Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ten Masks Unveiled During Holiday Gatherings: Which One Do You Wear?

Thanksgiving has made its exit while Christmas and New Year’s are quickly making their grand entrances. I am sure it seems as if Christmas 2013 was here just yesterday. You, your family and your friends often remark, “Can you believe it; the holidays are here again?” Believe it…! If the holidays are rolling around as fast as they are, your life is doing the same. 

Although you made it through your family’s Thanksgiving gathering, you still have the Christmas and New Year’s gatherings to get through. And sometimes dealing with family and friends at holiday gatherings can be a major feat. And you are probably thinking to yourself, ‘some of my family members and friends are difficult to deal with, even when it is not a holiday gathering.’

Until you make it through your Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with family, friends, and some foes, you have not truly survived. The holiday season is the pinnacle of all that’s real about you and your family. It’s the culmination of the attitudes and behaviors of the past year, as well as previous years of your life and the lives of your family and friends. The holiday season is the time when the family masks are unveiled, revealing the true identities of family, friends, and YOU! And if you aren’t sure about your foes, their masks are revealed also. The holiday season is often used as a time for you and your family to truly stand up and stand out. Many times the outcome might not be the best for you and others concerned. But, you already know the characters and the stage has been set for quite sometime.

Instead of blaming everyone else for the success or failure of your holiday gathering, why not make the decision this year to refrain from blaming and look within, in order to determine which mask(s) you wear, as well as which role(s) you play at the holiday celebration!

There are so many of you who seem to need an audience in order for you to strip your mask, allowing you to speak your mind, act your part, and let the good times roll. And then there are those of you who seem to need a drink or two to give you permission to unveil the real you. On the other hand, there are still many of you who don’t need an audience, neither do you need a drink for you to show up and show out. As a matter of fact, your mask is unveiled each and every day.

I have provided ten major masks that many of you, your family members, friends, and foes wear to the holiday gathering. Many of you will be able to identify with the ten masks; it’s a matter of deciding which one(s) fit you. Recognize that many of you wear at least one of these masks.

We all wear one face or another at any given time. However, it seems as if the holidays bring out faces that are masked to hide various thoughts and emotions.

Ten major masks that are worn at holiday gatherings:

1.     Big Mama/Papa Perpetrator—You are the self-ascribed matriarch/patriarch of the family. And you probably are not old enough or experienced enough to run anything or anybody, but you want to tell everybody what to do. You get upset when no one listens to you. And you probably did not contribute to the gathering in any way. You just showed up and tried to show out by taking over. 

2.     The Referee/Peacemaker—You are always asking the question, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ You try to calm the arguments, squelching the disagreements, and break up the fights. Sometimes your refereeing makes the situation worse, when you can’t control people and things.

3.     The Rebel Rouser/Instigator—You are the ‘I’m just saying’ person. You throw the stone that starts the arguments/fights and then hide your hands behind your back. You bring up issues you KNOW are contentious and then you hide and blame everyone else for the problem. Give you some alcohol and the situation is exacerbated.

4.     The Denier—You deny the reality of what is taking place at the gathering and within the family throughout the year.  You remain in D-E-N-I-A-L about everything. As a matter of fact, you and your family are perfect.

5.     The Deserter—When the going gets tough and the tough gets going, you can’t be found. You talk a good talk, pass out wolf tickets, and run away when it’s time to take a stand or stance.

6.     The Narcissist—You focus on SELF; it’s all about you and no one else matters. You put yourself on a pedestal. You are self-absorbed, vain, egotistical, and arrogant. You can’t help clean or cook, because you are so special and you look too good. You don’t want to break a nail or mess up your clothes; you just want to be noticed. And you come to the gathering fashionably late.

7.     The Self-Righteous Moralist—You are perfect and find fault with everything and everyone else. You are sanctimonious, egotistical, and hypocritical. Everyone else has low morals and there is something wrong with whatever they do. They drink too much, curse too much, eat too much, and they are not religious enough. You throw Stones While Living In a Glass House.

8.     The Historian—You know everybody’s story in the family and you tell every sorted detail. You tell all the family secrets and you don’t care about the impact on the family members or others at the gathering. You get pleasure out of knowing and telling all the sorted past details about everyone else but yourself.

