Featured in 'Ask a Therapist' @IDONTMIND.com
- My parents don't seem to understand the severity of the situation we're in, and they keep dismissing my concerns as 'panic' and telling me that everyone is overreacting. How do I get through to them?
Although you’re technically their child, it sounds like you and your parents have reversed roles. It also sounds like they’re still in the denial phase of grief, as it might be too scary for them to understand and accept the severity and loss inherent in our current situation. You might be able to help them if you communicate from an adult place instead of a parental one and hopefully save yourself from the frustrating experience of trying to control their reaction, which is not in your hands. Try using “I-statements” like “I’m scared that if you don’t…this might happen.” That invites them to respond from their adult, take responsibility, and recognize the potential consequences of their choices. It also gives you a chance to feel like you’re doing your best to help them, which is truly all you can do.
- My dad finally started staying home, but he lives alone and it feels like all he does is complain about being bored and stuck with nothing to do. My siblings and I call and FaceTime a few times a day, but he just complains. How do we help encourage him?
Isolation is one of the most difficult byproducts of our current physical distance mandate, as it’s a recipe for anxiety and depression. It sounds like you and your siblings are doing a great job of maintaining social contact and offering your mom a way to feel supported and connected. Perhaps you could let her know that you understand she’s frustrated and bored and that you recognize that it’s hard to be alone. Ask her directly what it is that you can do to help her feel better. In that way, you give your mom responsibility for her feelings and offer her a way to generate solutions. You also let go of any guilt you may feel because you’re unable to fix or control something that isn’t in your hands. You can only help her if she lets you, and she’s lucky to have kids like you who are willing to help
Mental Health & The Healing Process
- To what extent should you be selfish about prioritizing your mental health?
Be selfish!! Choosing to prioritize your mental health is actually the most generous thing you can do for yourself AND the people you love. You serve others best when you feel happy and healthy, and you can teach others to take care of themselves by example. Truly taking care of you is the best thing you can do for the highest good of all.
- Is it normal to feel bad about feeling better?
It’s totally normal to feel uncomfortable whenever you make a change, and that discomfort is confirmation you’re growing! You may have a bit of “survivor guilt”, which means you might still be blaming yourself for feeling bad and haven’t yet given yourself permission to enjoy feeling better. Feeling bad about feeling better might also be related to the fact that we feel safe with what’s familiar, even if it doesn’t feel good, so feeling better is part of an unknown new experience that can be a bit scary at first but will feel and get even better with time.
- How do I build my self-esteem? I really don’t like myself.
A first step might be to figure out what negative self-talk is running through your mind and where you heard those words first. Chances are they came from a parent figure or as a self-correcting reaction to feeling judged or hurt. Once you identify where the old story came from, eject the tape and replace it with the real truth, the way you would speak to a friend – that you are and always have been truly good enough, just like everyone else.
Then you can build self-esteem by forgiving yourself and others for mistakes we all make, refrain from judging anyone, including you, and actively practice self-compassion. Identify your strengths, make a list of your positive qualities, and be as kind and loving to yourself as you are to people you love the most, internally as well as out loud.
- Why do I feel like I’m never going to be okay?
See if you can figure out what thought patterns are making you feel this way. If you can explore the narrative, perhaps you can identify where that belief system came from, identify the flaws and distortion in your thought process and find a way to reframe the narrative so that you can be a friend to yourself instead of a critic. Ask someone who loves you what qualities they see in you that they like best and reassure yourself with their loving words. When you remind yourself that we’re all okay, including you, not only will you feel better but it will be true. Also, it sounds like you’re scaring yourself about the future. If you focus on the present and just take one day at a time, feeling better today will help you create even a better tomorrow, because when you’re okay, it’s okay.
Issues & Concerns
- What do you suggest for addressing or lessening obsessive thought patterns in this isolated time?
It’s important not to reinforce obsessive thought patterns with compulsive behaviors. You will likely feel anxious if you don’t reinforce the obsessive thoughts, but you can distract yourself and mitigate negative thought patterns with healthy behaviors and activities like physical exercise, mindfulness and meditation. Since anxiety and anger are sometimes opposite sides of the same coin, identify and express any anger you might be feeling in a constructive way, like journaling or talking through how you’re feeling with a friend. Reaching out to others will also help you feel less isolated, so perhaps offer to help someone else in some way. Not wasting your energy on obsessing and instead focusing on constructive action will help to break the cycle and change the negative looping pattern into a positive one.
