Karen turned off the automatic notifications of missing assignments from her daughter’s school. Each time her phone would ping, she experienced a tightening in her chest, and a pit in her stomach, that gradually intensified, until finally each new ping brought panic and rage.
Karen’s daughter, Chelsea, had never been great at turning in homework, but the last couple of years things had gotten worse. Chelsea was a bright child, but had struggled with some executive skills, and regularly forgot assignments, or just didn’t want to do them. Her grades showed straight A’s in classes she enjoyed and F’s in classes she didn’t, with very little in between.
Karen wanted to see her daughter succeed, but worried that her apparent lack of motivation spelled doom for her future. Karen enacted more and more control over her daughter, limited activities and free time in hopes of “inspiring” Chelsea to “be more responsible”.
Instead of helping, it seemed to make the problem worse.
Karen’s attempt at control stemmed mainly from the shark music. We all recognize those two little notes. Duuh duh…duuh duh… duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, then bam, the shark appears. With those two little notes, our breathing speeds up, our chests feel tight, and fearful anticipation makes it difficult to think about anything other than the impending danger.
Dan Siegel describes shark music as the “background noise caused by past experiences and future fear”.
Karen’s shark music started to play anytime her phone pinged with a new “missing assignment” notice because a new missing assignment made her fears for her daughter’s future replay in her head. This fear made it difficult for Karen to address what was really going on with that specific assignment, because every assignment blended together as one big problem.
Learning to recognize when our own shark music has started playing is the first step toward a more intentional, less reactive response to our children. Without the shark music, Karen could calmly talk to her daughter about specific assignments, and they could come up with plans to address the problems behind each situation, giving Chelsea the opportunity to learn important life skills.
For her missing math assignment, perhaps Karen would learn that Chelsea sat by her best friend in math, and often missed writing the assignment down because she was busy talking. Brainstorming with Chelsea would teach her how to solve problems rather than put her in a reactive position to her mom’s “meanness”. For a missing English assignment, maybe Karen would learn that Chelsea hadn’t understood what the teacher was asking for, and a solution could be to talk to the teacher after school for clarification.
We all have our shark music, whether it has to do with our child’s education, the time they spend with friends, or what their eye roll *really* meant, allowing ourselves to get pulled into the shark music causes us to miss out on what is really going on with our kids. After we recognize what triggers our shark music, we can acknowledge our fear, and then refocus on what lesson we really want our child to learn.
Learning to recognize what triggers our shark music can be a challenge. It involves examining our impulses and past experience. Sometimes the most effective way to do this is with the guidance of a professional. If you feel stuck in your own shark music and are ready to learn a new way of interacting with your child, call 801-944-4555 to schedule an appointment today.
Dr. Tina Sellers, author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, defines sexual shame as “a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior, and unworthy.”
Most of us grew up in a culture where parents didn’t often talk openly with their kids about bodies and sex, and a good number of us still don’t really know what to say to our own kids about the topic. In schools, many sex-education courses focuses on abstinence and skirt around topics deemed more appropriate for home discussions. Combined with our distorted, sex-saturated media, it’s no wonder so many individuals grow up with feelings of shame or inadequacy surrounding their bodies and their sexuality.
These feelings interfere with the development of our most important relationships, but they don’t have to.
Dr. Sellers suggests four steps for overcoming sexual shame:
The first step is to Frame. Framing means gaining accurate information on sexuality. Some of my favorite books on bodies, sex, and intimacy are:
For kids: “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg
For girls: “The Care and Keeping of You” by Valorie Schaefer
For boys: “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew Smiler
For parents of teens: “For Goodness Sex” by Al Vernacchio
On female sexuality: “Come as You Are” by Emily Nagoski
On male sexuality: “The New Male Sexuality, Revised Edition” by Bernie Zilbergeld
For LDS couples: “What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Sex” by Anthony Hughs
There are many more great resources out there. Having accurate and open information about your body and what “normal” looks like can help dispel the sexual myths you may have picked up growing up or through media. Education can calm anxiety and help lay out a plan for gaining the approach to sexuality that you’d like to have in your life.
