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What Jerry Sandusky Was Really Saying - By Chris Gearing

Friday, November 18, 2011

In Coach Sandusky’s interview with Bob Costas this past Monday, he acknowledged showering and playing with young boys.

But what was he really saying between the lines?

Highly Distorted View of Reality: Obviously this man is presenting his own highly distorted version of reality. What was most striking is that he continues to try to justify and even legitimize the actions that he admitted to in the interview.

Authority Figure: As a man in authority, he wielded enormous influence over these boys. The behavior that he did admit to—showering, wrestling, some touching on the leg—was fundamentally wrong in and of itself. Sandusky seems totally unable to understand if and how he crossed a line. He has no insight into his behavior and certainly has shown minimal remorse.

Different Kind of Abuse: In my opinion, what he did admit to crossed such a serious line that it was abusive. A grown man showering and horsing around with boys is highly inappropriate and confusing for those children. Somehow he views his actions as normal, but showering with and touching children can have lifelong effects on their development.

Some pundits are saying the his interview answers seemed rehearsed or pre-written.

Absolutely, the conversation on the phone call seemed rehearsed, controlled and premeditated. Some of the hesitancy in phrasing, the monotone of his speech, and the obvious avoidance of certain questions lines up with scientifically proven lying behaviors. People who are telling the truth do so instantly and don’t answer a question with a question.

For example, his answer to the question of being attracted to children was very odd. First, he restated the question back to Mr Costas twice. He then hesitated and replied that he enjoyed young people and that he loved to be around them. It was as if, in his own mind, he was normalizing his behavior. It took him over 15 seconds to deny that he was attracted to young boys.

Innocent people say no emphatically, emotionally, and repeatedly. Liars are more careful and analytical. They are trying to control the pacing of the conversation to buy themselves more time to come up with a good answer.

Coach Sandusky's Interview With Bob Costas - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss the Penn State scandal and Coach Sandusky's interview with Bob Costas - click here.

Sexual Harassment In Your Child's School - By Chris Gearing

Monday, November 07, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss sexual harassment in your child's school on CBS 11 - click here.

Being sexually harassed has become a way of life for millions of young teens. We knew that sexual harassment and bullying increased enormously in middle school but now we understand what form it takes. Attacking someone’s sexuality, attractiveness, appearance and relationships with the opposite sex is a devastating blow at any age. However, our appearance and sexuality are at their most vulnerable in this age range.

Having a bully repeatedly harass you about these things—that often you cannot change--can create longstanding beliefs that may linger for years. Kids struggle with questions about "how attractive am I really?" and "what kind of self confidence will carry me forward?" Such behavior can rearrange the beliefs of an otherwise normal child.

Such harassment can also lead to clinical depression. We know that depression strikes a full decade earlier in this generation of children compared to 50 years ago, and they tend to fall back into depression sometime during childhood a shocking 50% of the time. This study may explain in part, why our kids are getting depressed so early and so seriously.

Why has sexual harassment started to plague our kids at school?

Children in their middle school years naturally focus on their appearance and social status. However, they have never been more focused on their appearance and sexuality than they are today. Our kids live in the era of the adolescent celebrity culture and most of these celebrities are provocatively dressed with glamorous lifestyles that are highly misleading to an impressionable kid. Kids like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez present a slice of life that is just not possible.

I think that this study’s results highlight the enormous preoccupation with appearance and adequacy that starts much earlier in our children than it did a generation ago. The type of bullying and sexual harassment that we are now seeing is a direct reflection of the mixed messages our kids are getting.

Do boys and girls react differently to the sexual harassment?

This study indicates that girls suffer more. Girl were more frequently the victim with 52% of them reporting that they were harassed in person and 36% reporting online bullying. The girls were the recipient of being touched in an unwelcome way while their sexual orientation was raised as a question. We know that girls can descend into an internal dialogue that renders them helpless. They may not know what to do and as a result do nothing. While 34% of the boys were victims of in person harassment and 24% online harassment, the figures were still significant. Neither gender needs to hear this kind of bullying at school or anywhere else.

The effects of sexual harassment are devastating to a child's development.

