Navigating Emotions – for Aspie’s, ASD’s and Normals

My college sophomore constantly discovers differences between herself as a Aspie* and her bell-curver* classmates.  This time she found she is a lot worse at understanding other people’s facial expressions than she first thought.  A teacher showed her class a bunch of faces and ask them to identify the emotions expressed.  Every one else was immediately naming the emotions they were supposed to be. But she didn’t even get a third of them right.  She was coming up with a couple answers that each could be and doubting herself because there wasn’t any context.  All of her answers were usually wrong from the intended one.  She was able to connect her confusion to experiences of working on projects with partners who would not tell her how they felt about something even though she asked politely more than once. It was a frustrating situation.

Bellcurvers = Normal

Bell-curve-normal friends suggested that “most people* do not say what they are feeling verbally because they are in fact saying it with body language and facial expressions. Most people are born programmed to be able read these signs with no effort. The people in the class could distinguish the emotions from the pictures because the furrowed eyebrows and tightly puckered lips will mean anger in any context, so no context is needed.”

Me (3yo) and my sister. I'm on the right, obviously.

Me (3yo) and my sister. I’m on the right, obviously.

Me at 5yo. The only one NOT smiling.

Me at 5yo. The only one NOT smiling.


Reflecting on my own childhood and youth, I realized that I have studied these silent signals since I was quite young, with the intent of blending in and passing for normal.  If you look at my earliest childhood photos I am the one with the blank, often serious look on my face.  The same look is used for early diagnosis of autistic children.  Later on I affect an expression more in keeping with the others.  But as late as high school I clearly remember friends and strangers alike passing me in the hall and shouting at me to “Smile!” and “Don’t be so serious!”  It was a command that I thought very sexist. “I’m not your hood ornament,” I would think, “If you don’t like my looks, look at someone else.”

Me in High School practicing “Normal” (On the left, obviously)

But I did try.  From elementary school on I recall watching and copying  people’s gestures and expressions for hours at a time.  In high school I made a study of people’s walks.  My Aspie sophomore has the walk typical of most ASD folks:  hunched shoulders, hands dangling limply at the sides, slightly concave chest, feet sloping forward in an awkward shuffling pace.  If you are ASD and want to find others in your tribe, look for that walk.

The ASD walk

The ASD walk

All that studying of mine has led me to be a very good counselor.  And since I have been working as a counselor for many years now, allow me to share some of my observations as well as skills and techniques for navigating the world of emotions.

Skills for Understanding Emotions

As a therapist, helping people sort and deal with their feelings is pretty much my job.  Once I have an idea what kind of feelings are blocking a person, the hypnosis can be VERY effective at changing the negative patterns for good…in just one session.  So the real challenge is simply getting people to talk about their feelings.  Despite what our normal friend said,  I can tell you MOST people are out of touch with their own feelings, let alone other people’s.  Often, they manipulate themselves into feeling things they were taught was appropriate. Example: women will often deny feeling angry and instead say they feel sad. Thus, anger over something they could stand up for and make it STOP…becomes depression because they don’t vent it, they push it inward where it begins to eat away at their happiness.  Similarly, men often deny ALL feelings BUT anger.  And, like the women with their depression, when men channel all their feelings into anger they create more problems than they solve.  Problems like rage, belligerence, isolation, alcoholism, and violent crime.  (It’s not because they’re men or women.  It’s because of how they were socialized as children.  If you have children in your life, PLEASE read:  How to Raise Children and Pets  )    Don’t take my word on this, go ahead and look it up.

What you’ll find is statistics that show depression is much more common in women than men, and men are more likely to show anger, suffer alcoholism and commit violent crime. This has MUCH more to do with socializing and parenting kids to fit into discrete little boxes called “male” and “female” than it does with the actual differences in male and female brains.

Another problem I see with the BC-normal assumption that recognizing emotions by expression is somehow instinctive?  Normals* often place responsibility for other people’s feelings on themselves & NOT on the one feeling stuff.  This can lead to a lot of problems.  As a baseline that kind of thinking leads to people who, like my clients, do not even know WHAT they are feeling, let alone how to process it.  It can also lead to irresponsible behavior (making others responsible for our feelings) and in some cases it leads to manipulation.  There’s an old stereotype that says women use tears to manipulate their men.   In my experience, though, MEN use emotions to manipulate just as much as women.  But when we take responsibility for our OWN feelings and let others do the same, there’s no room for manipulation.

The way to do it is say what you’re feeling as soon as I can identify it.  Also say what you want, early and often.  When you cry, it’s NOT because I’m sad or hurt, its to release a big wave of emotions – any variety of emotions.  Always let people (especially the men) know, “I’m  NOT hurt or sad, I’m just overwhelmed with ______ (happiness, relief, stress, worry, etc).”

If you are a BC-Normal and you’re still reading, first:  Thank You!  Secondly, please consider that recognizing other people’s feelings is probably NOT instinct.  It’s probably conditioning and rote memorization.  You’re probably guessing those feels wrongly about 50% of the time AND that is probably leading to misunderstanding, confusion, and frustration.  And it’s probably may allow other people to manipulate and use you against your will.  At the very least, it is occupying a significant portion of your brain and energy that could otherwise be used for creative problem solving.  So, the following tools could really free you up.

Guessing rather than expressing feelings makes for great comedy.

Guessing rather than expressing feelings makes for great comedy.

Skills and Tools – for Getting People to Talk about Feelings

One of my techniques for helping men open up and share so I can help them is to start an argument. This also works well with military women.  If you get someone to debate with you about any topic you will begin to hear bits and pieces of their emotional life.  I’ve learned to listen to what they are NOT saying and you can too.  If a person says, “My GF is totally vegan, she won’t even buy meat.”  He hasn’t told me that he’s NOT vegan.  He hasn’t told me that he’s annoyed that his girlfriend won’t go to a steakhouse or bring home some fried chicken for dinner.  Those are the things he’s NOT saying.  Those are the things I write down as emotional road blocks. You can also use empathy to sense their feelings.  But everyone has a bit of empathy if they dare to use it.

Empathy for a friend

Empathy for a friend

You can also get people to share feelings by asking for advice.  Mention an imaginary “friend” who’s struggling with…whatever.  But its a Rule that people often like to give advice about other people’s feelings, rather than talk directly about themselves.  Most of the time we are projecting our own feelings when we consider how others might feel.  They may also volunteer what this other person “should” do, which gives you the chance to ask “Why?”  At that point they will likely share anecdotes from their own childhood that are key to their emotional state.

By far my favorite technique is the Pregnant Pause.  I simply ask directly, “How are you feeling?” or “How do you feel about that diagnosis (project, upcoming test, etc)?” And. Then. Wait…………………..and wait……………..and wait………  Most BC-Normals are VERY uncomfortable with silence, so they will begin to hunt around and guess at what they might actually be feeling.  Then my job is simply to repeat what they’ve said so they can hear it for themselves.  They say, “I’m fine with it.”  Me, “You’re fine…?”  Them, “Well, you know, I’m a little nervous, I mean, shouldn’t I be?”  Me, “So you feel nervous?”  Them, “Hell’s bells!  I’m in a complete panic!! What should I do?!” Me, “Oh, sure, I’ll bet anyone would feel a bit panicked.”

You see, BC-Normals have been conditioned to look outside themselves for approval.  Aspie’s and other ASD’s* are simply resistant to that kind of conditioning.  If you ask an Aspey friend how they’re feeling about the up coming presentation, expect her to pause for a few moments and then report, “I think I’m well prepared, but every so often my thoughts spiral into a crescendo approaching panic.  I’m just not that comfortable with so many people looking at me.” or they will simply say, “I’m not sure HOW I feel, its such a jumble of things.”  In any event, and ASD will tell you the truth as best they can, no guile, no subterfuge, no “shoulds”.  ASD’s are not necessarily better at feelings, they just resist the conditioning that convolutes them unnecessarily.

Skills and Tools – for Spotting Feelings

If you can’t tell by looking at someone what they feel, you may try to get a response by asking directly, “What are you feeling?” But there are many situations in which BC-Normals won’t answer that, or won’t answer honestly.  Remember, the reason is likely because they’ve been conditioned to think people should guess their feelings.  If you ask directly, they may get offended, or begin to blame you – especially if what they’re actually feeling is something they’ve been taught is “rude” or “wrong”.  Don’t feel bad and don’t accept blame.  It’s really NOT about you and there really are NO rude feelings and NO wrong feelings.  It’s just unfortunate conditioning.  And by “conditioning” I mean they were smacked every time they did it wrong, usually without explanation.