Dr. Sellers’ second step is to Name. This means finding a group you feel safe in, where you can tell your story and feel heard. This could be a therapy group, it could be a book group (using any of the above suggestions!), it could be an online support group. The important thing is to find a place where people can really hear and understand you so that you can name, or verbalize your own story.
The third step is Claim: Where sex is used so commonly to sell products (either by sexualizing our lunch or pointing out our flaws in order to get us to buy the product that will “fix” everything), media and marketing can throw a real punch to our sense of self worth. We need to claim our right to be okay just the way we are. If this is an area you struggle with, reading books and sharing your story can help, but sometimes you might find you need extra help learning to heal internalized shame. Find a therapist to talk to. Practice challenging negative self-talk. Claim the amazing things that make you who you are.
The last step is Aim. Aim means to write a new story for yourself. We all have stories or narratives that we tell ourselves, and if the old one hasn’t been helpful, begin writing a new story. Learning to look at your past in new ways can help open up potential for growth and new discoveries in your future. Let the keyword for your new narrative be “hope.”
If you have struggled with shame in connection with your body or sexuality and it’s holding you back from creating the connection and pleasure you hope for in your relationships, call and schedule an appointment today at 801-944-4555.
It’s all about the language we use, and how that language impacts our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors when it comes to sex.
We’ve heard the baseball metaphors. First, second, and third base. Home run. Striking out. Playing for the other team. Al Vernacchio, who gave this ted talk points out that in baseball, you have two teams, one wins and one loses. You have specific rules to follow, and you have very little control over the season schedule. When there’s a game, players are expected to play. In sex this creates an unhealthy dynamic. Sexual relationships shouldn’t be about winning or losing, or about competition. Sex shouldn’t occur due to pressure to “play”. Sexual relationships should be about enjoying the activity together. He suggests a new metaphor.
Getting pizza. When you want pizza, it’s based on an inner desire rather than competition. When you’re eating pizza, there are no winners or losers. It’s about enjoying the experience. In baseball there are rules. The right ways and the wrong ways to play. In pizza, there are no rules, you can eat it if you want to, if it satisfies your hunger, and it’s okay to enjoy some toppings, and not others.
By changing our metaphor, as Mr. Vernacchio explains, “we could…invite people to think about their own desires and make deliberate decisions about what they want, and talk about it with their partners…to look not at some external outcome, but for what feels satisfying”.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions effectively and positively. Kids who understand their emotions, can name them, and can manage them are better able to cope with stress, manage relationships with others, and communicate more effectively.
There are four main characteristics of emotional intelligence.
Emotionally intelligent people are self aware. They recognize their own emotions.
Emotionally intelligent people can self-regulate. They can control how they react to their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them.
Emotionally intelligent people are empathetic. They understand other people’s emotions.
Emotionally intelligent people have social skills. They can build connections with others.
The best way to teach children emotional intelligence is through modeling. Parents who take time to develop these characteristics in themselves will gain the benefits of emotional intelligence in their own lives, but will also pass these traits on to their children. To help learn these skills AND pass them on to your child here are some activities to do together:
1. In order to be aware of emotions children need to be able to name them. Younger children can look at flash cards depicting various feelings and copy the faces as parents tell them the name for that emotion. Older children can identify times they felt that emotion and what they did about it. (Flash cards can be found by googling “emotion flash cards”, or you can make your own.)
2. Using an emotion thermometer (again, google is your friend), you can teach children how to recognize what it feels like when they are experiencing strong emotions, and provide them tools for “cooling down the thermometer”. These skills can include: talking to a friend or adult, asking for help, counting to ten, taking five deep breaths, or practicing some mindfulness. There are lots of mindfulness for kids clips on youtube or available as apps on a smart phone.
3. One great way to instill empathy in children is to get them involved in regular acts of service. Afterward, listen to your child share with you how the act of service made them feel? Discuss how the service made the recipient feel.
4. Social skills are best developed by lots of practice. Create plenty of opportunities for your child to interact with other children. Go to parks or children’s museums, set up play dates, get to know the kids in the neighborhood. Give your child space to explore and interact with other children. Give them opportunities to work out problems themselves, and step in with guidance when they need it. If your child needs extra help developing social skills, contact our office at (801) 944-4555 for information on the next available social skills group for kids.
