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Have you ever had a friend or family member who responded to nearly every comment you made with a grimace and a curt, “Not me. I’m exactly the opposite.”? Did you feel shot down? (“Yikes, she hates me,” you thought.) Or perhaps you’ve had a friend who said, “Me too!” when you declared your love of raisin bread—even though you’re well aware she hates raisins in her food. (You can’t help but think, “What a brown-noser.”) What about those friends who walk off in a pout, and you have no idea what you said—but you know you must have said something? (“Fine!” you think. “Have fun on your own . . .”)

Or maybe . . . just maybe, if you’re lucky . . . you have one of those friends who has the knack of making you feel connected because they really listen, but they also share. They may not always agree with you, but they know how to disagree without making you feel like an idiot. You know they care about you because they’re honest with you, but they temper their comments with compassion, understanding and conscious thought, and you know they have your back because they have proven they have the courage and character to keep a confidence.

Maybe you would love to be that person, but instead you recognize yourself in one of the first three scenarios, and you’ve noticed that your approach doesn’t always work for you in helping you connect with others. If only there was an easy-to-read handbook that offered a simple model for navigating these interpersonal issues and helping you become that special person that everyone gravitates toward. (Here’s where you expect me to tell you that there is.) And surprise!—Here you go.

In his book The 3 Dimensions of Emotion, psychologist Sam Alibrando suggests that the key to success in interpersonal relationships is to balance the way we relate to one another in three emotional dimensions. Scientists refer to these dimensions as “fight, flight or freeze,” but this triad is known under many other terms. “Power, love and a sound mind,” for instance, or as psychologist Elias Porter classified them, “Assertive, Altruistic, and Analytic.” Alibrando refers to them as Red (fight/power), Blue (freeze/heart) and Yellow (flight/mindfulness).

All three dimensions add something positive to our interactions when they are in balance. But each also has a dark side: particularly when not balanced by the other two modes. For instance, if you operate primarily as Red (fight/power), you pay more attention to the differences between yourself and others. Your first emotional instinct is to diverge, and you’re the one who is likely to say, “Not me. I’m not like you.” In balance with Blue and Yellow, Red is the basis for courage, protectiveness and confidence. But without the influence of the other two dimensions, Red mode can come across as aggressive, critical, hurtful and angry.

In Blue mode (freeze/heart) you converge: you don’t want to pick a fight; you want to focus on similarities because you know that’s where you find connection. In balance, this mode is the basis for empathy and support, but without being tempered by the other two modes, Blue can come across as helpless, subservient, too deferential.

In Yellow mode (flight/mindfulness) you want to shut people out—drop out of the action, go silent and observe. In balance, Yellow is a sound mind: the basis for self-awareness, patience, calm objectivity and careful consideration. But without the empathy of Blue and the courage of Red, Yellow is left isolated, aloof, indifferent and disconnected.

In conflict, someone acting out of negative Red mode is likely to go on the attack with impatient criticism and blame. In negative Yellow, their spouse or friend might respond by retreating—going silent, disconnecting emotionally. Or a Blue spouse or friend might give up his or her agenda completely, presenting a compliant front simply to appease the other.

Most of us have developed a habitual approach based on our past experience. But with mindful self-awareness we can tweak our style. And as Alibrando points out, when it comes to managing our relationships, our style is the obvious place to start any program for change—for the simple reason that I can’t change anyone but me, and you can’t change anyone but you. But the changes we make to our own reactivity do influence the reactions of others and will usually (though perhaps not in the most extreme cases) make a tremendous difference to the overall outcome. As Alibrando says, “What are the 3 most important things to do when managing a difficult person? 1. Manage yourself first, 2. Manage yourself first, 3. Manage yourself first.”

What does that mean, practically speaking? Alibrando recommends a strategy he calls “working the triangle.” This exercise is less about focusing on what we’re doing that’s unhealthy and more about focusing on what we’re not doing that is healthy. For instance, the best way to overcome a tendency to criticize and blame (unhealthy Red), is to take the time to stop, think and listen objectively (healthy Yellow); and with the resulting calm, express your feelings (healthy Red) with kindness, in love and humility (healthy Blue).

If you have a friend or a spouse who is courageous, protective, honest and confident (positive Red), while also supportive, empathic, respectful and appreciative (positive Blue) and who responds—even to your reddest attacks—with patience and calm reflection (positive yellow) . . . then you have something to be truly grateful for this Thanksgiving. You might want to look up Alibrando’s book so you can become the same gift to them that they are to you.

vanityToday a study about narcissism came across my press feed, and I found it a bit disturbing. Not so much because of what the researchers discovered, but because of the use to which their discoveries were being put. Most of us are interested in the kind of psychology research aimed at helping individuals overcome mental health challenges, but this wasn’t that sort of research. Rather, the study was aimed at helping retailers exploit a common but potentially damaging human attribute in order to make more money. Published in the Journal of Retailing, the research report offers marketers new insight into how they can get into your (and my) wallet via our own narcissistic tendencies—and how they can manipulate us into tapping into those tendencies more often. And lest we harbor any illusions to the contrary, yes, we all have them. It’s only a question of degree.

Using the example of the automobile industry to show how narcissism can be exploited in marketing strategies, the researchers explain that many firms currently offer options that allow customers to self-design their products to make them unique. “Yet,” they write, “field evidence indicates that few shoppers fully use these systems. For example, most consumers select standard colors (black or white) rather than customize a car with a unique paint treatment (like volcano red).”

In four studies, they pursued the question of how narcissism can increase a customer’s desire to buy more of these uniquely designed products. For instance, in one study they found that car buyers who score higher on measures of narcissism will self-design more unique cars. Another study showed that specific marketing techniques can lull consumers into a “temporary” narcissistic state of mind. “For example,” the researchers said, “customers were shown an automobile advertisement with the slogan, ‘You impress. Like the new Audi A6,’ that capitalized on their desire for admiration.” Overall, customers that were intentionally manipulated into this “narcissistic state” made similar choices to customers who normally scored higher on measures of narcissistic traits: both groups chose significantly more unique and expensive cars than control groups.

Effective manipulation tactics are fairly simple, it seems. The researchers found that you don’t really have to target all the true narcissists in your customer base. All you have to do is create narcissistic states in your ordinary customers. But how do you do this?

“A Nike tagline ‘my mass-customized Nike shoes look amazing,’ could be changed to ‘my mass-customized Nike shoes impress,’ to induce a narcissistic state that encourages a consumer to self-design a unique product,” said David Sprott, WSU marketing professor and co-author of the study. In summary, he writes “An increasing number of retailers and manufacturers provide their customers with the opportunity to create individualized, unique products,” said Sprott. “Our research suggests that firms should consider customers’ narcissistic tendencies as well as the ability to influence their current states of mind to exploit the largely untapped potential of mass customization systems.”

Well, that sounds easy enough. And fortunately for retailers, levels of narcissism are judged to be increasing steadily, perhaps even thanks in part to the encouragement of their successful manipulative marketing campaigns.

We’ve all heard the accusation that we are all becoming narcissists.

But when do we call someone a narcissist? Is it when their narcissistic behaviors impede our own? Or is it only when they meet the official criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)? And when is that, anyway?

The most common measurement used to evaluate narcissistic tendencies is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). This inventory evaluates on a continuum, so most of us will be assessed as less narcissistic than some and more narcissistic than others. There’s no cutoff score that defines a “narcissist.” A median is determined on the basis of the range of typical scores in the general population, so this inventory is not used to determine whether someone has a disorder, merely to assess levels of narcissistic traits.

In contrast, someone with NPD is often referred to in lay terms as a narcissist. NPD is diagnosed by trained professionals using either the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM), or the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases (or the ICD).

The diagnostic criteria as listed in the 5th edition of the DSM requires a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with is or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  7. Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. (Although quite frankly, some studies suggests narcissists are capable of empathy, catch up DSM!)
  8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

It should be noted that a number of these traits may be common in normal teens even though they do not develop the disorder. And while the causes of narcissism are not clear, indications are that—like most mental health issues—a combination of factors contribute to its development. Of course, our genes work with our environment as well as our own internal thinking processes to make us who we are. But even the environmental influences are not as simple as we’d like to think. Despite the popular belief that pampering is the source of narcissism, hypercritical parents also turn out children who are eventually diagnosed with NPD.

