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Does Social Media comfort or numb grief?

- by Carolyn Bergen

I spent some time on Laurie Kilmartin's twitter account today (twitter handle: anylaurie16), which became very popular as she live tweeted her experience of her father's last days in early March this year. Now…to be clear, she's a professional joke writer (for Conan) and a comedienne in her own right, and so her tweets about watching her dad die were both hilarious and profound at a level that few of us are capable…they're incredible--if you've the stomach for black humour.

She had my face confused between simultaneous laughter and tears…she's bright and witty and terribly funny…quite irreverently so. Her subject material, her father's death from cancer…had the tweets be both bittersweet and achingly, hauntingly sad. As a writer, she had an incredible way with 140 characters…

Tweets by Laurie Kilmartin as her father dies.

Death is raw and real and agonizing…and somehow she manages to pull off expressing it as raw and real and agonizing…and given that she is a comic that seems to live life on the edge…why would she do anything different when she is mourning her father?

Tweets by Laurie Kilmartin after her father died.

I do find it interesting that she recognizes in her last tweet (which is at the top of the pic, given that tweets add new ones above older ones) that she was preoccupied with her iPhone during the moment of his actual death…which may have been a joke, given her license with the truth to be funny…or maybe not.

What I wonder is…did Laurie Kilmartin use live-tweeting her father's death as a way to preoccupy herself to avoid facing her father's death…or did she use Twitter to help herself authentically deal with the reality? How would we expect a joke writer to deal with most things authentically?

Did she numb herself with social media, creating conversations with thousands of nameless and faceless folks to help herself leave the pain of the room as she sat in the death vigil? Or did she use Twitter to connect with her community of fellow comics at time when she needed her community around her?

I haven't got a foggy clue.

There is no way of knowing what this was about for Laurie Kilmartin…and frankly, it's none of my business what was behind the tweets. In this world of social media…I don't want to know. I haven't earned the right to know her heart. But the musing does cue me to a larger question…does using social media like Twitter and Facebook assist in grieving and mourning, or does it get in the way?

Comfort vs. Numbing

I made this poster a few weeks ago:

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I like how this quote encapsulates the difference between comfort and numbing.

Comfort mindfully treasures the present and all that it holds…the sensations, the feelings, the spirit of the moment.

Numbing works to shut off the sensations, cut off from feeling the feelings by burying them under an avalanche of something.

Comfort connects us to our own kindness and self-compassion.

Numbing isn't about kindness or self compassion…it's about working to feel nothing

Comfort is part of connecting ourselves meaningfully, gently, and thoughtfully to the world…with a hug, a glass of wine with a friend, or an episode of a television show that may get discussed tomorrow at coffee break.

Numbing is about disconnecting from others and oneself…it's about drinking to take the edge is off, or even off the edge completely. It's about watching an entire season of a series on Netflix in your pyjamas in the dark, not answering the phone when it rings.

Social media can connect us with those that are loving and caring for us. It can make connections that might otherwise be impossible because of scale or access.

Social media can be used to leave the room even while one's body is sitting bedside. It can be a way to escape or deny painful realities of the moment by slipping into a world where pain isn't

I've seen social media used powerfully in recent weeks as connecting, comforting ways of grieving:

  • Friends of mine had parents who were in a house fire this winter. Their mom died in the fire, and their dad was seriously injured. This man had a large number of children…and their children had large numbers of friends. There was a large extended family and church families and so on and so on. Large numbers of people were connected to Mr. K and his deceased wife directly or indirectly. He was in isolation in the Intensive Care Unit, with only a few visitors allowed. The risk of infection was high, so folks needed to stay away…stay away because they cared, but they cared, and so they didn't want to stay away.  The family started a blog which they updated everyday…we could all check it…and then leave notes of caring in the comments. The family was spared constantly providing updates individually to large numbers of concerned and caring folks. The community stayed tuned in, with people being aware of what was happening with the funeral service for Mrs. K. His children posted memories of their mom, and we saw pictures of happier times on days they felt led to post those. It created connection during a time when connecting was challenged on a practical level.
  • A woman from my church…with children the same age as mine…had end stage breast cancer. She fought hard and valiantly…and then, as these things often go, the beginning of the end happened very suddenly. There was an earnest plea on Facebook one morning a few weeks ago, that the end was very near, and friends and family were asked to provide stories and experiences. C. was conscious and able to hear them as they were read to her. Normally, these sorts of thoughts are only collected in time for the funeral…but social media made it possible, while she was alive, to have the messages of love and cherishing, respect and admiration.  They affirmed C. on her hospitality and her friendliness and warmth. She was able to hear how she impacted the lives of her sons' friends, their parents, and others with whom she had contact in the last few hours she was alive.
  • A few days later, a call went out on Facebook to invite folks to bake for the funeral of C. Favorite recipes that she made for her family were to be served at the funeral. And folks like me, who cared but didn't know how to help without imposing or interfering during a time when close family is around…we could and did volunteer to bring the specific recipe of brownies that was so loved by her family…distributed electronically of course!
  • Caring Bridge is a website that allows journalling for those in a family health crisis…it allows journallers to decide the level of privacy to determine who gets to read the journal, and allows folks who care to leave notes in a guestbook. There is even a scheduler, which can allow you to plan the health care and allows the community to offer practical support.
  • CaringMeals.com is a coordination site for families who need practical care…it allows a caring community to surround a family with meals. Social media makes it easy for friends and family to bring meals to a grieving family
You can

It's simply not as simple as saying, "Social media is good for grief" vs "Social media is bad for grief". It's finding ways to use Facebook and Twitter authentically to connect with each other, and to give and receive comfort. 

