Month: July 2016

Young little girl hugging her mother while looking at camera.

Can Children Bully Their Parents?

The notion of child bullies is nothing new. We often hear about kids bullying other kids, which unfortunately can lead to a number of significant consequences, including triggering self-harm, or worse, suicide for the bullying victim. Despite this, bullying has become so commonplace, especially within the last century or so, that the “playground bully” has become a veritable archetype in coming-of-age stories and school-based narratives. That being said, what motivates children to bully others? And what happens when this bullying is taken home?

Lesser known is the fact that children can actually bully their own parents. It’s hard to believe at first, especially when we consider the age and size discrepancies, as well as the difference in authority.  However, this happens more frequently than many of us may realize. Psychotherapist, author, and public speaker, Dr. Sean Grover has more than 20 years of experience working with both adults and children in his practice. In that time, he’s witnessed numerous cases of adults whom he feels were being bullied by their children. According to him, these parents and their children come from various cultures and communities. What connects them, however, is three commonly occurring scenarios which lead to this unique and harmful relationship:

Three Common Ties to Child Bullies

  • The parents were bullied by their own parents.
  • The parents, themselves, are narcissistic.
  • The parents had parents that were absent or neglectful.

These three characteristics appear to be the common threads which link such instances of dominance-reversal and parent-abuse together. Understanding them can help explain why kids may choose to bully their parents as well as why the parents have fallen into the role of bullying victim. Kids may act in such a way that is bullying to others for a variety of reasons. Among the most common, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, are the experience of physical abuse or turmoil in the home, or a desire to stand out to others in a way that they have learned garners them the most attention. More often than not, bullies, themselves, have been or are being bullied, oftentimes by those who are bigger and stronger than they are. Unfortunately, their bullies are often found at home. When this situation is reversed, however, explaining this behavior becomes a bit more complex.

When Parents Have Been Bullied By Their Own Parents

One of the most common scenarios observed in parents who are bullied by their children is that they had also been victim to bullying by their own parents. In other words, this “culture” of bullying and abuse passes down from one generation to the next. The victims remain victims, only now the perpetrators of the abuse are the children.

Because these parents had been bullied when they were young, they may compensate by being overly liberal with their own children. These parents are effectively attempting to undo their own history of abuse by allowing their children the freedom they were denied. However, freedom in excess can be dangerous. After all, kids require guidance in order to grow and develop in a healthy manner. That being said, very recently, there has been a backlash against overly authoritarian parenting techniques of the past. Because of this, in an attempt to distance themselves from these methods, many parents today may find themselves falling towards the opposite ends of the spectrum and being too permissive.

Though their hearts are in the right place, they consequently leave their child’s behavior unregulated and undisciplined. This means that the child may lack a developed sense of boundaries or what kind of behavior is acceptable. Not understanding boundaries or not being checked when those boundaries are crossed contributes to repeat behavior, which ultimately leads to bullying.

When Parents Were the Victims of Neglect

Sometimes, however, the parents weren’t abused but instead were neglected by their own parents. This leads to a different set of challenges. For example, adults who have grown up with parents that were absent or neglectful may not know how to act as a parent themselves. Without a parenting model to go by, many adults find themselves overwhelmed by this new role. They might defer difficult or unpopular decisions, like those having to do with discipline or rule enforcement, thereby shifting the burden of parenting from themselves to their children.

Now initially, many children may jump at the opportunity to seize control from their parents, but in reality they are completely unprepared to manage themselves successfully. When parents don’t provide the necessary guidance a child needs to flourish, they will grow frustrated and, as a result, become abusive.

What Happens When Parents are Narcissistic

The third most common characteristic of parents who are bullied by their children are that the parents, themselves, are narcissistic. Essentially what this means is that these parents often don’t truly listen to their children and are more preoccupied with their own wants and needs. They will likely monopolize conversations, make frequent comparisons to themselves even when it’s not warranted, and they will react with opposition towards their children acting in a manner that is unique or individualistic. This is because these parents would like their children to develop in a way that is the most similar to themselves. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to recognize aspect of oneself in one’s children, kids are ultimately their own people. Not recognizing this can mean compromising a child’s need to express themselves and use their own voices.

