Category: Relationships

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Slam Poetry Facilitates Sharing Stories of Mental Illness

00Anxiety, Creativity, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Life, Trauma May, 17

Source: MatthewtheBryan on Deviant Art

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and activist who writes with intense passion about mental illness, bullying, and social tragedy.

In her award-winning poem, The Madness Vase, Gibson speaks firsthand about the shame many feel from disclosing experiences of mental illness and suicide. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she explained, “The trauma said don’t write this poem; no one wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

When asked why people use spoken word to share these sensitive and personal experiences, Gibson told the Report:

“I can say things within the context of a poem that I could never speak outside of a poem. There is a way in which a poem cares for its writer. Allows no interruption. It’s a sweetness, a generous sweetness. I think of a poem almost as a good parent who might say, ‘I’m going to hold you and have your back while you say this, and you have every right to say this.’ There is a safety in it. A holding we may not have had elsewhere in life.”

Gibson also speaks to the ways in which sharing poetry can build self-esteem and promote self-love in both speakers and audience members, and views her poetry as a form of therapy to treat anxiety and depression:

“Telling your story is healing. Telling your story to a receptive audience of listeners is even more healing. Being witness to people telling their stories is healing. There is so much pain in hiding, and spoken word is the opposite of hiding.”

Gibson’s ability to connect with her audience lies in her willingness to share her adversity battling panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Narrating her journey with mental illness contributes to the authenticity of her poetry and resonates powerfully with viewers.

“I doubt that I would have an artistic life if I had not been pushed into it by my own flailing nervous system. Art is a shelter of sorts. At the same time, I have had shows where I was almost too panicked to speak. I had to keep saying to the audience, “I am feeling so much anxiety, I can barely get through this.” But I’m guessing in the long run even that is of some comfort to many people. To witness a panic attack on stage, and to watch art happen regardless.”

In addition to her work as a spoken word activist, Gibson created STAY HERE WITH ME in 2011, an online platform to share experiences of trauma, mental illness, of wanting to die, and of the different art forms that have prevented individuals from committing suicide. Gibson started this initiative with co-founder Kelsey Gibb, a mental-health professional and tour manager.

“Kelsey and I were on tour together while I was receiving a lot of letters from people who were struggling to want to stay alive and we wanted to create an online community that had larger reach of support. We wanted to create something that helped people want to stay.”

Gibson’s work highlights the healing power of story-telling. As an art-focused space, STAY HERE WITH ME encourages the use of art and poetry to heal, connect, and remind the audience they are not alone. Hundreds of individuals have shared personal stories through her website, finding acceptance and understanding through shared experiences.

Through poetry and mental health advocacy, Gibson is determined to build a community dedicated to helping people who have suicidal feelings.

“I want to remind individuals struggling with suicide to be sweet to the part of them that is in pain. To hold that part with gentleness and not to ask that pained part to go away sooner than it needs to. Sometimes simply letting ourselves hurt is what the hurt needs to move through us.”

–Lauren Goldberg, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Police “Blue Wall of Silence”; Facilitates Domestic Assault

00Anger, Conformity, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Work April, 17

Source: Stefan Guido-Maria Krikl on flickr

In January 1999, Pierre Daviault, a 24-year veteran constable of the Aylmer Police Services in Quebec, was arrested on 10 criminal charges for allegedly assaulting and drugging three ex-girlfriends between 1984 and 1999. Daviault resigned from the police force a few days later, but he was only sentenced to three years’ probation, no jail time.

In their 2015 book Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence authors Susanna Hope (pseudonym) and Alex Roslin describe instances of police spousal abuse within the U.S. and Canada, reporting that at least 40 percent of U.S. police-officer families experience domestic violence, compared to 10 percent of families in the general population.

Some officers are speaking up. Lila C. (name changed), a Canadian corrections officer (CO), was interviewed by the Trauma and Mental Health Report to discuss the growing issue of spousal abuse in Canadian law enforcement. Lila’s former colleague, Stephanie (name changed), was a victim of abuse. Awareness of Stephanie’s predicament, and the inability to do anything about it, affected Lila’s mental health more than anything else on the job.

Lila explained:

“Steph and I bonded very quickly and we were very open with each other, which is normal when two COs work together so often. But she never actually told me about the abuse she was taking at home. I noticed bruises on her neck myself.”

Stephanie’s perpetrator was her husband—a long-time police officer of the Peel Regional Police in Ontario. He was a man Lila knew well, and considered a friend:

“At first I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing and I kept quiet for the first few hours of our shift that day. But eventually, I asked ‘what’s that on your neck, what’s going on?’ And then came the breakdown period and she told me everything.”

