Manners and Mental Health

It is difficult to admit that I visited McDonald’s at midnight this past week, mostly because I am a long way from my teens and aware that the product quality may not be the best choice for my physical wellness. Nutritional value aside, I did not expect to experience such disdain for people, human disconnection and absolute dishonour at this giant retailer’s hands?

There was a day when manners were expected by everyone, especially every staff member employed by the Golden Arches conglomerate McDonald’s.

At fifteen, I appreciated the opportunity to be employed by this company, making it possible to afford food and housing at a very difficult time in my life. I recall being offered the job, but only, as the manager said “if you cut your hair“. Yes, I had fairly long hair in the mid-seventies and that was not considered appropriate for working in the food service industry. We were also required to use manners for every request. The front staff would call out; “Six Macs please” (twelve or twenty-four if it was busy) and, as a grill person, I was required to respond; “Laying six Macs thank you“. This was required for Macs, Fries, Quarterpounders and even the Filet-O-Fish. You may get a caution or two but manners were an essential part of the McDonald’s staffing philosophy. Essential meaning do it or you do not work here!

McDonald’s strives to offer the same experience at every store in every country so I hope what happened to us is not spreading globally. Still today, their Canadian website offers McDonald’s staffing vision (see below) of top quality service which is a direct contradiction to our experience;

“Our People Vision”

“At McDonald’s® Canada our People Vision is for our people to feel valued and proud to work here. In fact we aim to be the best employer in every one of our Canadian communities.”          https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/careers/our-people.html

Manners Optional ? – Ask Macdonald’s

So what did we experience and was it as bad as we think it was? You be the judge. Just after midnight we had the idea to get a cone so we pulled into the drive through at Crossroads McDonald’s – Weston Road and 401. It took nearly ten minutes to approach the ordering sign alone. Either we really wanted a cone or the fact we had not way to exit influenced or patience? When we arrived to order a really upbeat and friendly automated voice greeted us followed by silence. We asked “Are you there” with another half minute of silence broken through by what sounded like a very depressed young lady’s voice… “Yes, what do you want”. The reverberation and distortion in the speaker system was also unusually high.

We placed our order which was not responded to with a thank you that is so commonly spoken in retail and fast food services. The woman did not even say the usual “please pull up to the next window”? Ok, maybe she is just having a bad day? We then waited for ten more minutes to get to the window to pay. What happened next was appalling. The young girl opened the window, went out of her way to not make eye contact, reached out her hand for our money, took the money, gave the change and closed the window without a single word spoken or any semblance of kindness or caring. The young girl later opened the service window and handed us our food, closing the window again without saying one word during the entire interaction… no please, no apology for a twenty-five minute drive through wait and no thank you at all.

Am I making a big deal over something small or is this discourteous approach to retail becoming all too commonplace? I have experienced this at a number of places over that past few years. Are employers resigned to not expect their staff to great people politely, to use common courtesy and to act happy about their decision to shop at their stores? Is it too much effort to train staff due to high turnover in low or minimum wage workplaces? I think NOT!

When I was struggling as a young teen, I was angry, upset, frustrated to be living on my own and quite comfortable with being rude to others fairly regularly. I was in an “I don’t care” mode almost daily. I had more “Stinkin Thinkin” about myself and others, than probably any other time in my life, but, when the manager said “cut your hair” and “you must use manners consistently” I had a decision to make – eat or keep being rude. Nine months of following the courteous and polite requirements at McDonald’s (circa 1973) taught me the importance of manners. I had to “fake it to make it” for manners to become a real part of my life.  Eric Erikson identified this stage of personality development as the identity crisis.  Successful completion of this stage involves the young person’s development of a clearer understanding of who they are, relative to others, their likes and dislikes and their place in the world.  Erikson postulated that a failure during this stage would inevitably lead to role confusion.  Role confusion is certainly one of the factors in life that contributes to anxious and depressed mood.

I sure hope the management and owner(s) at Crossroads McDonald’s behave better manners than those staff last Thursday night. I have my doubts though as I have come to learn that staff often mimic or follow the way they are treated. Perhaps this is why www.Hiringtowin is listed right on their sales slip. Right on their careers web link below, they state;

Careers | McDonalds Canada – McDonald’s https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/careers.html

“We believe the best people in the world work right here.”

