"You can't be brave if you're not scared." Wow. My reaction to this statement was overwhelming and salient in my current journey. I think sometimes, we get so caught up in feeling as though we NEED to know a decision or we HAVE to feel confident in our actions. The internal (and sometimes external) pressure that we put on ourselves to know, is so heavy. From knowing what college you want to go to, to what major, to the perfect spouse, to where you live, etc. it is anticipated that you know and are confident in your decision, leaving little room to sit with intuition, confusion, or not knowing.
Throughout, the main character Kayla, exhibits typical teenager responses, reactions, and behaviors. I chuckled to myself during the several scenes in which her father struggles to communicate to her and how her frustration elevates in reaction to his confusion or attempt to connect. I thought it was interesting to watch her social media usage and how that influenced her behaviors with others. Kayla has a YouTube channel in which she presents tips for her peers on topics such as "How to be confident" or "Putting yourself out there". To me, this appeared as a way for her to present herself to the world, doing these things, while interpersonally feeling as though she is not those things. At one point in the film, she talks about the different "you's" that make up the real you, like; school you, family you, friend you. She neglected to comment on the surface you that many of us present to the world everyday. The mask that we show others to protect our inner, most vulnerable "you" (As Kayla would put it).
Living authentically through integrating all of our different selves is terrifying and can be too vulnerable. To some extent, we might need different roles or masks that we show others. In counseling, we call that the different hats you wear. The idea is that you have different roles depending on the different situations you're in.
One scene in the movie I had a strong reaction to was the school shooting lockdown scene. This aspect of adolescence was not present when I was going through middle and high school and caught me off-guard as I hadn't thought about the reality of those practices. During the school shooting lockdown, Kayla crawls across the classroom to talk to her crush. She had heard that he had broken up with his girlfriend because she hadn't sent him nude photos. Kayla initiates an awkward conversation and quickly realizes that she does not have her crush's attention or interest. Kayla then creates an attention seeking behavior stating that she's embarrassed that she opened her phone accidentally into her nude folder, gaining the attention of her crush. The scene ends with her crush asking if she gives blowjobs and leads into her doing research on YouTube and almost practicing fellatio with a banana.
Although uncomfortable, I was so impressed that this movie went there because it's easy to skim off middle schoolers sexuality and write it off as hormones or puberty. Of course this influences behaviors and actions immensely, but to pretend like adolescents aren't curious or have a sexual life outside of a sock in the bedroom is doing a disservice. The jump from this character never having kissed a boy to researching blowjobs to impress him is what happens too frequently. In the movie, it never comes to that although she is faced with an uncomfortable situation of truth or dare with an older boy. Again, although nothing happened, the scene depicts the manipulation that happens regarding consent and sex. The boy states things like "I was just trying to help you" and "Now your first hookup is going to be some asshole at a party, do you want that?". Obviously the boy's ego was hurt and he was trying to defend his own behaviors toward Kayla in an effort to justify and rationalize his actions. I sat and thought about what she might take away from that conversation and how important it is to have those discussions with our teenagers.
Even if the conversation is not productive (topic wise), our teens NEED to know you are a safe person to talk to or ask questions when they come up, no matter how uncomfortable. They need to know you won't blow up or panic or completely shut down. So start the conversation. Build that trust. Ask them about themselves and what they like. Make it known that you're available no matter the topic. Be brave, even when you're scared.
"The Chaotic Whirlwind of Toxic Relationships" - by Megan Brice, M.S.
Why are toxic relationships so appealing? From the outside looking in, we can see the damage being done. Over and over again, we hear our friends and our families say, “I don’t see why he’s with her, she’s so controlling.” or “He treats her like crap. How does she not realize that she is his punching bag?” Logically, we know that our loved ones deserve better and it's baffling when we see them accepting this type of hurt. It’s so easy to see it objectively when it’s happening to someone you care about.
But have you ever been inside one?
Do you remember the thrilling feeling of being in love? Thinking that no one could possibly understand your relationship because this person is different? The fire and the passion of being around that person even though your friends and family are hesitant about your new found excitement?
Being in the middle of a toxic relationship is much like being on a rollercoaster while the others around you are are inspecting the structure and finding some major safety violations. But you don’t care! You’re already on the ride and having SO. MUCH. FUN. Why can’t they just hop on board and be supportive?
As much as you want to overlook the cracks in the foundation, the major safety flaws, there’s a critical moment when you need to consider your own happiness, care, and safety. I had a client describe their toxic relationship as a dog that throws up and then goes back to eat it. It looks like puke, it tastes like puke, but still they go back to eat it. What a graphic, unpleasant, but so accurate metaphor.
