Tag Archives: Fear

Helping Your Child Face Their Fears

I had a patient a long time ago who was extraordinarily emotionally unbalanced. She came from the wackiest family you could ever imagine and she had been on many different drugs. I remember asking her what she took.  “Whatever’s available,” she said.  I was surprised she wasn’t dead.  However, she was a remarkable person, and as time went on, she got better and better. She ended up becoming a professional in the medical industry and was very good at her job.

One day in a session, she became terribly upset and started storming around my office.   She pointed to my diplomas and other things hanging on the walls, shouting about how I’d accomplished so much more than her even though we were the same age.   I simply said, “We can’t compare ourselves.  I had to walk across a field – you had to dig yourself out of a hole.  If I had to crawl out of the hole you did, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Some people have to overcome a lot inside of them to get from point A to point B.  Others slide from point A to point B with very little road rash.  Some of you are scared to death of going to a party whereas others walk in with a bottle of wine and say, “Where’s the food?”

Part of anxiety is genetic and some of it is learned. Many parents are so concerned about their kids never feeling hurt, embarrassed or uncomfortable that when they have to face something on their own in the world, they can’t cope. Kids have to learn that life is sometimes disappointing and that just when three good things happen, one bad thing can come and hit you in the mouth.

So when your child is afraid, how can you help them face their fears?

Believe it or not, the most powerful tool for helping a child overcome their anxiety is simple: talking!  When something is in your head, it’s like a malformed monster.  It doesn’t have dimensions or clarity – it’s just fear with scariness attached to it.  But when you describe the fear out loud, you turn the dimensionless feeling into something tangible.  It’s now a thing you can put in front of you and look at, and it loses power.  When it’s inside, it’s all-powerful, but on the outside, we have power against it.

The more articulate a child is about their fears, the better they will handle being shy and fearful.  That’s why talking is so important.  You can make it a game.  Ask your child, “If what you are afraid of were an animal, what kind of animal would it be?  If it were a thing, what kind of thing would it be? What color would it be?” They will not only have fun trying to describe their fear with colors, textures, sizes, and sounds, but they will feel a sense of power and control over what it is and what it means to them.  They can now see it, hit it, push it, pinch it, and put it in a box.

Let’s say, for example, that your child is afraid of a monster in their closet or under their bed.  Ask them what the monster looks like, how big it is, and how much it weighs.  Have them define it in three dimensions.  Then say, “How do you think we could take care of this? OK, here’s what we’re going to do.  I have this special blanket, and if I capture this creature with the blanket and put it in the trash, it can’t get out.”  Do this and your kid will go right to sleep.

At any age, it’s incredibly impressive when someone is afraid to do something but does it anyway. So parents, if you take away anything from this blog, it should be this: When your child is afraid of doing something but does it anyway, support them out their ears.

*A Not-So-Fun-Factoid: What is the biggest fear for kids? Their parents getting divorced!  On average, kids will tell you that they would rather a parent be dead than divorced.  If their parent is dead, they don’t feel left behind on purpose or see their parents fighting or establishing new families with new kids. With a divorce, the gates of hell are opened permanently and the torture never ends.  The number one thing kids call about on my program is, “My parents are divorced and I don’t see my mom or dad.”

Helping Teens with Their Mental Health

Therapy doesn’t come without resistance, especially when you’re dealing with a teenager.  It can be very difficult to get a teen on board with therapy because there’s usually a lot of defensiveness.  I want to discuss a handful of reasons why teens resist treatment:

1. Social stigma.  Anything associated with therapy or mental health issues is a little bit of a taboo.  Kids worry about people pointing their fingers and saying they’re crazy. 

2. Rebelliousness.  No matter what you suggest, some kids will just go against you because you’re an authority figure to knock heads with. 

3. Poor insight.  Teenagers have a limited capacity to look at themselves honestly or realistically.  They often don’t understand how their behavior or problems are affecting them.