One recent study aimed at shedding light on how parenting may influence narcissism pinpointed “overvaluing” children as perhaps more relevant than pampering in leading to narcissism. Overvaluing was defined as describing them as “more special than other children” who “deserve something extra in life,” for example.

“Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others,” said the study’s co-author, Brad Bushman. This may sound like a version of self-esteem, but narcissism is not simply “self-esteem on steroids,” he says. “People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others.” These are very different views of self that develop in different ways. Overvalued children did not show high levels of self-esteem. In contrast, children whose parents showed more emotional warmth did have higher self-esteem—but not narcissism.

In light of their findings, University of Amsterdam’s Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the study, suggests that parent training interventions should help teach parents to “express affection and appreciation toward children without telling children that they are superior to others or entitled to privileges.”

When it comes down to it, however, messages of superiority and privilege are so rampant in the constant stream of advertising that permeates all forms of media—social and otherwise—that maybe there needs to be a double-pronged approach. YES, what happens at home sets the stage for the rest of life. But environment continues to affect us down the line. Maybe we also need to give our kids the armor that can protect them when they leave home:

  1. The belt of “Hey, this is an ad so it may not be completely truthful. Maybe the person who created this wants something from me that isn’t in my best interest.”
  2. The breastplate of “Hmmm. My parents instilled in me enough understanding of the world that I don’t have to fall for this line . . .”
  3. The boots of “I know where I stand and I don’t need to impress others to find my place in the world.”

We can certainly add other important protections. But these would be a good place to start.

 

 

More about Narcissism:

9 Enlightening Quotes on Narcissists—and Why, by Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.
Take an online version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory

teaching kids generosityToday’s guest post comes to us from family and non-profit advocates Jennifer L. Jacobson and Gretchen Barry. At a time of year when the message of “getting” comes across loudly and clearly to children, what can parents do to foster a more constructive mind set?

While raising kids has never been easy, it can be one of the most rewarding things that some people do–especially when children grow up to be productive, contributing members to society, and that includes knowing how to give back and enrich the communities in which they live. When should children start participating in the giving process? As early as possible. Even if they’re still toddlers; observing charitable acts that happen regularly and eventually understanding them, will leave a big impression. Learning how to give and developing that skill set is a lifelong journey. Giving is more than a task; it’s a mindset. A way of life, a way of looking at the world and asking, how can I help? How can I make connections between needs and time and resources? How can I bring awareness to specific needs and evoke action? 

1. Ask Your Kids How They Would Like to Help. 

If giving to a cause is new to your household, involve your kids as early as possible; tell them that your family has the chance to give back. Then, engage them in a conversation about the types of causes they may feel strongly about and ways they think they can help. This could involve helping families, working to save open spaces, caring for nature or a community garden, helping to save an endangered species, or helping those in need. Once you’ve identified key topics that your family is interested in, (make a list, as this helps visualize everything), start researching specific local organizations (add them to the list). Food kitchens Pet shelters and animal rescues Nature conservation efforts Fundraising for various activities for low-income kids, like camp Zoos, museums, and aquariums Schools and local libraries (these days, even they need as much help as they can get) Visitation of patients in hospitals Visitation of the elderly in nursing homes 

2. Make a Game Plan. 

Get creative about how your family can help the organization(s) you choose. Bake sales are traditional, but there are other ways to help. Talk it through with your family, map it out, and post the results somewhere in the home that is highly visible. Gamify it to some degree with tasks that turn into goals that turn into accomplishment, that result in stickers. 

3. Quick Tasks and Ideas That Can Make a Big Difference 

• Clear the clutter. Every 6 to 12 months, have a household closet cleaning day (that includes the toy chest, and maybe even the garage). Get everyone in the family to help. 

• Make a donate box. Put it out where your kids can add to it. Donate often, even if it’s small. 