- What’s the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?
Panic attacks involve intense and overwhelming fear, can happen unexpectedly and are accompanied by physical symptoms. They usually occur because of an external stressor but the specific cause may not be obvious. Anxiety attacks include gradually increasing symptoms of distress, worry, and fear which usually result from the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event. Although both panic and anxiety attacks feel awful, it helps to remember they are not physically harmful and there are lots of great breathing and relaxation techniques that can help you feel safe and calm quite quickly.
- How do you deal with the fear of not making enough out of life?
Fear is a feeling that relates to powerlessness and present action is the means to create the future you dream about. What have you been identifying as “enough” and what are your dreams? When you believe you’re enough, it will be easier to feel like you’re making enough out of your life. If you recognize that making your life fulfilling is in your hands, you can commit to do the best you can every day. Identify your purpose and your passion, set your goals and work on achieving them. Doing your best in the present and letting that be good enough is all you need to make your life good enough today and the next day and the next day…
- Anxiety is preventing me from finding a job, what do you recommend?
Since thoughts create feelings and feelings create behaviors, you might be scaring and/or criticizing yourself, feeling anxious, and stopping yourself from taking steps to find a job. If you can figure out what cognitive tape is making you feel anxious, you can often recognize that it’s not true, just a familiar protective pattern from childhood experiences. Confront the negative or self-critical message and imagine yourself ejecting and replacing it with what you’d tell a friend or loved one in your situation. A therapist can also help you identify and modify the thought pattern so that as you think positively, you’ll feel more relaxed and confident, so it will be easier to take positive action toward achieving your goals.
- What are some of the physical side effects of chronic stress and anxiety?
Chronic stress and anxiety can cause physical side effects in almost every system in your body. If you feel lousy and there doesn’t seem to be a physical cause, anxiety might be the culprit. It can be so severe that ER personnel often see people experiencing panic or anxiety who mistakenly think they’re having heart attacks. That’s your body’s way of telling you to check in and take your emotional temperature as well as to look for a physical cause.
- My mother has depression. Is it possible that I will have it too?
While there is a genetic component to depression, since you grew up watching your mother’s struggle, you probably have a greater awareness of red flags that signify depressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The good news is that awareness and knowledge is power, so you are also uniquely equipped to notice any warning signs early and take active steps to avoid and remedy them.
- When I get depressed, I feel anger instead of sadness. Is this normal?
Yes! Episodic depression is typically anger turned inward. You are likely aware of feeling blame instead of shame. Shifting to anger instead of sadness is actually a step in the right direction, and expressing the anger in a constructive way will help you to release it. Then forgive the other party as well as yourself and you’ll probably notice that both the anger and the sadness have lifted. Let go and you will likely let it go.
- What are some things that someone with PTSD can do to make daily life more tolerable?
PTSD can make a person feel vulnerable, helpless, and alone. Activities that can help you regain a sense of control, connection, and security include: 1) taking positive action to help others which increases your sense of competence and confidence; 2) engaging in outdoor activities to reconnect with nature and releases your endorphins; 3) being around positive people to help you regain a sense of belonging and reassurance; 4) meditating and using relaxation strategies to decrease anxiety; and 5) reminding yourself of your strengths and coping skills. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, talk to someone with whom you can confide. As you tell your story, you release the trauma that has been locked away inside which helps the healing happen.
- How can I help myself to deal with sexual trauma without telling anyone?
Frankly, recovering from sexual trauma without disclosing it to anyone is a tall order. Could you at least discuss the issue anonymously through a sexual assault hotline? If so, that might help you manage all the residual feelings and resulting psychological and emotional symptoms that stem from being traumatized. If you’re still not ready for that, then perhaps reading books that relate to recovery from sexual assault would help you heal from the trauma enough to begin to talk it out and work it out. In the meantime, reconnect to your body in healthy ways like exercise and meditation, nurture yourself, be patient with you, write down the things you’re not able to say yet in a journal, and stay connected to other people, especially those who love you.