The kids tend to get helpless. That is very typical of a bullied child—they do nothing, put their head down and perhaps the bully will go away. Indeed, the study reported that half of those who were harassed did nothing about it. Again, this kind of experience is very confusing. Most kids emerge out of childhood into early adolescence trusting that others will be nice to them. They do not start out believing that their peers will traumatize them. Sexual harassment is unexpected and there are no rehearsed strategies for dealing with it. They may be embarrassed to report it to their school counselors or parents.

The bigger question is how a child could even begin to harass others.

The research indicates that most kids use bullying and harassment to gain social status. Remember that this kind of behavior is often public and for the entertainment of others. The bullies know exactly what they are doing and it is intentional. Most of the time, these kids know exactly what they are doing is wrong.

Although some studies suggest that around 40% of them have some mild empathy, another 40% are indifferent to the suffering of their victims and 20% actively enjoy the intimidation and control.

The common denominator of all bullying and harassment is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. Around 50% of online bullies report that they inflict such cruelty “for fun” and to “teach the target a lesson.” However, a study published in 2006 reported that 12% of teens were physically threatened online and 5% actually feared for their physical safety.

If you're worried about your child being sexually harassed, here are some things you can do:

First, Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view this form of bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of kids who are being sexually harassed who are losing hope.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of harassment and bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Our non harassed kids must learn to speak up, refuse to be an audience, label harassment publicly, and to go and get help when the situation is out of control.

Empower the Victims: Believe your child about harassment. This study is proving that this is a reality for young teens. Children who are sexually harassed are likely to withdraw, deny what is happening, and suffer these horrors in silence. Such behaviors “feed” the harasser’s control. We cannot allow that as parents. Start a conversation today with your child about this issue. She needs to be reassured that you will take this seriously and will intervene if you have to. Get your child training in social skills and communication. These skills are teachable and will help to protect her.

Complex Trauma In Children - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss Judge Adams and complex trauma in children on CBS 11 - click here.

With the recent shocking video of Texas Judge William Adams beating his daughter, many people are wondering what kind of horrors may be lurking in their own neighborhoods. Many people do not fully understand trauma and how it can affect children and adolescents who are traumatized in their own homes.

How does physical and emotional abuse affect a child?

It is completely disastrous. The harm to a developing child is much more serious than to an adult. Adolescence is one of the worst times to expose a child’s brain to violence of any kind. Their brains are still developing and the brain can be fundamentally de-regulated during the most important years of development. The emotional parts of the brain are over-stimulated and they do not develop in unison leaving the child more vulnerable to a host of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, addictions and post-traumatic stress disorders. Such conditions have massive effect on the child's personality, how the treat others, and the choices that are made in jobs, spouses, and education. This is kind of child abuse can have lifelong effects.

Does parental physical abuse affect the child more than other kinds of abuse?

Without a doubt, physical abuse from a parent is much more devastating to the child. We know that trauma is worse when someone we know—a friend, neighbor or even acquaintance--inflicts it. Suddenly, someone you know trust is now a threat, and mistrust of others is a natural consequence.

In cases in which the parent inflicts the abuse, the betrayal is even more traumatic. We underestimate the effect that a parent’s cruel and abusive behavior can have on a child. The one person in the world you were supposed to trust—your parent—has now turned on you.

Worse then that, the behavior is legitimized by the rest of the family. There is nowhere for a young child to turn. The abuse is “crazy making” since the parent who has abused their authority is unapologetic, and the other family members blame you for the family turmoil. Children in this situation commonly develop complex traumatic disorder as a result of the chronic cruelty.

What is Complex Post-Traumatic Syndrome?

We now know that the most powerful determinant of psychological harm is the severity of the traumatic event itself. This new disorder goes beyond the traditional descriptions of post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychologists now understand that psychological stressors reside on a complexity continuum. At one end are single-incident traumatic events such as a car accident, a mugging, etc. At the opposite end are psychological responses to multiple, extended, and often highly invasive and traumatic events. Having a family member physically strike you on multiple occasions belongs in this range.

Why don't the other family members ever come forward?

Trauma occurs when you feel completely powerless. You must remember that when a person is overwhelmed by terror and helplessness, their ability to self activate is completely obliterated. When neither resistance nor escape is possible, the human self-defense system becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. We are immobilized and literally the problem solving parts of the brain shut down.

Trauma occurs when nothing you do can alleviate the outcome. Traumatic events interrupt our belief that we can control the outcome of our lives. Psychologists now believe that trauma may even deeply affect the central nervous system. Trauma victims feel that their adrenaline is constantly flowing and they are in a state of continuous alert. Victims are convinced, at a visceral level, that danger might return at any moment. They narrow their world and become terrified of new situations.

Can Post Traumatic Stress or Complex Trauma occur in events that are not life threatening?

Both can absolutely occur in events that are not life threatening but threaten us in other ways. Psychologists now believe that trauma can be incurred in a number of other non-life threatening situations, such as infidelity, in which the betrayed partner is made to feel intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and the threat of their safety disappearing.

If you think you or someone you know may be traumatized, here are some of the top symptoms to watch out for:

Hyper-arousal: The person has a persistent expectation of danger and is overly reactive to stress.

Intrusive Thinking: The victim experiences repeated thoughts and memories from the trauma. Intrusive thoughts reflect the indelible imprint of the traumatic moment.

Emotional Constriction: People who have been victimized are often so overwrought with emotion that they try to avoid and restrict their emotional responses to everything. The constriction reflects the numbing response of surrender.

We know more about trauma than we ever did. The success rates for professional treatment are excellent and the sooner you address these issues, the better.

How To Talk To Your Child About 9/11 - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Watch Dr. Milton Gearing discuss how to talk to your children about 9/11 on CBS 11 - click here.

Bullying and Children - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 18, 2011

As school begins in North Texas, many parents are concerned about the effects of potential childhood bullying on their child. Psychologists report that bullying has become a serious mental health issue for millions of American families with up to 30% of students reporting their involvement in bullying as either the bully, the victim or bystander. The devastating consequences of bullying can be deadly with 2/3 of school shooters report being chronically bullied in school.

Here are the specific characteristics of bullying:

Intentional Harm: Bullying in childhood is an aggressive form of intimidation that marginalizes the best of children while deeply scarring them psychologically. It is a repeated attempt to harm and to emphasize a humiliating imbalance of power and influence.

Bullying Begins Early: Research reports that almost 34% of elementary school students reported being frequently bullied at school.

Middle School Peaks: Bullying increases during transition periods such as moving from elementary to middle school. This behavior peaks in middle school.

Group Bullying: Bullying is usually a group activity. Studies show that a single child does not usually victimize kids. Bullying involves both active and passive participation by a group. The kids adopt a mob mentality as they team together to ridicule or emotionally torture another child.

Why would a child begin to bully others?

Giving What They Have Gotten: Bullies are usually kids who have been bullied somewhere along the way. Moving in and out of the two roles (bullies to victims and visa versa) seems to be the most typical pattern.

Children in Pain: They are often victims of bullying at home and have parents who have problems with anger. They identify with the aggressor and inflict pain to establish internal self-control. However, lots of kids have difficult parents and don’t go out in the world hurting others. Bullies are choosing their heinous behavior out of their own pain. These kids are in deep psychological trouble.

Bullies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong: The research about these kids suggests that these kids know exactly what they are doing. They understand the differences between right and wrong and commit the act anyway. They will lie, steal and cheat to avoid punishment and are sneaky around others.

Conscience in Some Kids: Although some studies suggest that around 40% of them have some mild empathy, another 40% are indifferent to the suffering of their victims and 20% actively enjoy the intimidation and control.

What about the new trend of cyber bullying?

Anonymous Bullies: The common denominator of all bullying is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, one third of students are targets at some point.

Cyber Bullying Turns Dangerous: Most of the time, cyber bullying involves gossip and rude comments that do not express direct intent to harm. Around 50% of online bullies report that they inflict such cruelty “for fun” and to “teach the target a lesson.” However, a study published in 2006 reported that 12% of teens were physically threatened online and 5% actually feared for their physical safety.

We all know that bullying is terrible, but did you know that it could have long term effects on your child?

Three Victims: Words are weapons and psychological harm is as severe as a broken bone. Bullying involves three victims—the bully, the recipient of the bullying and the witnesses to such cruelty. Victims report more internal problems such as depression and anxiety while bullies have more conduct problems, anger and alienation from school and the community. Witnesses become desensitized to the suffering of others. The long-term effects of bullying for all groups can be severe with protracted trauma, depression and resentment stretching into the adult years.

Increased Suicidal Ideation: Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found a significant connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in a review of 37 studies from 13 countries. Bullying victims were much more likely to think about suicide.

Parents, here's what you can do about this problem:

Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of victims who no longer believe that adults are going to protect them and they suffer in silence.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Teaching non-bullied kids to speak up, to refuse to be an audience, to label bullying publicly and to go and get help when the situation is out of control are essential steps for parents and teachers.

Empower the Victims: Believe your child about bullying. Victims are renowned for responding ineffectively through withdrawal, denial, silence and passivity. Such behaviors “feed” the bully’s control. We need to develop the victim’s talents, social skills, physical coordination and assertive abilities. He needs to be reassured that adults will take his complaints seriously and that he must report harassment. These are teachable skills and they increase self-confidence exponentially.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Bullying and Teasing: Social Power in Children’s Groups, Gayle Macklem, Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003.Cowie and Wallace (2006)

Patchin, J.W., and Hinduja, S (2006)

"Bullies move beyond the schoolyard: A preliminary look at cyber bullying." Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4, 148-169. Swearer, S., Espeleage, D. Napolitano,S. Bullying: Prevention and Intervention, 2009

Vossekuil, B., Fein, R.A., Reddy, M., Borum, R and Modzeleski, W (2002) The final report and findings of the safe school initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. Washington, D.C: U.S. Secret Services and U.S. Department of Education

How To Help Your Anxious Child - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss school anxiety on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Anxiety about the new school year is a normal reaction for many children at this time of year. But what happens when your child’s anxiety becomes excessive? Keeping up with assignments, complying with teacher directives and even attending school can be difficult for some kids who are over anxious.

So, why are our children so anxious?

Anxiety is like an oversensitive alarm system. In children anxiety should be temporary and fleeting. Being temporary fearful is a normal part of handling change and stress that comes with new beginnings. Children have a great ability to internalize the comfort of their parents. However, the fear becomes an anxiety disorder when it begins to dominate the child’s thinking, emotions and behaviors. It becomes a behavioral problem when it interferes with the child’s ability to function effectively in the school setting.

The essential feature of anxiety is fear of a targeted danger and the avoidance of that perceived danger. Once the fear takes command of the mind, it builds in intensity.

The child will experience an increased heart rate, his breathing becoming shallow and quick and he may experience acute sweating.

Ironically the anxiety seems to create what the person fears the most. With children, a fear of school or of separating from home can magnify and actually produce the negative experience. Catastrophic thinking begins to dominate his mind. Anxiety is at the most basic level self-fulfilling.

One in eight children suffer from anxiety. Anxious children are at a higher risk of compromised school performance, social awkwardness and behavioral difficulties at home and in the classroom. The tragic part of childhood anxiety that the child is often unable to tell us what is bothering him. All he knows is that he sees the world as a scary place and cannot find a safe place to hide.

The most common type of anxiety at this time of year is separation anxiety:

Separation Anxiety

Normal Anxiety in the Young: Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, separation anxiety is a normal response to separation from the mother. The child lacks an internal image of the mother and feels adrift when she is physically absent. However, by the time the child is school age, the cognitive apparatus is in place to hold the mother in permanent memory even when she is physically absent.

Returns with a Vengeance: Separation anxiety can return with a vengeance between the ages of seven and nine. The child shows an inability to separate smoothly from the primary caretaker and fails to calm down once the parent leaves. We see this anxiety at camp, on over night sleepovers and then when school begins.

