While there is no way to definitively predict which teens might develop a substance abuse disorder, there are a number of risk factors that considerably increase the likelihood an abuse problem will occur. By understanding these risk factors, parents and others involved in a child’s life can employ effective protective actions to minimize the risk. Below are a few of the common factors that raise the chances substance abuse could become a problem by the time a child becomes a teenager.
Family history of substance abuse is one of the biggest risk factors for children develop a substance abuse disorder by the time they hit the teen years. Prenatal exposure to alcohol may also make a person more vulnerable to substance abuse later in life.
Children that are around substance use, either by parents, friends or members of their community, may regard drugs and alcohol as a normal part of life. They may not recognize the dangers of using these substances, which puts them at increased risk of addiction.
Children who are impulsive or aggressive in the early years of life may also be more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Aggressive behavior could lead to anti-social tendencies, while impulsivity is an individual risk factor that involves the inability to set limits on one’s behavior.
The connection between a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness is very high. In some cases, the person may use substances to cope with the painful symptoms of the mental illness. Other times, regular substance use may trigger the symptoms of a mental disorder.
Children with parents that abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to use the substances themselves. In addition, a home life that is stressful due to conflict or other difficult situations can also make a teen more likely to use substances as a way of dealing with the stress.
Children that do not socialize well with their peers are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their loneliness. By the same token, teens who choose friends that use are more likely to use themselves as well.
Struggles in school, whether academically or socially, can also lead to substance abuse. The earlier the school problems begin, the more likely it is that substance abuse will become an obstacle over time.
At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we have seen teens turn to drugs and alcohol for a wide range of reasons. While prevention should always be the primary focus in keeping this age group safe and healthy, sometimes prevention efforts are simply not enough to keep a potential addiction at bay. The good news is there are also effective methods of treating substance abuse that help teens move away from their abusive behaviors and into a healthier, sober way of life. To learn more about our treatment programs, contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers at 866-889-3665.
It’s important to stay motivated after you leave treatment. But that’s not always as easy as it sounds
Treatment provides a protective and supportive cocoon where clients can discover, lean into and heal from their difficulties. One discovers a broadening network of support and a plan to maintain it. Still, it isn’t always easy to stay motivated. Some clients move back to their home state, where there isn’t quite enough support or where meetings and sober options are slim. Phone conversations are helpful, but often times, there is a need for real-time human interaction. Skype or FaceTime are viable options here.
Here are some tools to help you make a solid plan to stay motivated:
Know your needs. Write them down. Be specific and spare nothing.
Have a list of people you can call and connect with on a regular basis that not only know your goals, but also will support them wholeheartedly.
Understand that there will be rough days. Getting sober doesn’t mean everything becomes perfect or that you live happily ever after. This is life, after all, and that means that stuff will happen. Some days, we will handle the difficulties with grace, and some days, we may fall. It’s ok. You are human.
Expectations: Are they realistic? Unrealistic expectations can create more suffering then good. Thoughts like, “If I stay sober, I’ll get ____” or “If I stay sober, so and so will love me again.” Getting sober provides the opportunity for change, but positive change takes time. Addiction and untreated mental illness caused harm and restoring the good requires a commitment to affecting this positive change.
Remember WHY you got sober. Some experience the “pink cloud” syndrome in early recovery, where everything is all sunshine and roses, but when that pink cloud dissipates, one is left with reality, and reality sucks sometimes. Especially when everything was so “perfect” for a period of time.
Make an effort to remember the good. According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D., in his book Buddha’s Brain, “Your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences; as we’ve said, it’s like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” He goes on to wisely say, “The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences; when they happen, they happen. Rather, it is to foster positive experiences – and in particular, take them in so they become a permanent part of you.”
Journal daily, or write as close to daily as you can muster. This can help you process what’s going on, experience the negative and revel in the positive.
Gratitude lists: I swear by these. Even in the darkest of times, there are things to be grateful for. Write them down. Sometimes, the things you are grateful for are simple and seemingly plain, but they are something. Yes, that means if on Tuesday, you are grateful for toast, and hot tea, and a shower, it’s ok. Nothing is too small, or too insignificant.