It's recognizing when social media is being used to numb the grief in the room by escaping it
  • Scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, or tweeting the latest murmurings by the medical staff for something to do is not comforting or soothing…it's numbing. 
  • Hot-wiring connection by throwing deeply personal information hoping some sort of anonymous "someone out there"…in a way that feels like it violates trust. There are some things I don't want to read about on social media…it's too personal and private--too much information--and I feel like I'm violating sacred space when people overshare. Please don't put me in the position of being intrusive because I happen to be scrolling through my Facebook and you provide me with more information than makes sense for me to have. 
  • There are things the social media world doesn't have the right to know…we share our stories with those that have the right to hear it. 
  • Social media probably isn't the place to develop a meaningful community…particularly when in crisis. Caring relationships develop over time, with time spent together.


Use discernment…Find ways to have social media create a soft space with the community you already have.


We can't know if Laurie Kilmartin used social media to comfort or numb…comforting or numbing isn't so much about the activity itself as how the activity is used, the role and purpose and usage of it--so it really is a personal thing. But we can each take responsiility to be mindful of our own use of social media during time of grief to intentionally create meaningful connections. 

Although it might be tempting to run from very sad experiences in our lives, most of us, at the end of our lives, would like to know that we showed up and allowed ourselves to be truly, deeply seen. Running from the grief in our lives does not actually prevent the pain of loss…being present to the sadness allows us to honour the grief.


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Hump Day Nudge: We belong to each other

- by Carolyn Bergen

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We belong to each other. We have better immunity, improved cardiovascular heath, less anxiety, lower rates of depression…simply, we do better when we live in community.

We do better when we give each other hugs, exchange handshakes, tell each other our stories, lean on each other for support, celebrate and mourn together.

We all do better when we travel in groups.

This adorably cute cartoon says it all:


Low levels of social interaction have the same negative effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. information by Psychology Today.  Poster by Bergen and Associates.


FAQ's: Selfies…what they tell us about us

- by Carolyn Bergen

Ummm…I hear this word "selfie" does everyone but me know what it means?

Selfies are a relatively recent development, so let me let Oxford tell you:

Definition of selfie according to Oxford Dictionary

So…why would anybody take a selfie? Why take pics of yourself to post on social media? What's the point?

Ahhh…so you're likely not a "Millennial" if you're asking that question. No problem. I'll explain 

A Millennial is a person born between 1982-2004. Millennials understand that in today's onslaught of endless electronic information where that info is evaluated upon within a few seconds, it is often less about "character" and more about "branding". 

That's right--branding.

While Baby Boomers and Gen X folks think of Millennials as "narcissistic and self obsessed", millennials are actually adapting to the current cultural values which we all get sucked into, like it of not. Psychology Today says, "Millennials have no choice but to invest in and develop an online presence. An effective web profile conveys important information about the user's skills, credibility, and potential."

Really? You're telling me "selfies" are normal?

To an extent, they are a natural adaptation to a changing culture. And sometimes, they are even a little fun…my mom sent me a selfie of herself at her first Jet's game this season…what a hoot! And…just to prove I have a sense of humour on the topic:

Poster of quote by Amy Lee Mercree that states: What if it becomes less about how we look and more about how much we care? Poster by Bergen and Associates

But, to be honest, even millennials have noticed some disturbing trends. 

Selfies also can serve the purpose of:

  • overtly seeking approval for external characteristics. Folks are looking to feel good about themselves on the backs of positive feedback with "likes" and "thumbs up" and comments. We all know that to base one's wellbeing on positive comments of others is dangerous…because feeling good on the back of compliments makes the world a very fragile place indeed.
  • a focus on self to the exclusion of others. Seriously branding is a form of advertising…which by it's nature is very "self focused"…ever seen a commercial where one product is caring for another? Nope. We are wired for connection…to care for each other, to show empathy, to reach out and connect with others meaningfully…and a selfie is pretty much only "self-focused". It takes us away from being our best selves when we aren't reaching out to others about who they are and what their stories are.

So, the whole idea of "selfies" can be destructive?

Yep. I mean, posting a selfie of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China so that your relatives and friends can see you on your travels…well, that's just necessary in today's world so that your mother doesn't cry on the phone the next time you call. These people care about you and they want to see you having incredible experiences because you matter to them.

But the idea of selfless has turned into "How can I create a beautiful me online to impress the socks off others?" or "How beautiful can I make a selfie so that everyone will know how gorgeous I am?" And guess what?

There's an app for that.

Skinneepix takes off 5-15 pounds off your selfie to make you look more slender. The developers insist that it is not to be a fat shaming tool, and as entertainment and inspiration…I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying it.

Selfie's in this culture are a huge opportunity for folks to feel lousy about themselves, or as some sort of reaction to how lousy they feel about themselves. An app like Skinneepix says it is designed to help people feel better about who they are if they are defining themselves by how their selfie looks.