Constant Worrying: The child will articulate enormous worry about something happening to the parents or a great calamity traumatizing everyone when separated. The child cannot calm and soothe himself. He cannot differentiate between realistic and unrealistic fears.

What should you do if your child is too anxious to go to school?

Things can get very serious very quickly. School refusal is most common between the ages of 5 to 6 and then again at ten and eleven. However, it can occur at various other times when there is a dramatic transition (going to middle school, high school, college). It is the ultimate expression of a child engrossed in anxiety. Physical complaints before school are common but they soon resolve if the child is allowed to remain home with the parent. Again, the child cannot tell us why he is fearful, only that school is seen as a frightening arena. There is usually a series of changes in the family that precipitates the school refusal but the child rarely sees the connection between his anxiety and the changes in his life.

Another rampant form of anxiety in kids is social anxiety:

Children often develop social anxiety especially if there has been any type of bullying in the past. He becomes hyper-vigilant with other children and fearful of embarrassment or ridicule. The child seeks to narrow his world and to withdraw from the social environment to avoid a problem.

Unfortunately, social anxiety seems to continue into adulthood and has deep roots in childhood with 15 million adults suffering from this disorder throughout the life cycle. It typically begins at age 13 and most of us suffer with it an average of ten years before we seek help.

Here's what you can do if you are concerned that your child is suffering from anxiety:

Seek to Understand: First of all, remember that your child may not be able to fully tell you why he feels fearful so be patient with him. Begin to build a mental map of your child’s life. Where does he go, whom does he like or dislike and which teacher is his favorite? Creating this map requires time and effort but it is essential if you are going to help your child overcome anxiety.

Emotionally Relating is the Ballgame: Remember that the basis of your power and influence with your child is how well you emotionally relate to your child. If you maintain an empathic, cherishing relationship, you will have an enormous ability to engage the child in exploring his anxiety.

Engage in Emotional Coaching:

1.) Engage the child in exploring his anxiety.

2.) Recognize the emotion as an avenue to conversation and problem solving. Remind him that he is bigger than the problem.

3.) Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings. Do not dismiss or discourage him from saying what he feels.

4.) Help your child label emotions—scared, afraid or nervous.

5.) Set limits while helping your child problem solve the anxiety. Parents often forget about this last step. Feelings are often not accurate interpretations of reality so make sure that your child is coached to face his anxiety and to continue going to school while learning how his thoughts inaccurately create the anxious feelings.

Seeking Professional Help: If parental intervention does not get the job done, find a good psychologist who can evaluate your child’s anxiety and teach him skills to calm and focus away from the anxiety and to replace negative thinking patterns and behaviors with positive ones. A great psychologist will teach you how to coach your child in the home and at school in resolving his anxiety.

Resources:

Anxiety Disorders and Phobias by Aaron T. Beck, M.D.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America - www.adaa.org

Generation X Women Are Partying Down - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss women over 40 on CBS 11 by clicking here.

The big “4-0” is hitting millions of Generation X women this year who are welcoming their birthdays with gusto. Trips to Vegas, Mexican resorts and a host of other hot spots are party central for women of a certain age.

So, why are all these forty somethings partying down?

Women are coming into their own for the first time in history and I think this is an announcement that they have arrived! These midlife celebrations are the new tribal rites for women. Several decades ago, forty was considered semi retired—your kids were grown and your job was done. For decades we only had power and a voice as long as we were young and fertile and tied to a man. That is simply not true anymore.

Today, our relationships and our appearance no longer define us or restrict us. We now earn our own way and by the time we have reached fortysomething, most of us have “broken up with Barbie” and are more comfortable in our own skins. Our worth in the world now has the value and the longevity of a man’s and these celebrations at midlife are a call to action—stand up and move your body!

Does does this mean that the double standard of men being distinguished at midlife and women being over the hill at the same age is disappearing?

Not only is it disappearing but also now women are sexier at midlife than ever before. We are in better health, better shape and thanks to our self-care we will live longer and in better health than our mothers. We make our own money and we know that money walks if she doesn’t like what she’s hearing. Consider the celebrities we all adore—Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry or Nicole Kidman.

Here are some advantages for women over their forties:

Better Mood, Less Drama: Most women at midlife are better stewards of their moods. Not only are we calmer, we’re better problem solvers and we have more emotional intelligence than ever.

Age of Mastery: We move from a dependence on others to a dependence on our own good judgment. We become more confident in our view of things and we believe in ourselves, many times for the first time.

Smarter, Faster, Wiser: Most people think that intelligence peaks in young adulthood. The new studies reveal, however, that the highest level of intelligence are at midlife.

An interesting aspect of this is that women seem to be taking their female friendships more seriously at this age.

Friendships are a buffer against stress. When we share our deepest feelings, our bodies rebound and our immune systems are rebooted. Women tend to have closer and more intense friendships than men. We also live 10 years longer, possibly because we are such social creatures.

As women we accumulate the best and the most loyal friendships across our lives so that at forty, we usually have some good women around us. It may be one central girlfriend or ten. We tend to define ourselves by our relationships so our friends are essential to our wellbeing.

Here's my last suggestion for midlife women who are missing the spring in their step:

Weave a Female Web: Remember that you are not getting older, you are getting better and a party at forty, fifty, sixty or beyond is a reminder that women never have a shelf life! Most of all stay connected to other women. You will have greater empathy, more energy and a great understanding of others if you stay close to other women.

Relationship Stress Can Affect Health - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Watch the story on CBS by clicking here.


The health benefits of a good marriage are undeniable with married people making more money, enjoying better health and living longer. But new research reports that some marriages can be bad for your health, especially over the long haul.

This study reveals something entirely new about how marriage can affect our health. Here's what they found:

One of the strongest findings in psychology is the link between our relationships and our mental and physical health. The bottom line is that conflict with your partner can affect your physical and emotional well being over time. It’s not just a “today” thing since your mental and emotional health can be severely impacted by a challenging relationship. Your mood the day after a fight will fall especially if you are already uncomfortable with being emotionally close with your partner. The more anxious the relationship makes you, the more emotionally expensive it becomes. The real take away from this study is that being in a stressful relationship leads to longer-term health risks.

But what about the age old question -- are women affected more than men by a bad relationship?

They absolutely are and there are several reasons why this occurs:

More Sensitive: Women’s minds and bodies are more sensitive to hostile comments and behaviors from a male partner. Especially when men are verbally contemptuous, the female partner not only internalizes the label, but her body remains anxious for up to 24 hours longer while he is just fine.

Emotional Memory: We have unpleasant capacity for remembering every detail of a fight and we dwell on it over time. Women just have a hard time letting things go.

Women Are Highly Observant: We are also excellent at picking up those little meta messages in nonverbal behavior—how he looks at us, whether he seemed interested, did he look at her—and if the relationship is framed in negativity, we tend to assemble the worst case interpretation.

Quietly Suffering: Women are excellent assessors of the relationship and are more willing to face it when things aren’t going well. The downside is that women are more willing to adapt to a failing marriage than men are. We tend to become quietly miserable.

So, what happens when one partner becomes more negative about the relationship than the other partner?

Negative Emotions are Contagious: First of all we know that just like a virus, emotions are contagious. Negative emotions can penetrate a relationship and undermine the basic regard we have for one another. We share a home, bills and feelings on a daily basis. The good thing is that positive emotions are much more powerful than negative emotions.

Negative Perspective: Disappointment can become habitual and the entire relationship is framed within disappointment.

Emotional Disengagement: A dying relationship descends into emotional disengagement. The silent killer of marriages, it is often invisible even to the person experiencing it. They are aware that they are withdrawing and that they feel more helpless to effect real change. But their hearts often close up before they really understand how powerful a change this can be. They withdraw to protect themselves from further hurt and pain.

Here's what you can do today to stop negativity from harming your relationship:

Communication breakdowns are a part of loving someone else. But when arguments become gridlocked, the relationship over time will falter.

Stay Present and Remain Calm: As the conflict escalates, remind yourself that you are going into a negative downward spiral and that you have a choice to stay present and calm. Use these tips:

  • Be Concise (don’t whine)
  • Complain but Don’t Blame
  • Start with the Positives
  • Start your Sentences with “I”, not with “you.”
  • Describe what is happening respectfully
  • Talk clearly about what you need and hope for
  • Don’t Store things up—remain focused on a specific item or items
  • Be Vulnerable—express your pain and disappointment
  • Work for Compromise
  • Remain polite and appreciative

Sources:

The Marriage Clinic by John Gottman, Ph.D.

Princess Diane & Kate Middleton - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brides and Mother-In-Law Blues

Inevitably the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton cause many of us to remember Princess Diana and her fairytale wedding thirty years ago. As the wedding countdown continues, the press has been full of comparisons between the two women leaving many of us to wonder if we would want to be compared to our own mother in law, especially at our wedding?

First of all, why do we all think about Princess Diana’s memory at her son’s wedding?

We are still in love with the princess who was so much like us-- rejected, misunderstood, and betrayed by her husband and his lover. We identified with her failures as much as with her successes. We also still have enormous compassion for the sons she left behind so William’s big day is somewhat healing for us all—we like to think of him as comfortably partnered. But there are several reasons why Kate will be compared to Diana:

Both Larger than Life: Both women will have married the heir apparent to the British throne. We all love meteoric rises and we will enjoy seeing their lives transform from routine to royal.

Both are Open and Humble: Both of these women share an uncommon friendliness despite their great stations in life. They both enchant us in by their humble demeanors.

Dreams Versus Real Life: Diana enthralled the world with her dramatic life and we journeyed with her from Cinderella dreams to the stunning reality of betrayal and divorce. We don’t want Kate to suffer a similar fate so we are studying her similarities and dissimilarities with her mother in law to reassure ourselves.

How will Diana’s legacy impact the marriage?

Prince William has already been quoted as saying that “no one is trying to fill my mother’s shoes.” He will, no doubt, be highly protective of Kate since he does not want her to be pursued and hunted by the media like Diana was. This is ultimately a chance for William to do what he could not do for his mother—protect her. Diana’s example has also made this couple much more careful in committing since they know that the spotlight can be tough on a marriage. Diana’s legacy will make them much more likely to move as a team and to put their marriage first before their royal positions.

So for the rest of us, why are mother in laws often so challenging for daughter in laws?

There are several reasons:

Confused About Roles: There can be natural tension because these two women have to share the same man. Many mothers are reluctant to move from being the top female in his life to a secondary position. On the other hand, many women enter the marriage demanding that they “own” their husband and the mother in law is seen as interference.

Mom is Right: Research shows that men are often reluctant to “buck” their mothers even if their wife demands it. They see the wife as stronger and younger and the one who must make concessions to the older woman.

Empathy is Needed: Men have more difficulty talking about emotional matters than women. The woman initiates eighty five percent of relationship- focused conversations. A man becomes overwhelmed by conflict faster and he shuts down to prevent his discomfort from rising. When his mother is the issue, this habit on his part can be especially frustrating since he shuts down and disappears into silence.

Closed to Reassessment: Many men refuse to look at things from their wives’ perspective. “She didn’t mean it like that” or “you’re too sensitive” are common excuses. Sometimes mother in laws do mean exactly what their daughter in law thinks they mean. On the other hand, some women can be oversensitive and inaccurate in how they’re interpreting their mother in law. Their husband needs to at least hear her out and help her reach a solution in her own mind.

Here's how you can improve your relationship with your mother-in-law or your daughter-in-law today:

For Mothers:

Respect her relationship with your son, don’t criticize her parenting even if you disagree, don’t criticize your grandchildren to her, and please do not compete with her mother. Keep your boundaries and focus on your grandchildren—they are your ultimate legacy!

For Wives:

Your mother in law is your husband’s mother and holds a sacred place forever in his life. Hold your boundaries with grace. Lose that idealism about how things should be and focus on making things better as they are. Don’t compete with her, please try to diffuse conflict by being overly gracious and don’t cut him off from his family. Your children will suffer and you will regret that loss.

Remember that you will be a mother in law someday and that you are teaching your children how to navigate differences in a family. Be kind because we always reap what we sow!


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