All Couples Fight, Right? [Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships]

People in difficult relationships often ask me, “Don’t all couples fight?” The answer is of course, yes, most couples fight, even the ones in healthy relationships can have heated arguments. The difference lays in HOW and WHEN? Do you and your partner argue 20% or 80% of the time? Also, do you argue about the issue at hand, or do you attack your partner’s character or cause them to be afraid? Of course, healthy couples can also hurt each other and say and do things that they regret. The difference is that they sense the danger, admit that they were wrong, reach out for professional help, and most importantly: THEY CHANGE. 

Take a look at some of the differences between a healthy and unhealthy relationship. 

What does a HEALTHY relationship look like?

  1. You and your partner respect each other’s individuality and embrace each other’s differences, allowing each partner to be themselves.
  2. You do activities independent of each other and spend time with your individual friends or families.
  3. You discuss issues, allow each other to have different opinions, and both of you make compromises.
  4. You trust your partner, and you can be honest with yourself and your partner.
  5. You both express and listen to each other’s feelings, needs, and desires.
  6. You want to learn more about each other and encourage each other to grow as an individual.
  7. You both respect each other’s need and right for privacy and alone time.
  8. You practice consensual and safe sex, and you can say NO to sex or anything you are uncomfortable with.
  9. You resolve conflicts in a peaceful and nonviolent way.
  10. You share decisions about things that affect both partners, but you also have the freedom to make decisions about your things.

Signs that you are in an UNHEALTHY relationship

  1. You are afraid to disagree with your partner, and you feel unheard and unable to communicate what you want. 
  2. You have no personal space and have to share everything with your partner and justify what you do, where you go, and who you see.
  3. You feel isolated from friends and family. 
  4. You find yourself often making excuses for your partner or your partner’s behavior.
  5. You feel pressure to change to meet your partner’s standards instead of being yourself or caring for yourself.
  6. You often feel stifled and trapped in the relationship.
  7. You partner constantly criticizes you and your ideas and actions.
  8. Your partner makes all the decisions and controls everything, including the money.
  9. Your partner blames you for things or events in his/her life
  10. Your partner calls you names, yells at you,  hurts you (shove, pinch, hits, punch, kicks), or forces you to have sex

Shame Can Trap You

People, who are in unhealthy and even dangerous relationships are often asked the question: “Why do you stay?”
These kind of questions can cause debilitating shame, because they may not know the answer either. Victims often blame themselves for the abuse and for their inability to do something about it. 

I had been in an abusive relationship when I was a young adult. I remember that overwhelming shame so well. I was ashamed because people warned me that he was no good, they also warned me not to go back to him, and I didn’t listen. I was especially ashamed because my boyfriend told me at every opportunity that I was to blame for his bad moods and angry words, and that he “never acted like this until he met me.” I was sure that I was doing something wrong, and if I could just find out what that “something” was, I could fix things.  I felt afraid, hopeless, and vulnerable. I was embarrassed about my choices, for failing to see the red flags at the beginning of the relationship, and especially for my inability to leave.

If this sounds familiar to you, then you need to hear the truth today: “It’s not your fault!” You may feel, after all the trauma, that you deserve to be abused, but it is not true. There is NO excuse for hurting someone else with our words or deeds. It is NEVER justified.

 

Why Do People Stay in Dangerous Relationships?

If you are currently in an unhealthy relationship or you are trying to help someone else get out, you need to know that there are dozens of practical and obvious reasons why people stay. Here are only the most common ones:
 
  • They will not believe me: For many people, even admitting to the fact that they are abused is shameful and embarrassing. They may feel worried that people will judge them for being weak, or they are afraid that nobody will believe them seeing that most abusers have a very charming and charismatic social persona. The wonderful person everyone else knows is not the same person that the victim sees behind closed doors. 
  • No money or resources: Another big reason why survivors do not leave, is the lack of money and resources. If the survivor is living with the abusive partner, does not work, has no substantial education or prior work experience, and does not have any income or place to live, then leaving can feel impossible. In fact, abusers quite often orchestrate things in such a manner that the survivor is financially dependent on them and isolated from all other resources or supportive relationships. 
  • Emotional dependence: Being dependent on the abuser for everything can cause serious harm to the survivor’s self-esteem. Most abusive partners blame the survivor for the abuse and constantly put them down. Many survivors start to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault, that they are not strong enough to get out, and that they do not deserve anything better. 
  • Fear: Most survivors are afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship. They have heard numerous threats from the abuser and they know that, for the most part, those are not idle threats. The most dangerous time is when abusers think that they have lost the survivors (when they leave or threaten to leave). 
  • Think it’s normal: Some survivors grew up around dysfunction and violence and they do not know what healthy relationships look like. They may not recognize that their relationship is abusive or if they suspect it, they may not trust their instinct. 
  • Love: In most instances, the survivor still loves the abuser and keep hoping that he will change. Abusive people can be caring and kind, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and the survivor may hope that their partner will go back to being that person or that the “good times” will increase. They may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely. Unfortunately, abuse is progressive and the “bad times” will most likely increase.
  • Children: They may have children with the abuser and feel obligated to keep the family together. They may not realize how damaging the abuse is to the children who observe it, or they may be in denial about the fact that the kids are aware of the abuse because it hurts too much to face the truth. 
  • Religion: Some religions may influence the survivor to stay in an abusive relationship and to simply keep forgiving. The survivor may also worry about disgracing their religious family and being ostracized if they act outside the rules. 
  • Immigrant: If a person is an undocumented immigrant, they may fear that reporting the abuse may get them deported. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be very difficult to try to explain what they are experiencing in their second language. They may be afraid of not being understood or that people will not believe them.
  • Physical dependence: When someone is disabled, they may be physically dependent on their abusive partner and their well-being may very well be connected to the relationship. This could heavily influence their decision to leave.

ALL Adults Are In Control Of Their Own Emotions

Things are looking up a bit since the MeToo movement, but in general our culture still has a tendency to blame the victims or survivors of domestic and dating abuse, and for this reason, shame is very common emotion among survivors. 

Are you questioning yourself and wondering how this happened to you? Are you unsure of how to process all the trauma or how to move forward?

Listen, there is nothing you could have done to deserve being abused. Adults are supposed to control their own anger and emotions. What you did deserve from your mate were respect and other basic human rights. You deserved to make your own decisions, have friends, see your family as much as you like, and live your life according to your own standards and ideas.  You did not deserve to walk on eggshells every day, be controlled, yelled at, put down, called names, or hurt physically , emotionally, financially, or sexually. 

You did your best under horrible circumstances. It is not easy to break free or find healing from this kind of shame. Shame may actually have followed you from childhood, and your abuser just enhanced or confirmed what you already thought about yourself. When little kids are being abused or neglected by the very ones who are supposed to love and take care of them, they often develop something that is called ‘defensive shame”. This is where they blame themselves for what is going on because it is too painful and confusing for them to blame their parents. They often start to internalize that shame and feel that they deserve to be treated badly by a spouse or partner in later life.
James Knipe said, “Shame may become a primary element of the child’s self-concept, and even be expressed then in acting out—” bad”— behaviors. In other words, the defensive function of shame may be strengthened, and the identity of shamefulness may be validated by actual unacceptable actions. Many decades later, in therapy, the client might say, “Of course I know that I am a shameful person. Look at all the bad things I’ve done!” ( Knipe, James. EMDR Toolbox)

 

It Is NOT Your Fault!

This is NOT, and NEVER was, your fault, but you do not have to stay in an unhealthy relationship. You can do the one thing today that you have control over: Reach out for help and start taking baby steps out of the pain and the mess.

Please use some of the free resources at the bottom of this page or come to see me and we can figure it out together. I can help you find your value, learn how to take care of yourself, and trust your own mind. We will pull up a safety plan together for you and your kids. I will never pressure you to leave your abuser when you are not ready because there is no magic formula of how and when to leave. Each person is unique with their particular set of circumstances and experiences. Instead I will equip you with resources and knowledge so that you and your children can be safe while we find a solution together. 

I will especially help you deal with the shame and the self-doubt surrounding abuse and encourage you, at every possible opportunity, that you did not do anything to deserve the abuse.

Resources to Help Survivors of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Link Between Eating Disorders and Midlife [New Research]

Eating Disorders Flare-Up in Midlife

 

Recently some old foe of mine, binge eating disorder, returned without warning. I was baffled. How did this happen? I battled severe eating disorders when I was younger but I kept it pretty much under control for the past 10 years. I was hoping that things surrounding food and weight would get even easier as I cruised into midlife, but I was wrong, binge eating disorder came back with a vengeance. 

Female Purgatory
Midlife and peri-menopause (aka female purgatory) sneaked up on me. I was not prepared for the ferocity of the infamous hot flashes let alone all the other fun symptoms:  Sleep problems, night sweats, mood symptoms, concentration and memory problems, difficulty to exercise or keep weight under control, change in menstrual patterns, and a redistribution of body fat around the middle. To top this my friends, who have entered purgatory a little ahead of me, assured me that I still have a lot to look forward to such as decreased sexual interest, becoming best friends with lubricant, and muscle mass that disappear overnight. Oh man.

 

I Fell Down
As predicted, muscle deterioration came knocking at my door only a few weeks ago. I was squatting down in a store to admire something on a bottom shelf (as I have done a thousand times before), and when I tried to get up, I simply couldn’t. Instead, I toppled over into the aisle, to the horror of my kids. Luckily there is also something empowering and positive that happens to us during the middle years: An attitude of “I don’t care a hoot what people think anymore, whether I’m laying on the ground in Target or wearing sweatpants and no make-up to a party.” In fact, people should not mess with a woman in purgatory if they value their lives.

Denial Followed Close Behind
This all started up again about a year ago. I found myself consumed with thoughts of food, diets, and weight control, and worst of all, I could not stop binging. This, of course, meant I did not fit into my clothes and I felt like a total failure. For crying out loud, I wrote a book on this stuff, surely I could figure it out.  So, I initially hid behind piles of denial and believed that I simply had to do better: Eat less (much, much less), exercise more (much, much more), make elaborate food and exercise plans, restrict food, and isolate myself until I look and feel better. It sounded exactly like a phrase from my journal years ago when I was in the midst of an eating disorder. What was going on? After more months than I care to admit, I couldn’t fool myself any longer, I knew I needed help. I stopped the diets, told my family and my doctor that I fell of the wagon, and started the process of getting the help I needed.

What Does The Research Say?
When I started researching the link between eating disorders and midlife I found that I was not alone. In her excellent book “Midlife Eating Disorders” Dr. Cynthia Bulik talks about the scores of clients she worked with that had an eating disorder flare up again (or for the first time) during midlife. According to her research binge eating disorder had been the most prevalent disorder, but she also reported cases of people who battled anorexia and bulimia.  Interestingly, the most likely group to develop binge eating disorder was women in their mid-years. The average age in the US for peri-menopause is 50 and last approximately 4 years, however for some people it can last anywhere from one to ten years.

 

Don't Throw Away The Men

Dr. Cynthia also referred to men who battle with eating disorders in midlife. She calls this life stage “Manopause”, which is a time around 50 when men indeed go through some changes: Weight shifts to the midsection and love handles becomes a thing. Also, hair thins, or disappears, or migrate to parts of the body where it never used to grow. They also have to work harder to stay in shape,  they also get injured, and their sex drive also decreases. The urge to recapture youth and become more muscular or leaner propel many men into eating disorders, with binge eating disorder in the lead.

Why Midlife?

Here are Some Key Reasons Why Eating Disorders Show Up in Midlife:

 

  • Infidelity
    When there had been infidelity in a relationship people may stop eating or turn to uncontrolled binges for distraction and relief. A binge can actually bring momentary relief, but it quickly becomes a nightmare.  Dr. Don Baucom, an expert on couple interactions, said the following about infidelity: “Finding out that your partner was unfaithful creates a deeply visceral sense of shock, disgust, and disbelief. All that you believed about your partner and your relationship is destroyed. Your sense of control is gone, and there is nothing safe left to cling to.” No wonder so men and women turn to food or other substances to escape from the horror of infidelity and to feel better.
  • Divorce
    Along the same lines, the deep devastation that usually accompanies divorce can also trigger either restrictive eating or binge eating. This could also happen a year or so after the divorce had been finalized and most of the drama is over. Other triggers such as loneliness or the fear of being back in the dating game may show up. This can also affect both men and women, depending on who had been the most harmed emotionally, financially, or mentally by the divorce.
  • Empty Nest
    An empty nest can trigger eating disorders in both moms and dads. The primary caregiver many times experience a loss of identity after focusing on the kids for many years. This can trigger a low mood and disordered eating in some people. Some couples stop making healthy meals and eat out a lot, which does not help if there is already a tendency to binge eat. Others experience difficulty in their marriage relationship due to the huge shift in the home, and they can easily self-medicate with food or other substances if they do not get couples counseling to help them.
  • Troubled Nest
    Many middle-aged people are shocked and disillusioned when they expect parenting to get easier and then encounter a whole new set of challenges such as adolescent or young adult children who face medical illnesses, psychiatric problems, legal issues, unemployment, or their own relationship or financial problems. These problems can cause stress, resentment, marriage problems, and no time for self-care. Many caregivers find themselves eating on the run and they have no time for exercise or relaxation. This stressful situation can easily cause moms and dads to turn to binge eating, purging, or self-starvation for stress relief, or an attempt to feel in control of something in their lives.
  • Bounce-Back Children
    Currently, many midlife adults are facing an interesting cultural phenomenon that their parents did not have to face: Three generations living under one roof. Children leave the home later or return and aging parents live longer and need care. This situation can become super stressful as issues such as rent, grocery bills, laundry, cleaning assistance, sex, alcohol, and drugs are bound to arise. The anxiety and conflict need an outlet and food is an easy and affordable substance to turn to.
  • Retirement
    People may fall into eating disorders due to unstructured days and nights associated with retirement. After the initial honeymoon period, all the free time can cause people to feel lost and directionless and turn to food to fill the empty hours.
  • Unemployment and Financial Concerns
    Financial triggers such as unemployment or underemployment can erode financial portfolios and nest eggs that people worked on for years. Financial concerns can have far-reaching concerns that affect people’s lifestyle, their children’s education, and their retirement. People tend to look for ways to take off the edge and get through the shock and uncertainty, so they turn to food or starvation.
  • Illness or Surgery
    An illness or a surgery, specifically bariatric surgery can trigger anorexia as some people restrict certain food. Dr. Maureen Dymek-Valentine, a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with individuals undergoing bariatric surgery said, that many of her patients have long histories of dieting, which always ended in frustration and weight regain. They have dealt with low self-esteem and social stigma and suddenly they lose weight and feel great. However, many of them become fearful of eating even small amounts because they’re terrified of going back to the dreadful past and so they develop anorexia. Some patients, in fact, continue to struggle with binge eating disorder after the surgery and gain the weight back, because life’s stress and triggers do not go away after surgery.
  • Perimenopause and Manopause 
    This can be a very challenging time for men and women who struggled with eating disorders in the past. All the changes can be very triggering. Some people may turn to excessive exercise. Others who are not able to exercise due to injuries may instead restrict calories, purge, or use diet pills, or diuretics.
    Some women actually have unpredictable food cravings or an urge to binge during peri-menopause because of hormone fluctuation.
    Hormones fluctuation can also cause depression which in turn can trigger binging or restrictive eating.  
  • Death of a Loved One
    Bereavement can cause depression which can cause a loss of appetite or binge eating. Grief can lead to self-neglect, which in extreme cases can turn into a passive suicide through starvation. What may look like an eating disorder may, in fact, be bereavement and depression and such a person should get medication or psychotherapy.
  • Trauma and Abuse
    Trauma and abuse from the past or present can unleash whatever underlying genetic predisposition to mental illness one may have, such as eating disorders. Memories of abuse can be ignited when the abuser ages, becomes sick or dies. Being in an abusive adult relationship can also trigger emotions from the past, which can trigger or reignite eating disorders. 

What Can Be Done?

 
  • Get physical and mental help: Midlife is a crucial time to take care of yourself so you can still be there for your family in the years to come. Start by making an appointment with your primary care provider, and also a mental health professional. It is very important that you get a team to help you deal with health issues as well as eating disorders. Also, if your peri-menopause or “manopause” symptoms are especially debilitating and you also have depression, anxiety, or another mental disorder you may need medication and a prescriber. Individual counseling can also help with trauma and abuse from your past, or the traumatic experience of going through infidelity or divorce.
  • Join a group: There are excellent support and therapy groups that may help you. Divorce Care groups are very helpful to parents and children who came through the trauma of divorce. Bereavement groups can support you while going through grief after losing a loved one, especially a parent.
  • Couples counseling may help with the many challenges couples face in midlife. If all the stress put a serious strain on your relationship, you will be wise to get help from a seasoned couples counselor ASAP.
  • Family counseling can help with boundary setting and conflict resolutions within families. This can be especially helpful if there are three or more generations under one roof.
  • Get help for children who have past trauma, mental disorders, behavioral problems, or other issues. School counselors can help you and you child get in touch with great resources. A therapist can help your child with mental and behavior problems, while a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner can prescribe medicine if needed.
  • Remember with bounce-back kids that it is still your house. Adult children should stick to terms just like any other adult who is renting a room from you would. Terms can include rent, a contribution to grocery bills, laundry and cleaning assistance, curfews, limits on noise after certain hours, negotiation for sharing the television or the car, and a frank discussion of any limits regarding sex, alcohol, and drugs in the home.
  • Empty nesters or people in retirement may need to build a new structure into their routine and find a sense of meaning and purpose to not fall back into eating disorders. Counseling or career coaching can be very helpful in finding a new slant on life whether it is a hobby, a career, volunteering, traveling, renovating, gardening, learning to play an instrument, or going back to school. 

Resources for You

We have Therapy Groups, including a group for people with eating disorders and food addiction, at Life Solutions Counseling in Beaverton OR. We also plan to do ONLINE groups in 2019, so let us know if you are interested. Our groups are real, inviting, and supportive and facilitated by a qualified mental health professional with years of group experience. Joining a group can be scary and awkward at first, but don’t let that keep you from the benefits of support, accountability, and friendship. Please call Heleen at (503) 914-2749 if you have any questions. Click here to learn more about our Therapy Groups

HOLIDAY SPECIAL TO HELP COUPLES
Heleen Woest is a caring and skilled therapist who loves to help couples with relationship and parenting issues. She offers a safe space where couples can deepen trust, repair wounds, and communicate needs and wants to each other. **OFFER: 8 sessions of 90 minutes each for the low price of $80 per session (normally $160). Offer valid till December 31st, 2018. Call Heleen at (503) 914-2749 or CLICK HERE TO GET 50% DISCOUNT ON COUPLES COUNSELING

HOLIDAY SPECIAL TO HELP FAMILIES
Some families experience pain, chaos, and violence during the Holidays. Heleen knows about the many challenges and conflict that families face and she loves to help parents, children, and extended family members restore unity and peace.**8 sessions of 90 minutes each for the low price of $100 per session (normally $200).Offer valid till December 31st, 2018. Call Heleen at (503) 914-2749 or CLICK HERE TO GET 50% ON COUPLES COUNSELING

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GRATITUDE [Powerful Tool For Trauma & PTSD]

Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude, says that gratitude has two important parts: “First, we affirm that there are good things in this world. And second, we realize that the source of the goodness is outside ourselves, which allows us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”

 Gratitude: Your Powerful Tool For Change and Health

Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. According to research even practicing gratitude for a short amount of time can lead to higher levels of well-being. Cultivating gratitude has enormous benefits in the following areas of our lives:

Gratitude Increases Mental Health

  • Gratitude reduces stress: Gratitude and other positive emotions are among the strongest relaxants known to man. Gratitude may be just as or even more effective than relaxation methods such as deep breathing.
  • Gratitude helps overcome trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of PTSD. Gratitude has also been shown to lead to positive outcomes following traumatic events such as campus shootings (Vieselmeyer, 2017: The Role of Resilience and Gratitude in Posttraumatic Stress and Growth Following a Campus Shooting) or destructive earthquakes (Lies, 2014: Gratitude and personal functioning among earthquake survivors in Indonesia), as well as following negative life experiences such as substance misuse (Chen, 2017: Does gratitude promote recovery from substance misuse?)
  • Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. Recent studies also showed that gratitude decreased levels of depression (Sirois, 2017: Gratitude Uniquely Predicts Lower Depression in Chronic Illness Populations) while others point to the higher levels of well-being in people who practice gratitude (Nezlek, 2017: A daily diary study of relationships between feelings of gratitude and well-being)
  • Gratitude builds resilience: Some people experience profound life losses yet find themselves capable of moving forward and finding happiness again. They find the people and passions in their lives that make them happy and focus on them. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for, even during the worst times of your life, fosters resilience.

Gratitude Promotes Physical Health

  • Research shows that those who engage in gratitude practices feel less pain, go to the doctor less often, have lower blood pressure, and are less likely to develop a mental disorder. (2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences). Grateful people tend to exercise more, take better care of their health, go for check-ups frequently. Grateful people tend to cope and manage terminal conditions better and recover from certain medical procedures faster.
  • Grateful people sleep better. In a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep and helps with insomnia. This is a matter of controlling our minds and instead of filling it with worries or anxiety; we fill it with thoughts of gratitude which induces a relaxation response. Simply put, gratitude is a safe and free sleep aid (Jackowska, 2016: The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep)
  • Gratitude makes you more likely to exercise, which benefits your health. In one 11-week study of 96 Americans, those who were instructed to keep a weekly gratitude journal exercised 40 minutes more per week than the control group.
  • The optimist actually lives a few years longer than the pessimist. In fact, research shows that gratitude and vitality are strongly correlated (A study of 238 people found a correlation of .46 between vitality and gratitude.e2Study of 1662 people found a correlation of .38 between vitality and gratitude. Same study found correlations above .3 even after controlling for the levels of: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and perceived social desirability

Gratitude Can Change Your Personality

  • More Optimistic: Writing in a gratitude journal for 5 minutes a day can make us more optimistic. Optimism in turn makes us happier, improves our health, and has been shown to increase lifespan by as much as a few years.
  • Less Materialistic: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey
    Gratitude and materialism are inversely related. In one study, (McCullough 2002) those who had a high level of gratitude as a personality trait were much more likely to have below-average levels of materialism.  Polak 2005 showed the same results. Lerner and Ketlner (2000, 2001) show that gratitude focuses our attention on others (which makes us less self-centered)
  • More Spiritual: That is more spiritual people are the more likely they are to be grateful seeing that all major religions espouse gratitude as a virtue. In turn gratefulness improves our spirituality and makes us feel closer to God or other religious entities
  • Less Self-Centered: The very nature of gratitude is to focus on others so when we practice gratitude we also develop spontaneous urges to help others, and cause us to be less self-centered.

Gratitude Edifies Emotional Health

  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression: According to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky participants who ranked higher on gratitude, were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
  • Gratitude makes us feel good: According to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, gratitude is just happiness that we recognize after-the-fact to have been caused by the kindness of others. Gratitude feels good, make you stronger, healthier, and more successful. By giving it to others, you increase your own supply. As J.M. Barrie said, “Those who spread sunshine to the hearts of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
  • Gratitude reduces feelings of envy: Envy and gratitude are largely incompatible. Gratitude is the act of perceiving benevolence, while envy and jealousy is the act of perceiving inadequacy. Benevolence and inadequacy cannot be completely perceived at the same time.
  • Gratitude makes our memories happier: Experiencing gratitude in the present makes us more likely to remember positive memories, and actually transforms some of our neutral or even negative memories into positive ones. In one study, putting people into a grateful mood helped them find closure of upsetting open memories. During these experiences, participants were more likely to recall positive aspects of the memory than usual, and some of the negative and neutral aspects were transformed into positives.

Gratitude Spices Up Your Social Life

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. A 2104 study published in Emotion found that showing appreciation to a new acquaintance increases the chances of them seeking an ongoing relationship, so it can help you win new friends. Gratitude generates social capital – in two studies with 243 total participants, those who were 10% more grateful than average had 17.5% more social capital. Simply put, gratitude makes us nicer, more trusting, more social, and more appreciative. A more recent study showed that gratitude makes strangers trust us more (Drążkowski, 2017: Gratitude pays: A weekly gratitude intervention influences monetary decisions, physiological responses, and emotional experiences during a trust-related social interaction)
  • Gratitude improves marriages: Building regular practices of gratitude into a marriage is an easy but effective way to strengthen it. Scientists created an appreciation to nagging ratio (called the Losada ratio) which divides the total number of positive expressions (support, encouragement, and appreciation) made during a typical interaction by the number of negative expressions (disapproval, sarcasm, and cynicism). Marriages that did well were those with a positivity ratio above 5.1, but when the ratio was below .9 the marriages were in trouble.

Gratitude Can Make or Break Your Career

Gratitude can help you achieve your career goals because it makes you a more effective manager, helps you network, increases your decision-making capabilities, increases your productivity, and helps you get mentors and protégés. 

 

3 Easy Tips to Become More Grateful 

Gratitude is like most desirable traits and qualities in that it is usually not enough to simply decide to be grateful, we must actively practice it. And keep track of, or we lose our grasp on it. Below are some practical applications to keep gratitude alive:

  1. Gratitude journal:

    A five-minute a daily gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent on a daily level. Your gratitude journal or log is a personal endeavor that must be unique to you and your life. Below are some ideas to getting started:

  • Write about a person in your life that you’re especially grateful for and why.
  • What skills or abilities are you thankful to have
  • Which part of a challenge you’re experiencing right now can you be thankful for?
  • What activities and hobbies would you miss if you were unable to do them?
  • List five body parts that you’re grateful for and why
  • What about the city you live in are you grateful for?
  • What are you taking for granted about your day to day that you can be thankful for?
  • List 5 people in your life who are hard to get along with—and write down at least one quality for each that you are grateful for.
  • What materialistic items are you most grateful for?
  • Write about the music you’re thankful to be able to listen to and why.
  • What foods or meals are you most thankful for?
  • What elements of nature are you grateful for and why?
  • What part of your morning routine are you most thankful for?
  • Write a letter to someone who has positively impacted your life, however big or small.
  • What is something you’re grateful to have learned this week?
  • When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably—relive the memory?
  • What aspects of your work environment are you thankful for?
  1. Gratitude Meditation:

    Many Buddhist monks and Native American elders begin their days and ceremonies with gratitude meditation. One study (Rao, 2016: Online Training in Specific Meditation Practices Improves Gratitude, Well-Being, Self-Compassion, and Confidence in Providing Compassionate Care Among Health Professionals) found that practicing gratitude meditation just once can instantly increase our feelings of gratitude and reap the benefits. Anybody can incorporate this intervention into their lives with minimal cost and effort, making that finding extremely promising The Rao & Kemper (2016) study shows that teaching people gratitude meditation can be done very quickly and that it can be done online. This means that just about anyone in the world can quickly learn about gratitude and gratitude meditation and start using it to their own benefit.

  1. Simply Say Thank You

  • Thank a family member: We tend to forget to say “thank you” to the people we spend the most time with, but it’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to nurture those relationships.
  • Thank a stranger: It’s often easier to thank strangers than family members and it increases chances for future connections.
  • Write a good, old-fashioned thank-you note. Thank your recipient specifically, and speak from the heart. Your words will be cherished and the relationship will be strengthened.
  • Give a small gift of appreciation that you leave on the recipient’s doorstep, in their mailbox, or at their desk at work.
  • Pay it forward: Pass the kindness along to someone else instead of giving a gift or thanking the person directly.
  • Thank God. If you already have a prayer or meditation time, be sure to express gratitude to God, to the universe, or to yourself during those times

Famous Gratitude Quotes:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1Thess 12:16-18 (NIV)

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” Buddha

Contact Us Today

Gratitude is a HOLISTIC tool that can benefit a person’s whole being. However, sometimes we need more help. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma flashbacks, physical or emotional scars of abuse, or any other debilitating issue, you probably need more help. Contact Heleen today at Life Solutions Counseling. She is a national counselor who is also trained in EMDR, an evidenced based treatment for trauma and PTSD. Don’t suffer alone any longer, contact us today.

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15 Signs of Weak Boundaries [Take the Quiz]

15 Signs of Weak Boundaries [Take the Quiz]

Constantly pleasing other people, or trying to save them in one way or another, can fill our lives with much stress and anxiety. At the root of people-pleasing lies a problem with establishing clear boundaries in relationships. It is crucial that we identify where our responsibilities for ourselves start and end, and where it spills over into the lives of others. You may have been so busy with other people’s responsibilities that you have forgotten all about your own personal responsibilities.

Weak or non-existent boundaries in our lives essentially means that we are not being truthful with ourselves or others.

Boundary Quiz 

Answer these 15 questions to see if you have healthy boundaries: 

 
  1. Have you figured out what you truly LOVE (apart from partners or kids), and are you making time for it, regardless of everybody else’s needs and demands on you?
  2. Do you recognize that your needs are just as important as the needs of your family and other people?
  3. Can you shut down the voices of guilt and shame, telling you that you are a bad parent or spouse, when you take care of your own needs?
  4. Do you feel like a failure when your family have to fend for themselves for a change and the house is a mess because you’re doing something you love?
  5. Can you sleep in when you’re tired, or do you feel guilty?
  6. Can you ask your family to forgive you after you’ve just lost it, and do you also forgive yourself?
  7. Can you tell your friend that you really do not feel up to watching her kid again today, even if you don’t have any particular excuse?
  8. Can you tell your mother that you don’t agree with her and leave it at that?
  9. Can you say “I don’t feel comfortable about giving you an answer right now, let me get back to you?
  10. Can you tell someone that you’re angry without profusely apologizing two minutes later?
  11. Can you change your mind and just say“Hey what’s a mind if you can’t change it” without beating yourself up about all the people you might have disappointed by changing your mind?
  12. Can you make mistakes and be responsible for it without being overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt, shame, and failure?
  13. Can you ask for what you want, without feeling guilty for wanting something?
  14. Can you insist on being taken seriously and treated with respect, or take the necessary steps if it’s not happening?
  15. Can you stand your ground (not change your mind or trying to fix things) even in the face of someone else’s anger, silence, or disappointment?

Your Boundary Results

If you answered “NO” to many of these questions , your boundaries may need some work, especially if it is starting to affect your life in negative ways.

What are the dangers of weak boundaries?

 

If we don’t listen to our bodies’ needs, we are violating our own internal boundaries. We may feel sad and depressed because we are not being true to ourselves. 

If we focus so much on the needs and happiness of others that we actually abuse our own bodies (by not getting enough sleep, rest, exercise, etc), we may make up for this by “treating” ourselves to junk food, alcohol, drugs, and mind-numbing activities such as watching long hours of TV 

Healthy boundaries in relationships  consists of giving and receiving. This way we don’t become selfish, but we also do not burn ourselves out by only giving and never receiving. 

Healthy boundaries help you find the balance between “holding close and letting go.” People who have been smothered with love or given free reign to do whatever they wanted as children, were never given the guidance and discipline that help them put boundaries on themselves. It affects their relationships. They might be clingy, extremely jealous, and possessive of their husbands, children and friends. 

Healthy boundaries help you find the balance between “my responsibility and someone else’s responsibility.” Some people tend to make the problems of others their own, counsel and give advice all the time, or feel responsible for others’ decisions and mistakes. The great amounts of stress and anxiety many times find an outlet in addictive behaviors and substances.

Healthy boundaries help you find the balance between “freedom and control.” People who grew up in a home where they were controlled with an iron fist never forged a sense of self and stayed enmeshed with the parents’ identity. It affects their current relationships. They remain in a place where others have to make decisions for them. They are afraid of conflict or to give their own opinion. They never really found out who they were and struggle with their self image. For example, people sometimes use anorexia as a form of control when they feel they have no control in another areas of their lives.

Healthy boundaries help you find the balance between “saying NO and saying YES.” People who have been abused as children have been robbed from their boundaries and sense of self. It affects their current relationships. They feel ashamed and afraid and tend to isolate themselves from healthy people and thus healthy relationships. They learned at an early age that they don’t have any say in their own lives and that their NO doesn’t mean anything, so they never honor their internal boundaries and never teach others to respect their boundaries. The few people they do let into their lives are usually broken themselves and tend to further abuse them. 

What can be done about weak boundaries?

 

Healthy boundaries does not come naturally, most people have to work at it, but the good news is that everybody can learn how to be assertive (telling people what you want in a nice way)

Do you often try to help or save others? Are you often drawn into their drama or problems? Maybe you find it difficult to say no, or feel guilty when you do?

You are not alone, setting healthy boundaries is a big problem for many people

Please reach out for help in the form of individual or group counseling if this is you. We are running a group at Life Solutions Counseling in Beaverton where you can learn what healthy boundaries look like. You will also practice with others in the group on how to be assertive, stand up for yourself, say no, and teach others to respect your boundaries.

Avoid Couples Counseling If There is Abuse Or Violence

Some couples try couples counseling when there is abuse or violence in their relationship. Unfortunately it is not likely to help, on the contrary, it can make things worse. Experts in the field of domestic violence and abuse do not recommend couples counseling in an abusive relationship. 

Below are some of the questions clients often ask me when I warn them against couples counseling:

We both have issues, why should we not see a couple’s therapist?
In a relationship where there is no abuse, both partners usually contribute to the difficulty or problem in various degrees. The solution is then for them to work on their relationship together. However, in the case of abuse, the victim is not to blame for the abuser’s behavior. The same is true for someone with an addiction. Yes, the victim is not necessarily blameless in the relationship, but the victim is blameless where another person’s abusive behavior is concerned. All couples argue, disagree, and face difficulties, but it does not give anybody an excuse to become violent or abusive.

