What is Forgiveness…Real Forgiveness?
As a therapist who treats trauma and helps people at the darkest times of their lives, I experience the evils of the world through its victims. I see children raw and broken at the hands of selfish, greedy men and feel the anguish of a college student as she picks up the pieces of a shattered innocence and future lost. Helping the wounded find healing and renewed strength means I too walk through the darkness and experience the consequences of those who prey upon and hurt others.
I have to be honest. Forgiveness has been a concept that I have personally struggled with over the years. Why should he forgive? It was devastating and wrong and no one would judge him... that person doesn’t even deserve his forgiveness.
Then I took training from Janis Abrahms, Ph.D. She organized levels of forgiveness that I have adopted and further adapted to help my clients understand and realize just what type of forgiveness they are seeking. THIS I can do and this I feel comfortable sharing with my clients, because forgiveness is for the one who is hurting. Below is my interpretation and adaptation of her work and ideas.
Forgiveness as a Model With Layers
We all have choices. Each of us can choose to be the absolute best version of ourselves and can constantly strive to improve and heal or we can give up and let life occurrences choose for us. We can allow bad things and stressful events to define who we are and help us become a sponge for negativity or we can take the dark, hurtful stimuli and use it as fertilizer to help us become a better stronger version of ourselves.
Notice the choices we have in each of the forgiveness layers presented. Allow this organization of ideas to help you make mindful decisions the next time you experience pain and discomfort.
Forgiveness Layer Number 1: Let it Roll
Sometimes things happen to us that really aren’t that big of a deal. Someone cuts us off in traffic, takes our place in line, or grabs the last gallon of milk. Instances like these are irritants; annoying situations that if we let them, can help shape our reactions and make us grumpier or negatively focused.
With practice, we can learn to become reactive to these events and can allow anger and edginess to settle deep inside of our bodies OR with practice, we can do the opposite. We can let it roll. Like water on a duck’s back, we can let it roll away…far away from us. Imagine yourself taking a deep breath and exhaling the energy of that person or event far far away from you. Let it all roll off of you and watch it roll completely out of sight. This is layer number 1: Letting it roll.
Forgiveness Layer Number 2: Faux Forgiveness
Abrahms refers to this as cheap forgiveness, faux forgiveness is when an instance is larger than the ones listed above, but we treat them as though they are insignificant. We try to let it roll, but it really is too big and too painful to roll away on it’s own, so instead of looking at it, understanding and working through it, we use all of our might to push and shove it away.
Faux forgiveness is forgiving too quickly…before we really have the opportunity to heal our relationship or ourselves. Explaining what faux forgiveness is so much easier if we talk about true real forgiveness.
Forgiveness Layer Number 3: True Forgiveness
True real forgiveness is when we experience a hurt and we use it to help us grow stronger. We take that hurt to the one who hurt us and we carefully talk about it in a way that organizes and makes sense of the hurt, and then consequently soothes it.
True Forgiveness: The Role of the One Who is Hurting
“I felt really alone when you did “x” (I statement). I’m scared of losing you (getting to the deeper emotion). I know it comes out sideways…I know I just get angry (taking responsibility) but I need for you to understand what my true feelings are – to really understand where I am coming from (here is the wish…giving the offender a path)”
In true forgiveness, the hurt party has a responsibility to communicate the hurt in a way that can be heard; delivery here is important. If the receiver becomes defensive or really doesn’t understand, it becomes challenging to journey to a place of forgiveness. Thinking; how does my partner or friend need me to say this so s/he can stay engaged? Can I practice my I statements beforehand so that s/he doesn’t feel blamed?
True Forgiveness: The Role of the One Who Offended
In true forgiveness, the offender has responsibility as well. The offender’s job is to become curious about the other’s emotional experience and to strive to really understand the pain that was caused.
“I had no idea that you were feeling so lonely. I’m so sorry. I hate that you were feeling all of that and I was too busy to notice (accepting influence and taking responsibility). You mean so much to me and I want us to be ok…”
The Back and Forth of True Forgiveness
Now what if the offender really has reasons for the hurt? What if the relationship has flaws and the dynamic isn’t all that healthy? What if the offender needs forgiveness too?
In true forgiveness, the energy of forgiveness and communication flows both directions. Becoming defensive and self-righteous is NOT the same thing as seeking forgiveness in the other party and explaining how both parties arrived at pain and distance. Again, delivery and knowing why an issue is getting flushed is important. True forgiveness gets to the root or roots of an issue and can happen in one sitting or over a course of time.
Faux vs. True Forgiveness
You can see how it was easier to describe what faux forgiveness is by explaining true forgiveness. When we forgive too quickly “No worries, it wasn’t that big of a deal” when it really was, we rob the relationship of a deeper healing; a connection within pain. When we can re-wire a relationship to be able to tolerate pain and discord and to then have it experience connection within the conflict, the darkness then and only then can be used as fertilizer for new beautiful growth.
Forgiveness Layer Number 4: Acceptance
What if the offender cannot walk through the stages of forgiveness and is unable to do the back and forth of true forgiveness? What then? Is the one left behind optioned with faux forgiveness only?
Acceptance is the realization that significant hurt has been experienced and that forgiveness is well deserved, but not possible. Maybe the offender is dead, a substance abuser with no desire to change, or maybe s/he is a relative or significant other who lacks the ability to be safe. What then?
Acceptance looks at the pain openly and honestly. It forces the one who is hurt to be honest about how deep the wounds go and how the scars have been shaping their emotions, way of thinking and consequential behavior. Taking an honest look means now the hurt party has choice. Heal or stew? Become stronger or paralyzed? Grow into a strong tall tree or wither into a bitter, infected dying plant?
