Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name, Does It Feel the Same?

I’m thinking about making this a regular Just for Fun Friday series, fashioned after the very funny Renee Schuls-Jacobson’s Tingo Tuesdays, and I’m starting it on a Wednesday. (If you’re thinking I’m a little confused about what day it is, you could be right.)

Renee takes some unusual word from some language other than English (she gets them from a book called The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod) and then she invites people to tell stories from their lives around the idea/concept that word refers to. Okay, it’s actually a lot more fun than I just made it sound.

Here’s my variation. Many other languages have emotion words that are far more descriptive than their English counterparts. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the English language. After all, it is my bread and butter, so to speak, as a writer.

But let’s face reality here, English is not always strong on emotional nuances. So I thought it would be fun to look at some emotion words from other languages.

Now, my first thought was that English is not so great at describing emotions because of it’s Germanic roots, because, I’m ashamed to say, I was stereotyping Germans as rather all-work-and-no-play, unemotional types.

Boy, was I wrong. I went looking for some German emotion words and immediately found two that are pretty cool.

The first one you all might remember from the Volkswagen commercials quite a few years ago. Das Fahrvergnügen is pleasure in driving–that combination of mild excitement and relaxation that someone like me, who loves to drive, may often feel behind the wheel.

The other great German word I found was die Gemütlichkeit. Now someone translating a sentence with that word in it would probably use the English word ‘contentment.’ But die Gemütlichkeit is so much more than just contentment. It’s a comfy, cozy, often more sociable kind of contentment.

When we say, “I am content,” that can mean anything from “I, your boss, have decided not to fire you just yet, because you did okay today” to “I’m pretty happy right now, in a low key kinda way.”

When a German says, “Ich bin gemütlich,” s/he is saying “Boy, it really, really feels good to hang out with friends and have a few drinks, after a long day,” or maybe “I am so happy to be curled up here by the fire with a good book and a glass of wine.”

three hands clinking glasses together

(photo by Lynn Kelley Author, WANA Commons)

When do I feel  die Gemütlichkeit? Hmm. Definitely when I give myself a whole afternoon off to just stretch out on my screened-in porch with a good book. Another element in the gemütlich-ness of this scene is the tall privacy fence around our backyard. It’s a little oasis, tucked away from the world. Just me, a glass of iced tea and my kindle. *sigh*

Way past just content.

me on my porch

Yeah, I know my lawn is pathetic. Florida soil just does not grow grass well!

Another gemütlich moment is Friday date nights with the hubs. He started this over two decades ago and it is still one of his best ideas ever. He stops on his way home on Fridays and gets something extra nice to fix for dinner (he’s chief cook at our house), plus a good bottle of wine. The rest of the week we chat a little while wolfing down our dinner, then go back to our separate activities afterward. But on date night, we linger over dinner, focused on each other. Then we have another glass of wine while watching a video. We pick a TV show we like and rent or buy the DVDs so we can watch the series from beginning to end, one or two episodes each Friday night. (Currently we’re watching Criminal Minds; I know, only a mystery writer could find CM gemütlich.)

Now is the point where Renee asks folks to comment, and the comment she likes best she rewards by featuring that person, with a link to their blog/website, in the sidebar of her website for a month. Well, that’s not gonna work for me, because that would require that I actually know how to add things to the sidebar of this site. I’m a techno-idiot. It’s all I can manage to put up a post.

So I will have to forego a ‘prize’ to reward commenters. Unless you all can think of one that doesn’t cost anything (and keeping in mind that whole techno-idiot thing)?

So when do you feel gemütlich rather than just content?

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

 

You Are Beautiful and Strong, Sweet Child of Abuse — Beauty of a Woman Blogfest

by Kassandra Lamb, retired psychotherapist and trauma recovery specialist

Have you ever seen an ugly child?

I haven’t seen very many. And the few I have seen, who happened to be less than beautiful, were still adorable! Because they were sweet innocent children, doing cute innocent little kid things.

Unfortunately all too many kids lose that innocence, and are left feeling ugly inside, at an all too tender age.

This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest  (see August McLaughlin’s site on Feb. 22nd for the list of other posts, and a contest!) In this Blogfest, there are tender posts, funny posts and more serious posts like this one–all intended to help women learn to honor rather than judge themselves and their bodies.

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest badge

But why do women need this ego boost? Where did all this harsh judgement of ourselves get started? There are several potential causes for such poor self-esteem, but the most horrendous of these possible causes is child abuse.

Whether in the form of verbal, physical or sexual, nothing but nothing says to a child that they are worthless quite like being abused does. Especially if that abuse is perpetrated by a loved one, as it all too often is.

