Friday Waypoints- 12/28/18

Book I’m Reading:

I picked up James Hamblin’s book, “If Our Bodies Could Talk,” to read on the plane during a recent trip. It’s great read. Think of it as an FAQ about the body. He covers topics that are interesting like, “What are dimples?” and “Why are blue eyes blue?” I particularly found his discussion about vitamins very helpful. If you’re convinced that taking vitamins is helpful, you might want to get his book and read this section. There’s a lot of money being spent to convince you that you need vitamin supplements. I decided, after a year of research, that my body does a pretty good job of extracting the vitamins that I need from the food I eat, so I do not take them. What I liked about this book, was the ability to fast-forward through the sections that were less interesting to me.

Meaningful Moment:

The Government Shutdown and Zion National Park- Thankfully It’s impossible to shut down a park. I did some Desert Therapy this past week in Nevada while attending a family get together. This included a drive through the barren landscape of SW Nevada and a couple of day hikes in Zion National Park. (A BIG Thank You to all the Rangers and Federal Employees that are keeping the National Parks open during the Shutdown!) We did a hike to the Emerald Pools and then along the Virgin River to the beginning of the Narrows. Despite it being winter, there were lots of people there. But for some reason, none of that bothered me. The day before, we had done a short day trip to Hoover Dam where there were lots of people as well.

This day was different. The walls of the valley reminded me of my hikes in the Grand Canyon, particularly the hike from Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls. It was as if the desert, the Virgin River, Angels Landing, and the Emerald Pools had transported me to another wonderful place. We slowed down and savored our time there. We let nature infect us.

Lessons From My Clients:

Never Go to Bed Angry! Sometimes the lessons I learn are simple. I was speaking to an older client this week about her relationships with family members. She recounted hearing her mother telling a friend that was having marital problems, to “Never go to bed angry!” It’s interesting that this was wisdom that Elsie (not her real name) overheard from her mother back in the Fifties. I think it’s fascinating that her mother didn’t actually tell her that, or at least it’s her recollection that she learned it indirectly by overhearing it. Think about the things that your children overhear you say to your friends and extended family members. We could expound about the wisdom of “Not letting the sun go down upon your wrath,” but I think it’s also important to ponder the ways that we transmit these tidbits of wisdom to our children and even our grandchildren. They hear everything. Hopefully, the things they remember help them for the rest of their lives.

My Advice for the New Year: Get Rid of Baggage!

I had some time to kill at the airport this past week and I used it to clear away some of the distractions and junk on my phone. More specifically, I unsubscribed to all of those unwanted emails that I accumulated over this past year. There were lots and lots. And then I got rid of all the apps that cluttered up my phone. And then I…..don’t look away….I unfollowed or unfriended people on my social media that, frankly, were either not a friend or just honestly annoying. I guess I have a low tolerance for people’s opinions about politics and other personal topics and I was getting tired of being dragged down into the gutters every time I opened Facebook. You are what you eat. You know what I mean? We can’t keep letting junk into our minds because eventually it changes us and usually not for the better. Getting rid of this year’s baggage might help you have a better year regardless of whether or not you make any resolutions. It’s kind of a reboot.

Happy New Year!!!!

The Unpopular Notion of Self-Denial

We live in a land of plenty: food, drink, and comfort. There are some in our country that lack these things. I am touched by those locked in homelessness and those without food and shelter, but that does not describe most of us. We live in a country marked by opulence and decadence, a culture that indulges in pleasure.

As we continue our study of “The Guide to the Good Life,” by William Irvine, we consider the Third Stoic Technique of Self-Denial. This may not be a popular practice, but it is one that has the potential to lead us to peace and tranquility.

The Stoics believed that accumulating fame and fortune rarely if ever contributed to the Good Life. They believed that happiness did not come from getting the things that we desire, but rather, from learning to desire the things that we already possess. We learn to desire the things that we possess by periodically denying ourselves of them.

“We accomplish this,” writes Irvine, “by allowing ourselves to become hungry or thirsty, even though water and food are at hand, and we might sleep on a hard bed even though a soft one is available.” When we do this, Irvin asserts that we receive three benefits: 1) It will harden us against any misfortune that might befall us, 2) We will grow confident that we can handle any discomfort that might befall us, and 3) It will help us appreciate what we already have.

In other words, Self-Denial helps us grow!! It is when we periodically deny ourselves of the things that we desire and possess, that we learn the value of our things and the value of life.

What are some ways that I practice this technique? I fast by temporarily depriving myself of food. I skip breakfast most days and on others, I skip breakfast and lunch. It is not often, but I restrict the sugar that I eat. Practicing these restrictions helps me appreciate the sweets and the meals that I missed.

I often strap on a 40 to 60 lb. pack and hike into a forest and sleep on a 1 ½ inch pad in the cold of Fall and Winter. I endure the cold, the weight of the pack, and the burning quads as I climb in and out of the canyons and valleys. My heart is pounding in my chest and my breaths are deep. It is punishing.

I have ridden my bicycle across the state of Indiana in one day. It was my 55th birthday and I remember my father’s response: “That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” It was punishing as well. And I only say that it was punishing because of the temporary pain and suffering that I experienced during the ride. Afterwards, nothing can compare to the joy and satisfaction of showering and laying my head down on my pillow.

This past Spring, I hiked in and out of the Grand Canyon twice: 26 miles and over 22,000 feet of elevation. It was exhausting. It was challenging. And yes, it hurt. The first hike out was through a blizzard with snow and 40-50 mile an hour winds. But the exhilaration that followed taught me to appreciate the warmth and the comfort of shelter.  

These are just a few of the things that I do to deprive myself of the creature comforts that I’ve become accustomed.

What are some of the things that you do?

I have many friends that practice Lent by fasting or restricting other material possessions or activities in their lives. This is usually for a period of 40 days once a year. I’m certain that they experience joy when they re-introduce the food or activity into their lives. They have a newfound appreciation for these things. Imagine if the practice of Lent was more often.

Self-Denial doesn’t sound like a remedy for an exotic illness or an intervention that will sell a lot of books, but I believe that it is this very practice that will bring peace and tranquility to your life. Self-Denial softens us, and hardens us. It awakens us, and quiets us; sharpens our senses and then soothes them. It costs us nothing, but when practiced regularly, helps us find satisfaction.

Teaching Kids About Feelings

I watched a lot of PBS in general when I was a kid, and I loved Mr. Rogers. One of the great things about Mr. Rogers is that he really normalized feelings for kids. Too often I have seen parents treat their children as “little adults,” not understanding that we are not born “knowing how to behave.” Nor are we born with an emotional (or any) vocabulary. When children have a toy taken from them by a peer or sibling and hit, it’s often because they don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings. Having a parent or caregiver label their feeling for them, and provide the alternative, preferred behavior, can make a huge difference in shaping a child’s future interactions with their peers.

Consider the following scenario:

Sarah takes John’s toy. John gets red in the face, screams, and hits Sarah before taking his toy back. Mom sees John hit Sarah, and goes over and grabs him up, perhaps hitting him with an open hand on his backside. John escalates, and is now having a massive tantrum. Sarah is crying, John is crying and screaming, and Mom is sweating and wondering what’s wrong with her kid that he would just hit another sibling. The next time Sarah takes John’s toy, he hits her again, and the events unfold the same way.

Alternatively:

Sarah takes John’s toy. John gets red in the face, screams, and hits Sarah before taking his toy back. Mom sees John hit Sarah, goes to him, and calmly says, “No John. We have nice hands.” She removes him from the situation, still calm. When he has calmed down, she labels his feelings for him: “John, you were mad that Sarah took your toy. I knew you were mad because you got red in the face and your hands made fists.” He is able to go back to playing with Sarah, because he’s not crying, Sarah’s not crying, and Mom is calm. The next time Sarah takes his toy, John yells, “No!” and Mom can intervene before the hitting starts.

For some people, this may seem like “hippy dippy nonsense.” However, it’s important to be able to label kids’ feelings for them accurately, respectfully, and calmly. I remember attempting to label a 4 year old’s feelings as “mad,” and having them correct me with, “I not mad. I FURIOUS!” Of course I was able to accept that correction (I am, after all, The Therapist, so I’m used to this and have had lots of practice), and agree with them that, yes, indeed, they were furious.

To understand the necessity of accurately and respectfully labeling kids’ feelings, it’s important to see an example of unhealthy parenting. Imagine that a 3 year old child is misbehaving at a grocery store. Maybe he’s hungry, tired, or just wants Mom’s attention. Mom gets down in the child’s sight line and while holding his arm painfully hard, smiles and says, “You are going to be in so much trouble when you get home.” When they get home, Mom’s behavior escalates (now that they’re away from prying eyes), and she yells at him, insisting that SHE’S NOT MAD as she shakes him and tells him that “He ruined their nice day!”

So. Here we have a few things:

Mom’s body language does not match her words.
Her tone doesn’t match her words.
Mom’s actions don’t match her words.
Kid’s feelings and thoughts are going unnoticed.

If nothing changes, this kid will grow up to be someone who is out of touch with his feelings, who responds quickly to any perceived threat with either fear or anger (inward or outward directed behaviors), or who treats his own child the same way.

A final word on letting kids feel their feelings…

One of my least favorite things to hear is an adult telling a child not to cry. Refusing to allow someone to cry is a sign that (as Mr. Rogers says), the adult is too uncomfortable when the child shows their feelings. I would much rather we tell children that it’s okay to be sad, mad, happy, confused or anxious. What matters is the choices we make about our behavior when we’re feeling those emotions.

Jennifer Kendrick

AAMFT Approved Supervisor
Kentucky Board Approved MFT Supervisor

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker in KY
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in IN
cell: 502.203.9197

The Hurried Child –Are We Creating a Generation of Anxious Children?

I first read David Elkind’s book, “The Hurried Child,” while in graduate school almost 25 years ago. It provided a course of treatment for me to use with families and their children. I encouraged families to relax and limit the stress that they imposed upon their kids. This stress usually took the form of over-involvement in extra-curricular activities and pressure to excel academically. Elkind asserted then and continues to in the 25th Anniversary edition of his book, that we are rushing our kids through childhood and contributing serious problems with anxiety and depression.

“The concept of childhood, so vital for a child’s healthy development,” he writes, “is threatened with extinction in the society we have created. Today’s child has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress –the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations.”

People need stress. It’s very important for our body to function and can help create creativity and motivation for being productive in society.

But chronic stress is very harmful and can lead to health issues such as, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and anxiety, just to name a few.

“For some children, Elkind summarizes, “chronic stress is translated into what Freud called “free-floating anxiety,” in the sense that it is not attached to a specific fear of apprehension.”

Childhood Anxiety is becoming an epidemic in our country.

I think Elkind is careful to spread the blame to several institutions for this rise in stress and anxiety with kids and not just parents. These include: the family system, schools, the media, and the internet. I recently reviewed the book, “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are growing up less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” by Jean Twenge, PH.D. “Whereas teens used to hear about social events through whispers,” she writes, “they can now see up-to-the-minutes pictures of exactly what they are missing.” Children and teens are being robbed of the peace and safety of living in the “here and now.”

I remember many things about my childhood: playing with my brother Tim, building forts, and watching Saturday cartoons. I grew up during the Vietnam war and remember seeing soldiers on the evening news. Also, the threat of nuclear holocaust was a constant fear in the 60’s. But we used most of our days living like kids: playing in the here and now.

Unbeknownst to us, we we’re practicing a form of Mindfulness! Playing in the here and now!

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy-For Children

At True North Counseling, we want to help children and teens cope with stress and anxiety. We want to help children and teens get better connected with themselves and with the “here and now.” We do this through Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy-For Children (MBCBT-C). This is done in a group setting and uses evidence-based strategies to help them cope with stress. We utilize graduate-school students and provide this group treatment at no charge to the children and teens that we see for Individual and Family Therapy. If you would like to utilize this service, call 502-777-7525 to set up an assessment for your child or teen.

If you’re worried that you might be contributing to the increased stress and anxiety of your child, read Elkind’s book.  

 

Friday Waypoints- 12/14/18

Sometimes you simply need a break. I rarely get sick. Hopefully, it’s because I eat well, exercise, love my family, friends and job, and because I take care of myself. But I was under the weather this past week and I decided to take a day off.

Meaningful Moments- Taking some time off

I really didn’t do a thing. I binge-watched a couple of movie trilogies. Grazed on food throughout the day. I laid around and did nothing.

I felt a little guilt because of my “purpose driven” way of thinking. It’s difficult to disconnect from that.

But I woke up feeling better physically and mentally.  I think that it helped me recover from whatever I had. This is the “body mind connection” that so many have written about. Your body and mind are so closely connected that they catch each other’s diseases. That is a lesson that I continue to learn and apply.

Movie I watched

I am a Veteran. I enjoy watching historical movies about war. I think it’s a “band of Brothers” kind of thing. A friend who enjoys classic movies came over for dinner and he suggested “The Paths of Glory,” starring Kirk Douglas. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s a movie made in 1957 about WWI.

What I didn’t know about this movie is that it was one of the first anti-war movies made. It was heart wrenching.

Take some time and buy or rent the movie. It won’t change your mind about the senseless nature of most wars, but it will humanize the losses that we experience as a nation and as a people during war.

Lessons from My Clients- Talking Helps

When teenagers and their families come to see me (and other therapists as well) they talk. And they get better. I see it all the time. Things get bottled up and sometimes a teen needs to talk. Talking to me helps and talking to each other helps too. Things can get a little heated during our sessions.

But when family members look at each other and talk and cry, it’s therapeutic.

A 10-year wonderful girl was able to tell her absent father how much he had hurt her by abandoning her. He wasn’t there, but she was able to say the things that she has wanted to say to him. “Daddy, you really hurt me, when you stopped seeing me for no reason.”

She had been blaming herself. We talked. I saw the burden that she was carrying get a little lighter.

A Guide to the Good Life

“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy,” by William B. Irvine.

I’m in Colorado visiting my two granddaughters as I write this. I started reading “A Guide to the Good Life” on the plane. It was one of the few times I wanted the flight to last longer. “Just let me finish one more chapter,” I whispered to the pilot.

This is a book about Stoicism and developing a philosophy of life. Classical Stoicism has little to do with the modern definition of a Stoic: One who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain.

“I discovered,” writes Irvine, “that the goal of the Stoics was not to banish emotion from life, but rather, to banish negative emotions.” He explains that a “philosophy of life” is the guiding principle for living, or a way of living that hopefully leads to The Good Life.

Irvine explains that The Good Life has little to do with prosperity. Many people have experienced The Good Life despite the lack of prosperity and, of course, think of all the people that are very prosperous and yet are unhappy and miserable.

I’ll be sharing several Stoic Techniques and ways of living as I digest them. They “hit a nerve” with me and I hope they will with you as well.

Stoic Technique One: Negative Visualization

At the very root of our nature is the notion that we are insatiable. We are never satisfied with what we have. Irvine describes this as the “Satisfaction Treadmill.” We desire something and acquire it. We lose interest in it. We desire something else, and so on. This is also called “Hedonic Adaptation.”

We have all witnessed this in our lives. The new car. The new computer. Fill in the blank. The result is that we experience a lack of happiness with the things in our lives, the people in our lives, our health, our job, and life itself.

One technique for getting off of this treadmill is Negative Visualization.

“This is,” Irvine writes, “the single most valuable technique in the Stoic psychological tool kit.” This technique involves periodically visualizing the possibility that the enjoyment of the people and things in your life will come to an end.

-Regarding our children, when we kiss them as they leave for school, remember that they are mortal and not something that we own. They have been given to us but possibly gone tomorrow.

-Regarding a job, visualize losing it due to no fault of your own.

-Regarding your health, reflecting on what it would mean to lose it due to an accident or illness.

-Regarding your spouse or partner, think about losing them to death or to divorce.

This is not intended to be morbid or for the purpose of robbing you of the joy that these people, activities or things bring to your life.

Rather it is intended to:

-Help you cherish every kiss from your spouse, your partner, or your child.

-Help you appreciate getting up and going to your job each day.

-Get you out and enjoy the health you do have rather than the health problems you have.

-Embrace the life that you have each day.

-Learn to desire the people and things that you already have.

Irvine concludes, “Negative Visualization, rather than making people glum, will increase the extent to which they enjoy the world around them, in as much at it will prevent them from taking that world for granted.”

There is something sobering about thinking that all things and people in our lives are temporary and impermanent. It is sobering to visualize that the life we have will come to an end and that we will eventually lose everything.

This Stoic technique helps us to take live one day at a time and treat the people in our lives as precious and priceless.

I think this is a worthy Philosophy of Life that will help lead us to The Good Life.

I’ll be sharing additional Stoic Techniques in upcoming Blogs. Stay tuned.

Friday Waypoints – 12/07/18

Books I’m Reading:

I had a “down day” this week due to an Upper Respiratory something-or-other and I found myself at home reading books about Sleep. It all started because I did not get a good night’s sleep due to the medication that I was taking to help me with the coughing.

As I’ve gotten older, a good night’s sleep has been at a premium. And what I discovered in my reading this week is, the older you get the more problems you have with sleeping, and if you have problems with sleeping, you’re going to have problems with your health and mental health. Here are the books that I’m reading:

“Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” by Matthew Walker, PhD

“Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success,” by Shawn Stevenson.

The first book is more clinical, but very helpful in understanding why we have problems sleeping. The second book is very practical and is full of ideas to practice better “Sleep Hygiene.”

Quote I’m Pondering:

“We have to spend a moment distinguishing between what is ours to take charge of and what is not. Then, simply, we only bother about the part that is. Magically, the overall results will then tend to improve.” Derren Brown from his book, “Happy: What More or Less Everything is Fine”

Meaningful Moment:

It is so much fun seeing families and their teenagers get better! “We’ve have a very good week.” Those are wonderful words for a Family Therapist to hear. I heard some version of that several times this week and it gives me hope. Some do not, and I also had my share of hearing guardians and parents voice their frustration and despair. So I rejoice with families that are able at this time to grow closer together, and I work harder to help those that are not.

Desert Therapy

7:00 AM, November 13, 2018, EC-1 (Elephant Canyon –Campsite 1), Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There is nothing like the silence of the desert. This very cold morning (20 degrees) is only interrupted by the quiet hiss of the Whisperlite-butane stove heating my morning coffee.

It was cold last night. I had almost all of my cold weather gear on (Expedition this and Expedition that), and bundled up in my 12-degree sleeping bag. I awoke with frozen condensation on the inside of my tent. As I write this, I’m sitting on my 1 lb Helinox chair while the sun is rising.

As I gaze on the canyon walls, the cedars, the dry stream bed, I have a sense that I’m better than most people, but no, rather luckier than most people. Very few eyes, relatively speaking, have witnessed a morning like this, in this place. This place is only for those that are willing to pay the toll. And the toll for this place was a 4-mile hike with 60 lbs. on my back, scrambling in and out of canyons and over slip rock.

As I witnessed this new day in the desert canyon, I remembered that I had carried Edward Abbey’s book “Desert Solitaire,” with me, not the paperback, but the digital copy in my kindle.

And so, I spent the morning soaking up the sun and browsing Abbey’s work.

“Wilderness” he wrote,” is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

Abbey wrote his autobiography after spending two seasons in the late 1950’s as a park ranger in Arches National Park. He fell in love with the canyons and the desert. It became part of him.

“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see.”

The wilderness changed him and it changes anyone willing to spend time in it.

It can heal you.

I had come here for healing. Not because of the people and things in my life. But because I needed to become a better person for the people and things in my life: to be a better counselor, a better partner, a better parent, and most importantly, a better human. The water was boiling. The sun was warming me now. It felt wonderful!