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Talking about Trauma

Should you talk to your parent about your trauma?
Talking to your parents about your trauma can be a difficult decision. You may be hesitant to tell them because you’re not sure how they will react or if they will be able to help. Your parents are not entitled to know about your past trauma – however, you may gain additional support or closeness from telling them. Here are a few things to consider before making a decision.

How do you hope they will react?
What reaction are you hoping your parent(s) will have when learning about your childhood trauma? And how likely is that reaction based on what you know about your parents? Consider your parents’ emotional maturity, cultural/family traditions, and how they’ve previously reacted to challenging information.

What are you hoping to gain?
Think about why you want to talk to your parents. Are you looking for support and understanding? Are you hoping they can help you process the trauma and find healing? Do you want them to understand this part of your past? Are you asking them to distance themselves from your abuser? Consider what you’re hoping to gain and how likely you are to get that from your parents.

What do you stand to lose?
Safety should always be your number one priority. If you still live with your parents or rely on them for financial support, telling them about your childhood trauma might lead them to remove that support. Before taking action, weigh the risks and benefits of sharing your story. It’s okay for you to prioritize safety and security over transparency with your parents.

How to tell your parents about your trauma
Once you’ve decided to tell your parents about your childhood trauma, you may wonder how to have this conversation. If your parents don’t know that you experienced a traumatic event or events as a child, this news might come as a surprise to them.

Consider these tips as you get ready to broach the topic with them.
Make sure you’re really ready
The last thing you want is to have a rushed, impulsive, or emotional conversation with your parents. Make sure you’re emotionally ready to have the conversation and that you’ve given yourself enough time to prepare. If you’re currently working with a therapist, making a game plan together may be helpful before you decide to talk to your parents.

Choose the right time and place
There’s never a perfect time to have a difficult conversation like this, but try to pick a time and place where you and your parents can be relaxed and uninterrupted. This is not a conversation that should happen in the heat of the moment. Choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or have distractions take over. remember that this is not a one time conversation. You can initiate the conversation and then give everyone, including you, the space and time to reflect and process.

Call in support
A close friend, partner, trusted relative, and even a therapist can all be great support systems to have with you when you tell your parents about your childhood trauma. They can provide emotional support or physical support during what may be a difficult conversation. A therapist may also be able to step in if the conversation goes awry.

Stay with connection (if you have a safe relationship with the parent)
Tell your parents that you want to share this with them because you care about your relationship. Tell them what you’re hoping to gain from the conversation. For example, you might share that you want them to understand you better and support you, not pity you or try to fix things for you.

Be prepared for uncomfortable emotions
Your parents may have strong emotions when receiving this news. Anger, sadness, frustration, self-blame, and anxiety are all normal reactions to learning that their child experienced a traumatic event. Your parents are entitled to their emotions. You are not responsible for your parents’ emotions, and you should not feel guilty or obligated by their reaction.

Stick to your boundaries
Having strict boundaries on what you feel comfortable sharing with your parents is okay. Telling them that you experienced trauma as a child doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of that experience. If your parents ask you questions you’re uncomfortable answering, it’s okay to say that some aspects of this topic are off-limits.

Sample language to use when telling your parents about past trauma (please feel free to edit in your own words.)

I think it’s important for you to know about the things that have happened to me in my past. It’s affected me in ways you might not expect, and I think it’s important for you to understand why I’m the way I am.

I was sexually abused as a child. It was a traumatic experience that has stayed with me for my entire life. It’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot, and it’s something that I deal with on a regular basis.

I want you to know this because I want you to understand me. I don’t want you to see me as a victim because that’s not who I am. I’m a strong person, and I’ve overcome a lot in my life. But this experience has impacted the way I move about the world. The reason I’m telling you now is because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I think it’s been affecting my life in a lot of ways. I’m really hoping that talking to you about it will help me to start to heal.

On Psychology, culture, and juleps

Derby Day
Recently, my cultural heritage soul-sister the exceptional being Padma Lakshmi stated “to eat is political.” Everything that brings people together over food and libations has significance: context, connection, nurturance, nourishment, metacognition, tradition, ritual, and history.

The sharing of food is not a neutral act.

In fact, I believe that what we consume becomes our psychology.

The iconic Mint Julep originated in ancient Persia (Iran). It was used as both a beverage and a luxurious bath for imperial princesses, and was known as Gulab (Elixir of Roses). It was also prescribed for shortness of breath, gastrointestinal problems, and anxiety. The name Gulab morphed into Julab, and then Julep, and spread widely through Egypt, India, Turkey (the Byzantine Empire), and Rome. As it spread, the lush mint supplies in the Mediterranean increasingly replaced the rose petals in the delicious concoctions. Reportedly, Michaelangelo was so enamored of juleps that he imbibed every morning.