There are lots of ways to develop theses characteristics, the important thing is to regularly incorporate these kinds of activities into your child’s life. Doing so will help them (and you) manage stress and anxiety, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships with those around them.
Sometimes in our love relationships, we have been hurt or let down so often by our partner that we begin to develop an adversarial relationship. We are always on guard to protect ourselves from further pain. Our relationship becomes us vs. them in an attempt to wall off our heart from the one who knows us best, and therefore knows how to hurt us the most. Most of the time in these situations, our partner isn’t trying to hurt us. Our partner is hurting themselves and like us, is trying to protect from further pain.
In the book Love Sense, Dr. Sue Johnson describes what happens in these relationships:
“When emotional starvation becomes the norm, and negative patterns of outraged criticism and obstinate defensiveness take over, our perspective changes. Our lover slowly begins to feel like an enemy; our most familiar friend turns into a stranger. Trust dies, and grief begins in earnest.”
She goes on to say that the “erosion of a bond begins with the absence of emotional support”. This is key. In order to keep our most important relationships strong and healthy, we have to actively work on being an emotional support for our partner. We need to be there for them, and we need them to be there for us. Emotional supportiveness creates a teammate mentality. Instead of problems turning into us vs. them scenarios, they are approached with the couple as a team, facing the enemy (or the negative cycle) together.
One roadblock in our ability to be there emotionally with our partner is our hurt and anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion. Its purpose is to act as a shield, protecting our more vulnerable (primary) emotions. If my husband doesn’t call me when he said he would, it’s easier for me to lash out at him in my attempt to make sure he knows how hurt I am. My lashing out is likely to cause him to feel defensive and respond with anger of his own (because he is also using anger as a shield to protect himself). If I take a moment to breathe, and calm myself before commenting on his missed phone call, I might say something like, “when you don’t call me when you say you will, I feel really hurt. I worry that I’m not important to you, and you mean so much to me that it hurts in my chest to think that I don’t matter to you.”
Instead of expressing my secondary emotion, anger, I’m expressing my primary emotion. Fear. Fear that I don’t matter to my partner as much as he matters to me. I’m being vulnerable and asking my partner to reassure me and be vulnerable in return.
If my partner responds to my vulnerability with criticism, it reinforces my view that he is not a safe person to turn to, and the emotional bond is further damaged. If he responds with reassurance, the emotional bond can be strengthened. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call. I got so busy with my meetings that I forgot. I know it means a lot to you that I call when I say I will, and I’m sorry I let you down. You do mean so much to me.”
Dr. Johnson describes three questions that we can ask ourselves and our partners when we are working to strengthen or repair our emotional bonds.
1. Are you Accessible? (Will you give me your attention and be emotionally open to what I am saying?)
2. Are you Responsive? (Will you accept my needs and fears and offer comfort and caring?)
3. Are you Engaged? (Will you be emotionally present and involved with me?)
Dr. Johnson combines these into one “core attachment question”. ARE you there for me?
Sit down with your partner and talk about these questions. Do you feel like your partner is accessible, responsive, and engaged? Are you accessible, responsive, and engaged with your partner? When have you been successful at answering “ARE you there for me”? When have you struggled? Think about the last struggle and look for the primary emotions under the struggle. Try being vulnerable with each other.
The stronger our emotional bond, the easier it is to deal with the frustrations that crop up in every relationship. Sometimes the damage in our relationships has gone on for so long, or is so emotionally painful that we need help in repairing it. Couple’s therapy can help break the cycle of negative interactions and allow emotional bonds to be rebuilt stronger than ever.
With our recent snowstorm, my ability to pretend winter isn’t a thing, has quickly evaporated.On sunny days I get through the winter by making sure I spend plenty of time standing in front of my south facing windows soaking up the warmth that shines through.On overcast days it can be more of a challenge.Add in the stress of holiday shopping and parties and expectations, and winter can be a bit of a downer (to say the least).Here are a few suggestions to help cope with winter blues:
The Pixar movie Inside Out goes into the head of a little girl, Riley, who experiences her world through the lens of her emotions, each represented by a unique character, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy and Sadness. Joy is the leader of this group of individual emotions/characters, and works throughout the movie to protect Riley from sad emotions. Finally at the end of the movie, Joy learns that sadness is was pulls people in, and allows Riley to make the connection with her parents that comforts her and helps her begin to manage all the other emotions that are swirling around in her growing brain. That connection with her parents can also be called secure attachment.
