Two People Can’t Be in a Crisis At the Same Time

When parents lose a child, it often ends in divorce because two people can’t be in crisis at the same time. Each is in a place of need and the other isn’t available to give because they are also in need. This leaves both feeling alone and unsupported. 

Losing a child is a pretty extreme example. Here are some others that show how this can happen in less extreme ways:

  • When someone has an affair, the Betrayer is dealing with the events that led to the affair, the fallout, and potentially the loss of the new lover. The Betrayed is dealing with the betrayal. They are not in an ideal place to help each other because they are the source of a lot of pain. They are also in a space of overwhelm. We can’t help from that place.
  • When each partner in a relationship has a mental health issue, each can escalate and get lost in their own needs. They then become unavailable to help the other because they are overwhelmed. For example, if A needs to feel connected and B needs to get away to feel safe, A can chase. This is the exact opposite of what B needs. B can then blow up to push A away. This often makes things worse as well.
  • If a couple uses the Hero-Victim-Oppressor triangle (codependency), and one of them steps out of their role, it can feel so alien and scary that the other behaves in such a way to make them go back to the dysfunction. This sustains the status quo and prevents them from moving to a more healthy way of being.
  • When there is a new baby, mom can be tired because of the time and attention that the baby demands. Dad’s not sleeping so he’s tired. He’s also frustrated by losing mom’s affection. Neither has anything to give the other so both can feel neglected.
  • Or more simply put, two overwhelmed people can’t help each other. They don’t have any juice to give to the other.

The Giver & Taker

We all have a giving side. Some of us live there. We all also need to receive. Some of us are great at receiving and being taken care of. Others not so much. Often Giver and Taker find each other because this feels like a comfortable fit.

The healthiest way to function is to have healthy Giver and Taker energy within us. We can give and receive from others, but we primarily do this for ourselves. That is what makes us sovereign people. We rely on ourselves for what we need but lean on others for connection and meaning.

What to Do When Crisis Hits

When we’re in crisis, the first priority is getting out of the crisis. You can’t take care of others. You’re in fight or flight. That’s what crisis is. It’s hard to think when we’re overwhelmed. It helps to have a plan beforehand. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a list go to people you can call to talk to. Include hotlines if you don’t have people you can trust.
  • Create a comfort box that contains things that help you be grounded. Some suggestions are tactile squeeze toys, photographs of happy times, coloring books and crayons, music, and hard candy to suck on. It can hold anything that distracts you in a happy, calm way.
  • Create a safe place and go there. This can be a corner of a room, a tree in the park, or your car. Sit there, away from the stimulating thing, until you feel calm again. Breathing helps.
  • Have a mantra or practice that helps you to stay grounded in your body. For example, you can say, “I am safe now” or practice tightening and releasing different parts of your body. So you can squeeze your eyes shut as you inhale, then exhale as you relax the muscles. Do this all over your body.

We want our closest partners to be there for us when the chips are down. Sometimes they can’t. When you’re both in overwhelm, it’s just not a realistic desire. Remember “Two people can’t be in crisis at the same time.” When this time hits, take care of yourself first. Insist on it.

Don’t expect your partner to hear you or even recognize that you have a need when they are overwhelmed too. Maybe he or she can, but it could be at the expense of his or her own health. It’s a lot to ask.

It’s okay to lean on family members or friends who aren’t in crisis. However, if the source of your crisis is your partner, don’t share that part with others. They may take sides and this can make the relationship worse. You don’t need others to agree that your situation is hopeless. You need people who will help you get back on your feet.

Recap

When you and your partner are in crisis:

  • Focus on getting out of the crisis first.
  • Prioritize yourself and meeting your own needs.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Lean on family, friends, a hotline, a therapist, but not someone else who is in crisis. Don’t add to their overwhelm.
  • Stay close and connected to your partner. Witness their struggle, but don’t attempt to help if you don’t have it to give.

This probably doesn’t feel very satisfying. We all want a lot from our partners. It’s really risky rescuing a drowning person because they often take you down with them. It’s the same as getting involved in someone else’s crisis. We can’t help if we’re depleted. Accepting it for what it is helps it to sting less.

Yearning for Sovereignty

sovereignty

The young girl wants to spend time with her friends, choose her own clothes, and make her own career choices. She’s fighting with her parents who want her to do and be something else.

A grown man doesn’t know who he is. When he was growing up, if he said he liked pink, his mom said, “You don’t want that. That’s a girl’s color.” If he said he wanted to be a waiter, his mom said, “No, you want to be a lawyer.” When he cried, his mom said, “You’re okay.” Now he’s unsure how to make a decision without consulting someone else.

