Positive Reframe on Aging… “Alive Inside”

I highly recommend watching the documentary Alive Inside. For like a year, I have seen this documentary on Netflix and it was always calling me. Yet because I felt I already knew how healing music is and about human development, I kept scrolling by. But WOW! Even though it was a lot of what I know including brain development and how vital relationships and touch are for life and death, throughout the documentary, I felt elated and when I finished watching it, I was filled with tears of joy and goosebumps.

“One Good Thing About Music, When it Hits You Feel No Pain”- Bob Marley

The concept of music being healing was first validated for me when I read Deepak Chopra’s book, Timeless Body, Ageless Mind. He explained how your cells in your body will actually go back in time to feel how you actually felt during a specific time in your life dependent on the music playing at that stage. Thus, if you listen to your favorite music during your greatest times in life, then you will feel all those same feelings with the same intensity.

Since discovering, whenever someone is sick or sad, I ask them what their favorite music is and play it every time they are around me. When my father-in-law had lost his singing voice after a stroke and came to visit me, unbeknownst to him, I played his favorite music throughout his week-long visit and his voice strengthened. When my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and I was living overseas, I created a YouTube station for him and sent him songs on a regular basis. Although he did die, his wife said he loved the songs and I know that I was able to give him pockets of joy in his last months.

What I also love about this documentary is it highlights how sick and depriving our systems are. Synchronously, I opened up Leo Buscaglia’s book Living, Loving, & Learning and this passage jumped at me:

“Every human being requires conversation and friendship. Why do we assume that the needs of older people stop there? The body may creak a little but there is no arteriosclerosis of emotions. Older people literally hunger for caring and affection and physical touching just like anybody.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have focused my profession on children, parenting, and relationships as I want to help rewrite the blueprints we have when the brain is most sensitive and receptive, conception to age 7, in order to best to cultivate a culture whose natural response is to nurture throughout all our stages, especially at times of grief, dis-ease, and stress. Here’s a quote that relates to this and has inspired me immensely:

“[Yet] our babies are starving. Oh they have plenty of food. Our children are starving for touch; they are starving for us. Our children are starving for human interaction and human relationships…We have become advanced in some ways but, at present, our culture is developmentally ignorant. We are a child illiterate culture. We think somehow that it is better for a child to learn letters and words from television than from a parent talking with their baby. We have lost our core child-rearing truths… And there is nothing more essential to a developing child than human touch, infants rarely touched can actually become ill and die.” -Dr Bruce Perry, excerpt from the preface of Move Baby Move by Sofie Foster and Jerome Hartigan

Here’s a description of Music Alive:

“… a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity… chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music… reveals the uniquely human connection we find in music and how its healing power can triumph where prescription medication falls short.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HLEr-zP3fc

http://www.aliveinside.us/#alive-inside-theater

Every day is a gift to open with joy and curiosity.

Please be a present to everyone you meet!

Let go, fear less, love more ~Debra

Negative thoughts and the gift of rising again

One day, my son was feeling badly about not living up to his potential. He expressed negative beliefs of “not being a good enough, being lazy, stupid, feeling guilty/shame about his choices and behaviors.” It hurts me tremendously to hear him share these deep negative beliefs as they are the same ones I have battled through much of my life and often triggers me into a dismissive reaction. Thus, no matter how much my partner and I told him how much we loved him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted our attempts. As a therapist, I know too well that our reactions and attempts to minimize his emotional pain were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being a parent, feeling so responsible and sad for hearing your magnificent child feel so bad is hard to accept and cope with, especially on top of all of life’s other stresses.

After becoming conscious of my own insecurities and triggers, I then chose to respond by cuddling with him and remaining silent as he cried and vented. I agreed how painful this must feel. I apologized for the times my actions have led him to feel this way and that I will keep working on improving myself. I then shared a story of how I woke up early yesterday and caught a glimpse of the intense orange from the sunrise.  I was reminded how blessed we are that *God gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are really just symbols of the gifts God gives us everyday. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again to be more kind, helpful and align our beliefs with our actions.