- How can I help my conservative parents come to terms with the fact that I’m gay?
Be patient and give them a chance to get used to what you’ve known for a while. They will likely have an emotional reaction and will need time to address their own feelings before they can understand yours. Let them know you’re still you and you still love them. You may feel like the roles have been reversed and you’re the parent because you know more about this than they do. It might help to refer them to books or resources like “This Is A Book For Parents of Gay Kids” and you can offer to answer their questions when they’re ready to ask. Most importantly, remember that judgment is just misdirected fear, and love is the antidote to both.
- I think I’m transgender but I’m so scared that people won’t accept me or believe me. What should I do?
It takes a lot of courage to explore your gender identity, so be patient with yourself as you learn to know and lovingly accept who you really are. Identity is fluid and gender isn’t binary, so there are no hard lines, which sometimes makes self-definition even harder. It can help a great deal to talk with other trans people who have been through the same process and are open to helping others along the way. When you are ready to share, if others react negatively, you can refer them to reliable outside sources of information and remember their reaction may not be because they’re judging, but because they’re scared for you, so be patient with them as well as yourself.
- I lost a family member to coronavirus. How do I handle the feelings of loss?
I am so sorry for your loss. Feelings of loss are completely normal when someone you love dies, and probably compounded now because we’ve all lost so much given all that has changed because of the pandemic. Please give yourself permission to grieve and release your feelings physically, emotionally, and verbally. The fact that this happened in a time when you can’t be physically surrounded by others who also loved your family member makes the loss and potential feelings of isolation even more difficult to manage. Even though we’re practicing social distancing, you can still reach out for comfort from and offer comfort to others who are also suffering. Since grief is just love with nowhere to go, your relationship with your family member doesn’t really end, it just changes. Practice self-compassion, and allow a part of you to come alive in honor of the person you lost. The love continues as the pain eventually begins to fade, and something wonderful about the family member you lost will live on in you.
- It’s been nearly a month since my dad passed away. I’ve tried talking about it, but it makes me even more sad. What should I do?
You are likely still in the acute phase of grief where nothing but pain feels possible. Time does help with the healing process, as long as you’re allowing your feelings to flow. Since grief is essentially just love with nowhere to go, let your feelings out and eventually you will notice that the cup of your tears is less full. You will heal as you feel, so allow yourself to let the love you have toward your dad to be released through your sadness and memories of him will eventually surface that make you smile as well as cry.
SELF-HARM & STRUGGLING
- Are you considered suicidal if you would do anything to die but refuse to kill yourself?
Wishing to die is known as passive suicidality or suicidal ideation, whereas thinking about taking action to take your own life is considered active suicidal intent. Although the latter is a more urgent cause for concern, feeling like you belong in either of those categories should be taken seriously. It’s important to reach out to a professional who can help you feel better as well as stay safe. Your life is too important to risk and if you’re not sure about that, please ask the people who love you to help you remember that you are loved and that you belong in the world.
- I feel like I’m drowning and need to get something off my chest, what do I do?
Talk to someone! Anyone. And if you can’t talk to someone, write it down without censoring. Telling your deepest truth to yourself and anyone else you choose to share it with can help to remind you that your feelings are OK and so are you.
- Why do I self-harm even though my life is fine?
Having a life that’s “fine” doesn’t mean you don’t have painful or difficult feelings. Sometimes, the fact that life is going “fine” according to external measures makes a person believe that having negative feelings is not ok. This causes people to repress emotional pain, anxiety, or anger. When you’re suppressing negative feelings, self-harm may make you feel better for a little while, as it serves as a release. However, those same negative feelings tend to return quickly and worsen, as you may typically feel guilt and shame for self-harming as well. The process can become a vicious cycle but there are healthier ways to cope, starting with remembering that we all feel the same feelings and can learn how to manage and release them in ways that don’t harm anyone, including us.
- What’s the difference between bipolar and manic depression?
Bipolar disorder, manic-depressive illness and manic depression are essentially synonymous terms to describe a serious mood disorder. Bipolar symptoms and severity can vary widely. Activity levels, energy, sleep patterns and behaviors can change dramatically as the person’s mood fluctuates between intense highs (manic phase) and lows (depressive phase). If you are concerned someone you know may be suffering from bipolar disorder, encourage them to seek psychological help as the disorder tends to worsen without intervention and treatment, but help is out there.
Issues With Others
- What are some ways I can deal with social anxiety?
Some great ways to deal with social anxiety include breathing techniques and simple conversational strategies. Take a couple of deep breaths before entering a social situation and focus on making your exhale longer than your inhale. That will activate a part of your nervous system which helps you relax. Remember that most people in the room will be feeling the same anxiety, so engage others in a way that makes it a one-to-one or small group conversation instead of a mass of strangers. Then ask two questions, wait for their answers and offer one piece of info. Like, “How are you doing? How do you know the host? I’m Lynn.” Keep that up until the conversation takes a natural turn and you’ll not only help yourself relax but will help the other person feel more comfortable, too.
- What are some healthy ways to stop feeling lonely?
Weirdly, it helps us feel more connected to give than it does to receive. (ps – this works for feeling loved as well, but that’s a whole other conversation). So, if you can offer some time or energy to someone else in need, you feel good about you and they feel better, too. Another helpful way to feel like you belong is to meditate, which provides a spiritual sense of being connected to everyone and everything. Lastly, it’s always good to join a group where you have a built-in common interest like hiking, theatre, etc. You’ll be doing something you enjoy and meeting other people with whom you already have something in common.
- I’m being bullied at school. What should I do?
There are lots of ways to handle bullying. Tell the bully assertively to stop it, walk away, laugh it off and stay away from groups where the bully tends to hang out. If you’ve already tried to deal with a bully directly but the behavior has continued, tell a trusted authority figure at school and tell your parents. Beyond and above all else, do not take anything the bully says or does personally because it’s not about you – it’s about them. People who feel good about themselves don’t bully other people but hurt people hurt people so remember it’s actually their problem and not yours.
FAMILY & PARENTS
- My family would rather pray instead of getting me medication or therapy. What should I do?
You can let them know you appreciate the prayers and respect their belief system, but believe you need some additional, professional help. It might be possible to get faith-based counseling if you would like to start there. If you’re 18 or over, you can seek treatment on your own, which will be completely confidential. Otherwise, each state has different rules regarding parental consent. The difficult decision will then be whether or not to let your family know or simply to take that step on your own. You can maintain your privacy or say you know they want you to be healthy and happy even if they disagree with the means you’re choosing to help you feel better, so you’d like them to respect your choice as much as you respect theirs.
- My parents don’t believe me when I say I’m depressed. How should I deal with this?
It’s probably scary for them to think their child is struggling with depression and frustrating for you not to feel heard or understood by them. You can certainly give your parents some reading material from a reputable source concerning depression, symptoms, and recommended treatment strategies. If they’re still not open to the idea, you can also seek treatment on your own and invite them into the process when you feel ready so your therapist can help them understand you better and learn what they can do to support you more.
- How do you tell your family you’re having suicidal thoughts?
The fact that you’re asking that question is already a great first step. Just tell the truth about how you’re feeling and what you’ve been thinking and be honest. Ask them to support you and perhaps for help getting help to make sure you stay safe.
- Can my abusive husband change?
Without more information, it’s difficult to say if your husband is likely to change. Has he acknowledged responsibility for his behavior and taken any proactive steps to address and remedy his abusive behavior? It is unlikely that someone with longstanding patterns of abuse can change without professional help and if the behavior goes untreated it is likely to progress in frequency and severity, affecting you and any children you may have. The good news is that you recognize the problem and you can change, and if you change, it will change. It is crucial that you have a place to be safe. Please make contact with a domestic violence agency in your community who can help you protect yourself and your family with information, support, treatment, shelter, and help.
- How do I tell a friend that I think they need professional help?
What a good friend you must be to be asking that question in the first place! The answer is simple. Do so gently and lovingly. Use I-statements to let your friend know that you care, you’re concerned, you want them to be healthy and happy, and ask them what you can do to help. You might also want to start by asking if they’re open to hearing what you think. Just focus on the process and not the outcome. Remind yourself that all you can do is your best to invite the change you’re hoping for them to make and even if they’re not ready to seek professional help now, your words may come back to them when they’re open to take that step.
- How do you help a friend living with Bipolar Disorder?
Offer an ear and full-hearted acceptance. Listen if they’d like to talk. It can be difficult to know how to help a friend deal with an issue you’ve never experienced personally, but everyone has felt scared or sad or angry, which is what they’re likely feeling, too. Ask them how you can help and reassure them that you care so they feel supported and you get to feel good about helping your friend.
- I noticed scars on my mom’s arms. I think it’s self-harm. How do I talk to her about it?
Gently, but honestly and directly. You can let her know you noticed the marks on her arms and tell her you’re concerned that she might be hurting herself. Given that self-harm is often considered a physicalized, unhealthy coping mechanism for emotional suffering, convey caring and support by asking her what’s going on and invite her to talk about it. Sometimes just having the secret out in the open can be a first step and if she doesn’t volunteer much information, you can just let her know you’d like to listen when she’s ready. You can also let her know you’d feel a lot better if you knew she was safe and ask what you can do to get her some help. Since she’s your mom, she may more motivated to take action to help herself when she realizes hurting herself may be hurting the people she loves the most as well.
- As a teacher, how can I help parents that are in denial about their child’s need for therapy?
It might help to reassure them that the fact that their child might benefit from therapy is not a negative reflection on their parenting skills. You can talk about how therapy might benefit the child in school which might feel more practical and more comfortable for them. Also, they might be more open to the process if they’re involved, so you could suggest they ask the therapist to help them understand what they can do to help their child. Hopefully, they won’t be as resistant if they feel like they’re partnering with a therapist like they do with you, as a teacher.
THERAPY & THERAPISTS
- I’m going to a therapist and I don’t feel like she’s helping. What should I do?
Tell her how you feel! It may be scary, but most therapists welcome the opportunity to hear from clients what they need and talk through ways that might be of more help. Since they’re good with feelings but can’t read minds, they are usually happy to adjust the treatment modality to something that might work better for you. And if they understand what you’d like differently and can’t accommodate your request comfortably, they can usually refer you to a different therapist who might be a better fit.
- I want to get help, but I don’t have insurance to pay for therapy and I’m a bit scared. What should I do?
Seeking therapy means you’ve acknowledged that you need some assistance, which can be scary in and of itself, but help is out there. There are plenty of low-cost therapy facilities based on a person’s ability to pay that you can access through community resource directories. Also, some graduate schools that train professional therapists have associated programs where student trainees or interns see clients on a very low or no-fee basis. Those interns are supervised by licensed clinicians who are knowledgeable in the latest theories and techniques, so you’ll likely be in good hands. You can also ask a licensed therapist if they have a sliding fee scale and if not, they are usually happy to provide referrals to other agencies or clinicians they know and trust.
- I’ve been in therapy for a year and I feel like my therapist and I are stuck. We’re not moving forward. What should I do?
Use those tools you’ve hopefully learned in therapy and tell your therapist what you’re feeling! Even the best therapist cannot read your mind, so fill them in on what’s going on with you and give them a chance to help you get unstuck. Chances are you’ll both feel better, and if the therapist doesn’t feel they can help you, they can offer suggestions about a person or place that might be able to help you more effectively.
- I’m worried my therapist will be disappointed that I’ve relapsed. What should I do?
If recovery was easy, no one would need a therapist to help them maintain sobriety. Given that the most recent stats for substance abuse include a 40 – 60% relapse rate, therapists are well aware of the likelihood of a relapse while you’re working on yourself. Shame and withholding truth actually increase the potential for relapse. Given that your therapist wishes the best for you, they’d rather have your truth and are not disappointed when you stumble. And, since establishing a trusting relationship that includes honesty is a significant predictor of success in therapy, just tell them you’ve slipped and let them help you get back up and on the road to recovery.
- Do therapists have therapists?
Yes, we do! Therapists are required to participate in personal therapy in order to complete licensure. Although not all therapists continue therapy after licensure, the majority of us do, and we would certainly seek professional help if we were struggling with a personal issue we couldn’t work through independently. We’re also committed to making sure our personal issues don’t impact our clients negatively, so we try to use the tools we have learned to cope with our stuff and seek supervision to make sure we’re doing the best we can for our clients. Practicing what we preach and walking what we talk are fundamental and intrinsic characteristics of good therapists