Why does the abuse have to stop first? What about the other issues?
Again, as in the case of a partner who has an addiction, the abusive partner needs to get help first to STOP the abusive behavior, before any other issues can be discussed. The issues of abuse is all consuming, progressive, and lethal. If other issues are discussed first, it gives the abusive partner a smokescreen to hide behind while continuing the abuse. Many abusers are charming and charismatic which may cause the counselor to miss important clues that may point to abuse.

Can a couples counselor make things worse?
Yes, but not on purpose: As counselors we vow to “do no harm”, and couples counselors do what is best for their client, which is ‘the couple’. An effective couples counselor is not supposed to to take sides or favor one partner over another. So one of  two things are likely to happen in couples counseling:

First:  In an attempt to be fair to both partners, the counselor may unknowingly aid in blaming the victim (who is already self blaming) and strengthening the abusive partner’s denial. This will cause the violence to continue, and even escalate, as the abusive partner may  be twisting
 the counselor’s comments or observations at home in order to justify the abuse. 
Second: A brave counselor may confront the abusive partner, but this is a risky move. If the experience causes the abuser anger and shame, they will most likely never return to counseling. It can also cause the violence to drastically escalate at home. The abusive partner may feel that the victim conspired with the counselor even if it was not true at all. An abusive partner should ONLY be challenged in batterers intervention groups, or in individual counseling, never in couples counseling. This can become a volatile and potentially life threatening situation for the victim and even the counselor.

What if the victim does not say what is really going on?
This is exactly the point: Counseling needs to be a safe place where people can reveal painful and sensitive issues such as domestic violence. When the abuser is sitting right there, the victim is not likely to say anything incriminating that may escalate the violence once they leave the counselor’s office. So the counselor will at best get a minimized version of the story from the victim, or at worst an outright lie from the abusive partner. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to work with the couple.

What if the victim feels safe enough to tell the truth?
It is even more dangerous. A false sense of safety while in the counseling room may cause a victim to reveal the abuse, thinking that the counselor can guarantee their safety. Unfortunately this is not true, there is not much that a counselor can do in that moment. Yes the police can be contacted if things get out of control, but in most instances the abusive partner will pretend that all is well and retaliate only once they leave the counseling office.  

Could couples counseling help a little?
If anything, couples counseling prolongs the inevitable by giving the victim false guilt (it’s my fault) and false hope (maybe everything will change if I change). It can cause them to go around the same maddening cycle for longer than necessary. When it comes to abuse TIME IS CRUCIAL. The victim should not stay one minute longer than is necessary. In fact everything should be done to give the victim as much information and support as possible. They may not be ready to leave yet, but once they are ready the danger escalates, and minutes could mean the difference between life and death

What can be done?
Safest options: Group counseling or individual therapy (separate)

PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP TODAY IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE ARE A VICTIM/SURVIVOR OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
CALL HELEEN AT 503-914-2749 OR REGISTER FOR THIS GROUP ONLINE 

Group for Domestic Violence Survivors or Victims

Why Therapy? Can’t I Just Talk to a Friend?

Why Therapy? Can’t I Just Talk to a Friend?

Therapy has many different faces. Some of the most effective therapy happens when good friends get together to eat, drink, laugh, and cry. Sometimes we just need to hold a puppy, talk to our moms or complain to our hairdresser.  And then other times we need good old fashioned psychotherapy. That said, most people are nervous to see a counselor or therapist. It can be especially difficult if it is your first time seeking therapy or if you had been disappointed by previous experiences. So, I thought it may be helpful for you to know what to expect if you come to see me at Life Solutions Counseling. ,

What Does Therapy at Life Solutions Counseling Look Like?

We will initially talk on the phone for 10-15 minutes when you call me, or I call you back after you scheduled an appointment online. I will answer any questions you may have about me or my work, and also ask you a few questions to assess if we are likely to be a good fit. If be both agree, we will set up our first meeting. 

 

The first session can be stressful and awkward for many clients, so I want you to  know that I am aware of this and I will make it as relaxing and pleasant as possible. You can expect a casual conversation, with me asking you questions and listening intently to your concerns. By the end of the first session I will share with you my observations and suggestions and we will look together at a tentative plan and an approximate timetable for your therapy. Some people only need a few weeks while other may need more time to deal with difficult issues.

It is Crucial to Find the Right Counselor For You

Typically clients come to see me once a week, but even this is something we can talk about. I strongly believe that psychotherapy is a collaborative process, so we will work together from the beginning, to insure that you benefit from the experience. By the end of the first session most clients are clear whether my counseling style and the plan I recommend will be helpful or not. This is very important because one of the most healing factors of therapy is the relationship you have with your therapist. If the relationships is good he/she will know when to be a sympathetic ear and when to challenge you. You will also be more likely to be open and vulnerable because you will feel safe. As a result, this reparative relationship will allow you to grow, heal, and stick with the therapy process

8 Benefits of Counseling [Therapy]

  • It helps in the long run: Therapy not only helps you work through current issues, but it helps you deal with future curveballs, because you develop the tools you need for certain scenarios in the future.
  • It can heal physical symptoms. Psychological trauma can sometimes have debilitating physical effects, and in dealing with the one, you may also deal with the other. 
  • It helps your relationships: Not only do you learn to understand yourself better, but you get rid of the negative thoughts and assumptions  about others when you process it with your counselor.
  • It gives you clarity: Turning around thoughts in our heads get us nowhere, but once we talk about it, we start sorting it out and make sense of it. 
  • You feel less alone: Talking with a therapist can be a huge relief, because it may give you the support you need. 
  • It can heal your brain: Medication has been known to heal the imbalanced brain, but there are compelling evidence that talk therapy does the same. 
  • Stop the self-medicating: If we finally address what is really going on with us, we can let go of some of the things we use to self-medicate, and also get out of some destructive and abusive cycles. 
  • It’s a relationship: In counseling you get to practice the kind of relationship you want to have with someone else in the future; one of trust, compassion, and honestly. 

THERAPY [COUNSELING] IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY, BUT FOR SOME PEOPLE IT CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Did some of these things resonate with you? Why don’t you give me a call so we can have our initial 10-15 minute conversation? Counseling may not be for everyone, but for some people it makes all the difference between struggling and thriving. 

 

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Parenting Kids with Challenges: Where are the casseroles?

Parenting Kids with Challenges: Where are the casseroles?

I think you will agree with me that if you ask any parent what they are most afraid of the answer will almost always involve their children. We love our offspring, and we would do anything to keep them out of harm’s way. As parents we reach out with support and empathy when a friend’s child is sick. We know that illness can put a serious strain on a family and marriage, so we offer our help, and pray that it will never happen to our family.

Unfortunately the same can not be said for families of children with mental disorders. Parents often find themselves confused, alone, and ashamed. There is regrettably still a lot of guilt, shame, and unsolicited advice surrounding mental disorders. This is in part due to ignorance in our society when it comes to the brain, and it’s diseases: The brain has been called the “last frontier of the human body” because there is still a lot that we don’t know. 

Unfortunately the same can not be said for families of children with mental disorders. Parents often find themselves confused, alone, and ashamed. 

There is regrettably still a lot of guilt, shame, and unsolicited advice surrounding mental disorders. This is in part due to ignorance in our society when it comes to the brain, and it’s diseases: The brain has been called the “last frontier of the human body” because there is still a lot that we don’t know.

This challenge came and knocked on my door when our youngest son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago. I was busy studying about the brain and working in the field of mental disorders, and my husband and I were well aware of mental illness on both sides of our families, yet, we couldn’t believe it. Not our son, not bipolar! I wanted there to be another explanation; something spiritual or something in our parenting style that needed tweaking. I didn’t want to tell people about it, and when I finally did, I over-explained and over-shared, all to try and shield myself from their anticipated judgment or rejection. 

I am a mental health professional and an advocate for people who struggle with mental illness. but in this case, I was first of all a parent, and I was desperate for an explanation. I  questioned my way of parenting, blamed my spouse for too little involvement, blamed myself for too much, and wrecked my brain trying to remember if there was some trauma or abuse. Did I take some medication that I should not have during pregnancy? Was it the flight over to America? Was it the culture shock that I went through? 

A million questions rolled around in my head. I stopped trusting my gut and started listening to all the voices around me, assuring me that their kids went through the same things, that it was just hormones, that it was middle school, that he just needed more discipline, better food, more exercise, more sleep, or less computer time. In the end, these things may have contributed, or they may not have, we don’t know. All I knew was that something was wrong with my kid and it was not just “a normal part of growing up.”

Margaret Puckette writes in her book Raising Troubled Kids: A Guide Book for Raising Children With Mental Illness or an Emotional Disorder “I was blamed instead of supported, my child was falsely accused of drug use, I was accused of being a weak parent, and I endured lots of unwanted and inappropriate advice. These messages came from close friends, family members, clergy, doctors, teachers, even mental health professionals! The blame and judgment came from so many directions that it was hard to believe they weren’t true.”

 

It can seem like a never-ending nightmare. Everything takes so long, the diagnosis, the trial and error period to find the right medication, the wait for things to change, the endless trips to the doctor, psychiatrist, behavioral specialist, counselor, and nutritionist. Do not forget the trips to the pharmacy, the meetings with school counselors, psychologists, and teachers. I found the most support from my son’s public high school, but even then, the process was painstakingly slow, and the red tape was endless. My heart especially goes out to single parents who try to survive an ordeal like this; it is just so hard. Parents become isolated, overwhelmed, and run out of patience and energy. Food is my vice, so I gained a lot of weight through it all, while other parents turn to different ways to numb the pain that can be even more destructive. 

 

So I am reaching out to parents who are facing this huge challenge. I want to be the person that looks you in the eye and say “I know, it is unbelievably hard!” I also want to be the one who encourages you to do some self-care, go on dates, go dancing, and be gentle with yourself because you came through a lot. Whatever you do, do not blame yourself, that gets you nowhere and just adds insult to injury. I want to tell you that it may take a long time, but this season too will pass.

 

Reach out to friends, your spiritual community, family, co-workers, and other parents. You will find that you are not alone, there are others who know your pain. 

Another one of my kiddos was recently diagnosed with a mental disorder. I went again through the self-doubts, the denial, the struggle to find my footing, but this time I came around faster. This time I was going to ask for help, I was going to trust my mom-gut, and I was going to have many girls nights out so I do not lose myself somewhere in the process. 

 

Please join my groups for parents of children with mental disorders in Beaverton, OR. You will find NO judgment, just other parents who walked a mile in your shoes, and who understand all too well that  mental disorders can take a toll on the whole family.

 

Click here to find out more about support groups for parents of children with mental disorders.

 

 

PARENTING KIDS WITH BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS OR MENTAL DISORDERS CAN BE VERY DIFFICULT
This challenge came and knocked on my door when our youngest son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago. I was busy studying about the brain and working in the field of mental disorders, and my husband and I were well aware of mental illness on both sides of our families, yet, we couldn’t believe it. Not our son, not bipolar! I wanted there to be another explanation; something spiritual or something in our parenting style that needed tweaking. I didn’t want to tell people about it, and when I finally did, I over-explained and over-shared, all to try and shield myself from their anticipated judgment or rejection. 

I am a mental health professional and an advocate for people who struggle with mental illness. but in this case, I was first of all a parent, and I was desperate for an explanation. I  questioned my way of parenting, blamed my spouse for too little involvement, blamed myself for too much, and wrecked my brain trying to remember if there was some trauma or abuse. Did I take some medication that I should not have during pregnancy? Was it the flight over to America? Was it the culture shock that I went through? 

A million questions rolled around in my head. I stopped trusting my gut and started listening to all the voices around me, assuring me that their kids went through the same things, that it was just hormones, that it was middle school, that he just needed more discipline, better food, more exercise, more sleep, or less computer time. In the end, these things may have contributed, or they may not have, we don’t know. All I knew was that something was wrong with my kid and it was not just “a normal part of growing up.”

PARENTS FEEL GUILTY AND ASHAMED

Margaret Puckette writes in her book Raising Troubled Kids: A Guide Book for Raising Children With Mental Illness or an Emotional Disorder “I was blamed instead of supported, my child was falsely accused of drug use, I was accused of being a weak parent, and I endured lots of unwanted and inappropriate advice. These messages came from close friends, family members, clergy, doctors, teachers, even mental health professionals! The blame and judgment came from so many directions that it was hard to believe they weren’t true.”

BOTTOM LINE: IT’S A LONG JOURNEY AND PARENTS NEED HELP

 

It can seem like a never-ending nightmare. Everything takes so long, the diagnosis, the trial and error period to find the right medication, the wait for things to change, the endless trips to the doctor, psychiatrist, behavioral specialist, counselor, and nutritionist. Do not forget the trips to the pharmacy, the meetings with school counselors, psychologists, and teachers. I found the most support from my son’s public high school, but even then, the process was painstakingly slow, and the red tape was endless. My heart especially goes out to single parents who try to survive an ordeal like this; it is just so hard. Parents become isolated, overwhelmed, and run out of patience and energy. Food is my vice, so I gained a lot of weight through it all, while other parents turn to different ways to numb the pain that can be even more destructive. 

ARE YOU PARENTING A CHILD WITH CHALLENGES?

So I am reaching out to parents who are facing this huge challenge. I want to be the person that looks you in the eye and say “I know, it is unbelievably hard!” I also want to be the one who encourages you to do some self-care, go on dates, go dancing, and be gentle with yourself because you came through a lot. Whatever you do, do not blame yourself, that gets you nowhere and just adds insult to injury. I want to tell you that it may take a long time, but this season too will pass. Reach out to friends, your spiritual community, family, co-workers, and other parents. You will find that you are not alone, there are others who know your pain. 

Another one of my kiddos was recently diagnosed with a mental disorder. I went again through the self-doubts, the denial, the struggle to find my footing, but this time I came around faster. This time I was going to ask for help, I was going to trust my mom-gut, and I was going to have many girls nights out so I do not lose myself somewhere in the process. 

 

CHECK OUT OUR GROUPS FOR PARENTS

Please join my groups for parents of children with mental disorders in Beaverton, OR. What do you have to lose? You will find NO judgment, just other parents who walked a mile in your shoes, and who understand all too well that  mental disorders can take a toll on the whole family. Click here to find out more about support groups for parents of children with mental disorders.

COUNSELING FOR INDIVIDUALS, COUPLES, PARENTS, OR FAMILIES

So maybe the group thing is not your style, but you know that you need to talk to someone. I would be honored to do individual counseling with any parent or caregiver. I also offer COUPLES counseling if you and your spouse would like to come together and also work on your relationship. Another option may be FAMILY COUNSELING for the whole family. This will be longer session (90 minutes) but it can be powerful and bring healing to a whole family. 
PLEASE CONTACT HELEEN TODAY AT 503-914-2749. Take a look at the Counseling Services we offer.
 

 

Contact Heleen to schedule an appointment at our Beaverton office or ONLINE.

Call: (503) 914-2749

Schedule on our website: www.lifesolutions.io

Life Solutions Counseling

4145 SW Watson Ave Suite 350 Beaverton, OR 97005

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Domestic Violence and Abuse: The Dangerous Cycle

Domestic Violence and Abuse Cycle

In order to keep the victim close and dependent, the perpetrator engages in what is called trauma bonding; a cycle of violence followed by apologies, expressions of love, promises of reform, and appeals to loyalty and compassion. This goes along with total isolation of the victim from information, material aid, or emotional support so that nothing can interfere with the perpetrator’s power and control.

Cycle of Violence and Abuse

1. iNCIDENT OF ABUSE

First the incident of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse takes place. During this time the abuser may fall into a dissociative state which is sometimes described as “red out.” Victims of cyclical abuse also tend to dissociates in order to hide while having a feeling of unbelief that it is truly happening to

2. MAKE-UP PHASE​

Making-up Stage: During this stage the abuser will typically show some sort of remorse and may even apologize or make promises to change. On the flip side, the abuser may blame the victim for causing the abuse, or claim that the victim is exaggerating or lying (the abuse was not that bad or didn’t happen).

3. CALM PHASE

Calm Phase: During this phase the abuser may act as if the abuse never happened and the physical abuse may actually stop for a period of time. The abuser may keep soME promises and give gifts to the victim which may build false hope that the abuse will not happen again

4. TENSION BUILDING PHASE​

Tension Building Phase: The abuser starts to get angry and the victim tries to appease by saying and doing all the right things. Communication starts to break down. At this point another abusive incident is likely to occur, which starts the whole cycle over again. am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP TODAY IF YOU ARE A SURVIVOR OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. CALL HELEEN AT 503-914-2749 OR REGISTER FOR THIS GROUP ONLINE

Considering Al-Anon?

I recommended an Al-Anon group to one of my clients who was struggling with codependency issues. After she left, I felt convicted by the fact that I never actually attended one of those groups myself. I wanted to go to an Al-anon group for a while because I too find myself often in a caretaker role where I give far more than I’m getting out of a relationship. 

So, I looked online and found a group pretty close to my home. I decided to take courage and attend their next meeting. It was not easy: I sat in the parking lot for a while, watching the people arrive and all along contemplating a quick escape. When I finally went in, my neck was hurting with tension. It only grew worse as the evening progressed. I was unfamiliar with the AA lingo and the flow of the meeting. Not knowing anybody and especially not knowing what was going to happen next was a pretty unsettling feeling.

I was however impressed by the large turn-out on a rainy and cold Tuesday evening. The room was packed with people of all genders, races, ages, and walks of life. The group had a strict format and ran for two hours. It was lead by one of the seasoned male members who welcomed everybody and asked a woman to read the 12 steps and traditions of AA. After this he introduced a guest speaker, also a long time Al-anon member, to share his story.

The speaker was an engaging guy who, after his inspiring talk, randomly picked people he knew to share something about their own lives. , During this time a book was passed around for us to write down our contact information and added notes. I just let the book pass by, feeling awkward.

The evening ended with everybody making a big circle around the room, holding hands and saying the Serenity Prayer together. I still felt awkward, but this was finally, something I was familiar with and could confidently participate in.

I left the group with a sense of relief and awe: Everyone who shared was so open, honest, and brave. I could see how this kind of a group may be an essential source of support and comfort to people who find themselves in a close relationship with someone who is addicted to alcohol or other substances.

I will definitely still recommend Al-anon or other AA groups to my clients as a source of community and support. However, after going through this experience myself, I will be quick to warn them against an awkward or even emotional first meeting, and advise them to show up armed with Kleenex and phrases such as “pass” and “I’m new.”

I would also add to that a famous AA tip: “You should commit to coming back at least four times before making up your mind about a group.”
I guess that is how long it takes to push through the awkward phase and start feeling at home. I also heard from a friend that these groups are not all the same and that one should keep looking if you still do not feel comfortable after attending a few times. It turns out; I had been fortunate to find a structured and well ran group the first time around. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, I want to encourage you to find a support group. Press through the awkward feelings of the first few meeting and keep going back. We all need accountability and support now and then, and these groups provide precisely that. You will find people there who understand what you are dealing with, in fact, I heard people say that they made lifelong friends at support groups.  

I strongly believe that families need this component to find healing in the face of addiction. I facilitated groups like this, but with a spiritual connection, for many years. These groups, Celebrate Recovery, may also be an option for you depending on your worldview.

I also recommend individual counseling for people who struggle with addiction (drugs, alcohol, porn, food, gambling, gaming, etc.) as well as their families who are affected by this. Please contact me if I can be of help to you or someone you love. I have experience working in this field, and I have deep compassion for people who find themselves trapped in an addiction. Also, take a look at other addiction resources here on my website.

Please stop trying to do this alone; it is simply too difficult, we need other humans to take our hands and lead us forward. 

 

 

A Different Slant on 12-Steps: Celebrate Recovery

Did you know that there is a Christian version of the 12 step programs?  I know them quite well because I used to facilitate groups for women with eating disorders at these groups.  However, I recently went to Celebrate Recovery that I am not familiar with because a friend, who is not a Christian, wanted to try out a group like this. I decided that this was a good opportunity for some research, so I purposely went to this meeting, where nobody knew me, with the intention of viewing it through the eyes of an outsider. I wanted to better relate to clients and friends, who struggle with addiction, and need to go to a group like this for the first time. 

From the minute we stepped foot in the door friendly people were greeting us and getting us signed up. Newcomers were escorted into the meeting hall and introduced to the leader of the newcomers’ group. They explained that the newcomers’ group was the only open group that welcomed new members all year round. The the other groups typically closed after the second meeting for the sake of unity and safety.

The meeting was quite long as it ran from 6-9 pm. It started with a buffet style dinner where people sat around tables and talked. Most people seemed to enjoy this time of fellowship. However, my friend and I felt awkward trying to eat and talk with people we just met. I never realized that this could be a scary part for many people coming for the first time.

The second part of the meeting could indeed be uncomfortable if you never attended church before. At this point, the tables were cleared, and the meeting turned into a full-blown worship service. There was a lively band, and people were now standing, singing, and lifting their hands, all of which could be very awkward for a visitor.

After the time of worship, a pastor came up to a small podium and read the 8 Recovery Principles of Celebrate Recovery, based on the Beatitudes, by Pastor Rick Warren. The 12 steps for addiction recovery ,and their Biblical comparisons, were printed on the brochure but not read. Next, the pastor gave a short sermon followed by testimony of a guy who had been delivered from porn addiction through his relationship with Jesus and attending Celebrate Recovery. Lots of clapping and hallelujahs ensued, and I wondered again, probably for the first time, how weird all this must feel to someone who is not familiar with the Charismatic way of doing things.

After the hour-long meeting, the pastor introduced the various leaders of groups as they lead their members to a classroom. We left with the newcomers’ group and was surprised at the number of people who came for the first time. Upon being asked about their experience of the evening so far, most of them expressed that it was “great and spirit-filled” which lead me to assume that they were mostly churchgoers. The group leader was warm and welcoming, and I could see that everybody enjoyed this part of just talking and being real, which caused me to relax as well.

On the way home my friend told me that she really enjoyed it, even though it was weird at first. Upon asking if she would like to attend again, she said that she was not sure.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Celebrate Recovery because I heard so many testimonies over the years of people who found help for various forms of addiction. I also personally experienced and observed the healing work that can occur inside these groups. However, I will be more careful in the future to recommend Celebrate Recovery to clients, at least not without first warning them that things may get a tad weird if they are not used to it.

That said, if you are a Christian, who struggle with an addiction, you may find these kind of meetings extremely helpful. Support and faith can be a powerful combination to aid people on their journey to sobriety and especially in preventing relapse. Don’t try to do it alone, it’s simply too difficult, and part of the healing lies in discovering that you are not the only one who struggles with this issue. You can find Celebrate Recovery groups online, they are most often hosted at churches, and many of them also offer classes on other topics such as parenting, marriage, healing from abuse, and many more. 

Contact me if you need individual counseling for addiction or other related issues such as depression or trauma. I have experience in this field and would be honored to help, but be sure to also add a support group like this to your individual counseling, it comes highly recommended for any form of addiction, and it is for the most part free. 

Does STOP court work?

I recently visited the Multnomah County Sanctions Treatment Opportunities Progress (STOP) Court, also known as Drug Court. 

 

These are problem-solving courts that provide a sentencing alternative of treatment combined with supervision for people who live with severe addiction and mental health disorders. They take a public health approach which combines judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social service, and treatment communities to help addicted offenders into long-term recovery

It was my first time at drug court, so the whole process was new to me. I guess I had in mind the very formal courts of South Africa, which I attended when I was a law student, or at the very least the solemn traffic court that I found myself in a time or two here in America. So, I was amazed at the hubbub going on at the S.T.O.P court: Four court clerks were typing away at their computers while talking to each other and taking attendance of the participants trailing into the courtroom. More people, who turned out to be lawyers, were walking around and whispering or talking to the participants.

After the judge entered, a correctional officer came in followed by a row of young women in prison clothes who were chained together in pairs. The judge surprised me by stepping off the bench and approaching the crowd. He handed a piece of paper to one of the participants, followed by a firm handshake while explaining enthusiastically that the particular person had been doing very well in the program. I was impressed with the judge’s attitude towards the participants in general; even the ones who did not meet their goals for the previous week were treated with respect.

He was firm with some of the young women in prison garb, seeing that they found themselves in that predicament because they did not show up for their weekly court appointment and they had to be “picked-up” by the police. He had them stay in jail a few days to sober up before they were brought before him. He seemed to know many of the participants well and even joked around with some of them which were indicative of his willingness to build a relationship with the participants.

There was one instance where he firmly informed a participant that he could no longer remain in the program because a year had passed and there had not been any signs of improvement or commitment to get out of his addiction. He genuinely sounded disappointed, and I thought that it must take a specific kind of judge, or human being for that matter, to do this job well.

I think this program is an excellent opportunity for people who are ready to change. Like everything else it does not work for everybody and some people who are not ready will probably not be able to stay in the program. However, I suspect that this program saves a lot of people, because it forces them to attend groups, see counselors, and be accountable to the judge and the judicial system, maybe for the first time in their lives.

How Does Drug Court Work?

  1. Not everybody is eligible for drug court. However, participants are identified early and promptly placed in the Drug Court program.
  2. Drug courts (S.T.O.P. courts) integrate the justice system with alcohol, drug, and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
  3. Drug courts use a non-adversarial approach, striking a balance between public safety while protecting the rights of participants.
  4. Abstinence is required and monitored by frequent alcohol and drug testing.
  5. Participants need to show up in court regularly and comply with the program to stay out of prison
  6. Participants are periodically being monitored and evaluated to measure the achievement and effectiveness of the program.
  7. The combined effort of the court, public agencies, and community-based organizations enhance the effectiveness of the drug court program.  

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and finding yourself in a predicament with the law, drug court may be a viable option. We all need accountability and support now and then, and this program, though not perfect, provides precisely that.

 

I offer counseling for individuals and their loved ones who are effected by any form of addiction (drugs, alcohol, porn, food, gaming, etc). Please contact me if I can be of help to you or someone you love. I have experience working in this field and I have a deep compassion for people who find themselves trapped in an addiction.  

What can you expect from online counseling?

Online counseling, also known as online therapy or e-therapy, gives patients a more affordable and convenient way to seek help. Those with busy schedules, patients who do not have transportation and those with small children at home may find that e-therapy is a better option for them than traditional counseling sessions.

Online therapy is a relatively new mental health tool in which a therapist or counselor provides professional services and support over the internet. This kind of treatment can occur via email, video conferencing, online chat, messaging, or internet phone.

However, online therapy requires some caution because it may not be as useful for all clients. Those with severe emotional problems are better off with traditional therapist seeing that it is difficult for online therapists to offer the kind of support that clients with specific diagnosis need.

Critical issues to consider during online counseling is confidentiality, ethical and legal issues, as well as the qualifications of online therapists. Counselors should review the state requirements and only work within the scope of their practice. Counselors should also use encrypted platforms and ensure that client information remains private and secure.  Instead of sending regular e-mail both counselor and client should send messages via a password protected safe form that can be found on a client portal or a secure web page. There are other popular applications for secure e-mail such as ZixMail, Zip-Lip,  HushMail, PGP, POP3Now, and others.

The effectiveness of e-therapy does in part depend on how comfortable both the client and therapist are in using different types of technology. While online therapists cannot diagnose or treat mental illness online, they can offer guidance and advice to people experiencing problems in relationships, work, or life. All the same privacy policies, as well as exceptions to confidentiality, apply to online counseling. A counselor should always ensure secure encryption and a safe location for clients records.

What can the clients do to make their online sessions secure?

  • Make sure to log out after a session especially if you share a computer with your family.
  • It is not advisable to conduct a session on your workplace computer
  • Create a secure space before your session starts so that you are not within earshot of family members or other people.
  • Be sure that your side of the conversation is also encrypted by logging into a secure client portal or downloading HIPPA approved software to your computer
  • Remember that e-mails can be intercepted and chat sessions hijacked unless both parties protect them with encryption. Make sure all communication is safe, not just the video session
  • Make sure there is a procedure to follow if your connection is spotty or you get disconnected.
  • At Life Solutions Counseling clients need the latest update of Adobe Flash Player, webcam, microphone, and a high-speed internet connection to engage in online counseling. Cable or DSL with a minimum download speed of 3Mbps and minimum upload speed of 384Kbps is adequate.
  • If your computer or laptop does not have a webcam built in, we recommend webcams from Logitech, Creative Labs, and Microsoft.
I would be honored to meet with you via video for individual online counseling. Please contact me if you have questions or need to find out if online counseling is available in your area: Some ethical boundaries and restrictions exist for this type of counseling. 

Is sugar addiction for real?

I decided a few weeks back to rid my body of excess sugar, white flour, and refined carbs.

I had walked this particular journey many times before because of an ongoing struggle with binge eating disorder which started in college. However, regardless of lots of experience with the process, starting is never easy. The weekend before kick-off Monday turned into a full-blown binge. I ate junk food all weekend long to “prepare” myself for the inevitable deprivation.

 

MONDAY: “I will beat this sugar addiction!”

Monday morning came, and I was prepared:  I packed a healthy lunch, without my regular sugary snacks, to get me through a full day of work. I underestimated the power of my cravings though because around 11:00 am I desperately wanted a Twix bar to go with my second cup of coffee. My old brain (the one who listens to no reason) kicked in, and I made a beeline for the vending machine, only to realize that it was out of order. I was ticked off and irritated.

However, a half hour later, as I was eating my healthy lunch, my “new” brain (aka prefrontal cortex) finally came online, and I was grateful that I didn’t eat the Twix bar after all. I honestly didn’t want that sugar in my body, because the added sugar tends to leave me lethargic and bloated, and I usually need another pick-me-up before I drive home. This was a painful reminder of how much stronger those old brain memories and urges are and how little control I have when it takes over.

Later that afternoon, as I was stuck in commute on my way home, it took everything I had not to stop and pick up something to eat. I felt tired, sad, angry, and extremely anxious. Every fast food restaurant was calling my name.

This struggle continued into the next two days: I felt depressed when I woke up, knowing that I wasn’t able to eat something sweet and gooey for breakfast. I was exhausted all day, every day, and I felt emotional and irritated. I could feel the withdrawal and could see how my whole body and mind was grieving sugar. It felt like life was not worth living without the sugar and days went by so slow. I had to drag myself toward sobriety one hour at a time, let alone one day at a time.

Day 4 and 5 was a little easier. My days were full, and I had no time to think about food or feel sorry for myself. Also, I prepared for these days by taking salads with me and putting food in the crockpot, so we had a hot dinner ready when I got home.

FRIDAY: “I will never be rid of my sugar addiction!”

Then came my first Friday and my resolve melted like butter in the hot sun. Friday is movie and pizza night at our home, and this always includes hefty helpings of brownies or ice cream. I felt so sorry for myself, and so the bargaining commenced: I was only going to eat one slice of pizza with salad. After the first bite of pizza the memories of previous Fridays kicked in, and my old brain took over, convincing me that I needed much more than just one slice of pizza to survive.

The sad part is that I am so familiar with this process, and I knew exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t care, I couldn’t hold off any longer. I knew the excess sugar and fat was bad for my health, my weight, and my emotional well-being. I also knew that by putting that stuff in my mouth I was essentially slowly killing myself, but it made no difference.  All I could think of was the taste of melted cheese and chocolate in my mouth. I wanted to eat it all, and no one was going to stop me.

I woke up with a sugar hangover (tired, heartburn, and slight headache) on Saturday and even though I felt deep remorse I was already thinking of pancakes drenched in syrup. I knew I was in trouble, I could not do it alone, I needed help. So I called a friend who had been through this with me before and who has the same struggle, and we decided to meet up for a walk. It turns out she has been stuck for a while too and was ready to stop as well. We talked about our struggle, our shame, our pain, and finally our hopes for sobriety. I felt such relief, and it affirmed again to me that two are indeed better than one during tough times. I knew from experience that an accountability partner is a crucial element of change for me.

 

OVERCOMING FOOD ADDICTION IS A JOURNEY, NOT A SPRINT

We committed to walking every day until we at least got through 7 sober days. Every day, without fail, I didn’t want to walk and just wanted to quit, but then I texted my friend, and she validated my feelings and encouraged me not to give up (and some days I did that for her). I seriously only hanged on because I knew that I was not alone and someone else was counting on me. I was still very tempted to have sugar every day around 4 pm, so I made sure I had substitutes such as fruit or protein bars to get me through those vulnerable times. It worked and it stopped the cravings.

Slowly the sun started breaking through. After the first seven sober days, I started waking up with a feeling of relief and gratefulness instead of depression. I found myself thanking God for giving me another sober day. I was taking baby steps out of this jungle that I’ve been lost in for the past six months. I have now been sober from sugar for five weeks, and I feel joy creeping back into my life. When I’m stuck in addiction, I always forget how amazing it feels to be free.

FREEDOM FROM SUGAR ADDICTION IS POSSIBLE

In the past when I worked with clients at homeless shelters, I was acutely aware of my own struggle with food. If this was so hard for me, I could not even imagine how much more difficult it must be to withdraw from highly addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs. Getting sober is an extremely difficult endeavor. Each person needs to get to the end of themselves in their own time, and not even a court order can hurry this process along. However, when someone is finally ready for help, they need all the help they can get. I know that if I did not humble myself and called my friend, I may have remained stuck in the vicious cycle of; starting, failing, feeling ashamed, and starting over again.

I’m not exactly sure what usually brings me to a place of wanting to change. It seems to be something different every time, but it usually starts with an “act of surrender”  to God or a higher being as described in the first few steps of AA.

Bottom line: I need to be ready to change.

Are you ready to change or maybe want someone to help you get to that place? I have experience working with people who are addicted to a substance, and also those who have a dual diagnosis (another mental disorder that goes with the addiction).

Please contact me if this is you. It will be an honor to meet you and help you.
Heleen Woest, MA, NCC
Professional Counselor