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Forgiveness: The Great Anger Validator

by Grace Schuler Spencer, M.A., LPC, NCC in Active, emotional health, forgiveness, Grief, Trauma Comments: 0 tags: anger, Forgiveness, hurt

The feeling of anger is one that is common to everyone. Perhaps we clench our fists, grit our teeth and imagine the worst for an offender. Maybe we stuff our anger inside into densely compacted packages that are eventually set off like explosives when we just cannot take it anymore. In many instances, anger functions like a deflective buffer, protecting us temporarily from the deeper pain we may be experiencing in association with a grievance that has occurred. When this happens, it can be helpful to recognize that in such instances, anger is functioning in a protective manner, shielding us from being overwhelmed by a greater hurt, especially if it is during circumstances where our safety is at risk. In other instances, our anger is a just response to an infraction committed against us that never should have taken place. Teasing out our experience of anger and the bigger function behind it is an important part of developing our own emotional awareness and attuning to its role in the story of our lives.

Considering the function of anger in our lives is a worthwhile pursuit. According to researchers, anger is among those emotions that can result in mental and physical health risks. These can include things like heart disease, earlier mortality, depression, anxiety, and troubled relationships.[1] This is especially true for those of us who tend to harbor anger. When we hold onto it and continue to use it as that protective shield, we put ourselves at risk for developing larger difficulties that we likely never bargained for.

Forgiveness is among those potentially helpful methods for attending to and resolving anger and its related emotions, like hostility, bitterness and resentment. It can be especially effective in our interpersonal relationships. According to Robert Enright, one of the thought leaders and researchers of forgiveness, “forgiveness helps a wronged person examine the injustice, consider forgiveness as an option, make a decision to forgive or not and learn the skills to forgive.”[2]

Forgiveness has the unique quality of fully validating an injury and recognizing our legitimate anger response. The beauty of forgiveness is that not only does it offer this validation, but it goes the next step. Once anger has done its job, forgiveness takes us into a deeper phase of healing. When invited in, forgiveness reminds us of what our boundaries are, that they are worth protecting and that we have the power to release ourselves from the hooks of offense, injury and abuse. One forgiver put it this way, “I’ve learned to like forgiveness because of its strength, freedom and assertiveness. Now, I think I have a better sense of myself and my boundaries. I grew up with my physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries being invaded. Forgiveness tells me it matters that I have boundaries; it is an infraction if they get crossed, and I can unattach from you to restore more a sense of myself.”

Next up in this forgiveness mini-series I will share more about the decisional and emotional nuances of forgiveness. Until then, take a moment to consider where the anger in your life could stand a possible upgrade into the next level of healing. If so, maybe forgiveness has a part to play.

[1] Chida & Steptoe, 2009; Miller, Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996; Williams, 2010

[2] Enright, R. D., 2004

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/

What Just Happened?: Making Sense of My Seemingly Random Reactions


Marie was feeling productive at work when she received a phone call from her mother. As soon as she saw the caller ID, she felt irritable and dismissed the call. For the rest of the day, she struggled to return her focus to her work or get anything accomplished.

Brenda was enjoying her time out to dinner at a nice restaurant with her boyfriend, Jude. However, she wanted to run out of the restaurant when Jude took his phone out of his pocket and started doing something on it. For the rest of dinner, she just answered his questions with one-word answers and couldn’t wait to get home so she could go to sleep.

Tiffani was fully engaged in the conversation at her 11:00 business meeting, which she found to be fascinating. When the colleague sitting next to her raised his hand to interrupt the discussion, she flinched and had trouble participating in the remainder of the meeting.

 

What do these women have in common?

Although at first glance, these women may seem to be drastically different from one another, when we take a moment to investigate their histories, we find similarities in their reactions in each situation. Each of these women’s reactions makes sense. Each of these women’s trauma response was triggered by the circumstances of their environments and made it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

Marie grew up in a home where she never knew what she would experience when she walked in the door. Some days, her mother would be waiting to greet her with a smile and interest in what happened at school. Other days, her mother would be drunk on the couch, waiting for Marie to return from school so she could take care of her mother’s every need.