From the child’s perspective, they may feel as though their parents are looking past them rather than at them. A desire for recognition, appreciation, and respect can lead to frequent instances of “acting out.” This is what evolves into bullying behavior. In an effort to break free from their parent’s self-absorption, these children will try to make everything about them, their choices motivated by anger and frustration. Narcissistic parenting results in a lack of emotional fulfillment for the children. Because these needs aren’t being met, a conflict arises between the parents and their kids who feel deprived. These patterns, left unrecognized and unchecked can ultimately lead to estrangement between parent and child.

Breaking the Cycle can Break the Habit

By recognizing these cycles of behavior and their causes we can properly address the problem of children bullying their parents. Therapists often help bring these issues to light and guide both parents and children in ways to alter their communication and behavior so that it is mutually beneficial, rather than conflicting or abusive. The past affects the present, and this holds especially true when we look at how our childhoods can affect how we raise our own kids in the present and future.

For family therapy options in Boca Raton, please call our office @ 800-378-9354.
Beautiful paper creations made during art therapy session.

Examine the Benefits of Art Therapy

Often overlooked as a legitimate form of therapeutic treatment, art-making and art therapy can be the creative outlets many individuals need to truly express themselves. Much research has been done on the health benefits of making art, in fact, a recent study conducted by Drs. Girija Kaimal, Juan Muniz, and doctoral student under Kamial, Kendra Ray, proposes that a 45-minute session of art making can significantly reduce cortisol levels in the body. Published in the journal Art Therapy, this 2016 study, aptly titled “Reduction of cortisol levels and participants’ responses following art making,” is one of many which offer similar results suggesting that making art is more than just a fun way to occupy one’s time.

Creating Art Reduces Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is better known as the “stress hormone” as it correlates with our stress levels in our bodies. This includes what has come to be referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response to stressful situations or dangerous events. This study assessed a total of 39 adults, aged 18 to 59, who were asked to make an art piece of their choice. These participants were provided a selection of art materials ranging from clay and collaging materials to felting pens. Prior to this, the participants’ saliva was tested for cortisol levels. They were also given questionnaires before and after their sessions of art-making to acquire additional data relating to their experiences.

What the researchers observed was interesting, to say the least. In short, around 75% of the participants had lower cortisol levels following their session than they did prior to making art. For the 25% of remaining participants, cortisol levels either remained the same or, for a select few, were elevated. The researchers noted that prior experience did not seem to affect the outcome of the study. What this means is that stress reduction was not in any way related to the familiarity of the participants with any of the material or what their skillset was. While further research is needed to offer more concise outcomes, the results of this study and those like it are promising.

Stress is a Whole Body Response

Such studies focus on the collection of what are known as “biomarkers,” or physiological measures of those participating in the study. Commenting on the role of these biomarkers and art therapy research, Drs. Elizabeth Warson and John Lorance explain that “the field of art therapy is rich with opportunities for research that can enhance and validate what is already common knowledge to most art therapists and their clients: that art is life enhancing.” However, they note that what isn’t known is the physiological science behind this relationship, which involves the collection of these biomarkers. They did find, though, that the effect of art therapy on stress extends beyond the role of cortisol. In fact, Warson and Lorance underscore the significance of the roles of the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems in our stress response in their own studies into stress reduction and art-making. Their studies show the effects of coloring an intricate circular design called a mandala, or working through a maze, and the impact of such activities on the body’s cortisol, immune response, salivary alpha-amylase (SAM), and standard anxiety inventory responses. Their preliminary findings reveal that these activities decreased SAM and increased immunity. They also discovered that a variety of factors can impact variations in cortisol levels, such as those observed by Drs. Kaimal, Muniz, and Ray.

Art Therapy as a Relational Approach

Art therapy is often defined as a relational approach. In other words, this means that the role of the professional, in this case the therapist, can play an important role in the overall effectiveness of the treatment. A 2010 study conducted by Latvian researcher Dace Visnola and her colleagues confirms this through their investigation of a specific art therapy protocol that not only examines cortisol levels but also the individual’s perception of stress and and reportable physical changes for the time. This study helps to provide emerging data on the fundamental differences between art-making and art therapy. Their work helped to demonstrate the complexities of stress reduction in clinical practice. In other words, by devising a session of art therapy which included the role of an art therapist, they were able to enact specific interventions designed to facilitate change as well as encourage self-exploration, thought, and emotional expression.