Staying motivated means that you have an inclination of enthusiasm for what you are doing. Note the good that is coming from your recovery, the positive things that have arisen and the negative ones that are beginning to move through. You cannot magically think your way out of your troubles. Feel them, name them, and give them emotional space to heal; The only way out is through.
Do you know the difference between hearing someone and listening to what they are saying to you?
Hearing refers to the reception and perception of sound, whereas listening is an action: Listening refers to actively paying attention to what is being said. It also requires the listener’s full attention to the speaker, demonstrated by eye contact, and positive body language. In other words, you can’t listen fully to someone if you are also on your phone, your computer, or watching television. This is an important piece to understand as we positively shift the way we interact with adolescents.
One thing I often hear from teens is that they don’t feel like the adults in their lives are listening. The polarizing statement, “You never LISTEN to ME!” punctuated by a slammed door is not an unusual experience for parents of teens. In order to listen to our kids, we have to set aside our reactions and our need to direct or advise. Sometimes, kids need to vent and our best response can be something like, “It sounds frustrating when…” or maybe, “I hear how frustrated you are.” We have to remember that adolescents feel things far more intensely than we do as adults. An issue that is banal to us can FEEL like the end of times.
Adolescents have reduced dopamine and serotonin levels, making them more prone to high-risk activities and addiction. A child who feels listened to and heard, has a higher chance of making a healthy decision than the kid who is perpetually dismissed, talked over or ignored. When a child is saying, “I hate you,” or “This sucks!” there’s probably something else there. They don’t really hate you, but they may not be able to communicate that beyond the natural reactivity of their developing brain. What would happen if we listened instead of reacted? A statement like: “When you are ready, I am available to listen to you” can go a long way with a teenager.
Our children mimic our reactions, our problem-solving methods, and our behavioral examples. If we are always nervous, they may be nervous. If we are angry all the time, they may be angry all the time. If we are overcautious, they may be overcautious. The list goes on but the outcome is the same.
I am prone to sarcasm. I have a sarcastic sense of humor and have my whole life. This has come back to bite me in the bum with my son, who’s 13 and…sarcastic. Instead of punishing him about the trouble this sarcasm often breeds, we looked at this and processed as a family. Our conclusion: We will curb our sarcasm as a family in an effort to shift the negative perspective others may have. My son felt listened to, we felt listened to, and in the end, a dedicated period of reflective listening proved to be an effective and positive way of dealing with a burgeoning family issue. We have conversations like this often and as a result, we have a teenager who is willing to share his frustrations and difficulties with us more transparently than most. Conversely, I have observed some of his classmates spinning down the spiral of negative and harmful reactions: eating or starving to process their feelings, cutting themselves as a means of processing their feelings, smoking to process their feelings, et cetera. There isn’t an easy fix, silver bullet, or magic potion. Creating an environment where listening is part of an everyday process takes work and dedication. And sometimes, we may have to drop our parental need to “fix” things so we can listen.
Teenagers are changeable creatures. Their moods shift rapidly, their bodies change non- stop, and it’s sometimes difficult to notice if something is really wrong or if the persistent eye-rolling, parental irritation is par for the course. In addition to the eye-rolling, teenagers are also not known for their critical thinking skills or wise decision-making. This might mean they will intentionally like/not like a person or situation you dislike, or they may do something just because you don’t approve. It’s frustrating for parents, but it may also be a subtle sign for us pause and look at the larger picture.
Sometimes, your child may align themselves with a friend or their family whom you view as undesirable. Perhaps you know something your teenager doesn’t know, but you have to keep it to yourself. Or perhaps you are relying on your parental intuition. Unfortunately, to a teenager, you’re just being annoying and reactive. This reactivity will only push your teen away from you and into the arms of that which you fear.
Parents are wise to take some steps to curb reactivity. As we encourage our teenagers to self-regulate, we have to self-regulate too! We have to mirror the behaviors we want.
Our reactions are often fueled by our experiences and the stories from the past. These stories inform our present, particularly when we are dysregulated. Bearing witness to our children’s difficulties is not easy when we haven’t been able to grapple with our own.
Understanding how to self-regulate allows us to tap into our internal resources so we can be less reactive. The process of self-regulation requires us to tap into our mind and body connection. When a person is dysregulated, they are disconnected. A fundamental tool in learning to self-regulate is learning to connect with our physical sensations and our bodies. When we are dysregulated, we are reactive rather than responsive. Likewise, when we are self-regulated, we are responsive rather than reactive.
A dysregulated parent is an ineffective parent. Perpetual negative reactions propel our teens to become dysregulated as well. This is where parents need to take their own time out and get to a quiet space so they can begin to self-regulate.
1: Walk away from the situation so you can check in with yourself.
2: Bring your attention to your feet, and your hands and notice your surroundings.
3: Bring your attention to your belly and your heart: are you angry? Why? Are you scared? Why? What’s present for you?
4: Take 5-10 minutes to allow your breath to settle. Count to 10 slowly, paying close attention to your inhales and exhales.
5: SHAKE IT OUT! Literally: stand up and shake your legs and arms.
When we are regulated, we can come to wiser, more succinct means of communication. Perhaps we can even find a way to persuade our teenagers from doing something we don’t like, or perhaps this is an opportunity to revisit the difficult situation at hand with compassion, kindness and a willingness to listen. One thing that I know for a fact is this: Teenagers all want to be seen, heard, and respected.
Joseph Rogers has been with Visions since 2005, first as a recovery mentor at our Mulholland facility and later becoming the Director of Education at the Outpatient Day School. Joseph has run the Mindfulness Meditation/11th Step, Spirituality group since 2007, exploring how developing spiritual practice is applicable to recovery. He also co-facilitates the Outpatient DBT Skills group with Jesse Engdahl on Wednesdays. Two and a half years ago, Joseph stepped down from the Director position in order to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree and begin the process of stepping into his new role of Chaplain. This has been a long-time coming: Joseph has been in facilitator/teacher training with Against the Stream Meditation Society for the last 5 years, and has built a remarkable community of cohorts and students.
It with great pride and excitement, as well as a bit of a heavy heart, that we bid Joseph farewell as he steps onto a new path. Joseph will begin his residency at UCLA, earning his CPEs (Clinical Pastoral Education) at the top of September. As sad as we are to see him leave the Visions nest, we are excited to see where this takes him. Joseph offers a sense of calm assurance to the deeply suffering, and he is able to hold space for vulnerable people in a profound manner. UCLA has a priceless jewel on their hands.
Joseph has been a consistent members of the VTeam for almost a decade, seamlessly blending boundaries and compassion, while encouraging a love for learning. He has created a foundational resource for the kids and staff to look to for support as well as leadership. Many alumni and staff alike will joyfully reminisce about learning history through the various comedic voices Joseph uses. He has been the rock for many, and the quiet storm of compassion for all.
Joseph isn’t completely leaving Visions, however. He will continue to run the Mindfulness Meditation/11th Step, Spirituality groupand he will continue to co-facilitate the outpatient DBT Skills group. Despite our denial that he won’t be with us every day, we are really excited for him and grateful for his dedication and commitment to Visions. Joseph has carved out a thoughtful, compassionate path of service, dedicating his life to help others recover and find peace with their suffering. Reverend Joseph Rogers, M.Div as a nice sound to it, eh?
“A kind, gentle soul. I will miss seeing Joseph’s smile everyday. I always look forward to his gems and guidance. A true friend I have found. I wish him the very best as he sets out on his journey. The world is a better place for him being here. Thank you for the honor of working with you.”– Noelle Rodriguez
“Ahhh! JRO! We will miss you and your gentle ways. Throughout the years, you have been a driving force for our school. You provide so much more than a basic education to our kids; the love you have put into it has been so good for us and the clients. We are so proud of your hard work and making it into the UCLA program, you truly lead by example. We will miss you very much. Thank you for the years spent together!” Amanda Shumow
I befriended Joseph years ago while I was studying at CSUN in the credential program. I told him that I worked at a little place called Visions and he was immediately interested. Soon after being hired, he took the position at IOP as teacher. Over the years he has made his mark as a calm leader with a fierce passion for his work. Joseph is wise and knows enough to always be learning. He is an educator in the truest sense of the word and will be missed by staff and students alike. His contribution to Visions has been, and will forever be, immeasurable. Joseph embodies the words of Bruce Lee: “A teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself.” – Daniel Dewey
“Joseph is an amazing person, teacher and soul. He is someone that you meet and instantly feel that you are in the presence of someone wise, calm, and fearless. I wish him all the best, in all that he does!” — Jenny Werber
“I’ve never known anyone to be more universally liked by clients and parents than Joseph. Joseph is the rare person with whom you can disagree, but still feel your view was thoughtfully considered, while not feeling imposed by his own.” – Garth LeMaster
“Joseph, you are a man with great insight and gentle wisdom. I have seen you live your convictions, tenderly heal wounded children and be the doorway of understanding for lost souls. I wish you peace, joy, challenges and love. Thank you for your part in my crazy art lady journey.” Ever faithfully yours — Susan “The Art Lady” O’Conner
“Joseph has not only been an amazing role model as a productive co-worker but has become an amazing friend and mentor for whom I will dearly miss. I wish nothing but the best for him and all the experiences to come. You will be missed and loved always ” — Nick Riefner
“Joseph’s energy is contagious in every way possible. Every time I see him, no matter what is happening, he seems calm and at peace… For someone as anxiety driven as I am, being around someone so serene is refreshing. I have so much respect for Joseph and aspire to one day walk with as much dignity as he does.” – Ashley Harris
“Joseph will be missed. He has a very special way of relating to our clients that involves, at times, an extraordinary amount of patience. I often sit out here at my desk and listen in to the conversations going on between Joseph and the kids. I am equally entertained, amazed, and grateful to have been a fly on the wall of Joseph’s classroom.” – Natalie Holman
“I’ll miss Joseph terribly, I think it’s been so beneficial for our teens to see strength in a man shown through kindness, non judgment and calmness.” Roxie Fuller
“Thank you, Joseph. Thank you for helping to create an environment for learning, healing and recovery for Visions kids and families. Thank you for your unique perspective for leading the education and meditation groups and classes. There is some thing very special about the way you gently lead the kids with confidence and class. Thank you, Joseph!” – John Lieberman
“Joseph has been teaching me since my first day – a friend, a mentor, and a big brother all in one. I’ve been afforded so much of his wisdom and care from this relationship, it will be really hard not to have him here all the time. Riding shotgun while he teaches mediation, DBT, or most importantly sober FUN, he constantly helps me take care of the kids and myself in the kindest and simplest ways. No one can really imagine Visions without him; I’m just grateful for all the time I’ve had with him and that he will still be doing groups with me.” – Jesse Engdahl
“Joseph has been such a huge part of my Visions experience and I think I’m the saddest to see him go. He is my friend, my teacher, my mentor, and my right hand. He has always been so supportive and understanding of things only us Visions teachers would understand. He has a strange yet peaceful way about him that makes any day a good day. He always seems to have the right words of wisdom in any situation and it’s hard to imagine he won’t be around. After years of morning check-ins about life, love, and the pursuit of sanity I’m going to miss him dearly. I wish him the best in his new endeavors and I am forever grateful for the time, wisdom, knowledge, and random facts he’s passed on to me. I’ll continue to make you proud, Jofes… thank you for being my shoulder to whine on, my ear to vent, and my rock to keep me sane.” – Adriana Camarillo
“With a heavy heart, I bid farewell to an amazing man, father and colleague. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Joseph for nearly a decade and it’s hard to imagine my day-to-day without him. Joseph represents a quiet force, guiding his students with conviction and offering hope where there may be none. While he continues to be a spiritual inspiration to both staff and students, we will miss the man who, for so long, has been the core of Visions Day School. The feeling is bittersweet. Selfishly, we want him to stay. But the truth is, he has another calling and with that, I honor his path and I am always grateful for this experience.” – Fiona Ray
Adolescence is the time when long-standing friendships are developed and refined. Friendships can also take a real beating in adolescence as a result of several mitigating factors, which can include:
Different stages of maturation
Perception of popularity or lack thereof
Emotional and physical changes
Friendships require a commitment from both people involved to be active participants in the relationship, and they require reciprocation in order to be successful. In other words, they need to be a two-way street. Reciprocation requires active listening and compassion. It means showing up for each other even when things are difficult.
Friendships are relationships where reciprocal interactions are valuable, necessary, and vital. When a friendship takes on a one-way-street status, it becomes lopsided and will inevitably fracture into facets that include resentment, anger, judgment, complacency, and even anger.
Here are two examples of a classic one-way relationship:
You’re always there for your friend when they need support, but when you ask for it, or need it, there’s little to no response.
You only call your friend when you need something or your friend only calls you when they need something.
Neither of these scenarios is indicative of reciprocal behavior. They both tend to leave both parties feeling out of sorts and dissatisfied with the friendship as a whole because neither person’s needs are being met.
The following actions support healthy relationships:
Both parties are supportive of one another;
Both parties are encouraging;
Both are willing to compromise;
Both have healthy boundaries;
Mutual respect for each other;
Be open and willing to talk about disagreements;
Willingness to say “I’m sorry.”
Employing all of these actions is not only wise, but a keen way to maintain our beloved friendships. At the same time, these tools will also provide us with ways in which to let go when that’s the healthiest thing to do.
Adolescent friendships can be tough, because they are rife with drama and quixotic change. The hormonal changes alone can set off a string of unfortunate events. Cultivating healthy friendships in adolescence is very important. It teaches teens positive and healthy communication skills; it teaches the value of connection and community; it shows teens through viable examples that they can work through difficulties, set healthy boundaries, and take care of themselves in healthy friendships. Being a good friend doesn’t mean you are a doormat or a pushover. It means you have your own sense of self that is honored and respected by those you have in your life.
As parents and educators, it’s important to mirror healthy relationships, and we can start this by cultivating a healthy relationship with our kids. Reflective listening and mutual respect are vital. Speaking from a place of “I feel” instead of using the accusatory and defensive tone implied with “You always” can positively shift the course of a disagreement. Adolescents want to be seen, heard, and respected. It’s not uncommon for adults to gloss over what teens are saying, but the truth is, an adolescent’s voice worth of the same respect we give our adult counterparts.
With addiction and mental illness comes something that we often don’t want to look at, which is grief and the deep sense of loss that arrives when we or a family member steps into recovery. Drugs and alcohol and/or mental illness are often viewed as the villains in the aftermath of addiction. But the underlying weight of grief often gets shoved to the side or bypassed entirely.
The truth is, grief can be crippling. It can take the wind out of us and make us feel like we’ve landed flat on our faces, gasping for air. When we ignore it, or devalue the importance of the grieving process, we suffer more.
Mental illness and/or addiction may have ripped your family at the seams. It may have poked holes in your belief system, and placed a shadow on your hopes and dreams for your family. The truth is, everyone suffers: the one with the disease and the ones close to them.
I grew up with a parent mired by the tragedy of her own childhood, which was fraught with a mentally ill mother and a stoic father. Now, I see this same parent as an adult and it affords me the opportunity to recognize the untended grief and loss she’s endured and the great suffering that has resulted. A large portion of our existence in a scenario like this revolves around survival and learning how to endure the shame and fear associated with our circumstances. It’s not uncommon for the grief we feel to be ignored or for us to feel as though it is something to endure.
How can we stand tall in the midst of suffering while honoring our grief?
Talk about it. Develop a relationship with someone you trust that can help you process your feelings. It could be a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, a good friend. What we hold onto holds onto us. Processing grief is part acknowledgement and part letting go. It evolves and becomes something we can hold with care instead of treating it like a hot stone.
Practice self-care. Take walks, meditate, do yoga, surf, get a massage, take a bath. Indulge in yourself. Healing is hard work; it’s important to nurture ourselves in the process.
Lean toward your difficulty. As counterintuitive as that may sound, this is ultimately the way out. That which we fear, can hold us back. We have to find a way to feel our feelings, touch our own hearts with kindness and compassion, and begin the process of finding acceptance and letting go. Take baby steps here. You don’t have to take on the high dive just yet.
Grief is present all around us. In adolescence, we grieve the loss of childhood and the inference of responsibility. In recovery, we grieve the person we were, the things we missed, and the damage we did. We also grieve the perceived “fun” guy/gal we thought we were. Be patient: recovery will afford you many more fulfilling ways of having fun. This list goes on, but it doesn’t have to be daunting.
My experience has shown me that when I lean toward the thing I fear, the fear lessons. When I acknowledge the shadow side and hold the difficulties with compassion, the light starts to trickle in. I suffer when I turn away, and when I ignore the suffering, it becomes more unbearable. The work in recovery teaches us that we can walk through difficulties with grace, we can begin to feel our feelings and we can crack open the barriers around our hearts. With our feet planted on the earth, and our minds open to possibility, the plight of suffering has a place to fly free.
What is evident in any recovery practice is the encouragement and urging to be of service. The call to be of service starts in treatment and continues into aftercare and beyond. Service work is a foundational piece in recovery, and it is something that provides a salient way to recognize we are not alone.
Often times, someone comes into recovery with a sense of feeling alone, unheard, empty, vulnerable, and emotionally and sometimes physically shattered. Parents and loved ones are often worn down from the negative impact of their child’s poor actions and disruptive behavior that resulted from their addiction and untreated mental illness. Essentially, the entire family system is dysregulated. Coming into treatment or walking into a 12-step meeting means learning to recognize this in order to begin the work of putting the pieces back together.
We talk about being of service a lot in this blog and at Visions, whether it’s at our residential, outpatient, or extended care facilities. We understand that being of service creates a sense of self-worth; it takes us out of ourselves and allows us to see that we are not alone, illuminating the fact that others are suffering too.
When we struggle with our emotions, and our fears loom over us, it feels overwhelming. It can feel like you are standing in the shadow of a great mountain. And if you are in the midst of this alone, it’s even more overwhelming. When we reach our hand out to someone else, we take a step out of that shadow and out of the mindset of self-pity and self-deprecation. We allow ourselves to help others and in the meantime, our own hearts begin to heal. Being of service shows us the way to compassion and kindness and encourages selfless acts.
Take a commitment at a meeting
Offer to drive someone home whom you know always takes the bus
Volunteer at an animal shelter
Say yes when someone asks you for help (within reason, of course)
Take the trash out or wash the dishes…without being asked
Reach your hand out to someone newer than you in recovery
Addiction is a disease of loneliness. We isolate when we get high, we isolate when we drink, and we isolate when we are depressed or anxious. Being of service shifts that isolation into inclusive action. It allows us to be a part of instead of apart from.
Conflict comes up frequently in the adolescent years,
almost as though drama and discord are part of the growing-up process. But how our kids learn to deal with conflict is often a result of watching the way the adults around them deal with it. Parents, teachers, mentors, influential adults: all are their mirrors.
Where conflict becomes problematic is in the unskillful ways in which it’s managed. Teens need to develop self-regulation skills so they can A: recognize what has triggered their anger, and B: respond to it skillfully.
Try any of these 5 suggestions to help manage conflict:
1: Take a time out: In other words, walk away from the conflict fueled situation to collect your thoughts and calm down. You can take a walk or take some deep breaths.
2: Use “I” phrases when you communicate. “I feel” instead of “You’re being so lame” is a wiser method of communication. It shows the ability to take responsibility for one’s feelings and actions and eliminates the blame and shame game.
3: Mirroring: By mirroring, we “reflect” what the other person says. “I hear that you feel frustrated” is much more helpful than “You are so frustrating,” or “Why are you so ANGRY?” By mirroring, we recognize what the other person is saying, and as a result, we let them know that we “see” and “hear” them. When someone feels seen and heard, it validates their feelings and allows them to be present for someone else’s process. It’s powerful.
4: Own up to it. Take responsibility for your own actions without pointing fingers at the person you’re angry at. If you lied, own it. If you cheated, own it. If you were mean, own it. You will be more respected and revered if you are honest. In the language of the 12 steps: Keep your side of the street clean.
5: Respect. If you are respectful of others, they are more apt to be respectful toward you. If someone treats you disrespectfully, try the counterintutive practice of being respectful toward them anyway.
Remember this: adolescents aren’t born equipped with problem solving skills or tools for conflict resolution. They have to learn these things. They learn them from watching their parents, teachers, and mentors. If a teen’s adult representatives are poor communicators, or if they handle frustration with anger or discord, then teens will learn to communicate via anger and discord.
Parents, when conflicts within the family arise, how do you handle them? Do you yell? Do you slam doors? Do you get into a shouting match with your teen?
If negative reactions to conflict are your go-to, then conflict will continue to flourish. Yelling won’t solve any problems. It will create more problems. Here’s a common scenario: your teenager arrives home 15 minutes past their curfew. You’re angry, frustrated, and worried. Your reaction to your teen when he or she walks in is to start yelling at them. All of your fears and frustrations come to a head. What if, instead of yelling, you calmly asked, “What time is your curfew?” “What time is it now?” and finally, “Can you tell me what the punishment is for being late?” Several things happen in this scenario. Your teen is given an opportunity to take responsibility, and they can even begin to recognize that the punishment isn’t that egregious.
Parents and teens alike need to know how to self-regulate. Try to integrate some of these into your life:
Take a time out.
Count to 10 before you respond.
Be fair: allow both parties the opportunity to express their views and experiences.
Don’t take it personally.
Have empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the feelings of another human being. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes. Doing this may allow you to have compassion for the person you are angry at.
Resolving conflict requires a cool head and an open heart. Adolescence is a messy time—rather, it’s emotionally messy. Hormones are raging, moods are swinging, in truth, it’s a party you don’t want to go to but one that is a regular part of life. We were all teenagers once. If we can remember that piece, we can develop empathy. If we can remember what it felt like to go through this rapid-fire change, we will hopefully ourselves to be kinder and more loving to each other.
There is a clinical term for someone with the inability to correctly identify or describe his or her feelings. It’s called Alexithymia, a term introduced in 1972 by Peter Sifneos. It’s important to recognize that alexithymia isn’t a diagnosis, but rather a construct used to describe someone that demonstrates the inability to understand or articulate his or her feelings. Someone affected by alexithymia literally cannot put words to their feelings, despite the desire to do so. It’s difficult for someone with alexithymia to relate to his or her own experiences or even grasp the experiences of others. This can be frustrating for everyone – for those lacking in their emotional response and for those expecting an emotional response.
Someone with alexithymia usually experiences these symptoms:
Difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the physical sensations of emotional stimulation
Difficulty identifying different types of feelings
Difficulty expressing feelings
Difficulty recognizing facial cues in others
Limited or rigid imagination
Constricted style of thinking
Hypersensitive to physical sensations
Detached or tentative connection with others
According to this article in Psych Central, emotional distance and alexithymia often accompany various levels of autism as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, panic and anxiety disorders, and sometimes substance abuse. It is important to note that affectionate communication (hugs, touch, and body language that is open and welcoming) can all have a positive impression on someone working with alexithymia. For some, alexithymia is an acute problem, resolving after the core causal factor has been managed (for example, substance abuse) while for others, it’s something one has to learn to live with and manage throughout their lives.
Parenting someone with alexithymia is not without its challenges. We want our children to be able to communicate with us and with their peers. We want to see them thrive emotionally and have long-lasting, meaningful relationships. Again, it’s important to note that affectionate communication will have positive effects. For example, if you notice your child has a facial expression that is a visual display of anger, it would be helpful to say something like, “You look angry. Is something bothering you?” Or perhaps something major is coming up for them, like their first job interview, or a big test. Saying something like, “You have your interview coming up, are you feeling nervous?” can help him or her begin to label emotions. It’s helpful to understand that your loved one isn’t able to recognize emotional cues the way you do. This understanding will help with your own frustration when conflict or discord arises and it will allow you to facilitate a healthier means of communication.
The person living with alexithymia will also need to work toward strengthening his or her ability to recognize and understand feelings and emotions. This is something that can be learned by watching others and learning about what an emotion or feeling is supposed to feel like. This process is not easy and some of these tools may be of help:
Keep a journal in which you write every day, noting your observations or lack thereof.
Sink into literature and read as much as you can. Reading and processing language painted by a skilled author is a wonderful tool for learning and beginning to understand expressive language.
Take an acting class, or an art class. These types of classes will help someone with alexithymia begin to externalize emotive expression.
Dialectical Behavioral Treatment: this is a form of psychotherapy built around skill-building and mindfulness techniques in order to recognize personal feeling states.
Having alexithymia is something that affects children and adults alike, and it can present in various levels of severity: mild, moderate, and severe. Once identified in someone, the work can begin toward learning to identity and experience emotive responses. They can then work toward having reciprocal relationships, which will ease the loneliness of being perpetually misunderstood.