9.     Mr./Ms. Know It All—You have all the answers. No one can tell you anything. You have to have the last word, whether right or wrong. As a matter of fact, YOU ARE PERFECT and you are the smartest one in the room…so you think!

10.  Mr./Ms. Pitiful—You find a way to shift all the focus on you by feeling sorry for yourself, complaining, being sad, or isolated from everyone else. You seek attention and try to pull others away from the gathering in order for you to get attention.

Some of you wear more than one mask at a time. The situation and the people dictate which mask you will present at the gathering. In all actuality, we all wear masks. However, it is incumbent of you to decide when and where to unveil your mask and also consider the impact of unveiling your mask(s) on those around you.

No matter which mask(s) you wear, remember the meaning of the holiday season and the gatherings. These are times for you to share, care, and show love for one another. Yes, time is rolling on; so, too, are your life and the lives of those around you. Whether family, friends, or foe, take time during this holiday season to remove your mask(s) of bitterness and show a face of love and caring. There is only one time around, and tomorrow is not promised.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Overcoming the Darkness of Depression During the Holidays & Beyond

It is truly amazing that we are literally at the front door of the holiday season. It seems as if summer was here just yesterday, confirming the old adage, “time really flies.” Although many of you view the holiday season as a time of joy, excitement, love, sharing, and celebration, for many of your partners, friends, family members, loved ones, and even possibly for you, the holiday season is a difficult time of the year. It is a time when you remember things you would like to forget; your loss of loved ones, your sense of loneliness, your negative financial situation, your unemployment, your underemployment, doors that have closed in your life, other losses you have experienced, your prevailing sense of sadness, your depression, and/or your seeming sense of helplessness, and hopelessness.  

For many of you, the holiday season seems to exacerbate your already emotionally fragile state of mind and emotions. Not only are you having even more difficulty during this time of year in dealing with the above difficulties, you are also faced with the issue of losing yourself. This los of self, as related to depression causes major disruptions in your ability to celebrate and experience joy, happiness, and wholeness in your life, especially during the holiday season. While faced with the many ills that seem out of your control, your depression seems to spiral during the holidays, making it difficult for you to cope. However, there is a way out, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just as the holidays come and go, so will the adversities you are facing!

Depression is defined as …feelings of a sense of despondency and dejection. Depression is a mood disorder. And believe me, you are NOT the only one suffering from depression! According to a 2003 study by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 1 in 4 women will require treatment for depression, compared to 1in 10 men. Men are less likely to seek professional help for their depression.

Often, we ignore the symptoms of depression; the sadness, the crying spells, the loss of interest in things that brought you pleasure in the past, increased stress, anxiety, isolation, agitation, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of motivation, exhaustion, anger, mood swings, excessive weight gain or excessive weight loss, unpredictable behaviors, forgetfulness, low self-esteem, flat affect, addictive behaviors, you see no way out, a sense of helplessness and/or helplessness, being in a dark space/hole that you don’t seem to get out of, suicidal thoughts/plan, increased physical pain in different areas of your body, etc.  Now, while you might not have all of these symptoms, if you have many of these symptoms more days than you don’t have them, you are probably suffering from depression. Okay, I know; many of these symptoms can also be attributed to many physical ills. This is most certainly true and one of the reasons that I have my clients presenting with three or more of these symptoms to have undergone or to undergo a physical exam, in order to rule out any physical ailments. But also know that if you are suffering from major physical illnesses, you are probably suffering from depression also…and again, your depression is increased during the holiday season.

Many of you probably have different terminology for what is really a state of depression. You might consider yourself or a loved one as being ‘sad all the time,’ ‘having the blues,’ ‘feeling strange,’ ‘acting strange,’ ‘off the chain,’ ‘a little weepy’ most days, feeling a ‘little off balance,’ seeming a ‘little unstable,’ ‘under the weather,’ ‘feeling out of sorts,’ ‘not myself (him/herself),’ ‘can’t put a finger on it,’ etc. Because our society is just recently recognizing and publicly acknowledging that depression is a health crisis of major proportion as are many of the physical illnesses that impact the young as well the old, males as well as females, persons of all socio-economic backgrounds, all races, and all cultures, we are still lagging behind in equitable and adequate mental health treatment for ALL people.

