Michael Freels, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, offers personal clinical insights on mental health issues and concerns that readers have. Including relationships, parenting, stress, substance abuse counseling and managing your emotional life. Questions and comments are welcome.
Forgiveness is difficult, sometimes. I see it as being important as a means of helping to repair relationships, though that is not it's only value. The most important benefit of it is to relieve the forgiver of the burden of unnecessary anger and resentment. I say "unnecessary" because the anger no longer serves a healthy purpose for the person. Resentment requires that a person hold on to painful feelings from the past. To relive the betrayal emotionally sometimes years after it has occurred. It then interferes with other aspects of the person's life. For example, rebuilding an important relationship, or being able to trust people in similar but unrelated situations, or even the negative effects of the stress related to the angry baggage. What I wrote about in my Mental Notes ("All You Need Is Love," 9/22/07) referred to the importance of forgiveness in a loving relationship. And in response to the comments, I will focus on how to make it happen. An article that I found explains the process very well ( "How To Forgive Someone And Move On With Life" ). Basically, the author suggests separating the action from the person who did it. That way you can still express compassion for the person without accepting their offending behavior. I am not suggesting (at all) that you forget what happened. But when you focus on the person that you love, it's easier for you to appreciate that they made a mistake, which we all do; or that there may be other factors at play that were not totally under their control. This is also NOT to say that you want to leave yourself open to be mistreated again. But if they acknowledge their mistake, are sorry, and you truly believe that they will work hard not to do it again, then forgiveness can help you both. If it is something that they continue to do, then forgiveness is not likely, and you have to reconsider your involvement in the relationship. I also always suggest that if you are having too much difficulty letting go of anything from the past, then you have to look within. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to forgive yourself.
When I say this to couples that I work with (after we've gotten to know each other), they sometimes find it hard to believe. That ALL you need is love. Any therapist worth his beans would say that in order to make a relationship work well it takes good communication (especially listening), trust, respect, understanding, compassion, good conflict resolution, affection, fun, finance management, romance, commitment, and (sometimes) forgiveness. What I mean, though, is that love makes all of those things more possible to achieve, especially forgiveness. It helps you let go of some of the baggage that can begin to weigh a relationship down, because you can focus on the love that you have for your partner, in the present. It makes you listen better, and want to understand more. Focus on expressing love in every interaction between yourself and your partner, even disagreements, and you will resolve issues easier and without the drama. You'll laugh and play more. Your home will have less stress. Love is all you need.
If you have implemented the Back-To-School lessons of my blog the past few weeks, without getting the results that you want, then you should call or come in. I can help you figure out how to do things differently, and let you know if therapy is necessary. You and your child are not "failures" if change doesn't occur quickly enough, or the way that you expected it to. Habits are hard to break.
When children have problems behaving in class, or are not able to get their work done, then they need help from you. Don't wait until he or she gets suspended, or until they get D's and F's on their report card. Don't wait until the teacher labels your kid as a troublemaker. Once they start treating you child as the class "problem," it is VERY hard to break them of that habit. Your child may end up with that label sticking with them year after year, no matter how hard he tries to change it. Too many parents don't bring their child in for treatment until after everyone's given up. By that time the habits have gotten stronger, and the labels have gotten worse. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Depression. These are serious labels. At this point school personnel often start recommending medicine. PLEASE come in for an initial consultation before considering medication for your child (and before you get too attached to any of these labels). Unfortunately, there are some children who require medication to help them break some of the bad school habits that they've developed, but this should be considered only after you've really tried everything else. The majority of the children, and adolescents that I counsel make substantial improvement in their school performance, especially if their family participates. And the younger the child is, the more quickly they respond, usually. So, my final back-to-school recommendation is this: if you need help for your child to be successful in school, GET IT!
