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Resolving Marital Conflict: A Roadmap on How to Fight Fair with Your Spouse


Introduction

Let’s face it, marriage can be hard! When two different personalities decide to intertwine their lives and establish an exclusive union that is expected to last into perpetuity, the potential for friction can be quite high. Case in point, studies have shown that on average, only 31% of marital disputes constitute solvable problems (Gottman, 1994). That means that issues will present themselves, the requisite solutions will be applied, and the problems will never appear again. That then suggests that a startling 69% of marital problems are considered perpetual problems, meaning issues arise, they’re temporarily resolved, and then they reappear again on an ongoing basis (Gottman, 1994). For example, it is an all-too-familiar occurrence for couples to argue because of their differences in orderliness, which is largely due to the contrast in how their personalities are constituted. Because the more orderly spouse may have a higher sensitivity to disorder, he or she may be more inclined to become agitated when an area of the house is in disarray. This spouse may then petition their partner to clean the area that was causing their unrest, only to find that a week later, there’s another area of the house that the less orderly spouse has left unkempt. This familiar scenario is evidence of how personality differences inevitably result in perpetual marital problems. Given that personality differences beset each and every marriage, it is then sensible that couples learn how to engage in tolerable conflict because disputes are bound to occur. In light of this, I will be discussing Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are four relational patterns that ought to be avoided to increase the likelihood that one’s marital relationship will withstand the test of time. These horsemen include criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, a leading research psychologist in the domain of couple dynamics, first published his research on the four horsemen in 1994. In his investigation, he found that if couples employed the horsemen regularly enough, the probability was quite high that the marriage would end in divorce (Gottman & Levenson, 2002). Within this article for essay structure, I will explain what the four horsemen are and also review their more effective alternatives or antidotes. With this information in mind, you’ll be able to experience greater marital satisfaction and increase the likelihood of your marriage going the distance.

The Research

Decades ago, Gottman set out to determine what relational patterns were characteristic of marital relationships that remained together, and those that fell apart (Gottman, 1994). In order to assess this, he invited droves of newlywed couples to a bed and breakfast-like laboratory setting for a weekend, in which he outfitted the site with video cameras and physiological monitors so that he could examine their relational patterns and physiological responses to one another. Each couple participated in an oral interview in which they reported on their relationship history, they then completed a number of questionnaires and then they were video recorded engaging in neutral conversation, pleasant conversation, and conflictual conversation. The couples were then directed to review the video recordings, rate their emotional responses, and then expert coders categorized their behaviors. After several years had passed, the couples were invited to participate in follow-up interviews in order to discuss the state of their marriage. At the end of the longitudinal study, he dubbed the couples that stayed together and reported marital satisfaction, “Master Relationships,” and those that did not, “Disaster Relationships.” He discovered a number of interesting findings, but one of the most striking ones was that the “Disaster Relationships” regularly used the four horsemen when in the throes of conflict, whereas the “Master Relationships” used them minimally. Furthermore, the latter group was more likely to utilize the antidotes to the four horsemen. Naturally, you’re likely wondering what actions characterize the four horsemen and their antidotes, so without further ado, let’s get to it. 

Criticism vs. Complaining with a Softened Start-Up 

The first horseman is criticism, which is distinguished from the more effective alternative of complaining with a softened start-up. Criticism is characterized by attacking the character or personality of one’s partner and using absolute language such as “always” or “never” when expressing a gripe of some kind. For instance, after a wife asks her husband to take out the trash, and he fails to do so for two days, an example of criticism would be for her to angrily say something like, “Didn’t I ask you to take the trash out two days ago? You never do what I ask you to, and I’m so sick of having to tell you to do things over and over again all the time! It’s either you don’t care or you’re just lazy.” In response to this, the husband would likely become defensive or attack back. Furthermore, in reaction to his wife’s use of absolutes like “always” or “never,” the husband is likely to defend himself by expressing the exceptions to the overgeneralized mischaracterizations. This type of communication often doesn’t end well, and both partners end up hurt. With that being said, let’s take a look at the antidote to criticism. In the aforementioned scenario, an example of complaining with a softened start-up would be characterized by the following: 1) the wife leads with a term of endearment (i.e., sweetie); 2) she uses “I” statements rather than “you” statements; 3) she specifically describes the behavior that upset her, as opposed to her partner’s personality; 4) she articulates her feelings, and then 5) makes a positive request. So, she might say something like, “Hey, sweetie, so a few days ago, I asked you to take out the trash, and maybe it escaped your mind, but I just notice myself getting frustrated because it hasn’t been done yet. Do you mind taking out the trash tonight, please?” If she responds this way, the likelihood is much higher that the husband will happily meet her request. However, all-too-often, this is not how requests or expressions of upset are communicated, which often leads to the next horseman — defensiveness.

