Boundaries With Others – How To Set Them

When you’re trying to create boundaries with people they will be tested. It’s like when cows enter a new pasture, they will knock their shoulder against the perimeter a few times to check out where their boundaries are and how strong they are. Cows are strong enough to take down barbed wire if they really wanted to, but they aren’t really testing if they can get out, they are testing if they are safe from the external world. Once they know that the boundaries are consistent and stable they feel safe and they graze in the middle. If the cows don’t have that consistent boundary they will rely on the cowboy to tell them when they have gone too far. The cowboy, however, doesn’t have consistent boundaries, they will only correct the cow when they notice the cow has gone too far, which doesn’t create a feeling of safety. People are the same when they have never experienced consistent boundaries, or they are experiencing new boundaries. People will test boundaries, not enough to break them but enough to trust that they are there to stay and to trust that they are there to keep them safe.

A lot of young adults who never experienced boundaries, because their parents wanted to be their friend. They have a great relationship with their parents, but they will tell me that they feel like they grew up as an orphan because they don’t have a secure home base. but they will tell me that they are afraid to explore and take risks as an adult because they can’t trust that they have parents who are watching out for them, to make sure they don’t make a mistake big enough to ruin their entire life.

It’s important that people are given the space to grow and find their own solutions within appropriate limits. When your setting limits the goal is not to get a specific outcome, rather the goal is to prevent a specific outcome. It is quite spectacular what people can come up with when their possibilities aren’t limited, but just the same we don’t want anyone hurting themselves or others in the process. Limits are set to prevent irreversible and/or irreplaceable damage, while still allowing people to learn how to cope with and improve from mistakes.

When cattle are being herded they have the instinct to turn around when they feel blocked, which can be disruptive to the flow and requires more work to redirect them back into the flow. To redirect a cow, you want them to feel pressure on their shoulder. If you are in front of them when you apply this pressure they feel blocked, if you are beside them when you apply this pressure they will simply turn a bit from where they shouldn’t be. People are the same, when they are told to stop doing what they are doing (and they don’t continue trampling over you) they will do a complete turnaround, even if this wasn’t your intention. If you’re only wanting a slight redirection from a no-go zone you want to adjust your approach to let them know that you understand that they want to move forward, and you want that too, but you want them going forward in a slightly different direction.

Written by Madison Price, MA, LAMFT – therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

 

Understanding Your Childs Anger and Depression

Children often show depression through anger or being upset. They don’t know how to be depressed and act out instead. Understanding this, as a parent, you can approach your child in the right way. You would approach a sad child different that you do an angry child. Children need validation for what they are going through. The difficulty is that they often don’t recognize what they are going through. If you do, or if you have at least an idea, you can model for them how to recognize it. For example, if you child is getting picked on at school and is having a hard time with it, you could say to them, “It looks like school is hard for you right now and that it’s making you sad”. This would be instead of saying, “Hey! Stop being mean to your brother and yelling. What is wrong with you!?” It helps when you approach your child and give them permission and space to feel sad. It’s easier to accept and work through with someone who gets it. It’s not as scary when someone is with you.

Counseling for children uses the same principles. Children often act out instead of expressing their emotions. In therapy, children are given something to do instead of just talking about what they are feeling. This is partly how they are able to express their sadness. It’s easier to do something hands on then to talk about their emotions through words.  A good play therapist will be able to help children express and experience their emotions through activities at first and then eventually through words.

Written by Dr. Triston Morgan, LMFT, therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

When Teenagers Refuse to Accept Parental Influence

You have been there, most of us for the 2nd time around.  A parent offers a lifetime of experience, knowledge, and observance of others, and their teenage child refuses the knowledge, insight, suggestion, direction, or invitation.  Let’s explore how this plays out in families, and how we can approach these situations differently.

I know for myself, I was that teenager.  At the time, I felt like I needed to figure it all out on my own. My parents didn’t know my life, my situation, my perspective.  How could they get what I was going through, let alone provide accurate or helpful support?

I now find myself as the parent of three teenagers, and feel as though I see them clearly, and have excellent advice, support, and direction for each of them.  Of course I would, I am a therapist, however, my children refuse my support and suggestions on a frequent basis.

What’s really happening here, and what can we do about it as parents?  Although I cannot provide suggestions for every situation, I will propose an invitation to consider these dynamics from a different perspective.

First of all, we need to consider what relational process encourages the stance of resistance.  As parents, we want to feel valued in our role. We want to improve the next generation, and most likely, prevent our children from some of the difficult, painful, and regretful experience we have had in our life.  However, we typically deliver them in a manner which only reveals the constraints of though, belief, and action, rather than exposing the confusion, pain, and suffering caused by our previous and current actions in life.  

