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The Four Agreements for Middle School Girls Part 4

  • By RTOWN
  • 09 Jun, 2016

Here is the last of this four-part series applying   The Four Agreements   to middle school girls. I’ve found it really rewarding to immerse myself in these concepts again. I hope you have found some useful stuff within my words. To re-cap, we are working with our middle school girls to:

  • Not talk about others behind their backs
  • Not take things personally (except when they need to take responsibility)
  • To check the story they tell themselves about any given situation
  • To do their own personal best

This last agreement ultimately says that if we give each day our best, we eliminate those gross feeling of guilt and shame that plague us when we have done less than what we are capable of. What I love about this agreement is that there is also much space for self-compassion. It reminds us that “our best” looks different on different days. Some days we are sick, fatigued, shorter-tempered, vulnerable etc. Those days are okay too.

This agreement requires very little translation on my part. What I will add instead is some emphasis:

Agreement 4: Always do your best

Translation: Always do YOUR best

In my counselling space, I tend to see girls who sit strongly on either side of the “doing your best” continuum. On one end, girls are literally hurting themselves as a means of coping with the pressure to perform; a pressure from themselves, the school, their athletic team, and adults in their life. I see girls who cut themselves, pull out their hair, don’t eat and all sorts of other painful self-harming strategies (strategies that actually do help reduce anxiety, by the way). It’s typically the new awareness of one of these strategies that brings parents hustling kids to my office.

This next section is not meant to be parent-blaming, yet parents do need to consider the role they play in this pressure process. Let’s be real, we often feel pretty good about ourselves if our kids are successful: winners, straight A students, in leadership groups at school, etc.  We feel proud. We are validated as “good” parents.  My daughter is a complete perfectionist and driven toward A’s (wonder where she gets that from?), and I am constantly checking in with myself, and with her, to make sure she doesn’t think my love and approval is based on these concrete, measurable successes. We also need to say (and believe) these words: “It is not the end of the world if you do not get an A on your math test. Study hard, do your best, and the sun will rise again if your mark is less than stellar.”

My colleague Laurie wrote a previous blog post about perfectionism. She distinguished perfectionism from a personal drive for excellence by saying perfectionism is grounded in shame and fear. Ultimately it is a fear of being rejected or not worthy. It is really important that girls are not getting that message from us. We help our girls strive for excellence from within themselves by:

  • Encouraging competition with the self only. There will always be smarter, stronger, and faster girls out there. Possibly for you athletes, this one might be tough to swallow. But what I am ultimately saying is that if our kids train, study, and push themselves toward their own personal best, there is never anything to feel shame about.
  • Teaching compassion for themselves when their best may not have measured up to their own personal standards. I teach kids this by bringing awareness to their self-talk. If their self-talk is hyper critical I try to teach them to speak to themselves the way they would talk to a friend or loved one. I also position that self-talk as a bully. Would they let a bully speak to them or a friend this way? Probably not.
  • Making sure she has some down time to just be a kid. This one is big. In ensuring our kids are well-rounded with plenty of opportunity for success we have maxed them out with commitments. They are tired and stressed out. I think we forget how hard middle school is. It is not easy going through puberty, balancing homework and extra-curricular activities, and dealing with the drama of being a teenager.

On the other end of the “doing your best” continuum I see girls giving  up, avoiding school, quitting activities they once enjoyed, and gravitating towards high-risk peers, drugs and alcohol. How do we motivate these girls to become re-invested in life? To do their best when TV watching seems to be the priority?

  • By investing in our relationship with them. Often when girls have gone off-track it’s due to a lack of connection, belonging, or experience of success in those mainstream institutions. It’s within a caring, connected relationship we can help steer kids back towards safer and smoother paths to adulthood. However, this is often when parent’s fears ramp up. And how to we tend to respond when we are afraid? Control. Punishments like grounding, taking away cell phones and internet privileges rarely (i.e. do not) motivate kids to re-invest in life. You conveying your belief in them does.  
  • Providing opportunities to try new things and explore different interests. I have seen a few incredible turn-arounds for kids when they find a passion to invest in. You might have to get creative and persistent, you might need to let them bring their peers along with them to try something new (even peers you don’t much like), but keep trying until you find something that gets them excited. I love the quote by Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You and your girl need to keep looking until you find her genius.