My son immediately said “Thank You,” gave me a kiss and popped up exuberantly. He began to hug and say “thank you” to all the many items on his bed: his books; his new big, blue, soft  blanket; his giant stuffed elephant, his fan, his light, etc.  I then read him some stories, the last one was being I Believe In Me. Listening, holding a safe place, using respectful touch, and acknowledging feelings allows negativity to process which naturally leads to calming down and making new connections. The next morning, I was awoken early by my son meditating “Ohmmm, Ohmmm, Ohmmm.” He was inspired to start his day on a positive note.  I wish every one to see the beauty and miracles given everyday and when you don’t, forgive yourself and others, and rise again.

Deep breaths and baby steps,

~Debra

*I believe God is universal and defined by what feels best for you and your family’s belief system.

lessons from my son

I wrote this poem about my parenting journey with my son which has been published in the book, Poetry of Yoga  by HawaH

I thought I knew it all

                                          Then you were born.

You touched my soul to no end:

          Your cries burrowed a well

                     Stirred my consciousness

                                   Awakened humility

A collaboration of love and labor in its purest form.

I see my reflection in your brilliance and turbulence;

                 Shadows of the past to heal

                                 Vital needs to nurture

                                              Dreams to actualize

You have much to teach me

                                                        I am ready to learn.

 ev smilesmeditation

Teaching responsibility

When my son was three, he had a small snow globe with Pluto the dog in it. Every time he’d play with it, I would say, “Be careful, it is glass so if it falls it will break.” One night, he played with it intensely, not heeding my warning, he dropped it and it shattered. My plutoinitial reaction was one of exasperation and panic as I quickly removed him from the area. I fought back the impulse to snap, “I told you so… you didn’t listen” but I know he still felt that negative energy as he felt horrible, broke down in tears and was inconsolable. My husband and I both hugged him, and I stated, “It is my fault because I should have taken it away from you. I knew better.” I calmly as possible suggested he go play with his miniature sandbox and he agreed that would make him feel better.

I think many would be taken back that I took responsibility in this situation (and I do this in most parenting situations). I frequently get comments about how will he learn responsibility? How will he learn if there are no consequences? I was first exposed to this response in a training for regulatory parenting. The presenter, Juli Alvarado, gave numerous examples of “taking responsibility” topping with a story about her standing before a judge for a foster child and stating that she will take responsibility for his actions. These stories surprised me because they were counterintuitive to what I was raised to think, but her reasoning, and better yet the progress, sold me.

So I will apply the reasoning to the situation with my son. First off, there were consequences. They were natural and inherent in that specific situation like sadness and grief for a broken cherished item which we never replaced; instant feelings of guilt for knowing he broke the snow globe; added negative feelings from disappointing his mother; time away from his mother whilst cleaning up. Also, I did not take responsibility for him, I took responsibility for my behaviors. To be honest, I have problems setting limits and being firm as well as lacked the tolerance to deal with my son’s negative reaction if I did take the snow globe away. It was not appropriate for me to expect a three-year-old to truly conceptualize the risk and control himself. Ideally, it is the parent who is the one with more knowledge, more experience, more skills, more resources and is responsible for meeting the needs of a child.

By me taking responsibility, I decreased the negative energy (i.e. blame, disappointment, shame) being absorbed by my son as well as calmed myself down. All negative behavior comes from a state of stress (see Stress Model by Dr. Bryan Post ). When we are stressed, we usually react negatively and inappropriately. Scolding, raising my voice, or punishing would only add more stress, which a child (and most humans) can’t handle as well as escalate the situation. It also causes the child to focus on and retain negative feelings about the parent as well as lessen their ability to internalize the actual event and subsequent lesson. When we are calm, we are able to respond gently by becoming aware of as many variables as possible and collaboratively problem solve effectively. I was also role-modeling for my son how to take responsibility.

Teaching Responsibility = Role-Modeling the Ability to identify your role in the negative dynamic & Respond appropriately to get needs met

I believe we all deserve respect and compassion so “appropriately” to me means with respect, compassion, and guidance based on context, skill level, and temperament. There are complaints that there is not enough discipline and kids have no respect anymore. I agree in part as many are behaving how they are treated. I believe discipline means to teach and to control oneself, and that everyone deserves respect, especially children, and our society is extremely disrespectful to children. I think we need more positive, respectful, and responsible role models.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear a parent or adult snap “Don’t you raise your voice to me!” in their elevated and harsh tone, and the countless other times that parents lose control of themselves. Another common parenting contradiction is “Don’t hit her sister/brother!” then threat…”I’ll spank you if…” and then the child witnesses or experiences domestic violence. I once heard Dr. Bruce Perry comment, “If you speak English, you learn English; if you speak rudeness, violence, anger, then you learn rudeness, violence, anger…”How is one able to learn respect and empathy when they are rarely given any? Or only given when certain conditions are met depending on someone else’s mood or power?

