COPING WITH FERTILITY PROBLEMS, PART I

Recently, over dinner with a long-time friend, we got into a discussion about some not-always-obvious double standards. This friend (I’ll call her “Sue”) has been with her husband (we’ll call him “Dave”) for about 12 years. When the relationship became serious and it looked like they were headed down the aisle, people started asking her when he would be popping the question. She would calmly and humorously refer them to her boyfriend, saying, “Guess you should ask Dave.”

Well, they got married and as soon as they returned from their honeymoon, people started asking Sue if they were trying to conceive. “When are you going to start a family?” Dave, on the other hand, rarely got such questions. If he did they were often in the context of his wife’s wishes, e.g., “So, is Sue about ready to start a family?”

Both Dave and Sue worked at full-time jobs. Over the years, both changed jobs and found themselves with work colleagues who knew little about their personal lives. Most of Sue’s new co-workers seemed to assume she had children because she would often get questions like, “How old are your kids?” Dave’s co-workers, on the other hand, tended to ask, “Do you have kids?”

Fast forward to their tenth wedding anniversary; Sue and Dave still have no children. Sue still gets the “How old are your kids?” and now answers that they do not have children. Almost invariably she sees bewildered uncertain looks and hears comments like, “Why not? Don’t you want kids? You’d be such a good mom.” As for Dave, whenever he tells someone they don’t have kids he usually gets a response like, “Oh.”

The different questions posed to Sue and Dave show a clear double-standard. Dave is treated almost as a bystander waiting for Sue to make the decision; Sue gets the direct attack, with questions implying, “No kids yet? What’s wrong with you, honey?”

Even though people may just be trying to make conversation when they ask Sue about kids, she still gets upset over what she considers very personal questions. The fact is she and Dave have been trying to conceive for years. She has endured three first-trimester miscarriages and one intentional termination for health reasons. She can’t even recall all the invasive procedures and home remedies she has pursued in an effort to get pregnant.

Sue’s gynecologist is stymied, and fertility specialists have no answers. The Psychic Network gives vague platitudes. The few friends and relatives in whom she has confided typically do the same, e.g., “It will happen when it’s time.” Others tell their own hardship-turned-success stories, e.g., “Bob and I were trying for like a year and then one day when we weren’t even planning on it – pregnant!” Many offer suggestions, e.g., “What about adoption? My cousin couldn’t get pregnant but then adopted a kid and suddenly she was pregnant too!” “Have you tried [random ‘miracle’ fix]?”

Dave tries to be supportive and sympathetic toward his wife, but the bottom line is that he just doesn’t understand the physical, emotional, and social anguish she suffers. He can’t quite grasp that Sue is wracked by guilt and shame, and is rapidly losing hope.

Sue has stressors coming at her from various directions: Others upset her by prying into her personal life; well-meaning friends and relatives frustrate her with their advice; she has suffered multiple miscarriages; the medical experts have no answers. What can Sue do to cope?

We invite our readers to offer their comments on coping strategies for Sue. We will post them plus our own suggestions.

PREPARING FOR SUCCESS AND FAILURE

As we noted in our post of 2/16, success and failure are the two great imposters in life. Success would have you believe you are better than you really are; failure would have you believe you are worse than you really are. Success fosters arrogance, narcissism, and lack of perseverance. Failure fosters low self-esteem, bullying, and social withdrawal.

Parents like to insure success for their kids, believing that the more success they experience, the more confidence and self-esteem they will have as adults. Thus we see “helicopter parents” hover over their kids keeping a watchful eye and working to shield them from failure and having to face the consequences of bad decisions.

The fact is, children who only experience success actually develop low self-esteem and a low tolerance for frustration. They believe they are above rules and rationalize their failures as the fault of others.

A student was fired from his work study position as a cashier in the university cafeteria. Seems someone saw him pilfering cash from the register. The kid was also suspended from the university for a semester. He appealed and he and his father showed up in the Dean’s office to make their case. The kid denied everything, claiming someone was out to get him. Dad said, “I believe my boy!”

