your room…”
  • Use encouragement to assist your child in getting started: “How about I come back to check in a few minutes, I bet you can get this one thing done before I return!”
  • Notice what was done instead of what wasn’t done: “Wow, you’re half through putting your books back on the shelf – and with all these cool toys around tempting to distract you! How did you manage to stay on-track?!”
  • Sometimes, we also need to ask what is beneath all this? Is there something more going on, (such as feeling tired, hungry, and so forth)?

This article was originally posted on March 11 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

The Dinner Flowers

img_5506-2I love dinner time with my family. It is such a great opportunity to hear about everyone’s day, to joke with each other – to basically connect with each other after being apart all day. However, loving the opportunity to connect doesn’t  necessarily mean that dinner time is always easy! More often than not, my children want to showme what their day was like: they want to act out what each person did, or demonstrate dance moves. They are constantly popping up and down from the table to get things or to do things – which can be incredibly disruptive!

So, we decided to try out an innovative idea that Jo Frost taught, on the tv show Super Nanny. It is so simply: write down the rules for meal time on paper flowers, place the flowers on the table at meal time, review with everyone as necessary.

It was fun writing down the rules with my children. I loved hearing their interpretation of our meal time rules! For example, my 8 year old came up with“don’t show people what’s in your mouth by talking when you are chewing”. And my future scientist 3 year old came up with “don’t mix your food into your drink”! It took a few revisions, but eventually we came up with about 6 meal time rules, phrased in positive terms (For example, rather than “don’t show people the food in your mouth by talking when you are chewing”, we came up with “Finish chewing, then talk”).

The trick to this strategy? You must catch your kids following the rules! Remind them of the rules at each meal time, verbally acknowledge they are doing it (some praise), and give them the appropriate flower. My children love the pretty flowers we made –they are proud of their hard work. So, at meal times now, they point out their good behaviour and ask for a flower. They even notice each other’s good behaviour and point out that someone needs a flower if I have missed it!

I wonder if the key to success for this strategy was that my children partially own it – there is some empowerment here because they were a part of outlining the rules and creating the flowers. Thank you Super Nanny!

This article was originally posted on January 5 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

You are Worthy of Your Time

beach_italy_2019Think it sounds selfish to nurture yourself? There are tons of great reasons why we should spend at least a small percentage of our time taking care of ourselves. Taking time out to care for yourself will actually sustain you in light of the busy schedules we keep and the fast-paced world we live in. And the best part? What we do to nurture ourselves doesn’t need to take a long time.

If it’s been a long time since you have considered doing something nurturing for yourself, check out this list of potential ideas. Some items on the list might sound great to you, and others might not. Think of the list as a way to get you started on considering  what might be nourishing for you. Nurturing yourself is about identifying what your needs are – and taking small steps towards meeting them. What activity might you do that will bring you a sense of calm, or a sense of joy?

What will nurture you? 

  • Take a walk (or any form of exercise)
  • Work or sit in your garden
  • Try yoga (or an exercise class)
  • Play with your pet (if you have one)
  • Draw, paint, scrapbook, etc. – anything artistic
  • Start reading a novel (or listen to an audio book)
  • Take a moment to say some positive affirmations to yourself
  • Cozy up on the couch with a favourite television show or movie
  • Write in your journal: notice what has been going on for you lately, or explore what your own strengths are
  • Take the time to learn about you – try counselling
  • Walk in nature, take some pictures while there
  • Ever thought of trying out an infra-red sauna?  There are tons of health benefits linked with these and if you like warm temperatures, you might find it to be very relaxing! You don’t even have to buy one: many naturopath Physicians have them available in their clinics
  • Enjoy a relaxing bath (or a soothing shower)
  • Write to a friend (yes, many people still enjoy receiving snail mail letters!)
  • Are you religious? Attend a service at your church
  • Try knitting or crocheting (there might even be a knitting circle in your community)
  • Do some tasty baking or cooking
  • Learn something new (check out the classes offered at your recreation centre or community arts centre, or try an online course)
  • Work on a hobby
  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a meditation
  • Want to try a relaxation cd or guided imagery? The cool thing about guided imagery is that it has been proven effective even if you fall asleep while doing it! If you are interested in learning more, do a Google search for “free guided imagery”.  Here are some additional suggestions if you are interested:
    – Apps: Calm or Headspace
    – CD or iTunes download: Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation); Paul McKenna (visualization and self-hypnosis for optimizing personal potential); Tara Brach (mindfulness meditation). *just to mention a few – there are far too many amazing people in our world who offer meditation or relaxation to mention all of them here!
  • Sometimes are self-nurturing moments involve others: Talk with a good friend or loving family member; Play a fun or silly game with your children; Try hiking together (or plan a fun outing together)