Upon opening up to Lila, Stephanie revealed that she was frequently abused by her husband at home, both physically and verbally.

“My first gut response was ‘you need to leave him and tell someone’. I mean, how could he continue to work in law enforcement, deal with these types of cases on the job, and then go home and abuse his wife off the job? But Steph wouldn’t do it—she wouldn’t leave him. She felt that she wouldn’t be able to have him arrested. If she called the police to report him, who would believe her?”

In Police Wife, authors Hope and Roslin argue that one factor perpetuating abuse is that many officers think they can get away with it.

Carleton professor George Rigakos explains in an interview with Hope and Roslin: “A major influence in the use of domestic violence is a lack of deterrence. If there is no sanction, then it’s obvious the offence goes on.”

Referred to as the “blue wall of silence”—an unwritten code to protect fellow officers from investigation—officers learn early on to cover for each other, to extend “professional courtesy.”

And when a woman works up the nerve to file a complaint, police and justice systems often continue to victimize her. She must take on a culture of fear and the blue wall of silence, while simultaneously facing allegations of being difficult, manipulative, and deceptive.

Lila explains:

“I mean, I saw her almost every day and it was a huge elephant in the room. We didn’t bring it up again. And though I didn’t see her husband often, when I did see him, it was weird. He had no idea that I knew—I just couldn’t be around him, knowing what he was doing. But there was no getting away from the constant reminder of this unspoken and undealt-with abuse.”

Knowing both the victim and the perpetrator, knowing that the abuse was not being addressed on a systemic level, and feeling powerless to do anything about it herself affected Lila’s mental health and enthusiasm about the work she was doing:

“About two months in, I started having panic attacks on my way to work and even during my shift. I vaguely remember nights where I had bad dreams. It’s weird, I wasn’t even the one being abused, but I felt unsafe. I knew that I couldn’t say anything, because it would probably make things worse. I feared for Steph’s life, but in some strange way, I also feared for my own.”

Many officers face ostracism, harassment, and the frightening prospect of not receiving support when they do not abide by the blue wall of silence. Believing she would not be taken seriously if she decided to come forward (because of her gender) only amplified Lila’s sense of powerlessness and anxiety.

“I know that the system is unjust towards women, and that makes this situation even more hopeless to confront.”

Stephanie eventually left the corrections facility where she and Lila worked, and they gradually lost touch. Lila doesn’t know if Stephanie is still with her husband, and looking back she partly wishes she had said something about it.

Hope and Roslin explain in Police Wife that we are often reluctant and afraid to intervene if we think a friend or family member may be in a violent or abusive relationship. They encourage bystanders to acknowledge the courage it takes to reach out.

–Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Photography Documenting Mental Illness Draws Criticism

00Caregiving, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Resilience March, 17

Source: ethermoon on flickr, Creative Commons

For the past six years, Melissa Spitz of St. Louis, Missouri has been using photography to illustrate her mother’s experience with mental illness, referring to it as a form of “documentary photography”.

The photographs taken of Melissa’s mother Deborah are shared on Melissa’s professional website and on her Instagram in a project she calls “You Have Nothing to Worry About.” They artfully depict Deborah’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, dissociative identity disorder, and problem drinking.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Melissa explained that the series aims to provide an intimate look into the life of an individual suffering from mental illness. She told Dazed Digital:

“For me, mental illness has a face and a name—and that’s mum.”

Melissa first became aware of her mother’s mental-health problems when she was a child, and Deborah had to be institutionalized for “psychotic paranoia”. After years of anger and blame, Melissa picked up her camera as a way of confronting her mother’s disorder head-on.

The project became an emotional outlet for Melissa to facilitate healing. In an interview with Aint Bad Magazine, she explained:

“By turning the camera toward my mother and my relationship with her, I capture her behavior as an echo of my own emotional response. The images function like an ongoing conversation.”

Research published in the Journal of Public Health has shown that creative media can serve as powerful tools to help people express feelings of grief. Art therapy specifically can provide a means of expression, relieve emotional tension, and offer alternative perspectives.

Through her project, feelings of pain and hurt that Melissa held toward her mother were ameliorated, and she found herself feeling greater empathy, visually acknowledging her mother’s struggle with mental illness.

While the project is not without its merits, the provocative nature of the photographs—ranging from Deborah’s hospitalization to images of her unclothed and bruised—may elicit shock and discomfort in viewers.

Which raises the question: where do we draw the line between exploitation and freedom of expression in art depicting mental illness?

Laura Burke, a drama therapist from Nova Scotia, Canada, sees Melissa’s project as crossing an ethical line. Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, and has suffered from depression her entire life. She believes that people with mental illness are often spoken for, and this is a common trap in representing their lives through art.

