What to do with fear?

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The Best Way to Fight With Your Teenager

As children and teens and college students are home from school this summer, conflicts and bending and challenging the rules is more apparent. No parent looks forward to fighting with his or her teenage child. But the friction that comes with raising adolescents might be easier to take when we see it as an opening, not an obstacle.

No matter how good your overall family relationship is, fighting with your teens is a constant battle of wills.  How disagreements are handled at home actually shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship.  Also, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the house.  So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as a challenge to be resolved?

Research that suggested teenagers approach disputes in four distinct ways:  Attacking, Withdrawing, Complying and Problem Solving.

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.  But even those teenagers who take the third route and comply, simply yielding to their parents’ wishes, suffer from high rates of mood disorders. Further, teenagers who cannot resolve arguments at home often have similar troubles in their friendships and love lives.

In contrast, teenagers who use problem solving to address disputes with their parents present a vastly different picture. They tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go, two outcomes that would top every parent’s wish list.

So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as challenges to be resolved?

Compelling new research suggests that constructive conflict between parent and teenager hinges on the adolescent’s readiness to see beyond his or her own perspective. In other words, good fights happen when teenagers consider arguments from both sides, and bad fights happen when they don’t.

Conveniently, the intellectual ability to consider multiple outlooks blossoms in the teenage years. While younger children lack the neurological capacity to fully understand someone else’s point of view, adolescence sparks rapid development in the parts of the brain associated with abstract reasoning. This leads to dramatic gains in the ability to regard situations from competing viewpoints. There is also evidence that parents can make the most of their teenagers’ evolving neurobiology by being good role models for taking another person’s perspective. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.

While all this is good information, research findings rarely translate cleanly to the realities of family life. Conflict comes with heat, and we can only contemplate another person’s viewpoint when heads are cool. Imagine an adolescent announcing his plan to spend Saturday night with a former friend known for serious wrongdoing. Any reasonable parent might respond “Absolutely not!” and trigger an eruption, retreat or gloomy submission in a normally developing teenager.

An interaction that ends here is an opportunity lost. But hard starts can be salvaged and first reactions can give way to second ones. The parent in this scenario might soon find a way to say, “I’m sorry that got ugly. I need you to help me understand why you want to spend time with Mike when you don’t even like him that much. And can you put words to why I’m so uncomfortable with the idea of you hanging out with him?”

No parent or teenager can, or needs to, turn every dispute into a thoughtful consideration of opposing outlooks. And some families weather toxic battles that go far beyond the squabbles inherent in raising adolescents. Still, the balance of research suggests that garden-variety disagreements offer the opportunity to help young people better understand themselves and others, building in them the lifelong skill of finding room for civility in the midst of discord.

(Information in this article is attributed to The New York Times “Well Section” March 16, 2016)

Businessman afraid

Dealing with Difficult People

Some people are easy to be around and some are not. Difficult people can range from those who are a mild annoyance to those who can make life seem nearly intolerable, at times. Those at this negative end of the continuum, especially if we have contact with them on a daily basis, can jeopardize our mental and emotional wellness over time, particularly if we lack the tools for responding to them in an adaptive way.

Who Are The Difficult People?

Despite the fact that defining a “difficult person” depends on our own tolerances and abilities to respond adaptively to them, there are some people who have personality characteristics which many people find disagreeable. Here are some examples:

  • People who dominate conversations and never give anyone else a chance to talk – or people who seem to have no interest at all in what you have to
  • People who constantly berate themselves and others. Everything they say about themselves and others carries a negative message
  • People who can’t make a decision – and when there is any sort of conflict they hide out until they feel it is safe to reemerge. This behavior makes it difficult to work out the normal conflicts inherent in many
  • Gossips who seem more interested in everybody else’s business rather than their own. It is difficult to reveal anything about yourself if you feel that it may be taken out of context and spread to others. This leads to guarded and superficial
  • People who manipulate you into doing what they want. They seem to thrive on control, and you sense that your opinions or feelings don’t
  • Dependent people who seem unable to do things for themselves.
  • Angry people who seem ready to explode at any moment. Their “jokes” may carry an aggressive message and their passive-­‐aggression my lead to a lack of trust.
  • People who lie all the time.
  • The expert on Rather than talking they lecture – and they leave others with the feeling that their knowledge is insignificant. They seem to be in a constant state of competition.