• Make Detours to Giving. When shopping, make a trip down the canned foods isle. Ask your kids to pick a can of food to put in your donate box at home. 

• Find ways to raise money for donations. Hold a yard sale and give all or a portion of it to a selected charity. Do the same with a bake sale, an art sale, etc. Involve our kids at all stages. 

• Associate getting with giving. For birthdays and holidays, aside from their other gifts, give your kids a hand-written gift “certificate of giving” with a specified amount of money that they can gift to their favorite charity. Take your child to the charity to donate that money in person if you can. For non-local organizations, write a check, and have your child include a letter. 

• Volunteer time in your local community. From public gardens that need weeding, to historic buildings that need painting, or food banks that need help, find something age-appropriate that can engage your family. 

4. Growing the Mindset 

• Tell stories. There are lots of real-life stories about kids or groups of kids who have found creative ways to give back. Encourage empathy. Share appropriate stories of struggle. Ask kids; what would you do in this situation? How would you want people to help you? 

• Walk them through the cycle. If your kids are very young, say, “We’re going to give this can of food/winter coat/gift to ______. (Then explain the results.) “It will give them something to eat/keep them warm this winter/help them __________.” 

• Explain why you are doing it and what you’re looking for. “We don’t need to store all this stuff, when someone else could really use it.” Or, “I bet there is a kid out there who would really enjoy playing with that toy. I know you used to love it but how about if you pass it along to someone else, so they can enjoy it as much as you have?” Keep the focus on the people in need and your child’s ability to share an experience through an item. Establishing an impermanent relationship to “things” can help kids better understand the important of relationships over acquiring goods. 

• Develop a language of giving in your household. Find creative opportunities to incorporate it into regular conversation. Nothing is permanent, everything is in the process of change. We are stewards of the planet and the things we think we own, and we have the responsibility to help those in need when we have abundance. If ever there is a time when we are without, we hope that others will think of us and help us. Teaching children about the struggles of others not only develops a lifelong giving mindset, it also helps children understand how their words and actions impact those around them—a lesson that bears repeating. 

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See also:

Certain Parenting Tactics Could Lead to Materialistic Attitudes in Adulthood

COLUMBIA, MO; December 16, 2014—With the holiday season in full swing, many parents may be tempted to give children all the toys and gadgets they ask for or use the expectation of gifts to manage children’s behavior. Now, a new study from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests that parents who overuse material goods as part of their parenting strategy may be setting children up for difficulties later in adulthood.
(Full story . . . )

To Give A FlowerA dear friend of mine (we’ll call her Lizzy) is the single mom of two daughters. Lizzy spends her days working at our school, and her evenings and weekends engaged in activities aimed at enriching the lives of her children—and often those of their friends as well. I admire her for a number of her stellar qualities, including both her ability to remain calm under pressure, and her ever-present sense of consideration for others. She is not easily harried or disturbed, and she would hate to be rude or hurtful to anyone. This is why I was astonished that someone could make her the focus of what I like to call a “parking-lot judgment.” You know, those occasional “helpful” comments from strangers we sometimes encounter in a public place (such as a grocery store) who seem to feel entitled to make snap judgments from visible aspects of our behavior (or that of our children) and even sometimes apparently feel superior enough to share these judgments.

But someone did, and Lizzy (very understandably) was moved to vent to those good friends who are allowed onto her Facebook wall:

Dear Old Lady at the Trader Joe’s Entrance,

You don’t know me, or my family. Unless you actually listened to the phone conversation I was having with my 14-year-old, you wouldn’t know that she’d called from sports practice needing help with her diabetes. Your comment that I should ‘take my private conversation elsewhere’ doesn’t help. If you’d taken the time to notice, I was walking out of the store without groceries, which meant I’d abandoned my cart, leaving the store to be able to concentrate on my daughter’s question. You don’t know what her blood sugar was, her level of activity, or how she was physically feeling. You don’t know what her blood sugar was at 3 am, or 4 am, or what supplies she has in her backpack at practice to help her deal. You don’t know how grateful I am that my daughter is thoughtful and responsible about her medical condition, and how happy I am that she will call me for back up when she needs it.