In truth, when people use Skinneepix, what they are really telling themselves is that they think they are unacceptably pudgy, and need to resort to being inauthentically themselves to be attractive online. 

And that, dear people, is frankly revolting to me. Even folks in the average range sees themselves as unacceptably fat. That is not OK.

What do you mean…in this culture. How does our culture influence this?

Rader Programs, an eating disorder program in the United States has a fantastic page about how our culture influences body image of people (we used to say women, but we know now that men are also powerfully affected). 

A few points it makes:

  • 97% of women acknowledge they have a "I hate my body" thought at least once a day
  • women overestimate the size of their waist by 25% even though they are accurate in estimating the size of a box.
  • one study found that 75% of the women in the study evaluated themselves as overweight, even though only 25% were overweight
  • 20 years ago, fashion models weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, the average fashion model weighs 23% less than the average woman.
  • Vogue magazine stated that they chose Gisele Buenchen as their "model of the year" as least in part because she isn't the "typical rail thin image". Guess what…she weights 115 pounds and is an inch shy of 6 feet. That is 25% below her ideal body weight

Really? It's that bad? You think our media actually distorts our sense of normalcy, and tells us who we should be? And people buy into it?

Yep…for sure…take a few minutes to watch this. 


So, where can this end up? How bad can it get?

At it's worst, it can lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder…which is a crippling obsession about perceived flaws that hijack a person's life. It's not about noticing an issue and working to correct it; it's a vicious hustle that can never be satisfied. A person feels like they need to lose 10 pounds…and when s/he does, s/he looks in the mirror and sees it wasn't enough, and determines to lose another 10. It gets away…and can become dysregulated eating…including severe eating disorders.

What is the antidote to unhealthy selfie obsession?

Well, the answer is simple, but so not easy.

It's becoming grounded in what's real. 

  • "Branding" may get you an interview, but who you are in the interview is what will get you the job. Your online presence is important (watch the pics of you involving drinking games or other things future employers would frown on) but know that if you set life up so that your worth is determined by your "likes", you are setting yourself up for a life of perfectionism, anxiety and depression
  • Pretty typically, folks are harder on themselves with regards to appearance than others are. Honestly, if you talk to the people who matter to you, it is completely irrelevant what you look like, but if pushed, they will describe you as beautiful…because to them, you are.
  • It's developing disciplines that don't create the bad feelings…cancel the Cosmo subscription, unfriend the friends who are the the "Best Selfie" competition, and keeping trying to suck you into the fray. Be friends with them in real life, but unhook yourself from the "keep up with the Jones' selfie" thang


Hump Day Nudge: Falling Floyd

- by Carolyn Bergen

"Shame is the gremlin that says,"uh, uh,  you

A few weeks ago, I was leading The Daring Way ™ workshop over the weekend. One of the participants recommended the video Falling Floyd…an animated movie that essentially depicts what it is like to long for connection…feel rejected, and then what it is like to carry the shame gremlins that create pain and destruction. 

It's cute…and simultaneously painful as it is such an apt metaphor for what we have all experienced in one way or another.

Fallin' Floyd from il Luster on Vimeo.


The Daring Way ™ is being offered by Bergen And Associates in 2 offerings:

  • over 8 Thursday mornings from 10:00 am-noon beginning April 24
  • from Friday-Sunday May 30-June 1
The Daring Way ™ is a powerful experience designed to help you show up, be seen, and live brave ™ in an area of your life. It was developed based not the research of Dr. Brené Brown. I can't tell you how even the most intimidated folks find the group experience of watching videos and discussion something that is life changing, giving a powerful boost to the life path each attender. Consider joining us if you feel a little like ol'Floyd?

Call us at 202 275 1045 or check the website for further details! Send us an email if you would like to register!


Wholehearted Living

- by Carolyn Bergen

Yesterday was one of those days...chaotically full.

It was the last "Advanced Communication Skills" class with my class of Occupational Therapy students and I figger they don't get much fun in their lives…actually, they really don't get any time at all to have fun…so as a closing activity we played this game called "Bite the Bag" where we all take a turn leaning over to grab a paper bag off the floor with our teeth, with nothing but your feet allowed to touch the ground. 

When you've "bit the bag", you rip off the part of the bag where your teeth touched...the bag gets gradually shorter and the game gets harder. We use it as a metaphor for therapy...but have a whole lotta laughs in the process. For a bunch of stressed out Master's students, playing a stupid party game first thing in the morning is pretty darn fun…no alcohol required.

We debriefed about their experience in learning counselling skills...profound and rewarding for me as I heard of incredibly professional and personal growth...a great, holy fun to watch students recognize and celebrate how school changes them and their relationships, and their ability to be effective future clinicians. I get to teach the good stuff!

Then off to the office to have a fun lunch meeting with Melanie, my office manager--good times with good work getting done--and dashing home for some productive business calls. Then off to spend the rest of the day with a Junior Tribe Member driving he and his good buddy to an out of town sporting event...with a stop for a casual supper along the way. 

Very full, and very fun...if folks ask me about my day they might see to to be simply full of good richness.

But you wouldn't have seen:

-that the tea time I had with friends at a coffee shop while we were waiting for that JTM's game to start was to tearfully listen--their hearts are breaking over a family crisis. They entrusted me to hold their pain yesterday

-that I heard news that a good friend's mother passed away 

-that I heard the heartbreak of another friend in tears over the news of this death...realizing her parents are not far off from this end of life stage

-my conversation with one of our therapists who is dealing with a death in her family...making arrangements to have her sessions handled...and hearing her tears as she prepares to travel go say "good-bye"

-me checking to make sure that the flowers were successfully sent to the funeral for my out-of-town aunt's funeral--I hadn't seen her in years, but her death hits close to home for those I care about

It had me go to sleep last night contemplating how to hold it all:

...the laughter and joy and excitement with knowing that so many hurt that I care about and

...lots of tears from multiple friends sharing their heartache...used up the kleenex packet I carry in my purse.

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy Quote by Kahlil Gibran, Poster by Bergen and associates Counselling in Winnipeg

That's a challenge in life...is to figure out how to remember a day like yesterday:


Will I remember the heartache and pain and disappointments and stressors (easy enough to do)


OR


Will I remember the joy and the laughter and fun and the friendship and the "light bulb moments" and the growth (it's tempting to remember it that way)
I choose "both"

I don't want to live an "either/or" life, which a day with such sharp contrasts as yesterday tempted me to do.

My brain longs to remember simply...which means it's tempted to record the day as an either/or memory. You know what I'm talking about, we like to say, "This was a good day" or "This was a bad day". 

I'm not the only one...You too, right?

Choosing to remember the day yesterday as one only filed in the "joy" part of my memory sets me up to deny the sadness and not "be there" for those I care about, to live in a "la-la" land that isn't meaningfully connected reality, and not prepared to deal with life.

Choosing to remember only the loss, and the many sad friends who crossed my path yesterday and file it in the "rotten horrible terrible no good very bad" day file doesn't let me celebrate the fun I had with students, friends, and family. I laughed a lot yesterday. I hit an amazing run down the main drag downtown in the middle of rush hour of no red lights...it was a small but victorious moment that was fun. 

To only focus on the sadness, means that my emotional tank has a huge drain without the deliciousness of the filling that happens when I remember the great moments of my day.

I choose "both/and" living...I will often not hit the mark, and may at times be too "Pollyanna" or too "Eeyore"...but I choose to live fully in all of life, wholeheartedly relishing in the joy, and patiently sitting in the pain. 

So I choose to remember the pain of the day 

and

the joy of the day

I make it sound easy, don't I...it so isn't. 

I may forget and try to remember it only one way or the other...but it certainly is worthwhile to live wholeheartedly. 

It's a messy, beautiful...

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
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A Life Plumb Line--DIY!

- by Carolyn Bergen

Let's start off with saying that this is my first DIY blog post…I've written over 700 posts and not one of them is a Do It Yourself. But I pulled off a project recently...I mentioned this project recently at a couple of workshops and presentations I led to illustrate a point, people asked if they could steal my idea for their Junior Tribe Members (JTM). 

No stealing required. Take this idea and run with it in a way that is yours.

But first my point

I believe that we all struggle with feeling good enough about ourselves. 

There are moments (or weeks or months) where we all struggle to find our own worth and value. 

When our children grow into young adults…they can struggle with wondering if they are valued and valuable, and well…that's when a kid can play these strange games that are a lot of effort, and don't really work anyways…like:

  • entering a profession to show smarts rather than following true passion in career choice
  • drinking alcohol or experimenting with drugs to be accepted at "cool" by peers
  • finding ways to puff up like being overly loud at a party or speeding home from it
  • finding ways to shrink, hoping no one will notice and criticize or judge, working to disappear into the woodwork 

A young person can lose sight of their value and worth, and lose sight of guiding values and principles in the hustle for worthiness. It's not just young adults that struggle with that.

Yeah, so you get that, too.

So often other people see us in a more positive light than we see ourselves…I think the world would be a different place if we could see ourselves the way those who love us see us. Too often, the only time we get to hear how others see a person is at their funeral…when it is too late

Sooo sad that there isn't a way for our children to hear and know and see and remember their own value through the lives of others. Hmmmm...

One of the things I have always admired about many cultures is the way they have rituals that welcome a child into adulthood. These ceremonies often centre around the older and wiser members of the community reminding them of where they came from and who they are. The ceremony 
  • challenges the young adult to hold strong onto the love the family/community has for them, 
  • reminds in practical and tangible ways that they are valued and prized for who they are, and 
  • serves as a reminder of the enduring truths and principles of the community.

I think of ceremonies that transition a child into adulthood as sort of a plumb line event…something that can serve as a life long reference point

Something that can be recalled and used as a reminder of ones worth, one's value and one's values and principles.

But…I'm not Jewish, so a bar mitzvah for my JTM's wasn't an option. My own faith tradition doesn't have a ritual to transition a child into adulthood…so I thought I would create a childhood-into-adulthood event. 

But…I'm an introvert…and creating a big splashy party with new rituals and ceremonies with food and celebration with invitations and hosting had me begin to hyperventilate and get itchy

I was going to have to do something that fit for us…I created a Plumb Line Book.

Plumb LIne Book with Roosevelt quote: We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future. Poster by Bergen and Associates

Here's the DIY part:

1. Start about 3 months before your JTM's 18th birthday (or whatever occasion you choose to do this for…16, high school grad, college grad, 21)

2. Email 20-30 people who have been influential in your own JTM's life. Teachers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, coaches, mentors, family friends, pastor/rabbi/iman, siblings--people who know and love your child. Invite them to join in the opportunity to usher your child into adulthood by emailing you a paragraph about:

  • strengths of your child
  • celebrating memories and experiences
  • providing inspiration/challenge/comfort for the years ahead
  • and ask them to include a photo of themselves with or without your child
It is a bit of work for you and for those that send you something…but mostly they feel honoured that they were included in the ask. Send a reminder so that submissions are in 6 weeks before…that gives you about 2 weeks to put it together.

3. Collect pictures electronically of the years gone by…if you have pictures only with old fashioned prints developed from negatives, just take pictures of those pictures with your phone. The important thing here is to git'er done, not be overly tech-y about it. It doesn't have to be perfect…in fact, it's better if it's real… 

4. Find a coupon for an online self publishing site…part of the fun is to get the best coupon possible. It's always more fun to do a project when you are also saving money. I used Picaboo this time, but have used Photobin in the past--there are other sites that work as well.

5. Cut and paste the submissions from family and friends into the pages of the book on the website. Keep it real, not perfect. Drag and drop your photos into the spaces provided. Have a couple of pages filled with photos…you are celebrating the past in such a way as to make a clear path forward. This takes a bit of time, but you are making lasting memories, people!

First page:

Intro page for plumb line book…during days you might wonder

Part of a coach's note:

Sample of note from coach for plumb line book

Part of an uncle's note:

An uncle

Another note, this one from a pastor:

Plumb line note from a pastor

The baby picture page:

The baby picture page of A Plumb Line Book

Wasn't he adorable?!

The back cover:

Back cover of plumb line book

6. Push "pay/print/send" in time to get the finished product for the occasion. It won't be perfect, and you could tweak/add/change photos until a year from next Tuesday…Just. Finish. It.

7. Order a second copy for yourself…it's a powerful thing to see and remember how others see your child. Truly. And one day, your JTM will not live at home and this will be a comfort. I plan to sleep with my copy once he goes off to college.

8. Create an event to present the completed book. This is important. The giving of it is a celebration of the JTM, a marking of time, and a send-off into the future. It doesn't need to be fancy or huge, but it does need to be a thingOur thing is a lunch date where the child misses school to celebrate their birthday--just the two of us--at the restaurant of his choice. Since preschool. Without fail. It's our thing.

When you present the book, give a little prepared speech about how you much you love and cherish your JTM…and how you want your JTM to be reminded about who s/he is on days when it might be hard to remember.  

9. Practice gratitude…it's a big deal that a buncha busy folks with full lives troubled themselves to invest in your kid. Let them know of the impact.

After our lunch date, my JTM took his into school that afternoon. I asked what people said when they saw it. He had one response. "The other kids wished their parents would do one for them". 

Everyone likes to be celebrated. Everyone likes to know they are valued and appreciated for their uniqueness. Everyone likes to be fussed over. Everyone likes to know their lives have meaning for others. 

Why would we wait for someone to be dead before we do this?

My JTM finally cleaned up his room this week and rearranged his stuff. There is only one book prominently displayed on the shelf above his desk…the book that will serve to centre him to his values for years to come. The book that will help him to align himself with his values. The book that celebrates him…because he is so loved by so many.

And on days when he forgets how much he is loved…he will have the book to remind him.


FAQ's about Kids and Dishonesty

- by Carolyn Bergen

I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy. Quote by George Bernard Shaw. Poster by Bergen and Assocaites in Winnipeg

Yikes! My kid lies! Does that mean I'm a bad parent?

Well…if that makes you a bad parent, then I'm a bad parent, she's a bad parent, he's a bad parent--we're all bad parents if measured by our kids lying.

In fact, if kids are being dishonest, it's a sign that they are growing in intelligence, and experimenting with the truth, and with consequences, and being creative. It's a normal part of childhood development!

Lying is normal?! Whaddaya mean?

Lying is part of normal growth and development. In fact, there are indications that lying in children can be an indicator of social intelligence.

In young children, lying is seen as a way to avoid upsetting adults and have them be angry at you. Children don't want to be punished. It turns out that the smartest kids are the ones who lie. It is a recognition that the other has different thoughts than your own--when children lie, it's a sign they have figured out that parents are not mind readers. It isn't malicious, it is strategic. 

In preschoolers, dishonesty can be part of imagination, how one wishes it would be. Children might have an imaginary friend, and be able to tell you all about her. And then it's much easier to say the imaginary friend wet the bed than to acknowledge responsibility. School aged children will often lie when they feel in over their heads in a situation, or they fear anger from an adult.

Older children may lie for a variety of reasons. They may do it to appear a certain way to their peers, or to their parents, or to demonstrate that they are "good enough", or to gain attention. 

Bottom line: There is a always a more important reason to lie than to tell the truth. 

Another bottom line: don't assume that you know that reason. 

Children may lie because they are covering up being bullied at school, or because they are worried their parents are too fragile to handle a truth, or because they are starting to choose to not disclose pieces of their story as part of normal developmental maturation (e.g. lying about a first boyfriend or school yard kiss) or because of anxiety, or because they fear telling the truth. And yes, often kids will lie because "it's worth it".

So what does a parent do about a child's fibs?

Understand the developmental age, and the purpose that lying serves. Small children need to learn through experience that lying is wrong…they aren't born into this world knowing that. Teens, as they work to develop their own space, can learn to develop their own boundaries by declaring them, rather than lying.

It is also important to understand the underlying reasons why the lying is occurring. Most parents assume that children lie to do what is self serving and then avoid punishment (e.g. deny eating the cookies before dinner because he wanted to enjoy them and didn't want to be punished). 

There may be other reasons for the dishonesty, and it can be important to create a safe space (with the help of a teacher/mentor/counsellor if necessary) to know why a child is lying. Knowing the underlying reason for lying may profoundly change the strategy to address the lying. 

The child may be stealing money to pay off a school yard bully.

    • If you knew this was the reason for theft, you deal with the bully
The child is exaggerating stories to ensure that the stories (and therefore the child) are valued and heard
    • If you know this to be the reason, then finding ways to ensure the child feels s/he is heard and valued becomes the antidote 
The child may lie because of insecurities of losing the parents love with honesty…be candid...if you thought you would lose your parent's love if you admitted you broke the family heirloom vase, would you admit it? 
    • Can you imagine this latter child's reaction to a "time out" that separated you from your parent as a consequence? It might escalate the fear and the lying. 
    • If the child is lying to avoid losing a parent's love, it may make much more sense to have a "time in" that reassures the child of love, reducing further need to always be perfect/lie about imperfections.

All children need to understand the value of honesty in building trust in relationships, and have them experience how relationships with integrity actually work more effectively in a family. If a child can understand that honesty builds trust, and trust increases self respect and the respect of parents which can result in more freedoms then lying becomes not "worth it" anymore. 

In a situation where the child lied because they thought it was worth it, help them see that it actually isn't. When there is a lie in a relationship that is intended to function with trust and love, the trust is broken, and then circumstances need to change. So…if the child said there was no booze at the party, and you find out from another mother that there was…trust has been broken…and so the child may have limitations on whose house he can go hang out at, or you may decide you need to call the parents where he is going to check out the circumstances ahead of time, or you may pick him up at a earlier time in the evening rather than allowing him to get home with friends--for a time, as trust is rebuilt. Have conversations about what he can do to rebuild trust--and give him a chance to gradually do so…so that it pays off to be honest.

Do adults help children lie?

Usually not maliciously, no. But yes, think about it…how often have your children witness you be dishonest even just today? Y'know… "I'll be happy to bring cookies to the bake sale" on the phone and then immediately grumble about it on hanging up. And tell your kids, "I'd love to play yet another game of 'go fish'" through gritted teeth and barely veiled annoyance. Tell your friend you love her new sweater when she asks, and they see you roll your eyes when she turns her back. Complain to your child that they "never" clean up their room…really, is that honest, or convenient hyperbole? Perhaps even when we tell them that the Easter bunny is real, and we work to be convincing of it, and they cotton on the fact that we are telling stories. Kids watch us, and learn that dishonesty is a socially acceptable part of life.

Be the example of honesty. Don't lie about smoking to your spouse after you've been in the back yard having some puffs…your kids notice and they will do what you do, rather than do what you say.

Have the child understand the difference between a "white lie" (i.e. a socially acceptable lie) and a real lie. I recall a situation where a little family friend opened up a gift on his birthday and was honest when he said, "This is not a present. This is clothes." His parents were horrified because he told the truth…they wanted him to lie in a socially acceptable way--to be grateful for a gift he wasn't especially fond of. Now…how confusing is that for a child!

Another way we help children lie is to set the kids up to lie. When you see the child with sprinkles on his face and the empty container, you can put the kid under a test and ask (see below for the terribly cute response) or notice, "I see sprinkles on our face and a half empty container. Tell me about that." 

Let me assure you that I have spoken to many adults in marriages that come to counselling because when they are "put on the spot" about a mistake they have made, they go for "short term gain" and give the convenient answer rather than the truth.

If you notice cigarettes in your teen's car, asking if they smoke is a test, asking them when they started smoking starts the conversation. Don't back your kids into a corner where they make a snap decision and then have to continue to defend a position they adopted in a panic. And allow the child to change their story to a truthful one with dignity. For example: "You say that you haven't been smoking. I saw cigarettes in the car you drive. I'm going to go put the laundry in, give you a few minutes to take some deep breaths, and give you a do-over. We'll restart this conversation, and I'll give you a chance to come clean so that we can keep the trust we've developed."

What else can we do to reduce lying?

Notice stories of honesty in the news and talk about them over the dinner table. Remind your child (and yourself) before a discussion that honesty is valued in your household. Let the child know the effect of honesty vs lying on you and how you feel in a relationship. Let your child know how you honour their courage when they are brave enough to be honest when it is hard.

Find ways of honouring a painful honesty so that they don't regret their choice of honest--in the moment it can be difficult to notice their honesty about a mistake, but find ways of looking at the big picture to notice their actions in a way that. For example: "It must have been hard for you to admit to me just now that you broke that window. That took a lot of courage to tell me you were throwing the ball around the house even though you know you weren't supposed to. I'm mad about your disobeying, but also really proud that you owned your mistake. We will have to talk about what happens with the broken window, for sure--cuz you blew it and we both know it. But part of how I'm going to remember this story is how you were brave enough to be honest with me." 

Can you imagine what it would be like for a child to hear that? How that would make it that much safer to be honest the next time and not lie about things…when potentially, the stakes are much higher?

Ensure that you are addressing the behaviour of lying--which is something that child can actively work on with you, rather than labelling the child as "a liar"--which pigeonholes the child and may "sentence" the child to that identity, making it almost impossible to change the behaviour.


Hump Day Nudge: Welcome to the world

- by Carolyn Bergen

KId President quote: You

This is so not my first day on earth, but I have to admit that this was a few minutes well spent to remind myself of what it means to live on this earth:

Enjoy your day…and have a corn dog if the spirit moves you--and it just might!


Prickles as Protection

- by Carolyn

One of my favorite little people, L, has a hedgehog named Harriet. I'd never been up close and personal with a hedgehog before, and frankly, I won't need to have this experience often!

Hedgehogs are a lot more like porcupines than anything else. Porcupines may have needlesharp quills, whereas hedgehogs have quills that are rather like sharpened pencils. Despite the fact that these quills don’t penetrate the skin, they are NOT cuddly creatures.

Harriet is cute though:

When a person is scared in a relationship, they can push people away without intending to. Counseling at Bergmann and Associates Counselling can help a person address this.

 

Taking these pictures required patience. Harriet doesn’t show her cuteness, only her prickles when she’s nervous. I’m new to her—so she was nervous…could only see her prickles for the longest time…eventually she relaxed enough for me to see her face.

I dared to touch her back (or rather, the quills 2 inches off her back) a few times…she would recoil in panic and chatter nervously. (I can't say I was a particular fan of touching her, either though--she was a little scary to touch)

It was suggested that L that he turn Harriet over because apparently she has very soft and velvety fur on her belly. L turned her over so I could feel the soft part of Harriet. All I saw was this:

Fear has people withdraw in relationships.  Couselling can help this, and Bergen and Associates offers this kind of help.

Harriet has the amazing ability to curl up so that absolutely none of that soft belly shows.I will have to take it on faith that she has a soft furry belly because she just wasn’t going to let me see it or touch it or even know that it exists.

I snapped this picture of Harriet because I had just come from the counselling office and she reminded me of the “prickly factor” that I so often see:

When a creature is frightened, it closes up and protects its soft parts.

When a creature doesn’t trust a person or a situation, it does what it takes to be less vulnerable.

Makes sense, huh?

The challenge is, though, that I genuinely wanted to get to know Harriet. I wanted to stroke her soft belly to see what it was like—and what animal doesn’t love it? However, both of us missed out.

Harriet was safe. But we didn’t connect.

Harriet would rather be safe and possibly wrong about the level of danger, than open and possibly hurt.

I’m not sure I blame Harriet…she weighs a couple of pounds…and well, I, ahem... well…weigh considerably more. She doesn’t know if I’m safe or not…and I have the potential to really hurt her.

This is important people:

What is happening though is that Harriet is responding to me as though I am dangerous…she treats me as dangerous (even though I know I’m not). 

I can handle it…Harriet is a hedgehog, and our relationship isn’t really all that meaningful to me.

However, there are Harriet’s in our lives…people who curl up and avoid showing us their tender parts, who actually look fairly prickly. They might even seem hostile—which is confusing when we actually haven’t done anything hurtful (nor intend to, either).But that doesn’t matter, because they would rather be safe and wrong, then dangerously open and vulnerable.

The Harriet’s in our lives have often been previously hurt, and they (often without even realizing it) will ensure they aren’t hurt again and will close off the soft parts, be all prickles, even if we have not done anything hurtful.

It can be confusing, but it is understandable.

It requires compassion and extra gentleness.I have this feeling that if I had tried to get to Harriet’s soft belly against her will, I would have had less success than if I had just hung around her for a while and spoken very gently and moved very softly.

That can be counterintuitive though, when we care for someone and we see them pull away—the natural thing to do is to pursue hard and force the person to open up. Doesn’t. Work. Well.

What can work is the soothing/calming approach.

Notice your own Harrietness…are there times when you shut out people based on previous bad experiences that they weren’t even a part of? Are there people in your life that deserve a chance …that you might want to dare open up to, even just a little, to see if it feels safe…even good? Think about it. That's something that people sometimes come to counselling to work through.

And… be gentle with the Harriets in your life.


Secret sharing

- by Carolyn Bergen

As a therapist, I am likely in a relatively unique position to be an authority on this having witnessed this more times than I can count: The weight of a secret can be staggering.

  • being abused as a child
  • having an alcoholic in the family
  • repeating a grade as a child
  • having an affair
  • having a sexually transmitted disease 
  • heck…even farting in public and having people look around and wonder who did it
“Secrets are generally terrible. Beauty is not hidden--only ugliness and deformity.”  ― L.M. Montgomery Poster by Bergen and Associates

Carrying the secret can feel like a burden. A heavy emotional weight that is lugged around in your life, sapping a person of joy and freedom and energy, vigilant to ensure it is not exposed

Disclosing a secret is often difficult because of the shame we feel…"If others knew of ____, what would they think of me?" Gosh, it's terrifying to think of disclosing a secret. 

The internet has an app for that.