Defensiveness vs. Taking Responsibility 

Defensiveness is characterized by self-protective maneuvers that are meant to ward off a perceived attack. It often involves reverse blaming or excusing the behavior of oneself. For example, defensiveness in the aforementioned scenario would entail the husband saying something like, “You always talk about what I don’t do, you never talk about what I am doing for you. Sometimes I forget stuff, okay, but you don’t hear me breathing down your neck when you forget stuff, do you?” This line of conversation likely won’t go well; thus, an alternative is advised. The alternative or antidote to defensiveness is taking personal responsibility. In this case, the husband would be taking responsibility if he said, “You know what, sweetie, you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry, the trash escaped my mind. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but that was my mistake. I’m going to take the trash out right now.” This response is likely going to lead to a lot more peace as opposed to war and it’s a lot easier to keep one’s defensiveness in abeyance when one feels as though they’re not being attacked. Most people are not as virtuous as Jesus or Gandhi, so when the majority of people are attacked, the natural response is defense. With this in mind, if you want to decrease the likelihood that your partner will become defensive, you will have to be careful not to attack their personality or character. Instead, it’s key that the complaints that are made are related to specific behaviors. 

Contempt vs. Creating a Culture of Appreciation

The next horseman is contempt. Contempt is described as the act of not only speaking disparagingly to one’s partner but speaking in a way that communicates disrespect. Moreover, it is often characterized by insults or abusive language. The following statement is an example of contempt: “Sometimes I feel like I’m not just raising one child, but two – our son and you! You’re so irresponsible sometimes. Didn’t your mother raise you better?” This horseman has been found to have the most damaging effect on marital relationships, both psychologically and physically. Being the object of contempt has been found to increase the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which at high levels can undermine one’s immune system and cause a person to suffer from a greater degree of physical ailments. To avoid this, the antidote that’s advised is creating a culture of appreciation within the relationship. This is where one regularly expresses their gratitude towards their partner for the things that they’re doing well, such as taking out the trash, washing the dishes, cooking a meal, or running an errand. Often, partners do things that the other appreciates, but sometimes the requesting partner keeps their appreciation private and they fail to communicate their gratitude towards their loved one. It’s important to note that the expression of appreciation is not only crucial for the recipient but for the person doing the expressing as well, as it is a reminder to them that their partner is useful and worthy of fondness and thanks.

Stonewalling vs. Physiological Soothing 

The last horseman is what’s called stonewalling. Stonewalling is where one may be in the throes of an argument with their partner, but they’re disengaged and no longer giving the plaintive the cues that they’re listening. They’re not nodding their head, making eye contact, and their disposition is icy-cold. Although the listener may appear cool, calm, and collected on the outside, their internal physiological responses are often heightened. Interestingly, it turns out that if your heartbeat is around 100-beats per minute; your body is in a state called diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). This is when an individual’s body is in a state of threat protection or a mode known as fight-or-flight. When in this mode, the individual’s heart is racing fast, their breathing is shallow, and their adrenaline is pumping. It is challenging to accept influence from one’s partner when one is in a state of DPA, which is why being able to engage in physiological soothing is so important. Physiological soothing requires the listener to regulate their own emotions by breathing deeply from their diaphragm or taking a break for 20-minutes and then returning to the discussion. When taking a break from conflict, it is recommended that such breaks last no less than 20-minutes and no more than 24-hours if things are particularly tense. When both partners are calmer, they are a lot more capable of actively and civilly engaging in the dispute at hand.

