Trauma/Crisis

Sex is a Five Letter Word

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It has been stunning to watch the sexual predators fall with the speed of video characters in an online game. To women who have known how entrenched sexual harassment is, the daily outing of sexual predators is astonishing.  Read more at www.survive45.net/blog.

Differences between Men and Women in Posttraumatic Growth (PTG)

Yesterday I defined Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) as the positive change as a result of struggles after a life crisis.  A very interesting study tried to figure out whether men and women differ in their ability to weather crises and experience growth.  Remember, in general men and women tend to score similarly on most psychological variables – men and women are more alike than different (in spite of the popular press’s desire to highlight differences).  If you don’t believe me, please read Janet Hyde’s wonderful article, “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis” in the September, 2005, issue of the American Psychologist.

But, I digress.  There does seem to be a difference in men and women’s reporting about growth after a crisis.  Even when the researchers accounted for the types of crises that men and women might not share equally (sexual violence and war are 2 good examples), they found differences. I’ll give you the citation at the end so you can follow this up if you like.  The group of researchers analyzed 70 studies that met their strict criteria.  They had more than 16,000 subjects, so you can see that this is a strong study.

Women reported more growth after crises than men did.  Why?  Backstory:  Women are more than 4X likely to develop PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), women report more PTSD symptoms, women report greater severity of PTSD symptoms.  So, if they seem to have more reaction to trauma, what allows women to experience greater growth after a trauma?

Women and men both are exposed to trauma and experience bad things.  Women have more symptoms because they perceive situations as more threatening that men do; when threatened, they experience more stress; and feel more loss of control than men do.  Probably, because of these facts, women lives have more upheaval.  They may be forced to face their distress.  Women tend to contemplate and brood more than men but it works for them here.  They brood constructively; they recall their strengths; they rely on their social networks; and they use therapy more often.  These are the ways that people grow and change. The women face their emotions, they do not avoid their feelings.  They “work through” the problems, the feelings, the beliefs connected to the trauma and come out healthier.

Growth after trauma comes from actively struggling with the problem, the aftermath, the mess, the horrible feelings.  You can make sense – emotionally and brain-wise – out of life events.  This is one way that growth happens.

The study referred to is by Tanya Vishnevsky, Arnie Cann, Lawrence G. Calhoun, Richard G. Tedeschi, and George J. Demakis (all from U. of North Carolina at Charlotte).  Gender Differences in Self-Reported Posttraumatic Growth: A Meta-Analysis, 2010, Psychology of Women Quarterly, volume 34, pp. 110-120.

Personal Growth after Trauma

There has been much good information written about the harmful effects of trauma, whether the damage was done from war, sexual abuse, violence, natural disasters or the other zillion ways of being harmed in this world.  When I used to teach Adult Development to the Counseling Psychology graduate students at Northwestern University each Spring, we talked about trauma for two grueling weeks.  By then, the students begin to look traumatized by our readings, lectures and discussion but, of course, they were in training to learn to be therapists, so that was part of the deal.

However, there is another, more positive, phenomenon that we discuss less often – positive growth.  Researchers are beginning to write about Posttraumatic Growth (PTG), meaning that people experience positive change as a result of their struggles and working through of a big crisis.  I believe that much of the positive growth comes from the person’s ability to mourn – that is, to work their way through the difficult experience, emotions, and beliefs.  People don’t “get over” crises but they can get through them in and, like a long hard journey, reach a better, healthier, more creative place at the other end.

I’ve written (books and papers) about the process of mourning for more than thirty years.  I’ve written about the creative outcomes that are possible for more than fifteen years so many of those ideas will appear here regularly.  I hope that you find them helpful.  Tomorrow, I’ll say a bit more about the differences between men and women in achieving posttraumatic growth and mourning.

Narcissistic Rage Explained

Narcissistic rage is not the anger you might feel when you lose your job or get treated unfairly by a friend. It is made from different stuff; more primitive, an assault to an already damaged core. Read more at www.survive45.net, a website dedicated to examining today’s news through the lens of psychological understanding.IMG_6493

The Disaster Of Politeness

Most of us have been taught to be polite.  We are drilled with the belief that hurting anyone’s feelings is bad thing to do.  We are cautioned to “play nice”, “be nice”, “don’t be mean”.  I will admit publicly, for the very first time, that in 8th grade at Horace Mann School inn New Jersey, I was voted “most polite”.  Well, with credentials like that, I certainly have the right to post an article about the other side of politeness. I am not going to advocate meanness or bad manners.  I do however, want to point out that there is a dark side to every good quality, and here is the dark side of politeness.

