Published in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine, Houston. Visit us at txhwmagazines.com
Published in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine, Houston. Visit us at txhwmagazines.com
Article published in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine, Houston. Visit us at txhwmagazines.com
Published in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine, Houston, Visit us at txhwmagazines.com
Published in the Utah Valley Health & Wellness Magazine, Utah. Visit us at utahvalleywellness.com
Divorce is hard. It is emotionally and physically draining for all people involved, including children. When a divorce becomes high conflict, children are caught in the crossfire and are treated as “prizes” to be won. Parents start pressuring their children knowingly and/or unknowingly to choose sides. These behaviors can escalate to “alienation”. Alienation is defined as a parent teaching their children to reject the other parent using fear (Templer, 2). Due to limited research, professionals often mistake alienation for estrangement. This misdiagnosis can have devastating effects on a family.
One misconception about alienation is that the alienated parent is responsible for being rejected by their child, whereas the alienating parent is considered to have little to no part in why their child is rejecting the alienated parent. Discerning whether a parent has been alienated or estranged requires specialized skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, many professionals who are assigned to such cases often have little to no training in this area.
Misconceptions about alienation prevent families from getting the help they need and can even have legal ramifications. Here are some examples of harmful misconceptions:
It is generally believed that if a child does not want to be with their parent it means they have done something to deserve it. However, the reason could be that the alienating parent programmed the child.
It is generally believed that the child would not align with the abusive alienating parent. However, children are vulnerable to manipulation. The targeted parent often tries to enforce appropriate discipline and fill the hole left by the alienating parent. In so doing, the targeted parent is looked at harshly and viewed as not respecting their child’s wishes and feelings.
Enmeshment (blurred boundaries between two individuals) can be confused with healthy bonding. When children feel that they are not recipients of unconditional love they can be manipulated into doing what the alienating parents desires.
Professionals who have these or other misconceptions may come to the conclusion that the alienating parent is stable, whereas the targeted parent is not; this instability, real or perceived, is often the result of depression, anxiety, and anger that’s developed from the trauma of being alienated. Another example is if the targeted parent is falsely accused of abusing their child; the parent may exhibit instability due to the fear being jailed, losing their children, or financial pressure. The unfortunate reality is that even strong, emotionally stable individuals may become anxious, depressed, and angry when under the pressures of alienation.
Mental health professionals play a critical role in high conflict divorce cases and have the power to make things much worse or better. Given the high stakes, families are encouraged to carefully select a professional with the proper skills and training.
About the Author: Carol Kim is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Carol specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy, and has extensive clinical experience treating depression, anxiety, ADHD, addictions, domestic violence, trauma, children/adolescents and relationship issues. She has also utilized her deep understanding of parenting and marriage to teach and facilitate community parenting and marital enhancement groups. Carol received her Master in Marriage and Family Therapy from Brigham Young University, where she was clinically trained and conducted extensive research in improving marital satisfaction. After graduating and before dedicating herself full-time to therapy, she was awarded the prestigious Kaiser Fellowship and worked for the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular news station, KTVU, as a broadcast journalist focusing on mental health related issues. She is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Asian American Journalist Association.
We all have those days when it feels like we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. For whatever reason we are just in a bad mood. Often times these bad mood feelings are associated with difficult or stressful events in our lives such as trouble at work, financial problems or disappointment. Sometimes these bad mood feelings last for only a few hours, but sometimes they might linger for days at a time. There are many simple strategies to improve one’s mood in spite of what it is that might be bringing us down.
Be With People
Often times when we are feeling low just being with a trusted friend or family member and talking about our feelings can make all the difference. Having a sympathetic listener or someone that can get us laughing or looking at the bright side of things can make all the difference. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about our mood or admit that we need help. In fact, many times isolating ourselves can be one of the biggest culprits in a lingering bad mood.
Whether its a brisk walk through the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store, getting out of the house can do wonders for improving our mood. Sometimes we just need a little sunshine or to breathe in some fresh air. The sights and sounds of everyday life can get our mind off of things and be a beautiful distraction.
When a bad mood strikes we might find ourselves not even wanting to do the things we normally enjoy, but doing them anyways can take our minds off of negative thoughts and often times will help us feel better overall. Think of simple pleasures like reading, exercising, cooking or baking, shopping or just watching a funny movie or show.
Talk to a Professional
Feeling sad or moody are normal human emotions that we all experience from time to time. Depression is different from these emotions primarily because depression is a pervasive feeling of sadness that impacts our entire life and doesn’t just go away even when things in our lives are good. We should not hesitate to reach out to a professional to help us understand our feelings and deal with them appropriately.
Source: Psychology Today
About the Author: Alberto has worked in healthcare for over 10 years. He began as a CNA and then worked as a registered nurse until completing his Master’s Degree in Nursing. Alberto has been been working as a Nurse Practitioner since April of 2013. In addition to his work as a Nurse Practitioner, he also teaches online classes for the Dixie State University Nursing Program. He is currently working at the St. George Center For Couples & Families.
“When he told me he only had crushes on boys and that’s why he never dated, I started crying.”
“My son told me not to tell his father that he really feels like a girl. Did I let him play with girls too much?”
“I asked my daughter why her best friend identifies as lesbian, and she told me she thinks she may be one too. I’m sure she is not.”
When teens come out, the world shifts. Some parents respond with denial, wanting to diminish the news. Others feel anger and want to find out who is responsible. Some parents feel sadness, anticipating a loss of shared values, a loss of future. Denial, anger and sadness are all important aspects of grief processing, and for many parents, responding to a child’s coming out is a grief experience.
Most children talk with their parents only after years of trying to figure out what is really happening inside, and when they finally tell parents, those years are condensed into a moment that – to a parent – may feel like a dropped bomb.
After listening to hundreds of stories of parents responding to their children’s expressions of attraction and identity, I’ve seen how important it is for parents to take care of their own emotional health afterward.*
Here are some valuable principles to keep in mind:
- Take a break to figure yourself out. Denial, anger, and grief are expected. However, if your child feels overwhelmed by your denial, anger, and grief, then healthy connecting may be more difficult. Many children “take on” their parents’ reactions and become more isolated. You may want to find another place and time to express and explore your genuine reactions. One mother told her child she loved him and needed some time to figure out her own feelings, and then she spent the afternoon at her sister’s home. Another father immediately called a counselor, reassuring his son that the counseling was intended to help the father provide healthy support for his son.
- Remind yourself, “This is not a crisis.” One mother described feeling completely numb. Because Christmas was only a few days away, she felt both the pressure of the family’s expectation and the heaviness of the news. She found that repeating aloud the words, “This is not a crisis” reminded her that their family would still survive despite the new information.
- It’s normal to feel more upset, even though your child may seem happier. While children often feel relief after sharing feelings with parents, your feelings may begin to resemble a roller-coaster. It may seem unfair that your child has just given you the burden to carry. Breathe through these feelings and recognize that this is normal.
- Find safe people to share what you are feeling. Your child may insist that you tell no one. And although it’s important to honor your child’s sense of privacy, it’s OK to let your child know that you need to talk with someone. Perhaps you and your child can agree on a trusted family member, friend, or counselor.
- Limit your contact with others who are uninformed. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family have advice that is not helpful, or that undermines your confidence in yourself and your child. It’s OK to limit your contact with these people for a period of time. Plan what you will say. “We are working hard to support each other right now and I need to focus on that,” may be helpful to repeat.
- And finally, when you ask “Why me?” try switching to the question, “Why not me?” and see what strengths you find in yourself. Chances are you are being called to a deeper way of loving your child and yourself.
SIDEBAR MATERIAL — Find a Parent Support Group in Utah County
Find a parent support group. Meeting with other parents in similar situations has been a positive emotional turning point for many. Here are a few in Utah Valley:
- PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meets weekly at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Provo (email@example.com)
- Encircle Parents’ Meeting (Third Sunday of each month at Encircle in Provo) https://encircletogether.org/supportgroups
- Northstar Parents’ Meeting (Quarterly meeting at a parent’s home in Lehi)
Next time: Coming Out Part 3 – What do we do now?
“I wish I could take it back and do it over!” parents say about the moment their teens told them they were gay, lesbian, transgender, or that the teens were worried about their sexual orientation, attractions, or gender identity. “Nothing prepared me for this!” they say. Other parents remember, “My first thought was that what I was hearing was somehow my fault, that I’d been a bad parent, and I just fell apart.” Even parents who managed to say to their teen, “I still love you, it doesn’t change anything,” still sometimes have regrets and wish they could press the re-start button.
As a therapist who has listened to hundreds of family “coming out” stories, I’ve noticed that what happens during these conversations has a strong impact on feelings within the family. This first interaction between parent and teen (and each conversation that follows) either creates stronger bonds or difficult memories that parents and teens have to work through later.
What most parents want is to keep a strong relationship with their teen, to remain a positive influence for good mental, physical and spiritual health. Yet, sometimes, conversations with teens create distance rather than connection.
Why should I think about this?
Chances are you will have a teen in your family, your extended family, your neighborhood, or church community who will eventually come out to you. How you respond to this teen may make the difference in his or her decision to live a healthy life, or even to keep on living. Research suggests that teens who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning) feel the greatest positive or negative effects from their family’s reaction to them. Negative reactions from family are associated with teens’ increased risk for depression, alcohol use, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors including suicide attempts. Your preparing now for a possible family member’s coming out may be one of the most powerful chances you have to be a positive influence in a young person’s life.
What can I say?
Some parents feel authentic simply saying, “Oh, OK, tell me more about it when you feel like it,” and moving on. If you’re reading this, chances are that’s not you. A young person’s coming out may make you feel as if the axis of the world has shifted and you are supposed to set it right somehow. One of the least helpful ways to respond is to assume that the teen has made a choice that rejects your values.
Most teens share their feelings about attractions and identity only after they have wrestled alone with issues for weeks, months, and often years. Most are keenly afraid that their parents will feel that family values have been rejected. Even if you are the wisest person you know, it is unlikely that you will know more about the challenges of what they have been experiencing than they do. It is also unlikely that you will learn what they are experiencing without a lot of listening. The most helpful thing a parent can do may be to set the stage for future conversations.
The statements below encourage further sharing without assuming the teen wants to reject family values. These statements also make it more likely a parent will learn more about what a teen is experiencing:
I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me.
Thank you for telling me this. I’ve been wondering how I could help you.
What you are telling me is important. Most important, however, is that I love you, and this doesn’t change my love for you.
I hope you will keep talking to me about this.
This changes things for me too, and it will give me a lot to think about, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you. I still love and cherish you. We’ll work through this together.
This is hard for me, but I’m willing to do hard things as your parent. I want to be here for you to help you.
Next time: Coming Out Part 2 – What now? Parent self-Care.
By Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen, MS, LMFT
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