Conflict as a Necessity 

As you’re taking stock of the horsemen and their antidotes, you may be worried that your marriage is headed for the dumps because sometimes you notice that you level criticisms at your spouse or become defensive at times, but Gottman discovered a finding that you might find encouraging. The couples that were considered master relationships were not perfect. Gottman and his colleague, Robert Levenson, found that the positive to negative interaction ratio for master relationships was 5 to 1 (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). This means that for every negative interaction, there were five positive interactions. However, the disaster relationships had a positive to negative interaction ratio of roughly 1 to 1, meaning every positive interaction was also coupled with a negative interaction (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). For most couples, the latter interaction pattern eventually becomes too chaotic, and the marriage ultimately dissolves. One might think that the best marital arrangement is one where there isn’t any conflict at all, but this isn’t true. Gottman and Levenson found that in relationships where the positive to negative interaction ratio exceeded 11 to 1, those relationships eventually dissolved too (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). This is likely because the partners in these couples avoided conflict and thus were not honest with one another. Consequently, these findings suggest that some conflict is necessary in order to keep a relationship going.

Verbal vs. Non-verbal Communication 

Up until this point, I’ve mostly discussed the impact that the content of one’s speech can have on a relationship. However, there’s another element to consider when relating to one’s partner and that’s implicit or non-verbal cues. Interestingly, the right hemisphere of your brain is specialized at deciphering implicit cues like the tone of one’s voice (McGilchrist, 2009). Conversely, the left hemisphere is adapted to attune to the content of one’s speech, which is why the brain areas which undergird one’s productive language faculty (Broca’s area) and receptive language ability (Wernicke’s area), are nested in the left hemisphere (McGilchrist, 2009). Put another way, the left hemisphere is more concerned about what someone says, whereas the right hemisphere is scanning the environment for how someone says it. If you find your heartbeat increasing or a rush of adrenaline because someone speaks in an ornery tone, it may not be that you’re overly sensitive, rather your brain is sensing subtle threats in the environment and is thus recruiting your biopsychological resources in order to prepare you for aggressive confrontation or escape. Compared to the left hemisphere, the right one is a lot swifter, which is largely because the right hemisphere is more densely comprised of a greater number of neurons (brain cells), dendritic spires (neuronal extremities that extend from and connect to other neurons) and white matter (fatty sheaths that coat neuronal axons and speed up neuronal transmissions) (McGilchrist, 2009). In other words, the way in which your brain is constructed enables you to have an unsettling feeling a lot quicker than you may be able to articulate it with your speech.  

Closing Remarks

In conclusion, the words that you use in a relationship and how you use them (i.e., tone of voice, facial expressions) will influence how your relationship will fare. No relationship is perfect, but it’s incredibly vital that you make sure that when you’re conversing with your partner, it’s marked by good-will as opposed to antipathy. Peace is always better than war, as life is certainly a lot more pleasant when you’re at peace with your spouse.


References

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Gottman, J.M. & Levenson, R. W. (1999). What predicts change in marital interaction over time? A study of alternative models. Family Processes Journal, 38 (2), 143-158.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00143.x

Gottman, J.M. & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analysis using 14-year longitudinal data. Family Processes Journal, 41 (1), 83-96. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2002.40102000083.x

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Come As You Are: Examining Our Own Narratives Around Food, Health, and Body Image


Common assumptions around eating disorders often narrowly focus on an individual’s food intake and exercise. It’s time to examine how cultural norms directly impact all of us. A leading factor in the development of disordered eating is a cultural emphasis on being thin (Culbert, Racine, & Klump, 2015). When thinness is celebrated and equated with health, anyone outside of thinness is subjected to weight stigma and bias. One’s “discipline” and even morality is questioned. Weight stigma is a subsequent threat in and of itself as a risk factor for depression and anxiety (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). Rather than investing our time, money, and energy into a narrow and often impossible standard, what if our focus is to work against weight stigma and the idealization of thinness? 