The Dean played security camera footage for them, clearly showing the boy swiping the money. Incredibly, the father said, “OK, he took some money because he was a little short. But he intended to pay it back.” Are you kidding us dad? Seriously?

The Dean replied, “Your appeal is denied. Young man you are suspended for one semester. Considerate yourself fortunate that we will not press charges with the police.”

Sheltering yourself and others from failure does not foster psychological growth. Virtually all people who experience a psychological disorder spend a lot of time trying to avoid unpleasant events, which gets them into a lot of trouble, psychologically speaking. Avoidance of challenges and issues facing you will lead to ineffective coping.

One reason you can get into self-defeating avoidance actions is because when you’re faced with conflict, your fears and anxieties are aroused. These negative emotions are very discomforting and it is natural to want to avoid them. Who wants to experience negative things? Positive things are much more fun! The ironic thing, however, is that negative experiences have more powerful effects on you than positive experiences. Simply put, you learn more from negative than from positive events.

Consider some of these research results:

—-It is more devastating to lose $1,000 than it is pleasant to gain $1,000.

—-Quality of a marriage is linked more strongly to negative actions than to positive ones.

—-Sexual problems have a greater effect on marital satisfaction than good sexual functioning.

—-The bad effects of negative social interactions with others are stronger and last longer than the good effects of positive social interactions.

—-Poor health has a strong negative impact on life satisfaction; good health has little influence on how happy we feel.

Trying to avoid unpleasant events can be counterproductive because you can potentially learn a lot more from these events than from events in your comfort zone. For instance, you may be more comfortable avoiding a stressful job interview, but in the long run that interview may teach you a lot about yourself.

Avoidance of psychological pain is at the core of most psychological problems. Furthermore, people who suffer from chronic psychological conditions try to change or control others to avoid pain. The only reasonable alternative is accepting the reality of life while choosing life paths that have meaning and purpose. Many life problems have no perfect solution. Your best option is to accept life, yourself, and others even when these things can be unpleasant. It is important to remember, however, that this type of acceptance does not mean giving up or quitting; it means taking a realistic orientation to life that is focused on what you can directly control: your thoughts and behavior.

Nancy, a middle-aged woman, came to counseling saying she was depressed and her marriage was failing. She complained about her pessimistic outlook on life, and dependency on many psychiatric medications. Nancy said her life was pretty stable until ten years earlier, when one of her children was burned in a house fire. Both her in-laws died in the fire. During this time her husband also had periods of unemployment.

Nancy began seeing both psychologists and psychiatrists. The latter prescribed a “cocktail” of prescription medicines including Trazadone, Celexa, Klonopin, and Seroquel. The psychological counseling encouraged Nancy to understand that she had been engaging in a futile effort to escape and avoid her difficulties.

She began to accept both her past and present psychological suffering, and to realize that her life was pretty good overall. She saw that her guilt over making her family suffer was adding to her burden, and she needed to forgive herself. She worked to develop a clearer sense of her personal values, and decide what was important to her now. She realized she was choosing to be depressed and pessimistic, instead of appreciating her husband, children and other positive things in her life.

Nancy decided to become more positive and accepting in her life. Just because she had suffered some personal traumas, she could not expect the corners of her world to be padded for her. She was mired in self-pity and was dependent on medications. As she became more accepting of her life and focused on her values and priorities, her husband and children began to spend more time with her. The entire family became mutually involved in everyday activities, discussion, and planning. Eventually she was weaned off all her medications, and she said she felt more alert and more emotionally focused than she had in years.

 

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL DIAGNOSES OF TRUMP. TAKE CAUTION.

Is Donald Trump emotionally unstable? In the psychological community there is far from a consensus on this issue. On the one hand are psychologists who say Trump displays unmistakable signs of narcissistic, paranoid, and antisocial personality disorders, and they have issued public pronouncements saying this toxic combination puts America at great risk.

But, and this is a big but, making professional diagnoses without any face-to-face contact, or without evaluating results from formal psychological testing, is problematic, if not unethical. In fact, the American Counseling, Psychological, and Psychiatric Associations follow the Goldwater Rule: It is unethical to give a professional opinion about someone who has not been examined and tested in person.