Juleps became increasingly popular in Colonial America in the 18th century, where they were initially made with high proof rum, brandy, honey, muddled mint, and fresh fruit. They were considered to be an upscale beverage because of the exorbitant price of rum and brandy. As British taxes on liquor increased, farmers started making an affordable whiskey from grain and corn, that was eventually called bourbon. Southern states had the fertile soil to make it possible.

Though initially created for financial reasons, bourbon quickly increased in popularity and prestige beyond the South. Currently, the liquor industry reports that bourbon pumps $9 billion per year into Kentucky’s economy alone.

Here’s to the Julep and the Derby, via the Middle East, India, Rome, and the American South. The psychology of libations. Related: Nine Reasons Why Cross Cultural Friendships Are Great for Your Brain.

Good morning, good night: The Power of Reaching Out

We underestimate how much the simplest text or call means to our friends, family members, and colleagues. As a society, we tend to place greater emphasis on romantic connections in our lives. Texting a dating partner or spouse is frequently seen as de rigueur. However, friends often get us through the hard times and these relationships are also ones that should be nurtured and regarded as something significant and special. According to a recent study (published by the American Psychological Association, 2022) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, check-ins from friends are greatly important.

If we learned anything during the pandemic, it was that friendships are just like relationships in that they take work: it’s important to check in, to engage with one another, to see how the other is doing on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, new research suggests that such texts, phones and emails aren’t just necessary to sustaining a good friendship, but are also beneficial for mental health. Surprisingly, they can be brief but powerful. Casually, quickly, and regularly checking in with the people in our lives is one of the easiest, but highest-impact actions we can take.

Researchers asked study participants to check in with others in just to say hello or “catch up,” — a text, a brief call, a voicemail, or short email, and then directed both sides of the interaction to rate how meaningful it was. Those who reached out routinely underestimated how much their small act meant to the recipient. The researchers also found that the impact of the message increased with how surprising the check-in was. People we haven’t spoken to in a while apparently appreciate hearing from us.

If it’s not something you use regularly, here are some strategies to consider when checking in with someone:
-Greet them to acknowledge the day: How did you sleep, what does your day look like, what are you looking forward to this week?
-Ask open-ended questions: So, what’s new with you? How have you taken care of yourself today? If you know they have things they are struggling with: Is there anything I can do to help support you?
-Wait and listen for the answer: You don’t need to have answers or solutions to problems.

Sometimes, just having someone available who is earnestly listening is enough to make a person feel cared for and supported. It is good for the mental health of both the recipient and the giver. The ‘Hey, good morning, how are you?’ can literally improve someone’s day.
Also see The Ingredients of Friendship.

Therapy, in your most beautiful mug

Recently, I’ve been frequently sipping turmeric tea also known as golden milk. In Urdu/Hindi, it is known as haldi dood. I like to call it healthy dude because I’m like that.

In colder temperatures, it’s especially soothing to have a warm and delicious beverage. Turmeric, especially when combined with saffron and cardamom has significant antidepressant qualities, related to dopamine and norepinephrine. When combined with black pepper it is easily absorbed by the body for anti-inflammatory relief. A delicious beverage that is actually good for mental health. My personal recipe includes coconut milk, almond milk or cashew milk. I like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, a dash of black pepper, saffron threads, and of course turmeric, heated and melded together.  Read more about Turmeric and Mental Health.

Therapy, in your most beautiful mug.

Creating personal traditions in the holidays

This morning, one of my dear friends, Maryam Shirojan, who is Iranian, came to my home with a gift of some of the most delicious baked pumpkin I have ever had. I felt her nurturance and love, which is itself the essence of celebration. Like many truly kind people, she has been through much, often at the hands of people who are less than kind. She retains her joy, warmth, humor, perseverance, inner beauty, and lack of judgment, characteristics I consider to be of the highest intelligence. She has created personal rituals and habits that are absolutely rich and beautiful.

Today is the ancient Persian celebration of the Winter Solstice, known as Yalda. Yalda is a recognition of the ‘longest night,’ and that the sun will also rise after the darkness and provide a new beginning. It is celebrated with delicious fruits, seeds, nuts, music, dancing, poetry, and drums. The day after the Longest Night was an homage to the Zoroastrian god of wisdom.

A food indigenous to Iran, pomegranate is believed to be a symbol of life and resilience, for it blossoms during the harshest climate of winter. Persians also believe that eating summer foods, such as watermelon, will keep the body healthy through the winter, and that dried seeds like pumpkin and sunflower are a reminder of the cycle of life – of the rebirth and renewal to come. Ancient wisdom that prevails.