How would your teenager respond to you differently if they were afforded the opportunity to hear what those experiences were truly like for you.  Most teenagers will find it difficult not to get sucked into listening to those kinds of disclosures from their parents. Imbedded in these life accounts are lessons which they can then choose to interpret and implement in their life as they see fit.

Once we get around our teenager’s resistance, we then gain access to mentor, teach, and influence.  Do not take this as control over their decisions, as you are extremely limited in your ability to control your children’s thoughts, believes, and actions.  However, when your teenagers have no reason to resist, what are they left with? Its like engaging in a tug of war, and one side lets go of the rope. If there is no resistance, the attempt to pull on the rope becomes obsolete, and a new perspective of interacting becomes necessary.

I challenge you to attempt to do this in your own way with your teenager. The sooner you attempt to approach them differently, the more likely you will be successful in shifting your teenager’s resistance to your influence and create opportunities of connection which will influence them for the rest of their lives.

by Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE

How Do I Help My Depressed Teenager?

Teens with depression can be successfully treated if they seek the right help. Teen depression doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of struggle, and it certainly doesn’t have to end in suicide. Wake up parents, be aware, notice the red flags and then seek to find the professional help that your teen needs and deserves. In addition to seeking professional assistance, below are a few key suggestions on how to help your depressed teenager.

Acknowledge their feelings: Acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel heard, understood and supported. Often times adults try to talk their teens out of depression, by rationalizing or trying to convince them that their problems are really not that bad. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously.

Focus on listening: Listen to your child without offering advice or lecturing. Once your teen begins to talk resist the urge to pass any judgement or get upset. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, listening fully and unconditionally.

Encourage social connection: Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their friends and the activities they used to enjoy. Isolation makes depression worse, do what you can to help your teen reconnect with their peers and loved ones. Suggest activities such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art, dance, or music class suggest things that interest your child or that he or she has a special interest in.

Make Time: Set aside time each day to talk one on one with your teenager. Put your phone and work away and focus completely on your teen without trying to multitask.

Physical Health: Depression is associated with inactivity, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition. Teens are known for staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on their phones and devices. Encourage your teenager to create healthy habits in their lives by exercising daily, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritious foods.

Set limits: Cell phones have become a way for teenagers to escape real life and ignore their problems. As the number of hours, a teen spends on their phone increases the number of hours that that teen spends being physically active or socially connected with their peers decreases. Which in turn, increases depression.

Be understanding.: Living with a depressed teenager can be exhausting.  At times, you may experience unnecessary guilt, rejection, despair, anger, and many other negative emotions. It is easy to blame yourself and to start doubting your own parenting skills. Remember that your child is not being difficult on purpose. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding.

When Do I Seek Professional Help?

Listen to your gut. You know your child, you know what is and isn’t normal for their personality. As you are actively engaged in their lives you will know if something is up. Have the courage and the strength to seek the professional help that is necessary to help your teen learn how to manage and understand depression in order to live a happy, balanced, and fulfilled life.

 

Written by Brandi Hess, LAMFT

 

Is Your Teen Depressed?

Many of the parents that I see often wonder what is and isn’t normal teenage behavior. They sit in my office and try to make sense of the most recent argument that they have had with their teen. They wonder how on earth their teenager can sleep until noon on a Saturday and cannot for the life of them figure out the patterns or the causes of their teens good and bad moods. Teenagers face a variety of pressures and stresses. As they enter Jr. High they are adapting to an entirely new way of learning and socializing. Often times their group of friends are changing and the teen naturally wonders where they fit in as they are trying to figure out who they really are. Beyond the natural biological changes of puberty, teenagers are also dealing with the pressures of getting good grades, maybe dealing with high stress family issues, or struggling with feeling accepted in their social circles. So, what is normal and what is depression?

 

Teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that is estimated to affect one in five adolescents from all walks of life. Between 10-15% of these teens suffer from symptoms at any one time, and sadly only 30% of depressed teens are being treated for it. A depressed teenager’s entire life is impacted. The depression can affect their self-esteem, their family and social relationships, their overall health and their ability to function in everyday life.