This work begins with ourselves, in identifying the ways we have internalized messages of shame for our bodies, or perhaps in how we have pursued and been devoted to this standard of thinness. For parents and caregivers there is a compelling obligation to consider one’s own beliefs and actions around health, wellness, and eating patterns for the sake of their children. All children are currently composing their own narrative of what it means to “be healthy” and are modeling behaviors from those around them, for better or for worse. (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). 

This work is individual and collective. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 24th-March 1st. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) theme for this year is “Come As You Are, Hindsight is 2020.” Let us take time, be it in conversations, prayer, or in counseling to reflect about our own narratives around food, health, and body image. Let us work toward a culture in our families and communities that speaks to each and every one: “Come as you are.”

References

Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R. M. and Brownell, K. D. (2008), Changes in Perceived Weight Discrimination Among Americans, 1995–1996 Through 2004–2006. Obesity, 16: 1129–1134. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.35

Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164. 

On the Epidemic of Fatherlessness in the Black Community


In 1965, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, commissioned a report on the state of the African-American family. The report was titled, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. This famed report, which was later commonly referred to as “The Moynihan Report,” resulted in a great deal of controversy, but it unequivocally illustrated the glaring familial disparities that have existed between white and black families. One of the most striking findings of the report was that in 1960, approximately 30 % of black children were being raised within a single parent household, which was a far cry from the 10 % of white children being raised within a single parent household (United States & Moynihan, 1965). Unfortunately, these statistics have continued to rise, and the most recent statistics indicate that roughly 65 % of black children are being raised within a single parent household, whereas approximately 25 % of white children are being raised by single parents (Livingston, 2018). Often times when the nuclear family structure dissolves, it is the mother that serves as the custodial parent, although it should be noted that there are indeed exceptional cases where the father is the primary caretaker. However, the unfortunate reality is that on the whole, fatherlessness is plaguing our society, and this epidemic has had the most pernicious effect on black children.

It is an unfortunate fact that if one is raised without a father, he or she is more likely to be rendered absent of sufficient guidance and discipline. This is in part because traditionally, fathers provide discipline, whereas mothers furnish nurturance and compassion. Of course, these are not strict rules, as it is certainly more advantageous for children when both of their parents properly exercise their capacities for discipline and compassion. However, generally speaking, the traditional paternal ethos is characterized by discipline, whereas the traditional maternal spirit is more tilted towards nurturance and compassion.

Being raised without a father is especially a problem for boys, as fathers play a major role in regulating the aggression of boys and teaching them how to properly harness their aggression. If one respects their father, who generally stands as a proxy for authority, this respect is likely to generalize to other purveyors of authority in the non-domestic sphere (e.g., school teachers, employers, law enforcement officers). In order for boys to develop into socially sophisticated, disciplined, academically astute, responsible, and professionally accomplished men that contribute to the welfare of society, they need their fathers to be a regular presence in their lives.

As for girls, they need their fathers to serve as proxies for authority and discipline too, but they also need them to affirm their value and to teach them what they ought to expect from men. Unfortunately, if such a paternal presence isn’t there, there’s a high probability that the girl may grow up with low self-esteem and accept untoward treatment from men, because even untoward treatment is preferred over not being shown any attention at all. As a general rule, attention is the preferred currency of children, and if a girl grows up without the regular attention of her father, she may settle for adverse attention from other men because her barometer for positive attention was never properly set.

There are many historical and contemporary factors which have contributed to the epidemic of fatherlessness with our society, especially within the black community. However, surveying all of these factors is outside of the scope of this article. Nonetheless, what is undeniably true, is that one of the antidotes to many of the societal ills that plague the black community, is present fathers. Surely, people can co-parent well without being married or romantically involved, but generally speaking, marriage increases the likelihood that fathers will remain tethered to their family and their children. Marriage certainly does not guarantee that one will exercise their paternal responsibilities wisely, but on the whole, it increases the likelihood that it will be the case. Fathers, or husbands for that matter, have been charged with the responsibility to be emotionally attuned to their wives, exhibit reliability, show genuine curiosity in the interests of their children, and to endow their children with guidance, discipline, and wisdom. If we desire a better future for our nation’s children, then society must promote the necessity for fathers and contribute to this endeavor by supporting and fortifying marriages.

References

Livingston, G. (2018). About one-third of U.S. children are living with an unmarried parent. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/27/about-one-third-of-u-s-children-are-living-with-an-unmarried-parent/

United States & Moynihan, D. P. (1965). The Negro family. The case for national action. Washington, DC. 

When to be worried: A growing child and drugs and alcohol


Finally spring is here and before we know it summer will arrive, something many Chicagoans look forward too. We get to enjoy the city at last, the beaches, festivals, block parties, and music fests. With these events and activities comes the prevalent drink of choice: alcohol.  As any Chicagoan is aware of, there is always a preponderance of underage drinking at these events. It almost seems that this is a common practice and accepted by many. Not only is alcohol common in summer celebrations but also drug use as well. What should a parent do? While marijuana becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, parents are still concerned with the health and safety of their children. How should a parent address this with their children? At what point is there “a problem”?

Perhaps the most important thing to do as a parent is to communicate with your child. Communication, like in any relationship, is fundamental to a healthy partnership. Have you discussed drug use and drinking with your child? Have you been clear on your own views of drinking and drug use? Have you set clear rules for them? Also, importantly, do you feel you have created a space for your child to discuss this with you as well? In discussing drug use with your child I often describe it as a balancing act. On one hand you want to be able to establish clear rules and consequences, on the other you don’t want your child to fear having a conversation about it. Creating a safe place for your child to openly discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with you is paramount; otherwise your child will find answers elsewhere.

While no one person can perfectly predict substance abuse, as parents there are always things to look for. Declining grades, dramatic shift in peer groups, isolation, and emotional turbulence are a few key factors to note. And of course, while these may be classic “teens being teens” actions, the extreme prevalence of all these factors could be a cause for concern.  Substance use in adolescents is detrimental to their health in both physical and psychological ways. The developmental time period for teens is at a critical point in developing into healthy adult. This is why it may be necessary that if you do see these warning signs, to discuss it even further with your child. Along with more open and honest conversation, treatment may be necessary.

Experimentation as a teenager is typically normal, finding new friend groups, venturing into new hobbies, finding new passions; drug use does not have to be one of them. Teens will always be curious about the unknown and the prohibited, it is their nature. However it does not have to necessarily venture in to illegal use. Therefore, communication and discussion is so necessary. This summer while your kids are outside living their lives make sure to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to openly bring up this topic.  Make your rules clear, but also be open to hearing the questions and accept their most likely push back on the subject.   Remember there are resources available nearly everywhere online, and if you really are concerned, feel free to give your local treatment provider a call, just make sure they are trained in addiction treatment.

Summertime Stress Got You Down?


That time of year is almost here again: summertime! Yippee! Time for fun in the sun, lemonade stands, waterparks, and barbecues. What a great few months, right? Or, it should be, anyway. Summertime can be when we relax and enjoy the beautiful weather, but it sometimes ends up causing us more stress than we bargain for. Like getting the family packed up for an outing, and keeping the kids occupied since they’re no longer in school. How do we keep summer from being a bummer? How can we make this pleasant time of year less stressful?

Chill Out!

When the heat gets to be too much and your AC has turned your home into a meat locker, take the time to go outside and sit in the shade. The fresh air and natural sunlight will be refreshing and pleasant once you’ve had a chance to cool off inside. Take a book with you, or just lie on the grass and look up at the clouds, trees, flowers, etc. It’s amazing the little things in life we forget about, like the beauty of a budding blossom, which can remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Take a quick moment to close your eyes, and imagine yourself lying on a beach and enjoying an ocean view. This quick mental vacation will help you relax and refocus.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!

The stress of trying to find different activities to keep the kids entertained can not only be exhausting, but costly. Why not check your local town or city’s events and summer festivals? Your neighborhood park district and town always has something going on, but their marketing budgets may not be big enough to make you aware of the great free events all summer long. Check out the local paper, town website, park district and library bulletins to see free activities in your area. Here are a few links to get you started:

Fun & Free Chicago Summer Activities – https://www.choosechicago.com/things-to-do/parks-and-outdoors/free-summer-park-activities/

Chicago Park District Movie Night – http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/movies/

Chicago Summer Dance – https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_summerdance.html/

Water You Doing?