I believe, if McDonald’s management had not expected me to be polite during my middle teens I would not have been just like the staff I had the displeasure of meeting the other day. Sadly, I may likely have never realized the value of being polite, the impact that using manners has on how I feel and, possibly, I may have never grown to expect this from our children, colleagues and staff?

Being nice to one another is one major way we can improve our mental health. Research shows that being kind, altruistic and using of polite, personal gestures helps both the receiver and the sender feel happier and more satisfaction.

Manners matter McDonald’s and every other retailer out there. When you insist upon this you help staff and customers feel better. Please change your training expectations accordingly to foster improved overall wellness.

 

 

There is no word or title to describe me

It occurred to me recently that there is no title for me that my ex-husbands new children can use when referring to me. There is not a single word to describe ‘my-half-siblings-mother’ or ‘my-fathers-ex-wife’ in the English language.  This made me think of how important titles are to me and that each one comes with a built in group of expectations and beliefs — mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, step-mother, cousin, niece, woman, professional…ex-wife.

Yup…despite trying to fulfill as well as I can on all of the expectations of all of these titles, I still ended up as an ex-wife. Which is a title that I did not want. I am keenly aware of the beliefs and expectations that people have of someone with the title of ‘ex-wife’. Especially my ex-husbands’ beliefs and expectations.

So this thought that I need a title for what my ex-husbands new children can call me seems important to me. These titles tell us and the rest of the world how we relate to one another and what they can expect from us. A title is helpful and makes it simple and straightforward for people to lump us in to their own thinking so they can move on with their day.

I most certainly don’t want to take up anyone’s time by trying to describe the complex-messy-fullness that is my life and the relationships and people in it. It would be so much easier to just say a word and everyone – including me – can immediately understand the relationship.

The fact that I am thoughtful about what my ex-husband’s children will call me is a sign of my growth and progress.

6.5 years ago my thoughts were occupied with my immediate survival of being heartbroken.  With two very young children I was worried about waking up each day and doing the next thing required of me. I had a new title – single mother.

And then, as time went on, my thoughts and energies were devoted to the process of living each day and trying…trying, to fulfill on these new titles that I grappled with wearing. Separated, ex-wife…high-conflict divorcee. I was living each day doing the best I could trying to wear all of the new expectations and

beliefs about these titles that I would never have chosen for myself. This violent shove into a new reality was more than I thought I could handle. I did my best.

We were stuck for years in our roles and titles as ‘ex’s’ in a ‘fight’. Not ‘fight’ in the messy yelling kind of way (although we’ve had our moments); more a ‘fight’ in the legal wrangling kind of fight. We added ‘client’ to our list of titles. Our divorce lawyers happily became our guides through the family court system.

We had a couple of legal issues, but mostly we just didn’t have the skills to

resolve issues with our enemy — a new title we both wore. Enemy. Nemesis. Again, living up to the beliefs and expectations of these titles for one another.

We both believed that we were doing a great job of insulating our children from our battle. We didn’t argue in front of them. We were exceedingly polite when we did speak. We effectively ignored each others’ spouses, but again, we would never be overtly rude! We did not think we spoke badly of the other parent. We both believed we were doing a great job protecting these beautiful children from our inner, legal and financial turmoil. We were both fighting the good fight. Doing what the family law system tells us is the right way to serve our children. This allowed us to add “martyr” to the long list of titles we were accumulating through this process.

We ended up being very angry, bitter, broke, suffering – all titles I wore proudly to show the fight was worth it. Fighting endlessly with the only result being that one of you loses is stressful and painful. It’s frightening. For some reason, we also felt like our children didn’t see or feel our fear. After 6+ years in the family court system we were at an impasse.

Family counselling became a way out of the wet paper bag that was our lives…no judge could solve our issues. No two lawyers would encourage us to just speak to one another! We were ingrained in our titles of warriors and enemies. Then we began family counselling.

The humbling experience of family counselling began in earnest…with bi-weekly appointments and tension that you could cut with a knife. We all met together, the four of us; me and my spouse with my co-parent and his wife. We had to deal with our titles and our beliefs about one another. We had to learn how we would speak to one another and the basics of human interactions. We said our fears out loud. We listened and heard one another for the first time. We got angry. We got resolution. We got to laugh. We cried. We reached…agreement. An agreement about how we wanted to co-parent going forward.