In some cultures (especially the African-American culture and other non-majority cultures), acknowledging and discussing the issue of depression and the need to seek professional help is taboo for many. It’s akin to discussing the “Big C”—cancer. Unfortunately, any reference to mental health disabilities is often associated to the myth of one being considered “crazy!” As a result, there are too many who suffer in silence from depressive disorders. And we wonder why Uncle John, Aunt Suzy, sister Bev, or brother Al seem to be sad all the time or off the chain many times, especially during the holiday dinners. Their moods and behaviors are probably unpredictable and even more so during the holidays.  THEY ARE DEPRESSED!!!

During the holidays, depression not only increases due to the issues cited previously, but it is also increased because of the pressure many of you put on yourselves. The holiday season is very commercialized, and you have bought into it. You put yourself under undo stress and anxiety to live a life that you probably can’t afford; buying gifts that you probably can’t afford, and for people that you probably don’t even like! You are putting yourself under too much pressure for a period of time that will pass, just as fast as the days of the week and the seasons of the year! Even after the holidays are gone, you still have to live!

In addition, men are rarely given permission to acknowledge and show emotion, let alone acknowledge their depressive state and seek professional help. As a result, many men are uninformed or ill informed about what is wrong with them and they try to not only hide the strange feelings they are experiencing, their depression often goes untreated, spiraling out of control, catapulting them into frightening territories. The results are many times quite grave, resulting in self-destruction through alcohol, drugs, as well as other addictive behaviors, or they directly or indirectly cause the destruction of others. On too many occasions, the destruction is in the form of suicide, as well as the death of loved ones and others, usually with the use of guns.

Women also face many of the destructive behaviors men face as a result of their untreated depressive disorders. However, their destructive behaviors are usually not at as massive and publicly waged as men. Often they die silently with prescription medication or other means.

Ironically, in 2000, right after the holidays, my son-in-law committed suicide. I knew he had a bipolar disorder, but encouraging him and other family members that he needed professional mental health treatment, which would include talk therapy and medication maintenance, proved to be very difficult, resulting in his death. I was finally able to convince him to seek therapy. But without having a competent mental health professional who was able to see through his smoke screens, and due to his lack of compliance, he lost his battle. He was a star football player, a handsome guy, very intelligent, and a Morehouse College graduate, who had tried to live with the secret of depression the majority of his life.

I am pleased to see that with the recent issues plaguing our society, such as the school shootings, other murders and suicides, like that of famed comedian and actor Robin Williams, more men are acknowledging and talking about the issue of depression and calling for treatment. Like my son-in-law, many of you suffer from chemical imbalances related to the serotonin, a chemical in the brain, which acts as a neurotransmitter, relaying signals from one area of the brain to another. Although serotonin is found in the brain, performing its primary task, about 90% is found in the digestive tract and in blood platelets. Many researches believe that the imbalance in serotonin levels has direct influence on one’s mood, leading to depression.

Due to space and time, I am unable to present all forms of depression. However, any form of depression that can and will take you away from your normal and customary feelings, actions, moods, and behaviors, dictate the need for treatment. Those of you who are diagnosed as being clinically depressed, those with bi-polar disorders, post-partum depression, seasonal depression, PTSD, situational depression, and any of the other diagnosed mental health disorders will have a better quality of life if you seek and engage in committed and consistent treatment with a mental health professional.

If you already suffer from a depressive disorder, if untreated with a combination of talk therapy, medication maintenance, exercise, and proper diet, the holiday season can prove very difficult for you. Some of you might also benefit from Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOPT) or inpatient treatment (hospitalization). A lot of painful memories are dredged up during the holiday season, causing your depression to become more paramount. Remember, DEPRESSION DOES NOT MEAN CRAZY!!! And, all depressive disorders do not call for medication maintenance. However, if needed, don’t hesitate to accept and comply. You and your therapist can decide how often you need to come for therapy sessions, along with the mode and approach needed to treat your depressive disorder. And if you find yourself feeling suicidal, with or without a plan, don’t be afraid to go to the nearest emergency room. And family members and friends, it is important that you not try to treat the depressive disorders of your family members and friends, help them to get help from a professional! STAY IN YOUR LANE!!!

