Therapy That Works...

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.

The Three Blessings Technique - By Chris Gearing

Friday, October 14, 2011

Six Quick Marriage Saving Tips - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Golden Marriage Ratio - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Common Marriage Pitfalls, Part 2 - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Common Marriage Pitfalls, Part 1 - By Chris Gearing

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cyber-Stalking - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss Cyberstalking and more on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Cyberstalking may be worse for your health than being stalked in person according to a just released study from the American Psychological Association. Almost a million adults, most of them women, are targets of cyberstalking each year leaving these women struggling with the trauma of stalking.

First - what is cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is the hidden nightmare of the Internet. It is committed when the perpetrator makes a technologically based attack on another person via texting, Facebooking and email using mobile phones and computers. The ultimate goal is to harm that person using the distance and stealth of technology to get away with it. The motives are simple and vile—to wreck revenge on another person due to anger, revenge or the sheer pleasure they gain by controlling the fear of another person.

Here are the primary forms:

Harassment: Embarrassment and humiliation of the victim and/or the family to isolate the victim

Using Economic Control (ruining credit and stealing money out of bank accounts)

Threats and Lies to intimidate and bully

Tracking of the Victim via social media sites such as Facebook or using tracking devices such as a GPS.

The worst part is that cyberstalking is much more common than in-person stalking.

40% of women have experienced dating violence via social media, which includes harassing text messages and disturbing information about them posted on social media sites.

20% of online stalkers use social networking to stalk their victims.

34% of female college students and 14% of male students have broken into a romantic partner’s email.

Now this new study showed that cyberstalking, in comparison to in person stalking is more traumatic to women.

In person stalkers usually know their victims while around 50% of cyberstalkers are either acquaintances or complete strangers. The remainder of cyberstalkers however, are disturbed people we know.

The female victims were often left confused about why this was happening leaving them feeling even more unprotected. That vulnerability can begin to define their lives.

Cyberstalking victims experience more trauma because the harassment can last 24/7 and can occur anywhere, anytime, no matter whom you are with.

The harassment makes women feel socially anxious, physically vulnerable, lonely, and helpless. They suffer from a chronic hypervigilence and are always scanning their environment for who he is and what he might do next.

Here's what you can do if you're being cyberstalked:

First of all, refuse to be a victim. Too many of us allow the behavior of the bully to define how we think and feel about ourselves. Consider how pathetic he is. Refuse to stoop to his level.

Trust your Intuition: If you feel you are in danger, please listen to that inner voice. Do not hesitate but move quickly to a secure location.

Surround yourself with safe, dependable girlfriends who have your back. When you are in a social situation, your gal posse can be your eyes and ears against any potential intimidation.

Create a narrative in your own mind of what is happening and how empowered you remain irrespective of this behavior. You are not responsible for the choices of a criminal.

Educate yourself about your legal rights. Most states have some form or stalking law so access that information. Calm down, gear up with information and push through this adversity which is temporary.

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.

Friends With Benefits - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss "friends with benefits" relationships on CBS 11 by clicking here.

The new movie, "Friends with Benefits," with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis once again asks the age-old question of whether you can really have sex with a friend and not develop an emotional attachment. Most importantly, if you can, is it really good for you?

So, can you really have a sexual relationship with no strings attached?

“Friends with benefits” arrangements are possible but they can come with a very high emotional price for both genders. Basically, you are practicing the art of emotional disconnection while sharing your body with someone. You have physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. You don’t experience the responsibilities or the benefits of a true relationship. Unfortunately, the bill will come due when someone gets attached and/or hurt. Our minds are hardwired to connect and to attach so it will happen whether you intend for it to or not.

The real take away is that “friends with benefits” relating prevents you from realizing the benefits of true intimate relationship that only comes when you share yourself deeply with someone, both physically and emotionally. There is just no substitute for loving someone completely for a very long time.

So if it's so bad for us, why is this trend increasing?

We are seeing more people in their twenties and thirties struggling with the fundamentals of relating. I believe that as the digital age has defined our communication, we are struggling more than ever with how to be vulnerable with someone else, whom to trust, how to communicate etc. I think that the “friends with benefits” arrangement is a way of giving up. You seek physical intimacy with a safe, platonic companion and there is less risk of really being close. You avoid all the drama that can comes with being in love. However, you learn and achieve nothing.

Here's why some people prefer a "friends with benefits" arrangement:

It’s All About Me: An attractive person becomes an acquisition. They view the opposite sex as a way of increasing their social status. As a result, sexual encounters become a sport.

Badly Hurt in Love: They have been badly hurt in love. They prefer the comforting or pleasurable parts of sex but are phobic of developing a deeper enduring bond with another person.

Tough Family Background: They often grew up with parents who were highly self-centered, dismissive or absent emotionally, or outright critical. As a result, they do not view relationships as resources but as a game or even as a burden. In fact, getting too close can make some people more anxious.

So, are there gender differences when it comes to sex with no strings?

Like it or not, a woman’s sexual response is highly related to her emotional reactions. But there are chemical reasons why this occurs. During sex, a woman’s body produces lots of oxytocin (the cuddle chemical), a powerful hormone that builds emotional connection. After sex we want to gaze into his eyes, talk and deepen our emotional affection for our partner. That’s why friends with benefit arrangements can be so damaging for women. We may tell ourselves not to feel this way, but we get attached despite our best efforts not to. We are psychologically and physiologically wired to connect and attach.

Specifically, for men:

A man’s body produces minimal oxytocin and he is usually physically and emotionally spent after sex allowing him to distance from the women. He wants to just lie there and recover-- not a great relationship enhancing strategy.

However, there is some good news. There is a whole generation of men who have had close relationships with their mothers who have had more power in the family and thus more emotional influence on their sons. More men are entering dating wanting to attach and connect with their partners.

Just like females, they will find themselves thinking about their partner as a person, not as a simple sex object. They will appreciate their partners, adore them and love spending time with them. In other words, these guys are relating substantively to the women in their lives.

Here are my tips about "friends with benefits" arrangements:

Don’t be surprised if your plans to resist attachment fail miserably. Sharing yourself physically just introduces an entirely different set of chemicals and emotional reactions that frankly, have a life of their own. He or she may just be classified as your friend now but in the end, you may fall in love despite your best attempts not to.


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