So while you have feelings about etiquette and modern technology, consider that there are issues at play that you know nothing about when you throw your zinger to a stranger. Consider that you are rattling a mother who is operating on little sleep, and is troubleshooting a relentless, unfair, and endlessly complicated medical issue with her brave, wonderful daughter who doesn’t deserve this monster of a disease.

Peace, Old Lady. Be nice.

Meanwhile, far away in another galaxy—or at least, another Trader Joe’s parking lot—an entirely different transaction was underway. You can read details in Lauren Casper’s post titled*, “To the Trader Joe’s Employee Who Noticed My Family in the Parking Lot.” It may be sufficient to say here that Lauren found herself in a similar position to Lizzy in that she was also the potential brunt of a variety of interpretations of her behavior (or that of her children). The main differences, perhaps, were that she and her child were dealing with autism, and her distress was perhaps more readily apparent than Lizzy’s.

In Lauren’s case, as she fled TJ’s with her husband, one screaming child, and another in tow—certain that judgments about her maternal failures were erupting in the minds of many of those around her (and she was probably right)—a TJ’s employee followed her out to the car and presented her with a bouquet of flowers accompanied by extremely encouraging words that made her day.

What made the difference between Lizzy’s and Lauren’s experiences? The luck of the draw, we could say. In each case, the circumstances might have been much different depending on which of the onlookers chose to speak and which chose not to. (Probably in both cases there were bystanders who could have encouraged as well as those who could have gone “judgy**.”)

But an important lesson we can come away with as we leave the parking lot is embodied in something radio legend and personal development guru Earl Nightingale once said: “When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.”

Well, that’s a little scary. But think about it. Go back to Lizzy’s example. How do you feel about the older lady who berated a struggling mom for the imagined offense of having a private phone conversation in public?  Now think about the TJ’s employee who handed flowers to a struggling mom dealing with a screaming child? Which responder showed themselves to be more mature? How true are Nightingale’s words to you? How likely are you to engage in parking-lot judgments from now on?

And one last question. If these principles apply to strangers, how much more to family members and friends?

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*People are “entitled” to opinions, etc. Posts, movies and books are “titled.”

**Judgy IS in the dictionary. Or at least, the “Urban” one.

Lauren ParkesOver the past year, several notable research studies have shed light on some of the biological influences that contribute to anorexia, and have pointed the way to potential new treatment approaches and underscored the fact that this and other eating disorders may be more common than we may think. As much as I have wanted to cover this topic for Mom Psych, the task seemed to require someone who knows a lot more about it than I do—and today’s guest blogger does. Lauren Parkes, the niece of dear friends in Australia, is very intimately acquainted with the challenges of living with an eating disorder. We are privileged that she is willing to share her experience with us in the following post.

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Last week was mental health week, and I wanted to do something to raise awareness about something really important, but I was scared of what people would say. In fact, I was so scared of this that I changed schools, changed my name. I retracted from the social sphere because I wanted to disappear; to not be judged. I hoped I’d find happiness in places where traces of me did not exist. I wanted to get smaller and smaller until I stopped stealing oxygen from the rest of the population, to suffer through this thought-pattern in silence.

But I know now that that doesn’t help anyone; it means I went through this for nothing, which in retrospect I don’t believe to be true. Now I’m tired of denying I have suffered from acute anorexia for the last year, and lesser so in the years leading up to it, in fear of seeming whiny and attention-seeking (when I’d much rather dig a hole and hide in it). Why? Because it’s just making people continuously think—just as the media suggests—that living the way I and other anorexics do is okay. Normal. That we are healthy. I’ve been sick of girls telling me, when at a forced-hospitalisation weight, that I had an enviable figure. Even the nurse that was supposed to be looking after me said she wished she had my problem, whilst she inserted my nasal-gastric tube to pump food into me (I know. Messed. Up.)

