A Mid-Century Man

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A Mid-Century Man

My baby brother is officially a mid-century man. He is turning fifty. How he got there is beyond me. Nine years my junior, it seems like only yesterday when he was a toddler, crawling up and down the narrow little hall-way of our modest home in New York. He sure has come a long way since then.

I’ll never forget the day he was born. Nine years old, myself; I was in the bathroom getting ready for school when I heard my father take the fateful call in the kitchen. “I have a son”, he said. I could hear Dad’s voice quake with joy as he uttered the words. I intensely gazed into the mirror at myself and quietly muttered, “Oh s#*t, a son.”  Faced with the birth of a male sibling and immediately ousted out of my position as youngest…that was a day of great transformation for me. I was officially bumped into middle-child position in my nuclear family; but that Shakespearean-soliloquy is meant for another day, another blog.

I can not say I am extremely close to my brother. Almost a decade his senior, time and space has created a gap between us that has been somewhat hard to bridge. I would have to say I admire him greatly, although from afar. The upside of that vantage point is an appreciation of the big picture of his life-experience. So here is the fraternal view from where I sit…

The half century point of my brother’s life, like any human’s, is probably one of reflection and introspection. “Does my life manifest my talents?  Does my life demonstrate my contribution? Does my life embody a legacy for others to carry forward?” I believe my brother’s response to these questions would have to be a resounding “Yes”.

He went to work for IBM after graduating from Tuft’s University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. While young in his job, he completed an MBA at New York University, which launched an incredible career path. He travels all over the world, creating and sustaining vital,  global business-relationships. He and his wife of many years (also a Tuft’s and NYU grad), have fantastic children with accomplishments of their own.

As if all the above weren’t enough, my brother possesses a gentle, unassuming air, a honed skill in appreciative inquiry, and a passion to pursue various hobbies and creative interests. Most of all, he embodies an awesome, entrepreneurial spirit that has remarkably inspired others.

All I can say is, “Mario, you are a great brother and although you are always “the baby”, I can authentically assert that I look up to you as a role model for how I wish I could be. Happy 50th to you!”

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Compliant Children of Divorce: Unwanted Lessons Learned

It is nothing new to remind the reader that children of divorce are learning some very important lessons through the role modeling of their separating parents. Children of divorce probably watch their parents lead by example more closely than the general population of children. Why? Because they simply do not know what to do, what to say, or how to feel. They may have heard the word “divorce”, but may have very limited internal resources with which they can make sense of the concept. They are in the midst of a family breakdown over which they have no control and no idea of how bad the breakdown might ultimately become.

As a mental health professional, I worry  less about the children who “act-out” during their parents’ divorce. These kids get the attention, albeit negatively, and parents are more likely to recognize the cry for help. I worry much more about children who “act-in” and, as a result, the parents mistakenly think are fine.

Here are some very subtle and unwanted lessons compliant children of divorce are at risk to learn:

“I should contain my upset. My mother/father is really upset and I am afraid that my being mad, sad or scared will be the last straw. If I seem to be fine, my parents won’t be more upset and so I won’t be left.” Children who learn the unwanted lesson of holding in their own feelings are at risk for future depression, anxiety and difficulty in making healthy attachments.

“I should act like nothing is wrong and I am okay. If my parents think it is okay to break up our family and divorce each other, I will just divorce myself.” Some children of divorce go beyond repressing their own legitimate anger and sadness and actually “break away” from or deny their own unique family experience. This sets them up to live in a distorted reality that they can perpetuate into adulthood.

“When they ask me if I am okay, I will just say ‘yes’. When they ask me if anything is wrong, I will just say ‘no’. They hardly pay any attention to how I’m truly feeling anyway. I may not be very important to them.” This unwanted lesson teaches the child that he/she is not very lovable. A wounded self-concept can carry forward into the child’s own adult relationships where they are either neglected or treated poorly.

When children of divorce become tentative and resistant to discuss the pain they feel about the shift in their family, they may be struggling with feeling ashamed that their parents are breaking up. The feeling of shame is an overwhelming emotional burden for a young child to face and resolve. As a result, these kids develop a style of communication that is guarded and limited. This wall of defense temporarily protects the compliant child. The challenge is that deferred feelings are just that. They don’t go away just because the child is denying them. Sooner or later these unpleasant feelings will arise and more than likely, come out “sideways” through other problems: drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia; poor academic performance, running with the wrong crowd, bad love relationships, suicidal thinking, criminal behavior…just to name a few.

Please consider seeking the support of a Collaborative Child Specialist who can offer uncoupling parents valuable insight into the compliant child’s experience. Pay attention to the child of divorce who appears to be and acts like he/she is just fine. They may be learning some unwanted lessons which will not serve them well on their journey through life.

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Cultural Diversity and Cruising Down the Danube

I truly had an interesting personal experience in cultural diversity last week as I cruised down the Danube with some German friends. My husband, a real estate broker, sold these Bavarian  folk a home here in the USA over twenty years ago.

At that time they spoke barely a word of English, yet we were somehow able to bridge the language barrier with them. Perhaps it was with our body language. Perhaps it was with patient, slow communication of English words, which they mirrored with the German counterpart. However we orchestrated the communication, we became enduring friends and they quickly learned to speak our language. These dear friends bought us a cruise down the Danube river as a gift to reciprocate for the kindness we extended to them over the years. We were quick to accept such a generous offer. Who wouldn’t?

What we didn’t know at the time we accepted was that the cruise consisted of all German people. No one out of 170 passengers and 60 crew spoke English, other than our friends who gave us this gift. The Captain spoke only German. The Cruise Director spoke only German. We were the only American people on board. At the launch, we were out of the fold…and never could make an inroad to connect. Sometimes it was hard not to feel sorry for ourselves or feel angry at our perception of being “left out”.

We frequently didn’t know what was going on. We couldn’t understand important announcements, we missed entertaining events, we couldn’t laugh when something was funny to everyone else.  We couldn’t interact with others and we felt isolated and lonely at times. We were sometimes frustrated at not being able to communicate our needs or get our questions answered.

It wasn’t the fault of the other passengers. They couldn’t communicate with us any better than we could communicate with them. But they had strength in their numbers and we carried the burden of the language barrier. For example, one night the Captain gave a little mini-concert with his guitar for the passengers. He approached us for feedback after he finished and I gave him the hand sign indicating “A-Okay”. He received the gesture offensively, thinking I was rating him with a “Zero” for his performance…Whoops!

A-okay to me, zero to you.

The good news is that we got to learn, in real-time, the three different aspects of cultural diversity: 1) the concrete; 2)the behavioral; and, 3)the symbolic.

The concrete is  the most visible and tangible level of culture, and includes the most surface–level dimensions such as clothes, music, food, games, etc . For example, we saw many men dressed in lederhosen, a customary native dress of Bavaria. The cuisine included lots of pork, potatoes and cabbage. The food tasted fine; but midway through the cruise, our American digestive systems began to yearn for a simple green salad.

We experienced the behavioral level of cultural diversity. This level clarifies how we define our social roles, the languages we speak, and our approaches to nonverbal communication. The handling of silverware is culturally very different. I became quite adept at working my fork and knife simultaneously while navigating around my dinner plate. Hugging as a greeting is rare and reserved for the most familiar of relationships. If you greet with a kiss, you kiss on both cheeks. I kept forgetting this and would be giving “half-kisses” that left my German friends bewildered.

The symbolic level of culture includes our values and beliefs. It can be abstract, but it is most often the key to how individuals define themselves. It includes value systems, customs, beliefs, mores, spirituality, religion, worldview, etc. German culture includes a staunch, stoic character and any sort of complaining seems to be frowned upon. Structure is very important and the expectation is often that one does not deviate from the existing plan. We learned about this on a number of occasions, but mostly poignantly once when we asked to change an established itinerary and we were quickly corrected to stick with the plan and not make a fuss.

I do not mention these details to be critical of the German experience. Cultural dissonance is to be expected in situations like this. We loved lots of features in our Danube experience. But perhaps the best thing we experienced was some true enlightenment about what it feels like to be culturally different and viewed as strangers among a homogeneous cultural group. I certainly have increased my awareness of and my empathy for cultural diversity.

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The Precious Spirit of Aloha

I am spending some vacation time on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. This is such a pristine and relaxing environment, one is motivated to literally breathe easy. Breathing easy is actually an alternative phrase for the word aloha.

Aloha is a commonly used word for “hello” and “good-bye” that tourists say when they are visiting the Hawaiian Islands.  However, “Aloha” means much more than hello or good-bye. Aloha is an extension of your loving inner spirit and it leads us to a powerful way to resolve a problem, accomplish a goal, and to reach a peaceful state of mind.

In the Hawaiian language, aloha is actually a compound word which includes both  “the sharing (alo) of joy (oha) and/or being in the present (alo) to exchange life energy (ha).” As you exchange this energy with others you become attuned to the spirituality that the Hawaiians call mana. According to Hawaiian tradition, the loving use of this incredible power is the secret for attaining true health, happiness, prosperity and success.

The way to tune into this energy and have it work for you is so simple that you might pooh-pooh the concept. What do you have to lose? Take the time to try it out. According to Hawaiian culture, this is the most powerful technique in the world. Although it appears to  be extremely simple, it may not prove easy because you must remember to do it and you have to do it a lot.

It is a secret which has been given to humanity over and over again. The secret, according to Shaman Serge Kahili King, is this: “Bless everyone and everything that represents what you want.” He maintains that to bless something means to give recognition or emphasis to a positive quality, characteristic or condition, with the intent that what is recognized or emphasized will increase, endure or come into being.

Blessing is effective in changing your life or getting what you want for three reasons. First of all, the positive focus of your mind stirs up your own positive creativity; secondly it moves this dynamic energy outward; thirdly, when you bless for the benefit of others instead of directly for yourself, you tend to rise above any subconscious fears about what you want for yourself, so that the focus on the blessing acts to increase the same good in your own life. What is so beautiful about this process is that the blessing you do for others is a reciprocal process that helps you as well.