As a quick aside, if you suspect your girl might be self-harming it is really important to seek out the help of a professional. These professionals will help determine the level of risk and provide you and your daughter with the much needed support to reduce or eliminate these behaviors.

So that’s a wrap on this series, folks. I really cannot express enough my gratitude for reading, liking and sharing these posts. And my goodness, the tasks these four agreements challenge us to rise to are certainly not always the easy path! Yet they are the worthwhile path, the loving path, the compassionate path. And regardless of your girl’s developmental stage, with your support, she is capable of learning to live life in this particular way.

As always, wishing you peace,

Christina

By Laurie Schulz 09 Aug, 2017

“Judge less. Love more.”

A sentiment a friend posted recently that perfectly captured a theme so frequent in the therapeutic conversations had with clients. While her post was originally in context of how we treat others, the notion of “judging less, loving more” is also relevant to how we experience ourselves.

The critical voice that haunts our thoughts, taints our belief in self and doubts our worth is the epitome of judgment; self-judgment that is. And it’s a struggle woven into many of our stories. 

“I’m not good enough.” “Everyone else has it all together, what’s wrong with ME?” “There are so many people who have it worse, I need to just suck this up.” “I’m an awful parent.” “I’m too this… I’m too that…”

This critical voice is harsh and slanderous, ripping ourselves away from the truth of who we are. Just as another’s judgmental words can hurt, so too can the judgments we direct inward. They cut. They sting. They trap us in a quiet yet powerful belief that we are somehow less than and that we are perhaps inherently defected.

I’d dare to put money on it that we don’t like it when others judge us. We might even react. We might get upset. We form widespread social movements in response to the judgments and oppressive actions from others. So why is it then that we endure our own judgment of self? How is it that we stand up for others while simultaneously attacking ourselves with scrutiny and criticism?

“Judge less. Love more.” A simple sounding response to the intricate battle described here. And yet it holds so much truth. So much opportunity. It’s a call to step off the battlefield with ourselves and tend to the hurt; to put down the weapons of comparison, perfectionism, name-calling, and “I should” and consider what it might mean to be our own ally. This isn’t about the overused notion of self-esteem or blindly focusing on our strengths. Choosing love is about acceptance. It’s about recognizing ourselves as someone worthy of care and kindness, and having compassion for the flaws and hurts we inevitably carry. This is the position of love. And we can take it up with ourselves.

 

Journeying with you,

Laurie
By Christina Henderson 09 Oct, 2016
I have always been a Fall girl through and through. Bring on the fresh notebooks, the new beginnings, the structure, the boots and the scarves, the golden and vibrant hues of the trees, the fireplaces on Sundays in the rain. And who does not love sitting down with our family, friends and loved ones to give thanks for our abundance, and a few short weeks later, connect with our neighbors, fill our doorways and yards with pumpkins and ghoulish decorations and watch children pour into the streets to show off their costumes and fill pillow cases with candy (soon be secretly pilfered parents). Yes, as August draws to an end, I can barely contain my excitement for the Fall.

Today, given the timeliness of this particular weekend, I want to draw attention to one of my great fall loves: Thanksgiving. One of the traditions in our family, as is true in many others, is that you are not allowed to leave the Thanksgiving dinner table without saying one thing you are thankful for. This is a fantastic tradition, and yet I dare say, not enough. This act of giving thanks needs to be embedded into our daily lives much more so than us average folk are doing. One of the people who influences Laurie and I’s approach to counselling is the brilliant Brene Brown. In her research she found that people who describe their lives as joyous or joyful have an intentional gratitude practice , not simply an attitude, but a tangible strategy for bringing gratitude to awareness.