Although I am a psychologist, I am by nature an anthropologist who wants to learn from the World, through story and practice. In my work with patients over the years, the primary therapeutic theme of holidays I have emphasized is of creating personal rituals with those we care for and forming new memories that may overlap with family and religious traditions, or not. All the traditions we have internalized started somewhere. I propose that we also make our own.

May we have Lightness of heart and being. 🌹


On Self Care

I’m 55 and I’m frequently asked about self care. First, genes and luck are a huge deal. I don’t care about youth. I believe in ancient roots. I love being half a century old plus five. Especially the century part. I’ve seen a lot and not enough. Don’t let anybody who wants to sell you a $150 moisturizer tell you otherwise. I don’t do a great job at self care and I’m always learning. I am surrounded by great people who know more than I do.

After genes, I think passion for whatever your endeavors, eating delicious and natural foods, movement, touch, being outdoors make a great difference. Love makes you glow. That includes love for partners, friends, chosen family, and the world (our ultimate partner). I have nothing against people getting “work” done. More important is doing the Work.

This is a bit different. I believe grief makes you beautiful. Our heartbreak and losses are part of us. They form us as much as joy. Compassion for self and others, that’s the beauty secret of the world. The second one: don’t care about others’ opinions.

Comfort Animals and Mental Health

My English Lab, Asia, and Riddle, a beautiful Chesapeake Bay retriever, Washington, DC

In my profession, I sometimes get asked to write a prescription for someone to have a therapeutic dog/companion to help them with anxiety, depression, and other neurological and mental disorders.

Some of these dogs are trained to know when their owner is about to have an anxiety or panic attack, a post-traumatic stress disorder flashback, or another type of mental health issue. They are taught to make physical contact with their owner to interrupt their attack and distract them from their own issues. The dog can be trained to put pressure in certain areas of the body known to comfort them. In addition, certain dogs are able to go get help from someone when their owner needs assistance.

What Types of Conditions Are Treated with Therapy Dogs?
Only those with serious mental health disorders are able to get a therapy dog, and it has to be approved by a medical doctor to be covered by your insurance. Some of the criteria you need to meet to be eligible are the following:

  • Have a serious disability or illness that disrupts your daily life
  • Ability to care for and command the dog
  • Participation in your therapy dog’s training process
  • Have a stable home for you and your therapy dog
  • You also have to be diagnosed by a physician/psychologist with one of the following disorders:
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Fear/Phobia
  • Panic attack
  • Mood disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder

How Did Therapy Dogs Get Started?
Therapy animals have been used since the1600s when an English Quaker health retreat had their mentally ill patients interact with the animals they kept at the retreat. The animals used were not just dogs. Even horses and pigs were found to be cathartic to those experiencing mental health disorders. In fact, Sigmund Freud brought his dog with him to psychoanalysis meetings with patients.

How Does Having a Therapy Dog Help?
My mentor, who has Parkinson’s, would not be functioning, if it were not for his dog. His Chesapeake Bay retriever literally pulls him out of bed when he can’t move.

My Asia, an English Lab, is certified to detect somebody starting to have a panic attack, and will nudge them to a sofa or chair and put her head in their lap. Sage, my Doberman, has calmly helped countless kid and adult patients with ADHD and anxiety disorders in my office crying and even screaming into her fur. She is a Buddha with fur.

Daily Schedules
Having a dog to take care of also gives the patient a daily schedule that they have to follow, which has been proven to be good for all mental health conditions. When an individual is depressed or anxious, they sometimes do not feel like there is any reason to get out of bed and do anything. However, if they have to get up to feed their dog or take their dog for a walk, they have no choice but to get up and do these things. The routine helps the patient stay on track and feel more stable.

Social Interactions
Having a dog means the patient will have to go outside at least sometimes to walk the dog, go to the dog park, or go see the veterinarian. This can encourage the patient to have social interaction with others even though they may not feel like doing so. In turn, this will help them feel more positive and social.

Health Benefits
According to research, having a dog not only makes the mind feel better but can also improve the patient’s physical health. Studies have found that dogs can lower your heart rate, decrease blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost endorphins. Those are the chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. One study even showed that dog owners slept better and got sick less often.
*Embolden Psychology is a dog friendly practice. We also have a separate suite for individuals with allergies.

On Jealousy

Burlington, Vermont, Summer 2018

Even despite its universality, jealousy – like so many other emotions labeled as “negative” – has long had a bad rep. From being listed as one of the seven deadly sins to pop culture references such as “Green Eyed Monster,” jealousy has long been been viewed as “bad” and mythology and history have overflowed with examples of evil queens and murderous rivals who did awful things, thanks to the roots of jealousy.

No wonder so many of us experience shame and humiliation when we admit to ourselves we’re jealous of what we see others having. Let’s face it: jealousy doesn’t always feel good to feel but that doesn’t mean it’s a “bad” emotion.

Jealousy, like so many emotions, can be a good teacher. Here are three ways and ideas about how and what jealousy can teach you if you tune into this clue:
– A clue towards your inner or true desires.
Instead of shaming or blaming yourself for feeling jealousy, I invite you to consider that jealousy is actually trying to get your attention and make you aware of what you truly want, what your deep desires are, and possibly take action on those desires. If you’re not getting what you want, and you’re feeling jealous, this is important information.

– An opportunity to notice what’s going well.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, I actually think that jealousy can give you a chance to notice what’s actually working well in your life. Jealousy can actually provide a chance for us to practice gratitude if we’re willing to untwist our thinking and change our perception about the situation. It shows you your capacity for love, loyalty, and honor.

– A chance to practice being with what is.
Finally, I think that acknowledging and accepting our feelings of jealousy can give us the proverbially ultimate personal growth opportunity: a chance to practice being with what is.
This is the work – the real work we’re always aiming for in psychotherapy: expanding our emotional containers so that we can feel all the multitude of feelings life contains. This personal growth work isn’t about eliminating or numbing out certain emotions; it’s about practicing feeling all of them so we can live our most enlivened life.

At the end of the day, jealousy is a great opportunity for us to practice being with what is and expanding our capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings.

It’s absolutely OK to have desires. To want. Without judgment.

How to be more introverted

You read that correctly. While traditionally Western culture has minimized the importance of introversion, most people have a mix of extroverted and introverted tendencies. We have a lot to learn from introverts when it comes to mental health.

1. Reboot
Don’t confuse being an introvert with being shy. An introvert acquires psychological energy or a “reset” after expending energy, by time spent alone.

2. Create
Nurture your individual creativity: Art, music, poetry, writing. Somehow, we lost track of the fact that the arts are important to our cognitive and social growth. When kids play they like to pile blocks, mold a sandcastle, fingerpaint, make a fort, build a treehouse, bake cookies with lots of sprinkles, draw on the walls. We derive an inherent joy in creating that rarely gets built into our adult schedules.

3. Enjoy solitary tasks
We live in an easily bored society. From an early age, learning to master the arts of self-engagement and self-soothing is invaluable. For example, I encourage parents and children to work together to put together a small backpack of goodies to take with them wherever they go; books, sketchpad, favorite pens and pencils, coloring materials, a small stuffed animal or action figure, word finds, squeaky toys for stress, and so many other possibilities. Being able to entertain yourself requires practice. And it’s great for your brain.

4. Practice mindfulness
Have you ever driven past your own exit or street? Mindfulness is the opposite of auto pilot, and it requires practice. Notice what is around you. I have teens practice walking into the kitchen (or any room) and observe/notice five things. Use all of your senses when you’re eating something delicious; when you’re washing the dishes, when you’re making a bed.

5. Reflect
Contemplate the mysteries of existence; the universe, quantum physics, nature, why your companion animal does what they do. The natural curiosity we had as children can be nurtured and stirred at any age.

6. Day-dream
One of my teen clients has an elaborate imaginary life, a running story with nuanced characters, dialogue, and interactions. Others I work with mentally design their dream house, sketch designs or patterns, collect a bucket list of things to do, solve problems. One young person I know has come up with an art theme spread across 12 different works/mediums of art to show how social media impacts the self-esteem of girls.

In a loud and bustling world, we have a lot to learn from introverts. See also Quiet.

Loneliness is Dangerous

Loneliness is the new smoking. Meta-analysis of over 300,000 patients found that social isolation poses as high of a mortality risk as chronic smoking. Thanks to the interwebs and the widespread use of social media, we are supposedly more “connected” than ever before. Yet as a nation, we are also more lonely. In fact, a recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all age ranges, from teenagers to older adults. The number of people who perceive themselves to be alone, isolated, or distant from others has reached epidemic levels both in the United States and in other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom, four in 10 citizens report feelings of chronic, profound loneliness, prompting the creation of a new cabinet-level position (the Minister for Loneliness) to help combat the problem.
However, exactly how the subjective sense of loneliness (experienced by many even while surrounded by others) is a threat to health, may be less intuitive.

While this “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a mental health issue, what’s becoming more recognized to researchers is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health.

Loneliness can be deadly: it has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments. Biologists have shown that feelings of loneliness trigger the release of stress hormones that in turn are associated with higher blood pressure, decreased resistance to infection and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. There’s even evidence that a perceived sense of social isolation accelerates cognitive and functional decline and can serve as a preclinical sign for Alzheimer’s disease.

More than ever, during and post-pandemic, combating the mental and medical health deficits of loneliness appears to be a crucial goal for public health. Also see 13 Ways to Fight Loneliness.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.