Sadness is a primary emotion, and primary emotions are our vulnerable emotions. Sometimes we don’t feel safe being vulnerable, so we mask our primary emotions with secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are the reactions to our primary emotions that are designed to protect our vulnerabilities, so we sometimes use them to put up walls or push others away. This serves an important purpose in situations where we don’t feel safe, but can cause problems when something happens that causes us to feel unsafe with a romantic partner, a family member, or close friend.
If someone we care about does something that hurts us, we might feel sadness, or rejection, or fear, when we are hurting we work to protect ourselves and mask our sadness, rejection, or fear with anger, disgust, or frustration. We lash out to prevent the other person from hurting us more. This behavior starts us on a cycle of pain and protection.
If we can figure out a way to break the cycle, we can rebuild trust and emotional bonds, and regain that sense of comfort and attachment to important people in our life. Just like in the movie, the key to breaking the cycle is to become vulnerable, to express our feelings of sadness or fear. This can begin to change our interactions, and as our loved ones are able to respond to our primary emotions, we are able to be comforted.
The next time your partner expresses anger or frustration or disgust, try to imagine what primary emotion they are experiencing that is being masked, then respond with empathy to that primary emotion. You may be surprised what creating a safe space for them to be vulnerable does for your relationship!
Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and author of the book “Come as You Are, The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life”. Sexuality can be a difficult topic because so many of us have been raised with the idea that sexuality isn’t okay. Because of this we avoid talking about it and don’t try to find solutions if we are experiencing difficulties. In my experience, problems with sexual intimacy have ranked fairly high among the issues couples bring up in therapy sessions. Shame over feeling “broken” can also make us uncomfortable bringing it up. The good news is that there is a lot we can do to become more satisfied with this important area in our lives and relationships. I recently attended a presentation Dr. Nagoski gave and found the information so useful, that I thought I’d share some of it here.
All the Same Parts:
The biggest takeaway I got from her lecture (as well as from reading her book) is that throughout our lives we are presented with an idea of what is normal in both our physical bodies and how we approach our sexuality. This presentation comes largely from the media, and leads us to believe that because we are not the same as what is presented, that there is something wrong with us. Dr. Nagoski talks about how we all have the same parts, (physically and sexually) but are arranged differently and that we are not broken or deficient just because we are different from someone else.
The Dual Control Method:
Dr. Nagoski calls them accelerators and brakes. Accelerators are things which signal our brains to respond favorably to sexually relevant stimuli. Accelerators might be things like our partner wearing a cologne or perfume we like, or coming home to a candlelight dinner our partner has surprised us with. Brakes are things which signal our brains that we are not interested at the moment. Examples of brakes can range from things like sitting in a boring meeting to lack of sleep to body odor. Performance anxiety can also be a huge brake. There is a questionnaire to evaluate your sensitivity to brakes (or Inhibitors) and accelerators (or Excitors) at http://www.thedirtynormal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Sexual-Temperament-Questionnaire.pdf.
How we interpret and respond to brakes and accelerators depend largely on context. If our partner approaches us from behind and kisses our neck when we are in the middle of changing a messy diaper, our response might be very different than if they did the same thing after a romantic dinner. It’s all about context. Dr. Nagoski has a worksheet to help individuals discover what contexts appeal sexually, to them, and what contexts do not, at http://www.thedirtynormal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Sexy-Context-Worksheets.pdf.
Concordance and Non Concordance:
Concordance refers to the relationship between a physical genital response and an individual’s self reported level of arousal. Men average a 50% concordance rate, which means that half of the time when they are experiencing a physical sexual response to stimuli, they also report feeling aroused. For women, the concordance rate is 10%. One of the things that is often portrayed in media is that when we are physically stimulated, we are also aroused. This leads rape victims to feel guilt for being “aroused” by their rape, when really what happened was just a normal physical response to genital stimulation. It does not mean that it was wanted. It can also lead men who are experiencing erection difficulties to feel guilt, thinking that their lack of erection means they are not aroused by their partner.