Seriously, it does. Actually, more than one.

A fairly new app is Whisper. It claims that it is "anti-bullying" because of it's anonymity. Folks can post disclosures on it, and then others can respond. The idea is it can be a support network where care and concern can develop, in ways that are difficult on other places in social media. 

Many social media sites have moved away from anonymity to encourage accountability so that people will "own" their content. Seems to me that makes sense…why shouldn't people take responsibility for what they say online…just like anyone has to do so in the real world?

However, one of the implications is that when your name is attached to everything you write, is that folks manage their public personae to put their best foot forward…folks are on their best behaviour leading to an artificially positive on line presence. A recent Yahoo article states: "It's like people are living their digital lives in front of a window. No one is not going to show their best self…Identify can feel sort of shackling." So then, the question becomes where does one go to reveal one's shadow side online?

The answer appears to be sites like Whisper or Secret, places where folks can say things that they aren't likely to post with their names attached. They are venues for oversharing, really. The idea is that folks can disclose intimate thoughts freely, with a candidness that wouldn't be possible if their name was attached. Painful thoughts that can feel like an unburdening, such as this, from the article,"My baby boy passed away recently. I saw his picture today and cried. I cried because I love him and miss him. I'm a guy, so no one thinks to talk to me." 

Spouting stories anonymously online, that one doesn't dare to tell others in real life can happen for several reasons:

  1. Attention seeking…One can post outrageous things, which may or may not be true, to receive feedback from folks who will send their reactions to statements…which means people have read your stuff and are thinking about it. That feels good to people who are looking to know that they matter.
  2. Hot wiring connection…Oversharing is a way of strategy to create intimacy by turbo boosting it. However, it's sort of like putting on one of those sumo wrestling suits to say you've bulked up. It doesn't authentically work, even if it has some qualities of intimacy. To hear supportive comments may be meaningful at some level, but their anonymity would water down the power of them exponentially from what it would be with someone meaningful in your life saying the same sorts of things.
  3. Poor boundaries…Folks that have grown up in chaotic, dysfunctional or alcoholic households often have a poor sense of boundaries…so they can make poor choices about sexual partners, cheating on exams, substance abuse with under-the-influence-mistakes. And then those poor boundaries have them sharing inappropriately online, not understanding what is appropriate sharing is. Some things are private and are not appropriate for sharing with the world
  4. A desperate need to tell someone and there is no one in their lives that can hear the story. A feeling like, "If I don't tell my story, I'm going to explode or implode or disintegrate or DIE" 

This last one breaks my heart.

This need for anonymous apps to receive support just fills me with an enormous sadness. Not unlike the sadness I feel when a client comes in, under the weight of a story, to tell me of a painful event that does not have a place to be told anywhere else.

If our society has a need to have anonymous places to tell shameful/painful/secret stories, then we are living in a world that has to figure out how to become a more supportive place.

We are wired for connection. We are wired to tell stories, We are wired to hear stories. We are wired to connect through stories.

Stories that have weight to them…a heaviness--because of the serious content, the private content, the painful content…those stories need to be told in relationships that have the strength to hold the weight of those stories.

I have often witnessed one family member take a deep breath to dare greatly to tell a long held story to a partner or parent in session. To see support and care and comfort being extended, to hear gratitude of the trust that was demonstrated, to see the burden lifted with a secret now shared…well, to witness that is such a holy experience, I almost avert my eyes because the beauty is so exquisite it's blinding.

To share one's stories intimately but anonymously…well, that's a sentence that doesn't really make sense. Sharing vulnerably is about trust, intimacy and connection. I suppose there is a measure of connection to have fellow anonymous folk send messages of support back…but connection is hardly being built. Trust isn't being developed. And intimacy? Intimacy with anonymous people…that seems an oxymoron.

It would seem to me that sharing one's secrets anonymously online is a bit like taking your sister to the prom for your date. You do it to look normal and feel OK…but once you're there with her, you realize that it really doesn't work to have your feel great about the date on your arm.

There may be a need for telling secret stories that the internet fulfills…but I think then, the larger question becomes, "How can we raise our children to create, develop, and nurture meaningful relationships in their lives so that when something enormously painful arises, they have a connection that is strong enough and trusted enough that can hold the weight of the story." 

Poster: Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often we call a man cold when he is sad. Quote by Longfellow, Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

We all need someone that we can, with baited breath and wobbly knees, tell them we are terrified to disclose but here it is…and then have that person look us in the eye, put their hand on our shoulder and say, "I admire your courage in telling me. That was hard, and you were brave. You know our friendship is stronger because you've told me. I'm here for you."

And for those that don't have a friendship like that, well…anonymous sharing sites may be a very, very distant second best.


Older posts »

Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

April 17, 2014

Hump Day Nudge: It's smarter to travel together…90 seconds to remind you very sweetly and practically how we belong to each other.

What do selfies teach us about ourselves?

Falling Floyd: Shame resilience in a cartoon…understand yourself better by seeing Floyd negotiate his own life?

Whole hearted living…living a both/and life instead of either/or…part of the Momastery's Messy Beautiful Warrior blog sharing event. Thanx, Glennon Melton, for a most interesting project.

A DIY for parents to gift their children with a relationship plumb line for their lives…a book that reminds them of who they are…details on the blog!

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