A worker hates going into the office because his boss nitpicks. Nothing is done right, on time, at the level of quality that his boss wants. No matter how much unpaid overtime is “donated,” it’s not enough. So being there is soul-stealing and stressful.

A wife says “I don’t know” many times a day because if she goes left her husband tells her she’s wrong. If she goes right, her husband tells her she’s wrong. Little things like how much sauce to put on spaghetti can lead to an explosion. So waits to see what’s okay before she can move.

A girl sits in a mental hospital. She spent her childhood in anxiety over good grades so that she could get into a school her parents approved of. She spent her young adulthood in a program of study that she wasn’t interested in to have the status to fit into her family. And one day she broke.

An elderly man is haunted by the voice of his dead father. He has been gone many years, but he still feels controlled by his judgment and disapproval. He feels he will never be good enough. Now that his father is dead, his chance to win his approval and be set free is gone.

All of these people are yearning for sovereignty. We all need sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the space to be who we are, to do what we want, and to have autonomy. We all have a place in the world that we control. For some, it’s just the bubble around our bodies. For others, it’s huge companies, homes, and large tracts of land. It’s the space that we care for and express our uniqueness. It’s how we say “I am here. This is me.”

Maybe I do it by singing. Maybe you do it by wearing quirky clothes. Most often it’s little things that others can’t even notice like going to bed when we’re tired, feeling our feelings, and thinking our thoughts. Nobody wants to be controlled. Nobody wants to be invalidated. We’re all legitimate.

There are so many things we can’t control in life. The bubble within is our own domain. We can stand up and say, “Hey, this is me! I want this. I don’t like that. These are my feelings! This happened!” That’s living. When we do that, we don’t have to yearn for sovereignty, we can be sovereign.

You’re enough. Be sovereign.

May today be the start of that adventure.

How to Have a Healthy Break Up

healthy break up

Relationships are risky. Sometimes they don’t work out. This can be true even if both parties are great people. Maybe there aren’t enough shared interests to keep them connected. Maybe they each want different things. Or perhaps they just make better friends. It happens. Not all relationships are forever. So, it’s good to know how to have a healthy break-up.

Talk It Out

It’s not always easy to talk about cutting ties – especially if this is not your choice. However, if at all possible, communicate openly about your thoughts and feelings. Talk about what was good, what didn’t work for you, and keep it positive. No blaming, complaining or fighting.

Whatever you do, don’t lie. Don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t make promises you won’t keep to let someone down easy.

Leaving on a respectful, high note is so much nicer than having a knockdown drag out fight. It gives you both dignity and helps close the door on this chapter of your life so that you can move on.

Set New Boundaries

It’s a good idea if both parties agree on what the new ground rules will be. Does a break up mean no contact? Are you planning on maintaining a friendship? If you were best friends, share mutual friends, like the same hangouts, or have kids, this is an important thing to consider.  Having clear boundaries will keep you from having a long period in limbo.

Respect the Boundaries

It’s tempting to go back to old habits. For you and your ex, it’s better to respect the new boundaries. You’re not a couple anymore. That means things change. Let them change. This is a great time to focus on yourself, not your past or your ex.

Spend Some Time Alone

It’s usually a good idea to have some time and space after a break up to reflect. Relationships can teach us a lot if we pay attention. If we don’t give ourselves this time, we may simply go right back into a new relationship with the same dynamics that we left. So, give yourself space to grow before you connect with someone else.

Having some space can also give you the privacy to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be upset, let down, angry, lonely, or jealous. You feel what you feel. When you’re done feeling that, a new feeling will come along. For now, be here.

Stay Busy

While it’s a good idea to feel your feelings, you don’t want to get bogged down in them. Everything in moderation! Making time for friends, family, engaging in hobbies, or taking that new class can help to heal the pain of a break-up. Staying busy keeps you from going into dark or destructive places too.

Maintain Self Care

It can be tempting to let go of everything and mourn. When we feel this way, it’s most important to maintain self-care. Be sure to eat healthy foods, take care of hygiene needs, exercise, have social time, and make space for your spiritual practices. Don’t overeat, indulge in alcohol or drugs, or use gossip as a way to escape. This will only prolong the pain of the break-up.

Things end. All the time. This is part of life. When we rehearse and participate in healthy endings, they are easier to endure. They just become natural. So if you are experiencing an ending, remember that they are also beginnings.

 

What is “Religious Trauma Syndrome?”

religious trauma syndrome

Most therapists promote spirituality as a coping mechanism. Life is holistic. We need to connect to Spirit in order to feel whole. It helps expand our experience of life. However, even the best things can be corrupted. Religious trauma syndrome is one example. So what it is?

