Tag Archives: relationships

Time for an Empathy Self-Audit

Teach Yourself to be More Understanding and Empathetic

“Everyone that hasn’t suffered a brain injury or mental illness is capable of empathy.” – – so I read.

But some of our children DO have brain issues that impact their ability to show empathy. And it seems so easy to spot in them, and even easier to become exasperated at their apparent lack of empathy.

I’m guilty of this.

And so I end up being “the pot calling the kettle black” with my own lack of empathy.

Some of us are in touch with this ability, while others could use a little practice. If you’ve found yourself exasperated over your child’s un-empathetic behaviors, how about taking an empathy self-audit?

What is empathy?

Empathy is the concern for the welfare of others. It’s the ability to detect or predict the emotions and thoughts of others.

It’s easy to see why this would be a handy skill to master. Empathy has an impact on your relationships. This is true for both your personal and professional relationships. Empathy can make your life easier and more fulfilling at home and at work!

It’s an ability that our children need to become competent in. And our modeling empathy to and before them is crucial.

So after your empathy self-audit if you find you need an empathy tune-up, I have some empathy tune-up tips for you.

Empathy Tune-Up Tips

Try these tips to increase your empathy for your child/children and others:

1. Avoid making assumptions.

Your view of the world is limited. Your experiences are just your own. Others have lived a different reality.

If you’re from a well-off and intact family from the United States, you don’t really have a clue what it’s like to deal with the weight of growing up in an orphanage in Ukraine. If you’ve never lost a job, avoid assuming that you know exactly what that experience feels like.

Making assumptions only gets in the way of developing empathy. When you catch yourself making assumptions, question them. Prove your assumptions to be true or false before making any decisions.

2. Ask questions.

One way to understand others is to ask questions. Develop a genuine interest in them. Enhancing your communication skills assists your ability to connect with, and to understand, other people. Ask open ended questions.

3. Listen intently.

I used to think I was a great listener! But I’ve found myself only half-heartedly listening and dividing my attention with my kids. Yikes! What types of messages does that send to them?

I’ve also been trying to help a couple of my children learn to pause and wait for my attention before they start blasting out their message and getting frustrated at me then. If they want understanding they need to learn to wait for my attention. Plus that’s a clue to me to give it.

Listening intently is related to asking questions and avoiding assumptions. We also seek to understand the emotions that the other person is feeling. Asking questions and then listening to the answers is a pivotal part of creating empathy within yourself.

4. Learn about a group of people outside of your experience.

You could learn about people of another religious background or culture. If you’ve never been poor, you might learn about the homeless and how they live day to day. Read books and talk to people. Strive to understand what it would be like to be born a part of a particular group.

5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

One way to relate better to others is to imagine yourself in the same situation. This can be painful. It’s not enjoyable to imagine that your spouse has died or that you’re completely out of money. Ask yourself, “What would I be thinking and feeling if I were in this situation?” Just asking yourself this question is the biggest step you can take toward being empathetic.

6. Be present. Give your undivided attention to others. You can’t be empathetic if you’re thinking about something else. This goes along with number three above, but extends to family activities, meals, meetings, etc. We are so tempted to multitask and it’s an even bigger temptation these days with our smartphones and other tech at our fingertips constantly.

Related: Be interested.

You’re not as good at hiding your disinterest as you think! You miss most of the information, verbal and non-verbal, communicated to you if you’re not paying attention.

7. Have more meaningful conversations.

Talking about sports is fine, but it’s not a deep and personal topic. One way to get the ball rolling is to talk about something that’s important to you. The more you share, the more you’re going to receive in return. Be open, and others will be more open with you. (Maybe.)

But don’t forget to give the other person a turn. One sided conversations are counterproductive to mutuality and connectedness.

Empathy is an important skill. It can greatly increase the ability to communicate and connect with others. Being able to understand their feelings and thoughts will boost your rapport with them, whether it’s your children, your spouse, or those outside the household. Enhance your relationships with empathy and you’ll benefit in many ways. And you’ll be modeling this important skill to your child or children!

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”

Romans 12:15

First Things First

When our more basic needs are unmet is can put the brakes on empathy. If you feel unable to access your empathy or otherwise feel like you are missing out on basic needs such as safety I implore you to seek the help YOU need, putting your oxygen mask on first as it were, to address those needs and free up mental and emotional space for empathy.

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If this post is helpful to you you might like to join the small but growing Yesterday’s Orphan Facebook group for parents and caregivers. The group is free to join but closed — members only.

Posts in the group touch on a variety of topics that may affect you if you are caring for a child with a history of early childhood traumatic parental loss and possibly other serious trauma in their background.

Feeling Like No-one Really Cares

Have you ever noticed that your adopted or foster child seems to have held onto orphan thinking? Orphan thinking can lead to choices, statements and behaviors that are troublesome. I’ve learned about seven specific indicators of an orphan spirit or orphan heart (there may be more). Yet these indicators can be found not only in orphaned children with traumatic backgrounds, but in each of us. We are all born with an orphan heart and may display one or more of these indicators. How can this awareness help you? I’m glad you asked!

We humans tend to distance ourselves from those who behave in ways that upset our sense of self, preferring to see ourselves as somehow beyond that particular risk. But an awareness of the orphan heart in each of us and in ourselves opens us up to more and deeper potential for connection to our children — children who may have disturbing thinking and behaviors which on the surface may seem bizarre and difficult to understand, even beyond understanding.

One of the seven indicators of an orphan heart that I have learned of is the following:

  • You struggle to trust that God cares about your cares; that he is working things out for your good.

Does this describe you? Your child?

My children with orphan thinking may think or talk about me as their enemy more than their loving parent, refusing to trust my love and care. This is more than the typical eye roll as a teen gets into that stage of feeling like their parents are out of touch with today’s reality and living in the dark ages. Rather, it is a deep-seated doubt springing up occasionally or constantly near the surface. It’s a doubt that says, not only does your parent not understand you, but they really don’t care, or care enough, about you – – regardless of the evidence to the contrary. It causes them to mistrust and misinterpret the parent’s motives.

But what about you? I want you to do a little investigating. Notice any time you think or talk about God as your enemy. You may not think you ever do this but pay attention. Do you ever talk about how angry God would be if you did such and such, or how he must be mad at you since such and such happened? Do you ever express fear of God’s punishment or reluctance to share your needs with God, refusing to depend on him to meet or even care about them? For example, praying minimalistic prayers like “Oh God, I’m not asking for much and I know you are too busy for me; I’m just asking for a few crumbs and I’ll get by”. Or “I don’t want to bother you God with these needs over here; I know I should take care of them myself”. Do you think you have to do certain things to stay on God’s “good side”? Take a week and notice, writing it down, anytime you catch yourself speaking or even thinking things that express doubts that you have about God’s care. Dig into why you have those doubts and see what God’s Word has to say about it.

If you do notice yourself doubting God’s care for you, you can repent. You can also understand a bit more how your child may be inclined to doubt your care for them. Think about how you feel. You might want to journal about it. Another thing you might do is to regularly repeat an affirmation based on God’s Word that will help revise your thinking.

Affirmation:
“God cares about my cares!”

Cast all your cares [anxieties] on him, for he cares for you.

I Peter 5:7

Write down the affirmation and the verse in your journal. Also write the affirmation where you’ll see it daily and recite it aloud to combat the orphan thinking and doubt of God’s care that you’ve noticed in yourself. Ask God for a change of heart and thinking. How can you reflect this change in the things you say? Write down alternatives beside the items you wrote down earlier that indicated your doubt and orphan thinking.

I hope this helped you understand how our orphan hearts are more the same as our children’s than they are different. The more we can identify with our children the better we can empathize and connect with them.

I plan to share the other seven indicators in follow-up posts. But to get my list of affirmations corresponding to all seven indicators of an orphan heart now, click the button below. Also, I’d love to hear about your experience using the affirmations! Get the Orphan Heart Affirmations list with the blue button below.

Pillow Presents

This is a photo of a pillow in my home office comfy chair. The Curious George pillow, lumpy and bumpy as it may be, is special to me. It was made (by my daughter) from a shirt that my youngest son had worn a lot. I didn’t want to get rid of it when he finally outgrew it. We felt like it was very fitting for him as he seemed so much like the famous little lmonkey character!

On this Mother’s Day Sunday I wanted to share an idea with those of you who have younger children (or even some older kids). They may require “help” in getting a present ready for next Mother’s Day (birthday or Christmas).