Many mental health professionals maintain, however, that Trump’s spoken record is filled with such extreme indications of pathology, and the consequent danger to the country is so great, that they have an obligation to inform the public.

Other professionals say public pronouncements bearing on Trump’s stability are inappropriate. Professionals should not be applying emotionally-laden labels in the absence of valid diagnostic data. Also, just because someone fits the general profile of a personality disorder does not mean the person is a danger to others. Many effective leaders are narcissists, a trait that can be essential to their leadership abilities. Some of us also have colleagues who say that many college students would score high on antisocial scales, but do not pose a danger to the institution.

When considering this issue and evaluating the different opinions, we believe you should be very cautious. There is an important distinction between offering a formal diagnosis vs. saying that particular ways of acting are characteristic of particular diagnoses.

We believe that psychological diagnosis should be based on hours of face-to-face therapeutic contact, and on data from formal measuring instruments with documented reliability and validity. Professional opinions based on indirect observation, such as visual and print media, are impressionistic and opinionated. While perhaps a step beyond pure speculation, such opinions should be considered at best to be educated guesses.

And remember, if a professional were privy to formal assessment data, that information would fall under doctor-client confidentiality and could not be shared.

The bottom line is this: It is one thing for the citizen counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist to send a letter to a newspaper or magazine and complain about Trump’s confrontational interpersonal style. It is quite another thing, however, for that writer to extrapolate from those observations and declare publicly that Trump is mentally ill.

We believe Trump’s fitness for office should be discussed in a political, not a psychological, context.

DO MATERIAL REWARDS RUIN KIDS’ FUN?

A retired psychologist lived down the street from a middle school (grades 6, 7, and 8 – the jungle years). One day, a group of three boys began to mess with his car, which was parked on the street in front of his house. He was, after all, an old man, and what better fun could three adolescents have than to pile leaves, sticks, rocks, and dirt on his car on their way to school.
In case you haven’t learned this lesson already, never mess with a psychologist! After the boys had continued for three straight days, he came out of the house and yelled, “Good job, kids. Come here. I’ve got a dollar for each of you.”
“Huh?” they wondered. “The old bird wants to pay us for messing up his car?”
For the next two weeks, the ritual repeated itself. The kids would come by every morning, toss whatever lawn debris was available onto the car, and then go and collect their dollar for a job well done. They guessed the old man was nuts, but figured what the hell, they were getting free money every day.
Then it happened. One day they trashed his car but he didn’t come out to give them the buck. They went to the front door, rang the bell, and asked, “Where’s our dollar? We dumped grass and leaves and dirt all over your car like always. Where’s our pay?”
“Times are tough for me, kids,” he replied. “I’ve got to cut back on my spending so I can’t pay you anymore. Sorry.”
“Well screw you,” one of them said. “You don’t pay, we’re not messin’ with your car anymore!”
Seems that the psychologist had turned something that was fun for them into a paying job, and when he withheld their pay, they quit the job!
Maybe the story wouldn’t end like that, but you get the point. If we try and get our kids to do things by giving them some sort of material reward like money, a lollipop, a gold star, a trophy, or whatever, does that type of reward stifle their interest in the task, so they just work to get the reward? Does the reward spoil the kids and mislead them about how life really works? Case in point: Participation Trophies. Should kids be given a trophy merely for participating in an activity regardless of effort or whether they win or lose?
Psychologists have researched this question: “When kids are having fun doing something and we come along and give them some material reward for doing so, are we going to destroy their fun?” The short answer is, “No,” but as always, things are not simple. Studies with children show that giving them a prize for something they enjoy doing tends to make them lose interest in the task once the prize is withdrawn. In other words, the prize seems to turn play into work.
Additional research shows, however, that we need to distinguish between rewarding kids for simply showing up versus rewarding them for improving their performance at something they already do. The bottom line is this: When we are rewarded for improving and doing something better than we did it before then the reward will not decrease our interest in the task. If given just for doing something, however, the reward tends to diminish interest in the task.
Imagine if there were only two grades in school: Pass and Fail. This arrangement could be compared to giving out a participation reward: Show up, behave, exhibit some basic preparation for tests, etc., and you get the Pass. This arrangement, of course, will not teach the student the value of an education, or the principle that your reward (grade) increases with your level of success.
We do not have to stop giving material rewards to their children for their actions. Things like sports trophies, gold stars in the classroom, and money for chores all have an important place in teaching young people about their world. But let’s not overdo it. No coach wants youngsters to compete solely to obtain the league championship trophy. There should also be an intrinsic enjoyment of, and respect for, the sport; there should be an appreciation of the importance of teamwork, fair play, and putting forth one’s best effort to do well. Children should be taught that winning is not everything; rather, it is the effort put forth to win that is everything. A participation trophy will teach none of these important lessons.
No matter what the activity, children should be taught about the two greatest imposters they will ever face: Success and Failure. Both are imposters because success will have them believe they are better than they are, and failure will have them believe they are worse than they are. Kids must be taught that success comes as the result of preparation and effort, and that failure gives them information about where they need to improve and change so they can experience success. An excessive emphasis on material rewards will not teach that success results from preparation and effort, or that failure results from lack of these qualities.
And remember: These points apply to all of us, not just to kids. Your biggest coping enemy is when you try to avoid failure, because then you will never learn to correct mistakes and improve.
One final point: Social praise is an effective supplement to material rewards. Praise from others can help maintain intrinsic interest in a task, and even prove to be an effective substitute for material rewards. Bill, a colleague, told us how one day his eight-year old daughter Anne received all A’s on her report card. “You know,” Anne told him, “Jen’s parents give her $20 for every “A” she gets.”
“Well,” Bill replied, “I’m not Jen’s dad. I can tell you, though, how proud your mother and I are of you. You do a great job at school; you study and work hard, and that shows us the kind of person you are. You know, Mom and I were talking last night that this weekend would be nice to take a trip to the zoo or maybe even go swimming at the lake. [Anne likes both of these activities.] You’ve been working so hard at school lately, and done such a good job, why don’t you choose the family outing this weekend.”
The great part of the story is that Anne received a valued intrinsic reward for her performance (choosing a family activity). Bill was also happy because Anne chose a family trip to the zoo and he had that $20 to put toward the entrance fee.

 

STUPID CUPID, STOP PICKING ON ME! By Carlea

A shout out to our single readers.

That February date approaching is just what you need, right? A holiday to commemorate your status. As if being the third, fifth, seventh, or whatever wheel when you hang with your coupled friends isn’t enough, now even the calendar reminds you of being the “odd” person out. Being by yourself on such an in-your-face-schmoopie-kissy-frilly-schmaltzy day can really pack a wallop.

It’s really unfair. Maybe you’re a lone wolf by choice. Maybe you had a recent break-up. Maybe you’ve been out of the dating scene for a while. Maybe your partner passed away. Maybe you’re in a relationship but wondering where it will go (to paraphrase Beyoncé, if he likes it why doesn’t he put a ring on it?). Maybe you’re actually in a relationship but your partner just isn’t that into you. Whatever the reason, how do you cope with flying solo on Valentine’s Day?

The most important step is to change your perspective from being lonely to being alone. There’s a pretty powerful difference in connotation. “Being lonely” suggests something is missing or you’re lacking in some way; there’s a message of pity or rejection. “Being alone” says that, at this moment in time, you are an individual. You do not need a significant other to be significant.

Just because words like “lonely” and “alone” are usually synonyms doesn’t mean they express the same feeling. (While writing this, I’m having a flashback to the scene in the recent Muppets™ movie when Mary [Amy Adams] is telling Gary [Jason Segal] how she spent the whole day walking around Hollywood by herself. She really got her bitter point across with the help of a thesaurus.)

Once you can accept the difference between these two words, you may see that you’re not really lonely or alone. The expression “on your own but not alone” is quite a fitting coping strategy here. Remind yourself that, yes, you might not have a partner but you have friends; you have family; you have colleagues, acquaintances, classmates, etc. What’s the point of wallowing in the idea of “alone” when you actually have a support system at the ready? Kind of illogical, isn’t it?

So take advantage of your social network and plan an event. “Friendsgiving” is all the rage around Thanksgiving. Why not spread that love in February, too? Celebrate “Galentine’s Day” with your girlfriends. Call your cousin to find out about his new job. Students, meet some classmates on campus for a study session, with plenty of pizza, of course.

Your social group is busy? Go on the “coping attack”: treat yourself to something special. Pick up your favorite dinner; buy yourself the shirt you’ve been eyeing; go to the movies; get a mani/pedi; take a long walk or hit the gym; hang out at the local bookstore; challenge yourself to try something new.

Two final notes of caution. First of all remember that many spas, restaurants, and other venues offer Valentine specials. If you aren’t up to seeing people celebrating together, perhaps it’s better to spend your time somewhere else.  Secondly, if you decide on a bar or a local “meet up” place nearby, be careful! Some of the folks you meet might be less interested in romance and more interested in not being lonely.

If all else fails, take a page from the TV show FRIENDS and have a boyfriend bonfire. Apparently, good looking firefighters are just waiting for your call…

 

FEELING GUILTY AFTER SPANKING YOUR CHILD?

Jane is a 31-year old mother of a three-year old terror. She writes: “A few days ago I was on the phone with my mom discussing an issue we disagree about. My 3 year old son was being his usual loud and rowdy self, jumping around, trying to climb on my lap, whining, screaming, just mad that I was not giving him my undivided attention. Suddenly I lost it. I threw the phone on the sofa and gave him a couple of whacks on his behind while yelling for him to leave me alone because I was on the phone with granny. He was fully clothed so I knew the spank didn’t hurt him, but he looked at me surprised and really didn’t know how to react. I had never hit him before. He just plopped down on the floor and scowled at me. I got back on the phone and told mom we would have to argue later. I hung up and said mommy could play with him but he would have no part of it. I was marinating in guilt and I think he knew it. Have I ruined this kid for life? Have I put him on the road to dealing with conflict by being aggressive and lashing out at others?”

It’s not unusual for a parent to feel guilty after spanking a child. Even though many parents find childrearing quite a chore while the kids are young and at home, they try not to take out their frustrations on their children, especially by physically punishing them. Sometimes in the heat of battle, however, a well-placed smack on the buttocks or hand occurs almost automatically, before the parent even has time to reflect on the wisdom of the action. As a result, the parent may feel guilty afterward; “I spanked my kid. I’m a terrible parent and I’m ruining my kid for life!” The fact of the matter is, fearing such a long-term effect is not a reasonable fear in this situation.

A well-placed hand on a clothed child’s buttocks to make a firm point about an action (maybe something potentially dangerous like running into the street) is one thing; a consistent, daily pattern of hitting a child as the typical and standard way of delivering discipline is quite another. The former is not going to damage a child for life; the latter, however, the ongoing consistent pattern of physical punishment, just may do considerable psychological damage to a child. It is also important to distinguish spanking from out-and-out physical abuse, which would involve bruising and other physical injuries, and using objects like paddles and belts. We can’t imagine any situation that condones such abuse.

Here’s another story: “To be clear, I was most certainly not beaten as a child. However, once or twice ‘back in the day’ my father did threaten me with a belt (a wide leather strap really) that he had around the house. Well one day my unruly side came out and I did get the belt, on the backside…one time. That’s all it took. For the rest of my childhood that belt stayed in the doorway that led to our basement, and just seeing it was all the influence I really needed.  Was it effective punishment? Yes, but what did I really learn?  I learned to stay in line and to fear the belt, I suppose. But also, didn’t that fear then put my father in a negative light as the enforcer of the belt?  I suppose that could be true in many cases and possibly affect attachments down the line, but that one episode didn’t have long-term adverse effects on me.

“I have my own kids now and I don’t use any physical punishment, nor does my wife. These days it’s just too easy to be accused of simple spanking crossing a very blurry line and becoming something that say a teacher under strict mandated reporting has the duty to report further.  I don’t need that!  I also believe that violent acts breed violent acts; I spank, I teach the kid violence is the way to handle things. Not worth it.”

The observation about teaching a child inappropriate behavior is well-put. There can be no doubt that if you spank your child, even if only rarely, you are providing an aggressive model for the child. The fact that the punishment is given only rarely may not matter; in many cases, children show considerable learning from just one exposure to an aggressive model. The fact that the event is rare seems to produce more of an impression.

Here’s a teacher’s perspective: “Physical punishment only sends the message to fear the instrument (or provider) and not actually curb the behavior. In schools, we clearly can’t resort to physical punishment, but we do have the option of response-cost (taking away something preferred) or positive reinforcement (giving something preferred). I tend to use the latter much more often because it seems to be more effective. I’d rather do something to earn something (say, a paycheck) than have to act simply to avoid punishment.”

Disciplining a child without the use of physical punishment is a preferable parental style these days. Here are some steps to follow to help you adopt that style:

—-Accept that you are at times tempted to lash out physically; you are normal in that temptation.

—-If you act on the temptation, accept any guilt you may feel. Do not turn your guilt inward and decide that you are an evil person and terrible parent.

—-Identify elements of a situation that make you want to engage in physical punishment. Examine and evaluate those elements and your reactions so you can consider alternative forms of discipline.

—-Develop ways to remind the child that you are the one who controls rewards and privileges, and assert yourself by exercising that control without physical punishment.

—-Practice being verbally assertive in situations where you are tempted to lash out physically in anger.

—-Use positive methods like approval and rewards. You can be powerful and effective without having to resort to physically-hurtful actions.

—-If you are habitually using physical punishment against a child, seek help because your actions will only escalate into child abuse. You are probably insecure, on some sort of power trip, and have weak interpersonal skills. Excessive physical punishment will only hurt you and your children in the long-run anyway, so gaining just a bit of insight and exploring alternative actions can go a long way.

 

 

 

 

STAY “GOOD BUSY” TO COPE

Kim Cardone provided this post. It is full of valuable advice about coping with anxiety, and offers many specific actions you can take to make life more enjoyable.

Confession time. I am an anxious person. When did this began you might ask? I’m guessing I came out of the womb anxious and have dealt with it ever since. Of course, a child’s anxiety is a bit different from an adult’s, but it is still the same in that you FEEL “anxious,” often and for no reason.

I remember talking with my Gram about this and she would say, “One secret to dealing with being anxious is to keep ‘good busy.’” To which I replied, “Well, is there a keeping ‘bad busy’?” And she replied, “There sure is. There sure is.”

She was a wise woman. To this day, I have tried very hard to keep “good busy”…and it does help. If I may offer some keeping “good busy” suggestions, it would be these:

—-Call family or friends. Or text family or friends….hear their loving voices or read their calm and rational texts. It does help.

—-Read a book, magazine, textbook, instruction manual, etc.

—-Volunteer. Where? Anywhere!!!! Help is needed everywhere and in every community.

—-Take up a hobby.

—-Go for a walk. Walk the dog…good for both of you.

—-Go to your place of worship.

—-Meditate. Exercise. Sing. Dance.

—-Watch a favorite TV show or movie. Mine are always comedies or rom-com’s. They take me to my happy place.

—-Enjoy a good meal or a good snack or a good glass of vino or a favorite beverage. Key word is ENJOY.

—-And finally, breathe. Just breathe.

We may have been “born alone” but we are not alone. Not truly. Look around; there are lots of us on this planet, all shapes and sizes and colors and creeds and orientations. Reach out. Being an anxious person is no fun, I will freely admit to that. But dealing with being an anxious person has made me so very grateful for every good person who has ever helped me along the way and for every good thing in my life that has happened in spite of being so very anxious. To that end, thank you to all of my many support systems.  You rock!!!

Remember, keep “good busy.” Even if you are not an anxious person, keeping ”good busy” will help you cope on so many levels and at so many points in your daily life.