Guess Work

Don’t give up, either!  Say something like “You look cross”
That usually gets the person to say, “No, I’m ______( tired, jealous, angry, hungry).”  Notice, ALL of those feelings can look alike.  Also notice, when you guess at someone’s feelings, soften the word a bit.

  • Instead of Angry, say cross.
  • Instead of painful, say tender.
  • Instead of depressed, say sad.
  • Instead of panicked, say uneasy.
  • Instead of exhausted, say tired.

There’s a reason for this softening.  It is important, because the poor Bellcurvers have usually been punished for emoting too strongly.  YES, actually hit for crying! They may have internalized the notion that some emotions can be TOO emotional.  This is hogwash and poppycock.

poppycock hogwash1

Emotions are never too anything.  They are exactly right for the individual feeling them, unless they are being stuffed, stored, or inverted instead of being ventilated by identifying them and talking or acting on them.  But, if you guess using an intense descriptor, many bellcurvers will deny the feeling, even if you got it exactly right, because they’re afraid of being too emotional.
Lastly,  if you’ve tried asking, and you’ve tried guessing, and they still won’t share, you don’t need to bother yourself with their feelings.  All you need to do is communicate.  What you say is:  “Well, I don’t know how you feel, so I can’t take your feelings into account.”  Then do your best to shake off their stares and glares and funny expressions and move on.  Do your best to work around their feelings, whatever they are.  Eventually, this technique will either get the BellCurver to put their feelings into words for you OR it will get them to share their feelings with a third person or two (in the form of gossip), who will most likely tell you about your friends feelings.  Regardless of whether you hear the feelings from your friend or a third person, count it as good.  You’ve finally got the info you needed.  Your friend got to express themselves.  And MOST importantly what other people think of you is None. Of.  Your. Business.

In fact, I’ve had people tell me they thought I was “really cool” because I don’t care what “They” think.  Huh, imagine that!  Cool because I don’t even try to be cool.  And all this posh glamour can be yours at the low, low cost of Minding Your Own Business!

Angry?

Angry

Angry?

Pay attention to my anger!

Frightened?

No please!

Happy hour?

Wine?

 

 

 

 

Skills and Tools – For Dealing with Your Own Feels

Avoid emotional tangles and passive-aggressive mean-fests by applying these neat-o skills:

  1. Identify your own feelings ASAP. Say, “I feel _____.” both early and often.  That will keep the simple feelings from building up into unmanageable globs of mish-mashed feelings.
  2.  If you’re not sure HOW you feel, but you know you are feeling something big, Say, “I need a day (moment, few hours, week) to think.”  Say, “I don’t know how I feel yet.”  “I’m not sure how to feel about that.”  “I’m not ready to talk about it.”  Then, please take the initiative to bring up the issue again when you can name some of your feelings.  Remember:  You’ve got a right to ALL your feelings.
  3. Telling others that is something that works well too.  Whenever other people tell you THEIR feelings spontaneously: “You’ve got the right to your feelings.”  I’ve used that as a parent:  Kid, “I don’t want to go to school!! I HATE school!”  Me, “You’ve got the right to feel that way.  I’ll give you 15 minutes more sleep, then we have to get moving.”  As a teacher: Student, “I HATE you, Ms. Thompson!” Me, “Ok, you’ve got that right.  The assignment is due by the end of the class.”  And as a partner: BF, “You’re making me mad!!”  Me, “You have a right to your anger.  Any thing I can do differently?”
  4.  When talking face to face make emoticons with your face and hands.  If you’re not sure which ones to use you can watch anime characters, matching the faces with the feelings or words.  You can watch your teachers, parents and friends then recreate their expressions and tone, like I did.  You can also try out for plays or hire an acting coach.  A lot of ASD people do VERY well as actors.  You get to try on a bunch of different personas without risk and the director will often tell you what emotions to show for which lines.   And its fun!  Which is the MAIN point of emotions: to know when you’re having fun and to have fun with other people as much as possible!

*Aspie, ASD = Asperger or on the Autism Spectrum

*Normal, Most people, Bellcurver, BC-Normal = Not on the Autism Spectrum

ASD feels KEY: 3, 11, 3, 2/5 – 2/5, 8, 2/5, 4 – 2/5, 13, 6, 7 – 11, 8, 15, 16 …..oh, whatever!!

 

 

 

 

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More About Autism – Stimming

I “accidentally” diagnosed myself as Asperger’s/ASD when I was helping my daughter answer some detailed checklists for her counselor.  I guess I’m one of those females that slipped through undiagnosed.  Looking back, I can see that what I did was observe “normal” people in social interactions, notice patterns, and develop algorithms to explain the appropriate behaviors and then store those algorithms as “rules” to follow in social situations. These rules have helped me pass for (almost!) normal most of my life and I have relied on them to help my daughters through social situations.

In any event, I’ve long been aware of my differences.  I just didn’t know there were others like me.  But one of the distinctive things about the ASD brain is that all ASD folks are wired differently.  Yet there are similarities.  There are patterns that can help parents of ASD kids as well as adult ASD folks like myself.  My goal is to help explain what’s going on with the mental wiring and how you can make the most of the advantages…and circumvent problems.

stims

Stimming            

One type of behavior that sets the ASD population apart is stimming, short for self-stimulatory behavior.  The thing about it is most all people engage in stimming when they’re trying to think.  If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, drummed your fingers, chewed your nails, or scratched your head in thought, you have engaged in stimming.  So why is it that ASD folks get so carried away with the stimming that they are known to rock themselves, flap their arms, chew pencils into twisted skeletons, talk to themselves out loud, or pace incessantly?

stim pencil

The answer is basically that people stim NOT to think but to STOP thinking.  Stimming is just a way to distract the conscious mind so that the subconscious can use the brain long enough to come up with a new idea. Most of the creative new ideas are products of the subconscious, which operates outside of time to access ALL of our memories at once, cross-reference them with the problem at hand and come up with new possibilities at the speed of thought.  In order to let the subconscious do all that we’ve got to stop thinking of the problem consciously.  And, as I mentioned in my last article ( link!) ASD people think a lot more than normal.  So, it often takes more stimming to stop the ASD conscious mind long enough to access the subconscious.

Another part of the answer is that ASD kids often have people who attempt to stop their stimming before it has had the desired effect.  So then it becomes a circular exercise.  The stimming increases and may take more dramatic forms (like slapping one’s own head) as the ASD person gets frustrated or overwhelmed with emotions, whilst still attempting to clear the conscious mind and get back to the original problem and its solution.

How to Control Stimming

Given that, what’s the best way to stop a person from wild uncontrolled stimming?  DON’T try to stop them at all.  Instead of getting all bent out of shape because someone is tapping or rocking or talking to themselves, try building some acceptable forms of stimming into their day.  There are companies who have wonderful collections of objects for stimming, from textured putty to chew-able jewlery, to phone cases with built in bubble wrap.  And you can also rely on everyday objects, like bubble wrap, silly putty, moon sand, gum, etc.

stim toy

stim toy

In fact, you can teach any child to engage in stimming in order to access creative ideas, integrate newly learned information, or process emotions.  Teachers and parents would do well to follow any 20 minute lesson with 10 minutes of stim play, such as sand and water tables.  Or kids can hold a bit of clay or putty to fiddle with DURING lessons.  Even better, hands on activities can be used at regular intervals to allow students to make those neuron connections.

chewy jewlery

chewy jewlery

What you want to avoid at all costs, however, is pressuring an ASD person while they are stimming.  Remember, all people use stimming to problem solve.  So if you fuss at, restrict, shame, talk to or otherwise interfere with an ASD person’s stimming you are actually heaping on more and more problems to be solved.  Now, in addition to a thinky problem they have a complex emotional problem or two.  This will only make them need to stim faster, harder, or longer.  Instead, just hand them something to mess with and leave them alone for awhile.

