Doing Life Together

fightingJack and Rachel have been in a contentious marriage for quite some time. Their friends would describe them as a high conflict couple. The stress is getting to their two middle school children who beg their parents to stop fighting and try to get along. The youngest child finds herself covering her ears and retreats to her room crying. But she can hear the conflict and feels sad.

What is the impact of such fighting on the children? Significant.

  • Physiological effects: When parents fight, a child’s heart rate becomes faster and their blood pressure rises. Stress hormones are released in their urine. The immune system is depleted, making them ripe for infections.
  • Emotional effects: It’s hard for children to regulate their emotions during parent conflict. They are more focused on the upsets of their parent and less able to soothe themselves. They experience feelings of powerlessness—they can’t stop the fighting and that loss of control is frightening. The stress is overwhelming. In hostile family situations, children are more at risk for depression and anxiety.
  • Academic effects: Learning suffers. Grade point averages dive and they perform worse on standardized testing. In fact, grade failure is not predicted by divorce, but by constant marital conflict.
  • Social effects: Marital fighting makes children more at risk for teen pregnancy, poverty and being expelled from school. Truancy and absenteeism increase.
  • Relationship effects: Children often feel at fault for their parents’ discord. They may be in the middle of conflict and forced to take sides. The lack of civil conflict discussions and resolutions means they don’t learn how to deal with conflict in their own relationships as a child or later as an adult.

If you need good reasons to work at conflict in a civil and respectable manner with your spouse, consider the above. This is not meant to place guilt, but help you understand the reality of high conflict marriages. Children need you to navigate conflict and provide emotional stability.

For help, We Need to Talk by Dr. Linda Mintle

When I listen to any political person rail against guns as a fix for school shootings, I get upset. The focus in wrong and yet it persists and dominates headlines. This tells me there is a lack of real concern to address violence in our schools.  Instead we get political correctness.

Journalists, look at the statistics and challenge statements that aren’t true. Gun free zones are targets. Any teen knows that if you want to take as many people out in a shooting, go to the defenseless.  Schools are filled with defenseless kids at the mercy of someone whose intention is to wreak as much havoc and loss of life as possible.

Schools are often the center of community life in small towns and suburban areas-another  reason they are chosen for shootings. The attention of an entire community is gained when a sick person shoots students.

So what can be done to lessen the chances of violence?  Notice I didn’t say stop school shootings. Unfortunately, even when we know what to look for in a shooter and want to prevent  violence, a disenfranchised person with a motive of revenge can’t always be stopped. And that is what is frightening. We don’t know the tipping point for a disturbed individual even when we know the signs.

What we do know: We know the profile of a typical shooter:

  • disconnected to secure relationships (many have father vacuums in their lives)
  • belief in aggression as a means to an end and a way to cope with negative feelings
  • motivated by revenge, prejudice and self-centered sadistic feelings
  • lack of empathy, emotional intelligence
  • untreated mental illness
  • consumer of violent media
  • major life stress that triggers events
  • social media poster who often warns of their hate and intentions
  • severe problems in feeling accepted and getting along with others
  • history of abuse or ineffective parenting
  • fascination with guns and weapons
  • feels powerless and unimportant so seeks fame through violence

What can be done?  Multiple interventions are needed. It’s not a simple solution like gun control.

  • Enforce gun laws, but in reality, criminals obtain guns no matter the law. That’s why they are called criminals!
  •  Arm schools so shooters know students aren’t sitting ducks.
  • Pay attention to threats and social media posts. Maybe it is time to assign a school person to scan social media on a regular basis.
  • Have incentives for peers, adults and school personnel to report possible threats and disturbing comments. People MUST speak up.
  • Use school resource officers-retired police and law enforcement people who will be at schools, get to know kids, and keep their ears to the ground.
  • Teach conflict resolution and how to solve problems without violence. Discuss the impact of violent solutions to problems.
  • Know the warning signs, identify at risk kids and get them connected to mental health services–this means we need to evaluate our community based mental health programs and their access.
  • Stop supporting violent media–it has violent impacts on the developing teen mind, but no one seems to care much about this data. Glorifying violence helps reinforce the sick mind of someone considering violence. Why do we need violent media? What does it feed?
  • Build relationships with alienated kids who appear rejected and troubled.
  • Look for the influence of fathers on alienated boys. All the shooters are males and need strong fathers active in their lives.
  • News media to start acting like journalists and look at what has worked and failed instead of blindly repeating political messages.
  • Stop taking God out of culture and vilifying religion! What transforms the heart of a person? What changes retaliation into reconciliation? Revenge to repentance? A heart change in the most important change that can be made in a teen or adult’s life and yet we are moving more and more away from spiritual solutions to secular ones that promise no change of heart. We are losing our moral compass, creating self-centered, narcissistic people incapable of empathy and care for others. And this should be out number one concern. So rather than a court order to take down the 10 commandment’s monument  in Oklahoma, maybe a reminder, Thou shall not kill, is needed.

