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If you are in a stepfamily and struggling for some sense of family identity, don’t despair. You can enhance your feeling of togetherness with the use of family rituals and traditions.
Rituals allow nontraditional and traditional families to form collective identities, facilitate healing, celebrate life changes, and pass on expressions of beliefs. Rituals include daily activities, even if they are taken for granted, such as getting ready for bed, eating at the table, and watching a television program. They can also be much more elaborate, although not necessarily more symbolic, such as weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, graduations, and religious ceremonies.
Regardless of their format, rituals are an important aspect of our social lives, and parents can utilize this hidden resource in developing more intimate families. Family therapists have used the concept of rituals to help families that have been hurt by past actions toward one another or by an unexpected traumatic situation. Wedding vows have been restated by stepfamilies and have included all family members, including the children. Letters of anger and sadness have been written to unknown mothers and fathers and then ceremonially burned or destroyed as an act of saying good-bye. Marriage bands have been melted down or thrown into the middle of lakes to break emotional ties and symbolize the need for an emotional divorce, even after families have already been legally divorced. Again, how one performs these valuable tools is not as important as finding a way to signify a gain, loss, or both in the lives of families.
Often the most powerful rituals and traditions are the ones that come up naturally in a family. Forcing a tradition, in a stepfamily especially, is a guaranteed way to create more disharmony. Keep an eye on routines and activities that bio and nonbio family members seem to enjoy. What causes anxiety and frustration to leave the home and fosters a fun, creative, or relaxed atmosphere? Do more of those things.
If you still are unable to come up with a family ritual or tradition, have a family meeting or kitchen table discussion about what members of the family would like to do on a regular basis. You might be surprised what ideas come up. If reasonable, try these suggestions until you find one (or two) that fit your newly formed family.
As children get older and situations change, rituals and traditions may leave or no longer be of interest. If they are not related to deep spiritual values, allow them to pass and look for new ones to arrive. Rituals and traditions are there to serve your family and not the other way around.
A lot of people are looking for a therapist that understands their Christian values and beliefs. This is why I have created a practice for “Faith-Based Trauma Therapy” in Avila Beach, California (San Luis Obispo County). It combines 30 years of traditional mental health insights and tools with spiritual interventions that integrate the whole person (Body / Mind / and Spirit).
Trauma tells us lies about our identity. It internalizes outer pain into an inner reality. It tells us that we are unsafe, unwanted, unworthy, unloveable. It must be true because we keep getting this message from the world, the universe, from God, right? It must be true because it FEELS so true, right? Fortunately, that is not right.
Faith-Based Trauma Therapy uses trauma-informed, attachment-focused, and faith-based approaches to transform the false narratives written on our hearts.
TRAUMA-INFORMED = BODY
ATTACHMENT-FOCUSED = MIND
FAITH-BASED = SPIRIT
Trauma results in broken-heartedness, people feeling poorly about themselves, being unsafe in the presence of others, and estranged from God.
Trauma dysregulates our body. It impairs the nervous system and alters a child’s development. It hijacks our thinking brains with hyper-vigilance activating the “fight or flight” mechanism God designed within us for protection. But we are not designed for the amount of stress that comes from traumatic events and it overruns our bodies/brain.
Trauma disrupts our minds. Synaptic energy flows through our brains creating thoughts and emotions. Trauma disrupts that flow of energy resulting in modern mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It presents problems in impulse control, emotional management, planning and organizational skills, task completion, memory, motivation, and self-esteem.
Trauma disconnects us from ourselves, others, and God. It brings a dark night over the soul feeling cut off from sources of support. We can’t hear God’s voice, we question his will and we wonder if we ever did know it. Our most basic building block of trust is pulled from our foundations and it feels like we are crashing inward. We isolate, insulate, and avoid others. This wall of isolation makes us feels safe but also prevents others from getting close. Trauma tells us lies about who we are and our purpose in life. It shuts down dreams and destiny.
A powerful practice to engage in each day is to ask ourselves: “How’s my heart today?” This is a common question I ask in the therapy session which makes the inner inquiry of…
How am I feeling about myself?
How are my relationships with family and friends?
What is the level of my relationship with God?
This inquiry of the heart, done daily or maybe hourly, sets the course for healing body, mind, and spirit. We notice the hurts caused by trauma and find ways to engage them instead of avoiding them. The only way out of hurt is through the hurt. On the other side, joy is waiting for us.
This is an inner work frequently neglected in favor of outer behavior management. Outer works are more sanitary and mechanical which makes them easier to manage. Inner work can be messy. Over-focus on outer works causes family members to react versus respond to others trauma/behavior. It views the person as the problem.
The truth is that the person is not the problem. The problem is the problem. Inner work connects with the person against the problem. Together we will think about the problem and work to solve the problems that trauma bring because together there is healing.
The strategy of healing in faith-based trauma therapy includes 1. Calming the body/brain, 2. Elevating the executive functions, 3. Rewrite our life narratives, and 4. Deepen our inner and outer connections. This is a holistic approach to healing that is a “bottom up, top down and spiritual surround” interventions.
In faith-based trauma therapy, traditional interventions blend naturally with spiritual practices to forgive relational wounds, decrease residual trauma from our nervous system, increase attachments, restore emotional balance, reprocess lies, find the new truth, process grief and restart the flow of hope in our lives.
If you would like to more about faith-based trauma therapy for yourself or your family, contact Ron Huxley today at 805-709-2023 or click here to schedule a session (in office and Skype appointments) now.
I am pleased to announce my Spring 2018 Seminars for Faith-In-Motion are underway…My second of four seminars will take place February 26th, from 9 am to 12 pm. See the flyer below for more details.
Anxiety vs. Fear
A lot of people confuse anxiety with fear. We use the words interchangeably without much thought about the difference. Understanding the definitions will help us find the anxiety balance between acceptance and change.
Imagine you are on a rollercoaster and as you start up the hill you are starting to get tense and gripping the rail in front of you in anticipation of the drop that will come on the other side. This is anxiety. As you make the sudden plunge downward you are screaming in joyful terror and feel out of control. This is fear.
Anxiety can be described as the “fear of the fear.” The experience of fear resides in your imagination about an event in the future. It could be a real event or it could be false. Fear is the experience of terror in the present as events are actually occurring. This is important because, in anxiety, the future has not happened yet. We are anticipating a stressful event and creating our own physiological symptoms, sweating, tension, heart palpitations, in our minds. The actual events, however, justified they appear to be, have not taken place. Knowing this would suggest that we can control what we think and imagine to manage anxiety.
This presents us with a key strategy used by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. in her program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dialectical simply means “tension” between two equally valid concepts such as acceptance and change.
Acceptance & Change
While it appears that acceptance and change are opposing forces, they are actually compliments of one another in the process of managing our emotional states. Applying them together facilitates a greater sense of mastery in our lives.
For example, if we are scheduled to give a public presentation and feeling anxious about it, we simply accept that we have these feelings while also recognizing that we only have to speak for a few minutes and then it will be over. You also know there are supportive people in the audience who would never humiliate you and in fact, you are very well prepared.
You might worry about your health and while you accept that you may find out bad news and get a poor diagnosis, you also know that modern medicine has a lot of treatments, medications, and know that you trust.
This paradox creates space for skill building. If presentations are part of your work and can’t avoid doing them, you can build skills like getting a coach, go to Toastmasters, read books or watch Youtube videos to increase your confidence and abilities. If the idea of asking someone out on a date terrifies you, you can just hang out with your peers, go on group dates, find a matchmaker to help you find your true love. If you are worried about your health, because your family has bad genes, you can get a trainer, talk to doctors, develop a new eating routine, and so on. The more you build skills, the less anxious you feel about some bad event occurring in your future.
Get more information on this topic and how to build mind-full-ness into your life to balance anxiety by taking the complete “Freedom From Anxiety” program >> Click here!
A particular area of interest for me is the teenage brain. It is one of the most rapidly changing periods of brain development. This is no surprise to parents who are trying to understand the rapidly changing personality of the teenager.
Perhaps the most dramatic area of development is the area called the prefrontal orbital brain. It is called this because it sits directly behind our eyeballs and it is responsible for abstract thought, moral reasoning, self-control, planning, judgment and so many other areas commonly associated with adults. This area is in constant flux, causing radical shifts in mood and attitude. This formation and reformation of the brain continue into young adulthood (the mid-20’s). I often joke with parents that while their child has the hardware upgrade, the software has not yet been installed. This is why the teen is capable of getting pregnant, driving a car or doing algebra but they don’t mean that they are completely ready for the adult world of intense responsibility or raising a family.
This poses significant challenges to parents who want to navigate the raging waters of adolescence, therefore, I am going to list four basic reminders to help parents stay sane when their child actions appear insane. I am using the acronym WORK to guide parents:
W = Remember that your child is still “wondering” about how the world works. He or she might try to convince you that they already know how it does but they don’t. They haven’t had enough experience yet for this to be possible. They need you to help them by asking “what if” questions that will explain some cause and effect relationship and assist them in planning out their day and making better judgments. Because their brain is still developing they use their “will” to fight you and cover up their inexperience. Don’t shame them. Train the “will” to find positive rewards in daily interactions. “Wait” for them to get it. It will take them longer than you as they haven’t traveled some of these morally sticky situations in life yet. Allow them a little more time to “wake” up to a new world of responsibilities and schedules.
O = Be “open” to “opportunities” for your teenage child to share some wisdom about the world and how to survive in it. Don’t preach at them as this will shut them down completely. “Occupy” the same space and look for openings when you are both in a good mood. The relational approach will be more effective and allow more “objective” conversation between you. Remember that “obedience” at this age is really about natural consequences or trial and error for the teenager. The will learn more about doing then lecturing. Being a good role model will help them understand how to use the “operators” manual called their brain more than lots of words at this time of life.
R = “Relationship” is one of the toughest things to have with the teen but one of the most important tasks a parent can do for their child. You may only have a split-second when the door is open wide enough to have that former intimacy but use it when you can. It will pay huge ‘rewards” for both of you later in life. “Recognize” that the teen is in process. They are still not fully cooked and need more time in the oven of life before they can be expected to make better decisions. They will “reflect” their peers and “respond” more from other inexperienced teenagers over their own, more experienced parents. This is not a true sign of his “respect” or “rejection.” The teen is just trying to find their own way. Don’t take this personal. “Rebelliousness” is the other side of the “readiness” coin of maturity.
K = Be “kind” to your teen as they developmentally, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Turn the proverbial other cheek and smile when they growl. Reach out again when they slap away your hand. The “key” to relating to the teenager is a long-term vision. This isn’t just about today. It is about the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years of your life together. The cold response you get from that teen-child today will “kindle” into a stronger fire connection later in life. Work with that end in mind. Keep in mind this is your “kin.” They may be more like you than you care to admit. They share your nature and your nurture and need your “kudo’s” for every positive effort and the end result you can give.
When you go through something really horrible, it can shock you to your core. Trauma can take many forms. All of them have one thing in common: Feelings of Helplessness, Anger, Fear, and being Overwhelmed.
Watch the complete video on how trauma affects our lives and how you CAN heal…
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The goal of therapy with traumatized children is to help them learn to regulate and develop the executive functioning skills of the prefrontal center of the brain. I call this the state of being NeuroResilient.
All children are born emotionally impulsive and need to learn how to manage their moods, initiate and stick with tasks, plan and organize, and learn from past mistakes. This is nothing new and neurological studies of the brain suggest that the prefrontal areas of the brain do not completely develop until people are in their mid-twenties.
The challenge with trauma is that it can set a person back socially and emotionally so that while they are 15 years old chronologically, they react to the world as if their were 5 years of age. We call this, in the field of trauma-informed care and attachment-focused research, “age vs stage”. The individual’s chronological age doesn’t line up with their stage of development causing problems in relationships and daily functioning.
Many parents and professionals believe that an emotionally regulated child is a calm child which would be nice, even understandable, but not realistic for a child who has been traumatized. Consequently the goal of therapy is to build resilience, not calmness.
Resilience refers to ability to “spring back, recoil back into shape” or “recover quickly from a difficult situation”. It literally means to “leap back” to a place of safety and security. Who wouldn’t want to have more of that in their lives or the lives of their children?
Children have to build resiliency in their neurology so that behavioral strategies will stick. Parents and teachers get frustrated when their behavior charts and modification tools don’t have any effect on their hurt children.
NeuroResilient Play Therapy © models, to parents, how to integrate the various physiological and mindful parts of the child so that they can function optimally. It is based on identity focusing on the strengths of who the child was created to be instead of forcing the child to fit into a mold made by adults who believe the child has no motivation or seeks only to manipulate.
For more information on how to be NeuroResilient for children and adults, contact Ron today about speaking opportunities or schedule a session in his Avila Beach, Ca office (skype services are available).
How do you get from point A to point B? You can put in your own destinations for each point… The answer is simple. Look at a road map or in our modern technological society, tell your phone to pull up the map.
The “point” is that if you want to get anywhere you have to have a road map (or in the case of our phone, a GPS). In relationships, we need a love road map. When it all hits the fan, and it will sooner or latter, we need to know how to get back to a place of love and trust.
The research of John Gottman, PhD, shows us that the road to relational stability requires this type of emotional guidance system. In order to be a master of relationships and not experience the disaster of it, you can start building this map today. According to Dr. Gottman, you have to know a lot about your partner or child to navigate through difficult times and moments of disagreement. The process to build this map is asking a lot of questions that search the soul of the other person. Questions like what do you think about injustice or what countries you would like to visit or how do you feel about your career in life? These are open ended questions that go deeper than did you do your homework or pay the electrical bill?
How does your partner feel about their role as a mother or father? Does your child enjoy his or her friendships? After these heart-probing questions are asked, you have to remember the answer because this is what you will use to work through conflicts. The intensity of our fights with our most intimate companions aren’t really about an “F” on a test or dishes in the sink. They are really about our hopes and dreams and desires. They can also be about our disappointments, fears and losses. The more deeply connected you are with the former, the better you will find your way through the latter.
When people ask you these questions they show their interest in you. It makes you feel valuable. Conversely, scanning for mistakes, even with the motivation to help the other person be better in life, destroys intimacy and trust.
It has been said that a joyful life is created in the little details, conversations and moment to moment interactions. This is exactly how you build a love road map that will help you deal with conflict. Conflict is part of the human relationships and can’t be avoided so be prepared and get to know the inner world of others.
Action plan: Ask some deep questions of people who are closest to you in the next 7 days. Take notes of their answers. There will be a test!
If you heard someone described as a powerful person, you might assume he or she would be the loudest person in the room, the one telling everyone else what to do. But powerful does not mean dominating. In fact, a controlling, dominating person is the very opposite of a powerful person.
So what exactly is a powerful person? Here are 8 traits of a powerful person:
1. THEY DO NOT TRY TO CONTROL OTHERS.
Powerful people do not try to control, convince, or manipulate other people or their behaviors. They know it doesn’t work, and it’s not their job. Their job is to control themselves.
2. THEY CREATE A RESPECTFUL ENVIRONMENT.
Powerful people are able to consciously and deliberately create the environment in which they want to live. They don’t try to get people to respect them; they create a respectful environment by showing respect. They deliberately set the standard for how they expect to be treated by the way they treat others. As they consistently act in responsible, respectful, and loving ways, it becomes clear that the only people who can get close to them are those who know how to show respect, be responsible, and love well.
3. THEY REFUSE TO BE A VICTIM.
Life does not happen to powerful people. Powerful people are happening. They are happening all the time. They are not controlled or infected by their environment. Powerful people refuse to play the victim by shifting responsibility for their choices onto others.
4. THEY REQUIRE OTHERS AROUND THEM TO BE POWERFUL.
When powerful people encounter a powerless person, they are not tempted to dive into any unhealthy emotional ties or attachments. They hear a victim’s sob story and ask, “So what are you going to do about that? What have you tried? What else could you try?” These questions confront powerless people with their responsibility and their capacity to make choices and control themselves. This is the only option a powerful person will offer to powerless people: become powerful, make choices, and control yourself.
5. THEY MAKE DAILY DECISIONS THAT ALIGN WITH THEIR VISION.
Powerful people do not simply react to whatever is happening today. They are able to take responsibility for their decisions and the consequences of those decisions–even for mistakes and failures. They can respond to today and create tomorrow. Powerful people have a vision and mission for their life, and can use the events of each day, whether positive or negative, to direct themselves toward that vision.
6. THEY LET THEIR “YES” BE “YES” AND “NO” BE “NO.”
Popular opinion or the pressure of others does not sway the language of powerful people. They know exactly what they want and how to communicate their desires. A powerful person says, “I will. I do. I am.” Powerful people can say both “Yes” and “No,” and mean it. Others can try to manipulate, charm, and threaten, but their answer will stand.
7. THEY LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY.
A powerful person’s choice to love will stand, no matter what the other person does or says. When powerful people say, “I love you,” there’s nothing that can stop them. Their love is not dependent on being loved in return. It is dependent on their powerful ability to say “Yes” and carry out that decision. This protects their love from external forces, or from being managed by other people.
8. THEY CONSISTENTLY DEMONSTRATE WHO THEY SAY THEY ARE.
Powerful people can be who they say they are on a consistent basis. And because they know how to be themselves, they invite those around them to be themselves. Only powerful people can create a safe place to know and be known intimately. They say, “I can be me around you and you can be you around me. We do not need to control each other, and we don’t want to control each other.”
We all have room to grow in becoming powerful people. No matter what, know that every step on the journey to getting free and being a powerful person is worth it. Choosing to say “Yes!” to a life of responsibility will be one filled with adventure and joy. Do not let powerlessness and a victim mentality steal from you any longer. You are a powerful person who can make powerful decisions. And more importantly, you are a powerful person who can choose to love–because He chose to love you.