You might also want to consider that YOU may be the problem that needs solving.  If you are insisting that the ASD person do (or STOP doing) something that defies reason and logic you are presenting them with an untenable problem.  Such a problem will require a lot of stimming to solve.  There are many such unreasonable requests built into what we call “societal norms”.  For example we may insist that a person wear uncomfortable and restrictive clothing, put water on their face, eat foods that are strangely flavored or weirdly textured, stand up in an erect fashion, sit still for long periods of time,  rub a prickly brush coated with a chalky tingly paste around in their mouths, pull another brush painfully through their hair, ALL before leaving the house for school or work.

brush-hairwash face2

They may be expected to RESIST normal human activities such as digging in their nose, mumbling to themselves, wiggling, releasing bodily gasses, scratching itches, or any array of primate grooming activities native to our very species.  If your senses are much more finely tuned than the “norm” all of these things may cause you problems.  Introduce sights and sounds that may pass below the perception of most “normal” folks (see: linky!) and your Autistic person has a weeks worth of problem solving built into the first couple hours of the day.  Is there any wonder that the stimming gets more and more exaggerated?

So, part of the solution may be to simply CHOOSE to let things that really don’t matter, NOT matter.  Or to become aware of sensory distractions that may be “white noise” or “part of the scenery” to the less sensitive person.  Or to ask.  Or to let the ASD person know their requests will be honored.  Does it really matter that a child eats their lima beans if it makes them gag?  Aren’t there other veggies they could consume?  If they want to wear their favorite shirt everyday, why not buy 5 or 6 identical tops?  Albert Einstein did that as a professional adult.

There are many ways to handle and manage stimming.  The first step, really is to understand that stimming is NOT a problem.  Its a problem solver.  The problem may be that social norms have evolved to support a non-thinking, insensitive, unaware average population.  And its become fashionable to force sensitive, quick-thinking aware people to dumb it down in order to fit expectations.  But what if individual happiness was more important than fashion?  What if diversity was more valued than fitting in? What if we could usher in that utopian future simply by pausing every 15-20 minutes to let people think?

stim2

Even if you or your kids don’t seem to be on the ASD spectrum, you can still benefit from creating the pattern of taking stim breaks for thinking and integrating new information.  Its that “study break” that everyone recommends but instead of wandering off in search of a snack or spending an hour watching TV, you simply set a timer and play with clay or bubble wrap or manipulable toys.  You let your thoughts slip away.  Let yourself become absorbed. Then ten minutes later your brain comes back on-line refreshed and you’ll find you have some new ideas and inspiration!

I use stimming in my office all the time.  I find that I can take a client’s detailed history, making notes.  Then I can step back and look at those notes while drumming my fingers, humming, and fiddling with papers.  And, (once I’ve reassured my client I haven’t gone mad) boom! there’s the perfect plan for their treatment popping into my head.  You see, every problem CONTAINS its own solution, but sometimes the connections are buried in your subconscious memory.  Something that you haven’t thought of in years, something that your mind learned while you weren’t really paying full attention, a chain of events with a missing link, then suddenly something clicks into place and fills the gap.

Think of stimming as the process that gets things into and out of the deep freeze of the mind in useful formats.  Then find a few favorite stim toys to keep at hand, and watch what your amazing mind can do unleashed.  You need never have “writers block” again!  In fact, you can use your subconscious to create new solutions, problems solve, simulate test runs, make connections to old information, notice patterns, weed out outliers and data that is inconsistent with tested facts and systems.

Stimming Idea Links:

https://www.pinterest.com/tolleythompson/aspergers-asd/  

http://www.stimtastic.co/

bubble wrap phone case

bubble wrap phone case

 

 

 

 

ASD/Aspergers is NOT a Disease!

Let me start by saying Autism Spectrum Disorder including Asperger’s (also known as ASD) is NOT a genetic disorder! Yes, it is genetic, but NO its not a disorder. ASD occurs in people who’s brains are wired to be SMARTER and MORE ANALYTICAL than the rest of main stream bell-curve-normal folks. Babies are not born with the symptoms that make ASD kids most difficult to parent because it is POOR PARENTING practices that cause those disruptive symptoms.

"Most People" are bell-curve-normals.

“Most People” are bell-curve-normals.

When I say these kids are smarter, I mean smarter like a supercomputer, not smarter like ‘fills in the blanks on worksheets well’. And therein lies much of the problem. Supersmart kids do not follow foolish rules even if everyone else is following them. Supersmart kids do not obey because you “said so”. They don’t obey because you threaten to spank or punish them. They have already thought it through and they will do the thing that makes logical sense to them, even if your rules, or all the social pressure in the world say to do different.

Einstein also exhibited ASD signs: delayed speech, poor social skills, some teachers even considered him "retarded"

Einstein also exhibited ASD signs: delayed speech, poor social skills, some teachers even considered him “retarded”

Now, if you are a flexible parent who can actually LEARN FROM YOUR KIDS, your ASD child will not develop the most difficult traits on the “symptoms” list. But if you think parenting means molding your kids into the kind of people you think they should be, you’re in for a bad time. These are children who, even as toddlers, are well aware that your ways are illogical, inefficient, or wrong and they don’t mind setting you straight.

If the thought of a kid correcting an adult makes you want to punish the child YOU need to reevaluate your values and goals. That is the kind of attitude that contributes to the “dumbing down” of each successive generation. You cannot expect generational improvements if you devote yourself to keeping the kids dumber than the adults. Moreover PUNISHMENT DOESNT WORK for anyone. In particular, it doesn’t work for ASD kids. Any form of punishment, but especially SPANKINGS and physical punishment will BREAK these children. Think of them as supercomputers with fine delicate wiring. If you beat on it or pound on the computer in frustration it will NOT work better. It will, in fact, develop permanent processing problems.

When you beat, spank, punish or force your little supercomputer kid they will begin to regress. They may stop talking, they may stop reading or writing, they may begin to lash out in violent fits. After all that is EXACTLY what you just taught them to do! Oh, they learn well, very well. They simply resist learning nonsense for as long as they can…you know, until you force them to.

So what can a parent do?

Be real. Resist the urge to pretend a hubristic infallibility as our parents’ generation did. If you make a mistake, admit it. Apologize. Find a better way. Once, when my little ASD daughter was about six years old, I tried to introduce her to the delicious taste of rhubarb that I enjoyed as a child. But, for whatever reason, she didn’t want to taste it. I cajoled, then I teased, then I insisted. Then I broke into a mischievous game and chased her through the house with a spoonful of rhubarb pie and forced the spoon in her mouth in a fit of laughter. My daughter wasn’t laughing though. She began to cry. Then I began to cry. Then we laid back holding one another’s hand while I observed, “No one likes to be forced, do they? Even when its a good thing being forced is bad.” She tearfully agreed. I vowed never to force her to do things again. She agreed never to do that to someone else. And we never have.

She got over that episode of bad parenting because I got over it. Kids, even ASD kids, are very flexible and forgiving as long as we learn with them. I have had the good fortune to teach many ASD kids and I have found this to be consistently true. Teach and parent using logic and mutual learning and they respond by being bright, well behaved, brilliant thinkers. You WILL need to get books on parenting without punishment because all kids WILL push your buttons, ALL of your buttons at once. This is pretty much their job. So figure out what you will do when your kid is pushing all your buttons at once and still looking for one more, and make sure its a strategy that doesn’t involve punishment, physical or emotional violence. Otherwise, you will simply revert to just what your parents did to you and it won’t work.

I have also had the good fortune to heal ASD kids in my practice. They respond very well. The problem is usually that I can’t fix their parents. So the kids just get broken again and again until the damage becomes permanent. If I can’t get the parents to grow up and stop hitting and forcing and punishing their kids and START using their WORDS and their BRAINS like big Mommies and Daddies, the kids may well end up demonstrating all the increasingly negative traits on the ASD symptom lists.

Today's ASD kids would fall into the "head and neck" of this Nessie style curve. (You know, if they could all take the same test)

Today’s ASD kids would fall into the weird “head and neck” of this Nessie style curve. (You know, if they could all take the same test)

A word about Social Norms

Most adults and bell-curvers think that social norms are easy and intuitive. To ASD people they are quite difficult. That is because they are almost all culturally based and completely divorced from reason or logic. In some cultures it is good manners to look people right in the eye when they are talking to us. In others that would be very aggressive or insubordinate behavior. So the poor supercomputer kid or adult may do most social behaviors “wrong”.