Two key terms here are sexual relevance and sexual appeal. Sexual relevance is associated with the physical response to stimuli. An erection stemming from seeing his partner in bed would be an example of an expected sexual stimuli. Sexual appeal is linked to subjective arousal, or an individual’s self-report of arousal. Something can be sexually relevant but not appealing (sexual violence for example), things can also be sexually appealing but not sexually relevant (a fetish for example). Creating healthy, wanted sexual experiences with our partner means creating environments and situations that are both sexually relevant for us as well as sexually appealing.
John Gottman’s research on couples found that the two traits most correlated with a strong, sustained sexual connection lasting decades was 1) a trusting friendship, and 2) making sex a priority. Sometimes when sex isn’t working the way you’d like it to, it feels easier to just let go of sexual intimacy in your relationship. It doesn’t have to be that way. Make a healthy sexual relationship a priority and come in for some couple’s counseling. We can address your concerns and find solutions for them in supportive, respectful ways. I also recommend reading Emily Nagoski’s book for much more of the science and a more thorough coverage of this topic.
While listening to the news on my drive home from work awhile back, I heard a story about a road rage incident. A driving student hesitated at a stop sign, and when she turned into a parking lot, the driver behind her followed her, got out of his car, and started behaving aggressively.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll imagine this man was having a really bad day. Maybe he had just had some bad news about the health of a loved one. Maybe he just lost his job. Whatever the reason, being delayed behind a slow driver pushed him over the edge. Thankfully, that incident resolved without major injury to anyone, but that isn’t always the outcome.
We have all likely experienced frustration while driving. Just this morning, someone suddenly turned left in front of me when I had the green light. We don’t always take time to think about our response to these kinds of frustrating situations. Most of the time, they pass without causing us any major difficulties, but sometimes our response isn’t something we feel good about, and we wish we could have handled things differently.
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, there is the idea of the “cognitive triangle,” which is the triangle that links our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This is at the heart of recognizing and changing our behaviors.
I imagine the driver from the news story pulled up behind the driving student, and when she missed her turn to go, he began to imagine why this driver was holding him up. He may have thought she was a terrible driver, he may have thought she was purposely making him late. Then, he likely started to feel angry that she was making him late. His anger and frustration built up, leading him to act out.
This cycle of thoughts, feeling, and behaviors can feed on each other, leading us to behave in ways we may not have intended. If we can find a way to stop the cycle, we can change our behavior and how we feel about difficult situations we may be facing.
Imagine if this driver had pulled up behind the student, she hesitated and missed opportunities to turn, and he started to think about what a terrible driver she was. What if at that point he had asked himself, “What could another explanation be for this situation?”
Maybe he would have come up with the idea that she was a new driver (which was true), maybe he would have thought she was having a bad day. There are several possible explanations for hesitating at a stop sign. If he had taken a few minutes to consider other possibilities, it might have changed how he felt about the situation. He may have still been frustrated, but he may have also felt some compassion or understanding. Without feeding his frustration or anger, his behavior certainly would have changed. He likely would have continued on his way, and would have missed out entirely on the altercation.
Not all of us have problems with road rage, but most of us have thoughts or behaviors that cause us problems in some way or another. Learning to recognize the cycle of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can help us change our trajectory. At any point in that cycle, we can stop and ask ourselves questions such as:
*What evidence do I have that this is an accurate thought?
*What could be another explanation for this situation?
*What are the advantages or disadvantages of how I am reacting to this experience?
*Am I blaming myself for something that isn’t my fault?
*Am I taking something personally, that actually has nothing to do with me?
Going through questions like these can help us take a step back to reevaluate a situation and to help us change how we think and feel about it, which helps us change our behavior. We don’t have to stick with behaviors we don’t feel good about.
Every new experience is a new change for learning to do things differently. It’s okay to not be perfect right away, but with practice, we can change to be the kind of person we really want to be!