Women’s ability to protect themselves from sexual assault decreases under certain conditions:

  1. When she is conflicted about what to do in the situation, her assertive resistance decreases.  She is more likely to resist politely or go along with his sexual advances.
  2. When she is uncertain about her own wishes, she offers only polite resistance.
  3. When she is in shock, she becomes increasingly passive.

Women especially, suffer from politeness.  Because they have been trained not to hurt anyone’s feelings, they become too passive when they are confused or uncertain.  They want men to like them.  For some women, particularly those with a history of childhood sexual victimization, their appraisal of a situation may be faulty.  They may misread a man’s sexual intentions.

I have listened to many, many stories of unwanted sexual behavior, coercion and assault.  These accounts come from smart, savvy women who, too often, say that they ignored their own wishes because, “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings,”  “I wasn’t sure,” or  “I didn’t want to be rude.” And then, some guy reads her passivity as consent and the hunt is on.  This is what I mean when I say that  the lovely qualities of politeness and kindness towards other people have a dark side – they prevent people from acting on their own behalf.

The above examples are extreme, I know, but tone them down and you still have a problem of ignoring your own well being because you are reluctant to make some other person uncomfortable, angry, frustrated or embarrassed.

Three Women: A Parable of Difference

Three good women are walking in the woods along the river bank, talking and enjoying each other’s company.  Suddenly, they hear a splash and a frightened yell. The three of them rush to the spot where the noise came from and see that a young girl has fallen into the water.   She is struggling.  Working together, the three women make a human chain from the safety of the trees on the bank to the girl.  The woman in the water reaches her and the others pull them both to safety on the shore.

Seeing that she was safe and unharmed, the first woman hurried away. “Where are you going?” called one of her friends. “I’m going to find her parents,” she answered.

The second woman rose to go. “I’m going to find the park service people and talk to them about safety.”

The third woman, sitting on the wet grass with the girl looked at her and said, “And I’m going to teach you how to swim………….”

I heard this story a long time ago.  I like it because all the women are good, all of them are correct, and all are admirable. It reminds me that (once the girl is safe), there aren’t a lot of rights and wrongs. We all have different ways of solving problems, of prioritizing our tasks, and we have different beliefs about help, using our skills, and the future.

Hidden Signs Of Depression

In a recent study, using data from almost 7 million Americans (4 surveys), the author, Dr. Jean Twenge, wrote, “ This study shows an increase in symptoms dreamstimefree_1207893.jpg griefmost people don’t even know are connected with depression, which shows that adolescents and adults really are suffering more.”

People did not seems to understand that these can be symptoms of depression:

  1. Poor appetite
  2. Problems sleeping
  3. Lack of concentration
  4. Restlessness
  5. Feeling overwhelmed

Overt symptoms, such as suicidal ideation, became less evident and the symptoms above became more obvious.

Source: Jean Twenge 2014 Time period and birth cohort differences in depressive symptoms in the US 1982-2013

Forgiveness: Let Go and Heal

Today I am writing about how to forgive. Okay, that might be impossible, but at least, I am writing about ways that allow you to move forward with forgiveness. We all want to move into next year feeling lighter and free from old hurts. This post follows yesterday’s. How can you forgive someone who has harmed you? dreamstimefree_654445 hatched eggs

1. Instead of taking strong personal offence, find the impersonal in the hurt. You do this when you recognize that some (maybe much) of the hurtful event had nothing to do with you. You understand that something bad happened but the past cannot be changed. Instead of dwelling on this offence, concentrate on all that is good in your life. When you feel disappointed, limit dwelling on disappointing thoughts.