I really wish adults would become aware of their power, their feelings, and mood as well as notice all the things they complain about or demand of their child (and partners). Then, I want parents to really reflect on how many times they have committed a similar offense of overreacting with heightened negativity. I continue to do this experiment and I have yet to find a time I have NOT behaved or reacted in a similar, negative way. I then choose to hold my complaint until I have successfully worked on changing my own behavior.  By then, I have gained enough insight and empathy for the person that the original complaint seems hypocritical, unreasonable, and even petty in some cases. A child will learn more positive skills and values from a vulnerable and calm adult who reflects on and changes their own behavior than a defensive and angry person who threatens consequences and dismisses their child’s needs and feelings. I know threats and punishments seem to work, but they work for the wrong reasons and promote more destruction than you can imagine, at so many levels.

So back to my son and the broken snow globe…after about 15 minutes, my son called to me. He said he felt better and asked if I would help put his sandbox away to keep it safe. I did and we went to his room for story time. He immediately went to the spot where he broke the globe and calmly said, “I am sorry Mommy for breaking it.” I accepted his sincere apology and we got back to our bedtime ritual. Reflecting on this event, I wish my response had no shaming tone to it, though I know realistically how difficult it is to have a neutral tone and there is inherent value to have my son experience processing negative reactions from others, especially with people he loves so deeply. Since this event, I learned the benefits of avoiding saying “Be Careful” and to make more specific, related statements. Click here to learn more about what to say instead of “Be Careful”

Parenting is a journey; a portal to growth, healing, and connection and like our best lessons, can only be learned through a conscious and compassionate process of trial and error.  You have no power to change or improve anything if you are not aware of your own role in the dynamics. Fortunately, neuroscience is proving that the brain develops optimally and cultivates positive connections when we are supported by at least one calm, nurturing, and safe caregiver and there are so many fun, respectful, and mutually satisfying ways to achieve this. My son is now a teenager and he amazes me daily with his integrity, empathy, and responsiveness. He consistently role-models responsibility to his younger sister and his peers, he genuinely apologizes and changes his behaviors on his own as well as holds others accountable for their negative reactions. He is the most responsible and compassionate teen I have ever known, and yes, I am biased 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite articles on discipline and natural consequences:

The Word DISCIPLINE Means “to Teach or Train”

What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/natural-consequences

What is meant by “Parenting Beyond Consequences” by Heather T Forbes

Take wonderful care of yourself and family,

Debra

You can learn more about me and my services here at WeCounsel

Disclaimer

Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA

Healing Song

I have inherited some devastating negative core beliefs that get triggered easily like when anything goes wrong, I instantly feel that It’s all my fault. When I break something or make a mess, I feel I am a complete failure and utterly stupid. Sadly, I have unconsciously passed this same negative tape onto my son. It has grown more apparent the more I expand my awareness for it. Even though I know they are not true, they still feel very real to my body, mind, and soul and as much I tell myself and my son they are not true, we need to heal and rewrite in the moments we feel them the most.

As we were getting ready to leave the house one day, he boisterously bounced into the wall and a picture frame crashed to the floor. As I am aware that things breaking are one of my triggers, my body viscerally reacted negatively. Almost simultaneously, my son hung his head down saying  ”I’m so stupid.” As soon as possible, I told myself out loud to “let it go” and move onto to next step. Unexpectedly, he went back to the frame to try to fix it and I reacted negatively again as I was afraid he’d get hurt from glass and we were under a time crunch.

His head hung in shame again, he stammered toward the door, muttering “It’s all my fault.”