I have to say something because it’s just not okay for people to want to live the way myself and other sufferers do in order to achieve a “look.” Society will give up everything for aesthetic, and its so sad that we get pulled into this whirlpool of self-worth being connected to numbers on scales or the reflection in the mirror. Type in “how to” into Google and you get the suggestion: “How to be anorexic.” Perhaps a year or so ago I would have clicked on this, like so many insecure people in pursuit of confidence in their physical selves as a means to attain inner-confidence, when confidence is the last thing anorexia gives you.

People who haven’t suffered from this illness will have trouble grasping that this isn’t about weight and food at all (that’s the result, not the cause), and furthermore that it isn’t a choice. I got it without wanting it, and it took me to hospital and psychiatric wards and back to realise something important that the world never teaches enough. Firstly: skinny isn’t all it’s made out to be. I was turned down jobs, told to eat a bigger breakfast from strangers, and even had someone spit at me when she drove past, yelling “EAT SOMETHING.” I broke down and cried, a heap of bones on the sidewalk, wanting nothing but to be accepted.

Secondly: Measurements, food-management, exercise or anything that’s abused to create a physical manifestation of how fragile you may feel inside (cuts, muscles, bones—take your pick); they’re not adequate means of finding content in oneself, nor is it a coping mechanism that delivers lasting comfort or sense of control. In fact, comfort and control are what it takes away from you, amongst countless other things. Achieving something physically does not awaken a self-contentedness that you never developed previously. If you don’t feel happy within yourself NOW, that’s the issue that needs dealing with, because trying to reinvent yourself physically or how you appear socially, is a separate matter—you’ll still be the same unhappy person on the inside.

I learnt that the hard way. Anorexia persists because whilst you still have variables in your life that can be more restricted and controlled, there is still hope in personal perfection. Perfection = supposed peace.

But in reality there are no montages, no gallant orchestra soundtracks, or video-edited camera pans that magically come together and form this moment when perfection is reached, to make you feel confident and strong. So you keep going, and going, and the mindset becomes exponentially perverted and deceived from the malnourished state of your brain, so that you lose sight of everything else. I did. All because I couldn’t deal with insecurity and because I lacked the resilience to tackle the everyday obstacles that life catapulted towards me. I couldn’t muster the courage to do anything but determine my worth by how people treated/mistreated me, what they said/didn’t say about me, when everything could have been different if I had learnt that your worth is only determined by YOU. That is the only steadfast sense of self-worth that remains a lifetime; mere comments that people say from day to day will change like the wind, and will leave you feeling like you have no concrete identity. But it’s there.

All of this may seem so commonsensical to you, as it does me now, but recognising logic when you currently reside in rigid illogicality of thought, doesn’t mean you are able to stop your ill outlook and behaviours. I can empathise with the mentally non-affected in this way, because I too was like you. I’d seen all the psychiatric ward documentaries and had not understood how they couldn’t simply fix themselves—that mental illness was not just people not wanting to change how they felt and making everyone else have to deal with them. But it’s REAL. What a terrifying revelation it has been for me.

I knew throughout my anorexia that I had a serious problem. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but at the same time it seemed so REAL to me, and I forgotten how to live any different. It made so much sense because over time, I’d biologically rewired my neurological pathways so that my body could run on the lack of food and excessive exercise I was doing, accommodating a thought pattern that pervertedly makes sense of defying life’s basic instinct: to eat and LIVE. That’s why anorexia is an extremely nature-defying problem, and why you can’t just “stop” when you want to, because your brain is physically not the same one you had before. And society often embraces its mindset.

I got onto various extreme diets during my problem; raw foodism, veganism, gluten-free-ism for the non-gluten-intolerant, etc. and I was championed for it. I never knew I had anorexia until it was too late, because my friends, family, every magazine to date, were praising me for having “so much self-control,” when many of these diets are actually used as a disguise for socially-accepted eating disorders. I wasn’t doing it “for the animals,” “for the environment,” or even why I thought I was doing it: “to be the healthiest person I can be.” It was for control, and it never gave me that.

Anorexia is the biggest killer out of all mental illnesses (20% die). Even though I’m still alive, I’ve lost friends, bone density, muscle-mass, the ability to have children (temporarily, hopefully), have scars on my wrists, have bald patches on my head, been in lock-down rooms on suicide-watch, had parkinson/epileptic-looking panic-attacks, and wasted my high school years to insecurity—with the cherry-on-top: a whole year of anorexia and suicidal pre-occupation.

All of this happens, around the world, all the time. On and on. In silence. With a false smile to hide the pain. I’m sick of my poor friends having cuts on their arms. Of primary schoolers throwing up their meals. Of people praising others who have lost weight when they were healthy before. Of guys enslaving themselves at the gym because they feel “puny.” Of hearing stories like several of my friends having been raped by their fathers and relatives when they were a child (the ward I went to is a very, sad place) and being forever shaken from the aftermath. I’m sick of people saying to depressed people: “just be happy” and to those with eating disorders: “why don’t you just EAT?”

Try telling a cancer patient to cure themselves, and you’ll see how helpful statements like that are. I’m sick of boys having to act like emotionless statues at school to fit in, only to cry silently in their beds at night, wanting to disappear. I know, because I hear their stories. I’ve held them when they cried.

No matter if you are heterosexual, homosexual, a schizophrenic intellectual. A white man, brown girl, green, blue, purple or black, an LSD-tripping insomniac. If you’re an anorexic perfectionist, an OCD receptionist, suicidal atheist, an alcoholic therapist—Yes, okay, I’m not going to feature in an Eminem album. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; you ALL have a voice and a story, and you are entitled to feel not okay. We’re only human: and society has to stop teaching us that we shouldn’t possess things that make us a member of our species, having to shove all the emotional baggage, all our unique traits, in the cupboard under the stairs like they’re Harry Potter hiding from the Dursley’s. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

Please, if you’re suffering, seek help. You deserve happiness. Recovery is possible; take it from someone who thought it wasn’t. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, whatever it is you carry on your shoulders, it’s okay to lean on those around us for support. If you are a parent/friend/family member looking for someone with personal insight into any of the above-mentioned issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me or leave me a question.

Remember: you are not a college admission rank, a statistic, a grade, a measurement, the number of friends you have, the amount of boys/girls who like you, the classes you’re good at, what you eat, the compliments you receive, the criticisms that come your way, nor are you the things you do or fail to do. NOTHING can encompass all that you are, and when you try to fit into these types of categories, or determine your worth by them, you’re reducing yourself. You’re so much more.

LAUREN PARKES

 

Lauren now has a regular blog on Mom Psych: Please follow her on Inside Anorexia.

 

 

teen mental healthBefore we quite leave September’s topic of suicide prevention to focus on Bullying Prevention Month in October, I wanted to offer up this informative guest post from Dr. Jesse Viner, Founder and Executive Medical Director at YellowbrickDr. Viner is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder. He has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. A Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, he is currently on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. 

Mom Psych is pleased to support organizations that respect the developmental, neurobiological and psychosocial underpinnings of mental health in their efforts to help teens and young adults. I hope you will connect with Dr. Viner on Google+.

While no parent wants to believe that their child would ever consider taking their own life, suicide is actually the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. It’s vital for parents of young adults to understand and recognize the warning signs of depression, the potential health impact of a suicide attempt, and how to seek help if their child is having suicidal thoughts. That’s why Yellowbrick, a Chicago-based treatment center for troubled emerging adults, has put together an infographic highlighting some of the key things parents need to know about depression and suicide. Learn some of the key facts and view the original graphic below.

Identifying Warning Signs and Causes of Suicidal Thoughts

While research has shown that there is no reliable indicator of an impending suicide, there are certain behaviors that may mean your child is at risk for a suicide attempt. Symptoms of depression, such as withdrawal from other people, a loss of interest in activities that once brought joy, expressions of despair, keeping secrets, and abnormal sleeping patterns may be signs that your young adult is having suicidal thoughts.

Unfortunately, certain mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, also have a higher risk for suicide. Anorexia nervosa puts young people at a greater risk for suicide because starvation affects mood and impairs decision-making abilities. Other factors that may increase the risk for suicide include a genetic predisposition to mental illness or substance abuse, familial influences, peer influences, and one or more previous suicide attempts.

How a Suicide Attempt Affects Mental Health

The CDC reports that more young people survive suicide attempts than die, and an estimated 157,000 people between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical attention for self-inflicted injuries every year. However, physical injuries aren’t the only type of harm associated with a suicide attempt. Because there is a gateway affect for the risk-reward center of the brain, carrying out one suicide attempt makes it easier to carry out another, according to Yellowbrick. Additionally, a suicide attempt is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame, which can cause increased actual or perceived social isolation. This in turn can heighten existing emotional tensions and cause a young adult to believe that they have no support network or meaningful connections in their life.

Getting Help for At-Risk Young Adults

Parents of young adults who have attempted suicide are often unsure of the best way to talk to their child or seek help. One of the key issues that Yellowbrick points out is that young adults often experience deep shame after a failed suicide attempt, so it’s important for parents to demonstrate acceptance and a lack of judgment. Parents can offer their support by empathizing with their child, even if what their child is primarily feeling is anger. Young adults need to be able to feel that they have a safe outlet for their emotions, since bottling their emotions up may lead them to hide future suicidal thoughts. Parents need to remember that they can’t read their child’s mind and shouldn’t make assumptions about what he or she is thinking, but should rather establish open communication.

Because depression is a serious mental illness and suicide is a serious public health problem, a young adult who is at risk for suicide may also need to seek help and support in the form of counseling and treatment. Treatment programs like Yellowbrick can help young adults build meaningful and self-affirming connections, work through difficult transitional periods, learn valuable life skills, and develop emotional resilience.

teen mental health

Infographic courtesy of Yellowbrick

World Suicide Prevention DaySuicide is a widespread public health problem, albeit one that many people find it difficult to talk about, whether they are at risk themselves or have a loved one who is at risk. To combat the stigma that encourages silence, World Suicide Prevention Day was established by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) on September 10, 2003.

This year’s theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is “One World Connected,” chosen in order to emphasize how important connectedness is to those who may be at risk for suicide.

“Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide, and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it.” writes the IASP, “Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act.”

That said, many of those who complete suicide do have strong connections with loved ones. It is important to recognize there are multiple factors that increase the risk of suicide, and perhaps the most influential of these is mental health. Approximately 90% of those who die by suicide in Western nations suffer from at least one mental disorder, so prevention efforts must include connecting people to the mental healthcare services that can help them reduce their risk.

Connecting, of course, requires communication. Unfortunately, a common belief is that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide may encourage them to do so. This unfortunate myth can do much more harm than good. “The truth,” says the Mayo Clinic, is that “when someone is in crisis or depressed, asking if he or she is thinking about suicide can help. Giving a person an opportunity to open up and share their troubles can help alleviate their pain and open a path to solutions.”

This doesn’t mean that all forms of communication are equally beneficial, however. In its first-ever report on suicide prevention, released for World Suicide Prevention Day 2014, the WHO cautions against media coverage that sensationalizes and glamorizes, leading to an increased risk of “copycat” suicides. “Media practices are inappropriate when they gratuitously cover celebrity suicides, report unusual methods of suicide or suicide clusters, show pictures or information about the method used, or normalize suicide as an acceptable response to the crisis or adversity,” says the report. While one man’s gratuitous report may be another’s informative news brief, the WHO describes responsible reporting as “avoiding detailed descriptions of suicidal acts, avoiding sensationalism and glamourization, using responsible language, minimizing the prominence of suicide reports, avoiding oversimplifications, educating the public about suicide and available treatments, and providing information on where to seek help.”

There is still much to learn about suicide prevention, but the good news is that the past few decades have seen great leaps in understanding some of the factors that increase risk for, as well as those that provide protection from, suicide. The awareness message of World Suicide Prevention Day, obviously, is that suicide is preventable. There are therapies that have proven effective, but unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental disorders—and with suicidality—can be a major barrier to seeking help.

An important myth to eradicate is that suicidal thinking is an enduring characteristic. “Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific,” writes the WHO. “While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previously suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life.”

For more information:

Mom Psych: Suicide and Self Harm Index

Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative ~The World Health Organization 2014

International Association for Suicide Prevention: Resources

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