Many times, the teenager has just not learned how to cope or handle the new set of emotions and feelings that they are feel as their bodies are changing and as they are starting to face real daily stresses and pressures. Rather than seeking support and help from their family and friends they become withdrawn, anxious, and sad. They begin to act out in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain. If depression isn’t treated or addressed it can destroy the essence of your teen’s personality causing them to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, anger and disappointment. Below is a list of signs and symptoms to look for in your teen if you think that they may be struggling with depression:

 

  • Irritability or hostility
  • frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends/family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Teenagers often times suffer silently, feeling alone. They become hopeless and believe that life will never get better. Teenagers rely on their parents and caregivers to recognize their suffering and to get them the help that they need. If you are unsure if our teenager is depressed or just “being a teenager” consider how long the symptoms have been present and how severe they are and then consider how different your teen is acting from his or her usual self. Be proactive and find a professional who can help your teen overcome this difficult part of their life. There is hope, and things can get better.

 

By Brandi Hess, LAMFT

An Ethic to Live: Building Barriers to Suicide Around Ourselves & Those We Love by Laura Skaggs-Dulin

In cities throughout the world, notable high buildings and bridges increasingly have additional fencing built atop of them with the specific purpose of preventing suicides. Suicide fences tend to work because research has shown that suicidal actions are frequently impulsive, hence such fences serve to forestall that impulse and buy individuals precious time to further think about their decisions. In studies of suicide fences, it appears that individuals don’t leave such barriers to go look for another bridge or tall building to end their lives from, but instead return to the business of living for yet another day.  

Presently suicide is the leading cause of death among young people ages 10-17 here in Utah, and over the last decade, it’s also doubled amongst adults in our state. As concerned friends, neighbors and parents, how do we help our community build more barriers to suicide; protecting and empowering those we love? Over the next year, I’ll be writing a series of articles in answer to this question; offering my perspective as both a therapist, who has stood on sacred ground in helping others walk back from suicidal thinking, and as one who’s felt and ultimately rejected the dark pull to end my life amidst heavy times.   

Perhaps you’ve already noted that there’s no way to build suicide fences everywhere or to somehow block all of the endless ways in which someone might consider ending their life. Sound public policies on prevention and physical barriers like suicide fences are only some of the important ways to help. So in addition to these forms of prevention, the focus of my writing will be on how to build barriers to suicide directly into the thinking and values of individuals, and into the culture of our community as a whole. In this first article, I want to introduce how we help foster an ethic to live within ourselves and in others as a key barrier to suicide.  

An ethic to live means valuing our lives and holding a commitment within ourselves to continue living — even when we’re unsure of how we’ll cope or move forward. In my experience, helpful conversations about consciously building an ethic to live, begin by first taking care to turn our attention to the reality that to live is to be vulnerable to an array of difficult life experiences, with the potential to evoke within us the thought to end one’s life to escape them. Throughout human history, individuals and peoples have had to confront extremely painful and unjust challenges which have overwhelmed their sense of being able to continue on, and it’s important to acknowledge that when we confront such considerable pain, it is the most human thing in the world to want relief from it. This is real; excruciating human suffering beyond one’s current sense of how to reduce or stop it is real, and in these concentrations of pain, we may find ourselves having suicidal thoughts.  

When we acknowledge and honor that such excruciating life experiences do show up for many of us, it’s then that we can locate where we need to begin building internal fences to prevent suicide. It’s here that we recognize the need to develop a strong ethic to live even though there are times that we might not yet fully know how we’ll cope or be able to see brighter ways forward. It’s also here that we find the need to define as individuals what makes life worth living with specificity to our own life experiences, as well as the need to find a listener who we can turn to and voice what’s going on inside of us. 

As you navigate life’s difficulties, no matter how hard things may get, make the commitment now to live and identify your personal reasons to do so. Additionally, identify suicidal thoughts as a  sign to find a listener who you feel safe enough to talk to. It’s worth thinking about right now who it is you might feel comfortable turning to during your hardest times. By doing so, you’ll begin to build your own internal fence between you and suicide as well as have greater insight as to how to help others you care about to do the same.  

 * If you or someone you care about is currently having thoughts of ending their life, caring help is available 24/7 by texting 741741 from anywhere in the USA or you can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak directly with a Counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

About the Author: Laura Skaggs-Dulin holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from San Diego State University. She currently sees clients at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families and at Encircle LGBT Youth and Family Resource Center in Provo

Forced Apologies by Carol Kim, MS, LAMFT

My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.”  I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.  

There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies: 

  1. Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.   
  2. Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.  
  3. Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy. 
  4. Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions.  Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s. 
  5. Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.    

What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.  

About the Author: Carol is a therapist at the American Fork Center for Couples and Families. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Carol specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy, and has extensive clinical experience treating depression, anxiety, ADHD, addictions, domestic violence, trauma, children/adolescents and relationship issues.