Let me share with you one of the most frequently given homework assignments I use with my clients:

Buy a journal or a notebook. Leave it beside your bed. Every night at bedtime write down five things you are grateful for. Now, there are a couple rules: (1) No repeats; (2) It must be specific; and (3) It has to have happened that day. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

1. My 8-year-old held my hand leaving soccer practice (I don’t know how many more years she will do that).
2. The tree outside my window looked like it was sparkling this morning because of the heavy rain last night and sunshine this morning. The world is beautiful.
3. My partner picked me up a coffee because I slept in before work today.
4. A friend I haven’t spoken with in ages sent me a lovely text message.
5. My colleague printed off a ton of forms for me when my printer jammed and I was late for the meeting where I needed those forms.

The benefit of this strategy: we become trained to pay attention to the goodness in our lives; we become mindful, in-tune, and present. Brain research shows when we change our thinking consistently over time, we re-wire the neuro pathways so this type of thinking becomes automatic. And as Brene Brown’s research discovered: we open the door to joy.

One thing I would like to acknowledge is that life is hard. Often it is harder more often than not. Often the hardness is relentless. In the midst of this suffering it can seem impossible to find gratitude. For those of you in this place today, let me suggest using a gratitude practice as an anchor. Rather than aim for five things to be grateful for, simply look for one, or two, or three. Perhaps this practice could be something to keep you afloat during your most difficult moments. I am always amazed and inspired by the goodness that exists in the world during our greatest sorrows and tragedies. Looking for goodness does not undermine the suffering, yet it reminds us that suffering is not all there is.

I would love to hear your daily practices of gratitude, and perhaps share them on this blog if you are so willing. Private message me through Facebook if you have a practice you’d like to share with others.

Today I am thankful to sit in a quiet, clean house, with a cup of tea (Bengal Spice, if you haven't tried it, DO!), and write to you all.

Wishing you peace,
Christina

By Laurie Schulz 12 Jul, 2016

Shhhhhh! Something I trust we’ve all been told at some point in our lives. Be quiet. Fall into line. Be good. Don’t say that . Consider those childhood times we’ve been told to sit still and be quiet and those adolescent days of being hushed in class. Sure, these may be normal life moments in which we are taught the importance of respect and safety. But when our personal experiences and our innermost being are, “shushed”… well, that’s a different story.

What do I mean be Shhhhh? It is that experience of being silenced, shut down in often devastating ways. Silencing occurs when others diminish, ignore, ridicule or powerfully override who we are and the voices, ideas and experiences we carry. The effect? We feel invisible and often less than. Anxieties and doubt get stirred up in big ways when we cannot be heard or seen for who we are. We may question anything we feel and experience, not believing it is in fact valid because others'  responses tell us in some way they’re not. We may eventually silence ourselves… standing in the shadows of others or keeping our words within. When we are silenced, we are unable to live life as our best self. Let me be bold and say that living from this place is no fun at all. In fact, it's pretty awful. 

History and world events reveal many populations being silenced through harsh oppression and violence. Silencing may not always be this explicit but it can nonetheless be toxic, within our relationships and to ourselves. What I highlight here are common tactics and relationship dynamics that can have a silencing effect: 

·    Being told your ideas and opinions are not important

·    Pressure to stay quiet so not to rock the boat ie: “ yes, yes, I’m fine.”

·    Eye rolls and the dismissive head shake

·    Interruption

·    Criticism and judgment

·    Bullying and intimidation

·    Offensive jokes and slurs

·    Being directly told that things must not be spoken of

·    Being indirectly shown that life experiences are to brushed under the rug and not to be acknowledged

·    Having someone share an experience that one-ups whatever we have just shared (Not everything is a competition!)

·    Negative reactions or the quick change in topic when discussing things that make others feel uncomfortable

·    Having those feelings you just expressed being dismissed, ie: “Don’t be so sensitive” or "Get over it already." 

·    Being gaslighted: when someone twists information to make you question your understanding of reality, working to discredit and doubt your experience.

The tricky thing is that silencing can be very insidious, at times strategic and at other times, unintentional. The numerous stories I've heard (and experienced myself) that demonstrate this experience make me pause. Recognizing this list is not at all comprehensive, I write this in hopes of calling out those situations that trap us into crazy-making doubt. 

If you are/have been silenced, identify this experience for what it is… and not a reflection of who you are. When you’re told in some way to “Shhhhh. Don’t speak that. Don’t show that. Don’t be that,” step back and create space to find your truth. Then Stand up. Speak out. And be you. Let your story be told. Let your truth be shared. Let yourself be heard. You’re undoubtedly worth this.

Journeying with you,

Laurie  

By Christina Henderson 16 Jun, 2016

Some time ago I had a personal epiphany I’d like to share with you in the hopes my growth and learning could be of use, or that you might find some of your truth in my own.

I have always really sucked at setting boundaries and not been entirely clear why that is. In most instances, boundary violations were small, like paper cuts, and never seemed worth the potential conflict to address them. So I would sit in my discomfort and resentment until those paper cuts grew to gaping wounds. From there I tended to respond in one of two ways: cut and run far far away from the relationship, or flip-out and come across as an irrational, crazy person. As you can imagine, neither of these responses have been particularly helpful for my personal growth or the development of healthy relationships.

Before I disclose much more, it might be helpful to share my definition of boundaries with you. It is:

 The ability to set limits with people about what is and is not acceptable to protect the various dimensions of our lives including (but not limited to): our bodies, relationships, time, emotions, life stories, money, roles, physical space, and belongings. (I’m going to break this down those dimensions in more depth at the end of this post; you can read more about it if you’re interested.)

If you apply this definition to your own life, you might realize that in some of these dimensions, setting boundaries comes quite easily. You can say “no” at work to protect your home life, if someone borrows something of yours and wrecks it, you can ask them to replace it, no problem. However, you might also find that in particular dimensions of your life, or with particular people, setting boundaries invokes a whole lot of fear and discomfort. In my case, when people overstep my “role” boundary of being a mother, or in close personal relationships where I fear losing that connection, setting boundaries has been near impossible.

Reflecting on this dilemma brought forth a light bulb, life-changing epiphany.

For those of you who took Psych 101, you might recall learning about Cooley’s “looking glass self.” The general idea of this theory is that the way we perceive ourselves is based on the way others see us. Our perception of self is reflected back to us in the thoughts and feelings of others. Our brains are also wired to remember the bad and disregard the good, so typically those negative reflections stand out much more profoundly than the positive.

In my life, not only did those negative reflections stand out, but I believed them to be TRUTH . Not in every area of my life, but certainly in judgments about my motherhood, and certainly in close relationships with people who know me very well (notice these are the areas where I struggled the most with boundaries). Thus to maintain my sense of self, and sense of self-worth in these very vulnerable areas required ensuring the looking glass always reflected positive things about me. Otherwise I was flooded with shame, an emotion one typically tries to avoid at all costs. And that is a tiring dance, my friends, a dance that also gives away a lot of personal power. Plus, sometimes people just aren’t going to like you.  I had to learn to stop giving these people the power to define who I was. I had to fix the broken looking glass so that at the end of the day, only my perception of self mattered.

This is how my story connects to boundaries: setting boundaries is nearly impossible if you lack a sense of self and self-worth. This is the foundation of boundaries, the first and most important step. If you have not developed a strong connection with self, the skills to self-validate, and the confidence to keep you rooted in who you are, you will struggle in this area.

My process of connection with self has been a slow one. It grew when I became a mom. It thrived when I found passion in education. It blossomed through meditation and connection to spirituality. It continues to flourish through passions and interests, and grows deeper and more rooted surrounded by a few good people who know and love all of me.

And I’m happy to report, boundaries aren’t so hard these days.

I hope some of my journey might illuminate some of your path as well.

Until next time,

Christina

 * Read on below if you are interested in more information about boundaries 


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