Even though you suffer from depression and the holidays make it even more difficult for you to cope, you CAN once again hold your head up, laugh, and keep moving forward, no matter what your situation seems kike; no matter how bleak things might seem, and no matter how dark your tunnel of life might appear, there is hope for you in managing your depression at all times…even during the holidays.  Simply put, rest assured that whatever you are going through IS merely a SITUATION and NOT necessarily YOUR CONDITION! If you hold on and hold out, it will pass! Your depression can be managed. SUICIDE IS NEVER AN OPTION!!!

For every door that closes, a bigger one will surely open.  It's time for you to close some of the doors of darkness in your life, so that you can begin to behold the light of prosperity, healing, hope, happiness, joy, and excitement! I want to remind you that although you might be in the tunnel of darkness and despair, due to external situations and circumstances, or your depressive disorder which you have suffered from for many years has seemed uncontrollable, THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!! You CAN move out of your tunnel and learn to once again live in the light! Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help. All of the major mental health fields have national, state, and local chapters of their organizations that you can call and seek help, including the association for marriage and family therapy, associations for psychologists, associations for professional counselors, and associations for psychiatrists.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

But He Loves Me-He’ll Change: The Fallacies About Domestic Violence & Why Women Stay

October is recognized as ‘Domestic Violence Awareness Month.’ The subject of domestic violence has for too long been a taboo subject in our society. And if the perpetrator is of ‘high stature and status, ’ economically, politically, or socially, you dare to even think about bringing their violent behaviors to light. Many of these perpetrators of domestic violence are like Jekyll and Hyde. When they are with their mate behind closed doors (and sometimes in public), they are very abusive, disrespectful, and violent. However, when they are around others, family, friends, and colleagues, they can be as ‘sweet as pie.’ Basically, the perpetrator wears two faces (and sometimes more)…good and evil.

Over the past few months, I am sure you’ve witnessed the flurry of media coverage and other conversations about the issue of domestic violence in the NFL and other sports. And then you begin to wonder, ‘why now?’ Domestic Violence is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around forever and a day. For some, it has always been a way of life, with the survivor crying in silence on a daily basis. Although there are men who are or who have been involved in domestic violence situations, one in three women will face domestic violence at some point in their life. Sadly, too often in America, until a situation becomes an issue for certain people, it is not an important enough issue to discuss or to take action about.

Although the abusive behaviors by many athletes have been uncovered, you must be careful to not stereotype all men who play sports as abusers of their mates. In all actuality, one abuser is too many, no matter what the profession! Most certainly, the violence perpetuated by many of our athletes is only a continuation and extension of the violence perpetuated in homes across America. It’s the man who commits the violence; the sport and the money seem to make many athletes believe they have the right to be violent off the field or out of the arena, as well as on the field or in the arena.

Domestic violence is not just an issue for some athletes, it’s an issue for people in general and society as a whole! In reality, domestic violence is a crisis of national proportion. It affects EVERYONE, not only the survivor who is hurt physically, emotionally, psychologically, and economically. There are children, family members, friends, colleagues, and other significant people who pay a dear price as a result of domestic violence. It affects the rich and the poor and people of all races, creed, and cultures.

Unfortunately, there are too many women who stay in situations involving domestic violence! You wonder why they stay, and the abused wonder why they stay also!!!  Too often, many survivors of domestic violence and many who sadly did not survive, believed that the perpetrator would change. Unlike the leaves on the trees, the new hairstyle you adopted, the clothes you took off after work, the different direction your life took, the new decision you made…all involving change, PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE!!!!  So the question is, why do you stay in a situation (it’s truly not a relationship) where you are being punched, slapped, or kicked? A true relationship espouses love, not violence.

Although the perpetrator will probably not change because of his violent mindset, violent beliefs, violent attitude, and violent behaviors, you must realize that his abuse has nothing to do with you as a female. The perpetrators’ problems are related to their unresolved current and past issues. However, as a survivor, you must want to change your situation and make the decision to change your situation. You will not be able to make any changes until you decide to love yourself, respect yourself, accept yourself, and above all, be yourself! You must get to the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It is important to understand that any form of abuse and violence is an act of control and unacceptable. The perpetrator doesn’t feel in control of himself or anything else in his life. Therefore, he decides to use violent tactics in an effort to take control of the person he deems the weakest link in his life…you, the woman who loves him immensely. Also recognize that the domestic abuser has problems with women in general, and they probably started with his mother. He usually has low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and he would never stand up to a another man the way he steps on a woman. He is selfish and believes that his penis, his fists, his hands, and his feet are what make him a man!

The abuse put forth by the abuser is done in order to strip you of your power!  Once you are in a powerless position, he renders more abuse and more violence against you.  Forcing you to stay home and not work, fostering financial dependency on him, renders him more powerful.

Domestic violence is a vicious cycle of manipulation, control (physical, verbal, economic, emotional, psychological), isolation, blame, anger, deceit, and misuse of loved ones. And if there was  a way into this abusive situation, there must be a way out of it. And as women, many of you saw that the perpetrator was abusive from the onset, but you ignored the red flags and thought you could ‘change’ him. Unfortunately, what you accepted is what you got!!!

As a woman, in order for you to avoid an abusive situation, get out of an abusive situation, or help a friend, colleague, or family member who is currently in or approaching an abusive situation, it is imperative that you are aware of and recognize abusive behaviors put forth by abusers. And if you are a male reading this blog and you happen to be an abuser or know of someone who is an abuser, being aware of and recognizing these behaviors will hopefully empower you to confront him to get some help.

·      He verbally abuses you; calls you names
·      He physically abuses you; hits, shoves, punches, slaps, and/or kicks you; throws things at you or on you (hot or cold beverages)
·      He forces you to lie about your noticeable physical scars
·      He embarrasses you in front of family, friends, children, personally and publicly
·      He forces you to have unwanted or painful sex and then apologizes for his abusive behavior; the honeymoon period…you see it as love making
·      He emotionally abuses you…makes you believe no one else wants you and that you disserve his mistreatment and maltreatment
·      He withholds finances from you, including credit cards, rendering you incapable of effectively managing the household expenses
·      He makes you believe you have no voice…nothing to say and no one wants to hear you…you have too much mouth/lip
·      He makes you believe that you need to ‘remember your place’
·      He makes you believe you can’t spend time with male or female friends
·      He isolates you from family members and friends by making you feel guilty
·      He curses and yells at you and makes you believe it’s okay
·      You are made to believe that you are not capable of choosing your clothes or freely going about your day without having to give him a minute by minute, hour by hour, or day by day account of your location; making you believe he is showing you love
·      You do as he says and he does what he wants to do; what is good for the goose is NOT good for the gander
·      He is very critical of you; finds fault in everything you do
·      He lies to you and dares you to question him
·      He blames you for his behaviors and all of his problems and shortcomings
·      His seeming acts of jealousy are control mechanisms
·      He is a ‘POWER STRIPPER’

We many times wonder why a woman stays in situations of abuse and violence.  She often believes that she doesn’t have a choice in the matter and that she has nowhere to go.  Also, during the cycle of abuse and violence, the perpetrator will apologize for his behaviors, use sex as a way to show that he is sorry, giving you a false sense of security.  These acts of false affection are called honeymoon periods.  The honeymoon period is another control tactic put forth by the perpetrator to continue the cycle of control, abuse and violence against you.

The way you start a situation is the way it will end. Also, remember, you can’t make a situation a relationship, you can’t control anyone, and you can’t make someone love you who doesn’t know how to love himself or anyone else. And then there are many of you who are afraid to make changes because you cannot see any farther than your current abusive situation. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the sunshine always comes after the rain. THERE IS A WAY OUT! You must have the will to get out!
You must stop seeing yourself as a victim. Turn in your ‘victim’ membership card and start saying today, ‘I AM A SURVIVOR.’  GET THE HELL OUT WHILE YOU CAN!

It is imperative that as an abused woman, you seek help in order for you to break the cycle of abuse and domestic violence by speaking with a trusted family member or friend regarding your mistreatment and maltreatment by your abuser.  Seeking a battered women’s shelter in your town, a professional psychotherapist, or contacting the national abuse/domestic violence hotline are always options.

As abused and battered women, you need to know that there is a way out of your negative situation and that you were born to grow, blossom, and contribute favorably to society.  You don’t have to relinquish your control to anyone!  As a matter of fact, YOU DO have a choice in the matter!! Take it!!!