Thus, most ASD folks eventually come to prefer the company of books or computers or pets and to suffer some form of “social anxiety”. This also accounts for why girls with ASD are under-diagnosed. Girls have multitrack minds and so can better observe subtle differences in social behavior. Many even develop strategies, rules, and coping mechanisms to comply with the unreasonable social expectations and thus to blend in. Others learn to ask or to be very transparent with their communication. The bottom line? You won’t be able to “cure” your ASD child of their awkward social behavior. But if you can explain the expectations or rules in concrete terms, you can help them adapt and blend. Example, “Its considered rude by adults to avoid eye contact when we speak to you.” works much better than, “Look at me when I’m talking!!”

I am eager to hear from ASD kids and adults about their thoughts on my observations. Do you agree? Can you add to my pointers or correct me? I’m also happy to hear from parents of ASD kids.

Guns That Kill People

I know, I know, guns don’t kill people, people do.  And I get that.  I really do get that.
As a matter of fact. I get, in a very firsthand way why people in this country SHOULD be allowed to have guns.  I grew up in a family of hunters.  For most of my childhood I had never tasted beef.  The only meat my family and I ever ate was venison.  This wasn’t because we were rugged outdoorsmen trying to make a point.  This was because we were poor country people living on a minister’s salary.  We couldn’t have afforded to eat meat if my Dad had not been a hunter.

And he was a real hunter!  The old kind who spent all day tracking and waiting patiently in the woods, reading little signs in the forest, and talking to nature.  He really did too! My Dad would pray out there in the woods and ask the deer who would not make it through the winter, the one who would prefer a quick clean death, to come to where he was.  I remember he once killed a big twelve point buck who was blind in one eye & slightly lame in its hind leg.  The meat of that deer carried us through the whole winter.

12 point buck

12 point buck

Once, when my brothers were older, Dad went hunting with my teen-aged brother and his best friend.  The friend wounded a deer just before he had to leave and get to his job.  So my Dad tracked the wounded deer all that day and all the next day, just to put it out of its misery.  It was bow season, so when he finally found the big buck he had only one shot to kill it before it would be off tearing through the underbrush, running away.  He missed.  When the deer took off running, it was slow.  It was wounded in the leg.  So my Dad took off too, on foot, chasing the deer.  Now, if you know anything about deer, you know there is no man alive who can chase a deer on foot, in the woods, and win.  Deer are very fast.

But my Dad must have been talking to that deer, or the Great Spirit or Mother Nature or something, because my Dad caught up with it.  The deer tripped over a root and went sprawling into a clearing.  My Dad tripped over the same root and went sprawling into the same clearing, face to face with the wounded deer.  Now, again, if you’ve spent your life on concrete you may think deer are soft.  But if you’ve ever been up next to a real deer, you’ll know that face to face with a big strong buck, antlers and all, that the deer is going to win in any hand to hand battle.  My Dad must have known this, but to him there was no option.  The deer was wounded and would die a slow miserable death from infection, or my Dad would risk his life to do the right thing.  Armed with a hunting knife and a large stick, Dad wrestled the deer for an hour. He finally flung his body onto the deer’s back and while it tossed him around, cut its throat with the knife.  It wasn’t as clean or as quick as he had hoped.  When we butchered the deer we found more than 10 knife cuts.  My Dad did not get out of bed for three days & he never really hunted again.  He never killed a deer again.

All this is just to say, my family’s hunting style was the old ways, the Native American way.  In tune with nature.  Calling out the sick and the weak.  Killing only to eat.  Risking your own life to do the right thing by the people who feed you when it came to that.  There are still hunters like this.  There are still families in the US who depend on venison to get through the winter.  So, that makes one kind of sense.

There are also great bands of humans who call themselves hunters but treat their guns and their trucks like people and treat their dogs like things, and treat the deer like things, and treat Mother Nature like a thing.  For a first hand account see Max: A rescued Hound. (click to connect)  These humans should not be called hunters.  These humans should not even be called people.  And these humans should NOT be allowed guns.  Plain and simple.  These are the kind of people who kill people without remorse and without cause.  The proof is already there because dogs are people, deer are people, and Mother Nature in all her glory is a person.  These folks kill for entertainment.

african huntingWhen I came back from living in Kenya, I remember people baiting me with questions about whether or not, in a country where private gun ownership was not allowed, whether people still found ways to kill other people.  And, yes, absent firearms, people still killed other people.  Out in the rural areas they had a policy known as mob justice.  If someone out there committed a horror, groups of villagers would gang together, track them down and stone them to death.  But I’ll tell you, its a much different thing to kill a person when you can feel their rasping breath on your skin, see the fear in their eyes and know their humanity is no different than yours, than it is to stand at a distance picking off kindergartners like tin cans.  I also saw villagers build bow and arrows by hand and kill the odd antelope or warthog to provide for their families.  So, in short, I saw first hand that people without guns can still defend themselves, and still hunt.

Maybe guns DONT kill, people do.  But, I still don’t think people without humanity should be allowed to own guns.  In fact, I don’t think humans without compassion, or reason, or humanity ARE people.  So, maybe people DON’T kill people.  And maybe humans who don’t qualify as people shouldn’t be sold guns.  shooting cans

The other kind of people who should not be allowed guns are crazy people.  I think we have ALL agreed on that already.  Its not too hard to figure out who those people are, either.  The people who can watch the recent mass murders in Oregon, after all the similar mass murders in this country alone, people who can watch little school children killed, and their teachers jumping into the line of fire to protect them, and still clamor for their inalienable “right” to guns without controls?  Those are crazy people.  Those are people who SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO BUY GUNS.  Because those people no longer have the ability to reason, or feel compassion for other people.

The Parent-Child Relationship

I find it disturbing how many parents take it for granted that their children will one day say, “I hate you!”  Parents and parenting “experts” alike laugh it off like its a natural part of the landscape.  Even more distressing is how often parents of adult children deal with estrangement, distance, and alienation from their grown kids.  Mostly its distressing that people usually blame the kids in these cases.

Parents-Estranged

Children come hard-wired to love and forgive their parents no matter what.  If that love sours, its we, the parents, the adults, who need to take responsibility – both for its cause, and for its solution.  But most of all, we should be proactive from the beginning to ensure such powerful love doesn’t turn to hate.

The biggest part of the cause seems to be that parents try to fill a role.  They try to present the facade of “Mom” or “Dad”.   They make poor decisions (usually based on their own parent’s behavior) then they hold tight to their decisions because “I’m the Dad.”  They make mistakes but never admit their mistakes or apologize because “I’m the Mom.”  They base their parenting role-play on the notion that because they are the parent, they cannot be their child’s friend, or even an equal.  But all people are equal, and children know that.

parenting2

Let me introduce a new idea in parenting:  the relationship.  Regardless of what your grandparents, in laws, or friends on Facebook claim, parent and child are bound together in a relationship.  Like any relationship it must be built on fairness, trust, communication and honesty.  Anytime you step into a role and present a false persona you are choosing to destroy the honesty, trust, and communication.  You cannot live with another person for 18 years or more, presenting a false persona, never letting them see who your are as a person, and expect that relationship to last.

Those small people are astute observers.  They see what you are and what you’re not.  They see through your facades and your role-play.  They see what you hide from the rest of the world.  After 18 years of life they will either see you as the sham that you are, or they will see you as a real human being, delicate and beautiful, trying your best, failing more often than you succeed, struggling to do better each time.  They will watch your every move, your reactions through thick and thin.  They will see you at your best and at your most humiliating and shameful.  They will either see the fierce, glowing beauty of the human heart, or they will see the paper tiger with nothing behind it.

My suggestion is to conduct the parent-child relationship like you would an ideal relationship with someone you love, respect, and admire.  Trust them to be capable of only what is appropriate to their age and stage of life. Admire their efforts.  Appreciate their intentions. Thank them for every chore or favor they complete.  Apologize when youre wrong and learn to do better.  Most importantly, be real.

parenting

Be your real self.  Cry when you need to.  Laugh as a way of life.  When you’re angry, tell them why.  Don’t let them think they are the cause of your anger.  Don’t take out your anger or frustration or disappointment on them.  They will blame themselves for everything that you feel unless you explain the real causes of your feelings.  So, let them be your allies.  Tell them what you’re going through.  Let them help in whatever way they can.  Let them cheer you up.

