Family Separation

Via The Guardian and The New York Times

I have seen in several places recently a statement similar to the following:

“If you’ve ever wondered what you would’ve done against the great evils of the past, know that the time is now.  It is happening.  You are doing, or not doing it.”

“As a matter of recent policy, agents of the American government take children from their parents’ arms at our southern border. They are kept at separate facilities for indeterminate periods of time. The parents are jailed and the children are put in the care of non-governmental agencies, sometimes in other states. It is hard to imagine that the higher rate of incarceration and the new system of calculated injury to children would not soon overwhelm existing arrangements no matter how many shelters and beds are provided for a frightened, heartbroken population of the very young, whose miseries are intended as a disincentive to future potential border-crossers.”  Marilynne Robinson, one of my heroes.

I could talk about the incredible psychological damage done to children – some younger than 2 years old – by this forced separation.  It is likely irreparable.  But any human with empathy and conscience would understand that.  This is not just a test of our morality, it is a test of our humanity.  History will judge us as we judge the enablers of atrocities of the past.

I don’t know what exactly I will do yet beyond calling my senators and congressman.  I’m hoping we can organize a mass action of some kind that will be more effective than individual efforts.  Until then, here is our representatives’ contact info.  It is, literally, the very least we can do.

Senator Hatch:    Utah office 801-524-4380,  DC office 202-224-5251

Senator Lee:   Utah office 801-524-5933,  DC office 202-224-5444

Congressman Curtis:   Utah office 801-922-5400,  DC office 202-225-7751

Here is the brief email message I am sending to each.  “Please consider what you can do to help reverse the family separation policy put in place by the Trump Administration as a deterrent to immigration and asylum seekers. It is truly evil. As a psychologist, as a mother and grandmother, but even more as a human being, I can no longer close my eyes to this atrocity. Surely there is something you can do, if only to make your voice heard in opposition. Please be brave and do what is right. The current situation is unbearable.”

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Suicide Hotline Info

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at:

801-273-TALK

or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting:

HOME to 741741

and be connected to free and confidential emotional support for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Hazards of Genetic Testing

Latest from The Monitor:

“As direct-to-consumer gene testing has become more popular, family secrets aren’t staying secrets the way they used to. For many people who know they were adopted or conceived with assistance from donor sperm or eggs, this can be a boon: They now have a way to search for biological siblings and parents even without a paper trail from an adoption agency or fertility clinic, just by opting into large online databases like 23andMe and Ancestry.com and finding biological relatives who have also done the genetic tests. But for many people not expecting to find any surprises in their DNA, the experience of mailing off a spit sample and discovering that their family is not as they thought it was can be profoundly disorienting.”

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How to Be An American

“Being able to walk away from the conversation is the definition of privilege.”

Brene Brown’s comments on Charlottesville.

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How to Talk with Our Families and Neighbors When We Don’t Agree

This is a workshop my husband and I are putting on for a little neighborhood/church group tomorrow.

1) Know my own objective in the communication process.  

Karla and John’s goal:  Discuss how to connect to family and neighbors while maintaining personal integrity.

What do I want from this meeting? (Write it down)

Who are my most important relationships?  What are the obstacles in those relationships?  Keep these important and possibly problematic relationships in mind as we talk. (Write)

What are the communities that I’m in that I value?  Who are the people in these communities? What is it that makes it a community – the positives and negatives?  For example, I could be in a very supportive community that is also based on complaining (women about their husbands). (Write)

Some communications and even some relationships are simply not important, for example, the anonymous person we’re arguing with in an online comments section.  We’re not talking about that type of superficial relationship here.  Although civility matters, even online.

2) Why should we have empathy and respect for people we don’t agree with?

Karla’s belief as a psychologist and John’s as a teacher: people are generally good and are doing the best they can given their basic assumptions and life experiences.

Everyone has unexamined assumptions. Their belief patterns, logic, and assertions arise from these assumptions.  Once we understand their assumptions, we can understand them (much easier said than done). Think about your assumptions about people you don’t agree with.  (Write)

3) When the relationship is most important, emotions take priority over logic or argument.  This is both descriptive and prescriptive.

Identify and understand my own feelings about a conflict. Understand their layered complexity.  “I’m feeling 25% irritated, 20% hurt, 20% threatened, 15% bored, 10% hungry, and 10% miscellaneous.”  (Write)

It is axiomatic in psychology that anger is a secondary emotion, arising defensively to underlying feelings of vulnerability.  Irritation, frustration, resentment, and so forth are reactions to feelings of disappointment, hurt, injustice, etc.  It is very important to identify what is beneath the self-protective layer of anger.

Accurately identifying and understanding what I feel is even more important than understanding why I feel that way.

4) Paradoxically, when in the grip of strong (negative) emotion, communication is impaired.

In other words, don’t try to talk to someone who matters about something that matters to me while I’m mad.  Let my autonomic nervous system calm down first – do deep breathing, do some stretches, go for a walk, get a drink of water.  Wait until my heart rate settles and my blood pressure goes down before I make that phone call or fire off that email.

5) How to understand the other person during a conflict when the relationship matters.

Listen both actively and passively.  Actively in that I am using my imagination and empathy to put myself in the other person’s shoes.  Passively in that I am not constructing counter-arguments and rebuttals all the time they’re talking.  Set my own position aside for the time being.

Use reflective statements like: “I hear that you’re feeling [specific emotion].”  “Your experience of [whatever it is] leads you to conclude [whatever their position is].”  Check to make sure.  “Is that right?”  “Am I understanding you correctly?”

Axiomatic:  The other person will not hear and understand my position until they feel heard and understood by me.  The opposite is also often (not always) true:  When the other person feels heard and understood, they will hear and understand me.

6) A process for working through conflict in an important relationship.

John Gottman worksheet – see below.

How does this apply to personal relationships? How does this apply to larger discourse communities?

Write 3-5 issues that I feel are important but contentious.

(Practice.)

_______________________________________________________________

The Rules For Constructive Conflict

based on the Gottman-Rapoport Intervention

Goal of Conflict: heal emotional wounds and learn to process fights and regrettable incidents.

  1. Take turns as Speaker and Listener—10-20 minutes each.  Two subjective realities, and both are right.
  2. Eliminate the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

Criticism: of personality, identity.  Antidote – a gentle start-up.

Defensiveness: counterattack or playing the innocent victim.  Antidote – accept responsibility.

Contempt: speaking from a superior place.  Antidote – build a culture of appreciation and respect.              

Stonewalling:  shutting down because of physiological overload.  Antidote – learn self-soothing and take breaks.

  1. Start as neutrally as possible.  Both must feel safe and open.  Both must down-regulate physiologically, and interrupt the discussion if heart-rate goes up, etc.  Empathy, rational thought, and ability to communicate vanish in the fight-or-flight mode.
  2. “What’s this?” attitude vs. “What the hell is this?” attitude.
  3. Speaker’s job – no blaming, use “I” statements, state feelings and positive needs.  State position thoroughly, with depth and background.  Use the following pattern:

“When ______________________ happens,

I feel _______________________________ (this is the most important section),

I think (perceive) _____________________,

I want ______________________________.”

  1. Listener’s job – take notes, summarize and validate Speaker’s position.  Ask questions about the history and deeper meaning in the partner’s position.  Validate emotions even if Listener disagree with position.
  2. Postpone persuasion and problem-solving until both people can state their partner’s position to the partner’s satisfaction.

Six Skills to Develop and Use During Conflict:

  1. Soften startup
  2. Accept influence
  3. Make effective repairs during conflict, and accept repair attempts from partner
  4. De-escalate conflict (take breaks)
  5. Compromise
  6. Physiological soothing
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Caregiver Support

Taking on the Job

  1. Identify your support team. Who else shares the burden? Recognize that although we may feel alone, there are usually others we can lean on to a greater or lesser degree.
  2. Be realistic with yourself about what you can do – emotionally, physically, financially.
  3. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of available public or private support.
  4. Don’t let shame, pride, or a sense of martyrdom keep you from reaching out to others for help.
  5. Identify the different kinds of help you need yourself – not just meals or driving or respite, but a confidante you can cry to, a support circle of people in similar caregiving circumstances, friends online or on the phone as well as in person.
  6. ALLOW OTHERS TO HELP. Ask for help. It is likely that they won’t realize what you need until you ask for it.

Staying Strong and Healthy

  1. Pay close attention to your own physical and mental health, with regular medical checkups for yourself. Being a caregiver is a little like being pregnant – you’re “eating for two.” It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself.
  2. Exercise every day. Start small, “pretend exercise” when you can’t do your whole routine, but get in the habit.
  3. Find time for mindfulness meditation. Some find this quiet space by reading scriptures or praying. Quiet contemplation is essential for you to survive and thrive.
  4. Treat and talk to yourself as you would your own best friend. Take time to prepare your own meals, socialize with others, take naps, write in your journal.
  5. If you’re caretaking an elderly or terminally ill person, prepare for the grief process. Research grief therapists or grief groups. Grief comes to all of us – and what can feel crazy is likely a normal emotional reaction to loss.
  6. Let go of guilt at not being perfect as a caregiver or self-caregiver.

Letting Go When the Time Comes

Whether the “letting go” is of a beloved spouse to death, a wayward child to their own road, or the realization that you are simply unable to do the job anymore, realize that you will not and cannot be the caretaker forever. Accept the sense of relief as well as the sense of loss when your role changes or disappears. Prepare for what you will do – who you will be – when your caregiving is over.

Online places to look for support:

AARP, Utah Coalition for Caregiver Support, Mountainland Aging and Family Services, Utah Parent Center – Google online, as sites and resources change.

Here is an article on caregiving from the most recent issue of the APA Monitor.

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The Novice Mindfulness Exercise (1-10-1)

This exercise takes anywhere from 9-12 minutes, depending on respiration rate. The goal of here-and-now training is to be fully present – not thinking about the past or worrying about the future, but gently focusing attention on where you are and how you are right now.

Counting your breaths requires this type of gentle focus. The basic exercise is to find a comfortable position sitting or lying. You can close your eyes – or – find a visual focal point in front of you. You will count your exhalations, up from 1 to 10, down to 1, up to 10 again, down to 1 again, up to 10 again, and down to 1, three times total, beginning and ending on 1. Breathe slowly and regularly, without forcing or control. If you can, let your breath return to its automatic, unconscious rate. Focus on the physical sensations of breathing in your nose, your throat, and your chest and abdomen. The counting is silent but regular. Once your breathing is settled, turn your attention to the physical sensations in your body, starting head to foot (or foot to head). When you have catalogued those sensations, focus on the sounds you hear in your environment. After the initial observation, switch focus between your breathing, your body, and your auditory surroundings.

If your mind wanders during the exercise (and it will), note whenever it happens by saying to yourself “mind wandering,” or “distraction,” or even “thinking.” Then resume counting your exhalations while focusing attention on your breathing, your physical sensations, and the sounds around you.

Counting can become automatic, and can allow the mind to be distracted from the here-and-now, but switching from 1, 2, 3… to 10, 9, 8… generally interrupts a wandering mind and brings you back to the present, at least briefly. You can make the rule that if you distractedly count past 10, you have to count backwards from wherever you noticed you had gone past the limit. I have had to count back from 25 when I was particularly anxious and distracted. I’ve not ever absent-mindedly counted lower than 1, but I suppose a mathematician who is used to thinking in negative numbers might do so!

At the end of the counting exercise, take a moment to note your state of mind and body. Are you relaxed? What physical sensations did you observe? Where did your mental distractions take you? – (these can be quite interesting as you deeply relax).

I find that it usually takes me about one cycle of 1-10-1 to become relaxed. By the time I finish the three cycles, I am (usually) deeply relaxed. There are times when I never make it to deep relaxation, and times when by the end I’ve fallen asleep. But I just do it again the next day. Ultimately, the cumulative effect of the practice is positive.

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