 

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Through this process I have come to accept that we all carry another title…a title that overrides any of us as individuals. We are a SYSTEM. Each part of the system is critical. We all have roles in the system. We each have impact on the others. This was a humbling thing to accept  because you can not stay enemies with someone your system/team depends on! You need them to be happy and healthy so that your children, and ultimately the system can thrive. We are a family system. None of us chose it. None of us know how to do it well. We are all learning. We are all figuring it out as we go.

Through the process of accepting the system  I could still name my roles in the system. Mother. Partner. Co-parent. I was defining how I wanted to look and feel in these roles and with growing confidence we were all wearing our titles with some pride. We were developing new expectations for those titles in our system.

Which brought me to the realization that started this entire thing…there is not a word for me and my role in the lives of my ex-husbands children. What do Luke and Emily call someone who loves them simply because they were born my children’s sibling? What title would apply to someone who values and cares for you as part of a family entity that all works together?

I have heard that the number of words a society has for something indicates how important it is to the society. Is it true that my role in their system is not important? That can’t be because I have seen evidence of the fact that we are a system. And I have empirical evidence that all of our lives are improved with the acknowledgement that we are a system. A living and breathing and evolving system that must work together to the benefit of everyone in it. Does everyone else get a title except me?

Looking back on all of the titles I have worn during this process I have to wonder…do these titles actually help us? Are the beliefs and expectations for each role even true? Do titles alone describe the value of each role in the system? Have these titles and beliefs that society puts on all of us helping us forge ahead in this new world of blended families, problem solving with the enemy, and embracing the fact that we are a system…that no individual is more valued than another?

No!!! Living up to these titles might be the reason we stayed so long as a failing system.

I choose to see this lack of a name and title as liberation…we can all define my role in their little lives in a way that works for us in our system – no expectations or set beliefs. If my role is not immediately clear and understood by others, that’s okay because maybe in describing the role I play to others we can all move the needle on how we understand and name people in a blended family system. How we can move past the titles and become valued parts a system that thrives. It is not perfect, but it thrives. It is not our choice, but it is our reality. I, for one, am ready to break out from the titles and beliefs and expectations everyone has of divorce and blended families and I want to say….”I’m ready to try this in a way that honours everyone in the system. In a way that honours me”

Who needs a title when I have a name. They can call just me Karen  🙂

 

(editors note: this post was submitted by a mother, co-parent, person … who was brave enough to imagine, seek, find and adopt a different outcome after separation and divorce)

Counting to Ten is Not Enough so How do I Calm Myself Down?

When I was a kid, my parents used to say “count to ten” or “take a deep breath” however this never seemed to work. Either I would refuse to do it as they were TELLING me to do something, telling me during an argument or I would do it only to find I was still very upset and not relaxed at all! Arguments and fights full of “potty mouth” were regular elements of my childhood. What perpetuated this poor, hurtful behaviour and why did it no go away? I mean, we all knew it was not good?

Unfortunately my parents, like so many of us, didn’t know or understand the basic science around properly oxygenating our bodies. We also did not know the creative way our body manages stress… so cool is the body’s Physiological Stress Response. Yes, during a 1988 York University lecture, it was said to be the body’s smart” response to stress!  When I heard that stress was actually a positive thing I was shocked.

Why had I not heard this in over two decades of life? (Not even in school? At least not that I remember 🙂

Turns out our bodies, yes all 7+ billion of us, do something amazing when we are faced with a real or even perceived threat. Oxygen is depleted in a millisecond, the brain senses the problem and sends out the alarm “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK”!  We know how the story goes from there. Well, if not and by way of a refresher, the adrenal gland releases stress hormones (- known on the street as adrenaline -) called cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, etc., then the heart rate and blood pressure surge, our muscles tense and tighten and the cooling system or sweat glands kick in with the intensity of a thunderclap. As stated, it all happens in a millisecond, the body’s smart response to an attack.

Imagine you’re walking through the woods, down a rocky path on a beautiful sunny day, and you hear a rustling sound. Off to your left, in the grass, about twenty five feet or so, you see a bear! The body immediately acts to bring about a surge of energy often referred to as the fight or flight response. Our bodies are creatively designed to move us into either fight, flight, faint or freeze during heightened stress. Remember, the stressor may be real or not.

