When you adopt a child, it’s not uncommon to find yourself parenting a child who has been traumatized. The emotional regulation skills that all children learn in their early years were probably not developed as well as they could have been in the child’s pre-adoption life, and now you’re facing the task of helping your child learn how to manage their emotions.
It’s not always easy, but some strategies can help make this process easier. Here are some tips for dealing with emotionally dysregulated children who were adopted:
1.) Learn about trauma and its effects on developing minds and bodies.
2.) Learn about emotional regulation and how it develops in children.
3.) Identify what emotional regulation looks like for your child—what do they do when they get upset? How do they express anger? Frustration? Sadness? Joy? What helps them calm down when they get upset? What makes them get upset or escalate into inappropriate behaviors? And most importantly: what doesn’t work when they feel overwhelmed by intense emotions?
4.) Since every child is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Learn brain-based parenting skills and methods.
5) Identity the attachment styles for each family member and discover techniques that create greater security.
6) Take care of yourself. Self-care is not a luxury. It is necessary to be more patient and resilient with your dysregulated child.
Take a free course on Trauma-Informed Care in the home, school, and community at TraumaToolbox.com.
The last two years have been one of daily uncertainty and fear, but a crisis is also a great revealer of the myths and idols we hold. It “knocks us off our thrones” and breaks our “assumptive worlds.” Our assumptions are the beliefs we hold about who we are and the world we live in…at times, like these, they don’t hold up. In fact, they can shatter into thousands of meaningless thoughts.
In social psychology, shattered assumptions theory proposes that traumatic events can change how victims and survivors view themselves and the world. We all have three inherent assumptions including “overall benevolence, the meaningfulness of the world, and self-worth.” They are the bedrock of our conceptual system, and as such, they are the ones we are least aware of and least likely to challenge. We become confident in our beliefs and use them to plan and act in daily living. If nothing challenges them they allow our lives to move along smoothly.
Sadly, traumatic life events shatter core assumptions, and coping with them requires a new effort to construct more realistic and viable assumptions. We have to rebuild our belief systems to fit the new world we live in.
The world is benevolent
The world is meaningful
The self is worthy
This can be painful for people of faith who end up questioning their faith. When our assumptive worlds shatter, it causes believers to questions the goodness of God. They might “assume” that God is silent or uncaring. The promises they believed must be wrong since things didn’t work out the way they “believed.” Trying to reconcile a good God to their adverse life situations may turn some to question themselves, wondering if they ever heard God speak into their lives or if some sin or trauma from the past has made them unworthy of mercy.
I mean, if God never changes, then the problem must be ourselves, right? Christians believe that when they become followers they are “new creations.” New creations have to have renewed minds to find new beliefs about God’s goodness and nature in their lives. Renewal is exactly what we need when our assumptions become shattered. Neurologists called this neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to restructure itself through training and practice, thereby creating new neuropathways in the human nervous system. Neuroplasticity, renewed minds, and rebuilt belief systems are about personal growth that is sometimes only possible after trauma.
The reason that believers feel peace after giving their lives to follow the Christian faith is that new neuropathways are being created. Transformation or growth is occurring. From a more secular viewpoint, life has a way of creating maturity in our thinking. The trick is how to not become bitter and negative afterwords.
There is a favorite verse of mine that goes: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)” Prayer and meditation increase brain neuroplasticity and makes renewal possible. Allowing our minds to let go of distractions and slow down helps us focus on what we control and let go of what we cannot. In Alcoholics Anonymous, this is the path to serenity.
After a shattering event, people are able to discover strength they didn’t know that had in them. They also find new purposes and seek out deeper connections than before. Faith also grows in people after difficulty. They start to see deeper meaning and value in their life. This is called Post-Traumatic Growth in contrast to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Would you like assistance recovering from a shattering event or trauma? Need new tools for your organization or group? Contact Ron Huxley today!
Resentments are defined as the “bitter indignation at being mistreated.” It is a hard feeling that creates discontent, hostility, bitterness, and an inability to trust others.
It is destructive to relationships because it is a hook to the traumatic events of the past. When we are tied to our histories, we cannot fully enjoy the present, and the future feels like a painful rerun. We make vows that we will never let anyone hurt us like we were hurt before. Unfortunately, these vows isolate and insulate us from loving relationships.
Resentment is connected to our ego. Our ego needs to be correct, and it needs to be good. When we experience trauma, it can strip away our dignity, causing us to get needs met in unhealthy ways or won’t allow anyone else to help meet those needs. We believe that “I can do it all by myself” but it feels safer when we are alone. Unfortunately, cutting others out of our lives is a very lonely life.
Resentment can also keep us stuck in a victim role. Victims need abusers to maintain this position. Therefore, our ego will fault others, reinforce the belief that people “can’t be trusted”, and only see the negative in the circumstances. We will gravitate to rescuers to make us feel good and validate our victim-mindedness.
WRITE BRAIN/RIGHT BRAIN:
Write about ways resentment keeps you stuck in the past. What are the struggles you have experienced that make trusting others difficult? Have you chosen to be right over having a relationship? Journal about ways to select connections first. Visualize what the world of your ego looks like, who lives there, and what beliefs you take as truth in your ego world.
How can you imagine a new, different world where you feel safe and secure? How would you do it this time if you could do a situation over? Have a chat with your “ego” and offer it comfort and seek what it needs to care for it healthily?
Explore your resiliency. You didn’t want to go through tough times, but you got through them. What strengths did you discover about yourself? How did this challenging experience change your priorities? Celebrate how you have grown instead of feeding the monster of resentment.
The following is from a recent study on the effects of the pandemic on our mental health, substance use, and suicidality. It is safe to say that those of us who were already experience challenges before the pandemic have seen an increase in our struggles.
Even if we never had issues with mental health or substance use, the pandemic caused us to feel depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.
Data show COVID’s impact on nation’s mental health, substance use…
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has released findings from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The data suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the nation’s well-being. Americans responding to the NSDUH survey reported that the coronavirus outbreak adversely impacted their mental health, including by exacerbating use of alcohol or drugs among people who had used drugs in the past year.
Several changes to the 2020 NSDUH prevent its findings from being directly comparable to recent past-year surveys, as explained below.
Based on data collected nationally from October to December 2020, it is estimated that 25.9 million past-year users of alcohol and 10.9 million past-year users of drugs other than alcohol reported they were using these substances “a little more or much more” than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic began. During that same time period, youths ages 12 to 17 who had a past-year major depressive episode (MDE) reported they were more likely than those without a past-year MDE to feel that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected their mental health “quite a bit or a lot.” Adults 18 or older who had any mental illness (AMI) or serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year were more likely than adults without mental illness to report that the pandemic negatively affected their mental health “quite a bit or a lot.”
The 2020 data also estimate that 4.9 percent of adults aged 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide, 1.3 percent made a suicide plan, and 0.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year. These findings vary by race and ethnicity, with people of mixed ethnicity reporting higher rates of serious thoughts of suicide. Among people of mixed ethnicity 18 or older, 11 percent had serious thoughts of suicide, 3.3 percent made a suicide plan and 1.2 percent attempted suicide in the past year. Among Whites 18 or older, 5.3 percent had serious thoughts of suicide, 1.4 percent made a suicide plan, and 0.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year. Among Hispanics or Latinos 18 or older, 4.2 percent had serious thoughts of suicide, 1.2 percent made a suicide plan and 0.6 percent attempted suicide in the past year. Among adolescents 12 to 17, 12 percent had serious thoughts of suicide, 5.3 percent made a suicide plan, and 2.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year.
“SAMHSA’s annual NSDUH provides helpful data on the extent of substance use and mental health issues in the United States,” said Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., who leads SAMHSA. “These data help to guide our policy directions in addressing such priorities as addiction, suicide prevention, and the intersection of substance use and mental health issues.”
Join me Thursday, September 16 at 12:15 pm (PST) for this live zoom event! We will be discussing practical parenting tools for adoptive parents. This is a 45 minute, interactive, seminar for adoptive parents and the professionals who work with them…and best of all it is FREE!
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It has been said that professional social workers, therapists, and front-line workers suffer from burnout 5 times more than other professionals. Perhaps everyone has experience has some form of anxiety or stress in the last couple of years. Burnout is a real, damaging condition with several emotional symptoms.
The signs and symptoms of burnout
The emotional signs of burnout might include:
Sense of failure and self-doubt.
Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
Loss of motivation.
Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
Helping professionals often get their sense of identity from seeing others improve and get healthy and well. Emotionally, burnout can change helpers attitudes so they now resent or judge the people they are helping. There are many examples of long-term health or human service professionals who are just going through the motions. They are frequently irritable and grouchy, complaining about the people they are serving. They do the least amount of work possible and may even mistreat colleagues and clients.
The physical symptoms of burnout also include headaches and stomachaches. Burnout people tend don’t take as good care of themselves, eating poorly, drinking too much, and don’t exercise. Consequently, they are more likely to experience obesity and heart disease. Chronic stress will result in sleep disorders, anxiety attacks, and clinical depression.
Once you find yourself suffering from burnout, it can be difficult to turn your life around. Your best choice is to prevent burnout as soon as you see the warning signs. Here are a few helpful tips to avoid burnout.
No matter what your profession may be, it’s important to have boundaries. You can’t be available around the clock; this is simply impossible. So, to prevent burnout, it’s critical to establish boundaries of times you will not be available. This means that you won’t be in the office or available by phone or email during these times. If you are in a management position, it might help to post these hours somewhere or adjust your email auto-reply, so people know you will answer as soon as you are available.
Helpers help, right? We are rewarded for high we perform. We get praise for productivity. We start to believe that we are our work and cannot say no. This is a common but damaging mental state.
Have A Work-Life Balance
Besides just setting boundaries, you need to have time to do things that aren’t workplace-related. This means you have time for your hobbies, your family, and just doing what you love. This doesn’t have to be complicated, and it could be as simple as taking one afternoon a week to go for a walk in your favorite park. Whatever it may be, it needs to be something you want to do, and you need to put your foot down if work ever tries to interfere with your time.
It is no wonder that burnout destroys marriages. If you give your all to work, you have nothing left to give your partner or children. The world reinforces you for putting work first but this isn’t the correct order for physical and mental health. Some countries give more allowance for family leave, paid vacations, and publicly reward putting self and relationships over the job. These countries do not see a lower level of productivity. In fact, they have a higher employee retention and less costly turnover.
Create a Social Circle
We are social creatures. Our brains and nervous systems are designed to function optimally when we are in healthy relationships with others. This is true for extroverts as well as introverts. Social circles include having loving, trusting family and friends. It isn’t about the number of friends in your life. It is about the quality of those friendships. You can visualize a social circle like a target, with you in the middle, and concentric circles surrounding you. The smaller, closer circles will have people who are more intimate and highly trusted. Those in the outer circles are important for various areas of your life but are not part of the inner circle. The more people in the various circles, the more buffer you have to stress. The less number or quality of people, the more likely that stress will enter and negatively affect you.
Research demonstrates that even one trusted person can dramatically decrease the negative effects of stress and so, lessen the likelihood of burnout.
The 3 R’s of Burnout Recovery
Sometimes you can’t avoid burnout and have to find healthy ways to cope. Try using the 3 R’s:
Using the signs listed above, stop and check in periodically on how you are doing physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually. We call this the five finger check in. Do this with your partner or co-workers on a regular basis. Be honest. Shame likes to hide issues in darkness. Expose them so you can treat them.
If there are any signs of burnout in your life, make some changes as soon as possible. Reprioritizing your schedule, responsibilities, and relationships. Anything that is causing an inner drain should be seriously addressed.
Redesign your life. It is never too late to change your work or how you work. Many people, over the course of the last year, have started working remotely instead of going into an office. This has dramatically improved peoples mental as well as physical health. If you don’t have many people in your social circles, start by reaching out to a professional or take a risk by joining a club or group. Make sure you have a health balance of fun in your life. Take that vacation, turn off the screens, eat a good meal. Little efforts can result in big changes in your life.
When you have experienced trauma, anything can cause emotional pain: a word, glance, or reaction. We have all experienced this in life but it can be more intense and overwhelming for people who have been traumatized.
This hurt causes an inner wound that alters how we process information from people and the world around us. In the field of Attachment Research, John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory, states that our experiences in life become an “Internal Working Model.”
The model is “internal” because it is in the thoughts, emotions, and memories. It is “working” because, while profound and resistant to change, it can change through new life experiences that result in further “models” of the self, others, and the world.
Sometimes new experiences hit blockages in our minds. Our minds are habit machines that like familiarity, even if it is unhealthy or chaotic. The mind equates familiar with safe!
We can become aware that we are in the way of our healing, stuck to know how to move past our own blocking beliefs or models of how life is…we want to trust others but just can’t. We want to love ourselves more and engage in self-care, but we continue to stay busy and put ourselves down. We need to set boundaries in relationships but continue to say yes when we should say no.
To facilitate healing in our lives, we have to remove the blocking beliefs. Several healing practices let go or release blocking beliefs. Examples include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping), and Forgiveness Work are evidence-based practices designed to help people work through anxiety, trauma, and stuck emotions.
Ron Huxley, a trauma trainer and therapist uses three healing strategies to help people form new Internal Working Models and get “unstuck.” The first healing strategy is to calm down the brain and nervous system. This strategy allows the autonomic nervous system to balance the parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (energizing stress) systems. There is a time for both, but most of us overuse the sympathetic system in our modern stressed-ruled society. Our bodies and minds are not designed for long-term stress responses. It will break down the immune system, create dissociative thinking, and dysregulate emotional circuits. The results on relationships can be devastating.
The second healing strategy is to build new skills and competencies. Couples in conflict want to learn communication skills to improve their relationship. Although essential, if they have not worked on the first healing strategy and created a safe space for themselves and their partner, new skills won’t make a lasting difference.
Once a sense of safety is created, new skills that enhance the brain’s executive functioning come forward. Executive functioning skills include self-control, impulse control, sense of self, reading social cues, planning, organization, follow-through, focused attention, and time management. Often, security is all relationships need to see self, others, and the world differently. The skills might already be in place but weren’t expressed due to overriding survival needs.
The third healing strategy is deepening relationships. Once security is in place and new skills practices, we have to sustain this progress. We can rest on the fact that we have made a shift in our internal working model. We have to live it and face new challenges that might require new elements of the model. Old blocking beliefs might pop up, or triggers threaten to return us to old patterns of behavior. All three strategies may have to be revisited to stay unstuck and live in emotional freedom.
The word “resolve” means to find a new solution to an existing problem. The origins of the word are rooted in old-world French and Latin languages to “go back” (re) and “loosen or dissolve” (solvere).
When trauma therapists say we have to resolve our traumas to find healing, this etymology makes sense: We have to go back to the trauma memories, experience them in a safe place, and at a safe pace to loosen or dissolve the pain and suffering they have caused.
Most people will not find this an exciting adventure, however. We start this process of grieving and releasing out of necessity. We can no longer bear the pain, and the level of suffering it has caused our health, relationships, and self-worth has to stop. That is when we are willing to start the work of resolving trauma.
Do all of our trauma memories have to be loosened from the ground where they were buried? Thankfully no. That can retraumatize us further. A trauma-informed therapist follows the principles of the 4 R’s, mentioned several times in this blog*. A trauma-informed program, organization, or system:
Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery.
Recognizes signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system.
Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
Seeks to Resist re-traumatization.
Processing every trauma that we have ever experienced can be impossible and impractical. We don’t always remember all of our traumas. Many of them are implicit or hidden from memory, mainly when they occur in life. Our mission is to find the root of the issue that will bring healing and stop the sting of the memory. We won’t forget, but we can no longer let trauma memories control us.
We have to resolve or loosen the damaging association trauma has on our identity. It occurs because of the shame that surrounds the trauma event(s), making bad things that “happen to us” feel like we are “bad people” broken and damaged beyond repair. That feels true because memories are recordings of the past to prevent us from further hurt. But they are not valid because what happens to us is not who we are.
It is usual for a child to internalize their experiences. We are supposed to learn and develop. If good things go in, then good things can come out. What happens if bad things go in? You know the answer…
When it is chronic and untreated, adverse events can become toxic stress and severely impact individual health, social and cultural structure, and economic stability.
Trauma affects everyone and has known no boundaries. It affects children and adults from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. It is one of the common denominators for individuals receiving services from social services organizations, and its structural disorganization shows up in correctional institutions, jails, schools, hospitals, and the workplace.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” [https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/clinical-practice/trauma-informed]
The upside of recognizing the commonality of adversity and toxic stress causes us to respond compassionately to ourselves and others!
This continual horror, triggered by events in the individual’s world, leads to a nervous system shutdown that has repercussions in the ability to read and express social cues, access executive brain skills, and find motivation or purpose in life. For researchers like van der Kolk, the body is key to understanding trauma treatment. This insight into toxic stress opens the doors of hope to helpers burdened by the cold cognitive concepts consisting of thought processes alone.
Recognizing the body’s role on the mind and the mind on the body has opened the door to new therapies that allow for deeper healing!
Get more healing for you and your family with Ron Huxley’s online courses at FamilyHealer.tv or schedule a session with Ron today.
You might wonder if it is possible to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during a COVID-19 pandemic crisis, but this is the situation that therapists and clients find themselves. Can we find a way to maintain effective treatment through the use of modern technology? Is it possible to treat trauma with this “new world” approach to mental health?
Since the beginning of this year (2020), countries worldwide have worked to protect vulnerable populations from the virus COVID-19. The primary strategies used to prevent the spread of the virus is social distancing and self-imposed quarantine. While this has been effective in reducing the pandemic’s physical effects, it hasn’t protected us from the psychological effects of this unprecedented life-situation. We see an increase in fear, anger, anxiety, panic, helplessness, and burnout in both children and adults. As a therapist working remotely with people dealing with stress and trauma, I have seen several extreme reactions of hallucinations and delusions due to the isolation and continual digestion of negative news media.
A Healthline.com survey of what COVID-19 is doing to our mental health gives a somber picture: increased worry and insecurity over finances, higher than normal depression and anxiety, prevalent feelings of sadness, and being “on edge,” and an alarming rise in suicides. In America, Federal dollars are being released to increase mental health services nationwide to stem this rising tide of trauma without fully knowing the long-term effects of trauma.
Therapists, just like the general population, use social distancing and remote work to keep themselves, their families, and their clients safe. Therapists are “front-line responders” and considered “essential workers,” but not all therapists choose to be exposed to 30-40 people a week who might have the COVID virus. Many of them, like myself, have family members who have compromised immune systems and considered to be at-risk. Working from an office and seeing individuals, face-to-face is not an option. Therefore, therapists and clients have to seek alternatives that can be equally beneficial to both.
The European Journal of Psychotraumatology studied the Telehealth models for post-traumatic stress disorder using cognitive therapy and found that clients rated it as very successful in managing their symptoms. High patient satisfaction ratings were given for both video conferencing and phone call sessions. In the later technology, the only nonverbal communication was the tone of voice, and yet it still benefited clients.
The journal defines Post-traumatic stress disorder by “a sense of serious current threat, which has two sources: the nature of the trauma memory and excessive negative appraisals.” Traumatized individuals frequently have intrusive, negative thoughts about traumatic experiences and continue to see the world with a negative lens. They have a feeling of hopelessness about their future and easily triggered by daily events.
Professional organizations are rising to the challenge and providing education and support to remote mental health workers on the unique delivery of mental health through technology. Guidelines have been created by the American Psychological Society, International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, and the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, specifically targeting PTSD. Governing boards for various mental health professionals are also outlining specific legal and ethical requirements for safe, trustworthy online therapy.
According to the Psychotraumatology journal article, Telehealth’s use led to “improvements in PTSD symptoms, disability, depression, anxiety, and quality of life, and over 70% of patients recovered from PTSD (meaning they no longer met diagnostic criteria). The Journal of Family Process has reported several articles on the effectiveness of Telehealth with children, adults, couples, and families.
Therapists, offline and online, can provide education and support to (1) reduce negative reactivity in thoughts and emotions, (2) build more effective coping skills, and (3) deepen the quality of life and relationships.
These three areas are healing strategies outlined in my trauma-informed training and therapy.
The foundation for PTSD work, in face-to-face or video conferencing, is to establish a sense of safety from which to utilize these healing strategies. The client has to trust the therapist, believing he can offer some hope, create an atmosphere of security, and witness the traumatic hurt for PTSD individuals. Empathy isn’t confined to the physical space of the therapist’s office. It can exist in the relational space online as well. Facial expressions on video, tone of voice, empathic responses, and supportive comments assist the connection despite distances.
Finding a private place to have a conversation is one real-world challenge of online work. Privacy can be increased by changing locations (some of my clients go inside cars, relocating to other rooms in the house, or going outside), using headphones, and letting family members know that they can’t be disturbed hour or so. Additionally, therapists can also learn about resources in the client’s living area if referrals are needed. Homework assignments can also be used between sessions and discussed online for adolescents and adults. Parents can participate online with young children, and family members can “zoom” in from different locations at an agreed-upon time. And lastly, follow up with secure emails and text messaging can further increase the outcome of this digital therapeutic medium for PTSD.
If you are looking for a trauma therapist or someone to help you or a family member with anxiety, contact Ron Huxley today at RonHuxley.com
Be sure to take advantage of our free online resources for families during the COVID-19 Pandemic at FamilyHealer.tv