Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Psychological Effects When An Everyday Activity Turns Into A Nightmare: Healing From The Aurora, Colorado Shootings

     For readers that have been following my blog and those new to it, I apologize for not posting an article about the "Second Key To Happiness". I was impacted by the horrific acts that took place in Aurora, Colorado and felt the need to write about ways in which we as a society can process and heal from this heartbreaking and tragic event. Thank you to my readers for your understanding. I hope you find this post helpful. 

     The tragic murders of 12 innocent people and many others seriously wounded while watching a movie premiere at a theater in Aurora, Colorado leaves us stunned and perplexed. We are left shaking our heads while asking the questions, "how could something like this have happened?" and "Is there a public place I can be where I will not feel afraid?". Thankfully, these tragic acts of senseless violence rarely happen but when they do we are quickly reminded of the fragility of life, it's unfairness, and the illogical course one's life can take in the blink of an eye. 

      Worldwide traumas leave us with a sense of confusion and fear. They can have a significant impact on our emotional health, daily functioning, and our sense of well-being and security. Even when we do not personally know the victims of such tragedies we still feel a profound sense of loss and mourning. Our lives are touched when tragedy happens right in our backyard and when tragedy happens across oceans and mountains far, far away from our own communities.  It is important to educate ourselves about the impact large-scale tragedies have upon our emotional lives and to apply strategies to help us cope with our natural negative emotional responses. After all, how we express and sort out our feelings impacts their resolution and our ability to move forward. Large-scale tragedies bring about emotions such as-disbelief, fear, grief/loss, anger, and confusion. The extent to which we experience and express our reactions depends greatly upon our current emotional health, support systems, and general coping styles.  

     It is also important for parents to be aware of the possibility that their children may also experience emotional distress stemming from a large-scale tragedy. Children of all ages need the attention and guidance from the adults in their lives to help them sort out their emotions and to gain a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the event. Of course all information provided to children or young adults needs to be age appropriate.  

Tips For Coping With A Large-Scale Tragedy

- Talk to people about the tragedy you feel able to freely express yourself with. Do not worry about saying exactly the "right" comment or feeling. Connecting with people we trust immediately improves our sense of well-being.
 -If you have children allow them to express their feelings freely concerning the trauma. Follow their lead when responding to their concerns and/or fears. It is important to be mindful of your child's developmental stage when talking with him/her about the facts surroundings the event.

-If you find yourself feeling more anxious then circumstances suggest, limit your exposure to media related to the tragedy. Find relaxing activities to do such as going for a walk, reading a book, or spending time with family and friends. Giving yourself an "emotional break" from exposure to news stories covering the tragedy is important for helping decrease unnecessary anxiety and fears.

-Sometimes current large scale traumas trigger emotions regarding personal past hurts.  And our own reactions to current worldwide traumas may be intensified as a result. Consider professional counseling if your reactions are interfering with your daily responsibilities and functioning.  Unresolved issues do negatively impact our current lives.

How are you healing from this large-scale trauma? Have you been more anxious and fearful? Do you have  suggestions to share in order to help others cope better with the current large-scale tragedy? I would like to hear from you.

Post written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. To learn more about me and my practice please visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com.





Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Self-Compassion-The First Key To Happiness

What Is Compassion   

      Compassion is defined as a deep awareness of the suffering of another and a keen desire to alleviate the suffering. Self-compassion is taking this definition and applying it to ourselves. So much of our inner turmoil centers around our negative self-concepts--not believing we are good enough when comparing ourselves to others, berating ourselves when we make a mistake or when we do not accomplish the things we think we should, and scolding or shaming ourselves when we feel we do not fit our imaged vision of ourselves. These types of negative internal dialogues create emotional distress and suffering.  

How Self-Compassion Makes Us Happier

     When we develop self-compassion we develop the ability to learn from our mistakes. Learning from our mistakes allows us to grow and to mature emotionally. When we practice self-compassion we stop engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as criticizing ourselves, being harsh, and degrading ourselves for mistakes or perceived failures. Self-criticism (the opposite of self-compassion) is emotionally unhealthy and leads to avoidant behaviors, feelings of shame, and feelings of self-loathing. All of these feelings inhibit us from reaching our full potential, taking risks, and living a full and rewarding life. Studies have shown that being easier on ourselves and accepting our imperfections is a BIG step towards leading a healthier and happier life. We all make mistakes and our goal in life should not be to avoid this inevitable fact.  

      People who practice self-compassion are less depressed, less anxious, and report to have more satisfying and genuine relationships. Many people are reluctant to practice self-compassion because they confuse self-compassion with self-pity. Pity is experienced as feelings of sorrow towards another who is suffering but is felt at a distance and with a sense of aloofness. Pity does not always motivate us to alleviate another's suffering like compassion does. Compassion makes us mindful of our own thoughts, requires each of us to have a sense of common humanity and requires us to be able to treat ourselves kindly. Practicing self-compassion also leads us to the emotional maturity needed to accept the reality that in life everyone will experience difficult times.

Tips For Developing Self-Compassion

1. Ask yourself: "Am I treating myself with kindness?" If you find you are not, think of ways in which you can be kinder to yourself. For example write a list of all the things you admire about yourself.

2. If you find you are being self-critical give yourself permission to take a break. Self-criticism can lead to feelings of shame and avoidant behaviors-all of which inhibit emotional growth.