Here are the kinds of comments I’ve heard from survivors of abuse through the years*:

Of course it was my fault that my mother drank. She told me so every day.

How could I not see myself as fat and gross when my father’s nickname for me was Miss Piggy.

It had to be something about me that made my mother beat me; she never touched my siblings.

When I reached puberty, I stopped eating. I didn’t want the boys to look at me like that. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t think I was even worthy of something as basic as food.

These sound like extreme cases, but they’re far more common than one might think. Here are some statistics from the National Children’s Alliance:

  • In 2010, over 3.4 million children received services from Child Protective Services agencies around the U.S.
  • Of these children, 78% experienced neglect, 17% physical abuse, 8% psychological abuse, and just under 10% were sexually abused (this adds up to more than 100% because kids often suffer more than one type of neglect/abuse).
  • The perpetrators of these abuses are almost always someone the child knows, and at least 50% of the time, they are relatives.

And these are only the reported cases. Quite a few incidents of abuse still go unreported. I should also point out that abuse doesn’t just happen in poor families. Abuse is an equal opportunity phenomenon. It cuts across all socioeconomic and racial lines.

How To Move From Victim to Survivor

The first step is to acknowledge that, if you’ve made it to adulthood, you are strong. You are already a survivor.

This was an incredibly powerful lesson for me. I was one of those unreported cases. I came into adulthood with self-esteem somewhere around minus 10. But there was a strength in me, a will to survive that had me going from therapist to therapist, trying to bring that number up.

I was in my early thirties, on the third or fourth therapist, when I finally acknowledged that I had been an abused child. That therapist was not a trauma specialist but he knew enough to correct me every time I called myself a ‘victim’ of abuse. “Survivor,” he would say in his quiet but firm voice, no matter what I was in the middle of saying. It used to piss me off sometimes, when he’d interrupt my train of thought.

Once I had sliced through the denial and other defenses I had wrapped around those memories of abuse, I realized how much now made sense. Including my low self-esteem.

Step two is coming to realize that the abuse was not our fault.

Children are by nature egocentric. They assume that it’s all about them, because they don’t know any differently yet. This egocentrism is actually helpful. It allows us to discipline them. When we punish them, they assume they did something to cause that negative reaction.

But when bad things happen to or around them that are not about their behavior, they also assume responsibility for causing those events. We’re most familiar with this reaction when we hear young children saying they were bad and that’s why Mommy and Daddy are getting divorced.

So the abused child assumes that s/he did something to cause the abuse/neglect. “I must have done something. I must be a bad person.”

No you did not and no you are not! You were an innocent child. When an adult verbally or physically attacks or sexually molests a child, it is because there is something wrong inside that adult.

scared child

(photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbert Photography, creative commons 2.0 license, Flickr)

Why abusers abuse is a complicated topic. The short version of the explanation is that most often they themselves were abused as children. They are projecting their own self-blame and self-hate onto their victims. They are re-enacting their own abuse out of ignorance and/or a sick need to reclaim their sense of power that was stolen from them, by taking on the role of the powerful abuser (this applies to all kinds of abuse).

Now before I get accused of parent-bashing, let me point out that this isn’t about blaming anyone. It’s about understanding what really happened. Most parents, even fairly abusive ones, love their kids. And a lot of bad parents are that way out of ignorance rather than malice. They don’t know how to appropriately discipline their children without doing serious harm to the child’s self-esteem.

The bottom line: it’s not the child’s fault if s/he was abused. There is no behavior a child can do that deserves name-calling, shaming, beatings or molestation as a response.

Recovery is doable, and so worth it!

I am living proof of this!

The rest of the steps of recovery are a bit too complicated to get into in a blog post, but they are doable steps. And every survivor of abuse owes it to themselves to take those steps. It is extremely helpful to find a good therapist, preferably a trauma recovery specialist, to walk the path with you. But if you can’t afford that, there are free resources and support available. Below are some sites to check out.

Teddy Bear on lonely gray steps

[photo by Ullrica (@Ullie) creative commons 2.0 license, Flickr]

If you’re thinking this is too hard, and the outcome too unlikely to be that much of an improvement, let me set you straight. Yes, it’s hard. But as one of my clients so aptly put it, “I’ve already been through hell as a child. Going through it again as an adult has got to be easier.”

And the outcome can be wonderful. Even though I’ve gone through a lot of pain in my recovery process, the majority of my adult years have been good ones. And I am now (and have been for over two decades) one of the most confident people I know, with one of the best attitudes toward my body of most women I know. I now have the good life I always deserved, that every woman deserves.

