The Beauty in Slowing Down

Emotions can be interesting… Fleeting yet intense, confusing yet our best teachers. When we are in tune with them they can be helpful, and when we are not we might miss something important or feel out of control. If you know me, I could get an award for compartmentalizing and avoiding emotions and, quite frankly, I’ve prided myself on this. I historically have a habit of treating feelings like something on my to-do list. My thought process is often, “I don’t have time right now to feel that” and I often do not come back to it. I have been challenging myself on this recently and that is partly why I write this to hold myself more accountable. What I have found as the antidote to my compartmentalization and avoidance is the simple concept of slowing down.  It’s so important yet our daily lives seem to move so fast around us that it is easy to get caught up and run from what our emotions are trying to tell us. As we slow down and give ourselves the chance to sit with and truly be with our emotions, we can, with time learn to not fear and run from them. Once I slowed down enough recently to recognize it, I learned my anxiety has been begging me to slow down and I have even gotten some relief now that I have listened. Funny how that works, right? While I know this is easier said than done and all our stories are complex and dynamic, I invite you to join me in slowing down today. Maybe we can slow down enough together that we will not miss what our best teachers are trying to tell us.

What is Epistemic Trust?

Epistemic trust is a term with which many may be unfamiliar. It began as a term used in sociology before being adopted into the vernacular of psychologists in more recent years. The most basic definition is “one’s trust in communicated knowledge.” However, it can be more specifically described as “the capacity of the individual to consider the knowledge that is conveyed by others as significant, relevant to the self, and generalizable to other contexts” (Campbell, 2021). This communication can be in many forms, such as spoken words, non-verbal communication cues like body language, or reinforced messages communicated across a lifetime. The development of epistemic trust begins early in life as we interact and learn from those around us and is continually refined throughout our lives to adapt to our social environments.

Most of the psychological research studies on epistemic trust focus on personality disorders, specifically borderline personality disorder (Fonagy et al., 2015). However, more recent studies are considering epistemic trust as it relates to other kinds of psychopathology, and its implications for belief in conspiracy theories has even been considered (Tanzer et al., 2021). Unfortunately, due to the novelty of this concept in psychological studies, there is a shortage of available research to explore this topic further, especially in trauma-related areas. However, the recent development and validation of a questionnaire to measure an individual’s level of epistemic trust, mistrust, and credulity can aid in this area. This questionnaire allows for a closer and more standardized look at individuals’ epistemic trust and can be incorporated easily into future research (Campbell et al., 2021).

Considering epistemic trust and how it pertains to clients can also be useful in the treatment planning process. For example, one study highlighted that individuals diagnosed with personality disorders who had an elevated level of epistemic mistrust had poorer outcomes from their therapy experiences (Knapen et al., 2020). This may be the case for many that enter therapy with complex trauma backgrounds or other conditions that have reinforced a distrust in communication from others. This opinion can be supported by the argument that “epistemic trust may be the final common pathway through which aversive relational experiences in the past result in interpersonal dysfunctioning, which in turn result in dysfunctional therapeutic relationships, rendering it difficult for patients to trust whatever is offered to learn in therapy” (Knapen et al., 2022).

Little research has been done on achieving the restoration of epistemic trust, but it is believed that therapeutic interventions may be the most beneficial (Kamphuis & Finn, 2019). To date, there has been no known study that aims to investigate the relationship between trauma-focused therapy and restoration of epistemic trust. Such a study may prove to be a critical piece to understanding how epistemic trust impacts this population of therapy clients and whether trauma-focused therapy is an effective tool in the restoration of epistemic trust. As this concept continues to gain interest, we can expect a wealth of exciting developments in this area that will ultimately lead to improved therapeutic outcomes for clients everywhere.


References

Campbell, C., Tanzer, M., Saunders, R., Booker, T., Allison, E., Li, E., O’Dowda, C., Luyten, P., & Fonagy, P. (2021). Development and validation of a self-report measure of epistemic trust. PLOS ONE, 16(4), e0250264. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0250264

Fonagy, P., Luyten, P., & Allison, E. (2015). Epistemic Petrification and the Restoration of Epistemic Trust: A New Conceptualization of Borderline Personality Disorder and Its Psychosocial Treatment. Journal of Personality Disorders, 29(5), 575–609. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2015.29.5.575

Kamphuis, J. H., & Finn, S. E. (2019). Therapeutic Assessment in Personality Disorders: Toward the Restoration of Epistemic Trust. Journal of Personality Assessment, 101(6), 662–674. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223891.2018.1476360

Knapen, S., Hutsebaut, J., van Diemen, R., & Beekman, A. (2020). Epistemic Trust as a Psycho-marker for Outcome in Psychosocial Interventions. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 19(4), 417–426. https://doi.org/10.1080/15289168.2020.1812322

Knapen, S., van Diemen, R., Hutsebaut, J., Fonagy, P., & Beekman, A. (2022). Defining the Concept and Clinical Features of Epistemic Trust: A Delphi study. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 210(4), 312–314. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0000000000001446

Tanzer, M., Campbell, C., Saunders, R., Luyten, P., Booker, T., & Fonagy, P. (2021). Acquiring knowledge: Epistemic trust in the age of fake news [Preprint]. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/g2b6k

Transitioning from Partnership to Parenthood


Making the decision about who is going to be responsible for what within the context of your
family system can already be a tricky task to navigate. Throw a baby into the mix—this becomes
even more complicated. For most, having a baby means taking on a whole list of new
responsibilities while maintaining the responsibilities you’ve had all along. Whether you’re
talking about who is going to do the grocery shopping, to work outside the home, or to get up in
the middle of the night when your baby wakes up, it’s important to make at least some of these
decisions on the front end so as to ensure that both you and your partner feel a sense of
partnership and equality. If this is not done ahead of time, or at the very least discussed
intentionally once your baby arrives, you set yourselves up for what I like to call, defaulting.
Defaulting is a fairly common occurrence where one parent, we’ll call them “Parent B“
(generally the parent who IS NOT primarily responsible for feeding) tends to make the
assumption that the other parent, “Parent A” (generally the parent who IS primarily responsible
for feeding), has whatever the task is on hand covered. This is not done from a place of mal
intent but from a place of Parent B’s lack of awareness.


The reality is, parenting has a steep learning curve where most develop a system on the go.
Parent A completes tasks because they simply have to be done and Parent B often falls short in
stepping up to the plate because it seems as though Parent A has it under control. The result: a
big ball of resentment. While I am talking about the importance of delegating the big
responsibilities, I’m also talking here about the importance of discussing the seemingly smaller
ones. These are the ones that tend to be overlooked and as a result, add up over time.
Responsibilities like who is going to sit next to your baby at dinnertime, who is going to carry
your baby up the stairs when you get home, and who jumps out of bed to pop the pacifier back in
at night are just a few examples of such seemingly small tasks that when one parent finds
themselves having to perform each and every time, can lead that parent to wonder whether they
are in this alone. So moral of the story, sit down with your partner before your baby is born and
regularly thereafter. Discuss potential tasks and who will take primary responsibility for
performing them. Regularly check in after your baby is born to assess for new tasks that are
likely to pop up and your partner’s willingness to continue performing tasks they have previously
committed to. Most importantly, whether you are Parent A or B, please take note of all the big
and little things your counterpart does on a daily basis and ask if they could use a hand or a swap
out from time to time. Don’t just assume that your partner will do whatever needs to be done and
even if a particular task has been clearly designated your partner’s responsibility, regularly
express appreciation and gratitude to them for what they are doing. At the end of the day,
whether you are Parent A or B, doing these few simple things will likely result in your partner
feeling more appreciated and seen.

The Scarcity of Time

Please excuse me, I am asking for a moment of your time.  This seems presumptuous for someone who has spent most of his adult life “never” having enough time.  I know it seems overstated but trust me I never have enough time.  It seems a chronic condition – no matter how far ahead, in short order falling behind circles back.  Certainly, a tendency to say yes (do not want to disappoint anyone) and an ongoing difficulty to pronounce the word “no” (do not want to hurt another’s feelings) contribute to my ailment.  Additionally, there is the ongoing distortion if I get this or that completed the illusive experience of calm and peace are waiting for me. 

It seems I may fear peace and calm.  Perhaps these fears partly explain working the ridiculous hours I have – maybe I could “buy” more time.  Truth be told it has more likely served to shorten my time on this earth.  Sure, there are moments of boredom and perhaps even periods of depression where life moves more slowly and yet I always return to the belief I am running out of time.  One contribution to this chronic stressor is the belief I can do just one more thing.  Of course, this has served to frustrate those around me as I have developed a consistent arriving 5 to 15 minutes late, because there was one more thing I knew I could squeeze in before leaving – “to save the time of doing it later.”  This is the dilemma of never having enough time, if you avoid doing it now, you have to make time for it later. 

This at times leads to never getting around to something, “there is not enough time,” which provides the wonderful excuse – “I did not have enough time.”   There is a certain level of anxiety and stress this game with time creates. Yet it is this very experience of stress which drives me.  I live life with intensity, rushing to accomplish, and yet looking as calm as a cucumber (although I have no earthly idea if cucumbers are emotionally calm and cool).  I certainly would have written about this chronic condition earlier if I had enough time…   As it turns out moving into my 60’s, there is a certain truth to this statement, “at 61 I am running out of time.” 

Age has also promoted greater reflection, something you typically do not take time for when you are constantly “short on time.” I believe the truth is there has always been enough time, I just did not believe there was enough time for me (i.e., childhood belief).  It must be time then to let go and grieve this relationship I have developed with time and move toward acceptance there has always been enough time.  Acceptance in the reality I am not what I accomplish, rather I am an individual deserving of time to slow and just be.  I could write more, but…well, you guessed it, I am out of time.

18 Years Ago

When my son was born 18 years ago, it seemed like the year 2022 would be an eternity away…how could my preemie baby boy, just 5 pounds 3 ounces, ever grow up to be 18?  Even though it was my hope that he would go off to college someday, how could it now really be happening? That he would be leaving.  Leaving us, leaving our family (leaving…me)?

Throughout the whole college application process for my son, I stayed logical and “in my head” (what therapists say when people are operating from the thinking part of their brain and are disconnected from their emotions and their heart).  I encouraged my son to apply to schools out-of-state as well as in-state, offering what I thought at the time was good advice that “It’s important to keep your options open.”

When April came and it was decision-making time, I was so relieved when my son said he was  “80% sure” that he would attend one of the two in-state universities—one that is 20 minutes away or one that is 90 minutes away.  The advantages were abundant:  if he got sick, he could come home to be nurtured back to health or we could go to him to help; if he was struggling emotionally or dealing with friend/dating/academic challenges, he could come home (to be nurtured back to emotional health); if he needed to do laundry, he could come home (his laundry he’d need to do himself but I’d make him a yummy meal!). 

You can imagine my surprise (shock) mid-April, after my son returned from an out-of-state college tour, encouraged by me (insert mimicking tone: “Keep your options open!”), when he declared that he made his decision to attend this out-of-state school that requires a whole air travel day one-way or 25 hours by car.  All those “advantages” of being so close logistically were now gone—poof!—replaced with a panic inside of, “If I can’t be there if he needs help, what will happen to him?”  My son, sensing my anxiety, responded wisely and compassionately, “Mom, I’ll figure it out!” and “Mom, you can still support me by phone!”  While I appreciated his words and intentions, it was hard to trust that this was the right decision.  In June, however, my husband and I attended this out-of-state university’s parent orientation.  Just like my son was won over by this school, I actually was as well (my husband, too); we were able to see different advantages of him going there.

At this point, excited for this opportunity for my son, I got back “in my head,” making lists of what he needs for his dorm and reviewing with my son the Ready for Adulthood Checklist (yes, that’s literally the name of it) to make sure I had done my job as a parent…haha, if only it were that easy!  (By the way, high school graduation gifts provided a nice opportunity for him to solidify his learning of the following Checklist item: “When and how to write thank you notes and how to address an envelope.” I also discovered that neither of us was really clear on “Steps to take if you’re in a car accident.” Yikes!).

It is now 2 weeks away from when my son will leave (me).  Earlier this week, I came across the song, “Last Days of Summer,” by Lucy Kaplansky.  I think it was actually a message from my Higher Power to encourage (force?) me to tune into my emotions about my son’s going away to college.  The artist, Kaplansky, sings of exactly what I am feeling…how 18 years ago her daughter was born and she is now moving to college:

KAPLANSKY: (Singing) But I’ll miss that girl in her room, safe and mine. Life is a circle strewn with goodbyes. After 18 years, how can it be just one week more till we carry those boxes to her new room on the seventh floor?

Music can be such a powerful way to connect with and process our emotions.  I am thankful for this song as it has provided the avenue for me to acknowledge my sadness, to somehow give me the message that it’s OK to cry, and to remember that within my grief there is gratitude for the circle of life and for what adventures lie ahead for my son.  It comforts me to know that I’m certainly not the only mother to feel this way.  Perhaps most importantly, it gives me hope:  If the songwriter was able to get through it, so can I!

As I vacillate between allowing myself to feel my emotions and getting back “in my head,” I am now making my list of things still needed to review with my son from the Ready for Adulthood Checklist (e.g., “How to tie a tie” and “How to fix a running toilet”) and talking about how to be a “good dorm roommate” as recommended from the parent orientation.

I will also be hugging him a bit more tightly each day before he leaves while I intentionally remind myself to trust that he is guided by his Higher Power on his life’s path.  I have room inside me for both the sadness of this closing chapter of him being “safe and mine” and the excitement of what lies ahead for both of us—but especially him—as we each turn the page of this new chapter in our lives.

Below is the beautiful song by Kaplansky…be sure to have a couple tissues ready!

Hear It First: Lucy Kaplansky, ‘Last Days of Summer’ – Folk Alley

64 Things I Wish I Knew About Grief

I wish someone had told me…

1. No matter how prepared you think you are for a death, you can never be fully prepared for the loss and the grief.

2. You can plan for death, but death does not always comply with our wishes or plans.

3. “Stop avoiding and be present.”

4. “Dying is not like you see on TV or in the movies. It is not peaceful or prepared. You may not have a spiritual or meaningful moment. It’s too real.”

5. A hospital death is not always a bad death.

6. A home death/hospice death is not always a good death.

7. “There will be pressure from others to move on, even minutes or hours after a death, and this can lead to regrets”.

8. “Death is not an emergency. There is always time to step back and take a moment to say goodbye.”

9. Death and grief make people uncomfortable, so be prepared for awkward encounters.

10. You will plan the funeral while in a haze. If you aren’t happy with the funeral you had, have another memorial service later.

11. When people offer support, take them up on it.

12. People will bring you food because they don’t know what else to do. Don’t feel bad throwing it away.

13. People will say stupid, hurtful things without even realizing it.

14. People will tell you things that aren’t true about your grief.

15. Death brings out the best and the worst in families, so be prepared.

16. There is no such thing as closure.

17. There is no timeline for grieving.  You can’t rush it.  You will grieve, in some form, forever.

18. “There will always be regrets.  No matter how much time you had, you’ll always want more”.

19. Guilt is a normal part of grief.

20. Anger is normal part of grief.

21. “The pain of a loss is a reflection of love, but you never regret loving as hard as you can.”

22. Grief can make you question your faith.

23. “Grief doesn’t come in five neat stages. It’s messy and confusing.”

24. Grief makes you feel like you are going crazy.

25. Grief can make you question your life, your purpose, and your goals. And that isn’t always a bad thing.

26. We all grieve differently, which can create strain and confusion between family members and friends.

 27. “However badly you think it is going to hurt, it’s going to be a million times worse”.

 28. You may find comfort in very unexpected places.

29. “You should go somewhere to debrief after caregiving”.

 30. “The last 24 hours of their lives will replay in your mind”.

31. Trying to protect children from death and the emotions of grief isn’t helpful.

32. “It’s sometimes necessary to seek out new ways to grieve on your own, find new guidance if the people who are supposed to be supportive simply haven’t learned how.”

33. “You grieve your past, present, and future with that person”.

34. Big life events and milestones will forever be bittersweet.

35. Grief triggers are everywhere. You will see things that remind you of your loved one all over the place, and it may lead to sudden outbursts of emotion.

36. “You lose yourself, your identity, meaning, purpose, values, your trust”.

37. Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays will be hard forever.

38. People will tell you what you should and shouldn’t feel, and how you should and shouldn’t grieve.  Ignore them.

39. “The grief process is about not only mourning the loss, but getting to know yourself as a different person.”

40. There is no normal when it comes to grieving.

41. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.

42. “It’s normal to feel numb after it happens. The tears will come. They come in waves.”

43. Grief can make you feel selfish and entitled, and that’s okay (at least for a while).

44. Meeting new people, who never knew the person who died, can be hard and sad. But eventually it can be nice to “introduce” them through stories and photographs.

45. The practice of sending thank you notes after a funeral is a cruel and unusual tradition.

46.“People love to judge how you are doing. Watch out for those people.”

47. You can’t compare grief or compare losses, though people will try.

48. Any loss you grieve is a valid loss, though people will sometimes make you feel otherwise.

49. “Just because you feel pretty good one day it doesn’t mean you are cured of your grief.”

50. There are many days when you will feel totally and completely alone, whether you are or not.

51. Grief can make you do stupid, crazy things. They may be what you need at the time time, but you may regret them later. Cut yourself some slack.

52. Grief can make you a stronger person than you were before.

53. Seeking grief counseling doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weak.

54. It’s okay to cry sometimes.

55. It’s okay NOT to cry sometimes.

56. “Time does NOT heal all wounds.”

57. “Grief re-writes your address book.” Sometimes the people you thought would be there for you aren’t, and the people you last expected become your biggest supporters.

58. “You don’t get over it, you just get used to it.”

59. It is okay to tell people when they are not being helpful.

60. Watch your drinking. Alcohol can quickly become an unhealthy friend.

61. You will have to face your emotions eventually. You can avoid them for a while, but they will catch up with you in the end.

62. Talking isn’t the only way to express and process emotions.

63. You will never go back to being your “old self.” Grief changes you and you are never the same.

64. Nothing you do in the future will change your love for the person who died.  Eventually, you will begin to enjoy life again, date again, have another child, seek new experiences, or whatever. None of these things will diminish your love for the person you lost.

Embrace the Mess

Recently, my family was together to celebrate my youngest daughter’s graduation. My two adult children, who flew in from out of state with my oldest son’s girlfriend, three teenagers, my wife and I, piled into the house for four days stuffed full of family fun. I had visions of laughter, silliness, tenderness, and meaningful conversations. The plan for four days was detailed, allowing for all of these expectations to be fulfilled. Day one: graduation and celebration. Day two: relax, order pizza, and go to a movie. Day three: paddle boarding down the river, and dinner with family and grandparents. Day four: relaxed morning with a big breakfast and then a family farewell to those returning home. Not too much. Not too little.

The plan crumbled. Sure, we accomplished the tasks, but not with the ease I had anticipated or wanted. On graduation day, much of the time was spent apart was we needed to separate in order to save seats. Pizza and movie night ended up rushed, with a few family members not interested in the chosen movie. Paddle boarding was crowded by hundreds of other people who also thought of joining us on the river, which led to being separated, and two of us exiting the river two miles too soon. There were sunburns, and lost water bottles, sun glasses, and ball caps. There was frustration, boredom, eye rolling, arguments, and hurt feelings. Coming home, we planned to watch a new television series to end the night, but some were so tired they decided to go to bed. The day ended with a fizzle.

Now, I sit reflecting on our few days together. I see piles of laundry, dishes, and bed linens. Those of us still at home are quiet, in our rooms, catching a breath after a tornado of activity and chaos. Not quite what I was hoping.

But, the messiness is it. The messiness is living. Messiness is the adventure. I make plans and hope for magic moments. I miss the magic of the mess. I want a photoshopped glamour reality and get a blurry, creased black and white photo.

Then I pause. I look passed failed plans and remember the moments of sharing memories, trying something new (even with some frustration), “I’m sorries,” and teasing that can only happen between siblings. I know everyone in my family a little bit better. We barely started those meaning conversations I had planned to have, but they are started, and we will look for opportunities to continue. We are figuring out life and it is not easy. We — every person on the planet — are trying to figure out life, in all its mess, just like people have done since the beginning.

Families are messy. There is conflict, sadness, failed plans, and frustrations. There are also the bigger struggles of depression, trauma, addiction, and divorce. There are nights when screaming at the moon seems like the best option. There are also accomplishments, small victories (like getting out of bed), and big victories (like graduating). You are not the only one whose life is messy — despite what social media suggests. Breathe. Look for the moments in the midst of the chaos. Sometimes they are hard to see, but those moments are there. And when you cannot see them, ask for help. I know there are times I need it. 

Mindfulness on a Monday

Like many of you, I traveled to work today using the Interstate system, bright and early, my coffee in hand. As I entered onto the I-10, I sighed at the usual sight of bumper-to-bumper traffic. The much-dreaded rush hour greeted us all with open arms, as if it had jokes and all the time in the world. On the radio came the old Bangles song, “Manic Monday” (written by Prince if you did not know).

As I listened to the song, I decided to practice some mindfulness and be aware of my experience as it was happening. After all, I preach mindfulness to my clients. It is important to the process that I practice what I preach. Mindfulness means to be present in the moment, to be aware of feelings and sensations you are experiencing in the moment without judgment. “This is frustration,” I thought as I looked at the hundreds of cars slowly moving before and behind me. “This is what frustration feels like. This is what feeling trapped feels like.”  Memories of convoys during military deployments came to mind. “Thinking,” I pointed out to myself. “Now, you are thinking again.” I gently and kindly brought myself back to the present moment. I noticed the tension in my back. My hands feeling the steering wheel, I began to pay attention to the different sounds I was hearing. The Bangles song came alive. The different instruments came to the forefront of my hearing, some playing continuously throughout the song while others made small contributions here and there. Some of the instruments provided the rhythm while others provided the melody. Some were higher notes and others were lower. All of it blended together to make an upbeat song that, if you were around in the 80s, you loved to sing along with as it spoke to the common blues we each often feel saying goodbye to the short weekend and hello Monday work. Some of the instruments caused me to feel happy as I felt the melody lift my spirits. “This is happy,” I thought without judgment. “This is what happiness feels like.” I sang a few lines, feeling my voice vibrate through my vocal cords and just noticing what that felt like.

Then, clarity: You know the moments I am speaking of when something shifts and you see things in a completely different, fuller light, or when you can see random pieces of your experience suddenly become linked in a profound way. In that moment, I realized all of these instruments playing in the song, each so different from one another in their roles, the diversity, it was all of us. The instruments, the song: it contained each of us. Some of us were playing continually, others only now and then, and it was all okay because it created an experience for the listener. Some of us are high notes; others are low. Some of us are the rhythm; others are the melody. However, it is each instrument playing in balance and in sync together that creates a song that can inspire, motivate, entertain, and/or heal. If we could only give one another the space and trust to play their part. If we could only give ourselves the space and trust to play our part. Each of us showing up authentically, adding to the song in our own unique way that can create a remarkable, even spiritual journey for both the players and the listeners. Life can be a struggle, yes. It can also be a really good song.

The Explanation Not the Excuse

In our PCS Intensive process, I’ve yet to work with someone suffering from an addiction who has not experienced some essence of trauma, whether that be overt, obvious traumatic experiences, or the other, the covert, one-thousand-paper-cut-style traumas. And so to unlock the door to full-course healing we, as therapists, have to help them identify and process these events, in order to understand why they adopted this maladaptive, addictive coping style in the first place. We also have to help them grieve these traumas and develop empathy for themselves and the person or child they were when these difficult events occurred. We help them understand that they can really only give empathy and intimacy to others to the degree they can give it to themselves. So often, we will ask the Adult today to imagine being there for the Child then, and fulfilling what that Child needed and did not get. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing that Adult finally grieve what was denied them, and grow as the Adult showing up as the “parent” today for that Child, in the here-and-now. Clients will often say they feel as if they have lifted a heavy weight they have carried most of life.

Then what often happens is the Client shares their trauma processing with their significant other, partner or spouse. And when the Client informs this loved one of the trauma and neglect that is most certainly behind the addictive behavior the loved one has been subjected to, often for years, and, understandably, their significant other is less than happy. It is as if we, the therapists, are hand-holding this Client and giving them a pass for their hurtful behaviors (whether that involves sexual betrayals, alcohol of drug-related incidents, gambling precious finances, etc.). They want to tell the Client to take their trauma egg and “you’ve got to be kidding me”, Build-a-Bears, and shove them…somewhere! The Client might explain that the Build-a-Bear is to remind them to show up as the “parent” today for that Child that was harmed back-then, and, again understandably, the loved one has heard enough. They respond, “It sounds like they’re helping you find your grand EXCUSE for all the harm you’ve caused!”

Makes sense. And so, clarity is necessary, as the one who has endured someone’s hurtful, addictive behavior deserves empathy and beyond. So, one thousand percent, trauma is NOT an excuse; it’s an explanation.

A Client needs to understand what happened in order to realize that back then, they most certainly had zero power and control over their life circumstances. Now they can face the explanation and grieve and process it. From there, they are encouraged to understand that today, as an Adult, they fully have power and choice, and therefore, are fully responsible for ALL of the decisions they make. They are also responsible for any harm they cause. Their childhood trauma, though at times awful and heartbreaking, is NOT an EXCUSE.

At times I have seen Clients attempt to use their traumatic childhood experiences as a “trauma shield,” in order to dodge what they perceive as shame-inducing blame and finger-pointing. It is a maladaptive way of avoiding the hurt and pain of the one they have harmed, and they cling to it like a life-line. It is at this juncture that I and their team of therapists try and help them understand that unconditional love and acceptance is the pathway to true internal freedom, and to get there and be free of shame, one has to embrace all that is wonderful about them, and all that is challenging about them as well.

When a Client can speak openly about what makes them hard to live with, shame ceases to have an leverage over that individual, and only then are they truly on the path to strength and recovery. No longer allowing the explanation to control them or their choices, and no longer needing an excuse to manage their shame and avoid responsibility.

As an EMDR and experiential therapist, the most satisfying part of my work is seeing someone genuinely experience self-love and watching them gain insight as they process traumatic events in their lives. It is beyond satisfying to hear them name their challenges and talk about how those behaviors no longer serve them. Many people shed tears and believe they look “terrible” after EMDR; however, I will ask them to look in the mirror and what they see is the opposite – they see a person free of the weight that has held them back; a person who has never looked better!

Aging

Hayes & Roadin – 2003 developed four factors as a measure to understand the aging process.  They are:

  • Chronological Age – The number of years that have elapsed since birth. Time may be considered as a simple number of many events and experiences.
  • Biological Age – A person’s age in terms of biological health. The younger a person’s biological health, the longer a person is expected to live regardless of chronological age.
  • Psychological Age – An individual’s adaptive capacities compared with those of other individuals of the same chronological Age. Thus, older adults who continue to learn are more flexible, motivated, in control of their emotions and are able to think clearly.  They are able to utilize more adaptive behaviors than their chronological age.
  • Social Age – The social roles and expectations related to a person’s age.  Older adults who continue with their social interactions and activities age longer than their chronological age.

The following information is provided by The World Health Organization (WHO) concerning ageism. 

The term “ageism” was coined by Robert Neil Butler in 1969. The definition of ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others based on age.

There are three levels of ageism:

  • Micro level – Individual
  • Meso level – Social networks
  • Macro level ­– Institutional and cultural

Data from the 2020 National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 82% of older Americans reported experiencing ageism regularly, 65% experienced ageist messages from the media, 45% experienced interpersonal intentional ageism and 46% had internalized ageism.

Workplace Examples of Ageism

  • Using a person’s age to decide whether to hire or not
  • Asking a person’s age not related to the type of work
  • Company policies that negatively reflect a person’s age
  • Rejecting a person by age because they are seen as out of touch, less skilled or fixed in their ways
  • Taking advantage of a person by bullying, critizing or harassing because of their age

Personal Examples of Ageism

  • Elder abuse, whether physical, emotional, sexual or financial
  • Making jokes demeaning a person’s abilities or appearance
  • Taking away a person’s independence because of their age
  • Withholding medical and mental treatment due to the person’s age
  • Forcing a person to undergo unnecessary procedures

Ageism has far reaching consequences and effects all age groups worldwide.  As a person ages, their physical and mental health declines requiring greater care.  With the need for greater care the cost of this care increases.  WHO reported that the United States spends billions of dollars each year to treat the elderly’s medical and mental health condition.

Ageism is associated with an earlier death; estimated to be 7.5 years on average.  They are seen as less capable and worthy of care.

How to Combat Ageism

Education – Provide a better understanding of the process and how to manage this process.

Intergenerational Intervention – Develop and encourage more cooperation, compassion and empathy between the age groups.

  • Change the law and practices to reduce inequality and discrimination.
  • On an individual level, become knowledgeable about the aging process
  • Enable a person to become more aware of their feelings, manner of thinking and decision making
  • Be able to call on life experiences to engage the aging person
  • Help the aging person develop allies so they can be heard, recognized, respected and appreciated for their views, knowledge and life experiences

What Are the Positive Views of Aging?

  • 88% feel more comfortable being themselves
  • 80% have a strong sense of purpose
  • 67% feel more positive about aging
  • 65% think their life is better than they thought it would be
  • (taken from Institute for Healthcare Policy and Intervention, University of Michigan)

The aging process involves many factors including heredity/genetics, cultural, nutritional, level of exercise, level of education, early child development process, plus many more.  It is a complex process which requires a good deal of patience, diligence, foresight, planning and fortitude.

I would like to conclude with a brief vignette.  My mother-in-law, who was a mother to me was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 88.  She received treatment for it successfully! She was a sage with a willingness to share her wisdom and life experiences.  I am sure that if I asked her about ageism she would respond with a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face.  “Those people should be forgiven for they known not what they are thinking or saying.”  She lived another 15 years and passed peacefully at 103 years old.  Her beacon of light continues to shine brightly to this day.

© Psychological Counseling Services