Dr. Mintle is the author of We Need to Talk, a book about navigating  interpersonal conflict 

procrastinationMost of us know the feeling of procrastination. It often goes like this:

I know I have to complete that project by the end of week. Nothing in me wants to do it. I’ll go to the gym. Exercise will relax me and help me concentrate better. After the gym, you find yourself playing that new video game that everyone is talking about. Oh and your colleague wanted you to work on that fun advertising campaign. Finally, after days of not working on the project, you begin. However, there is no time to complete it. Hopefully,  your boss will give you a pass for a few more days. You know you can get it done.

So why do we procrastinate when we know the results are usually negative? Is it the anxiety of doing it perfectly that keeps us from starting? Not really. Procrastination is about feeling good at the moment. It is giving in to the short term pleasure to avoid the long term task of getting something done.

Procrastination is tied to impulsivity. When stressed, the impulsive person becomes anxious and avoids dealing with the stressor. So the person does something else other than the task at hand. All that delay creates more distress. And when we look at the mental health tied to procrastination, we see higher rates of depression, anxiety and lower well-being.

So if you are a procrastinator, you need to work on time management, but also on regulating your emotions, especially when under stress. Feel the anxiety of a task, but work your way through that anxiety so you are not avoiding the task and impulsively checking out to do something else you enjoy more. Expose yourself to that anxiety time and again until you are more comfortable sticking with the task.

Set small goals to complete along the way and focus on the steps to the end. Have a vision for where you want to go and see yourself getting it done. Over time, you will learn not to be driven by emotions and avoidance, but regulating your emotions to accomplish the task.

If this feels daunting, work with a behavior therapist who can walk you through the process and help you regulate  your emotions.

AngerAre you easily angered? Do you have a low tolerance for frustration. Does any little thing annoy and frustrate you? Are you tired of feeling out of control? If so, consider this.

Some children seem to be born more edgy and irritable. They often cry and appear easily frustrated. As toddlers, they are cranky and prone to upset. Researchers think genetics or physiology may predispose some people to be angrier than others.

In addition to the influence of genetics, our culture also plays a role in the way we express anger. Regularly we witness people throwing things, yelling, getting their way at the expense of others, hurting others and basically letting it all hang out. Desk rage, air rage and road rage are all around us. The message is, just release that pent up anger. You’ll feel better.

Family is also a source for learning when it comes to anger management. A family that is disruptive, chaotic and doesn’t know how to handle the emotion of anger creates angry people. You learn what you see. If family members are out of control and have no skills to manage anger, you will follow their lead unless you make intentional changes.

And since anger is a part of our emotional make-up, we all need to learn how to mange it without being destructive. No matter what the source of our anger, we are responsible for what we do with it.

For years, people were encouraged to give physical release to their anger, to “get it out of their systems.” Hit something, punch a pillow or a punching bag. Yell, scream and vent those angry feelings. Research tells us this is not a good idea. When people lash out with angry behavior, it actually escalates their anger and doesn’t calm them down!

So give your pillow a much needed rest and try these five strategies:

1) Take a 20 minute time-out from an angry situation. Walk away, practice deep breathing to calm down your body. Come back to the situation once you are physically relaxed.

2) Take each thought captive (2Corinthians 10:5). Angry emotions are rooted in angry thoughts so learn to stop that angry thought and think on something more positive or good (Philippians 4:8).

3) Choose not to take offense. Even if offense was given, it is your decision to take or refuse it. Always err on the side of giving mercy to others.

4) When you are the target of injustice, do the unnatural but biblical thing-pray for that person (Matthew 5:44). I admit, this isn’t easy to do.

5) Choose to forgive. Because God forgave you, you must forgive others. It’s a biblical mandate (Matthew 18:21-22). Forgiveness is an act of obedience to God and prevents bitterness from forming.

Always remember. You are the only one who has control over your responses. An angry emotion may creep up, but how you handle it is what counts. The biblical directive is to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). The way we meet that requirement is to respond in a godly way no matter what the source of the anger.

Paul sums it up in Romans 12:19-21 (NLT) ” Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written: “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord. Instead do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.”