Defining Religious Trauma Syndrome

You won’t find “religious trauma syndrome” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sufferers may experience

  • Confusion, difficulty with decision-making and critical thinking, dissociation, identity confusion
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation, anger, grief, guilt, loneliness, lack of meaning
  • Sleep and eating disorders, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, somatization
  • Rupture of family and social network, employment issues, financial stress, problems acculturating into society, interpersonal dysfunction

The symptoms occur because of guilt for leaving the faith, questioning the beliefs, or not being devout enough in their beliefs or practices.

How It Happens

Churches with these characteristics are more likely to result in religious trauma syndrome.

  1. Authoritarian. These churches have a hierarchy with God at the top. The rules are inflexible. Members are not to question the rules or the hierarchy. Usually, men have more power than women. Women have more power than children. Abusive practices can trickle down to the people who are lower on the totem pole. This leaves a lot of people vulnerable and helpless because there is nowhere to turn for help.
  2. Isolationism. Members are discouraged from socializing with outsiders to keep themselves “pure.” This may start from childhood so that kids don’t have a basis of comparison to know the difference between their way of life and how others live. Families may go to school, live, and work only with people from their church.
  3. Fear. Fear is often the weapon of choice for any abusive person or organization. It can be fear of physical punishment, ostracism, eternal damnation or anything in between.

How To Deal With It

“Just leave” isn’t really enough to deal with the problems. Sometimes the symptoms don’t emerge until after the person has left the church. If the church is a mainstream religion, triggers can be all around us. Also since many people belong to these religions, it’s sometimes not easy to find a sympathetic ear. Even when people are not of the same religion, are atheist or agnostic, they may not understand because we still don’t do a good job of talking about trauma in our society. So what do you do?

Talk about it. There are online forums for just about everything nowadays. Finding someone who can understand the fear in situations that don’t sound scary is very validating. When others are further along in the healing process, this can help you find your way out and give you hope.

Get therapy. Many therapists still don’t know about religious trauma syndrome, so you may have to educate them. However, a trauma therapist will understand how trauma happens and how to heal it. Ask for trauma treatment, not just help with the symptoms listed above.

Get educated. The more you know, the better you will be able to advocate for yourself. Do you really need medication? Do you have the right diagnosis? If you know what is going on, you can get the right treatment the first time.

The American Religious Identification Survey reported that 12.7 million people went from religious to “no affiliation” from 1990 to 2008. This is a drastic decline in church membership. Not all of those people suffer from trauma, of course, and most churches are places of refuge and comfort. However, if you are suffering from religious trauma, reach out and ask for help.

 

Overlooked Causes of Trauma

causes of trauma

Most people understand that child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and serving in combat can lead to trauma. Unfortunately, many other things cause trauma that are overlooked. Because they aren’t generally associated with trauma, people can try to live with them. Without treatment, they can cause unnecessary pain for a long time. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Medical Treatment

We think of doctor’s offices, dentist visits, and hospitals as places we go to for help. However, a common element with traumatic incidents is feeling a loss of control. When health care workers treat us like bodies, aren’t compassionate, don’t tell us what’s going on, take on the expert role, and we can’t do anything about it, this can result in trauma. Fear + the unknown + a lack of control can equal trauma. Undergoing medical procedures or even just one bad medical visit can leave deep scars.

Living With an Alcoholic

Let’s look at that “fear + the unknown + a lack of control” equation again. Living in an alcoholic household can create all of those things! When someone is drunk, you don’t know what they might do. You certainly have no control over other people. If it’s violent, embarrassing, or can result in humiliation, fights, or homelessness, that’s scary. It’s not “normal” or healthy to be drunk. Even if this happened long ago, you could still be carrying the scars of it in your body.

Emotional Incest

Emotional incest is often hard to detect as traumatizing or abusive because it can feel as if you had/have a really close bond with your parent. It happens when your parent gives you the role of a friend or confidante. Perhaps he or she talked about how mature you always were. You share everything- even things talk about finances and relationships. Consequently, you don’t get to have a childhood. You don’t get to feel taken care of. This is not the natural order of things, and it’s very damaging to kids.

Car Accidents

I’ve had many clients who have gotten into car accidents who don’t realize that it can be traumatizing. When your car goes out of control, it’s scary! You might have nightmares. Maybe you’re really hurt. If you are replaying it in your mind, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds of the crash, and are scared to get back behind the wheel, you’re not shaking it off. It’s still in your body and you might need some help releasing that. It’s not “nothing.” It’s your body trying to cope with an overwhelming situation.

Death

Death is normal and natural, yet it can still be traumatizing. Especially if it was sudden, you were left out of the dying or funeral process, or no one supported you. There is a whole death and grieving process. If it’s not observed in a healthy way, we can experience trauma. We don’t do death well in the west anyway. It’s not “normal” to have three days to process something that life-changing and then be expected to go back to normal, yet that’s what we do. It’s not always easy to just bounce back.

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parents can give the impression of being perfect parents because they are very present and involved in their kids’ lives. However, this is stifling. Kids need space to grow. They need to make their own decisions and have their own experiences. When parents do it all for them, remove all obstacles, and give them everything, kids don’t get to experience a holistic life. Life can not only feel very unsatisfying, but it can also make the kids feel as if they are incapable. They have no control. It’s scary to feel like you are incapable and no one believes in you. Helicopter parenting sends the message “The world is very dangerous. You can’t manage this, so I will do it for you.” What is a person supposed to do when the parents aren’t there?

Overly Controlling Parenting

Whereas helicopter parents are often motivated by love and caring, the overly controlling parent can be motivated by perfectionism and anxiety. This is also stifling. The kids feel straight-jacketed. They also don’t get to experience life. This can result in children who fear making mistakes. Learning comes from mistakes! We don’t grow without mistakes. So this person can develop a fixed mindset, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and anxiety. When there are lots of rules and restrictions, this is obvious, but overly controlling parenting can be disguised by withholding approval or using guilt to control.

Strict Religious Upbringing

This is another area that seems like it’s healthy. Having a spiritual life is holistic. However, when we are controlled by obligations, a strict moral code, and are threatened with ostracism or Hell, it can create trauma. Again, there is a fear of making a mistake, not being good enough in the eyes of those you love, and losing the thing that gives you a sense of belonging. If you feel like the values of the church are in conflict with your own (for example racism, homophobia, dietary rules, etc), this can feel like you are having to hide your true self. Going against your values and hiding is incredibly invalidating.

Court

When you go to court, you put your fate into the hands of a stranger. You have no control. If the judge’s decision impacts your freedom, finances, reputation, or relationships, this is a high stakes game. Nobody wants to give anyone else that much control over their lives. While we can all agree that court is stressful, it can also be traumatizing if the person is not particularly resilient, he doesn’t have a lot of support, the case is prolonged, and/or he feels invalidated.

Growing Up with a Sick Parent

When your parent is either mentally or physically ill, this can create terror in a child. He might have thoughts about his own health or death. He may fear what will happen to him if something happens to his parent. We can overlook a child who appears competent and calm, but every child needs love and attention. When the parent is too busy tending to his own problems, the child can feel abandoned. Uncertainty is a huge component of crisis. Living in crisis creates trauma.

These might sound like life issues, not causes of trauma. Trauma is something that happens to your nervous system. It’s a way of coping with stress. When your body is overwhelmed and can’t cope, it creates changes in the stomach and nervous system that increases emotional symptoms, relationship problems, and can create dis-ease. It’s not “nothing.” If you are having problems and don’t really know why one of these things could be the reason why.

I am sure there are many other things that could make this list. If you experienced something that was invalidating, scary, you couldn’t control it, and you didn’t know what to do, your body could be carrying trauma. Check it out to know for sure. This is treatable. The rest of your life doesn’t have to be limited by something in your past.

One Lifestyle Hack That Always Works

wu wei

When you don’t know what to do, there is one lifestyle hack that always works- wu wei. It’s a Daoist practice that means non-doing. It doesn’t mean do nothing. It means to go through life without effort. When things feel easy breezy, you’ve got it.

Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu

What’s Wu Wei

In the west, when things get tense, we struggle more. We turn up the heat, stay up later, work harder, sleep less, and try harder. Goals drive our lives. We’ve bought into ideas that we can succeed if we just put in more effort, learn something else, produce more, or work longer hours. Studies have actually shown that students who take relaxation breaks do better on exams and remember more than those who do long cram study sessions. Relaxation helps!

Now let’s take that to another level, and you’ve got wu wei. Wu wei is a lifestyle that removes effort. It’s living in flow. This doesn’t mean you loaf around and avoid living. It is really about doing what is called for rather than being goal or desire directed. So in a way, you can say that it’s about living purposefully and engaging in what is. This doesn’t remove motivation. It works with it. Simple. Elegant. Easy.

How Does It Help

  • Wu wei reduces anxiety and stress because it doesn’t require thinking. Thinking uses a lot of energy. Wu wei moves like water. It flows easily around obstacles and wears even the hardest stone away gentle. It requires no effort, no energy.
  • Wu wei puts us in the alpha or meditative mindset. Here, things are timeless. There is no separation between you and what you are doing, so you’re in a space of oneness. When you’re doing what you love, you experience this. Life feels easier and more enjoyable.
  • Wu wei increases self-awareness. When you are practicing wu wei, you are more focused and notice more in a fully sensory way. Your engagement with life is greater, so you can feel more present and alive. This also increases your sense of other awareness so that you can engage more honestly and thoughtfully.

So the next time you are frazzled and need to really get something done, drop into wu wei. Stop trying. Take a break. Drop into what you’ve practiced. Let Nature take its course. Let me know how it works for you.

Disclaimer: Wu wei works best with what you have already habitually cultivated. It helps to have healthy life skills and awareness first. However, wu wei can also help you get them if you don’t already have them.

Why Defensiveness is a Relationship Destroyer

defensiveness

If someone says something that we perceive as “You’re bad,” we generally respond in one of two ways:

  1. You’re even worse (attack).
  2. No, I’m not! (defense)

Both of these are relationship destroyers. Most of us know that attacking leads to fighting and away from connection. In this article, I will discuss why defensiveness is a relationship destroyer. I will also let you know what to do instead.

When two people are connected, they play off each other. If you zig, I zag. So, when someone gets defensive, it puts the other person in the position of being the attacker – whether they actually were or not. Both attacking and defending sends the message, “You’re the bad guy!” This sets up the hero, victim, oppressor triangle. There are no winners here. This pattern can last forever with no forward movement, only hurt for all players.

So what do you do instead? Here are some skills to help.

Observe

The first thing that has to happen is that you notice that your buttons have been pushed. When our buttons are pushed, that alerts us that we have buttons. Buttons are growth opportunities. It’s not about what the other person did or said- even if it truly was hurtful. It’s about how we responded to what they did or said that made us vulnerable. So this step is about noticing that we were tweaked and now we’re in a vulnerable position.

Take a Moment to Pause

Slowing down gives us a chance to respond with thoughtfulness. Our impulses may get us in trouble. Take your time. Step back and breathe.

Achieve Clarity

Think about what really happened. What observable data do you have? Are you jumping to conclusions? What does this situation look like if you remove all the judgment? If you are unsure of what you heard, saw, or interpreted, ask for clarification.

Be Effective

When choosing your next move, be effective. What is your big-picture goal? For many of us, our immediate goal is to feel safe again. This is why we attack or defend. Resist that impulse and lean into the problem. If your big-picture goal is to retain connection with this person, think about what will get you there. Think about the data you just got from getting clear.

Did this person really communicate that you’re a bad person or was that your past training creeping in? If this person really did attack you, was he playing out some past issue? Can you bring it back to the real issue? If you feel safe enough to do this, go vulnerable. It’s a really easy way to neutralize conflict when you’re dealing with someone who cares about you.

Let’s look at an example to make this more clear.

Guy: Are you wearing that?

Sheila:

  1. Look at what you’re wearing! You’ve got some nerve asking me about my wardrobe. You’re not exactly fashionable yourself. (attack)
  2. What’s wrong with what I have on? Are you calling me fat? (defensive)
  3. Yes, I love this outfit!
  4. Oh! Do you think it’s not a great choice? I really care about your opinion. What prompted your question? I feel pretty when I wear this. It’s one of my favorite outfits.

Do you see the difference? The first two are probably going to lead to hurt feelings. The third doesn’t show any signs of buttons being pushed. It’s assertive and creates no conflict. In the fourth, a button was probably pushed. It acknowledges the hurt feelings, asks for clarification, and shares the speaker’s perspective. It’s much more connecting and honest than the attack or defensive answer.

Defensiveness is one of the Gottman’s Four Horsemen that predict relationship failure. Chances are, if you have one, you have more than one. If you want healthy relationships, you have to know what kills them and what nurtures them. Removing defensiveness as a coping strategy will help you grow with people instead of away from them.

What You Need to Know to Grow Yourself Into an Adult (If Your Parents Didn’t Get You There)

erickson

Lots of people had parents who didn’t know how to parent for one reason or another. Perhaps they didn’t have good examples of how to be parents. Maybe they had a mental illness or addiction issues. Or maybe there was only one parent and he or she was too busy providing for survival needs that he or she wasn’t there for emotional needs. 

Whatever the case was, if you’ve got a case of arrested development, there is no point in casting blame or playing woe is me. Now you are an adult. It falls to you to get what you didn’t get then. So where do you start? For a guide, let’s use Eric Erickson’s psychosocial development theory.

Trust vs. Mistrust – 0 to 18 months

Erickson says that children spend the first eighteen months of life figuring out if life is safe. If the primary caregiver (I will call this person “mom” from now on even though this may have been a father or grandparent) is responsive, warm, consistent, and reliable, the child develops a sense of trust that lays the foundation for the rest of life. If the baby’s needs are not consistently met, the child becomes anxious, distrustful, and suspicious. He views the world and people as unsafe and will have less confidence in himself and everything else. In extreme cases, the child’s brain doesn’t develop normally and this leads to significant social and mood issues that are difficult to overcome.

Early childhood is a critical period. If you feel stuck at this stage, trauma counseling may be appropriate. Rebirthing is another therapy that targets early childhood issues. 

Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt – 18 months to 3

Toddlers are known for the “terrible twos” because it’s around this time that they start becoming mobile and realizing that they have an impact on the world around them. They have a will and can start exercising it. Their “job” is to begin to develop a sense of independence. As they explore and do things, they begin to feel confident and secure in their ability to survive. If parents are critical, controlling, and don’t give them opportunities to make messes, play, choose their own clothes, or make decisions, children become dependent and develop a sense of low self-worth. They doubt their abilities and can feel shame. 

If you have challenges with self-esteem and shame, learn new things. Practice failing and getting back up again until you can do something with skill and ease. Explore movies, food, careers until you feel that you know what you like. Once you decide, indulge in your pleasures. Practice good self-care (eating healthy, regular meals, practicing good sleep hygiene, exercising, etc). Learn how to cook, clean, pay bills, and other life skills. 

If you have people in your life who like to “help” you, ask them to step back unless and until you ask for help. Don’t ask unless you really need it. Trust that you can do things and pay your own way. Release your dependence. When people grow up and say, “I turned into my mom,” this could be why. They didn’t learn how to be themselves. 

Initiative vs. Guilt – 3 to 5

Children now likely have a wider social circle and play more. They are learning interpersonal skills, how to share, communicate, use imagination, delay gratification, ask for what they want, and deal with frustration. If given the freedom to do these things, they learn that it’s okay to take initiative, lead, make decisions, and deal with disappointment. If they are criticized, controlled, told what to think or do, shut down, or treated like their concerns are unimportant, they can develop guilt. They can hold back from socialization and play.

If you feel stuck here, it may be appropriate to learn social skills, then practice them to gain comfort with initiating conversations and ideas. You could join a group that engages in some type of imaginative activity like role-playing games or writing. 

Industry vs. Inferiority – 5 to 12

Children are now in school and are formally learning knowledge and skills. Erickson says children begin to look at peers for approval and self-esteem. If they have the expected skills and attributes and are encouraged by teachers, peers, and parents, they feel valued and develop a sense of pride. When this doesn’t happen, they can begin to feel inferior. 

If you feel stuck here, it may be beneficial to learn skills relating to communication, emotional intelligence, emotional regulation, boundaries, self-care, and/or professional skills. Additionally, it may also be valuable to learn to look to yourself for esteem rather than outside yourself. Everyone isn’t meant to be like everyone else. You could be an emu surrounded by chickens.

Identity vs. Role Confusion – 12 to 18

Adolescence is another time of rebellion. Parents may come down hard, demanding compliance, control, and conformity. Since this is the age when children are developing their own sense of identity, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. It’s a time for kids to explore their own values, beliefs, and goals. If kids start wearing odd clothes, reading radical political ideas, or checking out really different religions, they are on the right track! 

This might seem really weird to the parents, but it’s their way of differentiating themselves from their parents, fitting in, and being independent. At this age, children start thinking about romance, careers, families, and living independently. They are “rehearsing” their vision of who they will be when they are adults. 

By the end of this stage, Erickson said the person should have a firm idea of what they want to do, what they believe, and their sexual identity. Pressure, lack of support, lack of opportunity to explore, and lack of healthy examples can lead to confusion about who they are, what they are doing, and how they fit in. The inability to commit to something or engage in work can be a sign of this.

If you feel stuck here, talk to your peers. Investigate careers. Get a job. Date. Dare to be different – if just for today. Explore churches. Travel. Talk politics. Engage with life with no expectations. Experience is a great teacher. Having a mentor or therapist during this process can be very valuable as well as this person can help you make sense of the process. 

Intimacy vs. Isolation – 18 to 40

While your parents are no longer responsible for you after adulthood, development doesn’t end there. At this stage of life, we tend to focus on relationships. We search for connection, intimacy, and bonding outside the family. Experience with romantic partners can teach us intimacy. If romantic partnerships are not satisfying, we can learn to avoid intimacy and thus engage in isolation. This can result in loneliness and depression.

If you are stuck here, my suggestion is to look to the previous stages for what could be strengthened and focus there. Each stage builds upon the next. If you get up to Identity vs. Role Confusion knowing who you are, you are pretty well set up for intimacy. If you think you have great skills and a solid foundation and just can’t figure out why the romance piece isn’t clicking, talk to a coach, counselor, or minister to get a neutral outside perspective. Sometimes a second set of eyes is invaluable.

Generativity vs. Stagnation – 40 to 65

Middle age is a time for focusing on your purpose. If you feel you aren’t making your mark on the world or contributing in some way that lives on after you, you could feel stagnant. It could be time to reevaluate what you’re doing with your life. How are you contributing? What are you doing that has value? This is a time for looking beyond yourself and your family and out into the world. If you don’t feel useful, you could feel empty.

So, what do you do? Go back to your values. What matters to you? How do you want to serve? Whom do you want to serve? What excuses are you making?  How can you get beyond them?

Ego Integrity vs. Despair – 65 to death

This is the final stage of development. It starts roughly at retirement age and goes to death. Life is no longer about working, producing something, or contributing something. It’s more about “did I do what I came here to do?” It’s about contemplating regrets. If we have lots of regrets, we can fall into despair. If we feel good about how our lives were spent, we feel whole. This can lead to feeling at peace with our lives ending. 

Erickson’s theory isn’t perfect. It makes a lot of assumptions about what is “normal.” Some people are homeschooled. Some are precocious. Lots of people don’t rebel as teenagers. So there are many exceptions, but generally speaking, it’s a useful model to help you pinpoint a good place to start if you feel you experience arrested development. It’s a good way to see if you’re on track. To get going again, just start where your development was first interrupted and take it from there.

Early Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships

early warning signs

It’s a lot easier to not get into an abusive relationship than to get out once it’s started. Since abusive relationships don’t usually start out bad, it’s good to know the early warning signs to avoid getting deeply entangled. Let’s take a look at some of the common signs.

Love Bombing

If the relationship starts off with over the top enthusiasm, gifts, and praise, this is a red flag. Many of us want to be swept off our feet and showered with love, but when it happens in real life, it could be a sign that what he really wants is for you to let your guard down and let him in. Humans are taught to reciprocate. We don’t like to say no to someone who gives us something or likes us. This is a great way to reduce objections.

Everything Happens So Fast

If you feel your new relationship is happening at a whirlwind speed, this is another sign that things need to slow down. Get to know each other’s friends, family, likes, dislikes, politics, religion, feelings, and everything else. This takes time. We don’t reveal our whole souls in a couple of months. It may take a while to know whether or not you’re compatible. If things move too fast, you won’t get a chance to find out until it’s too late.

She’s Never Wrong

If you can’t disagree with your new partner because she’s never wrong, this is a red flag. Life comes with conflict. It’s okay to have different feelings and opinions. It doesn’t have to mean someone is wrong. Or maybe it’s a factual error and someone was wrong. That’s okay. Being able to admit that and move on is a sign of a healthy ego and good problem-solving skills. Hanging around someone who is never wrong foreshadows a rough road ahead.

Flashes of Anger

Does your new guy show flashes of anger and then backs down? Trust that! Those flashes of anger could turn on you. They could mask fury that will be directed at you. Anger is a normal healthy emotion. We all get angry sometimes. It can be a problem when it escalates out of control. Watching how anyone new who enters your circle handles anger is a good idea. If it’s not healthy, perhaps you should create some distance from them.

Lying

Lying is always problematic. You can’t have trust where there isn’t truth. The abusive partner can take this to a whole different level. Perhaps it’s about lying about little things that make no difference just to confuse or test you. Maybe it’s making up stories to make you think you’re crazy. Or maybe it’s covering up things that would make you leave. All you need to know is that if someone lies to you, they are not trustworthy. You can’t have a healthy relationship without trust.

My Way or the Highway

If you don’t have the freedom to make your own choices, you’re not in a relationship. You are in a dictatorship. Where you have no power, you can have no happiness. You’re an adult. You don’t need someone to tell you what to do, what to wear, what to think, or how to spend your time. It’s okay to have differences of opinions. That’s what makes life interesting. If you think you need someone to tell you what to do, get some help with that. Giving your power to someone else will be a really costly choice in the long run.

You’re Afraid to Talk About Certain Subjects

When you’re afraid to bring up certain topics, it’s probably because some part of you dreads the consequences. Healthy, equal partners have to talk about tough topics sometimes. It’s not always pleasant, but it won’t end with someone feeling beaten down, marathon fighting, name-calling, or being hurt. This red flag doesn’t mean your relationship is abusive, but it does indicate that you have some communication issues. If there are other red flags as well, you could be in an abusive relationship.

You Struggle to Be Happy With Your Partner

Relationships are living things. They either thrive or suffer based upon our shared experiences. If we have positive ones, they grow and feel good. When we struggle or have negative experiences, our relationships stagnate or hurt. If you spend your time mainly arguing, working on something, or repairing something, you may not be the best match for each other. So you might have to ask yourself if a good five minutes is worth a not-so-great rest of your life.

Everyone has lovable qualities, even people who are abusive.  Anyone can fall for someone who is abusive. If you have your eyes open, you don’t have to stay there. So what do you do if your relationship has these early warning signs? Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to find out for sure if your relationship is abusive. If you need help getting out, they can help with that as well.

What to Do After An Affair

after the affair

So, there’s been an affair. You want to repair your relationship, and you want to know what to do after an affair to make things better. Read on!

First, a definition. “Affair” means that there has been a relationship outside of the primary relationship without the knowledge and consent of the other partner. It can be emotional or physical. It may even occur within open relationships if the parties agree to have open communication about what’s going on and that is withheld. Cheating is about a breach of trust. If there is a betrayal of trust, it’s an affair. Now that that is understood, let’s look at what to do after an affair.

Keep It Between the Two of You

When others hear about what’s happened, they take sides. This can make it harder to reconcile. If your best friend is saying what a dog your partner is, this can make you feel understood, but it could also solidify your anger. If one person you care about thinks it’s in your best interest to stay away from another person you care about, you could lose one of them. Unless and until you are sure you’re calling it quits, keep it to yourself. Talk to a counselor or pastor- someone who can be an impartial third party for support if you need to.

Tell the Whole Truth

You’re trying to rebuild trust. The only way to do that it through truth. Don’t minimize, distort, blame, or try to control the flow of information. I know it’s hard to hear it and you can’t take it back once it’s out there. It is what it is. Withholding information is at least part of how the affair happened in the first place. If you want to clean things up, the truth has to come to light.

Cut Contact With the Other Person

In the vast majority of cases, healing cannot happen while there is still contact with the other person. It’s normal for the affair to stop and start up again. The other person served a role in the partner’s life. It’s easy to go back to what we know. If you’re serious about ending the affair, you have to cut contact.

Address It

It’s tempting to apologize, say it’s over, and then go back to normal. Nobody wants to do the hard work of repairing things, and if you’re not arguing, why dredge it up? It’s exhausting and painful. However, if you don’t address it, you’re just sweeping the mess underneath the rug for another day. The old way of doing things is what led up to the affair. If there is no change, it could happen again. Figure out what went wrong and make changes. If you make positive changes, the affair can be a tool for growth. Let it be.

No Blaming or Defending

The blame/defend game is a pattern. Neither side is helpful. Neither is necessary when both people take responsibility for what they contributed. This might seem like a surprising statement when only one person cheated, but there is always something that the other person did to contribute. This doesn’t mean that it’s the other person’s fault. It just means that relationships take two. Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • A criticizes B when B wants to do something that A doesn’t like. B stops telling A what he’s doing.
  • A says she’s going to do something then doesn’t do it. B loses trust.
  • A is involved in a project that B isn’t interested in. Rather than finding something they can both do together, B suggests that A do it with others.
  • A and B are busy with work and family things. They both want to nurture their own interests too, so in their free time, they spend time apart rather than together.
  • A does something B doesn’t like. A silently criticizes and feels more and more resentful. Meanwhile, B is totally unaware.

Be Reliable

Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. Let your partner check up on you to see that you’re doing that. I know it doesn’t feel good to be spied upon, but how would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot? There is a reason we say “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” If your partner has betrayed you once, blind trust is foolhardy. So be reliable. Let yourself be caught being reliable. This will rebuild trust.

No Manipulation

Don’t use friends, coworkers, children, or other family members as pawns for revenge or to get someone to say with you. It won’t make either party happy. Each person has a right to decide whether she or he wants to stay or go that is based upon the true facts and their own desires. Guilt, coercion, moral judgments, threats, or any other sort of manipulation won’t lead to peace and harmony.

Practice Good Self Care

Both sides will likely say things that they don’t mean. Don’t be too quick to accept what is said. Be careful not to speak in haste. Thoughtless emotional outbursts could determine your future if you’re not careful. If you practice good self-care, this is less likely. Sleep well. Eat well. Meditate. Spend time in nature and with your friends. It’s easy to push these things aside at a time like this, but now is when it’s most important of all.

It’s a lot easier to walk away after an affair. You can just leave the mess behind you. It takes courage and a lot of work to stay. If you do the work, relationships can be even stronger than before after an affair. There is no right or wrong choice. It’s up to you how to proceed. Using these guidelines above can make it a little easier.