Let them see you recover, get back on your feet, and try again.  They will learn from your struggles how to handle their own.  If they never see you lose, if they never see you lost or confused, they will become overly critical of themselves when they face these inevitable human experiences.  Let them learn from your good and your bad.  Let them learn what it is to be truly human.  And let them see you improve over time.  Let them see you grow stronger with each challenge, more capable with each obstacle you face, more compassionate and brave with each emotional blow you endure.

If you raise your children as real loved ones, allies through the hard times, companions through the loneliness, contributors to the victories, then they cannot help but love you for a lifetime.  The true beauty of the human heart is in its tenderness, in its ability to endure and grow.  Knocked down ten times, it stands up eleven.  There is no tenderness in falsehood.  There is no beauty in a wall, unbending, unchanging except to crumble over time.  The fierce beauty of flowers is as much in their delicate nature and their brief existence, as in their colors.  Find an artificial flower, covered in dust, colors fading with time, and where is that beauty?

Do not raise your children like a machine, repeating only what it was programed to do.  Raise them with heart, learning as you go.  They will teach you the details.  They will change you as they change and grow.  As long as you keep making new mistakes, and don’t repeat the old ones, you will always be the perfect parent.  As long as you don’t pretend to be better or worse than you are, they will forgive you all your many mistakes.  They will learn to love you with all your imperfections and that will teach them to love themselves, with all of theirs.

 

True

What if humans were more like the animals and insects? What if, for example, when we became bored we automatically began to make a high pitched droning sound like a cicada? It would be a game changer. Instead of pretending rapt interest in lectures that have continued too long or failed to actually inform or excite, we would be obliged by polite dignity to excuse ourselves and quietly leave the auditorium before we began to distract the others. The pompous lecturer would be left to face the empty seats of his own humility, and to reorganize his thoughts into words that better touch and inspire the listeners.

cicada

Click here for sound sample

Schools would become such a wild cacophony of squealing drones by lunchtime that students would have to be sent home early. Teachers, unable to hear themselves over the high pitched symphonies winding into frantic fervor, would have to forever abandon their forced memorization and superficial covering of topics for tests in favor of actual teaching. The neuroatypical students could no longer be marginalized, ignored, or labeled as poor learners. Their daily droning would teach us once and for all that their problem was not slow learning, but learning that was too fast, too thorough, and too far-reaching for traditional methods of spoon feeding disparate factoids. We would be forced to let them learn from experiential activities and then teach us. There would remain no doubt, no delusion about exactly who was failing whom.

What if your friends and lovers could no longer pretend to be engaged in your self-absorbed monologues? What if your children could no longer be expected to sit quietly through Grandpa’s inane diatribe or Grandma’s lecture on proper manners? We would be forced to become as interested in the lives and thoughts of others as we are in ourselves. There would be no more protracted and jealous divorce battles. We would have been driven from the home holding our ears during the first few days when we began to stifle our partners mind and spirit. Selecting a partner would become much easier, though. They would be the ones still listening when all the others had drifted away amid stifled squeaks.

angry ears

angry ears

And what if we had ears like cats or like the beautiful blue Navi from Avatar? If we walked into work in the morning with our ears laid back, people would know to stay away from us until we were over the strain of our commute. There would be no more brown nosing the boss for a promotion. The flex and tilt of our ears would give away our true feelings. Maybe bosses would even be obliged to become honestly engaged with their team rather than little dictators giving the hard work to others and stealing the credit for themselves.

Maybe we wouldn’t be able to go around grouchy all week snapping at others and blaming them for our foul moods if everyone could see that we arrived in a foul mood and simply nursed it for days. Seeing ourselves in the mirror might be enough to make us pull on the big boy or big girl pants and get over our bad selves. Maybe we couldn’t ignore our friends who had spent days or weeks with their ears drooping in depression. We might find a way to reach out to them and help.

depression cat

depression cat

Or if we could wag our tails like dogs when friends and loved ones came home. Flick the tips of our tails testily like cats before we lost our tempers. Purr when petted or given affection. Hiss our displeasure at annoyances. Maybe then our lives wouldn’t be built on fake relationships. Maybe our blood pressure wouldn’t soar, our arteries wouldn’t clog, and our bowels wouldn’t back up in our 40’s. Maybe it would be easier to focus on how much wagging or purring we had in or lives each day than how much bulged in our bank accounts. If healthy happy children wagged and yipped and gamboled playfully when their parents came home, perhaps abusive parenting would cease to be hidden. Then, perhaps, it could cease to exist.

happy wags

happy wags

Or maybe, just maybe, we could use our words. Since spoken words are what set us apart from other animals in our kingdom, maybe our words could be used to express our true emotions. Maybe we could allow people to speak their feelings freely and hiding true feelings behind false smiles could be called rude and thoughtless, instead of polite. Maybe children could be congratulated for identifying and giving voice to their true feelings. Maybe when people got angry they could just shout, “I’m angry at you!” and we could acknowledge their right to feel, and give them space until they were ready to solve the conflict. Maybe we wouldn’t follow false leaders into false wars if we all had a solid grip on how we really felt, and we weren’t afraid to say so. Maybe if we simply said what we felt to be true and refrained from saying what we didn’t honestly feel, maybe there would be a lot less confusion, coercion, and conflict. Maybe our true hearts and minds are a better guideline than all the intricacies of manners and polite society. Maybe its enough to be true to ourselves.

Make purrs, not war.

Make purrs, not war.

You CAN Stop Child Abuse

encourage-and-empower

Child abuse is much, much more common than you would ever suspect.   But just ONE adult who reaches out with compassion can make the world of difference.  Most insidious and damaging is child sexual assault because damage to the sexual body causes trauma to the emotional, spiritual, social, and physical bodies.  Like all abuse, sexual abuse takes many forms, not just the publically acknowledged form we call “rape”.  Anything that attacks or undermines the healthy sexuality of a person is sexual assault to the body, mind, and spirit.

To help and protect children we must understand how pedophiles choose their victims.  Children are preyed upon much more commonly than adults because they are more vulnerable and because they are whole and perfect.  A pedophile is someone who was damaged sexually themselves so they are sexually broken.  Rather than seeking appropriate healing, these individuals try to “steal” the beauty and wholeness from the sexual bodies of others.

Children come into the world whole and perfect, with open hearts and open minds. They glow with power and beauty.  Even though most people in our culture don’t consciously see this the way I do, everyone registers it subconsciously.  Predators see the parts they are missing and try to take them by force, or manipulation.  Of course, sexual power cannot be stolen (only earned by loving and empowering others) so the predator breaks the child’s spirit and remains broken himself, only damaging himself further through his cruelty.

The children most likely to be preyed upon are those who have no healthy caring adults willing to listen and talk frankly and honestly about sex.  Kids are made even more vulnerable if they are punished for “lying” (see How to Lie and Why You Should) or physically or emotionally abused by parents or caretakers (also pronounced “spanking”, “controlling”, “disciplining”, etc – see How to raise Children).  Such treatment leaves kids with no one they can turn to in times of doubt for fear they will not be believed…or for fear the adults in their lives will reject them.

Realize that, like adult victims of abuse, children experience feelings akin to shame, guilt, revulsion and self loathing in the wake of assault.  But these kids don’t even have the words, knowledge or resources to sort these feelings, reach out for help, or reason them away.  So the pain and damage goes deeper, making the child even more vulnerable to other predators.  One strong, kind adult who can reach out to a such a child, even once, can turn this picture around.  The crushing spiral of damage and vulnerability CAN be stopped.

Key to helping is knowing the signs and having the courage to act.  Adults may ignore the tell-tale signs of child abuse because they are afraid to confront the perpetrator.  This is NOT an unrealistic fear.  Abusers are usually experts at manipulation and can easily turn the tables, making the hero look like the perpetrator.  Moreover, the courts make the process of punishment convoluted and ineffective.    The good news is that punishing the abuser is NOT the way to stop child abuse!  In fact sending a sexually broken predator to prison is likely to make him MORE of a danger to the community, not less.

When, exactly, has violence, used against the violent, been shown to STOP violence??  Never.

So the REALLY GREAT news is that you don’t need to attack the attacker.  What is needed AND most effective is empowering the victims & would-be victims.

Empower kids!

Empower kids for safety!

How to Spot Abuse

1. Inappropriate sex play – while it’s completely normal for kids to take an interest in nudity of all kinds, to play with their own bodies AND to be curious about animal mating behavior and reproduction, kids who act out adult human sexual behavior are demonstrating knowledge beyond their years.  DO NOT punish kids for such behavior.  DO NOT get embarrassed.  See this demonstration as a cry for help.

2. Sudden weight gain (or loss) – A sudden change in weight can often be traced directly back to an event of abuse or trauma.  Appetite is a funny thing.  It often goes haywire in response to stress.  People may use food to fill an (emotional) emptiness inside.  Or they may exert control over what they eat as a subconscious response to a desperate lack of control over more profound areas of their lives.  Neither gain nor loss of weight in children should ever be dismissed as merely physical.

3. Nervousness, anxiety, fear & avoidance – If a child gets stomach aches, tremors, or other physical symptoms when its time to go to school or church (etc) this is a red flag that something very serious is wrong at the institution.  Often, predators intimidate their child victims with threats to their parents, siblings, or loved ones.  The child may be too terrified to tell anyone what happened or who did it, but they will go to great lengths to avoid being alone with the predator.  Please DO NOT dismiss a child’s fear as “normal” or punish them for “acting up”.  Always take a child’s fear seriously.

4. Back pain & degenerative bone disease – Many of the victims of child sexual assault that I have treated manifest some kind of lower back pain or degeneration.  The symbolic connection is clear: the spine and especially the lumbar region form the foundation of our physical selves.  Back pain and disease that persists in young people should always be taken as more than simply physical circumstantial, or random.  I have had great results healing such conditions by treating the whole person.

5. Compulsive lying – When children are forced to keep the terrible secret of sexual assault to themselves, their whole lives become a lie.  They have to lie to themselves every day to hold on to their sanity.  Its very common that these people become compulsive liars.  Compulsive lying can be spotted when a person lies randomly or casually.   There may seem to be no reason or point to the lies.  They may invent tall tales just to get positive attention or they may enhance the truth for no apparent reason.  Never punish a child for lying (See How to Lie and Why You Should).  Help compulsive liars, child or adult, to seek counseling.

6. ADD, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Split Personality (a.k.a Dissociative Disorder), and even the more problematic manifestations of the Asperger’s Spectrum – all these “incurable” problems of unknown cause have their roots in child abuse.  The trauma caused to the psyche of a child by physical punishment and assault often results in a mind that is “broken” and unable to function with continuity.  If you believe in spanking and have a child manifesting any of these disorders, you need to change yourself before you can change your child.

Kid's empowerment is key to stopping abuse!

Kid’s empowerment is key to stopping abuse!

How to STOP Abuse

1. Listen & believe – Kids don’t always have the vocabulary to express what has happened to them.  If assaults continued over a long period the memories are probably somewhat suppressed.   So if a child tries to tell you something about abuse it is likely to sound vague and confusing.  You job is to believe them.  Your job is NOT to play judge, jury, or detective inasmuch as those are tempting roles.  Take any ideas about wrongfully accusing an adult off the table and simply focus on believing and supporting the child.  This is how you actually make a difference.

2. Relieve – One of the most powerful things you can say to a child who has been the victim of assault is this, “Any child your age would have done exactly what you did.”  Believe it or not, one of the most soul crushing burdens children suffer is the burden of guilt and shame.  As obvious as it may seem to you that a child cannot be responsible for sexual assault, victims of all ages suffer from the delusion that they could have and should have done something to stop it.  Predators also use the natural human tendency to self blame to keep their victims silent.  They may say things to make the victim believe they were voluntary participants, or that they were seducing or enticing the perp.  So when you reassure a person that their silence was normal and the best anyone could have done, you lift a huge psychological burden.

3. Answer and Explain – The most empowering thing you can do for your own kids or any kids in your care is to answer their questions about sex and sexuality as simply and matter-of-factly as you can.  Children are sexual from the day they are born, but it is a very different kind of sexuality than that of adults.  So get over your own hang ups, get some facts and share them with the kids.  My studies have shown that the best way to ensure a child will grow to have a happy, well adjusted and satisfying sex life is to answer their questions about sex factually and without embarrassment when they are young.

4. Empower & Support – Talk to kids like they are people.  Support and respect their opinions and ideas just as you would an adult.  They are only small and inexperienced, they are not mentally deficient.  Never teach a child to obey an adult “Because I said so.”  Avoid giving too much power to authority figures.  Children will respond respectfully to adults and authority when they themselves are treated with appropriate respect.  If a child has a “creepy feeling” about a person or a place, don’t talk them out of it. Believe them.  Children are naturally more in tune with the unseen world.

5. Affectionate touch – Hug your kids often. Pet their heads. Pat their backs. Kiss their ears and toes.  Humans need warm affectionate touch like flowers need sunshine.  There is something about kind, respectful physical affection, freely given, that both heals and prevents victimization.

6. Treat & Heal – I wish all counselors were good counselors.  I wish everyone working for child protective services actually cared about children.  I wish I knew even one other therapist or health professional who could actually heal the sexual body.  You have the right to be discriminating when you choose a professional to help your child.  And you have that responsibility.  I treat and heal assault survivors everyday.  I give life, liberty and happiness back to those who have been preyed upon and broken.  Please call, text or email for an appointment.

Facts:  Of the patients I treat about 50% have signs of sexual assault in some form.  Males and females are equally likely to be preyed upon. MOST sexual dysfunction among adults (from lack of lubrication to uterine prolapse, from incontinence to poor libido to erectile dysfunction to cancers) has its root cause in sexual assault. 

 

 

How to Lie and Why you should

  Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

I grew up believing that honesty is always the best policy. As an adult, though, I realized that was not true at all. I was raised in a family who were honest to a fault. Honesty can sometimes be brutal and often hurtful. And a lot of folks are simply dishonest with themselves. Raised to be completely honest, I was preyed upon by people who would use my honesty against me. And I was frightened and horrified by lies whenever I discovered them.

Mother nature's lie

Mother nature’s lie

During my shamanic training I learned that lies are not evil nor necessarily harmful. I learned that the natural world is full of misrepresentation, illusions, and untruths. During my hypnosis training I realized that the truth is always ever subjective. I learned that we can go back and rewrite our history because truth is fluid.  Ultimately, I realized that lying is not wrong, hurting people is wrong.  If you’re lying in ways that hurt people that’s wrong.  If you’re telling the truth in ways that hurt people, that is equally wrong.

The lying Cowbird

The lying Cowbird

I went on to raise my children with that understanding.  I taught them to lie appropriately and well.  It always makes me angry when I hear an adult berating a small child for lying.  Adults lie all the time.  Children see this quite plainly.  We demand that our children lie to Grandma and say they loved her gift then we punish them for telling their version of an event if it seems outlandish.  Even what seems like a tall tail by a child is probably closer to real truth than adults dare to think.

Rather than confuse the issue by labeling some lies “white” some “big” or “fat” and others “small” its best to simply accept lying as necessary and keep in mind not to hurt people.  If you are already confused by labels and friendly well known sayings about honesty, if your lies are getting you in trouble or if you are just new at lying you should learn and understand the Four Rules of Lying.

Four Rules of Lying  (adapted from Oprah Magazine, April 2014)

1. Always tell yourself the truth.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt.  It can really undermine your existence if you allow yourself to live with too much of it.  So always examine your life, your relationships and your choices honestly.  If you make a mistake, admitting it to yourself keeps you from perpetuating the problem.  Your most important relationship is the one with yourself.  Lying to yourself makes it harder to really like or respect yourself …and it only goes downhill from there.  Lying to yourself makes it hard to trust yourself and learning to trust yourself is what keeps you from being jerked around by other people’s lies.

Da Nile

Da Nile

2. Tell loved ones as much truth as you can.

Truth builds intimacy.  It is the basis upon which we are able to form lasting heart to heart bonds.  So share the truth to the degree that your want real lasting love relationships.  Choose those relationships wisely.  But realize that your relationships with your spouse, your children, your friends, and other loved ones WILL unravel and fall apart if you do not continually deepen the bonds by sharing your true thoughts, feelings, struggles and victories.

The truth becomes too much when it is hurtful and unsupportive, so please continue to tell loved ones that those jeans make their butt look GREAT – just be honest if the fly is open.  These sorts of observations are the subjective, fluid sort of truth.  The real truth is that if a person feels good about their looks, that’s all that really matters.  Besides, its not just Sir Mix a Lot who thinks big is better.

baby got back

I cannot lie!

3. Tell acquaintances enough truth to maintain connection.

Say you just walked out of a scathing review by your ogre boss when a colleague meets you in the hall and asks how it went.  If you want to keep your relationship strictly business just say, “Fine.”  If you want more of a friendship connection, tell the truth, “I’ve had colonoscopies that were more fun.”  Then she can either respond with bonding, “I know what you mean! I was depressed for a week after mine.”  or she can choose to keep distant, “Oh, gee! Sorry to hear that! Got to go!”

Some people like to keep their work lives and personal lives separate, and that’s fine.  But if you are feeling a bit lonely or would like to make some less superficial connections at work, sharing your truth is the way to real connections.  The way to do it is with a little truth at a time.  Share a candid thought or feeling, see if your co-worker responds with the same.  Then share a bit more.  You can choose just how deep the connection goes by the depth of your honesty.  And you can always backpedal with small talk if you decide they’re not bosom-buddy material.

Share if you dare to bond

Share if you dare to bond

Just try to avoid the common trap of connecting with co-workers over snarky comments.  Sure, in a bad work situation it is easy to connect over a common obstacle, “Is this guy a dictator, or what?” But if the only “truth” you are sharing is negative comments or complaints, people are going to start avoiding you.  Or you may end up buddying up to some “Frienemy” types who just want to spread juicy bits of news on the grapevine – including YOUR news!

4. To kill a relationship: lie.

Some people will use your truth against you.  These are the people you want to lie to as a rule.  If your co-worker known for stealing creative ideas asks you what you think of the new system, feel free to be vague or superficial.  Or even make something up!  If the boss uses people’s family problems as an excuse to pass them over for promotions, don’t mention your divorce OR your engagement.

When I was in a particularly cut throat pre-med program, I learned to add ten points to my score whenever classmates asked me my grade.  Most people were either looking for a study buddy to leach off of or they were looking to make themselves feel good by putting others down.  Its also a good idea to memorize a few replies to deflect probing personal questions from questionable people.  If a colleague asks if you use botox, smile and reply “That’s funny, why do you ask?”  If she’s a new friend looking for a personal recommendation, she will say so.  If she can’t share her truth first, she’s not friend material.

Neither the truth nor lies are guaranteed to set you free.  But understanding that personal truth is the currency with which we buy depth,  trust, and respect in relationships CAN be very liberating.  Use them both wisely and well.

How to Raise Children and Pets II

Be The Leader

The most important practical step in teaching children and pets is to establish your role as the firm and fair leader.  If you are a good competent leader your young charges will be eager to learn from you.  If you are a poor leader, it won’t matter how good your teaching techniques are, neither pets nor kids will learn much.  (They will learn to be like you but they will not behave or learn manners.)

Leaders eat first.

Leaders eat first.

Rule of Food

In dog and cat communities the rule of leadership is simple and clear:  The one who makes the kill eats his fill.  In other words to establish yourself as the leader, you must eat your meals and snacks before your pets and resist the urge to share, until you are finished.  It is a good practice for the leader to share the last bite of food as a reward for waiting patiently.  Do NOT share while you are still eating.  This applies to both cats and dogs.  With cats, its important also that you do not even let them sniff your food.  If you DON’T apply this rule your kitten or puppy will soon establish themselves as your leader and your decisions will be disregarded and overturned.

Now for the food rule to work you must put down only as much dog or cat food as your pet can eat in one sitting. Do NOT keep the food bowl filled throughout the day.  Put it down at mealtimes and then take it up.  You should leave  fresh water out through the day.

Firm and Fair

The rule of food does not really apply to humans but the firm and fair rule does.  Being the leader depends on being firm and fair.  The leader of any group is expected to make decisions for the well-being of the group members.  If you make decisions that are self-serving and unfair to your youngsters, they will begin to disregard your decisions and rebel.  So you need to say what you mean and mean what you say.

The easiest way to stay consistent (i.e. firm) is to decide in advance which things actually matter TO YOU.   Enforce rules and learning that apply to those things.   Then decide that all the things that don’t matter, DON’T  MATTER.  For example, when my kids were babies I decided that Safety, Health, and Getting Along With Others were the things I cared about.  I can be firm and consistent about teaching and enforcing rules that apply to these areas because I ACTUALLY care about them and because they ACTUALLY matter for my kids’ futures.  So I don’t bother my kids with whether their choice of clothing matches or is fashionable, my concern is only for whether the clothes are clean, comfortable and appropriate for the weather.

Let kids dress themselves.

Kids need to make their own choices.

Kid fashion.

Kid controlled fashion.

Likewise, when my kids became teens I applied the same standards to monitoring their social life.  Do they have the tools for making friends and Getting Along?  Are they staying Safe and Healthy?  So while other Mom’s were asking their FaceBook friends “At what age should girls be allowed to date?” and fretting over making social choices FOR their teens, my rules were clear.  I knew that I would allow my daughters to date as early and as often as they had an interest.  Because when they are too young to drive their dates were just another opportunity for me to teach Health, Safety, and Getting Along.  I took them on their dates, demonstrating how to strike up conversation, how to manage awkward moments, how to meet the parents, how to trust their own good judgment, and how to stay Safe and Healthy.

Just as I had allowed my kids to choose their clothes, I also allowed them to choose their own pace for dating, and drinking, and sex – as long as they are safe & healthy & getting along.  Allowing young people freedom of choice gives them the chance to develop good judgment.  It allows them to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while you are still there to help, and the consequences are still relatively manageable.

Middle school dating is good practice.

Middle school dating is good practice.

Too much restriction communicates the message that you don’t trust their judgment and decision making abilities.  And that in turn teaches your child that she cannot trust her own intuition, judgment, and decisions.  So when her friends all jump off a bridge she will go along with them.  Even though her intuition tells her “Danger!” she knows she cannot trust her intuition but must trust in “what other people will think.”  When an adult tells your son firmly to get in the white van, in he gets, even though his spidey sense is tingling.  Because you have taught him he must do things “because I say so” rather than trusting his own decision making skills.

The white van of random authority.

The white van of random authority.

You see?  To keep your kids truly safe when you are not around they must learn to trust themselves, NOT to simply comply with adults, or group think.  Its logical and reasonable.  And it explains the age-old questions of why teenagers are so hell-bent on going along with the crowd and yielding to peer pressure.  Its because their parents spent their whole childhood teaching them that “keeping up with the Jones'” and “what the neighbors think” is more important than being real, or safe or loved.

How to say “NO”

Before I teach you how to make ‘NO’ stick, you must first be sure that you are ONLY saying ‘no’ to things that actually matter.  Some parents seem to think their job is to say ‘no’ several times per hour. Or maybe they just get off on the feeling of power they get from saying ‘no’ to small people and punishing them if they disobey.  Some fools call this leadership, but that is a misnomer.  The correct pronunciation of the word is “Bullying“.  So if you were raised by or schooled by bullies, I am truly sorry.  But from here on out you need to work on  your sense of personal power and stop bullying smaller people.

True power comes only from empowering others.  Everything else is properly called ‘Bullying

To make ‘no’ mean ‘no’ you must employ a technique I call the Baby Elephant.  When Indian elephants are babies they tie one foot to a stake with a rope.  The baby elephant soon learns that it cannot pull the stake out of the ground.  Now when that baby grows up it can be tied to the same stake.  Even though it is now strong enough to pull the stake up and run off, it stays anchored to the spot by its belief that it is not strong enough to disobey.

Use the Baby Elephant technique early and often.

Use the Baby Elephant technique early and often.

When your baby (human, canine, or feline) is young you must employ the Baby Elephant technique whenever possible – but NOT by Bullying, simply by following up any legit ‘no’ by making it so.  For example, lets say you take your young human to grandma’s or to the home of a childless friend.  Baby, being intelligent and curious, spots the delicate glass vase on the coffee table and goes for it like a magnet.  You say ONE loud and clear (but not frantic) “NO”.  Then you immediately swoop down and wisk the vase away to a high shelf where baby can neither see nor touch it.

See how nicely that works.  Once again, you say one “NO” then you make it so.  Keep this policy up for as long as you can.  Once baby is so big that you can no longer “make it so” they will actually believe deep in their soul that when YOU say “No” it always means “No”.  Their firm belief based on your consistent behavior will continue to make it so for the rest of their life.  Magic!

The Baby Elephant technique works with kittens and pups also, so work it early and often.  Remember, you must teach them good behaviors when they are still small enough to make it so.  For example, when that cuddly adorable kitten plays with you and for the first time flares its tiny claws out, say “No” then immediately make it so.  This is easily done by wrapping a small amount of scotch tape over its front paws.  It may take 15-20 minutes for kitty to pull the tape off.  And while it doesn’t hurt, it makes an indelible impact on the mind.  You will probably only need to repeat this lesson with tape about 2-3 times before they learn that claws and play don’t mix.

You can use this technique with humans and pets to teach good manners of all kinds.  For example, if you want your pet to stay off the furniture you can say “No” and then pick up the baby and put them in a confined space for a short while – like a play pen.  You can keep kitties off the kitchen counters by covering the counter with sticky reversed tape or crumpled foil – and saying one firm “No” when they test their agility.  Again, it won’t take many ‘tries’ to teach the lesson.

Keep your “no’s” short and sweet and keep your repercussions short and intuitive.  The idea, again, is NOT to punish – ever.  But to teach self control.  Allowing baby to experience natural repercussions is best. And when that isn’t safe or practical, make the repercussions as ‘natural’ and logical as possible.  So if your voice has a punishing tone or the time in the play pen is long enough to make baby cry, you are being too harsh.  The idea is to create a learning situation that rewards, rather that punishes the learner – makes them proud and happy to learn!

Easy Enough

I am a Girl.  (You and my Ms Mag friends may want to correct me, “No, no, You’re a woman.” but if you knew me you would agree.  I am a girly girl.) Girls like to share and be nice.   I have many girl friends who dislike some of the harsher realities involved in Being The Leader.  Like eating a big pompous meal while cute kitties and doggies watch with big sad eyes and mournful sighs.  Girls, bear in mind that none of your furry friends is starving.  Nor will they starve as long as they remain in your home.  But if you let the cute cuddly babies “share” rather than learning manners, once they become adults they will make your life hell.  And you may just throw up your hands and decide to set them loose on their own.  Then, I promise you, they will not only starve, but starving may well become the least of their worries.

The same happens with human babies.  It may sometimes seem like too much work to swoop down and make the magic “No” a concrete reality.  It may often seem easier to simply confine and restrict your child rather than let them experience the consequences of their decisions.   But one day that child will be alone in the world without you.  One day their consequences will be beyond your ability to clean up with a kiss and a bandaid.  Your child will one day fall and break a leg if you don’t let them fall and skin a knee early and often.  Likewise, she may break her heart only once, once and for all.  Unless you let her bruise it a little over the years when you’re there to teach her to tuck and roll and leave behind a trail of friends instead of wounded enemies.

Let them skin their knees and hearts while they can.

Let them skin their knees and hearts while they have you.

In short, you need to toughen up and let your babies suffer discomforts.  Its true that it hurts you more than them, while they’re cute and fluffy and little.  But if you’re too selfish to hurt for them while you can, you will cause them a great deal of hurt down the road.  So toughen up like this girly girl and take it like a man.  The world is much to big and wild a place for you to teach a baby all it needs to know.  Your job is to teach it how to learn quickly and learn well.  Your job is to prepare it for the day it faces the big wild world alone.

 

 

Love – Pets, Parents & Partners

Everywhere we are inundated by songs, stories, and movies about love.   Yet still people wonder “What is love?”  Still people go out looking for love.  Still people in their 20’s, 30’s, 50’s and beyond claim that they want to “find someone to love”  or “fall in love”.  What frustrates me most is how many people think of love as a mere feeling.  Or how often people (or songs) claim that “my love” (i.e. feelings) should require, expect or demand some response from “you”.

Love is what you do.

Love is what you do.

I can understand why young people are confused.  (I remember in my tweens asking my mother and other adults “How will I know when I’m in love?” and being blithely told, “Oh, you’ll just know!” with a secret look that I now realize was bluster to cover up their own ignorance.)  MOST, not just many, adults go through life and NEVER actually experience real love.  I’m going to save you from that sad fate.  I’m going to tell you the secret.

Love, like happiness, is something you MAKE for yourself out of thin air.  Only you have to CHOOSE to make it, you have to decide and then commit to loving or make a determination that you WILL love someone.  Because the truth is love is NOT something you feel. Love is something you DO for another person.

Real love is unconditional.

Real love is unconditional.

Love is what you CHOOSE to do when another person’s happiness is as important to you as your own.  When you realize that someone makes you happy whenever they feel happy and you feel yourself drawn in to that whirwind of happiness, then you dedicate yourself and your actions to helping that person along the road to happiness – that, my friends, IS LOVE.  So love is an action.  Love is a dedication to action that empowers and enhances another person’s life.  Without ACTION there is no love.

That’s a hard concept to grasp.  But it is the truth.  Without action there is NO LOVE.  You cannot claim to love someone if you are not taking action for their happiness and lifelong benefit.  LIFELONG benefit.  That’s right, I went there!  This is exactly why children get spoiled if you give them things but not attention, or if you indulge their whims, without looking out for their health, safety, and manners.  Manners and self-control is what children NEED to make true friends and have happy satisfying lives.  If you indulge children but neglect their long term happiness, they become spoiled.  They act like brats.  But the secret is this:  you can indulge your kids or grandkids all you want as long as you also give them what they need for long term happiness:  attention, health, safety & manners.

Love is empowering.

Love is empowering.

Raising kids is how most people learn true love.  I have been attacked and badgered by folks who want to claim that the love we feel for children is intrinsically different than the love we feel for a romantic partner.  This is a delusion.  If you want to learn how to love, raise a child or even a pet.  But be sure you don’t spoil them.  Spoiled behavior is your sign that you are indulging YOURSELF without thinking of the long term well being of the pet or child.  Children and pets who are actually loved will not become spoiled.

So why do so many people think the love we feel for our romantic partners is different?  Because they have never actually loved.  What they FEEL is DESIRE.  Desire takes many forms (sexual, affectionate, attention) but it is not love, it is selfish.  Love is something you do for another.  Desire is something you feel.  It’s really that simple.

So if you have never taken action for the long-term happiness and benefit of another person, you have never experienced true love.  Please, do NOT go out looking for a romantic partner.  Please, do NOT adopt a pet or a child. If you have never loved someone, do NOT focus your selfish desire on some other person or you may well ruin their life, along with your own.  If you have never experienced true love? Work on YOU.

Work on COMPASSION – the ability to put yourself in another person’s place and feel what they feel, understand their motivations and their shortcomings and actually care about their happiness.  Work on WISDOM – the ability to project into the future and predict the outcome and then choose to do the thing that benefits that other person the most.  Work on COURAGE – the ability to ACT in spite of fear.  If there is no fear, there is no courage.  Courage is what it takes to change desire, or any warm feeling for another person into real love.  Because without action there is NO true love.  So work on YOU, before you draw another person into your life, canine, feline, or human.

Love is giving.

Love is giving.

Lastly, love is NOT limited by like.  You may LIKE someone you do not love or love someone you do not particularly like.  For example as adults, many of us LOVE our families of origin but, alas few of us actually LIKE them.  Like is what makes you want to spend time in another person’s company, share activities and conversation.  Love, is a decision and a dedication to that decision.  To me, love is easy but like is rare.  Love never gives up and I never actually stop loving anyone that I have ever loved.  But like, well, that is based on behavior.  So I can fall out of like in an instant if I lose respect for someone or their behavior.  Love is not conditional.

Love is active and continuous and everlasting.

Love is active and continuous and everlasting.

Ideally, a good romantic partnership will consist of love and like.  You may decide to break up with a partner when respect or like fades, but if you truly loved, you will continue to love them….from an appropriate distance.  Likewise, because the children and pets we raise are people we choose, we must have the courage, maturity, and decency to simply DECIDE to love them.  Therefore, you are never allowed to STOP loving pets or children.  You ARE, however allowed to take a break from their company when their irritating behaviors or whiny voices or ever-present demands make you want to scream.  Don’t scream.  Don’t hit.  Don’t punish. Dont blame.  DO give yourself a break!!