So please, if this post has resonated for you, if you’re realizing that you may be a survivor of child abuse–even if the perpetrators didn’t mean to harm you–then please get the help you need to heal.

Because you are a strong and beautiful person, and you deserve a good life!

By all means, comment below, but also please go check out the other BOAW Blogfest posts.

Links to resources that can help:

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

Survivors of Incest Anonymous

And a list of yet more resources

[*These were not direct quotes from actual clients (that would violate confidentiality) but rather similar to things abuse survivors often say.]

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

 

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

 

What Love Language Do You Speak?

I had planned to start a new Just For Fun series today on how emotions are expressed in different languages. But as I started to research the word ‘love’ (in honor of Valentine’s Day), I stumbled on a very interesting book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, by Gary D. Chapman. (I know, I know, it’s #2 on the Amazon Bestseller List; but I almost never read non-fiction now that I’m retired, so I hadn’t really looked at it before.)

Dr. Chapman’s five languages of love are:

Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Receiving Gifts
Acts of Service
Physical Touch

house wrapped up as a giftNow that’s a gift! (photo credit: Howard Dickins, Cardiff, Wikimedia Commons)

Chapman contends that our romantic relationships start to erode, especially after marriage, not because we love each other less, but because we’re not always speaking the same language of love. Now this is not a male-female ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ thing, although it often gets misinterpreted as such.

Men say, “Why are women so demanding? My wife (or girlfriend) is always complaining.”

Women say, “Why can’t men get it. All I want is ____________ (fill in the blank with one of the above languages).”

And both genders think it’s because the other gender is clueless and/or incomprehensible.

But all too often, according to Dr. Chapman, what is really going on is that the couple speaks different love languages. He’s buying her gifts while she’s craving quality time. She’s giving him affection when he wants words of affirmation.

And the great thing about this book (books actually, he has a Men’s Edition as well) is that it asks specific questions to help you figure out (a) your preferred love language, (b) your partner’s preferred language, and most important of all, (c) how to change your way of communicating your love so that your partner really ‘hears’ you

Now here’s my take on this. Languages 1, 2 and 5 are not just ways to convey love. They are also about the emotional needs we all are seeking to fulfill in relationships.

One of the things we all need from our friends and lovers is unconditional acceptance. This is what’s conveyed via Words of Affirmation: I love you just the way you are. I think you’re great! I believe in you.

Another critical component of a healthy relationship is emotional intimacy, defined as emotional closeness based on self-disclosure. If we don’t spend Quality Time together, the emotional intimacy will erode.

And we all need Physical Touch. This has been proven by research. Babies and young children can fail to grow physically, and sometimes even die, if they receive no physical affection.

elephants being affectionate

Even elephants are affectionate! (photo credit: Ronald Saunders, Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps Physical Touch is where there is somewhat of a gender divide. Men, especially in their randier younger years, are more likely to associate affection with sex. She gives him a hug in the kitchen. He tries to steer her toward the bedroom, then wonders what happened when she gets mad.

Folks, there is a difference between affection and sexual touch! And everybody needs some of both.

First Lady Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. T's lap and kissing him on the forehead.

First Lady Nancy Reagan on Mr. T’s lap, kissing him on the forehead, 1983. (public domain)

 

 

We need some of this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

couple kissing

(photo credit: GFDL, Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

As well as some of this!

 

Is it hot in here? *fans self*

 

 

 

But back to Dr. Chapman’s books. One of the things I like best about his message is that he doesn’t buy the “well, that’s just not me” excuse. He points out that if you want your mate to feel loved, it is not enough to convey that love in your own way, i.e., language. You HAVE to convey it in the language that is most meaningful to your partner. Or they will not get the message!

This makes all kinds of sense because we can change our behaviors a lot easier than we can change our internalized emotional filters. For example, my husband is great at picking out just the right card, with heartfelt sweet messages inside, and he never forgets a special occasion. (I on the other hand, have been known to produce a last-minute, rather cheesy-looking birthday or Valentine’s card on my computer; need to work on that.)

*leaves computer to add Valentine’s card to grocery list*

Okay, I’m back. I very much appreciate his cards (receiving gifts–his language) and intellectually acknowledge that they are sincere expressions of his love, but I don’t feel as loved by them as I do by his undivided attention over a nice dinner (quality time–my language), or by a nice back rub (physical touch–you already figured that out, I’ll bet 🙂 )

What about you? What is your preferred language of love?

Notes:
(1) Dr. Chapman also has books about the “languages” children and teens use to communicate. Check them out on Amazon.

(2) Some of the info in this post was obtained from Rubin, G. (2011). Which Love Language Suits You and Your Partner? Retrieved on February 12, 2013, from Psych Central.

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Talking about Autism over at Rhonda Hopkins’ Place Today

I’m over at Rhonda Hopkins’ blog today, as part of her Authors Give Back series. I’m talking about Autism, and I’m donating all proceeds from Celebrity Status in February to the organization, Autism Speaks. Come join us over there! (Put this in your browser address line if the link above doesn’t work — http://bit.ly/12HZh9 )

Also, today is the last day to sign up for your blind date with a free e-book at the Valentine’s Day Book Date Giveaway. Everybody gets a free book in one of your favorite genres.

Watch for a Just for Fun post on Thursday!

(posted by Kassandra Lamb)

 

Whaddaya Mean, Stress Isn’t Always Bad?

I was more than a little shocked, years ago, when my graduate school professor informed my class that stress is a good thing, up to a point. You might, as I did at the time, find this hard to believe.

But hang on! Here’s the definition of stress: The activation of our physical and emotional resources to cope with the challenges of  life. Now when that challenge is a traffic jam or a deadline at work, that’s no fun. But if we didn’t like getting activated now and again, why would we do this?

roller coasterOr this?

two men fencing

photo credit: Frog and Onion (from Wikimedia Commons)

Or play any sport, or read a mystery novel for that matter. If feels good to get the heart thumping a bit and the juices flowing.

But even when we’re not doing something quite as drastic as fencing or hanging upside down from a roller coaster, stress is a good thing, up to a point, in everyday life.

Let me go back and explain a few things first, so this will make more sense.

Why Stress Has a Bad Reputation

Our bodies were designed to handle far more primitive challenges than we face today. Most of the challenges our cave-person ancestors encountered were physical, such as hunting for food or fending off wild animals and hostile tribes.

So our bodies have this thing called the stress response, that prepares us for physical action to deal with those physical challenges. Heart rate and blood pressure go up, adrenaline’s released, muscles tense, you start sweating, and your digestive system temporarily shuts down (because it’s more important to deal with the sabertooth tiger trying to eat you than it is to digest what you just ate).

pacing tiger

Today, however, 90% of our challenges are psychological/emotional–coping with changes in our lives, relationships, deadlines, etc. So you’re sitting at your computer all stressed out about the report/paper you’re trying to finish for your boss/teacher, while your body is preparing you to fight off sabertooth tigers. All those physical changes take a toll on your body, especially when you don’t actually do anything physical in response to the stressor.

There’s a part of our nervous systems, called the autonomic nervous system (ANS), that  deals with all this. The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic branch (SNS) that causes all those changes listed above (plus several more) and the parasympathetic branch (PNS), that brings our bodies back to a calm state once the challenge or threat is over.

So after our ancestors fought the sabertooth tiger, their bodies would go “ah, time to relax.” (Assuming they won, that is.) Their PNS would kick in. Heart rate and BP came back down, muscles relaxed, digestion came back online, and life was good again. 🙂

In modern society, we tend to be stressed for longer periods of time, with no physical outlet. This is what does such a number on our bodies! You’ve probably heard the old expression, “All dressed up and no place to go.” Well, this is all revved up and no place to go!

 Why Do We Feel Stressed?

We tend to assume that our stress level is dictated by how much we have on our to-do lists. But stressors are not the only factor involved.

That grad school prof I mentioned above (Dr. George Everly, Loyola University, Maryland) taught us a three-factor model to understand stress. His explanations regarding how stress works and what to do about it made so much sense, they have stuck with me for 30 years! And I’ve passed them on to hundreds of my students.

I’ll go into more detail regarding these factors in future posts. For now, a brief summary.

The first factor is the stressors. Some events–getting married, losing a job, etc.–are biggies in the stressor category, but a lot of little stuff can add up as well. And even good events contribute to our stress load, because they still require resources to deal with them. Take vacations, for example. We go on them to relieve stress, right? But they also cause stress! We’ve gotta plan them, pack for them, make sure stuff at work is organized to get along without us, deal with traveling hassles, worry about lost luggage… you get the picture.

lugage on airport carousel

photo credit: Lynn Kelley Author (from WANA Commons)

In my pre-Christmas post on managing stress overload, I talked about how to reduce stressors by dumping, delegating and postponing some of them. I’ll deal with stressors some more in a later post as well.

The second factor in how stressed we feel is our body’s response to stress. There are several issues here. One is whether our bodies have any predisposed vulnerabilities to stress-induced illnesses. Another is our innate tolerance for stress (called our stress threshold). More on this in a moment. And last but not least is how often we relax our bodies, something that makes a huge difference in our stress level.

Third is our cognitive and emotional interpretation of the stressors. There are exceptions, but most stressors are not stressors until we interpret them as such. Quick example: I love to drive. I find it relaxing. For my husband, it is one of the most stressful aspects of life. How we perceive stressors is going to be affected by our personalities and our past experiences.

In later posts I’ll dissect these factors a bit more. Today, I want to focus on the stress threshold aspect of the body’s response.

So Get to the Point; Why Is Stress Good, Up to a Point?

Okay, okay. Here it is.

We all have a stress threshold, the point at which our coping ability is exhausted. Below that threshold, stress is a good thing. It motivates and energizes us. Have you ever had a day (hopefully you’ve had many like this) when you’re feeling good, chugging along at a nice pace, getting a whole bunch of stuff accomplished? I love days like that! The challenges are manageable and I’m being activated to meet them. That activation makes me feel alive and gives me a sense of achievement.

The problem arises when the stress level hits our threshold, and sometimes–no, make that often–we don’t see this coming. We may feel our best, the most energized and alive, when we’re hovering dangerously close to this threshold. And then one more little stressor comes along, and whammo, we’re over the edge.

This threshold is an on-off switch. When our coping ability is gone, it’s gone. One minute we’re handling everything, the next, we’re not handling anything.

When I was thirty, I was in graduate school, working full-time, starting my own business on the side and raising a preschooler. ~ Okay, that sentence stressed me out just typing it. ~ But at the time, I thought I had a handle on it all. I was revved! Life was exciting and satisfying.

That fall (ironically, while I was taking Dr. Everly’s class), mortgage interest rates dropped and my husband and I naively decided it would be good to refinance our house. Before we realized what all was involved in this, we were committed. One evening I came home from work, and sitting on the table was yet another letter from the bank informing us of yet another thing we needed to do, and pay for.

I lost it! I started slamming doors and yelling things that brought into question the pedigree of the bank employees. I had gone totally over the stress-overload cliff. When I finally simmered down, my husband (bless him) calmly said, “Maybe I should handle the refinance. You’re a little stressed out right now, dear.”

It was a tough lesson learned. Stop and think before you pile yet another stressor on an already full plate.

Here’s another sneaky problem with this dang threshold thing. There are actually two of them. The one I just described is our psychological one. The other is our health threshold. We’ve reached that one when our tissues and organs are suffering more wear and tear per day from stress than can be repaired that night while we sleep. When we’re past that threshold, we’re putting ourselves at risk for a whole slew of stress-related ailments, including heart disease and cancer.

And here’s the total kicker. The health threshold is lower than the psychological one. So we may still be coping well, may even feel great about all we’re getting done, when we are already doing our bodies damage from that level of stress.

Optimizing the Good Stress, Minimizing the Bad

So the moral of the story, folks: If we want to live long and prosper, we need to stay in the good stress level zone, comfortably below our threshold. That way, we’re not putting excessive wear and tear on our bodies, and we’re leaving some leeway for unforeseen stressors.

To accomplish this, one has to do two things. First, pay attention to your stress level for awhile and get a sense of just how much stuff you can handle (i.e., where your threshold is). And while you’re doing that, pay attention to your early warning signs that you are getting too close to your threshold.

For me, it’s getting grumpy and short-tempered (my husband would say, getting grumpier and more short-tempered). The big flag is if I start losing it on the road when other drivers cut me off or are dragging their feet. Normally, I just mumble something sarcastic like, “Uh, ya see that pedal, the long skinny one on the right?” And then I let it go. But if I find myself yelling at them (inside my car; I’m not crazy enough to actually get in their face) and I’m still fuming about it when I get to my destination…

As Jeff Foxworthy would say, “Here’s your sign.”

I am way too close to the edge of that cliff. It is time to dump, delegate or postpone a few stressors in order to get comfortably back in the good stress level range again. Because I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to stand too close to that edge; the ground might just crumble away beneath me.

Beware of Cliff Edge sign

What about you, what are your early warning signs that you’re getting too close to the stress-overload cliff?

(More on stress management in future weeks. Next week I’ll be guest blogging over at Rhonda Hopkins’ place as part of her Authors Give Back series. I’ll be talking about my experience as the grandmother of an autistic child, and the organization, Autism Speaks, that helps these children get the help they need to live fuller lives. Come join me there next Tuesday, February 12.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!