Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Growing and Healing Through the Struggles

From Heather's Daily Reflections:

“In order for children to open up to their past trauma memories, the parent has to be willing to be a 'parental sponge'--acknowledging, absorbing, and experiencing every feeling, every tear, and every fear associated with the trauma. Now that is connection!"

Question: I just read my first reflection, regarding being a parental sponge and while I agree with the spirit of it, my concern is this: “Experiencing your child's or client's trauma at such an intensity, couldn't that create trauma for the person being the 'sponge'?" I feel I am very empathic but how can I do that without hurting myself?

This is an insightful question. Traditionally, most of us are empathic and give compassion in a way that ultimately drains us. This is because of a core belief that tells us that by giving empathy, we will be able to make this person better or that we have the ability to "fix" the problem for this person.

We own that it is up to us to get this person to shift into a calm, peaceful, and regulated state. Their issue then becomes our issue and we stay focused on the outcome of them being better.

It becomes a simple mathematical equation. If I give empathy (E), if I listen (L), and if I spend my time with this person (T) , he will be better (B). E + L + T = B

Yet, when we give these three and the result is not what we expected, we feel a sense of failure. We turn it back on ourselves and hear the old negative tapes playing in our head, "I didn't try hard enough." "I'm not good enough." "I should have done something different." BAM! The negative feedback loop then feeds on itself right within our own mind. Fatigue, overwhelm, and even resentment begin to brew within our internal selves.

In order to be a sponge, the only action we need to take is to simply be present with our child (or friend, spouse, coworker). It is not up to us to make this person better. The reality is that we cannot change or fix another person. We can surround them with support; we can love them unconditionally, free of judgment or control; we can set appropriate boundaries, and we can align with their pain. Yet in doing this, it is still ultimately up to them to make their life work.

Additionally, if we enter into an interaction with a child, expecting him to be better, we are actually adding more stress to the equation, which will create more fear and hinder the healing process. We must stay focused on giving our love without expecting anything in return. That is the essential definition of love.

Entering into an interaction with an expectation of an outcome is not true love. This is conditional love. Conditional love drains us. Unconditional love energizes and liberates us.

So that is the theory and I know you are reading this and wanting some meat to chew on--you want application to your 16-year-old teenager whose girlfriend just dumped him and he is feeling like the entire world is coming to an end. You see how his past abandonment issues are being triggered and how this situation is being magnified due to his early adoption history.

Reprogram your thinking to see that what he needs is your support, your attention, and your unconditional acceptance. It is not up to you to make this okay for him. Trust that it is in the struggles of life that we learn and grow to our maximum potential.

By being empathetic, by listening, by spending time, and being present with him you are doing EVERYTHING for him. Stay focused on the outcome of you being the absolutely best parent you can be, no matter the outcome of his emotional state at the moment. Your "success" cannot be tied to his feeling better instantaneously.

Keep being the sponge for your child’s pain. Become energized by the power of putting unconditional love into action. There is no greater state to be in on this planet!

Press on,
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

It shouldn't hurt to be a Mother


It shouldn't hurt to be a Mother.

Raising a child with difficult behaviors can be more than exhausting...it can actually be painful. It can hurt just getting out of bed in the morning. The day in and day out of being with a child who rejects you, defies you, and disrespects you can put you in a place of even questioning your decision to become a mother. This level of stress leaves you tired, angry, frustrated, physically sick, resentful, sad, tearful, and/or hopeless.

But who really "gets" what it is like for you?

If you're like most mothers raising a child with difficult behaviors, the answer to this question is probably "Nobody." Zilch. Zippo. No one, not even your best friend.

If you're like I was, you've actually tried to reach out for support, only to find people who either minimize your struggles or even blame you for them. Then, of course, there are the ones who give you all the advice on how they would handle things differently and how they would just "lay down the law." You know this won't work and most importantly, you don't feel heard or understood.

Not having someone truly "get" you is one of the loneliest places to be. You originally set out on your parenting journey to connect, to love, and to make a difference in a child's life, only to find yourself at your brink---at your screaming edge, unsure if you even want to be a mother anymore, much less get up out of bed to face it all over again for the day.

It's your turn!

Yes, you. No need to look around your shoulder as if I'm speaking to someone different. You're the one and it is finally your turn!

I know you have been working to love your children and to make it all work, but an essential piece has been missing...love for yourself. You cannot give what you don't have.

I've been there with you.

Several years ago, I knew I had to make a change in me or else serious damage was going to happen. My life had not turned out to be a happy story on Main Street; it was a nightmare on Elm Street. The challenges I faced as a mother came about not only from raising children with traumatic histories, but from the void of my own sense of internal calm, peace, and self-love.

I wanted out. I wanted it all to end.

Yet, from the depths of my soul and deep within a space tucked within the caverns of my heart, I knew there had to be a happy way out. This sense of "life can be okay" was still barely alive but it was screaming in a voice so loud I could no longer ignore it, even amongst the chaos engulfing me within my own home.

Hence, my quest to find my way out of the stress and chaos and return back to love began...

I did it and I can help you find it, too.

My "Every Day is Mother's Day" conference has been created to help you return back to happiness, love, and peace. It is designed to give you the beeline to making this happen for you. I've done the research. I've done all the trial testing. I'm streamlined the process to perfection.

And now I want you to have a process to clear the emotional pain, find happiness, and reclaim love back into your life! I want to support you through your process and give you the "how" to make it a reality in your life!
I want you to be happy and to get yourself back!

As mothers, we are often asked to give more to our families and to our children than what we have within ourselves. It often feels impossible to stop to take care of ourselves because if we stop then we fear our families will not only fall apart, but utterly collapse. We hold on by a mere thread yet at the same time we desperately want so much more---we want happiness, joy, and peace.

Due to the great needs of your family, economics, and other logistical issues, you may not be able to come to me. So, I'm coming to you through the Internet to make this happen. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Power of Parenting

Mother and Daughter QUESTION:

I'm having a difficult time keeping myself focused on parenting in the Beyond Consequences way. I read several of your books and agree with them, but there are days that I feel like it is all for nothing. We have one good day where I think, "Great, this is it." Then the next three days we all are dysregulated and I feel discouraged. I keep thinking that I'd rather go back to my full-time job, working 60 hours a week with deadlines due yesterday! Do you have any words of wisdom?


A few of days ago, I was attending a small group meeting and in order to introduce a few new members at this group, an icebreaker was given. We were asked to go around the room and instead of telling what we did for a living, we were asked what our parents did for a living when we were growing up. Several of the participants, after describing credentialed careers of high cultural status of their fathers, remarked, "But my mom was just a housewife."

Just a housewife! How sad I was to hear this coming from grown men and women who had a parent home with them to support them, guide them, and teach them around the clock. Parenting is the most important job on this planet. You know this, I know this, but there has not been enough recognition in our society. Perhaps this is due to the intangible nature of this job. This job does not have a paycheck, there are no holiday bonuses, and there is no big desk to sit behind with plaques and certificates to recognize the accomplishments or to present the significance of this job to others.

Good news - this has changed! We are now living in a time where we can show real, tangible evidence of how important this job of parenting is for children. We now have solid, objective evidence that shows the need and importance of safe, attuned, and supportive parenting.

To give you an example, the image below shows the brain scans of two different three-year-olds. On the left side is a healthy three-year-old who has been in a nurturing and loving home his entire life. This child is showing an average size head (50th percentile). On the right side is a three-year-old who suffered severe sensory-deprivation neglect. This child's head is significantly smaller than average (3rd percentile). These images are taken from Dr. Bruce Perry's research ("Childhood Experience and the Expression of Genetic Potential: What Childhood Neglect Tells Us About Nature and Nurture." Brain and Mind 3: 79-100, 2002).

  Perry Brain  

While this example is extreme in nature, other examples of research have shown the significance of nurturing care. Research is showing that simple changes in a child's environment can literally change a child's physiology. We are seeing that by placing children with trauma histories in calmer environments with more love-based parenting techniques where a deep level of emotional safety is created, stress hormones within these children's body systems are decreasing. This means that parents have the ability to literally change the chemical make-up of their children (not to mention themselves, as well)! Certainly this is a job is just as powerful as the attorney next door or the mayor of your city.

From the research today, our responsibility, or "job description," as parents, is to help our children heal. While not an easy task, it is possible. It takes us changing our perspective not only to understand our children and ourselves, but a change in our understanding as to the significance of parenting. No more "just a housewife."

So, instead of waking up in the morning thinking, "I've got to get up, fix my children breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!" I encourage you to say to yourself, "Today is the day that I will press on to help change my child's brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level."

Wow! Now that is something worth jumping out of bed for!

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Success or Failure

Q: I have to say that in the two weeks we used the techniques in the book, my son has gone from occasional and minor non-compliance to a constant source of rude talking, anger, misbehavior and general disruption. As of yesterday we are trying to forget everything we learned in an effort to recover from this catastrophic experiment. I guess it doesn't work for everyone.

A: I certainly want to address this Email I was sent by a discouraged parent because I know that it can be frustrating and disheartening to see negativity in a home intensify when trying to make positive changes. Implementing a new technique in the home can create disruption for families. A new technique is change and in our children's perspectives, change is inherently bad because something bad is going to happen, thus threatening their relative sense of safety.

The Beyond Consequences paradigm is an absolute 180 degree shift from what many families have traditionally used. Yet, an increase in negative behavior can actually be seen as a step in the right direction for families beginning their journey down the Beyond Consequences healing road. Let me explain...

We traditionally use behaviors as a gauge to determine whether our child is "good" or "bad." We are a behaviorally and outcome based society, where the behavior determines either success or failure. Unfortunately, we deny the process and only focus on the end result. With sensitive children (i.e., children acting out with defiant and severe behaviors), losing our focus of the process creates fear within us as parents. If we only see a child as being rude, misbehaving, and angry, then all we see is failure.

In this example, I want to encourage the parent to see that the change in behavior, albeit an increase in negative behavior, is actually a sign of an improved process. This child is expressing more of himself and sharing his pain and fear with the parent. The child is discharging past trauma. Trauma gets stored in the mind and body of a child and it has to be released. The releasing of trauma is never "pretty." Allowing the discharge of trauma then allows the process of healing to begin.

Emotional expession is a learned behavior. Most children coming out of trauma have only learned to express themselves in negative and rude ways. The process of recovery and healing involves first allowing for a short period the child to express in the only way they know how and then tightening up the boundaries around how to express appropriately. It is our job through the interactions with our children to teach them how to express themselves in positive ways. In the beginning, try to think of attitudes and sassiness simply as a communication of a deeper trauma issue, knowing that as you build the relationship and the trust, then it is time to teach and expect better ways of communicating from your child.

Now be honest with yourself when answering this question: When you've been stressed out, felt like you are not being heard, and felt completely overwhelmed, did you ever react to those closest to you in a disrespectful, angry, or inappropriate way? I'm thinking your answer is "yes." We act like this when we have no other means to get someone to connect with us and to connect with our needs.

I believe that by implementing the Beyond Consequences paradigm in this home, this parent actually created more safety and more emotional space for this child to move out of a hypo-aroused state (inwardly shut-down state) into a hyper-aroused state (outwardly, angry state). By increasing the level of safety, removing the threat of punishment, and responding instead of reacting, this parent created space for this child to express himself. This is a victory. Yet it is only a victory if we stay focused on the process.

It is vital to accept that the process may be "ugly" and "uncomfortable" and yes, "disrespectful" (as seen from the traditional model) but if we truly understand that our children need to time discharge the trauma and "unlearn" poor communication skills, it should not be difficult to accept this as part of the healing process.

Meeting our children exactly where they are is the only way to move them forward to bring them exactly where we think they should be.

When a child shifts from a hypo-aroused to hyper-aroused state, celebrate. Yes, celebrate that tantrums are happening! Finally, the child is venturing out of his/her shell and is getting out the fear, pain, and stress instead of keeping it locked down. This is the healing moment. This is the opportunity to reach in and connect with the child in order to demostrate through experience what a safe relationship with a parent can be like.

Creating emotional safety and space for emotional expression is scary and it takes courage. I do believe that love works for everyone. It is simply a matter of focusing on the relationship, focusing on the process of trauma recovery, and giving our children time to re-learn appropriate ways to express their emotions. In doing so, the ONLY possible outcome to follow will be "good behavior."

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Trash or Treasure?

treasure chest Q: I have an eight-year-old adopted daughter who has difficulties giving away things such as packages, candy wrappers, lollipop sticks, clothes that she's outgrown, etc. What should I do?

A: Often our children do things that are outside of our perceptual understanding, yet from the child's point of view, her actions are quite logical and rational. As a parent, it takes the willingness to stop and think about the behavior and to consider what is actually driving the behavior.

In your daughter's case, we as adults see these things as having no value, yet your daughter sees these things as having value. Thus, the conflict is in the interpretation of perceived value.

So, the first thing to do is to create an understanding of why your daughter perceives these things as valuable. As an adopted child, your daughter has past experiences of abandonment, rejection, and insecurity, even if adopted at birth. These past experiences have become part of her internal subconscious mind and can influence her actions and decisions.

Many times adopted children interpret their adoption experience to mean that they must not have value, especially children with more traumatic adoption experiences. The subconscious mind develops a program that says, "If I were of more value, then my birth family would have kept me."

I have worked with children who, by the age of five years old, have been able to express that they did not deserve to even be on this planet. Now that is at the bottom of the barrel of not having self-worth! It could be that your daughter's resistance to throwing things away is representative of her perception of not feeling valued and worthy. This resistance is perhaps a way to recreate a new experience for herself.

Most importantly, we must see that by keeping these items, she is creating security around her. Surrounding herself with these items is a way of creating a sense of safety, which helps to regulate her internal fear of being rejected or abandoned. Children often use "things" to create a safe world for themselves (and if we are honest, we do this as adults, as well).

This is similar to hoarding, as described in my book Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Volume 1. I recommend reading Chapter 8 as it explains how hoarding becomes a way for children to create safety and security in their lives. Your daughter's behavior is quite similar.

At the age of eight, she is still a concrete thinker and identifies with things she can feel or hold. Her abstract thinking is not online at this point, so reassuring her verbally that she is valuable, worthy, and loved may not be completely comprehensible at this point in her development. She needs tangible items that she can touch and see in order to feel safe and secure.

While I believe it is important to start helping her to process her feelings around being adopted and to process any traumatic experiences, I also believe that she needs these items in her life to continue moving forward in her healing process. It is what she has found that works for her in this moment. The irony is that the more you try to remove these items or get her to dispose of them, the more stressed she will become, hence the more resistant and insecure she will be in her relationship with you.

This does not mean you have to allow your house to become a junkyard like Fred Sanford's of "Sanford and Sons." However, your daughter has found a way to create security and respecting that is imperative to strengthening her relationship with you. Perhaps you can celebrate this and acknowledge it by creating a special box or even a trunk into which she can put all her "treasures." It is her "safety-deposit" box.

No matter the size of the box, she will ultimately need to give up some of her treasures. Acknowledge how difficult it is to make a choice of which items to keep and which ones to throw out. Validate her feelings of this process. As you become accepting of her desire to have these things (remember, it isn't about you not being a good enough parent), your daughter will be more willing to explore her feelings around this behavior. As she is able to verbally explore her feelings, you will be helping her to reach the fear that is driving this behavior. When our subconscious fears are brought to the conscious level, they no longer have the ability to drive negative behaviors.

Talk about how the things in this box help her feel safe and work to then help her transition that feeling of safety to her relationship with you. Talk to her about how you want to help her feel safe, also. Invite her to come get you when she is feeling stressed and upset. In joining her in this experience instead of trying to make her get rid of the experience, you have just become a safe place for her.

Here is the shift in all of this: By accepting her desire to have these items and by working with her on this issue, you are giving her the message that she is valuable, that her ideas are worthy, and that she is lovable -- the core issues that are behind this behavior to begin with! By connecting with her fears and understanding her actions, you have the greatest opportunity for healing and relationship available. Ultimately, she will see you as her safety-deposit box instead.

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.