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How To Survive The Holidays With Your Family - By Chris Gearing

Friday, December 24, 2010

How To Protect Yourself From Parental Alienation This Holiday - By Chris Gearing

Monday, December 20, 2010

Parental Alienation At The Holidays - By Chris Gearing

Friday, December 17, 2010

Parental Alienation During The Holidays - By Chris Gearing

Friday, December 17, 2010

During the holidays, millions of children from divorced families will be spending time with their parents separately. But what happens when one parent begins a systematic campaign to discredit the other parent and make their child hate their ex?

This is one of the worst developments in American families of the past 30 years. Psychologists are calling it “Parental Alienation” and it literally rips families apart. Here’s what it looks like:

Systematic Campaign of Alienation: Parental alienation is a systematic campaign of character assassination. One parent is determined to alienate the child’s affections toward the other parent or toward a grandparent. It is most prevalent in child custody cases and it is worst at the holidays as parents tend to compete for the affection of their children.

Spans the Range: Parental Alienation spans the range from outright malicious intent, legal battles and reckless accusations to careless, self serving comments that undermine the child’s view of their parent.

Emotional Abuse of Children: Parental alienation not only hurts the ex, it’s a form of emotional abuse of the child. Beyond the confusion and pain of divorce and losing a parent, children take their parent’s qualities and characteristics as their own. As one expert says, “ Bad mouth your ex and you simultaneously bad mouth your child.”

Legitimized by Self Absorbed Culture: Most divorces involve pain and suffering and parental alienation flourishes in a family culture of conflict. However, the epidemic of narcissism that has defined our country in recent years legitimizes winning at any cost. Savage and unethical behavior is justified even if it involves waging war against an innocent person.

So if parental alienation is so damaging to so many people, why would someone do it?

Revenge: There are complex reasons to explain this behavior but all explanations boil down to one principle reason -- Revenge. Some people feel pleasure from inflicting pain on people they believe have wronged them. The mind of the child becomes the battlefield for hurting their ex.

Child Is Perceived As A Possession: For some parents, adequate boundaries with their children are absent. The child is perceived as an extension of themselves. They inflict parental alienation on the other parent to banish him or her so that they can have the child to themselves.

Compensating for Inadequacy and Guilt: Parents may try to resolve their low self-esteem and sense of failure by reinforcing their belief that they are the better parent. Posturing as the superior parent makes them feel better even if it is at the expense of their child. They have no conscience about the suffering of the child or the other parent – it’s really all about themselves.

Parental alienation runs rampant at the holidays with children traveling between the homes of divorced parents. But how are children affected by parental alienation?

Brainwashed by Lies: These kids are basically brainwashed and now regard their targeted parent as the enemy or as a worthless afterthought. This kind of betrayal can poison even in the most tender and loving relationships.

Rehearsed Answers: Divorce is very scary for children. Often they feel unstable and they may be worried about the approval of the parent that they are living with. In an effort to feel safe, they orient to the controlling needs of the alienating parent at all costs. They are often unable to specify why they dislike the targeted parent or they exaggerate faults of the parent to justify their rejection. Their comments parrot the alienator’s words and feelings.

Long Term Damage: There is minimal data on the long-term effects of such alienation on kids. However, we do know that the earlier the separation from a parent, the more traumatic it is for the child. The basic tenants of loving relationships—trust, loyalty, and forgiveness--are never learned and the child may struggle for a lifetime because of these experiences.

Now, if you or someone you know is the victim of parental alienation – here’s what you can do to protect yourself and reclaim the love of your child:

Remain Calm: Understand that you have been systematically undermined and that you are taking every step to remediate the situation. Focus on what you can control and don’t stress about other factors. Do not lose your temper, reject your child or insult your ex in front of your child.

Educate Yourself: Parental alienation can be an elusive phenomenon to prove especially in a highly intense forum such as child custody. There are several books with great resources that are “must reads” for parents. Please see the sources for this story for some suggestions.

Work with Great Experts: Hire a psychologist and a lawyer who are proven experts in parental alienation. The therapist must acknowledge the massive psychological impact such alienation has on the child and the targeted parent. Your attorney needs to possess a solid understanding of this type of emotional abuse and they must have the substantial legal skills to protect your child and your interests.

It won’t be easy – but with a great deal of patience, help, and prayer, you can protect yourself and your child from the devastating effects of parental alienation.

Resources:

"Divorce Poison," Dr. Richard Warshak

"The Custody Revolution" by Dr. Richard Warshak

"Divorce Casualties: Understanding Parental Alienation," Dr. Douglas Darnall

The Secrets of Holiday Gift Giving - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Americans spend up to $40 billion annually for holiday presents and while holiday gifts can be a terrific way to show your love for your partner, psychologists now report that holiday gifts can often be a relationship report card. Research shows that four billion dollars is spent each holiday season on unappreciated gifts so it’s important to know what you’re doing. Here to give us some advice on all that gift giving is psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Why do gifts have so much meaning for us, especially in a relationship?