The lecturer then asked us to consider the four systems that rocket into action under stress: Under the sympathetic side of our nervous system, the endocrine system releases hormones to fuel the great burst in energy, the cardiovascular system, muscular and cooling systems also engage. What the professor asked next taught me so much more about the benefits of relaxing our bodies.  He said “If four of your body’s systems kick-in intensely to address the stress then where does the energy come from… what four or five systems give up energy or transfer energy?”

What physiological systems are not required when a bear attack is present? What is not required?

Wow! Of course! When a bear comes out we’re not going to require much thought or higher order reasoning. I recall reference to this as the ‘brain drain’. You certainly wouldn’t need to ask your friend “where do you think the bear came from, is he a brown or kodiak?“.  Brain drain? No wonder I have said such silly, hurtful and ridiculous things in stressful moments.

Next, we do not need our digestive system… not a great time to eat.  Probably not going to say “let’s have a sandwich, get some energy, before dealing with that bear“. Probably not going to go to the washroom either. That’s right. The gastrointestinal (GI) system also gives up energy for the fight or flight, “body’s smart” response to stress. Amazingly, the limbic system (sleep regulation) and the reproductive system (do I need to say what this one can do?) also give energy into the pot for our sympathetic system’s quick response to the bear.

Makes sense right? We’re not going to need our upper level thinking, sleep system, eat a meal, get frisky nor go to the washroom, although the latter may happen involuntarily in the face of a bear.

Toward the end of this dramatically presented bear story, the professor said “Of course you need this stress response when facing a bear, an attacker or an oncoming car in the way of… but… (he yells) you don’t usually need the physiological stress response in family relationships, bank line ups or while driving! However, it is exactly the same physiological response.

How did this all begin? What was the first physical change? Loss of Oxygen!!!!!!!!!! Then Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, Breathe

We can shut down the sympathetic response from our nervous system, engage the parasympathetic thereby relaxing and rebalancing our bodies with, not one, four deep breaths, slowed down, paced twenty second breaths

Reduce stress, relax heart rate and lower blood pressure… did I mention increase mental clarity and concentration, appear friendlier, be more amorous and improve your sleep 🙂

Have you heard of “box breathing”? Below is a little video to show how to breathe around the box shape. Remember, you can do this almost anywhere, anytime in almost any situation where you experience stress – low, moderate, high or severe.

 

Be seated or lying down if your doing more than 5 or 6 breaths

You can practice tens or hundreds of times per day so that when you really need this skill it will often come to you seemingly naturally. It will become your go to relaxation skill. You can also add many variations of thinking patterns to help. Some might imagine beautiful and relaxing scenes, call up past images that are calming and refreshing (guided imagery) or breathe in a calm word and exhale a stress heightening term. Others still use meditation and prayer along with deep breathing. Example of  “breath prayers” are below

Breath Prayers can bring believers closer to God.

“Be still and know …mississippi 184 that I am God”(Psalm 46:10)

“Come into my heart, … Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)

“Say … the word” (Luke 7:7)

“Not my will,… but yours.” (Luke 22:42)

“Show … your power.” (Psalm 68:28)

“Here … I am.” (Isaiah 6:8)

“My help … comes from the Lord.” (Psalm 121:2)

“Speak, Lord,… for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)

“Lord, … have mercy.”(Psalm 123:3, Luke 18:13, 38)

This simple deep breathing exercise, box breathing, changed my life, improved my ability to manage high stress moments, not perfectly but better and better the more I use oxygen well.

Have fun practising oxygenation exercises, deep breathing and managing your body’s multiple systems to bring about calm under fire, sensibilities when facing pressure, politeness during disagreements and balance when all seems out of balance. 

ALIENATION WATCH – THE LESSER SPOTTED ALIENATION AWARE PROFESSIONAL

Posted on 14/11/2014 by karenwoodall

This week I have been confronted with the dearth of alienation awareness and expertise in the UK field of family services. This is not a surprise to me but what has been surprising if not alarming is the emergence of a new type of professional, the lesser spotted professional if you like (it is coming up to the weekend, humour me).

This lesser spotted professional is someone who for the sake of a few hours training could be the alienation aware professional who knows what to do and how to do it. That this person remains ignorant, not only of what they don’t know but what they do know, is both astounding and terrifying to me in equal measure. This week, on wading through yet another case file, I became aware that the case, which has been bouncing back and forth twixt professionals in public and private law, was actually beautifully described in a section 7 report some SIX YEARS ago. The problem is that the social worker, who wrote so eloquently about the child’s campaign of dislike and hatred, the fused indignation of the child and parent, the furious and unrelenting denigration of the rejected parent, had not the first idea of what she was looking at. And so, concluded, in a pitiful and damning ending to her sixty page description of a severe case of alienation that, the child is the subject of a contact dispute in which both parents are to blame and the child should be left with the preferred parent with no contact now or in the future to the parent rejected by the child. Grim reading. Parentectomy due to lack of awareness of the professional charged with analysis. Little wonder parents in the UK go mad, get bad or simply end their lives because of the intolerable ineptitude of the people charged with safeguarding our children.

The question for me is why do our family services know so little about Parental Alienation and, when they do know something about it, (which clearly the author of this report does, she described it so perfectly) why do they not want to find out more about it. Why, for example, did this social worker, on hearing a child say ‘I wish he would just die’ and ‘I would kill him if I could’ not consider that to be concerning? Why, when a child says that her father should be ‘shot and thrown into the river’ does a social worker not decide that this requires further examination? Why do social workers and other family workers not realise, when they see a child who is utterly determined to uphold the aligned parent’s perspective – to the point of delusion – go on to conclude that this is just a contact dispute. What sort of mind block prevents professionals in family services from understanding the reality for alienated children? Politics? Discriminatory practice? Or simple ‘he said/she said’ fatigue? Whatever it is it is causing our children to become stuck in the most appalling circumstances within the court process, subjected over and over again to professionals who are well meaning but unskilled in the field and to a flimsy court management process which aids and abets institutionalised abuse of children which frankly appalls me.

Parental Alienation is NOT a simple contact dispute, it is, in severe cases, child abuse, nothing more nothing less. In less severe cases, hybrids perhaps or those which are created by naive alienators, it is all too easy for it to trip into child abuse and should always be approached as a case where children are at risk.

And lest you think this is just an all out attack on family support services, let me tell you that I have worked in cases where social workers and CAFCASS officers have approached the problem as a child protection issue. Where those people have really ‘got it’ from the outset and we have worked together to tackle the problem immediately and systemically, bringing change for child rapidly and effectively. Those people are like gold dust (you know who you are) and I salute each and every one of them for there are, in this country, some brave and fearless people who make a massive difference. If only there were more.

The reason there are not more of these people is perhaps answered in the arguments which are raging between parents and state services up and down this land of ours. From the islands to the highlands from the borders to the metropolis, parents are campaigning to have Parental Alienation recognized by the people who serve our families. Pleas which are falling on deaf ears mostly and which receive dismissals and derisory commentary from those who profess to be in the know and who are most certainly in power. How and why is alienation ignored is the question being asked, when is the question I am asking, when will family services recognize the problem of children who are stuck with an angry, vengeful and determinedly alienating parent is not just a contact dispute but a case of child abuse which must be stopped.

That question is one which rattles around my brain as I read through the teeth grindingly painful accounts of social work interactions with families where alienation is alive and kicking. When social workers describe a child who has been ‘spousified’ and who is being used as a confidant and a replacement partner but see nothing to be concerned about in that. When social workers listen to children parroting angry words and untruths about a parent they think deserves to be kicked out forever and hear nothing wrong in that. And when social workers speak only of contact disputes instead of child abuse in the face of those things , the answer to the question appears to be never.

The problem in my view lies in the institutionalised acceptance of disposable parenthood and the notion that family separation is normal and simply something that causes a bit of an upheaval for a while but everyone gets over it eventually. Far from getting over it however, there is a significant cohort of people for whom getting over is not possible and for whom an alternative reality is revenge, cold blooded or otherwise or a definite and distinct unhingement from normal behaviors. And the truth is that everyone goes a little bit mad when they separate. It is after all a most unpleasant and terrifying experience. What everyone doesn’t do however, is hook their children up to their revenge making machine and drop them hook line and sinker into the shittiest parts of adult rage. Most reasonably healthy adults know that this stuff is not for their children. Most people, however mad they go, manage not to take their children with them.

But a significant number of people do and this is where being able to understand this group and differentiate them from the rest of the general family separation cohort is vital for family services. In this group are people with personality disorders, people with rage problems and people with enmeshment and other issues that cause an inability to tell the difference between their own feelings and those of their children. It would seem like basic social work practice to me to be able to recognize those people but judging by the reactions of social workers when confronted with them and by their behaviours, it is easier to not see the reality than see it, name it and deal with it.

And perhaps that last sentence says it all because dealing with it appears to be beyond the capability not only of those who support the family but those who assess the family and those who make judgements in family courts. Clearly recognizing problems is one thing but doing something about it is quite another, perhaps it is this which leads social workers and other family professionals to act like the three wise monkeys when they are confronted with parental alienation, if they see it and hear it but manage not to speak of it, will anyone notice or even really care (apart from the rejected parent who can so easily be picked off with the accusation that they are simply an aggrieved parent who did not get what they wanted in court).

Which leaves us with a generation of children and their families who have been torn apart by parental alienation, who have turned to the courts for assistance and found none and for whom the future looks very bleak indeed.

And all for the sake of a few hours training, a willingness to act and a family court system with enough guts to protect children who are being abused.

The only condition required for evil to flourish is that good people do nothing.

And too many good people, lesser spotted or otherwise are doing nothing at all.

(All readers should note that I am bound by the code of ethics for Experts in the Family Courts as well as by the code of ethics for counselling and psychotherapy. As such each and every case study or reference that I make to my work is heavily disguised to ensure that I do not reveal any of the details of cases I am working on past and present or that any family member with whom I work or professional with whom I am working, could recognize themselves or each other on this blog. As such, my writing refers to real life work but the cases are a patchwork of different elements of cases that I may have or may be working on. I take my responsibilities seriously in the Family Courts, however much I may criticize them and I also take my work as therapist equally seriously. At all times I balance the act of writing and speaking out with my absolute commitment to the rights of families for a fair, just and confidential service. I write because I consider it my duty to raise awareness of alienation and the way in which it is not recognized by family services. Where I see best practice I acknowledge it as I have in this article. I am working for better outcomes for alienated children and their families at all times).

Find more about parental alienation work from Karen’s view at https://karenwoodall.wordpress.com/author/karenwoodall/

Photo credit: quicksandala from morguefile.com

I Feel All Alone

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a place where we feel we cannot go on. The people in our lives do not seem to be enough or we aren’t enough? What are we to do in this #dark place ? Writing or expressing our emotions artistically can help both with getting them out and also with reaching a place of new understanding and awareness. Using poetry, art and music provides a healthy expression of the wide range of feelings (all of which are normal and useful). Artistic avenues also provide some relief and the opportunity to share our grief and struggles with others who may be suffering.

One teen did just that! She sent her poem in to share… with the hope it may help others not feel so alone

#Heavy

heavy eyes
heavy shoulders
heavy weights upon my shoulders
i realize this is not normal.
but what really is normal?
not me, i see, everything around me
smiling happy,
joyful, pleasant.
and happy.
this word.
what is it?
it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit.
what am i doing?
i’m trying, i’m trying
but all i’m doing is colliding
with the thoughts inside my head
they crowd me,
they surround me and i can’t get away
they love me, they hug me and they kiss me & they tell me that everything will never be okay.

i’m running as fast as i can but the truth is i’m not getting anywhere
and i’m jam packed between the voices of society and screams inside my head.
they tear me apart
and i’m aware of every single look and every stare
it makes me crave to know if every little string of hair is in place.
and i know i’m out of place
i’m displaced
i’m misplaced
and i’ll be replaced
but i wont be retraced.

but i’ll put on that straight face
and walk through the crowd everyday.
listen to the voices of society saying everything will be okay.
this word
what is it
it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit
what am i doing?
i’m trying i’m trying but all i’m doing is colliding
with the thoughts inside my head
they crowd me.
they surround me and i can’t get away.
they hug me they love me
they kiss me and they embrace me
and they tell me that everything will never be okay.

        -Teen Girl

Photo credit: jzlomek from morguefile.com
Dec 16th 2008006_edited(submitted by a young blog contributor)

Having been in a relationship for four years, the question comes up quite frequently. When are you getting married? Are you ready to take the next step? The problem I am having with marriage is that I am only 22. Fresh out of university, I am about to embark on a career path that could take me anywhere. How can I commit my life to someone this early with so many unknowns.

Although the 50s was a very misogynistic era, at least with my lens,  marriage was simple because it operated by fulfilling the goals of one career path. The man went where the work was and the family moved along with him. In no way am I implying that we should regress back to the social system we maintained in the 50s and 60s. But in recent years, there is a degree of complexity we have added to the pursuit of our “soul mate”.  Marriage is a traditional construct that we are attempting to apply to a modern society. Seeing as nearly half of them fail, something has made maintaining a marriage more complicated. It is the norm for both sexes to pursue demanding careers in order to “make something of themselves”. Even though the individual may feel like the perfect person for you, if their life and goals do not fit with your career projection, it may be destined to fail.

Globalization has made it simpler and sometimes necessary to work/study in different countries to progress in many careers. Many job interviewers have told me that to climb the corporate ladder you need to be “mobile”. In order to become established in a career, you need to be tenacious and willing to put in the hours. But, putting so much time into one area of your life inevitably causes other areas to suffer. Even with Skype, Facetime and other forms of virtual communication, it doesn’t seem to be enough for a long-term and long-distance relationship. Through the screen, so much of the physical and emotional companionship is lost. Is it possible to maintain a marriage with someone effectively without living at least in the same city? They are supposed to be your best friend, that person you share your day with over dinner. Sure, a few months is manageable, but a few years seems a lot less likely to succeed.

This is why I see marriage as such a daunting step in the progression of my relationship. Perhaps career path is just another factor that needs to be clearer in order to find and decide upon that special someone. If your career is very time consuming, maybe you either need to find someone with a more passive focus on their career or sacrifice your own pursuit of professional self-actualization for that special someone. In a society that teaches hard work leads to happiness and success, maybe there is no room for a significant other while in your 20s?

The pornographic industry has been at my fingertips since I began to develop an interest in it, at the age of 13.  With the progression of technology, it has only gotten more accessible.  To date, it’s as easy as checking my “new follower” notification on twitter. At least once a week, I will get followed by a cam girl or pornstar and with the click of a button, I have entered the ironically named “adult entertainment” portion of the Internet.

I think the accessibility of porn these days scares a lot of parents and the knee-jerk reaction is often to use an onslaught of parental controls, monitoring apps and other types of software to spy on your own children.  I gather that the general public realizes this is like trying to contain a wildfire with a standard home extinguisher.  Simply labeling it as out of bounds only makes teenagers want to rebel and cross the line. So, when a product is as compelling as porn, there’s no need to add to its seductive lure by making it “forbidden”. Switch out “forbidden” for a synonym, “naughty” and it’s pretty clear that the message is destined to backfire.

If we have learned anything from the failure of the war on drugs, informing the public about the risks and rewards of drugs, from a non-biased standpoint, is the answer to preventing misuse and addiction. Porn should be treated for what it is, a drug just like alcohol or marijuana. Whether it’s opening up the “Incognito” browser, rolling up a joint or mixing a rum & coke; all of these actions are done to provide a release from reality and stimulate a pleasure response in the brain.

“Cambridge Neuropsychiatrist Valerie Voon was featured last year in the UK documentary, “Porn on the Brain”. Her research demonstrates that the brains of habitual porn users show great similarity to the brains of alcoholics. A brain structure called the ventral striatum plays a significant role in the reward system of the brain—the pleasure pathways. It is the same part of the brain that “lights up” when an alcoholic sees a picture of a drink.” (Source: covenanteyes.com, Title: Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction: Science Shows How Porn Harms Us).

So let’s talk about it for what it is. Porn is a drug and the only way to help your kid understand how to deal with the temptation is to have that seemingly awkward talk. Converse about what’s going on in their brain and why their body reacts the way it does to that type of virtual stimulation. It will remove some of the shame associated with having a sexual desire and the frustration of their inability to act on it during those uncomfortable pubescent years.

The positives shouldn’t be left out. Masturbation has been a thing for thousands of years for a reason. Sometimes that sexual release breaks some of the tension and allows me to be calmer or less “on edge” for a period of time. I had a conversation with my dad when I was 13 that resonated with me. We spoke about porn/masturbation and how it’s associated with lustrous thoughts. If those thoughts are left unmanaged, they can be detrimental to a person’s patterns of thinking and damage other areas of one’s life. I didn’t stop watching porn, but at least when I did, I questioned the morality behind what I was doing and recognized it as an unrealistic depiction of sexual behaviour.

Trust your teenagers to start thinking about their actions like the young adults they are. Inform them without judgment and make them feel less alone in the matter. It’s probably the first recreational drug we are exposed to and, if approached properly, it can provide a healthy foundation for the ones we will encounter later.

(This post was contributed anonomously by a young adult)
Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com