True acceptance means the one who is hurt does the work to heal, make sense and organize the pain. Like true forgiveness, acceptance usually takes a long time and often requires professional help. Those who experience this layer of acceptance must walk through the pain without the offender’s help, committing all the way to not let it create bitterness or resentment.
To Not Forgive is to Give the Offender What They Do NOT Deserve & Robs You of Peace
Why talk about the layers of forgiveness? Because with forgiveness and acceptance comes peace and healing. When we honestly look inward and are constantly improving ourselves, we can allow painful experiences to improve us. Without this focus, hurtful occurrences will begin to harden our hearts and will strive to dissolve the goodness inside. No experience or human deserves to rob us of our joy and life fulfillment.
Life is hard. Bad things happen. It is our job and our responsibility to decide if these occurrences are an opportunity to heal and become stronger or are an excuse to wither away and become a bitter, run down version of ourselves.
Who is the Author?
Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the owner of the Family Therapy Center in Ashburn as well as a Marriage and Family therapist. She is a married mother of 2 and lives in Loudoun county. Contact Gabrielle here if you would like to schedule an appointment for couples counseling or individual therapy to help get you or your relationship back on the path to wellness.
Read an interesting blog by Gabrielle about forgiveness and the negative cycle in a relationship.
Read an interesting blog by Gabrielle about the balancing energy flow of relationships
To read more about the path of forgiveness from the original source, Dr. Abrahms, click here.
Last month, my husband took our kids to a Sia concert. One of the songs seemed to have an emotional impact on him so he shared a video of it later with me. What a powerful, emotionally provocative performance. The video described a relationship that had a debilitating destructive negative cycle to it. The beautiful manner in which the dancers captured relational dysfunction made me experience the dancer’s fighting deeply, at a significant emotional level.
Before you skip down to the concert video to satisfy your own curiosity, I’d like you to first view the song from an intellectual level. This first video shares the lyrics of the song. Please take a few moments to view the video and take the time to actually absorb the words.
Now that you have experienced the song intellectually, I would like to break down a few relational concepts before you experience the song on an emotional level.
What is a Negative Cycle in a Relationship?
Every relationship has a negative cycle when things are not going so well. A negative cycle is that black hole that many couples feel themselves getting sucked into during a fight. This is the space where the arguments become rote and the couple begins to realize that although the content of the argument may be different, one could almost write a script for how the argument will proceed and how the couple will make up.
When I do this, he often responds with this…then I do “x” and he does or says “y”.
The negative cycle works hard to get couples to feel either deeply adversarial or cold and numb.
Is the Forgiveness Real or Do You Forgive Too Quickly?
True forgiveness has the ability to strengthen a damaged relationship. The act of forgiveness requires the offender to truly care that s/he has hurt the other and both do what it takes to make the situation better AND to heal the wound.
“I don’t want you to feel that way. I understand now how much I scared you and how much I hurt you”
Sometimes we forgive too quickly, before we ever even verbalize all of the pain. Before we even give our partner or loved one a chance to understand and empathize. True forgiveness may require the party to go back time and time again until the wound has successfully healed.
Forgive and forget or give it to God have the potential of robbing the relationship of a deep joining and connecting healing and could also keep the one who is hurt from healing at the level that validates emotionally. Forgiving too quickly often breeds disappointment, resentment and potential bitterness. It not only harms the relationship, but the one who was originally hurt.
Watch the song again, this time at an emotional level with the above listed information in mind. Notice how one or the other will obliterate safety, even during vulnerable, emotionally porous times.
Have the idea of true forgiveness in mind as you watch the dancers begin to sway a foot and then sway their feet together. Forgiving too quickly, without healing, without stopping the negative cycle in this scenario is damaging.
Wow, right? When do you hold the hammer in your relationship? At these times, do your words sting? Are you aggressive? Or do you take the other extreme and freeze out your partner?
What does the negative cycle in your relationship look like and what can you do to stop it? Altering a destructive cycle can be tricky and some need professional help to truly forgive, heal and change the relational dynamic. Get help for your relationship today!
Interested in Learning More?...
Read more about the Negative Cycle Here
Read more about True Forgiveness Here
About The Author...
Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the owner of the counseling center in Ashburn as well as a Marriage and Family therapist. She is a married mother of 2 and lives in Loudoun county. Contact Gabrielle here if you would like to schedule an appointment for couples counseling or another therapeutic modality.
One of my specialty areas in private practice is chronic illness. I love helping those with prolonged illness find emotional balance during times of stress and turmoil. In this article, I want to talk about the importance of gut health from the perspective of enzyme support and would like to help you explore the connection this could have with anxiety, depression and more. Many of my posts are written from a professional slant; this article is more personal in nature. I hope it speaks to you.
Looking at the Health of Your Gut
Did you know that 90%+ of Serotonin production occurs in the gut and that the gut is being called our 2nd brain? Healthy gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA. Shocking, right? When our gut is out of balance and not in a healthy place, it can directly effect our mood. What we eat can impact the balance of the gut and thus directly impact the brain.
GMOs, processed sugars, gluten, dairy, chemicals, preservatives, hormones, pesticides, etc can all help to create an imbalance in the gut and in some cases can cause undigested particles to leak into the blood stream. Not good.
Hippocarates said "All disease begins in the gut". Could this mean that many mental health problems can originate here too? ABSOLUTELY.
Probiotics, Pre-biotics and Enzymes Can Positively Impact the Gut
A couple of weeks ago I was preparing for a workshop at my practice that included a talk about the gut connection with mental health. During the research phase of my preparation, I was coming across article after article that looked at the importance of probiotics, pre-biotics and enzymes. Probiotics and pre-biotics have been on my radar for years (read an article I wrote about good/bad bacteria here), but enzymes? I have used enzymes with my son to help keep his bowels regulated, but have not thought about using them for anything else, especially not mental health. I was intrigued and read on to learn that enzymes can be a HUGE factor in balancing the gut, which (did we mention that 90% of all Serotonin is produced in the gut?) can directly impact mental health. Interesting.
Within proximity of my workshop, I began to have abdominal discomfort and distress. Because of my recent training, my instinct was to grab my son's enzymes. What happened over the course of the next 3 weeks surprised me.
Targeting Mental Health Proactively and Purposefully
I am open about my own tools to improve my own mental health. As I write this, my autumn "happy lamp" (a future post!) is going; I constantly smell of essential oils, utilize yoga as my emotional and chemical detoxer and have many loving people and relationships in my world. I do not pretend to be emotionally symptom free, I just manage my own mental health as proactively as I can. BUT, to get ahead of a symptom, understand the why and target it at the source, now that's worth writing about.
The Voice of the Body. Don't Quiet the Chatter, Listen to it!
Over the past year, I have been working out imbalances in my hormonal system and have noticed this new healthier balance impacting many other systems in my body as well. Although this greatly impacted my emotional health, I still struggled with keeping anxious feelings at bay.
Within a week of taking the enzymes for abdominal discomfort, I noticed a noteworthy change in my own anxious level. Lately, I had been awaking with anxious feelings, going to bed with them and felt emotional distress in my chest waxing and waning during the work day as well.
What I though was an understandable anxious preparation for a difficult day at the office, was actually gut related...NOT work related. My evening jitters were not due to this trigger or that, but was my gut trying to get my attention.
Two weeks into routine enzyme support, I found myself feeling much more calm and balanced throughout the day. My out of the blue anxious feelings were down by 95%! I thought I had reasons for the anxious buzzing and internal chatter. What I didn't know was that this chatter was actually my body trying desperately to be heard. My gut was speaking to me, but I wasn't listening.
Listening to the Words Within the Voice of the Body.
What a beautiful thing. To learn WHY you may feel down or anxious, to get ahead of it and tackle it instead of popping a pill or suffering through is a gift. Scattered, splintered energy, feelings of darkness and despair, anxious chatter can all benefit by looking through the lens of the gut. Neurotransmitters are responsible for balancing more than just anxious feelings. Many other symptoms can be as a result of your body's neurotransmitters not being able to do their job efficiently and effectively.
While researching for this article, I ran across a research study that looked at autism and gut health. In this study, children on the autistic spectrum were given enzymes for 3 months. The children in the non-placebo enzyme group showed significant changes. " ...the parents of this group rated significantly improved emotional response, general impression score, general behavior and gastrointestinal symptoms..." When I read articles like this and I experience the emotional difference myself, I become SO thankful that my gut became distressed a month ago. SO grateful that this ailment was able to bring me down this path to be able to bring this information to my family and to you.
Gut imbalance is more than emotional. Food allergies and sensitivities, itchy patches of skin, blemishes on the face, fatigue, joint pain and imbalances in digestion are examples of physical symptoms that can occur in the body when the gut is swinging out of balance. Learning to listen to what the body is trying to tell you can give vital information.
I Think my Gut is Trying to Get my Attention, Now What?
If this article speaks to you, you can now be empowered to make a difference. The first step is to seek the advice of a medial professional who understands the importance of good gut health and begin to take steps to create balance. I have a handful of blog posts speaking to the importance of probiotics, diet and other gut health related topics that could help guide you on this path as well.
Finding the link between physical and mental health can be a gift. Learning how to listen to the body and becoming familiar with it's voice is an amazing tool that can help decode a multitude of symptoms and lend its way to empowerment. What is your body saying to you today?
Gabrielle Anderson is a family therapist at the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia in Ashburn, Virginia. She enjoys writing about mental health concerns from a natural, health related perspective. This and other posts are NOT to be used to diagnose a problem, but are rather information to be taken to your medical health professional to explore possibilities and options.
Kuhn, Merrily RN, Ph.D. What is in our Food, Institute for Brain Potential: CEU Training
One of my specialty areas in private practice is chronic illness. I love helping those with prolonged illness find emotional balance during times of stress and turmoil. In this article, I want to talk about the importance of gut health from the perspective of pre-biotic and pro-biotic support and would like to help you explore the connection this could have with anxiety, depression and more.
Think of the Gut as a Second Brain
Did you know that 90%+ of Serotonin production occurs in the gut and that the gut is being called our 2nd brain? Healthy gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA. Shocking, right? When our gut is out of balance and not in a healthy place, it can directly effect our mood. What we eat and the ratio of good vs bad bacteria can impact the balance of the gut and thus directly impact the brain.
Hippocarates said "All disease begins in the gut". Could this mean that many mental health problems can originate here too? ABSOLUTELY. There are many ways to approach gut health. In another post, we discussed the importance of enzymes, in this post, we will look at bacteria's influence.
Good Bacteria Has an Important Role in Overall Health
In the past decade, our culture has become very clean. We like to kill all pathogens and bacteria, thinking this will keep us healthy and free from illness. While killing bad bacteria on a shopping cart or on your little one's hands can be quite helpful, if you are not purposeful in your attempts, you may also be killing the good guys too.
Our bodies have many trillions or up to 3 pounds of good bacteria. Isn't that amazing? This bacteria is very important for maintaing a healthy immune system, the production of vitamins like K and B and for digesting our food. This bacteria is what fights outside pathogenic intruders from invading the body. As you will see below, good bacteria can help us maintain a balanced mental health as well. Increasing this bacteria and protecting it from being killed can be an important first step is establishing balance in the gut.
Too Much Bad Bacteria can Adversely Impact Your Mental Health
When the health of the gut becomes compromised and bad bacteria overtake good healthy bacteria, yeast can grow to unhealthy levels. Sugar can help feed this overgrowth process. The average American consumes 100 pounds of sugar in a year. Think of how much fuel we are giving to the bad bacteria!
An over-population of yeast can impact the lining of the intestine making it permeable and allowing toxins and undigested food particles to leak into the blood stream. But it also can impede the production of Serotonin. An overgrowth of bad bacteria and an unhealthy gut can initiate cloudy thought processing, irritability as well as anxious or low mood feelings.
80% of our immune system lies within our gut. When the intestines chronically leak toxins, the immune system becomes compromised which tends to increase systemic inflammation in the body. Systemic inflammation can impact the body and brain and can lend itself to ailments that span from achy joints to depressive feelings or even feelings of panic. More mental health impact!
We mentioned above that the production of Vitamin B can be impacted with poor gut health. The B vitamins are a wonderful nourisher for the nervous system and an important factor to one's mental health. Sometimes a 50-100mg dose of a multi-B vitamin is recommended for those struggling with mental health symptoms, other times a Methyl version of Folate and B-12 is encouraged. Talking to an informed medical professional about these options is important. BUT helping the body produce what it needs to is a crucial proactive step in maintaining good healthy mental health.
What can be Done to Improve the Health of Your Gut?
We have read what impact an imbalance in good and bad healthy flora can do to one's mental health. Let's look at what a healthy amount of pre-biotics and probiotics can do for one's mood.
Probitocs are live bacteria that are helpful to the digestive system. Pre-biotics are the fibers in natural whole foods that give probiotics the fuel they need to maintain and reproduce. Both probiotics and pre-biotics can be taken in the form of a pill or can be ingested in certain foods.
Good bacteria like lactobacillus and B. Bifidum for example have been used in research studies with mice. Mice that were given these helpful bacteria had a reduction in their anxious like behavior. Other studies have looked at the link between healthy microbes in the gut and the reduction of depression and anxiety.
What a beautiful thing. To learn WHY you may feel down or anxious, or have cloudy thinking. To get ahead of it and tackle it instead of popping a pill or suffering through is a gift. Scattered, splintered energy, feelings of darkness and despair, anxious chatter can all benefit by looking through the lens of the gut. Many other symptoms can be as a result of your body's neurotransmitters not being able to do their job efficiently and effectively.
Take the Probiotic Challenge
Why not try implementing the addition of daily probiotics into your diet for three weeks to see what changes you feel? Your best angle for success is by introducing a well made multi-strain probiotic that also contains a pre-biotic blend.
Also begin to eat foods that naturally contain probiotics. Fermented food choices such as raw sauerkraut, low sugar yogurt, kefir, kombucha are wonderful ways to introduce probiotics into the body naturally.
Remember. Sugar tends to feed yeast. Reducing sugar and simple carbohydrates while targeting yeast and increasing good healthy flora is an important step to changing the environment of your gut. Adding supplements and natural foods into the diet and reducing sugars can be a nice balance.
Gabrielle Anderson is the a family therapist and the owner of the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia in Ashburn, Virginia. Although therapy is her specialty, she loves incorporating natural methods and is constantly searching for biological or environmental explanations for mental health ailments whenever possible. This and other posts is NOT to be a replacement for medical attention or advice. Please talk to your medical professional to see if these ideas could help you or a loved one.
Kuhn, Merrily RN, Ph.D. What is in our Food, Institute for Brain Potential: CEU Training
Two years ago, my husband experienced a trauma involving his parents and family that no one should ever have to experience. A wound so deep and penetrable, it is a wonder he continues to love as deeply and devoutly as he does. Although the stimulus is no longer a threat, his pain continues to be relevant today.
The Zyto Scanner
Yesterday I borrowed a Zyto Scan from a health coach friend. "Each ZYTO scan begins by measuring the body’s responses to 35 neutral signals. The median response to this neutral stimulus becomes the Range, or the parameter of the body's response to energetic stimulus in general. Once the range is established, the software introduces specific Virtual Stimulus Items and compares the response to the parameters set in the range"*.
I was excited to scan myself and family to see what our bodies might be lacking. I scanned for Lemon, Grapefruit and the Citrus Blend. My interpretation of this scan is my need for detoxing and chill-axing. Great information.
My 12 year old daughter, who has a history of PANDAS scanned for the Protective Blend which makes PERECT sense. We've been lax with applying this before and after school. She also scanned for Omega 3s and Sandalwood. No surprises here. All of those made good scientific sense, knowing her medical history and where her body and brain are today.
Next my 9 year old son scanned for the Calming Blend. YES! That was a perfect recommendation for getting him to stop screaming and being so spastic. I grabbed this blend in the moment and smoothed 2 drops of it down his spine. He also scanned for Omega 3s. Because I have been trying to help his little brain focus more and stay on task, this also made perfect sense to me. He also scanned for Oregano and Melaleuca. Interesting for me to get the information that his runny nose may be about to sprout into a bigger sickness. Got it. I'm on it. Get the Oregano and Melaleuca. I diluted these with fractionated coconut oil and applied them to his feet before the night was over (and again this morning).
But my husband. He was a different story. He scanned for The Cell Renewal Blend and Omega 3s. This made sense due to a chronic illness he has been battling. This was no surprise. What came as a surprise was the Helichrysum. Why on earth did he scan for Helichrysum? When I think of this essential oil, I think of the skin. I know Helichrysum is great at reduce scarring, wrinkles, age spots...these are what I think of when I look at Helichrysum. Why on earth did he scan for this?
The skeptic that my husband is (he didn't even want to be scanned to begin with), focused immediately that the scan didn't pick up that he was feeling depressed and anxious. He was right. It didn't appear to find this. Although his trauma initiated two years ago, it had just picked up momentum again within the past week. He was definitely feeling really pulled down by it all. Why didn't this show up? And what was up with the Helichrysum?!
Every Essential Oil Has an Emotional Component to It
Out of curiosity, I grabbed my Emotional Healing with Essential Oils book*. What did it have to say about Helichrysum? What I read was astonishing. My jaw dropped when I read the following "...It aids 'the walking wounded' - those with a history of difficult life circumstances, trauma, addiction, loss or abuse. These individuals need the powerful spiritual support of Helichrysum..." It went on to read that Helichrysum can help give hope and emotional strength to help the individual get back on the path to recovery.
Interesting. I know from experience that the best way to get emotional/mental health support from essential oils is by diffusing them. Diffusing essential oils allow them to be taken into the brain to bring calm to the limbic system. I decided to marry the results of my daughter's scan with my husband's needs and diffused 2 drops of Sandalwood and 2 drops of Helichrysum. Within minutes, my husband's face was smoother...less tension. After 2 rounds of diffusing, a few hours a part, he was able to talk about his emotional journey and where his path and been taking him. He noted that the essential oils helped him feel calmer and less distraught. Wow. Who would have thought.
Being Mindful in the Therapy Office. Scan? Diffuse?
I love learning new things. To think about anxiety and emotional distress through a different lens. A lens that is specific and hits the target more directly. When I think of anxiety, my go to oils are Wild Orange, Calming Blend, Grounding Blend, Vetiver etc. What I learned today was that if I am open minded and seek to understand, then I will get more answers. Better answers.
What are you Doing?
Those of you who practice, are you using your essential oils with your clients? Do you diffuse, offer helpful workshops or even offer free Zyto Scans? Our field is taking a turn. Thank goodness. We are seeing a shift happen that is making us look more towards teaching our clients to find balance, mindfulness and solutions within themselves and their nearby natural worlds. I encourage you to learn, read, be taught and teach others. Being a cutting edge therapist and teaching this knowledge to others can be a priceless gift to those who receive it. Being a cutting edge mama can provide just as much value...even MORE.
Help your body help itself. If you are experiencing a wounded heart, loss or trauma, maybe try a little bit of Helichrysum. It just may give you the extra leverage you need to finally reach the next level OR give you enough support to find good solid help.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
The above blends are listed by their type of blend and not the actual name. Every company calls their blends by different catchy names. Hopefully listing them by type will help you identify what to purchase. I will caution you. Not every oil is the same. Make sure you do your research to determine that the company you choose produces therapeutic grade oils, otherwise you are buying concentrated perfume that will not help your health at all.
** Emotional Healing with Essential Oils Manual 1, 2nd Edition; Macdonald, Daniel; Enlighten Alternative Healing, llc, 2012
A Cautiously Optimistic Look at the Energy Flow in Marriage and Relationships. By Gabrielle Anderson, lmft
During the meditative process of my yoga class today, the instructor talked about fear. "What if instead of using the word fear you instead choose to be cautiously optimistic? What would this change? How would you view the world and your own life differently"?
To be cautiously optimistic. What would this cost? What could be gained? My thoughts immediately go to the balancing act in which many couples find themselves engaged, in order to create equilibrium and peace in their relationship.
As a family therapist, I see many couples throughout the week. Quite often I find myself talking about the negative cycle and faux balance that couples attempt to create within their relationships. This concept is based on a pursue/withdraw theory.
The Complimentary Puzzle Pieces of Marriage
Think about your significant other. Contemplate his/her temperament, likes, dislikes, conflict style, etc. Chances are you are similar in some ways yet very different in others. We tend to marry our compliment. Someone who fits us enough to be able to puzzle piece with us, yet different enough to be able to fill in some of the gaps that our own style and personalities leave.
In the beginning of a relationship, this difference creates wonder and excitement and can feel safe and well rounding. As couples develop negativity and begin to grow distant and cold or passionately conflictual, these differences cease to feel complimentary and begin to breed disappointment, anger and often resentment.
The Negative Cycle
In an attempt to bridge the gap of distance, couples often develop a negative cycle. The most classic of them all is a pursue/withdraw cycle; wherein both roles have a duty to perform in the marriage. The pursuer's job is to draw out problems in an attempt to purge, resolve and heal. The withdrawer's job is to protect and keep the couple from creating any more damage and distance.
So one pushes and the other backs away. One may be called a "nag" while the other may "have no feeling". Both are designed to help, yet neither extreme method does.
To Be Cautiously Optimistic in Marriage
Here is where the mediation of today meets the couples therapy of tomorrow. What might it cost a "pursuer" to give up fear? To stop fearing the worst, to stop shining a light on the dark corners of the relationship? To let go and hope that the relationship will find it's way back to closeness?
If you are a pursuer and are yourself in a negative cycle, you know the answer. IT"S TOO DANGEROUS TO GIVE UP FEAR. What a quandary. It seems logical to try to find that path of optimism. Even cautious optimism. Letting go of fear, not to wander blindly but to be cautiously optimistic.
Still. It feels dangerous... Because it is.
Changing the Flow of the Relationship
One of the beginning goals of couple's therapy is to close the gap in the negative cycle and attempt to get the energy to flow BOTH WAYS. In order for the pursuer to back off and allow peace to creep into the relationship, there must first be trust. Trust that the protector will engage, no longer withdraw and begin to pursue.
If both parties back off, stop fighting and pursuing, the marriage can die. One of the most dangerous marital dynamics is the relationship where NO ONE is pursuing or fighting for closeness.
The Rising Withdrawer and Shrinking Pursuer
How can one be cautisoluy optimistic in a dynamic as such? The first person to understand in a withdraw/pursue dynamic is the one who withdraws to protect. What would need to happen in order for the protector to come out and not withdraw? Sometimes the pursuer needs to learn to communicate safer, other times it is due to past pain and hurt, maybe the withdrawer is depressed.
Whatever the needs, it is important that the pursuer hears them so that s/he knows how to help the protecting partner get what is needed to allow energy to flow from him/her into the relationship.
Next it is the pursers job to then learn to ALLOW the withdrawer to complain or create tension. To allow this equal flow of energy enables the couple to live more within the boundaries of equilibrium and less in the dark lonely corners of extreme. This means the pursuer must create self discipline to then begin to complain less and tread on negative topics more carefully and mindfully as to keep the protector engaged.
Now You Can be Cautiously Optimistic in Your Relationship
Now it feels safe enough to let go of fear and embrace cautious optimism. Fear is often present for a reason. Learn to listen to it's voice, hear it and grow through it. When we embrace fear too long, it can be crippling to our emotional and physical health and can create many chronic problems that can take years to resolve and heal. Fear can be a helper if we respect it's power and then yield to cautious optimism as soon the opportunity arises.
Fear and Optimism in a Marriage
Listen to the voice of fear in your marriage. What is it trying to tell you? Do you trust enough in your partner and the dynamic or relationship to complain from a cautiously optimistic stance? Can you use what is not working to help you move to a closer place all the while remaining a team of equilibrium?
All good relationships have troubling times. If your relationship feels as if it is struggling too much and it is becoming too difficult to find your way back to each other, get an appointment for couples therapy today. Don't wait until tomorrow, reach out today.
Gabrielle is a licensed family therapist in Northern Virginia. She is a married mother of two and is in constant search of peace, balance and new growth.
I am so fortunate that even in the midst of my own treatment for Lyme Disease, I never struggled to get to sleep. As a children's therapist, I see so many children who can either not fall asleep or can not fall asleep alone. This can be so frustrating for all involved.
This blog has tips to help prepare the body for sleep. All throughout Lyme treatment, both of my children struggled to fall asleep. Melatonin helped my son, but nothing really helped my daughter. Midnight would come and go on a regular school night and she would be wide awake. Frustrating!
My husband and I experimented with using a structured sleepy time routine at about the same time that I discovered essential oils for sleeping. This seemed like the perfect marriage, and WORKED. With school starting in a week, it is time for us to get back into this routine again. And what a more perfect time to share it all with you!
Make Dinner Time an Intentional Time
No Chocolate or Food Dye
If you are going to get serious about bedtime, you have to think about it THIS early. Reserve all chocolate desserts and snacks for right after school. Get into a really good routine of either not having dessert after dinner or having something without chocolate or food dye.
No Electronics After Dinner
I know. You hoped I wouldn't say it, but it's true. Many moms out there will agree. Electronics can make some of our kids more hyper. We think games are a great way to unwind, but they do stimulate the brain. I am waiting for really good brain scan research to come out so I can link it here to show you just how important this step is!
The Structured Sleepy Time Routine Starts an Hour Before Bed
So, what is this routine and what does it look like? The first step in developing a structure sleepy time routine is to first determine what time you want your child to fall asleep. When this is determined, back this up by an hour, and this is when your sleep routine begins.
Let's pretend you have an older child and you really want them to fall asleep by 8:30pm. In this case, your routine would start at 7:30pm. Be particular and strict with this routine. You really want your child's brain to get into the habit of giving his/her body the message that it is time to sleep. My example below will follow the routine of the child who needs to fall asleep by 8:30pm. You can of course alter the times to fit the needs of your child.
Step 1: 7:30pm...Eat a Healthy Snack
This is not the time to grab a cookie and milk or strawberries and whipped cream. This snack is to be high in protein and low in sugar to help keep the blood sugar regulated. Remember to keep drinks at a minimum here. The snack is designed to help keep the belly satisfied so that a dip in blood sugar is not distracting to sleep.
Step 2: Do Something From the Approved Night Time Activity List
Before you even start this routine, sit down with your child to create a list of quiet, soothing night time activities. These could be things like taking a warm bath, playing chess, coloring in a coloring book, drawing with soothing music in the background, etc. The activity needs to be able to get the message to the brain that your child is ready for calm. Tv and electronics will not work here..and that includes mom and dad's too! If the family room is bright and noisy with the TV blaring in the background, it will NOT send the proper sleepy message to your child's brain. You are all in this together: Team Sleepy Time.
Every night, your child can pick from the list of calm activities and will participate in one until 8pm. Some parents allow the food and quiet activity to coincide, others keep it separate. You get to decide, just make sure that it ends by 8pm and that the energy is calm.
Step 3: 8pm...Time to Get Ready For Bed
Now it is time to brush teeth, wash face, go potty, get into jammies etc. Some children do this quickly and others take a REALLY long time. If your child is young and gets distracted, help him remember by creating a chart for the wall that gives pictures (like a tooth brush) or words (go potty) that will help him remember what the next steps are. This is also the time that mom or dad fill up the bedroom diffuser to help prepare the room for sleep.
Sleepy Time Child-Friendly Diffuser Blends to Try*
1. Sometimes something as simple as 3 or 4 drops of Lavender will work
2. Maybe try a 1,2,3 blend of Roman Chamomile (1 drop), Calming Blend (2 drops), and Lavender (3 drops)
3. Our favorite at my house is 3 drops of Cedarwood and 3 Drop of Bergamot (great for anxious feelings)
Every diffuser is different. Use the above ratios as a guide. Your diffuser may need more or less overall oil.
* Tip: When you find a sleepy time blend that you like, make a larger batch of it and pour it into an old, empty clean essential oils bottle. Now you have it pre-measured and blended and ready to go...just add a few drops to the diffuser and it's sleepy time.
Step 4: Story Time
Depending on how fast your child is with getting ready for bed, she how has between 15-20 minute to read or to have a book read to her. Remember to keep the lights lower, voices soft and energy calm. This is the last step before lights go dark. The diffuser at this point is already running. Your child's limbic system is beginning to calm as he breathes the oils in through his nose. Sleep is near...
Step 5: Say Good Night
Woo hoo! (Shhh) You made it to the end. It is time to say good night. Whether you use a nightlight, hall light or dark room probably depends a lot on how fearful your child is and how active his imagination can be at night. Just be sure his natural melatonin has an opportunity to get naturally activated (mine can't with even my closet light).
This 5 step method works because it relies on habits and calming activities combined...so be patient and let habit and routine help create the success. If it takes a couple of weeks, it takes a couple of weeks! Stay at it. Habits, essential oils and calm activities are the perfect recipe for a successful night's sleep. Let me know how it goes. Staying with this routine saved my daughter and allowed her to sleep fully for the first time in a couple of years. Give it a try tonight!
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
Something to Think About Many already have essential oils that they love. I will caution you. Not every oil is the same. Make sure you do your research to determine that the company you choose produces therapeutic grade oils, otherwise you are buying concentrated perfume that will not help your health at all.
I awoke at 3am this morning to my 8 year old son babbling on and on about a dream he just had. For 15 minutes we listened to non-stop high energy chatter, the content of which I cannot even recall. It has been a year since our son has awoken us in the night. Waking up with him beside us is often an initial indicator that he is not well. My senses perked. I was no longer hearing the manic waterfall gushing out of his mouth; but was now in my own head assessing the situation. Why is he behaving so differently? Could it be the tick bite from 10 days ago? Is he not detoxed enough? He has been swimming in the pool everyday, maybe it’s the chlorine? Could it be herxing? He was pretty intense yesterday…
Running awful scenarios through my head is something I do well. But here’s the thing. My child’s brain becomes impacted by his environment. If my husband and I do not come up with the cause and the solution, he suffers, and the consequences can be rather dire.
In the moment at 3:30 in the morning, I decided to get my diffuser and essential oils. At first I wasn’t sure what to try. My son did not have night terrors (Juniper Berry), he was not experiencing multi-layered anxiety (Grounding Blend) nor was it even basic anxiety (Wild Orange or Lavender). We needed to stop the chatter in his head so he could stop the babbling coming out of his mouth.
I plugged in the diffuser and put in 2 drops of Cedarwood and 1 drop of Bergamot; the perfect recipe to stop internal chatter. As I turned on the diffuser, I asked my son to tell me when he could smell it. “Ok, mom” was the last thing I heard.
It would be nice if my story ended here. A happy ending where oils saved the day and stopped the madness. Parents of special needs children know it is rarely that simple. The next morning I weighed out the possibilities with my husband. Red food dye, gluten, chlorine, Lyme, the list of chemicals and substances and their reactions in his body can be endless. We decided. Our best line of defense is to stop- take a deep breath- watch and listen.
How difficult this can be. To give up a bit of control to sit back and wait. Wow. Not easy. Having a child with a chronic illness means my mommy ears and spidey senses are always on high alert. Looking, watching, piecing symptoms together with possible meanings and outcomes. The part I think I need to remind myself is to stop and breathe.
I feel blessed to have a husband who is such a good team player. As difficult as life can sometimes get, it is nice to know that when the road twists and turns and when it becomes impossible to see the end, I find peace in knowing that I do not have to walk it alone. Stop, breathe,watch and listen. Slowing down enough to breathe...great advice if I can take it.
As a therapist, I see a lot of trauma and as a result, many with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Although therapy can be a significant piece to the healing process, what to do at home can be just as important.
Calming the body and calming the mind are a must if one is to heal from trauma. When one suffers from PTSD, the body often stays in a state of hyperarousal with stress hormones being released into the blood stream at a frequent rate. This can be unsettling and creates panic, anxiety, sleeplessness etc. Helping the body routinely get to a place of calm can be a huge piece of the healing puzzle and essential oils can help do just that.
Essential Oil Blends to Help You Feel Grounded
Anxiety, panic and fear are a well known trio in trauma. Helping the body find a place of calm and feeling rooted and grounded again is foundational. Although Vetiver is a strong smelling oil, if blended well with other oils, it can be a wonderful calming, grounding tool. Ever diffuser is different. Use the guides below to help identify a nice ratio.
In a Cool Mist Diffuser Add...
Recipe #1 ...3 drops of Lavender AND 1 drop of Vetiver
Recipe #2 ...5 drops of Wild Orange AND 1 drop Vetiver
Recipe #3 ...1 drop Roman Chamomile, 2 drops Sandalwood AND 1-2 drop of Vetiver
Much of the research suggests that breathing in through the nose with the diffuser for 15 minutes is enough to get the essential oils into the limbic system to start to calm things down. Repeat as necessary.
Try this Rollerball Recipe. Apply to the Bottom of the Foot, Including the Big Toe.
15 drops Calming Blend*
15 drops Grounding Blend*
7 drops Geranium
7 drops Vetiver
Carrier Oil (fractionated coconut oil*, grape seed, etc)
10 ml RollerBall
Add oils to a rollerball. Shake and apply to the area effected, such as the heart, throat, shoulders, stomach, etc. Applying oils to the feet is a nice way to get the oils into the bloodstream and not just to an acute area of the body. Experiment to see which avenue works best. This blend is adult strength. Dilute for children by cutting the oil amount in half or if the child is very young, cut it half again...continue to fill the bottle with carrier oil.
Essential Oil Blends to Help With Sleep
In a Cool Mist Diffuser Add...
Recipe #1 ...3 drops of Bergamot, 3 drops of Juniper Berry AND 2 drop of Roman Chamomile
This blend is great for nightmares and panic before going to bed. Many moms use Juniper Berry to stop night terrors in children. Adding it to this nighttime blend is great for those whose trauma includes bad dreams and night time fear.
Recipe #2 ...4 drops Cedarwood AND 2 drops Bergamot
This blend is great for both unwinding and sleeping. Although it may not make you feel tired, it is GREAT at shutting down the tiring, non-stop thoughts that can accompany trauma and stress. Many find this very helpful for falling asleep.
Play Around With the Recipes...Make Them Yours
Finding the blend that works for you is SO important. You know your diffuser and the size of your room. Go ahead and play around with the number of drops, remembering that less is more with essential oils. Some diffusers are better than others and some are diffusing in a small space while others in a great room. Use these recipes as a wonderful ratio guide to help you understand what oils can help you the best. Comment below if you have found other blends to help!
* Use your favorite brand of essential oils but know that many brands are NOT pure. Do your homework. Most labels carry blends...the name of each blend is not listed, but the type of blend is.
When I first became a therapist, I worked in a handful of hospitals, day treatment centers and school settings that implemented behavior modification systems. I think it is just as important to notice what works as well as pick up on why a system might not be effective. In my experience, it is important to have a system that is balanced. One that looks at stopping negative behavior all the while shaping positive behavior that you want to see.
Systems that focus on praise alone will miss the opportunity of teaching a child self discipline and natural consequences. Reflectively, systems that focus on punishing negative behavior or discipline alone miss the chance to build up the child and help him strive for positive behavior. Avoiding punishment is not the same as an internalized locus of control. Click here to read part one of this blog that focuses on developing a level system for disruptive negative behaviors.
I Just Wish my Child Would...
All parents know that feeling. It is the exact moment when you look at your partner and say, "When did things get so out of control? I never thought I'd raise a child who..." In that moment you know...it is time for a change and it needs to happen NOW.
Every time my husband and I decide to do a behavior shaping plan we inevitably ask each other why we waited so long to do it. Shaping behavior really works, if there is already consistency with a good solid level system that tackles negative behavior AND if love and respect for the children are maintained at all times too.
The Art of Shaping Behavior
So what is behavior shaping anyway? Shaping takes a desired behavior and makes certain that it is practiced enough times over the course of a week or two to make it become a routine behavior. The best way to shape positive behavior is by first identifying ONE behavior at a time to shape.
Although you may get the urge to start all over with your children and overhaul your entire parenting plan, it is only recommended to pick one behavior at a time to shape and keep it POSITIVE!
Say the kids are not listening and argue too much. The behavior to aim for is not "stop sassing" a better goal might sound like, "follow directions the first time asked". Maybe you are tired of cleaning up after the children. A goal might be "find ways to be helpful. Each helpful task that you initiate earns you a link."
What is a Link & How Can it Change my Child's Behavior?
Remember those links you made out of construction paper as a child? I have memories of cutting colorful paper into strips, creating a link, connecting the links together and then wrapping them around my Christmas tree. Links are great because they are so visual. These are the same links that work for shaping behavior.
How Does it Work?
After you choose the desired behavior AND measurable one step goal, look for times your child is doing it and reward him with a link. Have your child be on the look out for these behaviors too. Having your child point out that he did the goal is a GREAT way for him to scan his environment and look for ways to behave.
Begin to hang these links from a low 8' ceiling. Link after link of good behavior begins to make it's way to the floor. When the entire chain touches the ground (make it happen in less than a week), something wonderful happens. Make sure you determine what this will be beforehand. It could be an outing to the neighborhood ice cream shop, a small toy or extra privilege. Make it enticing, but not expensive.
"What if my Child Does NOT Do it? Do I Take Away a Link?"
Nope. Never take away a link that has already been earned. This is why it is important to have a level system already in place AND to use your own creativity and parent coaching skills. Misbehavior gets the time out, etc, but positive behavior connects to links.
This approach is collaborative and takes you and your child working together to make this work. Let's say your child's link goal is to follow directions the first time time asked. It is now bedtime and you told her to brush her teeth. She whines about wanting to watch more tv and does not go upstairs. You remind her a second time with a calm, sincere, "Stink. You could have earned a link. Maybe you will remember when it is time to put on your jammies."
Working together is key here. If all of your re-directing tools are punitively based, and you do not try to cheer her on, like a parent coach, chances are the plan will not work. It takes your child, but it also takes you wanting her to succeed and do a good job. Reminding your child that she can earn more links another time will help her not give up and sit in failure.
Nobody Likes to Fail...Not You & Not Your Child
When children reach the failure stage and feel like a really bad kid, they usually quit. If your child has quit, he will probably sabotage the good things, rip down the links, swear and say means things when you try to reward. Failure is tough to fight against. This is why I say NEVER pull down a link once it is earned. Do not take away stars from a star chart. These things they did well...these things do not need to be discounted. Finding a way to creativity get your child to want to behave is key. Making them feel like you are a team and that you WANT them to succeed is huge.
Remember: Disciplining a Child is Not Easy!
It takes tweaking and tweaking and tweaking yet again...and all of the time. Children develop and change at a rapid rate. The older they get, the more they are exposed to the world. When your children are stuck in rut of bad behavior, it is not necessary for you to go to that place of failure either. Realizing that children are supposed to get stuck and misbehave and that it is normal for any parent to feel overwhelmed can help empower you to find your path and to maybe even start cutting out links.
Gabrielle Anderson is the owner of and therapist at the Family Center if Northern Virginia, llc. She sees children as young as three through adulthood.
Have a special needs child? Click here to read a blog that just might speak to you.
These blog entries are written by our very own clinicians. When inspiration hits, another entry will be logged.
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