Who doesn’t want to go to the pool or the beach? Sometimes, the pool fees, and gas it takes to get to your closest body of water can be draining. The good ol’ water hose in your back yard can also feel relaxing, and break up the burden of carrying a heavy beach bag and putting more miles on your car. Jumping through the sprinkler a few times can give kids the giggles, ease your wallet, and lessen your stress.

Whatever you do this summer, don’t let the humdrum of summer shenanigans keep you from enjoying this beautiful time of year. Summer is for sunshine and sojourning, so remember to take a break, and stop and smell the roses.

Reading between the Lines: Why You Should Pay Attention to 13 Reasons Why


For some, entertainment is an escape from our daily lives, but for many others entertainment is a sensationalized account of real issues we may face. “13 Reasons Why” originally published as a young adult novel, was subsequently adapted into a series by Netflix. The series chronicles the life and subsequent suicide of teenager Hannah Baker. In the series, Hannah posthumously provides 13 cassette tapes to fellow teenagers she has come in contact with, detailing the trauma she and others endured in the weeks prior to her death.

The dark turn of the show may make it difficult for some viewers to watch, covering topics such as drug abuse, sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. While the show is effective in pulling the viewer in, it does little to prepare the viewer for what’s to come, which begs the question: when is it appropriate to address the topics of sexual abuse and suicide?

To answer this question, it is first essential that parents and educators become familiar with the content described in this series, thus providing a basis for future conversations. What “13 Reasons Why” has accomplished is opening the dialogue surrounding assault and suicide between adults and teenagers. For many, the unimaginable trauma of suicide and sexual assault, which is vividly played out on the screen for viewers to watch, is a subject that is not easily broached, however, it allows adults to empathetically gaze at the issues many teenagers face.

As parents and professionals, it is important that the conversations surrounding sexual assault and suicide be had, no matter how difficult they may be. Discussing the depictions and representations of each character may alleviate some of the concerns parents may experience, as well as allow parents the opportunity to correct some of the inaccuracies presented in the series. As teenagers who may view the series, it is imperative that it be known that there will be someone who takes these issues seriously and is willing to address them. For each of us, the series can shine a light on the importance of being intentional in how we interact with each other and how we respond to those hurting or in need of support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, a 24-hour free and confidential service, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To speak with someone regarding the issue of sexual assault please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-656-4673.

Additionally, if you or someone you know is affected by the topics discussed in the series, please feel free to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists here at Cornerstone by calling our Intake Department at 312-573-8860.

13 Reasons Why: Glorifying Suicide, Increasing the Risk


’13 Reasons Why’ has sparked a buzz in popular culture since its full release on March 31st. I must admit, this Netflix Original’s constant praise on social media sparked an intrigue. I wanted to know more. So I did. I began by reading the description and was immediately taken aback. As a mental health professional, I thought, “this is downright disturbing and dangerous.” The content and the buzz. And while it is important to raise awareness of the agony that can lead to suicide, and the physical pain of self-harm, it is equally as important to do so in a responsible way. Romanticizing suicide in ’13 Reasons Why’ is irresponsible, and here are 3 reasons why:

There is no single cause for suicide. The series follows the fictional story of the suicide of a teenager, Hannah Baker, through cassette tapes through which Hannah blames specific people for her suicide. This is the first danger. Assigning blame to others is a projection of misplaced feelings of guilt. It is also inaccurate. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) indicates that “Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Therefore, instead of teaching our culture to assign blame for high-risk behavior, our responsibility is to teach healthy coping skills as a preventative factor of suicide.

Exposure Increases Risk. The season finale includes a scene that graphically depicts the violent suicide of Hannah Baker. It is important to note that the target audience for ’13 Reasons Why’, unsurprisingly, is the teenage and young adult population. This is also the population for which suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death (ages 15-24). More importantly, “exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide, increases risk of suicide. (AFSP)” Therefore, graphically depicting suicide to the population of highest incidence is dangerous, specifically for the at-risk youth, vulnerable to suicide.