The next feelings and thoughts poured through me in a matter of milliseconds….At first I was filled with anger and disappointment of how could he feel so bad about himself; how I don’t have the time to deal with this now; how many times do we have to go through this…then feelings of guilt and shame came of  how could I have let this self-hatred seep into my son’s self-consciousness and how come I cannot heal us both and get over it…

I caught the negative tape going wild in my mind and chose to give myself and my son the same love and compassion I wish to give everyone.

As my son turned the door handle to escape outside, I told myself I must not let him start his day this way. I ran to him as boisterously as he bounced into the wall just moments before, pulled his head up and bellowed “Raise your head.” As this was happening so quickly, I could still feel the tension in my hands.  His look instantly told me to get my body, tone, and words to match the message of love I wanted to give. I hugged him and began singing,

I love you no matter what glass breaks.

I kissed him in tune to my melody on his cheek and I looked at his eyes as they began to well up. I continued to sing:

I love you no matter what breaks.

again I repeatedly kissed him on his cheek and as I saw tears beginning to fall, I sang:

You could knock the house down and all I would care is that you were safe and sound.

followed with more kisses, he tearfully said,

“That is the kindest thing I have ever heard.”

I responded that every word of it was true and we hugged. His younger sister who was watching the whole thing then joyfully pleaded, “I want kisses on the cheek too.” We went on to have a great day and I believe some of those negative messages have healed.

The Love We All Need and Deserve

 “The essential message of unconditional love is one of liberation: You can be whoever you are, express all your thoughts and feelings with absolute confidence. You do not have to be fearful that love will be taken away. You will not be punished for your openness and honesty…There may be days when disagreements and disturbing emotions may become between us. There may be times when psychological or physical miles may lie between us. But I have given my word of my commitment…So feel free to be yourself, to tell me of your negative and positive reactions. I cannot always predict my reactions or guarantee my strength, but one thing I do know: I will not reject you! I am committed to your growth and happiness… There is nothing else that can expand the human soul, actualize the human potential for growth, or bring a person into the full possession of life than a love which is unconditional. We have labored for so long under the delusion that corrections, criticism, and punishments stimulate a person to grow. We have rationalized the taking out our own unhappiness and incompleteness in many destructive ways…Unconditional love is the only soil in which the seed of a human person can grow…Of course, free will is a factor in every human life. Everyone must say his or her ‘yes’ to growth and integrity. But there are prerequisites. And one of these is someone must empower me to believe in myself and to be myself. ”

 Excerpt from Unconditional Love  by John Powell

Family Hug

This description of love is the epiphany of what I aspire to cultivate. I am blessed to reap the benefits of this intense connection. My marriage has liberated (and challenged) me in ways I have never dreamed of. The problem often comes that although we all deserve unconditional love, when we are not getting it, our fears, negative core beliefs, and most insecure parts of ourselves get triggered.

Our defense mechanisms ensue, resulting in a host of negative reactions and cognitive distortions. We become hyper-focused on the threats and negativity. It very quickly becomes a volcano of negative thoughts, feelings, triggers, unmet needs and hurt. As the unprocessed pain keeps building, our minds, bodies and hearts become overwhelmed with stress, and resentment takes over. This negative chain of reactions unconsciously distorts our efforts to give our love unconditionally as well as thwarting those who wish to give it to us.

I see this pattern push children and adults over the edge and make amok of marriages. We wonder how a couple can be so in love on their wedding day then filing for restraining orders or divorce years later. When I listen to people talk to or about their children and/or partner, I am not surprised by our state of affairs.  So when your child says they hate you, or your partner says they no longer love you (although we usually “act out” way before ever saying this, and kids are more honest and direct), do you retaliate with the things they did wrong or truly listen and empathize with their fears, feelings, pain, and needs?…

We are biologically wired to be in relationship. We need one another to feel seen, safe, soothed, and secure. We will naturally still get triggered and activate defense mechanisms to protect ourselves but what matters most is how we choose to respond and get needs met in proactive, nurturing ways once we are aware of out negative reactions. We heal best and regain trust through connection, when we feel safe and supported in a relationship with another. Every moment is a gift to transform fear to love, suffering to resilience, reaction to response. We are all born with the innate resources we need to choose wisely. Slow down, notice what you are sensing… breathe…this will connect you to your innate intelligence so you may choose to respond and align your intentions with your actions and thoughts.