Brenda’s first marriage started off great, but after a year, her husband didn’t seem to even know she existed, that was, until he wanted something from her sexually and he could not be deterred. Brenda felt unwanted and cast-off and wasn’t surprised the day he filed for divorce because he found a “better woman.” It took a long time to feel ready to date again, but finally, she was willing to try again.

Tiffani’s step-father was scary and mean. She would hide in her closet to stay away from him when he was angry, praying that he wouldn’t find her because she was afraid that this time, he would hit her so hard she might die.

 

What is a trauma response and why does it happen?

Our brains automatically respond to dangerous, stressful, and traumatic situations by prioritizing reactions that will keep us safe; this is a very good thing, as it helps us to survive. When a person experiences these dangerous, stressful, or chaotic situations time and again, his/her brain gets really good at quickly prioritizing this survival response. Sometimes, the brain is so good at doing this, the survival response becomes the automatic and occurs even when the person is in a completely safe situation. This triggered reaction is a trauma response and it makes sense. Marie’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes when she talks to her mom, she isn’t safe. Brenda’s trauma reaction was triggered because she felt unwanted by her boyfriend when he started using his phone; she had been here before and it was not safe. Tiffani’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes, when someone near you raises his/her arm, it is to hit her. Although each of these women may not understand why she reacted in the way she did, each response makes sense in light of her past experiences and makes it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

 

What can I do if I experience things like this?

First and foremost, seek support from safe and trustworthy people. Talking through your current and past experiences with a family member or friend who has consistently been safe and caring can help you express these things so you don’t have to hold them inside or on your own. Many individuals find it helpful to participate in therapy in order to have a safe place to discuss these reactions and the situations that have caused them and work towards growth and healing.

Secondly, take care of yourself when these reactions occur – maybe you need to take a break to go for a walk, grab a coffee, or take some deep breaths. Do something little and easy to help calm your brain and your body down so that you can re-engage in the present moment. Be kind to yourself by reminding yourself that this reaction was helpful for your survival at one point in time and makes sense in the current situation – there is nothing inherently wrong with your reaction and you can do something to help yourself through it.

If you would like to begin receiving professional services for reactions such as those described above, our office has therapists who have specialized training to provide services to individuals who have experienced trauma. Please click here to request an appointment.

 


*These stories are fictional and were created with the intent to illustrate triggered responses as a result of traumatic experiences in order to increase awareness, offer knowledge, and provide support for those who may be experiencing similar reactions.

Do Children Actually Need Therapy? An Insightful Look into the World of Child and Adolescent Therapy


shutterstock_66823009As a clinical therapist, who specializes in working with children and adolescents, I have been asked why children would ever need therapy. My answer is this: Why does anyone ever need therapy?

People seek therapeutic services for a variety of reasons. Some seek therapy to aid them through a life transition, a death of a loved one, a divorce, a mental disorder or a trauma (to list a few). Life is full of twists and turns; it is full of unexpected challenges. Individuals face an array of challenges throughout their lifetime. However, should a trauma, transition or learning disorder occur during childhood and adolescence, the individual may face a different set of obstacles.

Science shows that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 (Aamodt, 2011). Therefore, any traumatic event that happens during the adolescent life stage occurs while the brain is still developing, meaning the individual simply does not have the cognitive function to react or process the way adults do. One such example is suppressed memories. The brain, while in the developmental stage, will often shut down in response to a trauma in order to survive (Ferrara, 2002). If a child is raped, and they do not understand the concept of abuse or sex, they simply have no way to process the event, but they must go on. This is when the child or adolescent’s brain goes into survival mode, and shields the child from the memory until it can be processed at a later time (Ferrara, 2002). Not all children who experience a traumatic event will suffer from suppressed memories. However they will likely respond in drastically different ways than adults.

