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procrastination

What is “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?”

Here is a guest blog from one of our current practicum students, Abigail Overstreet. Abigail is in the MSSW/MSCFT dual degree program at the University of Louisville Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work.

The phrase “bedtime procrastination” is first credited to this 2014 study from the Netherlands. The addition of “revenge” seems to have first started appearing on Chinese internet sites in 2016, according to Health.com. Since then, the term revenge bedtime procrastination has found its way onto social media platforms, especially after writer Daphne K. Lee publicly tweeted, “Learned a very relatable term today: “報復性熬夜” (revenge bedtime procrastination), a phenomenon in which people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours.”

Although delaying sleep to finish ‘just one more episode and/or chapter’ is a very human experience, the repeated procrastination of sleep to meet some interpersonal need is most often found in overworked people. Populations that are predisposed to this habit are parents of young children, students, caregivers, or professionals with poor work/life balance. In some cases, the habit of revenge bedtime procrastination formed during a busy season of life and has continued even though the need for it has passed.

What to Do

-Take an honest inventory of your daily activities and see where your minutes are being allotted. Those ten-minute social media scroll breaks add up—one of the easiest ways to tally your phone usage is to activate your phone’s ability to monitor your screen time.

-Learn to be present in the current activity and space. When you’re at work—do work, when you’re home, be fully engaged with your family and your leisure time. Obviously with the pandemic, this separation of physical space has become easier said than done, but if it is possible, devote a singular space or consistent set of hours to your work and then step away. Stop devoting today’s mental energy to tomorrow’s tasks.

-Stop setting yourself up for failure and recognize your limits–even Clark Kent only published one newspaper a day.

-Seek out respite services or rely on your support network to get some critical ‘me-time’ while caregiving or parenting.

-Speak to a counselor/therapist about time management and sleep hygiene strategies if you’re still struggling. We at True North Counseling are here to assist you.

intellectual safety

Safety in Intimate Relationships: Intellectual safety

This is the third in a multi-part series on Safety in Intimate Relationships. (Check out the previous blogs on Emotional Safety and Physical Safety!) When I have conversations with people about safety in intimate relationships, often the only thing that comes to mind is physical safety. However, safety encompasses more than that. Here are some signs of intellectual safety in a relationship:

  • You have similar interests and hobbies, or can appreciate one another’s hobbies.
  • Your thoughts and interests can be shared with your partner without fear of ridicule.
  • Mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict can be found.
  • You feel supported in your goals and dreams for your life.
  • You can communicate openly and truthfully.

Safety in relationships is worth prioritizing!

Note: If you are feeling unsafe in your relationship, please reach out to The Domestic Violence Hotline or your local domestic violence organization. You deserve to be safe in your relationships.

domestic violence

Safety in Intimate Relationships: Physical safety

When I talk to people about feeling safe in their relationships, usually physical safety is the first thing that comes to mind. When someone says they feel unsafe in their relationship, we almost automatically assume that their partner is hitting them. However, physical safety goes deeper than that. Below are some red flags for physical safety:

  • My partner has drawn back a hand as if to hit me.
  • My partner has thrown objects around me, but not at me.
  • My partner has hit walls, tables, beds, or other objects when angry with me.
  • My partner has broken objects belonging to me.
  • My partner has hidden objects belonging to me (cellphone, keys, debit card, etc.)
  • My partner has verbally threatened to hurt me, pets, children, or themselves.
  • My partner has verbally threatened to call (or has called) welfare, immigration, or child protective services without justification.
  • My partner has displayed weapons to threaten me.

The two most dangerous times in a domestic violence relationship are when the abused partner attempts to leave and during pregnancy. On average, a person will attempt to leave an abusive relationship seven times before separating from their partner. But your safety and your life are worth it.

Note: If you are feeling unsafe in your relationship, please reach out to The Domestic Violence Hotline or your local domestic violence organization. You deserve to be safe in your relationships.

what we owe

What We Owe Each Other

There are no “perfect” victims.

Every post I’ve seen about Breonna Taylor and other BIPOC victims of institutional violence has included a “wait, but what about the time that…?” comment (or multiple comments). Ask yourselves if you’ve ever been involved, or even adjacent to, something or someone that would fill in that blank. Did you ever go on a date with someone who had a criminal record? Even if you didn’t know about it, would it be something that would be used against you as evidence in the court of public opinion if you, too, were murdered in your home by the police?

Those of us in the mental health field are all too familiar with the mental acrobatics that people who have NOT experienced tragedy use to cognitively distance themselves from something that, in reality, could happen to anyone.* If we tell ourselves that it was because of the rape victim’s drinking, or because the children who were molested had a parent who wasn’t present, or because the domestic violence victim had dropped out of high school, it allows us some comfort that these terrible things won’t happen to us.