Perception is Central: A gift is never just a gift. It is a fundamental way we communicate how important the relationship is. Americans, in particular, are really stressed about gift giving because of this relationship rule. Giving the perfect gift can be seen as a true measure of how much we care about our partner-- or not. The more thoughtful or romantic we are perceived as being, the more emotional money in the bank.

Avoid Misfires: But even when you love your partner, holiday gifts can also get you into a lot of trouble if you misfire. Since they really do leave us vulnerable to judgment, they are a form of risk taking in the relationship and they can go very badly. We are using gifts to take basic measurements of our partner’s commitment, affection, and understanding of who we are.

Relationships Ending: The ugly truth is that gifts often signal the end of things. For example, a gift left on the kitchen counter in the plastic bag is not a good sign.

What are the chief pitfalls we should look out for in giving gifts?

Buy for Them Only: Avoid giving them something you would like irrespective of their tastes. Buying for yourself—with your preferences and interests—will not be endearing. You will be viewed as insensitive and selfish.

Keep It Equal According to Status: Remember that in families, the comparative value of the gifts will always be measured. It is just fine to give your wife a piece of nice jewelry while giving your sister a robe. Be careful not to “over gift” relatives of equal status—it will be noted.

Avoid Lavish Gifts to Relatives: Also, avoid lavish gifts that are going to make everyone feel inadequate. You can look like a show off and the gift just misfires.

Avoid Token, Last Minute Gifts: Low expense and minimal efforts in gift giving are recipes for disaster, especially with a woman. Also, the last minute gift can be cute once in a while (like when you’re fifteen!) but please don’t purchase in a rush at the holidays, especially for a woman. I guarantee she will feel like an afterthought.

Avoid Gender Specific and Bland Gifts: Please do not buy an appliance for her unless she specially requests that. Anything with a cord is off limits and on off switch items—unless it’s new car—are to be avoided. Also, gifts that you would give anybody you know don’t belong under the tree for your spouse.

No Motivational Gifts: Do not give a gift that screams self-improvement like weight loss, better parenting or finding a job. A year’s membership at the gym or a box of diet drinks can really hurt the relationship.

Avoid Re-Gifting: Almost one third of Americans pass on gifts they don’t like. Be careful with this since it can hurt the relationship if they figure it out.

What are the differences between men and women in gift giving?

Money Counts with Men: Men tend to be much more aware of how much they’re spending to buy her present. They use their money to signal affection, interest and commitment. They also like practicality and personalization in their own gifts—golf clubs, new grilling utensils, etc.

Women and Meaning: On the other hand, women love to investigate what the present means emotionally—that relationship report card mentality. We love hidden meanings and delight in building drama around the moment of the gift—the candlelight at the table, the Christmas tree glow. We will often spend hours devising the perfect gift for him, thinking, dreaming and scheming. She hopes (expects) that he will do the same for her but research shows that men rarely do. They are more likely to think about it for a minute, buy it at the very last minute on Christmas Eve and deliver it the next morning.

What are the best gifts to give?

Research shows that gift giving must include three elements—wonderful surprise, familiarity with her tastes and the cost must reflect the perceived emotional value of the relationship.

Savor the Experience: Gifts that are personal and experiential are huge. Give your partner the gift of a romantic evening, a massage, a sports event, duo cooking classes, making a gingerbread house together, a horse and buggy ride in Dallas or a weekend getaway. Generally, people do not remember the way you dressed or even specifically what you did. They remember how you made them feel.

Selfless Giving: Remember to be gracious even if you receive a less desirable gift. The real gift in holiday presents lies in your delight in giving and in receiving kindly. Every study about happiness, without exception, argues that our chief happiness comes from selfless giving. Holiday presents are an excellent place to create happiness for you and your partner.

Addicted Moms - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Addicted Moms

CBS 11 News

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

The number of women ages 30 to 44 who report abusing alcohol has doubled over the past decade, while prescription drug abuse has sky rocked 400%, according to a federal study. But most addicted women hide their secret well – often, with disastrous results. Here to tell us more is psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Why would young successful women begin down the long road of addiction?

No one who becomes addicted intends to end up addicted. But substance abuse among young mothers is becoming an ugly reality since the stress on this generation of women has never been greater. Most importantly, no one ever considers that a busy, engaged mom in the prime of life may actually have a serious addiction. Here’s why:

More Stress, Less Time: More women with young kids hold down full time jobs and they are the most sleep-deprived part of our society. A sleepy brain is a stressed brain. Addictions begin when we use something to bridge the gap or take the edge off of your daily stress.