Growing within the Windows of Tolerance

A number of questions remain regarding the quantitative proof of the benefits of art-making on our stress levels, as these extend beyond the production of cortisol. Art therapy, just like any other therapy, is more than just relaxation, but rather involves the setting and attainment of personal goals. However, unlike more conventional therapeutic methods, art therapy allows people to grow within their own personal “windows of tolerance” – an area of emotional activation in which a person can comfortably tolerate, according to art therapist Dr. Cathy Malchiodi.

She explains that “Art therapists, like most psychotherapists, offer what can often be modestly stressful experiences and strategic art-based approaches within the windows of individual tolerance; a little stress is often necessary for all of us in order to learn and achieve goals of behavioral change, emotional repair and resolution, personal and interpersonal growth, resilience and self-efficacy.”

The current outlook on the success of such unique treatments looks promising, as revealed by numerous studies and findings. As such, art therapy becomes on of the many individually-tailored treatment options available to help us progress in our journeys towards greater happiness and health.

Contact our office today to learn more about family therapy in Boca Raton, FL – 800-378-9354
A man helping a woman through an obstacle during a team building exercise.

How Helping Others can Reduce Stress and Improve Mood

You may have heard at some point or another that helping others is a reward in itself, but there may be more truth to that than we previously realized. Studies show that helping others can actually be beneficial to ourselves as well. One such study, entitled “Prosocial Behavior Mitigates the Stress in Everyday Life,” reveals that doing something nice for others can lower our overall stress levels. Published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the study assessed participants’ stress levels and “prosocial behavior” via text message prompting. In other words, the test subjects received a text which prompted them to record the day’s stresses as well as the kind acts they bestowed on others. This included holding a door open for someone or asking others if they needed assistance. They then rated their emotions both positive and negative, and assessed their overall mental health for the day.

Not surprisingly, days that are more stressful tend to take a greater toll on our mental health and our emotions. However, the study found that individuals who tend to do more for others tend to have better mental health and more positive emotions. This poses the question of what exactly is the best thing to do when we’re having a bad day? As it turns out, the quality of our day may vary depending on how we improve the days of others. This doesn’t mean neglecting ourselves, of course, but rather including others in our daily awareness. Alternatively, if we decrease our prosocial behaviors on days that we’re experiencing a lot of stress, we are more likely to experience negative thoughts and emotions, whereas if we increase our prosocial behavior on these days, we are more likely to have significantly reduced negative symptoms.

Five Ways Helping Others Improves Quality of Life

1. Distraction

Perhaps the most obvious reason for why prosocial behavior may benefit our overall mental health and mood is that it provides a much needed reprieve from the day’s stresses. When we’re focused on our own stress, we end up becoming preoccupied with what is “wrong” with our lives. When we reach out to help someone else, we are going to be less fixated on our own troubles, which means less feelings of stress.

2. Oxytocin Activation

The authors also theorize that prosocial behavior can initiate the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that is involved in our feelings of trust and bonding with others, which can help counteract our negative emotions.

3. It Gives Life Greater Meaning

Positive social interactions with others can help us put our lives into perspective. One way it does this is by reminding us of what many of us value most in our lives – meaningful relationships with others whom we work with towards a shared goal. In other words, when we work with others and help each other we remind ourselves that life is more than just a day’s struggles, but rather a greater collection of experiences that we all share. Thus, it is important to work with each other to help make those experiences worthwhile.

4. Increasing Dopamine

As we’ve discussed previously, dopamine is the feel-good hormone we crave. Dopamine is normally released in response to reward-based activities such as sex or winning a game. However, the researchers found that there appears to be something inherently rewarding about being kind to others. In this way, this prosocial behavior becomes its own kind of reward-based activity, from which we enjoy the effects of dopamine.

5. Decreasing the Activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System

Many of us are familiar with how stress can activate our fight-or-flight response. When we’re stressed, we may be more inclined to panic. Stress can heighten anxiety as well as worsen the existing symptoms of depression. The researchers explain that the fight-or-flight response, however, is actually the result of stress being a part of the sympathetic nervous system.

What this means is that this system readies our bodies and minds to deal with stress and this is the response it can create. That being said, they point out that according to their findings, showing compassion can actually reduce our stress response. The same is true for expressing affection. It is for this reason that helping others can actually affect our body’s direct physiological response to stressful experiences.

In essence, when we feel stressed we tend to easily fall into an all-consuming negative mindset, in which we become less attuned to those around us. Consequently, we may find ourselves falling into a negative spiral. One way to avoid this path is to open up to responding to the needs of others. This can help reduce the likelihood of lashing out or hurting others because we are feeling hurt. Therapy can be a good way to learn techniques which can help us open up more, even in times of stress. Through this, we can begin to improve how we communicate with others, which, in turn, will improve how we are spoken to and treated as well. All of these things can and will contribute to a better mood and better overall mental health.

Call 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment at our Boca Raton office.
Military husband and wife holding hands

Five Commons Myths About Treating PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is arguably one of the most commonly misunderstood mental illnesses. Yet it is among the most serious if left untreated. The National Center for PTSD reports that witnessing and/or experiencing trauma is not uncommon. In fact, they estimate that approximately 60% of men (6 in 10) and 50% of women (5 in 10) will experience at least one trauma during their lifetimes. Among the most likely traumas to occur by sex, women have a greater chance of experiencing sexual trauma whereas men are more likely to witness other violent traumas such as accidents, assaults, and even death. While witnessing trauma does not mean that one is guaranteed to develop PTSD, it is believed that approximately 7-8% of people (7 or 8 out of 100)  struggle with the disorder during a given year. This accounts for an estimated 8 million U.S. adults.

Five Common Myths About PTSD and Treating It

Although public awareness of PTSD has increased over the years, there still seems to be some pervading misconceptions about what exactly the disorder is and how it affects people. There is also some confusion regarding how to treat PTSD and its many possible symptoms, which range from feelings of loneliness and numbness to re-experiencing trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. Moreover, there is, still, an unfortunate stigma which appears to be associated with the disorder, which may be contributing to the misinformation circulating.

Because of this, it’s important to address some of the major myths that exist regarding PTSD, not only to gain a better understanding of this condition for ourselves, but also for those currently suffering from its symptoms. Below are 5 of the most frequently occurring myths surrounding PTSD.

1. Everyone Who Experiences Trauma Gets It

Not everyone who witnesses or experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. As evidenced previously by statistics, only 7-8% of individuals are likely to have the disorder. That being said, it is possible for anyone to react badly to trauma, and in doing so, develop PTSD. Whether or not someone will have PTSD as a response to trauma depends entirely on the individual and how they process the circumstances.

Having PTSD doesn’t mean that the individual inherently did something wrong, it just means that the events which they witnessed or experienced had a deep impact on them. Everyone deals with trauma differently, and for some, processing these thoughts and emotions may be more difficult than others, and will necessitate intervention both therapeutic and possibly medicinal.

2. Only Veterans Suffer from PTSD

Any individual who has experienced some sort of trauma can develop PTSD. While this can, and usually does, include veterans, it is in no way limited to that demographic. Trauma can be more than just combat-related atrocities. For some, a traumatic event may be witnessing domestic violence or a natural disaster, for others, it may be experiencing physical abuse or sexual assault. What constitutes as trauma varies from person to person, however any traumatic event can trigger the development of PTSD. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to what causes the disorder or how it affects the individual.

3. PTSD is a Sign of Weakness

One particularly harmful myth is that PTSD is a sign of weakness, or that the condition itself is really “no big deal.” That being said, PTSD has nothing to do with one’s mental strength. True, there are some factors which may place certain people at a greater risk for developing the disorder than others, but those aren’t always within the person’s own control. Certain things which increase risk include whether or not the individual was able to successfully “save” or remove themselves from the situation which caused them trauma, or whether or not they were able to get adequate social support. Those with a pre-existing history or anxiety may also be at higher risk.

People who have PTSD are not being over-dramatic. Assuming that PTSD isn’t as bad as those suffering are making it out to be is reductive and harmful towards those individuals. PTSD can impact all areas of a person’s life, including their relationships, employment, and their overall quality of life. For some, the symptoms, without proper treatment, can be so debilitating that they turn to drugs and alcohol, or worse, suicide, as an answer for their suffering. This would not be the case if the condition “wasn’t a big deal.”

4. PTSD is Just a Personal Problem

PTSD affects more than just the individual suffering from it. It can also impact relationships and how they communicate with others. As alluded to previously, it can negatively affect one’s ability to perform their job, leading to increased absences, loss of focus, and reduced productivity, to name a few. On a personal level, PTSD can make it hard for someone to connect with others like they used to, making them seem distant and avoidant. This can be especially harmful because those struggling with PTSD, just like those with other mental health disorders, need love and support from friends and family to help facilitate the healing process. However, maintaining those relationships with PTSD can be a challenge.