The reality is, terrible things happen at a much higher frequency than most people are aware of. And the only people that are to blame are the perpetrators.

Scratch that. Also to blame is the culture that prioritizes some lives over others, treats sexist and violent “jokes” as “locker room talk,” and appoints officials with a documented history of crimes against women.

This is not one of those “it gets better” posts. This is a post that ends with: It gets better when we realize that we’re all in this together, and sometimes, the only thing that separates you from immense tragedy and trauma is a stroke of luck or fate. We are all in the same ocean, but we’re not in the same boat. Some are in rowboats, some are in yachts, and still others are clinging to debris tossed aside by the bigger boats’ occupants.

Philosopher Tim Scanlon wrote What We Owe to Each Other, a complex overview of utilitarian ethics made famous more recently by the excellent television show The Good Place. The answer that I came up with for myself is: Love. We just owe each other love. The principle that has guided this view is influenced by Cornel West, PhD:

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

—-

* Though, in reality, are significantly more likely to occur if you are already a member of a marginalized group.

intimacy

Things We Don’t Talk About: Sex and Intimacy

Part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.”

My mentor, Don Pitts, taught me that “behind every complaint, there’s a request,” so each time I meet with someone who complains about something their partner has (or hasn’t) done, I think about Don. I may need a button that I can press that just has me saying, “Have you talked to your partner about that?” Either (a) it hasn’t occurred to them to talk to their partner about the thing, or (b) they don’t know how to start that sort of conversation. Either way, it can result in unmet needs and resentment that builds up and strangles the relationship.

In order to have an enjoyable, healthy sex life, there must be a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Open communication requires safety: emotional, physical, intellectual, and commitment. (That’s a series for another time!) If any of these areas is a challenge in your relationship, I strongly suggest working on that before attempting to increase sex and intimacy. Once you’ve done that, however, one way to start talking to your partner about sex and intimacy is through taking online quizzes together. Sometimes, this can bring up new ideas, or increase your emotional intimacy through shared information.

There are many resources available to help increase sexual intimacy between partners, but the most important thing you can do for your relationship is to communicate freely and respectfully—both in and out of the bedroom!

Things We Don’t Talk About: Infidelity

This is part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.” Today, I want to talk about surviving infidelity in a relationship. The Institute for Family Studies has completed multiple surveys of cheating in intimate relationships and found that 20% of men and 13% of women have had sex with someone other than their spouse while married. (The research does not currently control for people who are in open relationships/engaged in consensual non-monogamy, which is a topic for another time.)

An important caveat: Infidelity is defined by the couple together.

It’s important to have these conversations before there is a problem. For some people, texting or flirting with others isn’t cheating. While for others, any close friendships or relationships that take the place of connecting with the partner is defined as cheating.

Infidelity is often the impetus to start couples therapy, but it’s rarely the first sign that something is wrong. Or, to put it another way: Infidelity is usually the symptom of a greater problem within the relationship. Perhaps surprisingly, 60% of married couples who have dealt with infidelity stay married.

Couples who stay together tend to follow these guidelines:

  • The extramarital relationship must end completely. (This usually means that you cannot “stay friends” with the person with whom you engaged in an affair.)
  • The timeline of trust and reconciliation is set by the “wronged” partner. The fantastic book, How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To, by Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD, provides guidance on how to accomplish this.
  • Both parties fully participate in couples therapy and individual therapy.
  • Both parties need to be able to critically examine their roles in the relationship, as well as the problems in the relationship.
  • Trust is earned back gradually, based on the timeline set by the wronged partner. In order to do this, the unfaithful partner must take their cues from the wronged partner. However, the wronged partner must also provide opportunities for their partner to demonstrate trustworthiness. Some couples do this by having an “open technology policy.” This means partners are able to go through one another’s phones, social media, and/or email at any time.
  • Grand gestures (whether it’s buying the wronged partner an expensive gift, or pulling a “Waiting to Exhale”) rarely result in positive reconciliation. While both may seem like good ideas at the time, financially recovering from either adds an additional burden in moving toward the relationship you want with your partner.

Couples who put in the hard work of recovering from infidelity often find that their marital relationship is even stronger than before. Healing takes time and is not linear, but it can be facilitated by a great couples therapist. When considering whether you want to repair your relationship, make sure you ask a potential therapist about their experience in working with couples who have experienced infidelity.

racial profiling

Racial Profiling and Our Youth

Time to Wake Up! Protecting our Black Youth from Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” –ACLU

I grieve for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Few of us can imagine the horror that they experienced in those last moments as they were murdered by the people who took an oath to serve and protect them. I grieve and I am disgusted. I want to do something!

As a Social Worker and owner of an agency that focuses on serving and protecting our black youth, I believe that I have been sleepwalking. Most of us have. I hear stories and read accounts of young black men being stopped and handcuffed for bogus traffic stops simply because they were black. Our young black men in our community do not feel safe! They live in constant fear of being stopped by the police. Imagine, if you can, how oppressive that is. It is emotional abuse! The young black men that I work with suffer from this oppressive fear. They feel it every day as that they walk into or drive into the community.

The fear of racial profiling is traumatizing our black youth, and we must wake up and reignite the passion that will end it once and forever.

Here’s an important name: Tae-Ahn Lea. Tae-Ahn was the teenager that was stopped in June of 2019 (a year ago) and detained in handcuffs while his car was searched for 1 ½ hours for drugs. He is suing the Police Department. Here is part of that document:

“Tae-Ahn Lea is an honors graduate from Central High School. He was the homecoming king, has no criminal history and upon graduation became employed with a well-respected local car dealership. Tae-Ahn, however, also happens to be black, live in a low-income neighborhood, and drive his mother’s fairly new vehicle. He was thus the perfect target for members of the Ninth Mobile Division of the Louisville Metro Police Department who, throughout the past two years in Louisville, have employed a discriminatory, prejudicial, and illegal stop and frisk practice in which “violent crimes” units use traffic stops as a pretext for pulling over young black men driving nice cars, handcuffing them and subjecting them to abusive, racist, and intrusive searches without consent, good cause, or reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity.”

Time to wake up! Time to do something! Young black men in our community need our help! They need my help. As an agency, we will be investing time, work, and money to stop this illegal practice! We cannot do everything, but we can do something! It’s time to be a change agent! It’s time to end racial profiling!

Join us!

burnout

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

“The problem is not that we aren’t trying. The problem isn’t even that we don’t know how. The problem is the world has turned “wellness” into yet another goal everyone “should” strive for, but only people with time and money and nannies and yachts and Oprah’s phone number can actually achieve.”

Sometimes a book comes along at the exact right time in your life. Sometimes, that’s a book you probably should have read three degrees ago. This book is exactly that for me. It provided a brand-new way of looking at stress in my life by separating stress from stressors. They write:

Dealing with your stress is a separate process from dealing with the things that cause your stress. To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle…Stressors are what activate the stress response in your body. They can be anything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or imagine could do you harm. There are external stressors: work, money, family, time, cultural norms and expectations, experiences of discrimination, and so on. And there are less tangible, internal stressors: self-criticism, body image, identity, memories, and The Future. In different ways and to different degrees, all of these things may be interpreted by your body as potential threats.”

A failure to go through and resolve the stress cycle can result in burnout, which was “first coined as a technical term by Herbert Freudenberger in 1975. ‘Burnout’ was defined by three components: 1. emotional exhaustion—the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long; 2. depersonalization—the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and 3. decreased sense of accomplishment—an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.”

If we’ve known about burnout for so long, how is it that we’re just now figuring out how to fix it?

This is not quite a rhetorical question. The answer is: Because it’s hard. If everyone knew how to combat burnout, we would all be doing it! (And the monetized “experience of self-care” that’s sold by the capitalist machine will go away, but that’s for another time…) Part of the problem is that we’ve been looking at stress the wrong way. “The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.”

To get un-stuck, the Nagoskis’ write, we must move. Run, dance, kickbox, tense and release muscles, and, most importantly, breathe. The book has other great tips, as well as a way to plan out all of the options you have for completing the stress cycle.

So the real question is: How are you completing the stress cycle today?

helping kids with transitions

5 Tips for Helping Kids with Transitions

Many children, with and without disabilities, have difficulty managing transitions. This is especially true when you’re moving from a more preferred activity to a less-preferred activity. Who hasn’t had the battle of bedtime, especially when kids are involved with a fun project, watching tv, or playing right before? Here are some practical tips to help with transitions.

  1. Use a visual schedule or checklist

I live by checklists and schedules for myself, and have found that many of my clients have a reduction in stress, tantrums, and meltdowns when a schedule is provided to them. If your child can’t read yet, a combination of pictures and words (to reinforce reading!) can be really helpful. Try a wipe-off board where you write (and check off!) the list for the morning, or a folder with laminated pictures velcro-ed to it.

  1. Use a timer

Many kids have success with visual timers and 10 or 5 minute warnings. If your child can’t read an analogue clock, use a digital one, or use an analog that has a colored portion that ticks down, so they can see how much time is left.

  1. Think forward

In behavioral circles, this is known as FIRST-THEN, as in “first put your toys away, then we’ll go make lunch.” Setting it up this way helps ease anxiety about what’s coming next. You can also do this by reminding your child when they will have the opportunity to engage in the activity you’re asking them to transition away from again. “We have to put up the toys now, but after dinner, you will be able to play again.” I sometimes pair this with an IF-THEN. “If you can show me how quickly you can clean this up, then you’ll have more time to play later!”

  1. Make transitions fun

This can be especially helpful when you have to move from one extreme of activity level to another, i.e., a very active event to a very quiet one. As you transition, you can have your child pretend to be an animal or use their imagination to sneak to the next activity. If we have to go from playing outside to naptime, I build in about 10-15 minutes to pretend that we’re mice and we have to sneak past a cat, or pretend that we’re sneaking into a bank to jump in the vaults, Scrooge MacDuck style. It works similarly in reverse—pretend to be an airplane, careening down the hallway, or a T-Rex, stomping to your next destination.

  1. Provide choices

Another tip from the behavioral sphere: forced choices work well, and aren’t as horrible as they sound! Essentially, as the parent or teacher, you give two options that are equally palatable to you. “Do you want to use this pencil or that one to do your math?” “Do you want to take your shower before or after dinner?” The key is holding the child accountable for the choice that they made, and following through. We all like to feel like we have choices, and this is one way to give your children choices without letting them run the show.

  1. BONUS TIP! Teach calming skills

None of us are born knowing how to self-regulate. We all have to be taught how to calm ourselves down when we are over-stimulated, upset, angry, or sad. When children are small or have neurological challenges that make it difficult for them to follow multi-step directions, we have to co-regulate with them. Researchers Grolnick, Kurowski, McMenamy, Rivkin, and Bridges[1] identified multiple ways caregivers can co-regulate with children:

  • Prompting/helping: Caregiver physically or vocally prompts and scaffolds child (e.g., physical prompting with toy if child becomes frustrated)
  • Following the child’s lead: Caregiver is sensitive to child’s interests and follows the child to his/her desired toy/activity (e.g., Caregiver may appear to wait for child to choose a toy and then insert herself into interaction)
  • Redirection of attention: Caregiver distracts the child or directs the child’s attention away from negative stimulus (e.g., pointing out other toys in room)
  • Active ignoring: Caregiver actively ignores child during distress episodes (e.g., mom may continue to play with a toy or purposely turn away from child)
  • Reassurance: Caregiver reassures or encourages child surrounding frustrating or negative activity (e.g., It’s okay. You can do it!)
  • Emotional following: Caregiver’s reflection, extension or elaboration upon child’s distress or preoccupation (e.g., I know you want the toy)
  • Physical comfort: Caregiver initiates behaviors to comfort child (e.g., hugging, kissing, picking up the child, rocking)
  • Vocal comfort: Caregiver initiates vocalizations to comfort the child (e.g., sshhing, singing, sing-song voice)

[1] Grolnick, W. S., Kurowski, C. O., McMenamy, J. M., Rivkin, I., & Bridges, L. J. (1998). Mothers’ strategies for regulating their toddlers’ distress. Infant Behavior and Development, 21(3), 437–450. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0163-6383(98)90018-2

 

family estrangement

Things We Don’t Talk About: Family Estrangement & Cutoff

Content note: This post contains mention of childhood abuse and trauma. Please exercise discretion if this is something that may be triggering or upsetting.

This is part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.” While many therapists work with people who are estranged from family members. Not as many will acknowledge that there are times and events that make it appropriate to limit or even cut off contact with a family member. With more frequency, I am discussing and hearing about adult children who have experienced this with a parent. More often than not, the estrangement comes after years of verbal, emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. I often find myself asking the critical question: If you were not related to this person, would you continue to have a relationship with them?

I’m very lucky to have the parents that I have. I would still be friends with them even if I wasn’t related to them. Their parenting wasn’t perfect (no one’s is!). But they learned from their mistakes and tried to repair any tears that happened in our relationship over the years. They set appropriate limits with me and my sister, held us accountable when we broke rules, and raised us with the knowledge that we were loved and cared for.

It is appropriate to set boundaries.

Remember, boundaries are not for the other person! They are for the person setting the boundary, in order to draw the line and set a healthy limit on what is (and isn’t) acceptable. Sometimes cutting off contact is the healthiest thing to do. However, there’s a narrative in our culture that says that children should always love and be connected to their parents. When some of my clients have shared with friends that they don’t speak to their parent(s), they hear the old saying: Blood is thicker than water.

That phrase is often used to force someone to continue a relationship that not only isn’t healthy, but is actively harmful. But that’s not the whole saying. The whole saying is: The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Translation: the promises you make to people are more vital than a biological tie. With the help of a supportive therapist, you can start to learn your appropriate boundaries and work on setting them. When people violate those boundaries, they’re showing you who their covenant is with—and it’s not you.