4. Fear.  They’re afraid of being “crazy,” that others will perceive them as such, or that they can’t get better.  They also may be scared to death of having to take a deeper look at themselves or their problems.

5. Embarrassment.  They’re embarrassed that they can’t straighten themselves out, and therefore, accepting help from others can be difficult.

6.    Facing their problems may be too painful or overwhelming. 

7. Misconceptions.  Most teens don’t know how psychotherapy works, and they’re worried about what will happen if they admit to things.  They don’t know that the therapist cannot give their parents the information (therapist-patient laws prohibit that, even with minors).

8. Concealment. They don’t want to admit that they’re hiding something – cutting, abusing drugs, etc.  

9. Holding on.  This is what my book, Bad Childhood – Good Life, is all about.  They’re holding on to the drugs or other habit.  They’ve become so dependent on a way of thinking and behaving that it has become their identity.  They’re scared to death of giving up their self-protective mechanism of hiding from reality because it means they will be stripped naked in their own mind, and that’s pretty scary. 

10. Unworthiness. Some kids get so beaten down and depressed that they don’t feel like they’re worth much or that anyone would care about them. 

So, those are some of the main reasons kids resist treatment.  But the question still remains: How do I get my child to attend therapy?

First off, don’t trap them.  For example, don’t say you’re going to the mall and then drop them off at a therapist’s office.  That doesn’t work well.  There are two really good techniques I have always suggested to parents:

1. Make it a team effort.  Say something like, “You know, you and I have been fighting a lot lately, and there’s just so little happiness in the house.  So, I’m thinking if you and I went into counseling together, maybe a therapist could help us sort all this stuff out and make things better.  You’ll be happier and you’ll be able to do all the things you used to enjoy and probably miss.  I’m not sure how to make things better myself, but a therapist could help us work it out.”  That way it’s not, “You wacked-out kid, I’m putting you in therapy because I can’t stand it anymore.”  Make it about how “we” – you and me – can’t figure it out and that you need to get somebody who can help. 
 
2. Make a definitive statement (e.g. “I’m going to schedule the appointment so we can sort it out together”) and then talk about it in the days before the appointment.  For example, say, “Are you a little nervous about the therapy?  Because I am.”  If you tell your kid that you’re having apprehension about the therapist saying you didn’t do everything right, they are going to look at you and think, “All right, this is more even-steven. It’s not only about me.”  The fact that you are both feeling discomfort will be comforting to them. 

When they start therapy, tell your child you want them to go to four sessions, and then after that, you, your child, and the therapist will discuss if there is more to do.  During the first session, your teen will usually be angry.  I remember I used to have so many kids come in to my office and just sit there and glare at me for an hour: “Is it over yet?!”…”Is it over yet?!”…  The second time they come in, there will typically be a little less anger and more movement toward talking about their pain.  At that point, a good therapist will say, “You know, last week you were pretty angry about having to be here, and I don’t blame you.”  The kid is immediately going to be surprised: “She doesn’t blame me?!”  Being forced to do something you really don’t want to do and open up to a stranger about very painful things (which you really don’t want to do), is hard.  However, a good therapist will make your teen feel like they’re not being forced to do any of that, and instead, simply help them be happier and figure out their parents better.  Slowly but surely, by the third and fourth sessions things will be less forced and more about reducing the pain. 

While your child is in therapy, the family has to be very supportive at home.  They should never ask what happened in therapy – that’s none of their darned business!  Instead, it should be all about subtle reinforcement (e.g. “You seem more creative and relaxed right now, and I think that’s wonderful”).  Remember: a hug and a kiss can go a long way.

Stop Putting Off Your Procrastination Problem

The definition of procrastination is putting off something that was planned or scheduled.  Statistics indicate that most people procrastinate.  At least 20 percent of the population calls themselves chronic procrastinators, and according to some researchers, procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years. 

I think that more and more people have become accustomed to procrastination in recent years for the same reasons that fewer men are going to college and fewer young adults are becoming autonomous – very little is expected of them anymore.

When we were in the era of responsibility, obligations were taken seriously.  Very few people procrastinated because there were consequences for doing so.  However, people today are hardly ever held accountable for anything, especially teens and young adults.  It used to be that if you had an 8-to-4 job, you arrived at your desk at 8 ready to work; you weren’t stumbling through the door at 9.  A lot of young people don’t get that, and then wonder why they are having such a tough time getting jobs.  It’s not just because of the economy – there is simply a lack of respect for young adults in the business world today because they lack commitment, work ethic, diligence, focus, and pride in what they do.

In addition, advances in technology have come at the cost of reducing many people’s effectiveness.   Between the TV, Facebook, and the latest Blackberrys and iPads, technology is providing people with constant distractions.  And with more lazy, unmotivated people sitting around drooling into screens, it’s no wonder that the procrastination statistics keep going up. 

Another contributing factor is that there isn’t a whole lot of parenting going on anymore.  Fewer and fewer kids are spending time with Mommy and Daddy at the dinner table discussing their day.  Chalk it up to divorce or no parent staying at home, but the outcome is the same: kids get away with murder and there’s no hell to pay.  Parents are failing to teach their kids about obligations and responsibilities.  A hundred years ago, kids got up at 5 a.m. and did a whole heck of a lot of stuff before they went to school.  Nowadays, I have parents calling me up complaining about how they can’t get their kids to get dressed in the morning.  It’s ridiculous. 

As you can see, people are not born procrastinators; they are formed to be that way.  And sadly, when they become chronic procrastinators, the results can be dire.  They often experience financial failure or end up dying younger than they should because they don’t bother to go get tests.

If you have a problem with procrastination, here’s what to do:

People procrastinate for all kinds of reasons, but more often than not, I think procrastination is a kind of passive aggressive behavior: “Screw you!” “I don’t have to!” “I don’t want to!”  “I don’t feel like it!”  So, if you really want to change, stop being hostile and start acting like a responsible person.

Don’t overthink what you have to do or make things too complicated – just get started.  It’s funny how something you were initially dreading can all of sudden become easier once you start it.  If you want an example of this, just listen to some of the people who call in to my program.  They may start off extremely nervous, but once they start talking, all their hesitation goes away.   

If you feel overwhelmed by a big project, break it up into smaller chunks.  Start with the hardest part first and then take a step back.  You’ll likely find that once you’ve finished each smaller task, the bigger project isn’t as difficult as you feared.

If you don’t have the right skills to complete a project, do some research or call someone to help you.  YouTube, for example, has a million useful little videos of people explaining how to do all kinds of stuff.  I learned how to drill certain jewelry pieces I’ve worked on from watching YouTube videos.

If you don’t have the right tools, find out where you can buy or borrow them.

Set realistic goals.  What can you realistically do given your abilities?  Ask someone to help pace you.

If you’re easily distracted by clutter, your phone, or your friends, then block out time dedicated to working on what you need to get done.  I rarely have my cell phone on me.  It certainly frustrates a lot of people who want to get a hold of me at that precise moment, but when I want to sit and deal with something, I cut out the distractions.  One of the things you must do in life is prioritize.  Do what needs to be done first, not what you wish to do.  Always remind yourself of what the highest priority is.
 
If you are a perfectionist (as I tend to be), you need to learn to control your impulse to be perfect.  I remember reading about one culture which purposefully put one tiny mistake in everything they made.  I thought that was so clever – what you do doesn’t always have to be perfect to be an expression of you.

Lastly, if you are afraid of failing or taking responsibility, you need to remember that the greatest failure is sitting there like a lump of protoplasm and not trying.  Failing is an inevitable part of trying, but failing is not an endpoint – not trying is.  Failure is at least a step forward toward success.

Getting yourself organized and putting a stop to your procrastination is pretty simple.  Set a reasonable goal, give yourself a time frame, dump the excuses, and figure out a way to hold yourself accountable. In short, just make it happen.

Getting the Most Out of Therapy

Once I started becoming more “known” from my radio program and books, I had to give up my private practice.  Folks would come in for sessions and expect me to work magic in three and a half minutes.  It became clear to me that I couldn’t be as effective one-on-one anymore.  So instead, I wrote books and did my show because I thought that those were the best ways I could help people.  

However, there are times on my program when I tell callers that they need to do a little more extensive work.  I can give them a jump-start, but they need to pick up where we left off in therapy.

Therapy can be a very complicated process, and there aren’t many therapists who do it well.  When looking for a therapist, there are a few things you need to do.  First, and most importantly, you have to form a relationship with your therapist.  When people call in to my program, they generally have listened to me for a while.  This means that they have already developed a kind of relationship with me in their minds.  When you go into somebody’s office for therapy, it usually takes a while to form that relationship. Without it, there isn’t going to be trust.  Although it seems like I receive instant trust from the people who call in to my show, that’s not really the case.  Most callers have been listening to me for a long time (sometimes 20 years or more), and therefore, the trust part is pretty much all squared away. 

Your clinician also needs to be a good fit for you.  Not every therapist makes the same choices or has the same personality and expertise. For example, when I was involved in private practice, I would not deal with anyone’s insurance companies.  They paid for their sessions, and I signed the insurance papers for them to submit.  I did this because I didn’t want my fights with an insurance company to interfere with our relationship.   

In addition, I believe that your first session should be free and on the phone.  It’s not really a session – it’s simply you asking a lot of questions.  You can always look up somebody’s license and credentials, but you still need to ask them about their expertise.  A lot of people get psychology licenses of various kinds and then claim that they can do anything.  However, there are specific areas of expertise.  Make sure you ask.  If you’re nervous about asking questions, first write them down on a piece of paper.  You may be less afraid to ask them if you put them in writing. 

This process may be uncomfortable, but if you don’t feel safe and comfortable with the therapist at first, you are not likely going to meet your goals with them later. 

Personally, I think that if you are seeking marital therapy, you should ask if the therapist is divorced.  Statistically speaking, when a therapist is divorced, he or she is more permissive of divorce.  And if they’re more permissive of divorce, it may impact how you perceive your marriage.  It’s the same old thing – if other people have done it, we feel like it’s more acceptable.  So, be sure to ask if they’re divorced and for how long.

Also ask about their ethics and how they’ve continued their education.  Once you’re done asking everything you want to ask, repeat this process with three to five more therapists.  See who gets defensive and who answers your questions openly. 

I know it can be intimidating or feel like you’re being impolite, but you must ask questions.  The truth is, your therapist is your hired help.  And if you do hire them, you’ll want to be able to ask them honest questions later, such as, “I don’t understand how this is helping; can you please explain it to me?” 

Nevertheless, you must also remember that the therapist does not assume the entire burden.  Therapy is hard work, and in order to improve, you have to do the work.  It’s the same principle as playing the piano – if you don’t practice, you’re not going to play very well.  You may notice that I often give assignments to callers on my program.   That’s because change doesn’t happen in one session – it happens outside of the session.  It’s an active process.  You can’t expect to go to therapy once a week and then not give it a moment’s thought until the next session.  The sessions are important but so is your effort to reflect on the content of those sessions and apply it on a daily basis. If you don’t make progress, it could very well be your own fault.  As I’ve said many times on the air, “Hey, I’m not going to work harder on your life than you are.” 

Finally, you need to expect that at some point during therapy, things could become extremely painful, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.  There are often blockages you have to work through.  You may start placing some of your past relationship issues on your therapist or treat them as if they were your mother, father, sister, etc.  Sometimes you’ll want to quit therapy or wonder why you’re bothering to spend money to be in pain.   You might even develop a habit of arriving late to sessions as a mechanism of avoidance.  However, when you start freaking out or getting defensive, you absolutely must go back and talk to your therapist about it.  Say, for example, “After opening up to you last time about ___, I became very vulnerable.”  Really good therapists are trained to understand and deal with your concerns.   

To bring it full circle, this is why establishing an initial relationship with your therapist is important – you need to be able to discuss anything and everything.  If you don’t trust your therapist or don’t feel like they believe in you, there will be no change.  You’ll simply reenact the same patterns with them and everybody else.

How to Say ‘No’

Are you scared of saying “no” to people?  Are you worried that you’ll look bad, not be liked, or come across as rude or selfish if you do? 

Sometimes we don’t want to say “no” because we think we’ll lose a friend or we want to help everybody.  But saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re rude or disagreeable.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be fights or burned bridges.  These are false beliefs we concoct in our minds.  It really all depends on how we say “no”.     

There are good ways and bad ways to say “no”.  The first thing you ought to do, if it’s at all reasonable, is to ask the person to let you think about their request.  You may not have the time or the wherewithal to handle what they’ve asked you to do because of some other responsibility or commitment you have.  Ask them to give you a night to think on it.  That way, it’s a “maybe”, not a “no”, and they at least feel like you have considered it.  If you realize that you really can’t do it, you need to tell them “no” but also say something positive.  The best way to say “no” is to a) say something positive and b) promise something else.  For example, say, “I really wish I could do ___ for you.”  (That’s positive).  Then follow it up with, “Although I can’t do ___, I can do ___.” 

This concept applies to all your relationships from work to your clubs and organizations.  Simply say, “Even though I really wanted to find a way to make ___ happen, I couldn’t.  However, I can do ___. 

Another tip: Give them a good reason why you can’t do something, not a list of excuses.  “I sprained my ankle, my kid’s off from school at that time, etc.” may all be legitimate reasons why you can’t do something for someone, but you should only give one.  You may think giving more excuses makes you look better, but in fact, it makes you look worse.  If you start giving multiple excuses, it looks like you really don’t want to do it.  If you tell the other person in one sentence, “I’m sorry, I would really like to do ___ for you, but my mother and father are coming to town and I haven’t seen them in quite a while,” it seems more like you give a darn.

Sometimes you may not be the best person for the job.  Tell them that.  Say, “I’d really like to do that, but I don’t think I’m the best person because I’m not good at ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’.  But Bill or Mary is.” 

Somebody recently contacted me online at my Dr. Laura Designs store asking me if I could do a particular project for an event.  I told them that I would look into it.  I didn’t want to say “yes” because I didn’t know anything about how to do the particular craft, and I didn’t want to promise anything I couldn’t do.  I did some research and realized that the learning curve for me to figure out how to do it would probably be a month, and the project was due in a week.  So I responded back I would have loved to be able to do it but I couldn’t because I didn’t know how and couldn’t figure it out in time for the event.  I felt bad.  I don’t like to disappoint people and I really do like a challenge, but time constraints and my lack of expertise made it difficult for me to follow through. 

Finally, if you don’t want to help someone because you think they’re using you or they’re just a crummy person, you don’t need to say so.  Even though you may be thinking, “I hate your guts and I’d rather eat frogs than help you,” that’s not the kind of thing you should say to anybody unless you really want to get them out of your life for good.  It’s always nicer to tell a truth that isn’t so ugly.  Simply say, “I regret that I’m not able to do this for you.  I hope you can find somebody else to help you,” as opposed to, “Drop dead!” or, “Go to hell!”   

Learning to say “no” is important because many of you let other people devour your lives out of a false sense of obligation.  You end up having too much on your plate, which means you won’t do any of it very well, and that’s not morally right.  Sometimes you have to disappoint people in order to maintain healthy follow-through on the obligations you already have.