I think the thing we need to remember whether we are watching others go through the whirlwind of toxic relationships or if we’re the ones in the throws of it; it isn’t all bad. There’s a reason we fall in love with these people. They are captivating and consuming and as much as we hate to admit it, we play a role in the continuance of these toxic relationships. The memories of the good times and the healthy pieces (however little they may be), keep us hooked into this relationship in the hope that sometime soon, the rollercoaster will stop, get a tune up, and everyone will get on. But for a lot of people, it’s hard to get on board when you know that the problem is a structural, foundational issue. An issue with the entire rollercoaster, not something a little tune up can fix.
When we’re in relationships, we dance with our partner and create patterns and relational expectations of how we want and need to be treated. Continuing these patterns after an unhealthy event can become problematic through the duration of the relationship. I can’t speak for everyone’s relationship or where they are at but for me, it took being the bad guy and sticking to it, regardless of that tiny shred of hope that things will get better or can be reconciled. It meant taking a stance in my own self care and being unwilling to compromise what I need and deserve in a healthy relationship. It meant loving myself more, even when I didn’t feel like it.
Loving yourself begins with listening to yourself. We often think that others know what is best for us and sometimes, they are right. However, that shouldn't stop you from tuning in to what your intuition is telling you. Our intuition is a powerful feeling. Take a couple deep breaths, and stop fighting and defending yourself. Accept your feelings because they are real and valid.
I've always been a sensitive person. When I was 7, the little girl next door to me passed away. I don't remember much about her but my parents like to recount the story attributing it to the first time they noticed my empathy in action. Although I didn't know her much, I was friends with her younger brother. The day she passed away, I went over to their house to find her little brother crying on the stairs leading up to the door. I had no words, I had never experienced death, grief, or heavy and real emotions. What do you say when someone you care about is hurting? Do I joke with him and make him laugh? Should I go tell my mom and leave him alone? I was scared and I felt his pain and loss. Even thinking about it now, I remember how it felt heavy and empty all at the same time. It felt helpless because I didn't know what to say. All I knew how to do was to sit and cry with him.
In the times that I doubt myself or wonder if I'm doing enough, I think about how all that boy needed in that moment was someone to sit and cry with him. That's often all we need when things get rough. I get asked frequently by friends, family, coworkers, and clients, "what can I do when someone I love is experiencing a difficult time?". People want distinct answers. Solutions to these uncomfortable problems. But really, there is no set standard for what you can do. I wish it was as simple as "ask the person x, they will respond y, then everything is solved!" It's not that easy.
...But is it?
In today's world there's an expectation to solve, fix, and come to resolution. But more often than not, people don't want a solution when they are going through a difficult time. Think about a time where you've felt hopeless, or lonely, or sad. In that moment, does it help when people suggest "pulling it together" or "here's what I did and what you should do"? Not all the time.
So my answer to the question of what you should do when you care about someone and don't want to see them hurt is; listen and love them. Listen without coming up with your next response. Listen and love without judgment or expectation from them. Hold their space while they go through their emotional storm. Sit and cry with them.
"Love Is Not Enough" - by Kendra M. Silver, M.S., LPC
I recently watched the last few minutes of the TV show, “House”, in which Dr. Lisa Cuddy tells her romantic interest, Dr. Gregory House, words to the effect, “you may love me, but I need someone who cares about me”. To say love is not enough, that it takes more than love to sustain a relationship is almost heresy. What more do you need for a relationship than two people who love each other? The more I thought about it, the more I found myself agreeing with the statement.
"Honey Doesn't List" - by Lily Maino, M.S.
"The Four Letter Word....Fear" - by Lily Maino, M.S.
"How Can You Reach Out Today?" - by Kendra M. Silver, M.S., LPC
"Difficult Conversations" -by Kendra M. Silver, M.S., LPC
"Sandwich Generation" - by Lily Maino, M.S.
saddened by the effects technology has and will continue to have on our relationships. There has not
been one day since I have become a counselor that Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. has been mentioned in
my office in a negative way...(continue reading)
"Joy, Compassion,..." - by Lily Maino, M.S.
Joy, compassion, mindfulness and equanimity. These are the strengths that I need to practice on a daily basis. If I can be joyful to be alive; to see each day as a precious gift, I can allow gratitude into my life. If I can have compassion for others, but first for myself, I can have grace and forgiveness. If I can be mindful of each moment; staying in the here and now, I can be open to the lessons I need to learn. And if I can have equanimity, I can allow others to have their own journey and allow myself to have mine.....(continue reading)