Chances are, if you are reading a blog about mindful parenting, you likely spend a great deal of time caring for others. How about taking a moment each week to treat yourself as kindly as you treat others? After all, you are worth your time!

This article was originally posted on October 3, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Excessive Control is Problematic

IMG_2950A degree of control in our lives can create a sense of security. We also require it in healthy dosages in order to be the autonomous healthy people we strive to be. A degree of control in our parenting is necessary when creating structure, routine, and boundaries in our home and with our children. However, control can also wreck havoc on our interpersonal relationships if it becomes excessive. Before going in to detail, I would like to share a story…

In October 2003, while I was residing in Mississauga Ontario, a beautiful 9 year old girl named Cecilia Zhang was abducted from her home during the night – out of her own bedroom window while she and her family slept. I did not know her, and I did not know her family… but I was forever changed by her. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child. Cecilia’s story was covered on all the news channels, and her picture was plastered in every store window in my community. It is a disturbing story that chills me and brings tears to my eyes even now, 9 years later. As my own precious child was growing inside me, completely safe and protected, I desperately longed for Cecilia to be found and returned home. To her parents heartbreaking dismay, she was not.  As I watched Cecilia’s investigation unfold, the remaining beliefs I held about the world as a safe place began to crumble.

I have worked hard to keep my fears in-check since that moment, so as not to pass them on to my children. But the fears are always there, just beneath the surface. I keep the windows locked at night. I use a home alarm system. I try to get to know parents prior to my children having play-dates. I research daycare providers prior to employing them… But every now and then, when I have had a stressful day at work or some sort of crisis is underfoot, my need for control kicks in to overdrive. I catch myself wanting to tell my kids (and my husband!) what to do. I even start planning it in the car on the way home! And then I realize what I am doing, and I realize that my day has affected me adversely… and I take a deep breath to release it….

I believe that many parents want to have the illusion of control. That illusion helps us feel safe and enables us to believe we possess the capacity to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Trauma researchers Follette and Pistorello (2007) state that when our lives feel out of control, we strive to exert control over our thoughts, feelings, and environment (including the people in our environment!). That control we feel we must exert in order to escape feelings of uncertainty and fear sever only to become the problem!

Too much control is detrimental to our relationships – especially to our children. As parents, we need to successfully navigate the delicate balance between keeping our kids safe and street smart while not passing our own issues on to them.

Are there times when you have noticed a sudden excessive need for control or order within or around you? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control those around you with threats or coercion? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control what those around you are doing, even when it has no impact on you? If so, it might be time to check in on how you are doing.

Keeping our kids safe is one of the most important jobs of being a parent. Honouring what is going on for ourselves as parents, is an important step in that process. How can you nurture your need for security, for stability, for a degree of control and so forth, without alienating your children and loved ones?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Recognize your triggers (what thoughts, emotions, or situations bring up strong feelings or kick on a need for excessive control?)
  2. Become aware of your own internal distress(what is your body’s distress signal? For example, holding your breath or taking shallow breaths, clenching muscles or your jaw, pacing or becoming rigid, and so forth)
  3. When you catch your self calling out directions and demanding compliance, take a moment to tune inwards and notice what is going on for you  (Notice what you are thinking, what you are feeling emotionally, and what changes you notice within your body)
  4. Withhold the judgment  (towards yourself, and those around you)
  5. Reassure yourself that you are a normal human being responding to a tough situation – and that you can get through it

(Please also feel free to leave your own suggestions as comments to this post!)

References:
Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems, by Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello (2007)

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge