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Anger is one of the most commonly reported problems in families today. It surfaces in a variety of forms, including domestic violence, child abuse, marital conflicts, sibling rivalry, and generational tensions. As families are experiencing the isolation and disconnect from normal support services, during COVID-19, they may become angrier and act out their fears and worries on one another.
Why do we direct our anger at people we know and love? Part of the answer is hidden in the dynamics of the family itself. Other answers come from the hectic pace of contemporary family life and our own thinking.
A family is a complex emotional system where every member affects other members. Unless a person takes drastic measures to emotionally cut themselves off from the family or physically moves away; they cannot escape the power of the family over their behavior. It is this complexity and the fact that so much of family dynamics are outside of member’s conscious awareness, that makes change difficult. Consequently, members feel helpless to change anger in the family.
Anger takes place in the family in three ways: It is inherent in family temperament; it carries over from other stressful systems (such as work); it serves a specific function in the family.
A temperament is defined “as a person’s customary manner of emotional response (Roget’s II, The New Thesaurus).” Everyone knows someone they would describe as having a “temper.” One member or more of the family can be moody, intense, reactive, and dislike change. These people could be said to have a feisty or difficult temperament. They have inherited a biology that reacts in a different manner to stressful life events. Temperament is not something that family members can completely change, but it is something that can be modified or adapted to.
Parents who understand this realize that they have not failed their children. They simply have a child with a different temperament. It also answers the question, for many parents, why they seem to have more discomfort relating to one child over another. The more dissimilar the temperament, between parent and child, the more difficult it is to understand and interact together. On the other hand, family members with similar temperaments may “rub” each other the wrong way. Two members with “tempers” will engage in more frequent arguments and power struggles than would two members with flexible temperaments.
Another way that anger affects families is through displacement of anger from one system (i.e., work) to another system (i.e., home). Parents who had a rough day at work don’t automatically shed their frustrations on the way home. They can bring it home and react to other family members in a hostile and abusive manner. One answer why family members direct their anger at people they know and love is that it is safer to vent with people they know will not abandon them. The boss may fire someone for venting at them or another employee. A teacher may give a student a bad report for acting out at school. But family members usually stick by you, even if you get angry. Unfortunately, chronic venting at loved one’s will result in negative consequences. It breaks down members’ ability to feel safe and trust one another.
Anger is Power
Anger has specific social functions that signal us when there is a need that is unfulfilled or a problem that needs solving. The earliest example of this, in families, is seen in the newborn. When the baby is hungry, hurt, or wet, it cries. If responses to its needs are not immediate, it can become angry. The baby will shake and scream until that need is met.
Anger can be used to control other family members. The most common example of this is a small child throwing a “temper” tantrum. The purpose of the tantrum is to get mom or dad to comply with their wants. Older children and adults also throw tantrums. They use it to get children to comply or spouses to listen or siblings to leave them alone. While anger may be one way to gain control, in the short-term, it always backfires, destroying relationships, in the long-term.
Families do not have to continue to be victims of their own or other’s anger. They can use some simple tools to manage anger:
- The first tool to managing anger is to take personal responsibility for it. Even if a member’s anger is due to temperament or an overbearing boss, take responsibility for your reaction and what you do with that anger. The destructive root of family anger is blame. The blame game only has losers, no winners.
- The second tool is to find safe and healthy ways to vent your anger. Give yourself more time to get home so that you are not so upset from the day at work or school. Or ask family members for a few moments alone when you do get home so that you can detox yourself for the day’s stress. Find alternative outlets for the pressure that builds up through the day. Exercise, sports, and physical activities are good choices. Additionally, meditation, relaxation training, and healthy diets will ensure a much more powerful buffer to stress.
- Thirdly, be aware of how you talk to yourself. If you find yourself reacting to a situation differently than other family members, you may be causing your own problems. What we say to ourselves about situations and other family members influence our emotions. Get help from a qualified therapist to work on changing how you view difficult problems in your life.
- And lastly, increase your social support network. The more people you have to turn to in a time of crisis, the more resourceful you will feel. Some of these people may not be your family members. That’s all right. They are safe places to deal with anger so that time at home, with other members, is spent enjoying one another.
Ellis, Albert Anger: How to Live With and Without it. New York: Carol Publishing Group. 1992.
Huxley, Ronald Love & Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group, Inc. 1998.
McKay, M., Rogers, P.D. & McKay, J. When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within. Oakland: New Harbinger. 1989.
Robins, Shani & Navaco, Raymond W. “Systems Conceptualization and Treatment of Anger.” Journal of Clinical Psychology. (1999). Vol. 55, No. 3, p. 325.
It is week 2 (or is it week 3) of the COVID-19 “panic-demic” and the mandatory stay at home order for Californians. As I sit and meditate on all that is occuring, focusing my attention on God and his heart for the suffering people, I wonder how this virus will affect the mental health of the nation and the world.
An article in the Atlantic, by science writer Ed Yong, gives a very realistic scenario of this outcome: “After infections begin ebbing, a secondary pandemic of mental-health problems will follow. At a moment of profound dread and uncertainty, people are being cut off from soothing human contact. Hugs, handshakes, and other social rituals are now tinged with danger. People with anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder are struggling. Elderly people, who are already excluded from much of public life, are being asked to distance themselves even further, deepening their loneliness. Asian people are suffering racist insults, fueled by a president who insists on labeling the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Incidents of domestic violence and child abuse are likely to spike as people are forced to stay in unsafe homes. Children, whose bodies are mostly spared by the virus, may endure mental trauma that stays with them into adulthood.” (Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/how-will-coronavirus-end/608719/)
The news isn’t all gloom and doom fortunately. Crisis can move into productive change too. The article in the Atlantic goes on to assert: “Pandemics can also catalyze social change. People, businesses, and institutions have been remarkably quick to adopt or call for practices that they might once have dragged their heels on, including working from home, conference-calling to accommodate people with disabilities, proper sick leave, and flexible child-care arrangements.”
It isn’t my desire to instill fear by this article. It is a wakeup call to better mental health practices in our country. In fact, my mediation this morning is all about how to reduce fear:
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Isaiah 35:4 (NIV)
In order to manage this fear we need to increase our focus on mental health, reduce stigma, and provide practical tools to help children and adults cope. We need to relax mental health regulations that restrict mental health services and create new models for treatment. In part this has already occurred, with governing agencies allowing therapists to use a variety of online options to provide on-going support and insurance companies, previously resistant to reimbursing telehealth are now willing to pay for services.
Personally, I am working with churches, schools, and non-profit organizations to create anxiety reducing webinars, providing encouraging messages to build family strength, and deal with mental health concerns. It feels like we are all scrambling to respond, and even though clumsy, I feel a connectedness of hearts that warms the cold chill of fear.
Families can use our free membership group, full of resources on parenting, anxiety, and trauma to help them during this time. Just go to http://FamilyHealer.tv
Official Launch: “FamilyHealer Support During the COVID-19 Crisis” is now live. We are providing you with free resources on Parenting, Anxiety, and Trauma. We will continue to add new resources but for now, get help today at FamilyHealer.tv
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth allows us to connect anywhere with secure and convenient appointments that save you time and hassle. There’s no need to deal with traffic when you can schedule and attend your appointments directly from a laptop or mobile device.
What equipment do I need?
To participate in Telehealth appointments from your home, you will need one of the following devices:
- Desktop computer with a webcam, speakers, a 2.5 GHz processor, and 4 GB of RAM OR
- Laptop computer with built-in webcam and speakers, a 2.5 GHz processor, and 4 GB of RAM OR
- Tablet device with built-in webcam and speakers, OR
- Smartphone with at least iOS 10 or Android 7.0
(Note: To use a smartphone, you must first download Telehealth by SimplePractice – available for iOS or Android in the app store.)
- You will also need an internet connection that is at least 10mbps. For optimal results, a reliable, high-speed internet connection with a bandwidth of at least 10 mbps will minimize connection issues and provide the best quality.
Note: We recommend using the Pre-call Tool to check your internet connection.
The day of the call
Using a desktop or laptop computer
If you plan to use a desktop or laptop, there is nothing to download prior to your appointment. Here are the steps to join:
- Approximately 10 minutes before your appointment, you’ll receive an email appointment reminder.
- Note: If you have already consented to receiving text and/or email reminders, you will continue to receive them for Telehealth appointments as well. For new clients, make sure you have provided your email and or mobile phone number so that I can enable email or text reminders.
- Click the unique link embedded in the reminder. You may have to copy and paste the link into your web browser if clicking the link does not work. Your video call screen will now open in a new tab.
- If I have already joined the call, you will see my face on the screen. If I have not, you will see yourself, as shown below.
- You will also see the Welcome prompt. Click Play test sound to test the your camera and microphone settings.
- When you are ready, click Join Video Call. This will take you straight into the video call.
Using a smartphone or tablet
If you plan to use a mobile device, here are the steps to join:
- Download Telehealth by SimplePractice (for iOS or Android) in the app store. Approximately 10 minutes before your appointment, you should receive an email appointment reminder.
- Open the reminder email on your device and click the unique link. This will open the Telehealth by SimplePractice app.
- If I have already joined the call, you will see my face on the screen. If I have not, you will see yourself.
- When you are ready, click Join Video Call. This will take you straight into the video call.
Note: There may be a slight delay for me to join the appointment if I am finishing with a previous appointment. Please be patient and I will join momentarily.
Tips for success
- I recommend joining the video appointment a few minutes early to test your settings.
- If you can connect to the Internet, but are having trouble joining the video, you can use our recommended Pre-call Tool.
- To use a smartphone to join a video chat, you must first download the Telehealth by SimplePractice app available in the app store for iOS or Android.
- If you need to cancel or have questions about the appointment, please contact me.
In support of the new governmental guidelines on protection from Covid 19, Ron Huxley, LMFT is offering secure online therapy services.
Ron has been using online options for many years now and he was one of the first California-based therapists to explore telehealth issues for mental health. He has been and will continue to offer individuals phone, Skype, or FaceTime sessions. This has been helpful to clients that are people sick, isolated by distance, without transportation, dealing with young children (and can’t find a sitter), or managing challenging schedules with work and family life.
In addition, Ron is now offering secure, HIPAA-compliant online therapy through his client portal SimplePractice. All data is secured with bank-level encryption, your calls are anonymous, and none of your information is stored to meet the most up-to-date Telehealth guidelines.
What exactly is Telehealth? Telehealth involves the use of electronic communications to enable clinicians to connect with individuals using live interactive video and audio communications. Telehealth includes the practice of psychological health care delivery, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, referral to resources, education, and the transfer of medical and clinical data, all from the comfort of your own home or office.
Technology is never perfect. Here are some simple tips to help “connect”:
- Ron recommends joining the video appointment 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time so you can make sure that everything is set up correctly.
- Restart your computer every day for it to run as efficiently as possible.
- Close any unnecessary programs and applications on your computer before joining a Telehealth call. These take away from resources needed for your computer to run efficiently.
- Keep your software and operating system up to date. Install recommended updates only from sources you trust.
- You may need to adjust the volume or mute/unmute your speakers to prepare for the call. We also recommend keeping a pair of headphones nearby in case you need to use them for improved audio/voice.
- If you have questions about the appointment before the start time, be sure to email or call/text Ron Huxley.
- If you can connect to the Internet, but are having trouble joining the video, you can use our recommended Pre-call Tool.
Stay Informed: Sample of our New Telehealth Privacy Policies
CONSENT FOR TELEHEALTH CONSULTATION
(New clients will now receive this consent form in addition to our standard forms).
- I understand that my health care provider wishes me to engage in a telehealth consultation.
- My health care provider explained to me how the video conferencing technology that will be used to affect such a consultation will not be the same as a direct client/health care provider visit due to the fact that I will not be in the same room as my provider.
- I understand that a telehealth consultation has potential benefits including easier access to care and the convenience of meeting from a location of my choosing.
- I understand there are potential risks to this technology, including interruptions, unauthorized access, and technical difficulties. I understand that my health care provider or I can discontinue the telehealth consult/visit if it is felt that the videoconferencing connections are not adequate for the situation.
- I have had a direct conversation with my provider, during which I had the opportunity to ask questions in regard to this procedure. My questions have been answered and the risks, benefits and any practical alternatives have been discussed with me in a language in which I understand.
CONSENT TO USE THE TELEHEALTH BY SIMPLEPRACTICE SERVICE
Telehealth by SimplePractice is the technology service we will use to conduct telehealth videoconferencing appointments. It is simple to use and there are no passwords required to log in. By signing this document, I acknowledge:
- Telehealth by SimplePractice is NOT an Emergency Service and in the event of an emergency, I will use a phone to call 911.
- Though my provider and I may be in direct, virtual contact through the Telehealth Service, neither SimplePractice nor the Telehealth Service provides any medical or healthcare services or advice including, but not limited to, emergency or urgent medical services.
- The Telehealth by SimplePractice Service facilitates videoconferencing and is not responsible for the delivery of any healthcare, medical advice or care.
- I do not assume that my provider has access to any or all of the technical information in the Telehealth by SimplePractice Service – or that such information is current, accurate or up-to-date. I will not rely on my health care provider to have any of this information in the Telehealth by SimplePractice Service.
- To maintain confidentiality, I will not share my telehealth appointment link with anyone unauthorized to attend the appointment.
“Once upon a time, a small bird flew into a tree and saw a crown hanging from a branch. At the bottom of that tree was a boy with a drum who asked the bird…” How would you finish this story?
This is a game that I often play with families in my therapy sessions with them. Each person gets to pick out a small item from a red velvet bag and come up with a piece of the story. The imagination continues round and round, chapter after chapter, until we come to a final end of the story.
The activity is fun and insightful. It provides a metaphor for the stories families have around their own traumatic losses. Even when bad things happened, that were outside of our control, we can narrate our present reality and write new chapters and have happier endings.
Recently, I taught a workshop on Adoption and Permanency skills to social workers and therapists. In this workshop we discussed how to tell the adoption story even when it is sometimes very shocking or socially taboo. One of the hallmarks of telling this story is that parents “hold” the story but they don’t “own” it. This is the child’s story. A parents goal is to tell all there is to be told (and sometimes there isn’t a lot known) by the time the child leaves the home and the child has to understand what is being told.
The story has to be told over and over again; essentially recycled over time, to account for the changing development. A child who is 5 has very different level of understanding than the child who is 12 or 16 or 20, etc. Each new telling unfolds greater revelation and insight. Each developmental period allows for more social awareness and shifting of identity. This may result in more grieving too. A child who is 5 may not show a lot of sadness over their story. Developmentally, this would be appropriate. A child is who 16 may have a lot of sadness or anger. This would be developmentally appropriate for him or her.
Every one has a story. It may have fun parts and yucky parts. It may be full of loss or full of adventure. The important thing to keep in mind is that our story is out story. We get to own it and when we do, we get to participate in its on-going authorship.
Trauma impacts the brain and body. Our sensory system can become dys-regulated and dys-integrated due to toxic stress and trauma. The result may be sensory processing problems that look like other mental health disorders but are really just trauma. This video will look at the four A’s of treatment and how trauma affects our senses. Get more info at FamilyHealer.tv or schedule a session today.
Ron Huxley can provide your organization or event with trauma-informed trainings on a variety of topics, tailored to your specific group. Click here for more…
I am proud to be a presenter at the Trauma-Infored Care: An Integrative Approach, this coming March 20, 2020 at Cuesta College. This is a systems-wide collaboration between Cuesta College, SLO County Behavioral Health, Transitions-Mental Health Association, Center for Family Strengthening, and SLO Trauma Informed Champions of Change.
Seating is limited so register today at http://bit.ly/HWO-Trauma-Informed. There are 5 free BBS/BRN Continuing Education Units too.
The keynote will be delivered by Dr. Gregory Williams, author of “Shattered by the Darkness”. You can check out his website shatteredbythedarkness.com. He is a medical doctor and doctor of counseling who shares his intensely traumatic childhood of ongoing sexual abuse.
My topic will be on creating trauma-informed families…If you live in the San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara Counties, I encourage you to attend. See you there!
You can find your balance of Love and Limits in your family…not matter what type of family you are.
Balancing love and limits in discipline is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. Love and limits refer to different styles of parenting with love representative of a “permissive” or child-centered style of parenting and limits representative of “authoritative” or parent-centered style. Each style is based on a set of beliefs, in the parent, about what it means to be a good parent. No one wants to be a bad parent. They adopt a style that they feel best meets the goal of parenting to raise children that are able to manage themselves and function productively in the world.
Finding this balance can be challenging for nontraditional family. This is particularly true when parenting partners’ do not agree on how to discipline. One parent may advocate a stricter approach in contrast to the other partners more permissive approach. Children will use this split to divide and conquer the family. Given that many nontraditional families are already dealing with losses, confusing parenting roles will only add to the grief. Learning to co-parent will help heal the heart and the home.