3. When you do make a mistake ask yourself what you can do differently the next time you are confronted with a similar situation.  Remind yourself that the goal in life is not to make a mistake rather it is to learn from our mistakes so we can grow and mature emotionally.

Stay-tuned for next week's post about the second key to happiness.

Do you have self-compassion? Do you find it difficult to practice self-compassion? How do you think self-compassion can help you achieve your potential and lead to a more satisfying and enriched life? I want to hear from you.

This post was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. A practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. To learn more about me and my practice please visit Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.







Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Part II:Two Things Freud Says You Need To Be Happy ( or The Dilemma of The Working Mom)


       Sigmund Freud's central idea about how love and work are central to some of the most influential theories of psychological well-being and happiness. In fact, Freud is purported to have said that the goal of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is to help the patient develop the ability to love and to work. Several studies have shown that satisfaction in one domain is associated with satisfaction in the other domain. However, this task may be more difficult for working mothers to achieve, especially for mothers who work full-time.

     We can all agree that finding satisfying work is important for everyone. Being engaged in meaningful work-whether it be for pay or not-has a positive effect on our self-esteem, self-confidence, and gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. This makes us happier individuals. When our ability to "love" or to "work" is hindered, our emotional health suffers. Several studies suggest that being able to balance love and work is  key to maintaining good mental health and happiness. Achieving this balance can be particularly challenging for working mothers. Anne-Marie Slaughter created media buzz from her article, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All".  She writes about her own difficulties and feelings of ambivalence related to having a prestigious career in a top government leadership position while trying to be a good mother to her two teenage sons. Slaughter decided to continue to work, but in a position that allows her the time to nurture her important relationships, in other words, the time to love.

     Working mothers struggle to find adequate time to care for their children. Most women, working or not, are still responsible for the majority of the household chores and childcare duties.  Many women today also have the added responsibility of being the primary bread-winner a trend which adds new stressors and time demands. 

      So the question remains, what can working mothers do to allow themselves more time to nurture their important relationships and to feel fulfilled and satisfied with the two most important aspects of their lives-love and work? Below are a few tips:

      More fathers than ever before are stepping up and helping mothers with parenting duties. This also includes domestic chores such as well-laundry, grocery shopping, and house work. It is also important to have older children help out. Not only will this ease the stress for the working mom, but studies have shown that children who help with family chores appropriate for their age and developmental level, have a higher degree of self-confidence, self-esteem, and mastery. 

     When possible try to make your work schedule flexible, such as working some days from home or working four days and week and having one day off. If this is not an option, consider picking one day a week when you can focus solely on your family. On this day make sure you do not have any distractions such as computers or cell phones that could interfere with the time you are spending with your children.

     Try to be fully present at the times you are with your children. You can be more in the moment maintaining eye contact when your children are telling you important things. Also, do not interrupt your children when they are speaking.  Let's be honest- there will be plenty of times that you will feel stressed when you are at work because you are not home with your children and vice versa. Children benefit most from having parents that are not "stressed-out" regardless of the amount of time parents are actually spending with them.




Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Two Things Freud Says You Need To Be Happy ( or The Dilemma of The Stay-At-Home Mom)


"Love and work are 

the cornerstones to our 


-Sigmund Freud

     According to Sigmund Freud and many other well known philosophers and social scientists one's ability to love and work is deeply connected to one's degree of happiness and satisfaction with life. As Freud said, "Love and work..work and love..what else is there really?"  But, what does this concept imply for the stay at home mom who made a conscious decision to not work in order to be home to care for her family-even when she had the choice to do otherwise? Would the philosophers feel that these moms are doomed to a life of chronic depression and feelings of emptiness because they are not working outside the home? 

     (Just to be clear, in this context, love means commitments to family, partners, and/or children. Work encompasses all our productive activities whether for pay or not).  

     Betty Friedan author of  "The Feminine Mystique", the ground breaking book that actually started the women's movement, coined the term feminine mystique to refer to the unfulfilled feeling felt by educated housewives of  the 50s and 60s. Friedan believed that such women had lost their identity and sense of self to a life centered around husband, children, and home maintenance, and little else. The feminine mystique was a trap that had caught American women who were afraid to address the problem for fear of being perceived as "unfeminine". 


            We can all agree that participating and being part of meaningful and productive endeavors outside the home contributes positively to our self -esteem and provides us with a sense of purpose. At the same time and when circumstances allow this option, we can all see the value in being a stay-at-home mom. So the question remains what can women who have the privilege of deciding to stay at home do to avoid falling into the trap of the feminine mystic and yet remain happy. Below are some ideas: 

1. Consider exploring opportunities beyond the home such as working part-time, volunteering for a charity, and pursuing intellectual pursuits.


2. Keep track of the amount of time you spend related to the "feminine mystique". If you find yourself consumed with reading the most current fashion magazines with the attempt to meet the current media standards of femininity, evaluate the amount of time you spend participating in these types of activities.  Examine if these activities take time away from your important relationships and time away from developing other interests different from that of  the "feminine mystique".

3. Self-examination.  Evaluate your mood and self-esteem by asking yourself questions such as, "Do I feel fulfilled?", "Do I feel empty?", and "Am I achieving my full potential?"

4. Consider psycho-therapy for general support and guidance.


Next Post: Part II: The Dilemma of The Working Mom. 


Do you think people that have both "love and work" are happier? Do you think The Feminine Mystic still exists today for woman? I would like to hear from you.

This post was written by Dr. Paula Durlofsky. A psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, P.A.
to learn more about me and my practice please visit my web page at Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.