In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, Laura commented on Melissa’s project:

“It appears sensitively done, but the line between exploitation and reverence is a tough one to walk. If the focus was more explicitly on Spitz’s perspectives of her mother, and not an objective account of how things happened, which is sometimes how a photo can appear, I might feel more comfortable with it.”

Another issue that can arise is the power differential between photographer and subject. Even when consent is provided, subjects who struggle with mental health issues are particularly vulnerable when someone else is formulating the vision and acting as “the voice” of the art piece.

Laura addressed this concern in her interview:

“I feel that focusing more on the family member’s experience, and less on the subject living with the mental illness would be a less exploitative choice.”

Melissa is aware of the criticism her project has garnered from audiences. In an interview with Time Magazine, Melissa said:

“I am fully aware that my mother thrives on being the center of attention and that, at times, our portrait sessions encourage her erratic behavior. My hope for the project is to show that these issues can happen to anyone, from any walk of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed about.”

Despite the criticism, art can be transformative for both the artist and the audience by exposing mental illness in its rawest form. Max Houghton, a Senior Lecturer in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication, appreciates what Melissa’s project can do, and how it can help break down stigma surrounding mental illness.

Houghton told BBC News:

“I think photojournalism is criticised when it looks at the miserable side of life and depressing issues. However, in the right hands, photography can be used as a tool to discover and tell important stories differently”.

Projects like Melissa’s You Have Nothing to Worry About often spark much needed discussion around mental illness and are important and necessary to address stigma. And yet, one is left wondering whether such depictions of the vulnerable may do more harm than good.

–Nonna Khakpour, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Learning to Manage Emotions Boosts Children’s Well-being

00Child Development, Education, Emotion Regulation, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Featured news, Relationships February, 17

Source: holiveira on DeviantArt

English, Math, History, Geography…classes found in school curricula build foundational knowledge and promote future success.

Schools lay the groundwork for cognitive development, especially in academic areas. But what about emotional development? Proficiency in that is equally important for leading a successful life. Yet, little effort has been made in school to teach children how to manage their feelings.

With the introduction of RULER, this may not be the case for much longer. More and more schools around the U.S. are implementing the program aimed at teaching students—and teachers—to ‘Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate’ emotions.

Supported by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, it incorporates social and emotional skills training into the school curriculum to support child development. Specific curricula are available from kindergarten to grade 12, and ongoing implementation is necessary to solidify these skills as children get older.

“They’ve started to teach students about feelings as explicitly as they teach math and reading,” writes Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins.

The program is based on the work of two psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who began their scientific study of emotional intelligence over two decades ago. They focus on a direct link between critical-thinking skills and emotions.

According to Meyer and Salovey emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, monitor, and manage the emotions of others and oneself, to guide actions and ways of thinking.

Studies show that those who are reluctant to understand and express their feelings experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, and certain psychiatric disorders. They also report lower levels of well-being and social support.

At school, children experience a wide range of emotions every day. In addition to the stress of managing their studies and homework, they face a number of social struggles, such as conflicts with friends, romantic relationships, and bullying.

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and one of the developers of RULER, says that the way students feel at school has a profound effect on how they learn, influencing their chances of success at school, at home, and with friends. And some individuals are generally more successful at handling emotions than others.

Through different tools, RULER provides a common language for expressing emotions, for dealing with conflicts between students, and for addressing conflicts between students and teachers, making for an open and supportive environment necessary for learning. For example, the “mood meter,”—a sheet of paper divided into four coloured quadrants—is designed to help students build a vocabulary around different emotions.

“I have a teacher who checks in with the Mood Meter on Monday mornings and it’s nice to just know that someone’s listening. It gets us in the mood to work, eases us back into school,” explains a grade 11 high-school student in the program.

Other tools, such as the “meta-moment”, train students to use the few seconds following a moment of anger to take a deep breath and imagine how their “best self” would react.

One 7-year-old student talks about her experience with the meta-moment:

“When I’m not in a good mood, RULER can help me solve the problem. Like when my brother pushed sand on my sand castle and wouldn’t fix it. I felt really angry at him, but I took a meta-moment and realized it wasn’t hard to fix what he did and he didn’t do it on purpose. Then I felt a little more forgiving.”

Some are critical of social and emotional learning initiatives within a classroom setting, arguing that schools are not an appropriate venue for emotional education. Others emphasize the price-tag; an online resource and four days total of in-person training costs $10,500 per school (for up to three participants).

However, Brackett’s research shows that implementing RULER can improve a school’s climate while fostering positive development and academic achievement among its students. Some notable improvements include better relationships between students and teachers, more student autonomy and leadership, improved academic success, and fewer reports of bullying.

Students’ mental health profiles greatly improve as well. Kids and adolescents who are involved with this program have experienced reduced levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity, social stress, and alcohol and drug usage. And research shows how children’s ability to handle their emotions and to be mindful of others’ feelings has a significant effect on their mental health.

Not all children come with the tools necessary for academic and social success. Programs like RULER provide a platform for children to learn how to navigate emotional struggles, so they can leave their primary education with methods to succeed in their work and personal lives.

–Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

10Child Development, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Relationships, Trauma January, 16

Source: David Dávila Vilanova/Flickr

In her 2012 TED talk on domestic violence, Leslie Morgan Steiner discusses what she calls “crazy love,” the irrational and often deadly tendency to be oblivious to the red flags that indicate you are sharing your life with an abusive partner.

After discussing the typical situations that often lead to an abusive relationship, Steiner states that by asking the  question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” we are blaming the victim for falling in love with someone who would go on to abuse them.

While Steiner was not a victim of childhood abuse, many women and men who find themselves in similar situations are.

Victims are never at fault; no one asks to be victimized by their relationship partner. But for those who do have a prior history of abuse and who might find themselves in repetitive abusive cycles, what ability do they have to become aware of their vulnerability to future abuse?  And more important, could such awareness be helpful to them?

When children witness or experience abuse, it can have a detrimental effect on their well being as an adult.  Their experiences have been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as eating disorders later in life.  Early exposure can also place individuals at a higher risk of experiencing abusive relationships in the future.

Joanna Iwona Potkanska, a Toronto-based social worker and trauma-informed psychotherapist says, “We tend to remain in patterns that are familiar to us.   We often do not realize that the relationships we are in are abusive, especially if we grew up in dysfunctional families.”

Based on British psychiatrist John Bowlby’s original work on attachment, theorists view the attachment style one develops as a child as related to adult relational patterns.  Internal understanding of how relationships work derives from primary caregivers and is the basis of later interactions.

“It would be foolish to say that observing domestic abuse from a young age doesn’t have an impact on a person’s future relationships.  It contributes to the construction of a child’s belief system – on how a relationship should be and what it should look like,” says Whitney Wilson, a counselor for the Partner Assault Response program at the John Howard Society of Toronto.

Wilson considers exposure to early domestic abuse as altering one’s view of romantic relationships in many ways.  “It’s similar to having a parent that smokes; smoking becomes normalized and may influence your decision to smoke.  Or, you may dislike that your parent smokes and swear off it.  It really depends on your lived experience and how it affects the formation of your beliefs.”

According to Potkanska, when we experience interpersonal trauma, whether physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual, we often lose our sense of self.  The abuse becomes part of our story and is deeply internalized.

She says that when offenders are also caregivers, victims most often blame themselves.  “The idea that we are loved as we are being abused, or that we are being abused because we are loved(many perpetrators use this excuse to justify their actions) can become a template for the way we relate to the world and ourselves.”

So, if a woman grows up with a model of relationships that involved abuse, anger, and shame, will she believe that she deserves a different kind of relationship?  Or might she believe that a relationship based on support and love simply does not exist?

It depends…  The way people make sense of their early relationships, and the conclusions they draw from them, depend a good deal on what occurs in other important relationships in their lives.  And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the area of counseling and psychotherapy.

By working with a therapist, individuals can learn to identify how they interpret experiences based on ‘old information’ and can learn to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

Potkanska says that “without learning how to set healthy boundaries, we allow others to harm us and we re-enact conscious or unconscious situations in an attempt to have either a different outcome, or to reinforce what we already believe about ourselves.”

Healthy attachments to other supportive family members and mentors can buffer the effects of childhood abuse.  For those not fortunate enough to experience positive relationships growing up, there are other ways to break the cycle.

The connection a survivor builds with their therapist is meant to act as a model for secure attachment.  This can then translate to the way the individual perceives themselves and how they interact with others.

Potkanska emphasizes safety and space within the therapeutic relationship, noting that “Simple actions like ensuring that adequate physical space exists between myself and my client shows that I respect their boundaries.”

A large part of the therapy process focuses on building an identity that is separate from the abuse.

“Romantic partners and relationships become a way to soothe and regulate, and so when clients are taught to self-soothe, they are less likely to look to their partner to provide what their perpetrator has failed to do. They eventually rely more on themselves and other resources, including healthy relationships, to meet their needs,” says Potkanska.

Even with therapy, breaking the cycle of abuse can be difficult.  Building an identity separate from abuse can take years of self-work, and often people cannot afford therapy or have limited access to resources.

And then there are the socio-political causes that force people to remain in abusive situations.  Potkanska points out, “Without adequate financial support, women and children are reliant on their perpetrators.  Our legal system does a poor job at protecting survivors of violence, even after they leave the abuser.”  Not only that, but it is usually after the victim has left that they are in the most danger.  Simply because, as Leslie Morgan Steiner states, “the abuser has nothing left to lose.”

So what do people who’ve experienced abuse as children, but go on to have normal and healthy relationships do so differently?

According to Wilson, “It’s really an active process for all of us, even those who were not abused.  Because we’ve allowed society to normalize things like verbal or emotional abuse you have to really know what a healthy relationship looks like and know that it’s hard work.”

Being in a healthy relationship is about giving yourself permission not to have to accept abuse.  And for many, that takes practice.  You have to first identify that you’re stuck in a cycle of violence, and then decide you have the right to break it.

– Jana Vigor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Is Casual Sex Really So Bad?

Is Casual Sex Really So Bad?

10Anxiety, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Sex December, 15

Source: John Perivolaris on Flickr

Smartphone apps like Tinder, Grindr, Down, Tingle and Snapchat have opened up a new chapter in the complicated world of dating and casual sex.  Dubbed “hookup culture,” smartphone users 18-30 years of age are said to be navigating a very different sexual landscape than their parents did.

Early research on the topic found that undergraduates who engaged in casual sex reported lower self-esteem than those who did not.  Yet, other studies reported no evidence of higher risk for depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, or body dissatisfaction.

According to adjunct professor Zhana Vrangalova of New York University, the phenomenon of casual sex is layered with individual, interpersonal, emotional, and social factors.  Reasons for engaging in hookups are different.

Her recently published study demonstrates that casual sex is not harmful in and of itself, rather one’s motivations for engaging in casual sex is what affects psychological well-being.

Vrangalova draws upon self-determination theory:  Behaviours arise from autonomous or non-autonomous motivations.  When we do something for autonomous reasons, we are engaging in behaviours that reflect our values – the ‘right’ reasons.  When we do something for non-autonomous reasons, we are seeking reward and avoiding punishment – the ‘wrong’ reasons.

In the context of casual sex, Vrangalova and her team of researchers were able to show that those who hooked up for non-autonomous reasons (i.e. wanting to feel better about themselves, wanting to please someone else, hoping it would lead to a romantic relationship, and wanting favours or revenge) had lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression and anxiety.

But those who engaged in casual sex for autonomous reasons – fun and enjoyment, sexual exploration, learning about oneself – reported higher than normal levels of self-esteem and satisfaction, with lower levels of anxiety.

If hooking up for the right reasons, casual sex does not appear to have a negative impact.  Still it’s not so simple.  A number of issues need to be addressed.

Many studies examine “hookup culture” on college campuses, particularly the sex life of middle to upper class young adults.  Since college years are often a tumultuous time of self-discovery and changing opinions, longitudinal research on the long-term benefits (or drawbacks) of casual sex need to be carried out.  Few studies have explored how casual sex affects the mental health of individuals above age 30.

Outside the college domain, information on how different casual sex arrangements (one night stands vs. friends with benefits vs. non-monogamy) affect mental health is scarce, as is research exploring how casual sex behaviours vary between people of different ethnicities.  Preliminary research shows that non-white women report lower desire for casual sex.  How or why this is the case has not been examined.

There is little doubt that the sexual landscape has changed in the past few decades. Technologies, and more specifically social media, have altered the way we approach and engage in interpersonal relationships. But the idea that younger generations are ditching the traditional dating scene in favour of hooking up has not been supported by recent research.

Hang-outs, group dates, friends with benefits, no-strings-attached… For those emerging adults who are engaging in these behaviours with a psychologically healthy frame of mind, is it really so bad?

– Magdelena Belanger, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Patients with Misophonia require help and understanding

Patients with Misophonia require help and understanding

10Empathy, Featured news, Happiness, Loneliness, Neuroscience, Relationships, Social Life November, 15

Source: Rick&Brenda Beerhorst on Flickr

Some people find the sound of nails on a chalkboard or the rumbling of a snoring spouse irritating, but what if the sound of someone breathing sent you into a fit of rage?  This is a reality for many sufferers of misophonia.

Only recently garnering attention from researchers, misophonia is a condition where individuals have a decreased tolerance for certain sounds.  Chewing, coughing, scratching, or pen clicking can provoke an immediate aggressive response.  Verbal tantrums are common and in severe cases, sufferers may even physically attack the object or person causing the noise.

“I turn my eyes to face the source of the noise and feel myself glaring at that person in rage,” misophonia sufferer Shannon Morell explains to The Daily Record.  “The only thing I can think about is removing myself from the situation as quickly as possible.”

Many sufferers begin to structure their lives around their struggle with the disorder and avoid triggers by socially isolating themselves.  Public spaces like restaurants or parks are readily avoided and in extreme cases, eating or sleeping in the same room as a loved one can feel impossible.  Even establishing or maintaining relationships is very challenging.

Misophonia can interfere with academic and work performance.  In a study by PhD candidate Miren Edelstein at the University of California in San Diego, patients reported trouble concentrating in class or at work due to distraction from trigger noises.  In some cases, students may resort to isolating themselves, taking their courses online.

David Holmes tells The Daily Record that he finds refuge in using headphones (whenever possible) to block out external noises while at work.

The cause of misophonia is currently believed to be neurological, where the patient’s limbic (emotional) and autonomic nervous systems are more closely connected with the auditory system.  This may be why hearing a disliked sound elicits an emotional response.  Aage Moller, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas, describes it as a complication in how the brain processes auditory stimuli.

Research shows that misophonia usually develops at puberty and tends to worsen into adulthood.

But misophonia is still greatly misunderstood.  There is a lack of research examining its causes or possible treatments.  There is no cure, and some critics even wonder if misophonia should be considered a disorder at all, arguing instead that it’s just a personality quirk.

While it seems there is little help available for people with the disorder, Misophonia UK, an organization dedicated to providing information and support to misophonia sufferers, outlines a number of interventions.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) involves teaching patients how to slowly build sound tolerance, while Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing negative attitudes that can contribute to the severity of the disorder.  In some cases, hypnosis can be used to relax individuals.  Breathing techniques are also taught so patients can learn to sooth themselves when hearing their trigger noises.

Keeping a diary to record feelings and providing education to loved ones are also strategies recommended by Misophonia UK.  Support groups and online forums like UK Misophonia, Selective Sound Sensitivity, and Misophonia Support also provide a way for sufferers to share their experiences and interact with others.

Researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Amsterdam say that DSM classification may be necessary to pave the way for more recognition and research on the disorder, and that if misophonia is not regarded as a distinct psychiatric condition, it should at least be viewed as part of Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorder (OCSD).

The prevalence of misophonia is currently not documented, and it seems few seek help.  Suffers of misophonia can only do so much on their own before the disorder starts intruding on their lives.

– Anjali Wisnarama, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Sensory Sensitivity Can Strain Parent-Child Relations

Sensory Sensitivity Can Strain Parent-Child Relations

00Attachment, Child Development, Featured news, Parenting, Relationships, Stress, Trauma November, 15

Source: Camp ASCCA/Flickr

“For a child that has sensory hypersensitivity, every touch is painful. A hug is perceived as a painful gesture.”

So says Yael Ohri, a preschool teacher who specializes in identifying and alerting parents to potential issues their children may have with sensory sensitivity.

Sensory sensitivity is an important concern for some children and their parents. Low sensory thresholds characterize sensory hypersensitivity, in which any touch or experience can overwhelm the child, while sensory hyposensitivity occurs when a child is “under-sensitive” to stimuli.

Ohri was trained by clinical-developmental psychologist Rami Katz at Tel Aviv University, who trains professionals who work with children, in the Neuro-Developmental & Functional Approach (NDFA). Developed by Katz, NDFA aims to address early developmental issues by targeting the underlying source of the problem, rather than the external manifestations like the behavioural and learning difficulties resulting from sensory sensitivity.

Sensory hypersensitivity comes in various forms as it may be experienced through any of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste. Ohri states that “a child’s skin may be so sensitive that she might complain that the tag in the back of the shirt, or the stitching in the socks is bothersome. Every little thing is experienced so intensely in a way that a child with normal sensitivity would not feel at all.”

Also of concern, over- or under- sensitivity in children can negatively affect the formation of attachment between parent and child.

As Ohri explains, “imagine a new mother who gives her baby a bath, and throughout the duration of the bath, the baby does not stop screaming, it can be very frustrating. The mom may blame herself and say, ‘I’m such a terrible mother, I can’t even bathe my baby,’ or worse, she may get angry with her baby for acting up and proclaim, ‘my baby hates me,’ causing an attachment issue right off the bat.”

To help young children struggling with average intensity stimuli, occupational therapists may stimulate the child’s skin with different brushes that allow the body to moderate the sensory input.

This, as well as other techniques, is designed to help sensory sensitivity. Still, Ohri believes that a critical element of treatment is simple awareness.

“It is essential that parents understand their child’s hyper- or hypo- sensitivity, and that it’s not something that the child is doing to them on purpose.” By raising early awareness, the issue is addressed when it is still relatively easy to treat. Ohri views it as much worse when the issue is not targeted early, leading to fights and stress in the family, as well as parents labelling the child as having a personality problem.

A sensory hyper-sensitive child may be labelled as irritable or whiny. Similarly, a hypo-sensitive child, who tends to be rougher, does so “not because he’s doing it on purpose, but instead, because he needs to hold and feel you and in order to do that, he does so more strongly. This kind of child is often labelled as violent.”

The problem is that this type of labelling can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where the child ends up thinking of himself as difficult or rude, identity characteristics that become difficult to break free of later on.

Ohri argues that awareness helps. “Once parents become aware that the child has a sensory sensitivity, and begin asking themselves the right questions about the child’s day-to-day behaviours, they learn to alter their interaction with their child in order to avoid conflicts.”

Does simply being aware solve the problem altogether? No, but it’s a start.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the child stops being sensitive, but it helps moderate the difficulties and makes the child’s environment more understanding. This applies to both the child and the family. As both sides become more aware, living with sensory sensitivity becomes more tolerable. Mothers are amazing, if they are made aware, they find the solution.”

But what about parents who struggle with their own mental health? Parents dealing with personal trauma may find it harder to perceive signals coming from their child and may interpret them inaccurately.

According to developmental psychologist, Sarah Landy, at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto, parents who don’t have their personal needs met due to past trauma, find it difficult to emotionally connect with their children and respond sensitively to their needs. “When parents are unavailable due to trauma,” says Ohri, “awareness alone won’t do the trick, since the parents might not be able to get there on their own.”

So, parents who work toward resolving their own struggles with mental health will likely become better attuned to their children’s cues and respond to them more sensitively.

Sensory hyper- and hypo-sensitivity can be resolved relatively easily when targeted early, but can become a more complex issue when ignored or treated incorrectly, or when parents are not emotionally available to notice the problem.

Through the difficulties, Ohri emphasizes, “awareness is key.”

– Noam Bin-Noon, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Bipolar Disorder Makes For Up-And-Down Friendships

Bipolar Disorder Makes For Up-And-Down Friendships

00Bipolar Disorder, Featured news, Friends, Relationships, Suicide August, 15

Source: Farrukh/Flickr

Lauren and I have been friends for a long time.  More than once, she had mentioned to me that she had bipolar disorder, but I never gave it much thought.  It always seemed under control, and I knew she was getting help.  When we decided to move in together, I was not concerned.

But it became apparent immediately that she did not have her mental illness under control.  Long depressive episodes, where she did not talk to anyone, were followed by short manic ones (when she was great to be around).  As a friend, I had no idea how to help or how to help myself while living with her.  I was confused when she would suddenly get angry at me, and I worried about what to do if she hurt herself.  And if I were to call someone I didn’t know how she’d react.

Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about the disorder, how to deal with it; not as a psychologist or therapist, but as a friend.

Don’t take it personally

It is difficult to accept, but sometimes people in a depressed state don’t feel like talking, and not because they dislike you, or because they’re being rude.  Mdjunction.com tells readers that one of the “do’s” of dealing with a loved one is to “realize your friend is angry and frustrated with the disorder, not with you.”  I once asked Lauren why she would ignore me for days at a time and she told me that sometimes she doesn’t talk just to avoid crying on the spot.

Recognize triggers

Drinking made Lauren manic.  On the surface, mania doesn’t look all that bad.  The person is happy, exuberant, and outgoing.  But those with bipolar disorder who are manic often crash into a depression that lasts longer and is more severe than the mania.  I pointed this out to my friend, explaining that when she drank, her night usually ended in depression.

She responded, and cut down her drinking.  But some may not be as willing to take responsibility.  It’s impossible to force a friend to change, but pointing out triggers may give them some insight into their behaviour.

Talk to their family when necessary

Luckily, Lauren has a caring supportive family.  Her brother and I have exchanged phone numbers, and if something happens to Lauren where I’m in over my head, I can notify her brother and ask him to help.

Know when to call for help and own your decision

Once I had to call an ambulance for Lauren.  After finishing a bottle of prescription sleeping pills, she admitted to me that she wanted to die.  She could barely form a sentence and I feared the worst.  It was a difficult decision, I knew I risked losing Lauren’s trust but I called anyway.

Terri Cheney, author of, A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing up Bipolar writes “If someone you know or love talks about suicide, even jokingly or in a passing remark, stop and listen.  Ask if he or she has a plan….Above all, take it seriously.”

You don’t know how they feel

Don’t pretend to understand how someone with bipolar disorder feels.  Being empathetic and actively listening to what your friend has to say will go much further than telling them about that time you were sad and how it’s the same.  It’s not.  And most important, do not tell them to just “get over it.”  It’s not so easy.

Don’t put your friend’s needs before your own

Sociologist Jeanne Segal, author of The Language of Emotional Intelligence, writes that “Supporting your loved ones may involve some life adjustments, but make sure you don’t lose sight of your own goals and priorities.”

I used to invite Lauren everywhere.  I did enjoy her company; but on reflection, I think I was doing it largely out of fear.  I worried she’d hurt herself home alone.  Looking after her was emotionally draining.  I came to realize that not only did I have to learn to trust her alone, but I also needed my own time with friends, I needed to focus on my own life.

Having a friend or a family member with Bipolar Disorder can be complicated, and may require time and patience.  But the illness doesn’t have to define the individual.  Lauren is the same person I knew long before I knew of the diagnosis, and she is still a great friend.

But now I have learned to become more empathetic and accepting of people, whose moods I cannot justify…or even fully comprehend.

– By Anonymous, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

“Love Hormone” Oxytocin Linked to Domestic Violence

“Love Hormone” Oxytocin Linked to Domestic Violence

00Anger, Attachment, Domestic Violence, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Oxytocin, Relationships July, 15

Source: dgzgomoo2/Flickr

For years the scientific study of relationships has centered on the hormone oxytocin. Made in our brains and traveling through our blood, oxytocin is said to be the physiological glue that brings humans together. It makes us trust and become attached to one another.

During childbirth, oxytocin is released in large amounts to help facilitate uterine contractions, to encourage milk production during lactation, and to enhance maternal-child bonding. The hormone can also offer relief for chronic pain sufferers and is released during sexual intimacy, connecting us emotionally to our partners.

Oxytocin is known for its ability to strengthen social bonds. But as hormones are complex, surprising new research points to a potentially dangerous side of oxytocin: High levels may be associated with relationship violence.

Because of oxytocin’s associations to social behaviour, researchers have studied the use of oxytocin to treat interpersonal symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and personality disorders. In 2003, Eric Hollander, psychiatry professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, showed abnormal oxytocin levels in people with ASD. When he administered oxytocin to them, it improved speech comprehension and recognition of emotions, important factors for establishing relationships.

Paul Zak, economist at Claremont Graduate University, says that oxytocin is responsible for behaviours like empathy, cooperation, and trust. In one study, he tempted participants with money, and found that those who inhaled oxytocin, compared to a control group, were more willing to give their money to a stranger. That is, those in the experimental group were more trusting.

Since oxytocin is naturally released during intimate moments, Zak prescribes eight hugs a day to make us happier and warmer people. But as with all medical science, oxytocin is complicated. And its catchy nicknames may be misleading.

Recent research by psychologist Nathan DeWall at the University of Kentucky and his colleagues demonstrated that oxytocin may be a factor in abusive relationships, if the abusive individual is already an aggressive person.

DeWall initially measured the underlying aggressive tendencies of male and female undergraduates. Participants were randomly split into two groups and unknowingly inhaled oxytocin or a placebo spray.

DeWall then created stressful situations that are known to elicit aggression. He asked the subjects to give a public speech to an unsupportive audience, and later experience the uncomfortable pain of an ice-cold bandage placed on their forehead.

Individuals then rated how likely they would be to engage in specific violent acts toward their current or most recent romantic partner; for example, to “throw something at [their] partner that could hurt.”

Oxytocin increased inclinations toward intimate partner violence (IPV), but only in participants who were prone to physical aggression.

Similarly, a study by Jennifer Bartz, a psychiatry professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, shows that oxytocin hinders trust and cooperation in persons with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by pervasive instability in moods, behaviours, and interpersonal relationships.

Notably, DeWall’s experiment took place in a laboratory setting, and it’s an open question as to whether this finding is generalizable to actual violent behaviour in domestic relationships.

DeWall explains that oxytocin is linked to maintaining relationships by keeping the ones we love close. For those with aggressive tendencies, preserving a relationship can mean controlling or dominating the partner with physical and emotional abuse.

In his book The Other Side of Normal, Harvard psychiatrist, Jordan Smoller explains that prior trauma in relationships gives a “negative colouring” to trust and intimacy. Oxytocin is still released when unhealthy relationships form; it just becomes associated with relationship trauma and contributes to unhealthy attachments.

Oxytocin is imperative for human connection, but it seems that past experience and interpersonal predispositions complicate oxytocin’s social-bonding capabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 960,000 domestic violence incidents occur every year. While only in its preliminary stages, DeWall’s research helps us better understand the complicated minds of offenders, and offers hope for preventing domestic violence.

– Shira Yufe, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today