You have to know your child's teacher, preferably before "Open School night." Definitely before they have to contact you to address a problem that arises. There are several reasons for this. Your child needs to know that you feel his school life is important enough for you to be involved; and that you KNOW what's going on in class (children occasionally mislead their parents about what's expected of them in class). If you have a relationship with the teacher you can intervene more quickly and effectively if problems arise, including being able to respond to your child if they raise an issue with you, like: "My teacher is mean, ... too strict;" or "My teacher says we don't have to study that much;" or even, "Mr. Jones says video games are good for us." The teacher should know that you are supporting her expectations, as well as knowing that you are advocating for your child when needed. It's a good idea to have phone contact with the teacher by the second or third week of school. Make it clear to them that you want to be contacted if they have any concerns about your child's behavior or school work. Find out when is a good time to reach them if you have a concern. Unless there has been a problem, I think you don't need a face-to-face meeting until Open School Night. If a problem does arise, respond immediately, in person (if possible). Include your child, and develop a plan which includes each person's responsibility, i.e.. yours, your child's, and the teacher's. Consequences (for everyone) should be understood, though maybe not always stated. For example, if the teacher doesn't do his part, they are going to see a lot more of you, and if necessary, so will the principal. Again, you don't have to threaten them with consequences, as this may negatively influence the relationship between the teacher and your child. This is a team, and you are the coach. Sometimes more involved (when needed), usually not as involved if things are working well. Let everyone do their jobs. That's how a team works best. Remember to give them credit for the good work that they do. And, stay involved, more or less as needed.
Your child's homework is your child's responsibility. The sooner they know that (and you know it too), the sooner they'll be more responsible in getting it done. If you do it for them now, you'll be doing it forever, or at least until the schoolwork gets to be too advanced for you. Then who's going to do it? By then it may be too late for them to develop the good study and homework skills that they need in order to do well. I am not suggesting that you be totally uninvolved, but your child needs to learn early on that getting homework done correctly, turning it in, and knowing how much studying to do (and making time for it) is their job, not yours. This includes them knowing when to ask for help. The younger they are, the more "hands-on" involvement may be necessary. It is important to check their work, and to be available if they need help. Also if getting it done has been a problem in the past, it makes sense to develop a contract which includes rewards and consequences for putting in (or not) the necessary effort.
Generally, I suggest allowing the teacher to handle the consequences of your child not handing their work in (or doing poorly on a test), unless the teacher needs your help. Keep in mind that sometimes school failure is a sign of a deeper problem. Make sure you are aware of any stresses that may be influencing your child's school performance. And help them manage it before it develops into a larger problem for your child and your family. Getting homework done should not be a struggle. It should not be too difficult for him or her to do. And remember, it is not your job.
If you think back you may find that school was not particularly stressful for you. If it wasn't, then probably there were at least some days, or certain grades you were in, that were more stressful than others. Whether it was the year that you had that 'bad' teacher, or the time your best friend in school moved away, or the week that your sibling was sick and you worried a lot ending up with poor grades and getting into trouble (and nobody knew why). Normal events. Now throw in the occasional fear that the class bully might somehow find his way to you, or the worry that the air raid siren (today's "school lockdown" rehearsal) might really mean that we are under attack. Especially since there was typically no explanation (by anyone) why, who,nor how we would be attacked. But I somehow felt safer hiding under my desk, and felt joyous, breathing a sigh of relief when the "all clear" signal sounded. There is no doubt that there are many aspects of going to school daily that can cause your child stress. Most kids (now and then) roll with the punches. They deal with the situation and move on. How can you tell when your child is having difficulty managing school-related stress? Well, sometimes you can and sometimes you can't (until big problems develop; see my blog postings in April on Childhood Stress). If your relationship with your child is strong enough then you likely know what areas your child struggles with. But if your kid is getting into trouble, having problems maintaining his grades, is angry much of the time (especially after school), is getting sick, or talking about reasons not to go to school, then they are not handling their school stress well. And yelling at them, or punishing them can make the problem worse. Or you can help fix the problem, and prevent future problems.
