What can you do if painful memories have come to the surface as a result of the sexual assault Kavanaugh hearings, or any other “me-too” news that rings true to home. First and foremost, BE KIND TO YOURSELF!
Regardless of what our external environment naturally dictates — whether it’s the harsh winter or any other challenge in life — with the right tools, we have the inherent capacity to become the cause of our own well being and happiness — true leaders, if you will. The key is SELF CARE ... that empowers your body, your mind, and your spirit.
As Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist at University of North Carolina, puts it in his interview with Psychology Today, “Social media has created a life-long adolescence.” The best news of all is that we have a choice in the matter and possess within us everything we need to“feel good in our own skin and be happy with who we are.”
Self-love and acceptance influence our peace of mind and joy far beyond our typical understanding and starts first with identifying what is going on in our heads. We often don’t even realize our inner thoughts and the way we talk to our selves about our bodies, and this leaves us vulnerable; we can’t change what we can’t see. A common term among body positive writers is “It’s our mind that bullies our body.”
Being vulnerable can be difficult for anyone, but especially for men. While girls receive plenty of messages to keep their feelings under wraps, recent research continues to show how far society's masculinity soundtrack takes boys off course from connecting with their emotional side. I read an article this week in the New York Times called, Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls by Andrew Reiner. Even I, already sensitive to this issue, was blown away by the studies Reiner cited showing the damaging stereotypical messages boys receive to “man up,” often in concealed ways and starting as early as infants.
From the get-go, even before our son Jeremy was conceived, I felt a strong sense of purpose to raise a boy freed from the limitations of macho-based confidence. From the moment he was born, my parenting thought process was guided by this desire — to help our son be comfortable with his vulnerable emotions, nurture his innate empathy, and appreciate the true strength and courage in being real.
Our society often reinforces a belief system that resilience means suppressing emotions, pushing our way through. Susan David, a Harvard psychologist, says the opposite is true. Rather than suppressing difficult emotions and thoughts, we thrive by becoming Emotionally Agile, meaning “to be with ourselves and our emotions.”
How do we start teaching our sons they can have vulnerable emotions? Here are some tips to consider:
LISTEN WITH EMPATHY
Make it safe to share feelings. The best way to do this is to listen without rushing to a solution or judging. Sometimes our own fears get in the way and we get reactive when our kids feel upset. Just reflect and let the boy or man in your life know you understand. Be on the lookout for signs of fear or sadness, disappointment or insecurity. Ask open-ended questions, like “You seem upset, what’s going on?” “How was your day — what was the best and the worst part?” Actively listen, validate, show you understand and that you want to hear how he feels. It’s always good to show trust and belief in him and his ability to grow stronger from this experience.
MODEL EMOTIONAL OPENNESS
When we ourselves are comfortable with our emotions and our pain, and can express our needs and feelings in a proactive way, kids watch and pick up on this healthy emotional vibe. I asked Jeremy today, now 21, for his perspective on how we (hopefully) taught him, as a boy, to be in touch with his emotions. He texted, “The way you guys live. Anytime something is on your mind you guys tell it how it is— so we can understand, adjust and change if it’s a recurring thing.” Jeremy continued “ … to sit down and talk about things together, be it planning or issues that come up, this made for an evident culture of not holding things in.” While our kids still groan to us when they tease about our family meetings, apparently they were a good thing.
TEACH EMOTIONS 101
Find opportunities to drop little emotion lessons in here and there, first and foremost that emotions are not something to run from or fear. For example, something I learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah, “It’s a strength to 'be with' our pain and not run from it.” Another tidbit of truth: "When we get our feelings out, we feel more in control and less likely to blow up in the wrong place or in the wrong way.”
ENCOURAGE MUSIC, ART, LITERATURE, NATURE, ANIMALS, SPIRITUALITY
Our culture can send messages to boys that the liberal arts side of education is a feminizing idea. Boys have been known to tease and judge each other for these interests. Look for little seeds of interest in the arts or nature, animals or music — and pour on the support. Our son is convinced that his passion for music, and being encouraged to pursue his musicianship, helped him connect to his softer side. He said, “it was easier for me to find my emotions through music.” Sports and video games have their place but they don’t typically open your heart the way the arts and nature do. If spirituality or religion is a part of your life, being open with this in your home, sharing about your journey & what you are learning-- this can help encourage inward turning.
BUY HIM A JOURNAL
Journaling is the tool I suggest most for my clients, more than any other tool, across age, gender and the personal or relationship issue that brings them in. Don’t push it, but suggest a journal or log. Writing our thoughts and feelings down awakens the inner communication channels — and can make it easier to express to others once you’ve gotten more clear of your own inner voice. Identifying our thoughts and feelings can give us a greater sense of control making us less likely to respond with our knee-jerk reaction.
REMIND HIM TO SPEAK FROM HIS HEART
When my husband and I first got married, I soon noticed that it was hard for him to be real. He would ask me for advice on giving a talk at work or writing a card to a friend or family. All I had to say was, “Speak from your heart.” And the perfect message would come through.
FIND A GIRL MENTOR
Whether that’s an older sister, a neighbor or cousin, having a girl close to your son’s age in his life can really make a difference. Not his mom who is miles away generationally, a young positive girl mentor can teach your son how to treat a girl with respect and sensitivity. If she’s mature enough and willing, she can help model how it’s cool to talk about feelings sometimes.
Living authentically is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and vulnerable to address our emotions and frailties, to look at ourselves honestly and to be more real with the people in our lives. That being said, not addressing our emotional side, along with not being true to ourselves, comes with a heavy burden — on our mental health as well as on the fulfillment and satisfaction within our souls.
We are people who need people. We simply cannot reach our true potential without being loved. The paradox is that to attract the right kind of person into our lives, one with whom our love can grow and grow, we must first have a strong connection with our self and the light we possess inside. Only when we are emotionally independent, when we let go of the desperation and intense “need” for someone else to validate or want us, to praise or make us a priority, do we build the proper platform on which to actually draw the love we so desire.
Inherently tricky to navigate for many, in-law strife shows up most especially between mothers- and daughters-in-law. And pouring into the mix the degree of conflict and division from our unprecedented election year 2016, the views and dynamics among all family members- especially in-laws, makes for quite a vulnerable time. Here are some tips to help make the holidays and this relationship go more smoothly this year, and from now on.
Michael Phelps is swimming in Rio, appearing stronger than ever, athletically and mentally. But he has traveled along quite a journey. As privileged and fortunate as high-profile, successful athletes can be, they also have their own burdens to bear. Any human who achieves what Michael Phelps has, coupled with a great and public falling and then rising, becomes a valuable inspiration for us all.
We all have people in our lives with whom we find it difficult to get along. In many cases, we can simply avoid them. However, what if those we “don’t like” are people we just can't get rid of? Like a sibling or parent, or hey what about those in-laws; or maybe it's a coworker or boss, or member of a community in which we are deeply invested. We might wish certain people away, yet the truth is, people we have a hard time getting along with—they are in our lives for a reason. We don’t want to miss the learning opportunity that these challenging people might present for us. Explore this growth-oriented paradigm as a first step in navigating the process of trying to get along.