Who can I talk to? The season finale also includes a scene where Hannah Baker decides to talk to her school counselor. As a mental health professional, this scene is troubling. The school counselor acknowledges one of the signs of suicide yet does not take action for follow-up (i.e. risk assessment). The counselor also makes assumptions about the student’s social behavior which does not foster a safe space for disclosure. To model a counselor as one that does not take appropriate action, and does not foster a safe space, leaves the audience with the message that no one can be trusted. This is a serious danger because it eliminates yet another preventative measure (i.e. talking to a trusted adult). Eliminating preventative factors for at-risk individuals can increase the risk of suicide.

While I do commend the producers of ’13 Reasons Why’ for taking the challenge of presenting an engaging and relatable series on a serious and under-discussed concern in the United States, there was a grave missed opportunity for preventive messaging. Therefore, it is important to note that help is available and individuals who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.

If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, go to the nearest emergency room and/or please call, The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Below are additional resources to learn more:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

https://afsp.org/

 

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/

 

A Teachable Moment: Webinar from AFSP, ASCA, and NASP

Teachable Moment Using “13 Reasons Why” to Initiate a Helpful Conversation About Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

https://afsp.org/campaigns/look-ways-mental-health-awareness-month-2017/

Why psychological assessment? What good will it do? How will I benefit?


When in graduate school for a degree in psychology or counseling, one learns a lot and reads a ton. But the most important thing grad students in my field do is practice what they preach.

So, when I was in a masters program in grad school, I took a psychological assessment overview course and the final assignment was to take a whole handful of tests that assessed my personality and then score, interpret, and report the results of these tests.

It was quite a process because some of these tests have a lot of questions to answer about yourself. I was nervous because I didn’t know exactly what the results would say about me.

Despite the process, the end result was pretty cool. The results confirmed some things I pretty clearly knew about myself. The results told me things about myself that somewhere, deep within myself, I knew, but didn’t have words to describe. The results told me things about myself that I was surprised by, that I never would have said about myself. The results told me things that I didn’t want to be said about me. The results helped me understand myself better so that I could take bold, but scary steps into a future that I didn’t even know was possible.

These understandings, realizations, and awarenesses are what psychological assessment is all about. Sure, sometimes the purpose of an assessment is to determine whether a diagnosis is present or not – think about all the assessments that happen when a medical doctor is trying to determine whether someone has cancer or a chronic illness. But underneath it all, the true purpose is to understand a person better, whether that be physically as in the case of a medical doctor or emotionally as in the case of a psychologist.

At the end of a psychological assessment, a psychologist expects that the client will understand more about him/herself and have some ideas about what his/her next steps could be to address the good and the I-wish-it-was-better results that come from the assessment. This may or may not include a diagnosis but will definitely include information about how the client thinks, feels, copes, and engages in the world around him/her.

If you have questions about yourself or your child and/or desire to have clarity about what might be going on inside of your heart, mind, or soul, please contact us at cccoc@chicagocounseling.org or (312) 573-8860 to discuss these things and determine if a psychological assessment might be beneficial for you. You can also find out more about our psychological assessment services here.

What is your parenting style?


Authoritarian Parenting

In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.”

 

Authoritative Parenting

Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.”

 

Indulgent Parenting

Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. According to Baumrind, permissive parents “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are usually nontraditional and lenient. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children. This style of parenting should be careful not to take on the status of a friend more than a parent.

 

Uninvolved Parenting

An uninvolved parenting style if characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children.

 

The Impact of Parenting Styles

What effect do these parenting styles have on child development outcomes?

  • Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient and proficient, but they rank lower in happiness, social competence and self-esteem.
  • Authoritative parenting styles tend to result in children who are happy, capable and successful.
  • Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation. These children are more likely to experience problems with authority and trend to perform poorly in school.
  • Uninvolved parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

Baumrind, D. (1989). Rearing competent children. In W. Damon (Ed.), Child development today and tomorrow (pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago