Love to My Valentine in Heaven

This was first my first valentines without that amazing man. To help my heart, I read back through all those love letters from our dating days. You may remember that he was in the NAVY when we met, so we had a long distance romance for most of the year that we dated. Those letters are now priceless! He wrote in a letter dated August 14, 1982:

My Dearest Susan,

I miss you so much. I’m just not complete without you. I don’t know why the Lord would have us so far apart but I’m sure he will help us make it through this most difficult time in our lives. I don’t want you to ever be unsure of my love for you. Yours Forever, Bob

It was so interesting to read those words 38 years later to find that they are so appropriate for what I am going through now. I miss him with every fiber within me and am definitely not complete with him, but trust that he is walking the streets with Jesus and happy. I have faith that both my Lord and Bob will help me make it this most difficult time in my life.

And, I include Bob because I know he is looking down on me from Heaven. He promised he would. His last words were, “Dave, you take care of your Mom. Suz, you take care of Dave. Tony and Lauren will take care of themselves and our kids. And, I’ll look down and take care of everybody.” And, I trust that because 2 Corinthians 5:8 tells us that, “The same person who becomes absent from his or her body becomes present with the Lord.” So, even though I miss him terribly, I know that he is happy in Heaven.

Even more, I can’t imagine the glorious body he is now – no pain at all. I Corinthians 6:3a says, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” I can’t imagine just being with the angels, much less being higher. So, while it’s more than depressing to miss him so much, I try to remember God’s promises. And, I will be with him again; this is just a pause.

A wonderful Godly friend reminded me very soon after Bob moved to heaven that he just said, “Good night.” Soon, we will get to say, “Good morning.” 

But, We Will Survive

Continuing the analogy of the tree, we will survive! Just as this tree was not stopped by the piano in its way, we will move on – whether we want to or not. And, in early grief, there are days where it’s work simply to get through the day and to want to go on. (And, those of us who’ve walked this journey understand that there’s a big difference in not wanting to go on and being suicidal.) But, it’s important that we put the work in – for ourselves and for those that love us.

This is an important image for me as I work through this grief on Day 111 (and our daughter’s 32nd birthday). Yes, I still count the days. I know there will come a day when I will move on to counting months, then years. The loss will always be with me. I will always miss him, but life will push on – just as the life in this tree pushed through the piano. Will the weight of grief be as heavy as this piano? You bet ya! But, life gives us choices. We can work to walk alongside the grief, just as this piano sits alongside this tree creating a beautiful image of the trials of life. Or, we can allow the grief to swallow us or tamp out our life. My hope for you is that you choose to live, to walk alongside the grief.

But, enough with the imagery, what are the skills to survive? It’s important to be with those going through the trials and tribulations of grief – to show up. But, what can we actually DO to help? First, say something. A colleague at work texted about a work question, but first said, “I think of you often, but don’t reach out because I don’t know what to say.” You don’t have to know. Just that you’re trying is enough. Please don’t pull away out of fear of saying something wrong.

In article for The Guardian, writer Giles Fraser calls this “a double loneliness” – on top of the loss of someone they love, the griever loses the connection and alliance of the people around them (Fraser, 2016). For fear of making things worse, people go silent just when we need them most (Devine, 2017).

As a friend or counselor, you are not expected to be perfect. It’s perfectly ok to lead a conversation with, “I don’t know what to say.” Most don’t. This is a difficult and awful time, but we do need to be there. Admitting you’re uncomfortable allows you to at least be there and say something. That’s the real gift – Companionship!

If you’re not sure what to say, ask! It’s always been confusing to me why we think asking what to say is wrong. It reminds me of the cultural connection. If I don’t know someone else’s culture, it’s respectful of me to find out – to ask them – rather than do the wrong thing. This is much like that. Your friend or client is walking a path – a culture – that you may not have walked. Err on the side of being present. Your effort really is noticed and appreciated (Devine, 2017).

References

Fraser, G. (April 27, 2016). The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice. On Being. Retrieved from onbeing.org/blog/the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/.

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

            It is one of the primary responsibilities of the school counselor to provide their students the necessary tools to be able to control their own behavior in a positive and appropriate fashion. This is what is known as EQ or Emotional Quotient.  Counselors teach their students how to understand and manage human emotions, encouraging the development of “internal assets” such as integrity, honesty, restraint, empathy, decisiveness, and friendship-making skills.

            John D. Mayer, a researcher and associate professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, a Yale University psychology professor, coined the term emotional intelligence in 1990 after exploring the relationships between cognitive brain functions (such as memory, reasoning, judgment, and abstract thought) and affect (including emotions, moods, and feelings of fatigue or energy).  They describe emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize how you and those around you are feeling, as well as the ability to generate, understand, and regulate emotions.  Once labeled, the concept of emotional intelligence spread rapidly. 

            In 1995, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and writer for The New York Times, expanded on the Mayer-Salovey theory claiming that the art of understanding and managing human emotions “can matter more than IQ” in determining whether a person leads a successful life (Goleman, 1995).

            Focusing on emotional intelligence or the emotional quotient concentrates our efforts on encouraging “internal assets”.  These assets including caring, motivation to achieve, commitment, to equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, self-control, planning and decision-making abilities, self-esteem, a sense of purpose, and a positive view of personal future. 

            But the time a person reaches adulthood, emotional habits are fairly well set.  To change, an adult must unlearn, then relearn behavior. So, it’s up to us as the School Counselor to ensure that we are building the child’s emotional intelligence correctly from the beginning.

            Emotional intelligence works along with personally styles or traits.  People can be emotional intelligent whether they are extroverts or introverts, warm or aloof, emotional or calm.  It’s the development of such attributes as conflict-solving skills, self-motivation, or impulse control that proponents agree can contribute much to a child’s ultimate success.  Success also involves staying centered on a positive path to avoid risk behavior such as violence, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use, sexual activity and others.

            Hundreds of studies show that how caregivers such as parents, teachers, counselors, etc. treat children in general – whether with warmth and nurturing or with harsh discipline – deeply affects a child’ emotional life.  But these caregivers can also intentionally guide children to develop emotional skills.  Adults can teach empathy by simply expressing their own feelings frequently, pointing out another person’s feelings, and encouraging the child to share his or her feelings.

            Children develop optimistic outlooks when they observe their parents’ optimism, says Lawrence E. Shapiro (1997).  Shapiro, who frequently uses creative games to teach, suggests the “Stay Calm” game to develop anger control.  While one child concentrates on playing pick-up sticks, another child is allowed to tease him in any way he likes as long as he doesn’t actually touch him.  Each player gets one point for picking up each stick, and two points for showing no reaction to the teasing. 

           We can also use the following suggestions to encourage the development of the internal assets that build up emotional intelligence in their children.

  • Helping people.  Regularly spend time, whether as a family or as a school community, helping others.  Volunteer at local shelters or nursing homes.  Show care for your neighbors.
  • Empathy.  Model mutual respect in the school community.  Do not tolerate insults, put-downs, name-calling, or bullying.  Talk about how selfish or hurtful choices and behaviors affect other people.
  • Decision-making skills.  Include your students in decisions that affect them.  Give them a chance to talk, listen to them respectfully, and consider their feelings and opinions.  Allow for mistakes; don’t blow up at a poor decision.  Instead, help them learn from their errors. 
  • Planning skills.  Give your teenagers daily planners or date books and demonstrate how to use them.  Show them how to plan ahead for long-term assignments so they’re not overwhelmed at the last minutes.
  • Self-esteem.  Celebrate each child’s uniqueness.  Find something special to value and affirm.  Express your love (unconditional positive regard) regularly and often.  Treat your students with respect.  Listen without interrupting; talk without yelling even if they are interrupting and yelling.
  • Hope.  Inspire hope by being hopeful.  Don’t dismiss your student’s dreams as naïve or unrealistic.  Instead, share their enthusiasm.  Eliminate pessimistic phrases from your professional learning community’s vocabulary.  Replace, “It won’t work” with “Why not try”.  My father always told me, “It never hurts to ask” and “The worst they can do is say no”. Just this thinking provides hope.
  • Assertiveness.  Teach your students the difference between assertiveness (positive and affirming), aggression (negative and demanding) and passivity (vulnerable and effortless).  Point out examples of these behaviors in movies, television programs, media, and the community.  Teach your students to stick up for themselves instead of going along with the crowd because it’s easier.

References

Goleman, D. (1995).  Emotional Intelligence.  City, State:  Bantam Books.

Shapiro, L. E. (1997).  How to raise a child with high EQ – A parents guide to emotional intelligence.  City, State:  Harper Collins.

The Peer Pressure Riddle

The ugly reality is that peer pressure reaches its greatest intensity at just the age when kids tend to be most insensitive and cruel. ~ Walt Mueller

Adolescence ushers in a phase where friends become the most important part of one’s existence. And, those relationships comes the added responsibility of working with those friends or peers. Peer pressure has been around since the dawn of time. Most of us can think of several stories with peer pressure as the theme.

The one that comes to mind most often, for me, is Mark Twain’s The Glorious Whitewasher, Chapter two of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. If you weren’t lucky enough to have this as part of your reading in school, a summary follows from Spark Notes (SparkNotes Editors, 2017).

On Saturday morning, Aunt Polly sends Tom out to whitewash the fence. Jim passes by, and Tom tries to get him to do some of the whitewashing in return for a “white alley,” a kind of marble. Jim almost agrees, but Aunt Polly appears and chases him off, leaving Tom alone with his labor. A little while later, Ben Rogers, another boy Tom’s age, walks by. Tom convinces Ben that whitewashing a fence is great pleasure, and after some bargaining, Ben agrees to give Tom his apple in exchange for the privilege of working on the fence. Over the course of the day, every boy who passes ends up staying to whitewash, and each one gives Tom something in exchange. By the time the fence has three coats, Tom has collected a hoard of miscellaneous treasures. Tom muses that all it takes to make someone want something is to make that thing hard to get. 

The kids wanted to belong and have “grown-up” fun so much that they were willing to accept that what would be considered work any other day was actually fun. It goes back to Maslow’s hierarchy and the need to belong. This is why it is so important that we use our leadership skills to help them choose the right friends. Everyone is doing it seems to be all that is necessary for justification. Yet, we as adults have to be cautious of two questions:

1.) Who is everyone?

2.) What is “it”? ( What is it that they are doing?) 

We’ll discuss these answers in the next blogs.

As counselors, we have to accept peer pressure, recognize it, and deal with it as peer pressure comes at us from all sides.  Yes, I said us.  We do not outgrow it once we’re adults.  Sometimes it is positive, but more often than not it is negative.  It seems to be an oxymoron in our Western society that we pride ourselves in our differences but still want to fit in with the rest by being alike.  We must help our students to learn to embrace the differences and role model that by doing it ourselves.  Magnificence is in all of us.  We need to be our student’s cheerleaders and help their peer become the same, so that peer pressure can become positive.

References

SparkNotes Editors. (2005). The Glorious Whitewasher.

Activity

This post provides an activity for your program. You can practice for yourself as well as with the students. This is a primary step in helping your students, because they see themselves as reflections of their role models. Look at that beautiful self in the mirror and promise that reflection that you will not put it through any emotional threatening molds or moods again! The truest form of tragedy is when others can recognize your beauty and your assets, while you cannot. Others have praised you, yet you cannot get through some barrier to find that true beauty.

Allow those compliments and that praise from those who love you to set the stage for your list. Accept yourself, so you can help your students accept themselves. Now, write at least five good things about your body image. Keep going if you can. Pull out more paper when you need it. (Notice I said “when”, not “if”.)

We live up to self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone we loved and respected told us we were valued and beautiful, then we believed it. If someone did not give us this gift, then we had and still carry around with us this low self-image. This activity provides that outlet for you and your students.

Self-Image and Attitude

Have you ever wondered why some people turn heads when they enter a room? Because they arethe most beautiful or magnificent? Then, why don’t all people of the same category turn heads? And – a more difficult question – why do some people whom society would deem merely average also turn heads? The answer this time – it’s the presence. Attitude rules! It’s the confidence that counts. Their own perception of themselves breeds a positive attitude that is inviting and contagious.

My husband made a reply to me one day when I fell into the trap of comparing myself to another that has stuck with me. He said, “Don’t be so insecure. It doesn’t look good on you.” What he meant by this was to remember who I was. I was his wife, the mother of his children. Do not be so foolish as to think that he had chosen second best for himself. And, I am lucky because he reminds of this each and every time I fall into this line of thinking that I “so affectionately” call the Rudolph Syndrome.

If you remember correctly, Rudolph was given a special gift. He had the shiniest nose of all the reindeer. This could have made him feel “puffed up” or conceited, because he was special. But, instead, he allowed the other reindeer to cause him to feel ashamed of his gift. It wasn’t until the weather (the circumstances) caused a need for his gift that he truly felt special about it. The other reindeer “never let him play”, because he was different. They made fun of him! He allowed the others to make him feel less than the rest. When we begin comparing ourselves, we allow others to pull us down with them. What is your “Rudolph gift”? What is your teen’s “Rudolph gift? Is it the same or similar? It is our job as parents to find these gifts and make the most of them for yourself and your teen. Remember who you are! Whoever you are, you can count on being special to someone. 

One of my favorite stories is from my daughter. I am human and have all those other insecurities with which we all fight. But, one day, when she was about five, we were getting ready. She looked at me and said, “Mom, will I look like you when I grow up?” At that time, she looked so much like me that I had to be honest. I replied, “Yes, honey, I’m sorry, but you will.” She threw her hands up as if in a cheer and said, “Yes!” That was the biggest compliment I have ever received. She loved me enough to want to look just like me. 

This love is most important as Rudolph taught us. When Rudolph accepted his nose and loved himself, others did as well. Now, lest we forget, we know that Rudolph was a fictional character. Still, the moral of his story is so significant for us today. Because he accepted himself right down to what others considered his faults, he “went down in history”. We cannot love others fully if we do not first love ourselves.

Connecting Self-Care and Self-Image

As mentioned in Blog 4, “It’s easier to build a child than to repair an adult.” Yet, we are the children who become adults. To a great extent, our self-image comes from the physical and emotional input we received as children. Although media driven images and expectations certainly have an effect, messages from significant others have an even more dramatic impact on how we feel physically and emotionally about our bodies as adults. This is especially significant when we are spending so much more time with our families.

Our parents have the most profound effect on our self-image. If they like how we look and tell us so, we face the world with a head-start. If, on the other hand, our parents dislike our appearance, our body image will be tremendously influenced in a negative way. (Engel, 2006)

Barbara Streisand gave a good anecdote to support this idea as she recalled her childhood in an interview with Jay Carr (1996) in The Boston Globe. She tells him that “It’s actually my mother who never told me I was pretty. The words in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces are her words when I asked her what I looked like when I was a little girl. You know we play out the roles that our parents assign to us. I was the smart kid. I was the funny kid. My sister was the pretty kid. We play our roles until we come into a state of consciousness that says, ‘I will separate from my parents’ view of me’ once you get mature enough. That’s what’s wonderful about getting older. You’re not stuck in the mud of the pattern. You make your choices.” The final factor for this discussion is the major reason for beginning the blog with the topic of self-image and the associate self-care. That is, a major element that influences our self-image is whether our parents are satisfied with the way they look. Parents with a poor body image can pass on their negative attitudes and feelings to their children, causing them to dislike their own bodies. That’s why we need to address this issue before we can begin to help the children as our role as the school counselor places us in this position for many children in our care.

It’s up to the leaders in the school to instill enough confidence in each and every student so that they can have a positive self-image. It’s the messages that we receive that effect how we feel. The old quote, “Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive” should be our mantra. That is, everyone has negative features and traits, but we have so many more positive one, so we need to concentrate on those. What we think we are, we are! Perception rules!

This brings us to an important realization. The pictures in the fashion magazines are to sell products, not images of less than adequate people. The pictures are manipulated by technology so that we will buy. The people behind the magazine do not seem to care how this makes us feel. So, don’t fall for it. Remember that no on is nearly as critical, or as noticing of our shortcomings as we are. If we don’t “notice” them or call attention to them, then others will not either. 

Our task is to be accepting of others, so that we can learn to accept ourselves and teach our children and teens to accept themselves! 

REFERENCES

Carr, J. (1996). Streisand looks in mirror, Sees a funny girl. The Courier Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. November 17, 1996.

Engel, B. (2006, February 24). Working together to create an abuse free future. Retrieved from http://www.beverlyengel.com/newsletter/2-24-2006.htm.

Self-Care Amidst COVID-19

This time in our history with COVID-19 and this time in my life with my husband’s illness help me to remember the important things. When we were first married, my husband would say, “If money can fix it, it’s not a problem.” I argued that we didn’t have any money, so it was a problem. (We were so poor all those 37 years ago, but we had love.) Yet, with years and experience comes wisdom. I have learned that priceless things such as health are so much more important than wealth. And, so I want to focus today’s blog/discussion on focusing on the priceless.

We are separated as a society with social distancing, and my husband and I are separated by his illness as he is hospitalized. With things the way they are, he can’t have visitors. I continue to argue that I’m not a visitor I’m his wife. But, to the community, I am a visitor. I understand, and I get it, but it doesn’t make the pain any less. So, I’m reminded to focus on the good things in life: my healthy children and grandchildren, our jobs that continue to support us, the support of friends, etc. because we can’t give from an empty bucket. And, it’s so important to be able to give as one can’t help others without helping themselves.

To laugh often and much.

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others. To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words are even more significant today to remind us to focus on the priceless as we fill our buckets. My hope is that you can remember to take care of yourself as we continue to care for others with this social distancing. Practice some informal self-care strategies:

* Enjoy times full of laughter, ice cream and good times

* Write a journal

* Take a bubble bath

* Take time for appreciating or creating art

* Watch a sunset

* Read for leisure

* Gardening

* Yoga (active relaxation)

* Hug someone

* Listen to music (singing along with the radio in the car works wonders)

* Listen to soft music in combination with deep breathing exercises

* Watch movies (Save the heavy dramas for when life isn’t already full of dramas)

* Go for a walk

* Dance

* Eat one piece of chocolate

* Reduce clutter/Get more organized so that the details of everyday life don’t add to stress

* Take a weekend retreat or a day trip

* Meditate/Listen to a guided imagery tape

* Practice mindfulness

* Get a massage

* Begin the day with gratitude and continue to practice it throughout the day

* Pray

Building Children

While we are doing this repair work for ourselves, we can help our teenagers do it right for the first time. It is much easier to build a child than to repair an adult!

Consider Marilyn Monroe for a minute. Today’s society would consider her “plus-size” as she was a size fourteen. But, in her day, she (along with a very good agent) was able to convince the rest of society that she was THE most beautiful. Everybody tried to look like Marilyn – right down to the bleached blonde hair and “full figure”. Here again, perception rules! The tragedy happens when we look deeper to see the personal perception that Marilyn had of herself. She did not think of herself as beautiful or successful. Whether you believe that she committed suicide or was murdered, the fact remains indisputable that she was unhappy. She was always reaching to fit into that “Beautiful People” group or the “Success Regime”. The sad fact was that she has already arrived. Still, she didn’t see it. She had reached the brass ring, but then she felt she need to gold-plate it. 

We can think of several such figures throughout history and within the modern day society. Princess Diana appeared as if she had the world by the tail when she married Prince Charles, but we watched her struggles within the media and the paparazzi. And, several movie stars have literally fallen apart right before our eyes as their stories are told within the press. The sad truth is that even if you have a near-perfect body, you may not be able to appreciate it. One example is from Figi. Ellen Goodman (1999) writes of the “Joy of Fat” in this remote country. The women greet each other with cheerful exchanges of ritual compliments of “You look wonderful! You’ve put on weight!” Sounds like dialogue from Fantasy Island? But, this Western fantasy was a South Pacific way of life. In Fiji, before 1995, big was beautiful and bigger was more beautiful – and people really did flatter each other with exclamations about weight gain. In this island paradise, food was not only love, it was a cultural imperative. Eating and overeating were rites of mutual hospitality. Everyone worried about losing weight – but not the way we do in America. “Going thin” was considered to be a sign of some social problem – a worrisome indication the person wasn’t getting enough to eat. But, something happened in 1995. A Western mirror was shoved into the face of the Fijian people. Television came to the island. 

Suddenly, the girls of rural coastal villages were watching the girls of “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills 90210”, not to mention “Seinfeld” and the soap operas. Within 38 months, the number of teens at risk for eating disorders more than doubled to 29 percent. The number of high school girls who vomited for weight control went up five times to 15 percent. Worse yet, 74 percent of the Fiji teens in the study said they felt “too big or fat” at least some of the time, and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month. (Goodman, 1999) 

While a direct causal link between television, magazines, advertisements and eating disorder cannot be provem, this is certainly a good argument. The beautiful starlet does not cause anorexia. Nor does the pencil thin fashion magazine model cause bulimia. Nevertheless, you don’t get a much better lab experiment than this. In just 38 months, a television-free culture that defined a fat person as robust has become a television culture that sees robust as, well, repulsive. 

Think about the models from the sixteenth century. In their day, they were considered the ultimate of perfection beauty. Yet, they would have been a size sixteen in today’s society. Consider the ladies with their parasols at the turn of the 19th century. Fair skin was the rage. As tan face and body meant you had to work. Now, we all risk skin cancer for that same tan skin. Once again, perception rules!

References

Goodman, E. (May 1999).  The Joy of Fat.  The Courier Journal.  Louisville, Kentucky.

The Self-Image War: The Beauty Battle

Most of us have been watching others participate as well as participating ourselves in the “beauty war”. In our grief of “ugliness”, we compare ourselves to Barbie look-a-likes, the Marilyn Monroe ideal, or the current model of the day, and other such examples of beauty shoved at us from “perfect” models in the latest fashion magazines. But, we must remember that it is all in our perception. I have often said that I wish I could see myself through the eyes of those who love me. But, are we not to love ourselves as well? If we don’t take care of ourselves, then there is nothing left to give others, says the old adage.

Just as every little thing is beautiful in its own way, so are all of us. Each house with its unique structure is lived in and wanted by someone. Each flower with its special blossom smells sweet and appears beautiful to someone. (Even dandelions are enjoyed by children!) Each animal with its distinguished character and look is cherished by someone. (Even Pumba, the warthog, is cute in his own way. And, he teaches a wonderful lesson in “Akuna Matata”. Just listen to the words.) Each perfume, with its distinctive smell is purchased, worn and appreciated by someone. Each unique profession, career, or vocation is chosen and valued by someone. And so on …

We don’t want all of our houses looking the same. Some of us prefer a Cape Cod, while others prefer a two story, while others prefer a different architecture altogether. All structures have their own specific positive characteristic! And, so do we as human structures. We need to grab on to that positive characteristic, hold on tight, play it up as much as possible, and convince ourselves that what we have is beauty. The world believes the notions that we put out. If we love ourselves, the world loves us. If we hate ourselves, then we become insecure, angry people that the world has difficulty loving as well.

We need to accept ourselves so that our adolescents can accept themselves. I learned a valuable lesson one day from one of my students. I have fought a weight issue all my life, and usually use the defense mechanism of self-deprecation and humor to handle it. In my middle school English classroom one day, I made yet another off-hand comment about my weight. One of the girls came up to me after class and said, “Please don’t say those things about yourself. I’m about your size, and it makes me feel bad.” Wow! I had never thought about how my own personal feelings affected others. That was powerful for me. Then, I connected that back to my own children, who were still in elementary school at the time. They, of course, look like me. They carry my genes. I learned that day to try to remember to transmit positive vibes about myself, not only for me but especially for those that love me.