Escape Hatch: Substance abuse gives you an escape. Most abused drugs and alcohol create intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Self-confidence soars, energy expands and the worries and challenges of a busy life are gone.

Depression and Anxiety Epidemics: Depression is ten times more prevalent than it was fifty years ago and it strikes a decade earlier than it did a generation ago. Women have twice the rates of depression as men and addictions give them a temporary reprieve from their misery.

Women Drinking in Groups: “Girls Night Out” has become a national, normalized ritual in our society. But a whole lot of drinking also goes on during these female-bonding events.

Long Standing Problem: Most substance abuse begins in adolescence or in college when there is rampant binge drinking and the young woman carries the problem forward into her social life as a young mother.

Is alcohol addiction more dangerous for a woman than for a man?

Alcohol More Harmful for Women: Women get drunker faster than men, become addicted quicker and develop health problems related to abuse such as liver cirrhosis, hypertension, anemia and malnutrition.

Violence Tied to Substance Abuse: The link between sexual assaults such as rape and alcohol is well established. Seventy five percent of rapes and seventy percent of domestic violence involves alcohol.

Pregnancy Always an Issue: One out of five pregnant women uses drugs, drinks or smokes with irreversible damage to her unborn child.

Drinking Correlated with Eating Disorders: Many women are obsessed with their weight and prefer to drink rather than eat a healthy diet. Since 40% of American women are on a diet at any given moment, many women substitute alcohol for regular meals and good nutrition, and they end up harming their bodies.

Alcohol Poisons the Woman: The effects of alcohol on a woman’s body linger months after she stops drinking. In fact, studies find that alcohol damages a woman’s brain structure and function in lasting and measurable ways. Although women drink less than men, death rates among alcoholic women are almost 100% higher than among their male counterparts.

Are there stages to addiction?

Absolutely there are and the addiction progresses through very predictable steps as the woman surrenders her life to the addiction.

Internal Shift: The woman begins to turn toward behavior that is relieving her stress. Getting high is fun and it changes her mood for the better in the beginning. She denies how dangerous her usage is as she begins to betray others and herself with repeated use.

Lifestyle Change: A behavioral dependency on the alcohol or drug now emerges. Her life is altered to accommodate the addiction even if she becomes reckless and self-destructive. She moves deeper into the sabotaging behavior as she builds her life around getting high.

Her Life Destructs: The addiction has now taken over. The woman relies on getting high and ignores or rationalizes the destructive aspects of her behavior. At this point, nothing matters to the addict but the acquisition of the substance. The obsession with the addiction causes a trance state. People don’t matter, commitments don’t count, and honesty isn’t even a part of the conversation.

Cannot Stop: She believes that she cannot stop. New brain imaging technology now shows that there are significant changes in the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory and behavioral control. These changes compromise the brain architecture and cause the compulsive slide into addiction.

What can we do if we are worried about a woman in our life?

Whenever you see any kind of irrational, highly self-destructive behavior that just doesn’t add up, there is usually some kind of addictive behavior behind it. Secrecy, deceit, and the systematic betrayal of the trust of others are all hallmarks of this disorder. Addictions often manifest very differently in women than in men with addicted women reporting more depression, anxiety and low self esteem.

Make a plan, enlist a team of loving friends and family and intervene directly and quickly. Happily, addiction treatment is highly effective and lasting so be encouraged that you are saving her life. She’ll thank you for it once she is sober and safe again.

Sources:

The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University: Report on Substance Abuse and the American Woman, June 1996

Women Under the influence, by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University omen under the Influence

Alcoholism Hurts Women Neuropsychologically Almost the Same as it Hurts Men: Deficits Linger Months into Abstinence, APA, January 20, 2002

Addicted Moms: Everybody Knows Somebody, WorkingMother.com

The National Institute of Drug Abuse, Drugs, Brains, and Behavior - The Science of Addiction"

What To Do About Post-Partum Depression - By Chris Gearing

Monday, November 08, 2010

How To Spot Post-Partum Depression - By Chris Gearing

Friday, November 05, 2010

Is Your Teen Ready For College? - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, November 04, 2010

As America’s teens are applying to college this fall, millions of parents are wondering if their children are ready for the transition to college. Do they have something to worry about?

Most neurophysiologists report now that the changes taking place in the teenage brain are profound. The teenage brain is like a house that’s being built—there is a steady building of neurological connections that create an often subtle but abrupt refinement in self-control and judgment. There can be a stark difference between a 17 year old and an 18 year old. Their emotional maturity can consolidate and stabilize in just a few months.

Are parents putting too much pressure on kids when we ask them to commit to college, in some cases when they’re only sophomores and juniors in high school?

Without a doubt, we are putting a ton of pressure on kids when we ask them to make an adult commitment in the middle of adolescence. Again, we know that the emotional and cognitive development of the teenager is a complex and lengthy process. There are profound differences between fifteen and eighteen. Sophomores and juniors are being asked to make decisions that are literally, in adolescent development, life-changing.

Here are a few things I would recommend for parents:

Remain Involved: The main issue is what kind of input parents will have at such a profound and intense time of maturity.

Consequences For Life: We know that kids are extremely vulnerable to experiences—good and bad—during this pivotal time. What the child experiences is encoded much more intensely in late adolescence, and parents need to be very mindful of what they allow their teenagers to do.

Caution Around Substance Abuse: Be very cautious about what you enable your child to experience. For example, the teen years can be a devastating time for the brain to be exposed to drugs and alcohol since it is still developing. Parents, be very careful.

Parents, are you wondering if your child is ready for college?

Emotional maturity is a central factor in deciding college readiness for the child. You need to evaluate the following factors in your child:

  • Risk Aversion and Impulse Control
  • The Ability to Self Sooth Appropriately (with exercise, conversation, or distractions like music or movies)
  • The Ability to Self-Correct and to Remain Self-Aware
  • Skills in Self-Regulation such as time management, organization and persistence in task completion.
  • The Capacity to Identify Emotions In Others Accurately
  • The Ability to Understand the Complexity of Emotions and Motivations

What To Do About Post-Partum Depression - By Chris Gearing

Monday, November 01, 2010

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending that pediatricians routinely screen all new mothers for depression. Every year more than 400,000 babies are born to depressed women and that's not just bad for moms, but can also harm their babies. Research shows babies with depressed mothers show developmental and social delays.

But how widespread is post partum depression in women?

Post-partum depression is much more common than psychologists once thought. Now we know that up to 80% of women are affected by post-partum. Around 30% of fathers also develop depression during the first year of the baby's birth. If left untreated, post partum can become worse over time and can eventually become life threatening. The results can be absolutely disastrous.

So, why is post-partum depression so often overlooked?

The baby blues, common tearfulness, and sadness are often overlooked because everyone is focusing on the baby. It is common to think that a joyous birth will bring only contentment and happiness. The biggest problem is that everyone usually underestimates what is happening. They may sense something is wrong but not guess what it is. Unfortunately, families, spouses and even doctors often mistake post-partum depression for normal baby blues that will pass.

The majority of women with post-partum suffer from this illness for more than 6 months and, if untreated, 25% of patients are still depressed a year later. This condition can get worse, and even lethal, over time if it is not treated with anti-depressants and therapy.

But how does a parent with post-partum affect the baby?

Unfortunately, the effects on the infant can be devastating. By age 9 months, the baby may either cry a lot or become listless and may perform below average on developmental tests--a pattern that can persist for years.

There are two broad patterns that we see in clinical practice:

Outright Neglect: The effects on the child are often much more lethal and traumatic. The child is virtually abandoned by the chronically depressed mother. Other people may not recognize the lonely toddler or elementary school child as being symptomatic or traumatized. But they cannot develop normally if their mother is incompetent and in the grip of depression.

Engulfed by Mom: The other pattern is the over involved mother who soothes her ongoing depression by fusing with the child. There are no appropriate boundaries and the child becomes a kind of “safety blanket” for a mother who is lost in depression. The child often begins to see the world as a fearful place and develops only a partial sense of self.

Now, why is post-partum so rampant?

Because no one is sleeping! The most important issue in clinical depression among new parents is the sleep problem, bar none. Fatigue breeds depression, and these young parents fail to realize that they can be so deeply affected by sleep loss. We know that discernable mood disturbances begin to emerge when someone has shortened their sleep by two hours over a five-day span. Sleepless people have 35 times the rates of depression!

Together, the couple spirals down into the downward depression cycle, and they fail to realize what is happening until the depression has severely compromised their relationship and their lives. Every one loses.

So first things first – get some sleep.

Here’s what I would recommend as a first step for coping with post-partum depression:

First, Having Direction: Getting the right diagnosis is the first step in overcoming this dreadful problem. Talk to your doctor about what you are feeling and ask for a referral to a psychologist for an evaluation.

Consider Medication: Anti-depressants are quite helpful in alleviating symptoms quickly. When combined with psychotherapy, the treatment outcomes are quite positive. But always talk to your doctor before starting any medication.

Get Dad Involved: We need the fathers to get involved. We need them to get involved in supporting both the baby AND mom. So often, they are the secret to alleviating the stress, helping mom sleep and taking turns with baby. Most importantly, fathers play a central role in helping the child unfold socially and cognitively—they are the preferred and best playmates to young, developing babies.

Post-partum depression is a very serious disorder. Please seek the help of a professional if you are concerned about yourself or someone you know.


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