2. Make a plan to improve your life instead of blaming the offender for how you feel. In

the short run, blame feels good because your hurt becomes someone else’s responsibility but ultimately, blame is useless. Having a plan to improve your life is healing. Holding on to blame keeps you stuck and attached to the person or event. It keeps you vulnerable and helpless. You make someone else powerful. Take the power back. Refocus your emotion with the following techniques:

Be grateful

Remember the good, beauty, and kindness in life

Learn to slow down and breathe

It does NOT mean that what happened is your fault; just that you have to be in charge of how you think, behave and feel today.

3. Give up your grievance story by learning a different story. Stop using the old ways that probably never worked.

These ideas are taken from Dr. Fred Luskin’s work. I would like to hear your experience – and so would many others.

5 Components Of Forgiveness

How do we forgive people who have wronged us? How do we move on?  It is certainly a process that takes time and energy. Since the new year is only days away,  and we all want to be able to feel free going into 2015, it seems like the right time to talk about forgiveness for two days.   Today, in the lists below, I have made a small beginning by spelling out what forgiveness is, and what forgiveness is not.

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Forgiveness is:

1. A method (a process) of coping with your hurt and your experience of being treated poorly.

2. For your benefit, not anyone else’s; it is not for the person who hurt you.

3. A different way to think about your emotions and actions toward the person who offended you.

4. A way to let go of some bitterness.

5. A way to feel freer from the hurt and offenses done to you.

Here is a definition of Forgiveness that I like. 

“Forgiveness is letting go of negative feelings (i.e. hostility), negative thoughts (i.e. revenge), and negative behaviors (i.e. talking badly) in response to genuine injustice against you. You may, or may not, eventually respond positively toward the offending person.”

Whenever I talk about forgiveness in meetings or in groups, someone always asks, “What if I can’t forget?” or, “Does this mean that I have to excuse the behavior that hurt me?”

Forgiveness IS NOT

1. Forgetting – you do not have to make yourself forget the behavior or its consequences.

2. Condoning – you do not have to say or believe that the behavior was okay with you.

3. Accepting its continuation – you do not have to continue to tolerate the behavior.

4. Denying – you do not have to deny or overlook the behavior.

Tomorrow, The Basic Principles of Forgiveness and How We Got Into That Mess (in the first place)

The definition of forgiveness comes from M. Rye and K. Pargament’s article, “Forgiveness and Romantic Relationships in College: Can it Heal the Wounded Heart?” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2002, v. 54 pp.419-441.

Gifts That We Grow Into (first published 12/25/10)

When I was ‘sweet’ sixteen, my parents bought me a long strand of pearls. The necklace was, and remained for years, my only piece of “real” jewelry.  At the time, I was told that the pearls ought to be worn, not put away, and that their color would change subtly according to my skin. However, I don’t remember ever wearing the pearls in high school or college – they never went with the preppy, then hippy, outfits I preferred.pearls over black gloves

But, the pearls always traveled with me and I did grow into them. Years later, when I was getting my Ph.D., my mother visited me in Evanston. She was sick at that time and gave me her jewelry and the few pieces left by my grandmother.  The pearls had company – I now had a beautiful, meaningful, small collection of ‘real’ jewelry.  Right after her visit, my friend Carol had a wedding to attend in Pennsylvania. Her Quaker upbringing had not provided pearls at sixteen so I easily offered her my pearls for the weekend.  They looked lovely on her.  The gesture, genuine at first, left me with second thoughts.  After Carol left for her weekend wedding, I tormented myself with scenarios of her losing the pearls, mistreating them, breaking the strand and watching them roll away, unable to recapture them.  I imagined that she would misplace them or lose her suitcase during the flight. I was as overcome with regret as if I had already lost the pearls.

On Monday, just before Carol returned to town, I unexpectedly had to take my daughter to the pediatrician. We were only gone for an hour.  As soon as we returned home, the house felt bad to me and as I walked through the rooms, I knew we had been burglarized.  The thieves were selective – money and jewelry.  I had little money.  They took all my jewelry.  They left the TV that I didn’t watch and ignored the stereo whose multitude of buttons I never learned to operate.  My jewelry box was emptied.  All of it: mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and my aunt’s jewelry – gone and never recovered.

Within hours, the pearls came back to me from Pennsylvania.  I still have them; I still treasure them.  My daughters like this story.  So do I.  What I gave away, was returned to me.  It’s a holiday story – it’s an everyday story.