In order to gain the benefit from blessing, you will have to give up or cut way down on the one thing that negates it: negative thinking. This includes criticizing instead of acknowledging; doubting instead of affirming; blaming instead of appreciating; and worrying instead of anticipating with hope and trust. According to the spirit of Aloha, these negative thoughts tend to cancel out some of the effects of blessing. So the more you negate, the harder it will be and the longer it will take to receive the good from a blessing.

Mr. King also shares the technique practiced by Hawaiian shamans which enhances your power to bless by increasing your positive, personal energy. It is a simple way of breathing that is also used for grounding, centering, meditation and healing. It requires no special place or posture, and may be done while moving or still, busy or resting, with eyes open or closed. In Hawaiian the technique is called pikopiko. Piko means both the crown of the head and the navel.

The Technique
1. Become aware of your natural breathing (it might change on its own just because of your awareness).

2. Locate the crown of your head and your navel by awareness and/or touch.

3. Now, as you inhale put your attention on the crown of your head; and as you exhale put your attention on your navel. Keep breathing this way for as long as you like.

4. When you feel relaxed, centered, and/or energized, begin imagining that you are surrounded with an invisible cloud of light or an energy field, and that with each breath the energy of this cloud or field increases.

5. As you bless, imagine that the object of your blessing is surrounded with some of the same energy that surrounds you.

Aloha seems to be indescribable, and undefinable with words alone; to be understood, it must be experienced. Aloha has deeper meaning and sacredness than is inferred by how we tend to use the word. One thing seems to be certain when one delves a bit deeper into what the word “Aloha” represents”; it is an invocation of and a connection to the Divine that dwells within all of us.

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Stress andTrauma: Second-Hand Shock

Here is an excerpt from our book Second-Hand Shock: Surviving and Overcoming Vicarious Trauma. Co-author Vicki Carpel Miller, BSN, MS, LMFT and I hope you find it to be informative and helpful.

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

We have all heard of Second-Hand smoke.  What image does that conjure up for you?  Let us put you in a room with a heavy smoker.  You are breathing in the smoky air.  As you inhale, it irritates your nose, your mouth, your lungs, your bloodstream; it smells and remains on your skin, your hair and your clothes.  After a while, you might start wheezing or coughing; your eyes may become irritated.  Then, it may become difficult to breathe.  Prolonged exposure creates a greater risk for adversely affecting your health and well- being, perhaps causing damage to your heart and your brain.  Inhaling smoke over time may cause you to develop asthma, emphysema, chronic pulmonary disorder, cancer and the like.   Let’s look at how the experience of absorbing trauma, second-hand, is equally as dangerous.

The experience of absorbing trauma, second-hand, is much the same as the second-hand smoke example.  The person who experiences the primary trauma (in our example, the smoker) may be adversely affected by a syndrome called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The primary trauma survivor is the one who was in the car accident, at the disaster, caught in the storm, fighting the war, being abused or abandoned by a parent, a spouse, or suffering the rape, the robbery or the attack.  They are having the event directly happen to them. The heroes and caregivers who are called upon to help, listen, observe, intervene, guide and care are exposed to that same trauma, second-hand and over time, are at risk for Second-Hand Shock Syndrome (SHSS).

We believe that Second-Hand Shock Syndrome is a spectrum disorder that encompasses a wide range of physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual effects from the indirect experience of trauma much like being in the presence of a smoker creates the experience of second-hand smoke. Over time, this can indirectly create disease in its recipient.  The effects of trauma are secondarily contagious, adversely affecting your body, mind and spirit.

An Epidemic?

We believe that there are many millions of people struggling with some form of Second- Hand Shock Syndrome; both professional and lay persons.  We are all exposed to trauma daily, many times a day. The news, radio talk shows, instant information via the Internet continue to feed us copious doses of trauma-content while we have little consciousness of the fact that we are even being traumatized; much less what the trauma content is doing to our health and well-being.

When we are first indirectly exposed to trauma, our brain begins to paint an empathic picture for us by the activation of mirror neurons in the visual cortex, We ‘see’ the event as if it were happening to us. A series of bio-physiological events then occurs which results in the spilling out of chemicals into our bloodstream and throughout our body. This chemical chain reaction ultimately concludes with the over-production of cortisol, which is attributed to the onset of many serious physical illnesses.

We believe many people are currently being treated for the symptoms of Second-Hand Shock Syndrome, which can be confused with other illnesses.  Many folks are receiving treatment for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, obesity, anxiety and depression, who likely began their downhill descent with some form of Second-Hand Shock Syndrome. We think it needs to become a recognized diagnosis and we believe that if people began to acknowledge and control the chronic intrusion of trauma content in their lives; their physical health would improve. It would also save our ailing health-care system billions of dollars.

If you are a caring listener, please take care of yourself. Trauma-content stories can be hazardous to your health. Educate yourself about Second-Hand Shock. Please check out our website: www.vicarioustrauma.com.