Archive of ‘Mental Health’ category

Shame: The Insidious Defeater

It wasn’t until after I was out of graduate school and well into my professional career that I really learned about shame. While many of my clients seemed to receive help and work through tough problems and even trauma, there seemed to be a few areas where we would sometimes get stuck. After training with Dr. Brené Brown and her team on shame resiliency, I began to notice huge progress both within myself and in my clients.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Most of us don’t talk about shame. By definition, shame is that which feels unspeakable; the things that keep us awake at night or nag us throughout our daily tasks. They are the messages we hear in our head when we want to be vulnerable or make a connection with another person; the voice that discourages us when we think of taking a risk or doing something brave. For many of the clients I work with, the voice shows up as something like, “not ____________ enough” (fill the blank with words like good, smart, pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, etc). It also dresses up in messages like, I’m unloveable, flawed, disgusting, broken, worthless, a phony, or a fraud. When we have a fight with someone we love, shame is often the feeling that causes us to curl up in the corner feeling completely defeated and “bad” or lash out and blame the other person, perhaps even shaming them.

For many people, these messages and statements are so insidious, so ingrained that they are perhaps not even really consciously noticed. Instead, they may just be internalized as “truth,” minimizing the chance that the person feeling shame might take that risk, share something vulnerable, or succeed at something hard. It often keeps people from having the close relationships that they would like to have because they fear that if people only knew the “truth” about them, they wouldn’t be liked or considered worthy of connection.

As part of the work I do with clients, I ask them to notice the “tapes” that play in the back of their minds. When they feel challenged, when they are trying something new or difficult, when they feel scared or hurt, what messages are they hearing? They often come back surprised by the amount of negative self-talk or shaming messages that are on replay throughout their days.

Particularly in my work with individuals who have a trauma history including family of origin mental illness or dysfunction, domestic violence, assault, or abuse, with clients who have experienced divorce or made the difficult choice to abort or give a baby up for adoption, and with clients who are in recovery from various types of addiction, there is often a great deal of shame happening consciously or unconsciously.

The biggest problem with shame is that it jeopardizes relationships, stunts our growth, keeps us from connecting with others, and makes us feel very alone. The anecdote to shame is owning our story with self-compassion and love in addition to sharing our story and our shame with those that we trust.

To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work on shame, visit http://www.brenebrown.com. If you are interested in joining a group or receiving individual counseling about shame/shame resilience, visit http://www.austincounselors.org.

Upcoming Group Offering:

Daring Recovery– an eight week group for women in recovery based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Facilitated by Jennifer Alley, LPC, CDWF-candidate at 5000 Bee Caves Rd. Suite 100.

Mondays 6:15-7:45pm

October 27-December 15

Group objectives:

  • Gain courage to own, share, and live our stories
  • Learn how to live life sober, transforming the way we live and love
  • Choose authenticity over numbing, pretending, and perfecting
  • Increase self-compassion, empathy, and connection
  • Understand our shame triggers and what drives that feeling of not being enough
  • Connect bravely with other women

Contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 512-761-5180 to register or for more information. You can also visit http://www.austincounselors.org.


When Self-Harm Hits Home

As parents, we never want the “scary” things to happen to our kids.   We want our kids to be happy, healthy, confident and caring. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to protect them from baby falls to bullying, but sometimes the “scary” things hit close to home. One such thing is finding out that your child is harming themself.

Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

These acts of harm against oneself is what we call self-injury or self-harm. Teens typically do this through cutting or burning their skin. You may notice cuts or burns on their forearms or thighs, which they may try to hide with long-sleeve shirts, pants, or bands or excessive jewelry around their wrists.

According to several studies, self-injury seems to be on the rise. School counselors, college professors, and parents are all noticing what some call a “psychic epidemic.”

So, what should you do if you discover that your child is engaging in self-harm?

Here are a few ideas both from my own work with individuals who self-harm and from several authors I have noted below.

    1. In the words of one adolescent, “Try not to totally freak out.” Your heightened emotional reactivity and/or anger only works to increase your adolescent’s anxiety. You want to show your adolescent that you are willing and able to tolerate their disconcerting emotions and are able to offer assistance.
    2. Avoid threats, yelling, breaches of privacy, and discouraging remarks.
    3. Try things that help calm your child such as making eye contact, letting your adolescent tell their story of what provoked the self-injury, respectfully listening, offering hugs, using an attitude of empathy, being nonjudgmental, and encouraging your child that you can all get through this together.
    4. Matthew Selekman, in his book noted below, suggests asking the following questions:
      1. “Now that I know that you are cutting yourself, can you help me understand what it means to you?”
      2. “How has it been helpful for you to do this?”
      3. “Is there anything really stressing you our in your life right now that I might be able to help you out with?”
      4. “If you don’t wish to talk about it right now, I understand. I just want you to know that I care and am here for you when you are ready to talk about it. Would you like me to check in with you or would you prefer to come to me when you are ready to talk?”
    5. Have the courage to ask your adolescent what you may be doing to contribute to the overwhelming feelings that lead an adolescent to self-harm.
    6. At the same time, recognize that your adolescent’s decision to harm themself is a choice they made and is not your fault.
    7. If school bullying or academic pressures are a leading cause of the self-harm, advocate for your child within their school.
    8. Ask your child if they would like to speak with a professional counselor.   Allow the adolescent to be part of the process of selecting who this professional may be.

mom-comforting-daughter

Sources:

Brumberg, J. (2006). Are we facing an epidemic of self-injury?. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53 (16), B6-B8

Plante, L. (2007). Bleeding to ease the pain: Cutting, self-injury, and the adolescent search for self. Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield

Selekman, M. (2006). Working with self-harming adolescents: A collaborative strengths-based therapy approach. New York: WW Norton & Company


A Word on Domestic Violence

Sitting on a plane last week, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation happening right next to me. The man was describing a female friend whose ex-boyfriend keeps showing up and driving by her house, while contacting her repeatedly. My fellow plane passenger said, “I just know he’s doing it because of how she broke up with him. She wasn’t clear enough in how she broke things off with him.” His friend on the plane replied with thoughts about how she should carry a gun or a knife with her. Hearing this all-too-common view of blaming the victim/making them responsible for stopping the violence and with recent news focused on the NFL and Baltimore Raven’s Ray Rice, I felt compelled to write this week on domestic violence.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Because it is so often misunderstood and minimized, I think it is important to look at some stats. First, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Sadly, it is often unreported due to fear of further violence or concerns about being blamed for the violence (s/he is often already blaming herself). An estimated 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year. About 85% of victims are women, and one-third of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partner. Another important statistic indicates that 81% of women stalked by a current or former partner are also physically assaulted by that partner. Click here to see the above statistics as well as additional stats and resources.

If you think it isn’t happening in your neighborhood or in your community, think again. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner, and is prevalent regardless of race, socioeconomic status, beliefs, education, gender, or sexual orientation. Battering is a pattern of control that includes a number of tactics including intimidation, isolation, threats, psychological, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as financial control. And while it is true that everyone makes mistakes in their relationships, no one deserves to be abused. The only person responsible for the abuse is the abuser.

Part of victim blaming stems from the mistaken belief that if we understand what that person (the victim in this case) did wrong, we can keep ourselves safe. It is true that we can learn from other people’s experiences, but it is unfair to judge other people’s situations when we rarely understand the complexity of the feelings and fears involved. A common myth is that the victim would leave if she doesn’t like the abuse. However, there are many reasons women may not leave, including fear for herself or for her children. It is important to remember that the most dangerous time for a woman who is being abused is when she attempts to leave the relationship.

Following are some reminders about domestic violence (information adapted from theredflagcampaign.org and ncadv.org):

  • The victim of violence is never to blame for the other person’s choice to use violence against them.
  • Violence is rarely a one-time occurrence and usually escalates in frequency and severity. Even verbal abuse by itself can negatively affect the victim’s well-being and health.
  • Ending a relationship is difficult. Emotional ties (including believing the abuser when s/he says the violence will end), fears for safety, economic concerns, or lack of resources may all contribute to making leaving really difficult. Victims of violence are much more likely to reach out for help if they are approached with a nonjudgmental, caring attitude.
  • The abuser is probably not always abusive (see cycle of abuse below) and may show regret afterward, promising to change, leading to the victim’s hopefulness that the relationship will get better.
  • Violence is not a private matter- speak up in a caring, supportive way if you have concerns about a loved one’s relationship. Be supportive of the victim and offer to listen or help should they need it.
  • Abusers tend to only be violent in specific relationships and can be charming in social situations.
  • Substance abuse may intensify violent behavior, but it does not cause abuse.
  • Witnessing violence in the home is the strongest risk factor for continuing the cycle of violence across generations.
  • Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
  • 30-60% of intimate partner abusers also abuse children in the home.

Following are some great resources about violence. I find that many of my clients who are/were in abusive relationships really hadn’t even identified their partner as an abuser until receiving education about what power, control, and abuse looks like. Too often, the abuser uses manipulation, minimizing, and blaming tactics, making the victim feel responsible for the violence. The best thing you can do for someone you love in abusive relationship is to be caring, supportive, nonjudgmental, and patient, believing them and building them up while respecting their autonomy and choices.

The Cycle of Abuse

Helping a friend in an abusive relationship

What not to say and what to say to someone in an abusive relationship

Power and Control Wheel

Red flags

Making a Safety Plan

The SafePlace hotline is 512-276-7233. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.


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