5. There are No Treatments for PTSD

Perhaps the most dangerous assumption about PTSD is that there are no treatments available for it. While it is true that there is no one pill that can cure PTSD, there are several medications available which can help afflicted individuals manage symptoms. Psychotherapy has also been proven to be greatly beneficial to those struggling with PTSD as it can provide the necessary education and skills to help manage its effects as well as understand its causes.

To schedule an appointment to begin PTSD treatment with one of our therapists, call our office @ 561-368-3636.
young woman experiencing negative emotions

How to Personalize Anxiety Treatment with Genomics

These days there is a plethora of treatment options available for anxiety-sufferers, ranging from medication to counselling. In anxiety therapy, the therapists teach clients who are struggling with anxiety techniques and skills needed to help better manage those feelings. However, the sheer number of treatments available these days, combined with the vast archives of information (both true and false) available on the internet can make seeking out what treatment is best for oneself seem intimidating. After all, with so many options and answers to choose from, how can we be sure which is right for us? Moreover, what if one treatment alone isn’t enough to manage our anxiety? Does this mean there’s no help? The short answer to this question is “no.” In fact, many anxiety sufferers greatly benefit from a combination of treatment methods designed to target the sources of the anxiety as well as the symptoms.

Finding the Anxiety Treatment that Works Best for You

Unfortunately, there is no one intervention method that works as a catch-all for everyone. Because of this, searching for the right methods can be a bit more challenging than anticipated. It’s important not to neglect individual needs in favor of following a popular convention. For example, just because someone with mild anxiety was able to successfully treat their condition by meditation and eliminating caffeine from their diet doesn’t mean that someone with more moderate to severe anxiety symptoms will be affected in the same way by doing the same things. Furthermore, not benefiting from these treatment methods doesn’t mean that the person still struggling with anxiety has somehow failed or cannot be treated. The real question is what treatment method(s) will work best for them!

Genomics: A Gateway to Better Understanding Anxiety

So how can we determine what treatment or combination works best for us? The answer may lie in our genetics. Some healthcare professionals are using off-the-beaten-path means of assessing what interventions work best for certain anxiety patients. Called genomics, this method involves sequencing and analyzing our genome, thereby creating a genetic map by which we might be able to better understand disease. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI): “virtually every human ailment has some basis in our genes. Until recently, doctors were able to take the study of genes, or genetics, into consideration only in cases of birth defects and a limited set of other diseases. These were conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, which have very simple, predictable inheritance patterns because each is caused by a change in a single gene.”

Scientists are now extending their research to examine the effects of the genome on our mental health as well as our physical one. This direction perhaps isn’t surprising considering that DNA is responsible for the development and direction of all activities in nearly every living organism. Mapping these DNA sequences can help generate unique, individualized genetic profiles for patients who are seeking customized treatment for their needs. Rather than following hype and faulty advice, those struggling with anxiety or any other mental health conditions can follow their own genetic makeup to discover what treatment will be most beneficial to them. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Susan Heitler explains the potential of genomics thusly: “The ‘right’ answer starts with your genes, your DNA. Your DNA provides instructions for everything.  It  instructs your body to optimize nutrients, balance emotional and physical bodies, protect you from foreign invaders and provide vital energy.  Sometimes however glitches in the DNA code that writes these instructions creates a faulty switch in a person’s ‘software.’ When these switches are put into an unhealthy environment, the system may falter or crash.”

Finding the Faulty Switches

The truth is that we all have what Dr. Heitler would call “faulty switches.” These are what lead to disease of both the body and mind. Faulty switches are different from inherited diseases, though, as small changes in our DNA known as SNPs are actually fairly common. More than 10 million of these SNPs have been found in the human genome. Left unchecked, SNPs can cause problems in the body’s biochemistry and metabolism. These problems can, in many instances, can either result from or be exacerbated by unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices.

When we recognize our SNPs and get a better understanding of our genome, we can ultimately make more informed decisions based on what our bodies and minds truly need to be healthy. This can include anything from increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake to customizing medicating dosages to suit our unique profiles. Therapy can also help in targeting the underlying  causes of our anxiety thereby reducing feelings of stress. Because of genomics, we can better understand what treatment methods will work best for us and in what measure, thereby increasing our likelihood of successful anxiety management and even recovery.

A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

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