On Your Mind: Old abuse, new baby

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

I’m a new mom to a 3-month-old baby. My husband got upset at me and when I answered back because he was being rude and name calling, he shoved me to the ground in front of our infant son! This is not the first time he has been physical with me. I got up and tried to fight back but he just pinned me to the wall. I’m fed up.

Response by Ozark Guidance Clinical Director Jared Sparks, LCSW, PhD

I’m glad you’re reaching out about this. The verbal and physical abuse you’re describing is not okay. More to the point, from what you’ve shared, you and your baby are in danger.

This can be hard to see when the abuser is someone you care about…and who says he cares about you. However, it’s not only about you and your baby’s immediate safety but also the long-term damage that exposure to this violence can take.

woman-1006102_640What people working in behavioral health and domestic violence have learned over time is that, once there is violence in the home, it is likely to continue and worsen. We’ve also come to understand that witnessing violence in the home (even at a very early age) can result in long-term mental health problems.

It’s really beyond the scope of this blog format to go into depth about this, especially since this feels more like an immediate crisis. The good news is that there is excellent help in this area available to you.

Peace at Home Shelter, provides a 24/7 crisis hotline (Local: 479-442-9811 Toll free: 877-442-9811), and their website has really good information about how to keep yourself safe while getting help.  http://peaceathomeshelter.org/get-help/domestic-violence/

Of course, if you’re in immediate danger, call 911 immediately.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: We’re arguing more lately

on your mindMy husband and I have been arguing a lot more than usual lately. The arguments are never physical but I know they are taking a toll on me and the kids, too. What can I do to help break this pattern of arguments that seem to solve nothing? How do you know the difference between normal, healthy arguments and the ones that lead to broken marriages?

Response by Ozark Guidance Clinical Director Jared Sparks, LCSW, PhD

Those are great questions and no doubt ones other readers have. The fact that you’re recognizing that these arguments are not productive may be an indicator that the communication is not entirely healthy. The fact that you’re noticing that this is taking a toll not only on you but also the children also points to the stress the arguments are placing on all of these close relationships.

The definition of normal is a bit up for grabs. But if you’re both willing to work on better ways of communicating, this can be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship. It does NOT have to lead inevitably to a broken marriage.

breakup-908714_640You mentioned that there has been a recent increase in frequency of the arguments. The reasons for that can be varied. It may point to some new or worsening stressor or change in the environment (good or bad). It can also happen when healthy ways of resolving problems were not learned in the family we grew up in. Over time and in stress, people can fall back on unhealthy communication styles that are more familiar.

To effectively communicate, there have to be some basic skills. To begin with, each person has to know how to listen and relate back their understanding of the issue. However, as you may already know, learning better ways of communicating, while at the same time navigating through difficult family situations, can be really challenging.

In terms of what you can do to break out of negative arguments that don’t solve anything, I would recommend that you find a marriage and family therapist who can guide you. It’s important that, as a family, you set some ground rules about how to discuss these issues before trying to resolve them. This is going to likely include some work on being able to identify early on when these conversations are eliciting strong emotional reactions…before things get out of hand.

It’s going to involve identifying what is absolutely out of bounds in these communications…things like name calling and threatening. Strategies like using “I” statements  rather than “you” can help with this (i.e. “I feel angry” instead of “you make me mad.”) It may include setting limits on the time and space for talking about difficult subjects. There should also be some agreed upon plans for how each of you cope with anger during or after conflict…and respecting each other’s plan.

You were also asking how to tell the difference between healthy and damaging arguments. There is no doubt that all couples do at times argue, and in the heat of things people can say very hurtful things. Having this as a “norm” obviously is not healthy. Having arguments about the same thing without ever generating new solutions or making progress is not healthy. Identifying that you are seeing a change in behavior of your children in response to these arguments is also an indicator. Children can react in a variety of ways including becoming more withdrawn or acting out. Kids will likely pick up on these unhealthy communication styles and use them themselves down the road if they have not already.

It may be cliché, but the fact that you’re noticing a problem is a huge first step. You obviously already have a good foundational awareness and willingness to work for change. Marriage and Family Therapy can build on this and hopefully provide some relief and the potential for you all to grow into a healthier and happier family. Good luck and thank you for the great questions.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: Mother trying to help her adult daughter

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

I have a 20 year old daughter that is on the verge of a breakdown. She goes to college, had a recent breakup with a boyfriend, feels alone and has PTSD. I have gotten to the point where I don’t know what to say to her anymore. It’s the same response from her: “I don’t want to live.” She says that I don’t love her (because I don’t know how to fix her).

She has seen a psychologist for 5 years and it’s the same old thing. She talks and nobody listens. She knows all the coping skills and says none are working. Sometimes it feels like she just wants me to feel sorry for her. She is very mad at me because I don’t know what to do. How else can I help her?

By Dr. Jared Sparks, Ozark Guidance Clinical Director

phone 911Thank you for question. Because your daughter is talking about not wanting to live, your question has very serious implications.

For that reason, this response is more directive and shorter than most of the responses shared in this blog. Your daughter is an adult and is ultimately in charge of her own care. However, most medical and mental health providers welcome family involvement when it’s helpful. If there is danger to your daughter or to others, it could be appropriate to share those concerns with your daughter’s psychologist.

If there is immediate danger, you should call 911.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: Husband in a rage

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

I am seeking some direction or advice on where to go from here.  I’m a mother of two beautiful boys (3 and 1yr).  I’m a wife to my (normally) very loving husband of 6 years. Two days ago he was trying to wake me up to get the kids ready for the sitter’s house. After a very busy weekend hosting friends and kids, I asked for 5 more minutes to sleep. He then started to toss things at me from the bathroom where he was getting ready. I of course was awake after that but just laid there with my eyes open to honestly see what other crazy things he was going to come up with to get me out of bed.

He then came over and grabbed my leg to drag me out of bed. My feeling was that, yes, he was angry. But that this was a playful yet, serious gesture. As soon as he grabbed my leg, I hopped out of bed and went to the bathroom to ask “What is your problem?” He started shouting and yelling about how lazy I am along with a bunch of expletives. 

He was in an obvious rage and I couldn’t help but throw back two sample size hotel bottle shampoos back at him and he immediately came at me and threw me back and I went to the floor. I consider myself tough and am not an easy size to knock off balance. I am 6′ tall. I was in shock and just yelled back and wanted to go right back at him. I was for the first time scared of my husband. After he left red-flagthat morning, he sent me a message stating how sorry he was and how he regrets that it got to that level. 

He has been physical prior to this but all were directly related to alcohol consumption and happened before we were married and had children.

I just want to know how to best handle this? I know I did set him off, even more than he already was by throwing back two of the small bottles he initially threw at me. I know he is normally very loving and only wants recognition and appreciation. 

I  am trying to be honest with myself and honest about the details of what happened because I consider any man who lays a hand on a woman an animal. At least I thought that’s how I felt. I won’t speak to him and have asked him for space until I can figure this out. 

How do I handle this with him?

Response by Diane Shott, MS LPC, NCC; Erin Goodwin, MS, LPC; and Erica Boughfman, PhD, LPC

It’s terribly hard to approach a difficult subject with someone that you care about. It’s hard to know what to say and when to say it.

It sounds like you want to address the issue that occurred on that morning but are unsure of how to approach the topic. You write asking for advice; but first, I on your mind safety graphic smallwant to reflect upon the accuracy of your statement “I know I set him off.”  As kindly as I can say this: You want to be honest with yourself, so please start there. You may have pushed a button of his but it doesn’t excuse his actions.

In situations like this, it’s important to trust your instincts. If you feel afraid for your safety, you should trust that feeling.

Relationship violence is a very serious concern and will likely need professional intervention to make the needed changes. I would recommend that you both seek the help of a professional counselor who can help guide what is needed to improve the safety and communication in your relationship both individually and as a couple. This will also allow you and your husband to have the needed conversations in a safe environment.

It’s also important to have a safety plan in place in case the violent behavior continues or escalates. This can include having a plan for how you would leave, having a code word you can say to your older child to alert him or her to call the police, and a plan for where you would go if you needed to leave.

I would also encourage you to seek out the Peace At Home Shelter in Northwest Arkansas. They have a 24/7 crisis line (479.442.9811 or toll free 877.442.9811) and also have information on their website peaceathomeshelter.org.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: He was looking at women online

onyourmind“I recently walked into my 14-year-old son’s room and found him surfing the Web on his smartphone. He didn’t realize that I saw what he was looking at – the Victoria’s Secret website. He quickly put down the phone when I walked in. I haven’t said anything to my son about it because I don’t want to embarrass him. I told my husband and he thinks it’s no big deal. But now I’m worried because there are a lot of images and videos online that are much more graphic than Victoria’s Secret and my son might be looking at those, too. We don’t know how to set up filters on our home network. Am I making too big a deal out of this?”

By Zachary Austin,  Licensed Associate Marriage Family Therapist (LAMFT)

You need a game plan. Parents should be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to discussing sexuality with their teenager.  As you know, teenagers are naturally inclined to explore and discover which means that your son being interested in pictures of Victoria Secret’s models isn’t all that surprising. Teens look for information about sex and the changes happening to male and female bodies during puberty, and they get a lot of this info from friends and the media instead of their parents.

By the time some parents have their first conversation about sexuality with their teenager, at least a portion of their teen’s sexual knowledge comes from bad or incomplete information about sexuality as well as unrealistic or unhealthy depictions of sexual behaviors. When parents talk about sexuality with teenagers AFTER this has occurred, it can be an embarrassing, uncomfortable experience — for you and your teen. That’s why parents need a game plan and should start talking about sexuality with their kids as EARLY as possible.

If you’ve put off “the talk” for far too long (and don’t feel too bad because many parents do the same thing), the first thing you should do is talk to your spouse so the two of you can get on the same page about what you’ll tell your son about appropriate sexual conduct. Here’s a list of the topics you should be prepared to talk about or answer questions about during “the talk”: acceptable language about sexuality, personal hygiene, sexual orientation, masturbation, media messages on sexuality, pornography, forming relationships, courtship boundaries, appropriate sexual interactions with others, sexual safety and protection, contraception, and abortion.

internet risk resizedNow let’s talk about how smartphones play into all of this. The Internet is not completely evil because it can, in fact, be used for access to good, responsible information about sexuality. BUT parents should absolutely be alarmed by the potential dangers here. One study suggested that the average age of exposure to Internet pornography in America is age eleven!

This means that your game plan also needs to include talking about what is and isn’t okay to do online. And you should definitely have Internet safety and monitoring systems in place in your home. If you don’t know how to set it up, find someone who does.

If you’re wondering about what to expect during the next few years of your son’s development, here’s a general guide that covers early, middle and late adolescence:

Early Adolescents (approximately 11-13 years of age)

During the earliest stages of adolescence, a teenager is wondering, “What does it mean to be a sexual person?” Perhaps surprising to some, teenagers at this stage hope for a welcoming attitude about sexuality from their parents. Though lighthearted joking about puberty can break the tension and help start a conversation about sexuality, be careful about going too far with “teasing” and jokes.

Teenagers during this stage can be very perceptive of parents’ attitudes regarding sexual issues and are susceptible to messages of shame and guilt about being curious about sex. Keep conversations relaxed yet informative, avoid lectures, and ask your teen what kind of information would help him most.

Middle Adolescents (approximately 14-16 years of age)

During the middle stages of adolescent development, teenagers more consistently and openly express their sexuality. Sexually explicit conversations with peers, sexual jokes, flirting and courtship, interest in erotica, solitary and mutual masturbation, physical affection (hugging, kissing, hand-holding), foreplay (petting, making out, fondling) and monogamous intercourse (stable or serial) are all considered to fall within the “normal” range of adolescent sexual behaviors.

“Normal”, however, does not necessarily mean “acceptable” with regard to parental expectations and moral principals. Parents must be careful to balance autonomy with accountability in this stage. Boundaries, expectations, and consequences for sexual behaviors are initially defined based on parents’ values and principals, but the teenager is aware that this support is temporary until she is more capable and ready to define and manage her own sexual values and principals. Teenagers who learn how to live by their own values tend to feel better about themselves.

Late Adolescents (Approximately 17-19 years of age)

During late adolescence, teenagers think more about the role sexuality plays in relationships. Teenagers in late adolescence may begin to consider issues of sexual ethics. They begin to get a better grasp on the physical, social, and moral aspects of sexuality and sexual behaviors.

Decisions such as abstinence, celibacy, monogamy and fidelity may cross their minds. As teens become adults, it’s important for them to develop confidence in their ability to succeed in their relationships independent from their parents when the time comes for them to “leave the nest.”

Parents of teenagers in this stage must partner with their teenager in the decision-making process rather than make decisions for them. For example, when a parent accepts their teenager’s choice to be sexually active, the parent should also inform him that a decision to have sex should also include decisions about pregnancy and STD prevention. In doing this, parents manage to avoid being too rigid (“Do what I say or else!”) while also not being too disconnected (“Do whatever you want, I don’t care.”). This helps to further build trust in the relationship between parent and child at a critical transition point.

Your willingness to talk to your son about sexuality is a great thing. Some mothers aren’t willing to do it. Helping your teenager develop an accurate and responsible view of sexuality is a big deal, but “the talk” doesn’t have to be the painful experience some make it out to be.

In fact, “the talk” can actually be an opportunity to build greater trust and attachment between you and your child. My hope is that this post may help you get that conversation started and that those conversations will do just that.

Zachary Austin,  Licensed Associate Marriage Family Therapist (LAMFT), is an Ozark Guidance school-based therapist at Lakeside Junior High School and has worked extensively with teenagers. Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.