I would say that the most important stress management tool that your child can have is a loving relationship with you. Your child will feel more secure, more confident, and see you as a resource to get help when they need it. Rather than avoid you because you blame them. Very important also is good nutrition and exercise. Breakfast is necessary. Cut down on fast foods, sweets, and white carbs (pizza, donuts, pasta, etc.). And they need regular physical exercise. Not the virtual exercise kids get playing football or basketball video games. Overweight kids tend to have more stressful school lives. Help your child learn problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution strategies. Of course, they learn best from good role models. Teach them to be optimistic, to think positively, and of the value of hard work. Also teach them what stress is, how it effects them, and how to manage it better. And finally, make your home a place for him to look forward to being, rather than a place to avoid. Manage the stress in your home so it can be a place that your children (and you) can get rejuvenated, feel safe, and feel loved.
You and your child should plan the upcoming school year. Discuss your expectations of each other, and make an agreement, a contract, describing what you will both do to make this a successful school year. This should include realistic goals regarding grades, homework and study time, bedtime on school nights, and as many other school related concerns as is necessary. Special attention should be paid to areas in which there were problems last year. It may be helpful to develop a contract that focuses on one particular problem area. The agreement should include rewards that you will give for them meeting their goals. I'm big on rewards. I know a lot of parents feel that we shouldn't have to pay our kids for doing what they're supposed to do anyway. But, rewards help a LOT. They don't have to be expensive. Allowance, a special meal or outing, something meaningful to your child that they wouldn't get otherwise. Also include negative consequences that are appropriate if your child doesn't make the effort that they've agreed to.
Some parents are much heavier on the punishments than the rewards. Be careful that you are not. In fact, if the teacher is giving a punishment for some misbehavior at school, you don't have to add another one at home. Even though you have a contract, it's important to remember that this is your child, who makes mistakes (like all of us). It's important to be consistent, but be flexible when necessary. Focus on their successes.
We've all heard the suggestion: "Catch your kid doing something right." This especially applies when helping you're child be successful in school. Too many parents focus too much on their child's mistakes. When we do that it makes their poor performance more important than their good work. They need to get more attention for the good effort they've put in. For example, if your child gets A's and B's, but also a D or an F, you have to focus on the good grades first. Those are more important for how they feel about themselves. You do have to address the poor performance, as it obviously indicates a problem. And give them appropriate consequences for their overall performance, good or bad. But if they are to be punished, please acknowledge their good work first. This helps improve their self-steem. Praise given to a child must be genuine though. Don't tell them they're good at something, if they are not. This means finding something that they are good at (even if it's not school-related). When reprimanding your child, separate the behavior from the person. You can hate the behavior, but continue to show your child that you love them. And calling the behavior 'stupid', still demeans the child. Please do not use such words in connection with your child. So now, before school starts, get in the practice of identifying, and praising the good things that you "catch" your child doing. They'll learn that good behavior is the best way to get your attention, instead of the negative attention that children can be so good at getting. Attention and acknowledgement is very important to kids (and adults!). Retrain them now, and yourself too.
Yes, we should definitely get out of Iraq. War hasn't worked. Peace seems like a reasonable alternative. That applies to life in our homes, as well as inner peace. The important relationships, with our partners, our kids, friends, coworkers, sometimes do involve conflict. Too often. Resolve these conflicts peacefully. We do not need to fight with the people we care about, regardless of the 'baggage' that we carry. Let the past stay in the past. Forgive. It is also important to forgive ourselves for the failures we've lived through, for the mistakes we've made. Give up any of the guilt we feel from the past, and forgive yourself. Some of our inner conflict contributes to the conflict we go through with other people in our life. Including the people we care about, the ones we love. Love often requires forgiveness, which helps us reach the peace we deserve in our lives. Think about that. If you do not love yourself figure out why. This may be the reason for some of your self-destructive behavior. Learn to forgive the ones you love, so you can enjoy a happy peaceful relationship. If you find that you can't do either of these things, get some help with it. We've been in Iraq for almost five years now, mostly because of stubbornness. Don't make the same mistake in the relationships that are important to you. Figure it out better so you and others don't continue to get hurt. Don't allow yourself (and your family) to continue to suffer because you are too stubborn to consider another, more peaceful, loving way. Give peace, and forgiveness, a chance.
You gotta see this movie! SICKO is about the healthcare system in this country, and the MANY improvements that could and should be made to make it as good as it is in other countries. Health insurance companies (which I will also refer to as 'Managed Care') in this country seem to be mostly focused on making money, while they should be more involved in insuring our health. SICKO describes how many Americans suffer two-fold. First from the illlness they may have, but then also from the stress of trying to pay for the treatment that might save your life. Especially stressfull if your health insurance company is trying not to pay for the care. It is bad enough that so many people in his country can't access health care, but when you think you're 'covered' and you are not, well that's too much!
This is a mental health issue because most people in this country also do not have mental health care coverage. This issue is not addressed so much in the movie. Actually, that could be a separate movie, because the negative impact of insufficient psychological care in this country has been evident for centuries. Though most recently the college shootings, and other such events have emphasized the lack of access to necessary mental health care in this country.
The movie helps throw light on a BIG problem in this country. As you know, I like to be able to make some suggestions about 'what to do' to fix the problems that get addressed here. See the movie. Let it stimulate your thoughts and emotions towards fixing this life or death situation with our health (including mental health!), and medical care in this country. Then you'll make the right choices about this when it comes time to vote. This effects all of us. My parents are on fixed incomes, and pay exorbitant fees for medicines, and medical care, just like yours. In most other civilized (and many third world) countries it's free. FREE!! See the movie. See what you think. Let me know.
It's true. And, as you probably know, a bad marriage makes stress worse. A partner who expresses their love by being appreciative of you, attentive, and considerate of your needs helps you feel more confident, and in control of your life. Too much stress makes our lives feel out of control. We need to have at least one area of our life that is predictible, safe, and where we are acknowledged as being valuable and important. Our home should be that place. When an individual that you love makes a personal commitment to loving you and sharing their life with you, it makes everything else better. Friendships are great for this reason too. However, after 'doing battle' all day in a stressful world, coming home to a loving hug helps rejuvenate you. Lets you know that the daily stresses you experience are NOT what's most important about your life. Love and happiness are. So if you are in a relationship that is not working, that's adding stress rather than relieving it, MAKE A CHANGE. Make peace. Don't take your partner for granted. Don't let things (between you two) bother you so much. Stop making the same mistakes of communication. Listen more. Forgive more. When a problem arises, act as if you are both on the same side to solve it, even if you have differing views. Pay attention to your partners' feelings, even more than their words. And acknowledge some of the good things about them (don't just keep pointing out the negatives). Show your love to your partner in everything you do with them (even when you're angry). Say 'I love you' as much as possible.
I haven't been blogging for a few weeks now, distracted by needing to respond to my Dad's recent illness. He continues a slow recovery. Thanks to those of you who have kept him in your thoughts and prayers. Please continue to do so.
Parents, spouses, and (believe it or not) even teachers sometimes refer to people they bring to counseling as 'lazy.' I have an immediate emotional response, but typically wait to hear their whole story before suggesting that "lazy," as a description of a person, is bogus. I mean, I interpret it as a description of their behavior. It is typically used as a demeaning label, a bad personality trait. To me it means that a person is not doing the work that's expected of them for one reason or another. Those reasons are likely low motivation (ie. not a priority), anger (they don't want to do it, and won't say why), not accepting of their responsibility to perform the task, or have been given the excuse that "you're lazy" and want you to continue to take care of them. And that's your reward for allowing someone to get away with being "lazy." You have to do it. That's called enabling. Now if they come to me and are diagnosed with malingering (or labelled 'lazy'), I want to figure out why this person is not behaving responsibly and what the family or relationship dynamics are that help maintain this behavior. Sometimes it is part of a larger emotional issue, like depression. But often it is a form of communication in which the person (for example a child, or spouse) is passively expressing anger, and/or exerting some control over their life that feels controlled by someone else (like a parent, teacher, or partner). Stop giving them the excuse of laziness, and make some changes in the relationship. Listen more. Negotiate and compromise better. Offer some rewards. Often more loving attention is a valuable incentive. Becoming more controlling by trying to force them into action often has the opposite affect, that is, they get the attention (although it's negative ) but get more stuck in their noncompliant behavior. It's like you're rewarding their "laziness." Help them break this bad habit, and replace it with responsible action. You and they will be much happier.
I love the 'Grandma Song,' ("Better Days" sung by Dianne Reeves). In addition to it reminding me of my own Nana, and enjoying the music, I like the point Ms. Reeves is trying to make. Grandma is teaching her granddaughter that she must be patient in order to achieve the important things in life. In order to get to better days ahead, you may have to suffer through the night. A very important lesson for young people, but also for adults. Patience. Be patient. Especially if it is to attain something important. Even if it is not so important. Be patient while you wait in line, wait in traffic, wait for your spouse. Patience is especially important in relationships. Not just waiting for them to clean up before going out to dinner, but also in trying to get them to see things your way. Use patience while negotiating a compromise to something you two may disagree about. You have to be patient with your kids, with your parents, your friends. This will help the relationship flow more smoothly. Very important in new relationships too. Be patient and get to know the person, before diving into emotional entanglements, and premature commitments. This may be difficult for those of us who are used to not wasting a minute of our time, or may be quick tempered. Take a breath. Slowing down is healthier for us, helps us make better decisions, and helps us experience the here-and-now more completely. Which, as you know, comes and goes so quickly that we often miss out on a lot. Sometimes we have regrets about the time we missed, perhaps with loved ones. Patience is a virtue. I guess that means that it is a very good thing, a strength, especially in the world today. We rush and rush, and miss out on a lot. Whereas if we take it slow the experience is more complete, more real. Take your time to make it through the night, before rushing to get to the "better days."
You do not need any 'drama' on Mother's Day. I have been fortunate enough to have a good caring mother, and I want her and you to be able to relax and enjoy the day. And although it's Mother's Day, I think it's o.k. for everyone else to relax and enjoy the Day too. That means that whatever you're doing to celebrate your mother, should not be so complex, nor last-minute, or just not well thought out enough that it stresses everyone, including, most importantly on that day, YOUR MOTHER! If you're getting a gift, going out to eat, preparing a special meal, or doing something with the kids. Then shop, make the reservation, and get everything in place soon (actually, Mother's Day is next Sunday, so you should do it now). Mom, this goes for you too, if you are (yet again) going to have to arrange things. And get the kids to at least help. I think the goal is to have a day where it's understood that Mom gets taken care of by those people that she's been taking care of. So don't make your mom have to break up fights. Let her have a day where there's no arguing about anything she disagrees with. Don't make her clean up after you. You clean up after her. And Dad's take the lead on this. Bend over backwards to avoid fights, help make her day a stress-free one, and celebrate her (our Day's coming soon). Mom, you accept nothing less. It's called MOTHER'S Day for a reason. Mom's work double and triple time, 365 days a year. You have a week to prepare some celebration of her role in your life. Or, if necessary, Mom you have a week to plan a day where you celebrate the very important role that you play in your family's life. Don't let them bring you any drama on your Day.
I woke up this morning, Easter Morning, in Paradise (we live in S. Florida), and saw the news reporting the death of 4 more Americans and over a dozen Iraqis in the War. Easter celebrates love, compassion, PEACE. Many of us feel distant from the War, and we must, otherwise we are threatened to be overwhelmed with the tragic, dismal sadness of this disaster, and the many others in this world. I think we can't help but be effected by the stress of living through such tragedy, even at a distance. Can anyone truly be happy this Easter? I'm going to say yes. I think that if we are able to show love and compassion to those people around us, and have peace in our household, we can find the happiness that we all deserve. Happiness helps us tolerate the intolerable global situations we are exposed to daily. It helps us constructively resolve conflicts with our loved ones, to show compassion even while we strongly disagree with others. It helps us maintain PEACE in our homes, and to seek it in other areas of our lives. If you do not have happiness in your life today, try this. No fighting today. Tell a few people you love them. Give them a hug. Recall a pleasant memory, using pictures to bring it to life. Notice the beauty of the outdoors, flowers, the beach (if you're down here), the snow (if you're not here in S. FL.). Be thankful for the peace you have in your life, pray for those who don't have it now. Have a Happy Easter.
Everyone that works has some job stress. We typically get used to it, but it still takes its toll on you. Depending on how well you manage it it can have negative effects on your health, relationships, and happiness. Some amount of stress helps you perform better. But since the effects of stress are cumulative, if you don't take care of yourself it will hurt you. Much of what we experience at work may not be under our control. Let's assume that if you could you would be working in the job that you enjoy, making the money you need, with people you like, as near (or far away from) your home as you prefer, and sufficiently challenging (or not). And I would encourage you to seek out a work setting with as many of these features as possible. Happiness on the job helps with stress management. My preference is to focus on the individual effected by the stress, and strongly recommend that you take the following measures to protect yourself from the harmful effects of stress. Exercise; use your vacation time; Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work (and read the book, of the same title, by Richard Carlson, Ph.D); take your lunch time, away from the job if possible, and eat something healthy (drinking water throughout the day helps too); change how you relate to your annoying coworker or boss, that will cause them to change how they relate to you; be aware that if you are getting VERY emotional about a stressful situation at work, likely it's related to some unresolved personal issue you should address; and don't forget to BREATHE!! More on that later.
Work can be very rewarding, especially if it is the type of work that you enjoy. If you're not getting paid your true value for your expertise, the time you put in, and other efforts that you make (creativity, patience, tolerance of difficult work conditions, etc.) then you likely will not find the happiness you seek there. Also the "grass is always greener" phenomenon may influence your job satisfaction. Look at the different aspects of your career that you see as important, and factor those things into your job expectations. When you find appropriate levels of satisfaction in the most important of those factors, your search will likely be over. Also, consider the other areas of your life with respect to happiness. If you prioritize them (for example, health vs. work vs. personal relationships), you may find that you're enjoying the higher priority, more relevant life areas and be happy with the choices you've made. Thanks for your comments.
If you're depressed you've got to do something to cure it. Severe depression will likely require that you get some help from me or a psychiatrist (in the office). That is, if the depression is interfering in your life in a major way. Symptoms would likely include isolation, sadness, hopelessness and helplessness, pessimism, no enjoyment, no motivation, low energy, thinking at times that life is not worth living (thinking of doing something about that), staying in bed, crying spells. Sounds pretty bad, huh? It is. Even if you're just not happy, do something about it. Life is about being happy, after all. Exercise, socialize, practice positive and optimistic thinking, play, laugh, relax (more on managing stress later), develop a hobby, spend time in a loving relationship. Find your happiness. Easier said than done, you might say. And you'd be right, except it is worth it and it is possible. It requires breaking some old thinking and behavioral habits, and developing new ones. You may have to push yourself to get it done. But do it!
Some of you know about our recent vacation to Costa Rica. We learned a lot about this small ecologically-minded Central American country. In additon to a lot of beauty, they haven't had an army for many years. The money they would use to support armed forces they put towards education. CR has one of the highest literacy rates in the world! They also push the concept of Pura Vida (Pure Life). You're taught from a young age that life should be good. Let's develop that expectation for ourselves and our children. Pura Vida!
I am happy to finally join the world of blogging (the blogosphere, I understand it's called). MENTAL NOTES will be an opportunity for me, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (FL Lic. # MH4377) to share clinical insights regarding mental health issues. I have a private practice in Ft. Lauderdale Florida called FREELS MENTAL HEALTH GROUP (www.thefreelsgroup.com ), where I provide psychotherapy to adults, children and families, couples. I treat emotional and behavioral problems including stress and anger management, substance abuse, anxiety and depression, and a variety of childhood and adolescence problems. I focus on identifying strengths and positive characteristics that can be used to overcome personal obstacles. Feel free to make comments, and ask questions about the information I share, or personal challenges that I can help you address. I am happy to be here!