Methods For Dealing With Difficult People

1. Staying Centered

When you are in the presence of a person who is driving you to desperation, try some “self-­‐talk.”   Think about your own strengths and your own capabilities to like and validate yourself. Understand that it is the other person who has the problem, but your responsibility to understand why you are unable to deal with this person.

2. Assertiveness

Assertiveness is not an expression of anger, but rather an affirmation of your rights as an individual. In response to the dependent persons constant pleas for help, rather than being driven to frustration, you might say, “I would feel more comfortable having some equality in our friendship, so I am going to ask you to call the restaurant yourself, just as I called the last time we went out for dinner.”

3. Confrontation

Sometimes an angry tone in our voice is the most effective way of responding to difficult behavior. Some people can hear loud and clear messages only when emotions are involved. “I asked you before not to gossip about me, yet it has happened again. I am angry about this! I don’t want this to every happen again!”

In a sense, we should be grateful that there are difficult people in our lives. Difficulties are an essential part of life and they give us opportunities to learn, to adapt and to achieve wisdom.

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Why Can’t My Child Make Friends?

A pretty 10-year-old girl sat across from me in the office tearfully struggling, “I don’t understand why I don’t have friends. Amanda’s (another girl in her class) teeth stick out like mine, but the kids will play with her, so it isn’t that. I am smart like Brad (another boy in her class) and he has friends, so it isn’t that. I just don’t know?”

Why can’t some children make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself, but if your child rarely gets invited on play dates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.

For kids of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with other kids and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem. It can leave him feeling alone and frustrated.

What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues. Sometimes communication skills or listening comprehension skills are lacking, which can make conversation difficult and sometimes there are a variety of other behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.

ADHD: Kids with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.

Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.

Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Kids with nonverbal learning disabilities may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humor or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.

Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.

Auditory processing disorder (APD): Kids with Auditory Processing Disorder may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.

Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem

Not all kids with learning and attention issues struggle to make friends. For some kids, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Kids with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:

  • Poorly accepted by their peers
  • Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
  • Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
  • Not chosen to play or join in group activities
  • Willing to conform to peer pressure

Kids can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.

It’s a very real issue because many kids with learning and attention issues do stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in other kids’ conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Other kids may react badly or turn away.

How Friend Troubles Can Impact Your Child

Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many kids, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless.

It can be hard for kids to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.

Ways You Can Help

If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help.

  1. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.
  1. At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like play dates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.
  1. If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counseling. Counseling can help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.
What did I just say...

Being right or being happy

I was asked the following question, “Why do I always have to be the one to control my anger?  Why is it always me?  My wife gets to say her piece, but when I do, I am ‘out of control’”.  I agree that there is some stereotyping that only men have anger problems and only men need to control their anger.  There are women with anger problems, too.  Some people really are more hotheaded than others; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person.  There are also those who don’t show their anger in loud spectacular ways, but are chronically irritable and grumpy.  People who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience or annoyance.  They can’t take things in their stride and they are particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.

There are consequences of becoming so angry that you lose control.  I worked with a client who was physically violent towards his wives, divorced twice, fired twice, chased out of a store by a manager because of swearing at the salesperson, and deliberately ramming his car into the rear end of another car on the expressway in road rage.  Things were not going his way.  What to do?

The problem isn’t anger itself; it is expressing anger in an appropriate way.  With anger, some people can tell others they are annoyed or even irate without totally losing control. Others are unable to even raise their voice without going over the top.  Letting it rip actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you or the person with whom you are angry or to resolve the situation. Trying to gain control and change this behavior on your own and failing time and again becomes a shaming and depressing cycle.  There are spouses and children who live in fear of being at home.  It takes a long time for the victims of verbal abuse to get over the emotional pain.  No matter how short the argument, it can leave a person damaged and even suicidal.  Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications.

There is hope that you can calm the rage and stop the destruction before it overflows into the lives of those you love.  If we can help you or someone you love, give us a call. Dr. Perry Weingart is experienced in anger management counseling which makes men accountable for their own actions, for controlling their own tempers, and understand that sometimes it is better to be happy than to be right.

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Dealing With Emotional Pain

When a person undergoes a life disruption, such as divorce, job loss, a death, it is usually not advisable to take medication that will alleviate the pain immediately.  When pain is alleviated with medication, the person’s motivation to make changes is reduced.  And there is a great deal to learn from the process of managing emotional pain.  (Of course, there are times when medication becomes necessary, especially with suicidal thinking which may accompany a major depression.)  When you undergo a major life crisis, you need time to gain insight into what has gone wrong and achieve integration again.  Emotional pain, while unpleasant, serves its purpose, just as physical pain in our bodies.  It prompts us to take action.  Similarly, drugs and alcohol may help to alleviate emotional pain – but then the opportunity to learn our life lessons vanishes. Deadening pain chemically may allow old patters of behavior to continue – in which case, paradoxically, the pain you are trying to escape will persist into the future.   Pain spurs us to learn new ways of coping.

There are three tactics that people in crisis can use to get through the crushing periods of pain that accompany a life disruption.  These methods do not end the pain, which has value, but they allow us some relief for a time.

First, diversion.  Sometimes we need to remove ourselves physically or mentally from our emotional pain for a while.  We can take a weekend trip, read a book, watch an engrossing movie, talk to a friend, take a walk or get some other physical exercise.  Diversion allows us time to heal or sufficient distance from a problem that we can come back to again and perhaps see in a new light.

The second tactic for dealing with emotional pain is to stay in control over those aspects of your life that you still have some ability to control.  A major life disruption can leave you with the feeling that you have no control over events.  However, you can use self-discipline to clean your residence, bathe, feed the dog, water your plants, and pay your bills.  Stay in control of those things that you can control and let those things that are uncontrollable run their course.

Finally, find someone who can show you empathy.  There is no better way to relieve emotional pain than to talk to a trusted friend or therapist who can say with conviction, “Yes, I understand – and I care.”

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

As we all know, some people worry too much.  Rather than solving a problem, too much worry becomes the problem.  Not only does excessive worry create much personal suffering, but it also affects the people around the worrier.  I wonder if a lot of our worrying in life is like this:  constant, spontaneous and effortless focus that gets dislodged by distracting external events or our own change of perspective.  Now, I think that anyone who does not worry is just living on a different planet; yet, as we know, just worrying about the weather does not make it rain.

After 31 years of working in the field of psychology, I know a few things make a difference in coping with life.

  1. Pay Attention to the Important Things, More than the Urgent.  Sometimes the only way to get the important done is to stick it between the urgent things that drive our days. Worry is often related to disorganization.  Make a list of things to do each day and cross off tasks once they are completed.  Leave early enough to make appointments on time.  Put your keys in the same place every time you come home.  Keep your house straightened up.  When things are under control, there is less to worry about.
  2. Take Action on What You Want To Do And Figure Your Results As A “Prototype”. A handy friend of mine told me how he approaches building things.  He considers the first version as his working model.  Although I have two left hands with tools, I always thought I had to get it right the first time.  My combination of ridiculously high expectations and little tolerance for error was a deeply frustrating workshop ethic to follow.
  3. If You Do Not Know How To Do it, Ask For Help.  Most of us just need a little guidance or a resource with whom to check out our experience.  We all need support and positive feedback from time to time.  Other people may have solutions to problems that we haven’t thought about.  For reassurance, find people who know how to give it.  Many of us spend a lifetime looking in all the wrong places for approval.
  4. Try To Do The Right Thing.  Maintain your sense of integrity whenever you do something.  Tell the truth. Obey the law.  Keep to your promises.  Let your conscience be your guide.  Granted, we might tell an occasional lie or break a promise, and this is fairly common – but it can also set the stage for worry.  We may think sometimes that we can get ahead in the world the easy way – but the price we pay could be excessive worry, among other penalties.
  5. Minimize Catastrophic Thinking. Some people find it difficult to keep perspective when faced with even a minor stressor.  Not every mole means cancer and not every bill is going to lead to bankruptcy.  Test out the reality of these situations by talking them over with a trust friend.
  6. Limit your Exposure to the News. Although there is value in keeping up with the latest news, understand that the media focus on bad news since this tends to sell best.  We seldom hear about the good news in the world on TV or newspapers.  Constant exposure to negative events increases our tendency to worry.  Instead, look for what is good in life.
  7. Sleep, Eat Properly, Exercise.  Lack of sleep and a bad diet can make us irritable, distracted, and anxious – all condition which set the stage for worry.  (Try to be mindful of the problem of overeating as a way of making our worries disappear.)  Exercise helps us dissipate the anxiety that often accompanies worry.
  8. Avoid Substance Abuse.  Drugs and alcohol may give the illusion of comfort for the time being, but using them has negative long-term consequences.  They increase depression, cloud judgment and may give you something to really worry about later.
  9. Learn How to Let Go of Worries. This is a skill that might require some practice and each of us will have our way of doing it.  Some people do this by allowing themselves perhaps half an hour a day of worry time – and at the end of the allotted time period, they will be free of worrying until the next day.  Some people give up their worries by writing them down on a piece of paper and then tearing them up.  Some people prefer to hand them over to a higher power.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

As this year continues, on behalf of the psychologists in the practice, I want to thank you for recommending us to others.

Young Couple Sitting on Love Seat

Communication Dead Zone

I don’t want to talk about it.”  Few sentences conjure up as much feeling for the listener as hearing this refusal to talk.  Such a commitment to silence often dooms a relationship, whether between a husband and wife, or child and parent.  The listener feels so very frustrated in not knowing what to do next.

The following are several suggestions to change this communication deadlock.

  1. The listener needs to drop the desire to pursue the refused topic. No jackhammer or psychological technique will open up someone committed to silence on a particular area. If the listener realizes the topic itself is far less important than the reasons for not talking, it is easier to move away from a concentration on whatever the “it” is.
  2. It is logical and important to focus on the reasons for not wanting to talk.  The listener is advised not to badger the other, but rather to offer several possibilities as a way of learning what is stiffing communication. It is worth exploring whether there is a conviction on the silent one’s part that talking about it just won’t do any good. There are many people who really believe that talk is unnecessary because actions speak louder than words. This confusing logic suggests talking is not a behavior.  More importantly, though, how has the conviction that conversation is futile been reached?  Usually there are some specific experiences that have driven this point home and talking about those experiences may help resolve and offer a different perspective to the present decision to remain silent. Others believe that silence is golden if the alternative is to hurt someone’s feelings. It is up to the listener to determine if he or she would rather be ignorant and blissful or learn some painful bad news.  Ordinarily knowing what is wrong is easier to deal with than being left in the dark. Another possibility is that the refusal to talk is in reality a statement of anger.  If this is the case, then asking the speaker to elaborate on his resentment becomes the pertinent topic.  A final possibility is that the speaker is unclear and unsure of what exactly his or her reasons are to avoid discussions.  The listener can reassure the other that he or she is willing to be tolerant of the fuzziness or the lack of eloquence in the spoken word because the message itself is worth working on no matter how plainly and/or foggily put.
  3. The listener can promote communication, even with this deadlock, by talking about his/her reaction to this impasse.  It is natural that the first response to being closed out is an angry one, but it becomes important to go beyond that to elaborate on the sense of hurt that this isolation brings.  There is nothing as persuasive to opening up as the experience of seeing another person sincerely reveal himself or herself.
  4. The listener concluding this interaction with a willingness to listen at another time, at lest puts in the others mind the chance that a time for talking is possible in the future.  Sometimes fatigue or stress can make it difficult to open up.

In summary, gentle focus on “I don’t want to talk about it,” remains important.

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