One situation I often see in my practice, is a child suffering from grief and depression due to divorce. Children of divorce often harbor anger, the emotion that hides true feelings: hurt, confusion and grief (Luepnitz, 2002). Due to the stage of brain development, a child may respond to the divorce by acting out: negative or destructive behaviors, temper tantrums, bullying, sulking, withdrawal, etc (Ferrara, 2002). Should one ask the child why they are acting in such a manner, and they respond ‘I don’t know’, one should not assume they are lying. They truly may not connect the event (divorce) to their feelings (hurt, confusion) to their actions (disruptive behaviors). This is where therapy may be help the child and the family.

To help a child process and grow beyond a negative event, one must step into their world, and a child’s world is based around play. Children cannot sit still and have a 50-minute conversation about their feelings like adults do; thus child therapists use many tools, such as games, art, role playing, workbooks and music to appeal to the client’s development stage. They are stepping into the child’s world, that they might help them to process in a safe place and learn healthy, age appropriate coping mechanisms. Children need therapy much like adults need therapy. Yet children need therapeutic interventions that are tailored to their life, needs and developmental stage of life.

To learn more about services for children, adolescents or teens please click here. To schedule an appointment for your child or family click here.

 

 

References:

Aamodt, S (2011, October 10). Brain maturity extends well beyond teen years: NPR. NPR: National public radio: news and analysis, world, us, music and arts: NPR. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http:// www.npr.org/tempates/story/story/php?story Id=141164708

Ferrar, F.F. (2002). Childhood sexual abuse: Developmental effects across the lifespan. California:Wadsworth Publishing.

Luepnitz, D. A. (2002). The family interpreted: psychoanalysis, feminism, and family therapy. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books.

Knowing When To Seek Help


Some days are good. Really good… Some days are bad. Really bad… The bad days have progressively become more frequent. The hope of good days is beginning to fade.

It was a long day after a long week. Come to think of it, it’s been a long year. My daughter and I curled up in bed watching a movie as we fell asleep. I heard the sound of Adrian’s key turn in lock. My eyes immediately popped open. The door swung open and slammed against the wall. At that moment, I knew Adrian had been drinking. “It’s a bad day,” I thought to myself. The dog jumped and my daughter gripped me in fear. I squeezed her hand in an attempt to comfort her and possibly to reassure myself.

I jumped out of bed in an attempt to sooth Adrian. Not sure what to expect, I carefully walked on eggshells so as to not set Adrian off into a rage of anger. Nevertheless, verbal daggers in the form of criticism and put-downs were quickly thrown toward me violently striking me in the heart. I frantically attempted to nurture and reason with Adrian. I desperately wanted to prevent the explosion I knew was coming. With one sweep of Adrian’s arm, my late grandfather’s heirloom shattered into a million pieces on the dinning room floor. I felt angry, sad, and scared. Adrian walked away with no regard for what he had done. I quickly and silently gathered some items and left with my daughter and the dog.

The next morning, I woke up to several texts messages and voice messages from Adrian pleading with me to come back, promising me that the drinking is over for good and making commitments to get help and seek counseling to gain control over the anger. I thought to myself, “Today will be a good day. Maybe Adrian will finally follow through. Maybe we can finally escape this horribly destructive pattern.” My second thought was, “Adrian has promised all of this before. What will make this time different? We have gone through this pattern countless times before.”

My final thoughts were, “I do not want this life for my daughter, for myself, nor for Adrian. This time, I will change the pattern. This time I will seek support for myself.”

  • This story is fictional and created with the intent to illustrate an abusive relational pattern as to increase awareness, offer knowledge and provide support for those who may be engaging in an abusive relational pattern.

 

cycle of violence

Image Retrieved from www.ccfamilycrisis.org

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2015), “Domestic violence is prevalent in every community and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a much larger, systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death. The devastating consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.”

Obtain further information at www.NCADV.org

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. – Psalm 34:18

If the above depicted relational pattern is one that you find to be familiar, please seek help. Your life is worth it.

Call The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Or, online go to www.Domesticshelters.org

 

DCADV. (2015). Domestic violence national statistics. Retrieved from www.ncadv.org

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation.

What is Trauma?


Each year, children experience violence and disaster and face other traumas. Young people are injured, they see others harmed by violence, they suffer sexual abuse, and they lose loved ones or witness other tragic and shocking events.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago