City Social Magazine

MAR-APR 2019

City Social Magazine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Dr. Nicholas Abraham is a writer, speaker, musician and licensed professional counselor in private practice. He can be reached at drnick@nickabraham.net. W. NICHOLAS ABRAHAM, PH.D., LPC The world is not safe. School violence, domestic abuse, dangerous weather, sudden death of a loved one. These are but a few from a long list of hazardous realities. And because of a dangerous world, we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about our children, where they are, who they're with and if they are walking into a danger zone. We are more alert than ever before, and unconsciously wear the armor of prevention that, while weighing us down, is worth it. In so doing, we put armor on those we love, never realizing that we can be creating more anxiety and fear. Prevention is the key and health care is the model. More and more early interventions can prevent serious health concerns. So when our children are out in the world, wandering and exploring, we do our best to provide them with the skills to handle an unsafe situation. Heavy or not, that's how we hope to dress our loved ones for the journey. But what happens when prevention doesn't work and a loved one is harmed by this world? Let's play out a scenario to hopefully be a guide toward recovery. Imagine you have a middle school-age child whom you notice is becoming more withdrawn and isolated. When you approach her, she knows instinctively (from similar situations in the past) that you are going to be a safe harbor and that your job is to listen without moving towards your own emotional reaction. She speaks and tells you of the bullying she is experiencing at school, of being called names and ostracized from a certain group. She tells you that it's always done in a sinister way and without anyone around to intervene. The first reaction is obvious: Call the Principal and fix it. No bullying allowed. That's definitely an option, and an important one. Bullying should never be tolerated. But is it the primary need of your child at the time? I don't think so. What she really needs is a compassionate ear and an empathic mouth that can say, "I can both hear and feel your pain. I can tell you are really suffering." You might even get teary-eyed from the suffering you feel for your loved one. She does not need for you to take more of her power from her. She needs you to empower her with the ability to get through this. And that's the first response. A sincere ability to validate her emotional pain without panic. Once she has gotten it out and you've taken in as much her pain that you can, you then begin the most important intervention of all; you begin the process of helping her learn how she can manage it, what can she do to change the situation or to prevent the bullying or whom she could befriend. And then you top it off with changing her script in that very moment. You ask her for her best memory of the day, her favorite subject, her plans for the rest of the day, what she can do to feel better and recapture the twinkle in her eye. She needs to know her value and worth, to know that she didn't cause life to be so painful. That it is not her fault. Such is emotional medicine. And one doesn't need a medical degree to prescribe alternatives to isolation and self-loathing. She needs to know she has options on both how to respond and how to change the environment, if possible. She needs to put the lens on current projects she was working on or how her hobbies were coming along. You might ask her if she wants to invite someone over to spend the night that weekend. You ask her to give five reasons to be alive and full of purpose. And five more talents and gifts she has to make the world a better place. And she needs to think these out for a while in order to answer from her own experiences of what being alive and full of purpose means. She is now realizing, even though it might be a mere glimpse, of what she gives to herself when life is less than friendly. In other words, when bad things happen, our tendency is to punish ourselves; we claim responsibility for the situations and pave the road to it's my fault or I'm just not good enough, strong enough, likable enough. And this is the moment when she chooses to either reveal or to hide herself. Perhaps the hardest part of the intervention is giving her the drive to overlook the unfairness of the world she is living in and focus on watering the tree of resilience. We need to plant the seeds of "you can do this" and "I believe in you and your ability to manage your feeling." We are giving her courage to march through the fear head on and pointing out that whatever comes her way, she can handle it. Yes, resilience. The ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult and challenging circumstances. Resilience has its roots in the Latin phrase, "leaping back." If we truly love one another, our love is manifested in a belief that everyone can leap back up and be at peace. The story of this parent and the interaction with the child, including an understanding of the importance of resilience, can only be done when options are available. Young people need guidance in building resilience. They need people who are resilient to teach them which most storms can be navigated and which ones can't be; by modeling positive behaviors, we help them pick up the pieces and start all over. Who in Southeast Louisiana, for example, hasn't seen the amazing resilience of flood and hurricane victims? The problem is that such guidance takes time, a willingness to listen, prioritizing values and avoiding the tendency to fix everything that seems broken. Remember that some bones after a fracture really do heal themselves—so too do difficult situations, which pass over time. So, our choices are basically, sit it out and watch life pass you by, or jump in and swim vigorously, aware that there are always dangers lurking. Our sons and daughters need to learn that the world is not safe. That there is no perfect neighborhood, perfect friends or perfect day. And although we don't want to admit it, we know it to be true. Safety comes at a cost. One can sit on the dock forever and never learn to tame the rough waters with swimming skills. Or one can be told that the seas can be dangerous and that we need to be alert, but not overly so. The safety we want our children to have is the ability to think things through, make good judgments given the circumstances they will be in, utilize methods to protect ourselves from insensitive insults and, most important, get right back in the saddle and ready themselves for another day in this hostile, yet friendly thing called "life." What a paradox, huh? We want to prevent hostility all the while preparing for its unexpected knock on the door. I've come to accept that the world is a mix of hostility and friendliness, fairness and unfairness. In other words, we never really know what the day will bring. And the reason we don't know is that our scripts have rarely played out the way we plan. Some days we just want to pull the covers over our heads and put the day to bed. At other times, it will seem that everything was going our way. Resilience: The ability to recover from, to struggle through, to set goals and put our emotional energy into creative outlets is paramount to guiding people. The trick, however, is not to guide them into a false sense of safety, but a confident settling of the spiritual stomach that says "I know who I am and I can move through the jungles of life's twists and turns." Such an attitude doesn't make life safer, but it makes it worth the risk. Resilience: Leaping Back Up 50

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