You can plan ahead over the course of the next few months or so and notice when your child outgrows a special shirt! You might suggest to him/her that you would like it and ask if they mind if you make it into a pillow and see their reaction.

Your child might be old enough and motivated to get in on the pillow project or even make it themself. If not, you could make it and let them give you the finished product.

For the how-tos just do a Google or Pinterest search for instructions.

Basically just trim the body into a square/rectangle shape (circles are trickier and would definitely require a pillow form) leaving enough fabric to form the sides and seams. Sew your seams inside out leaving enough open space to stuff with pillow stuffing or insert a pillow form to fit. Then turn right side out, stuff and stitch closed. And there you have it! Your keepsake pillow gift.

What do you think? Is this the type of keepsake that appeals to you? Do you think it might be meaningful to your child/children?

I do not tend to be very sentimental about things. There are just a handful. That’s probably a good thing with certain rabble rousing children. The idea of cherishing items from my children’s growing up years may not mean much to them right now. But hopefully in time it will be additional evidence that I love and cherish them.

Mother’s Day can be hard. It was hard today. But I was not surprised. I maintained my calm. Mostly. Lowering the pressure on ourselves and on the rest of the family to make Mother’s Day or any other holiday a picture perfect event can help.

My youngest daughter (whom I have had some extreme relational struggles with) had volunteered to make peach ice cream for Mother’s Day. I strategically waited until yesterday evening to take her to get the ingredients when it would be just me and her and not a regular grocery shopping trip. But the local grocery stores did not have fresh peaches yet and the produce stands were closed for the day. Yikes! But calm prevailed. I got up early and drove about 30 minutes away to “Peach Park” where I knew they would have fresh peaches. It was very much worth it in more ways than one! (Yum!)

Your child might be old enough and motivated to get in on the pillow project or even make it themself. If not, you could make it and let them give you the finished product. Helping them to participate in a way that says “we’re family” can dislodge another brick in the walls of resistance to relationship that may have been built as a result of trauma. There were some small (but huge!) Connections made today that could have been easily overshadowed if we had tried to pull off a larger event (that would likely have been an epic fail).

How about you? Do you have any helpful strategies for lowering the stress levels for holidays and events? Post them in the comments.

Mom, this is for you.

 

I want to express a few thoughts and see if they resonate with any of you.

You may know that within our family we have special needs, attachment disorder (and reactive attachment disorder which is the upper end of that spectrum) mental health issues in addition to that; language delays, social delays; just all these special needs type things going on, and Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and OCD , ADHD — and more alphabet soup!

What’s a mom to do!? I’ve learned that if you are all wrapped up in the family, the children, their special needs, and the relationships that attachment disorder has really put a negative spin on (with multiple kids and family members!) then it can really put you in a rotten space. If you have your own identity all wrapped up in the nature of being a parent of the alphabet soup, special needs, chronic illness and all that goes along with attachment issues that is.

The children are growing up and trying to forge their own identities. Some have additional issues with identity — identity crises — because of their past.

Now think about the parents. Moms in particular (and dads, I am not trying to exclude you but you know, I can relate most to moms).

What about your identity?

Your identity cannot continue to be wrapped up in the relationships and in the roles that you have — the roles that are changing — the roles that are up one day and down the next — the roller coaster ride that is this life, without some real damage, without losing yourself, without losing your own identity.

So, you MUST regain and/or hold onto your identity in Christ.

Your identity as God’s child.

Your identity as someone of value and intellect and purpose.

You can hold on to your true identity:

Whether or not a particular relationship goes haywire;

whether or not a particular illness continues or gets worse;

whether or not you have to deal with a mental health crisis that day;

whether or not behavioral issues pop up;

And whether or not other people judge you as someone who should handle things differently than you do, or should parent differently than you do, or is even the cause of some of the behaviors or issues with your children.

And so, who are we doing this for? Are we really just doing it for ourselves? No.

For our children? Yes! But not just for them.

If you are like me, then you agree we are really doing it for God.

And for our love of God.

And in obedience to God.

So we do it for our kids – yes, but as God gives us love and loves our children and our families through us he gives us the ability desire. And HE is the one we are really doing it all for!

He knows your heart.

He knows it all.

He knows these children.

He knows their background and he knows their needs. And furthermore, God is able to take them, continue to work on them, and maybe do it through you or maybe through other people or other ways. So it’s not all on your shoulders. Put it back on his, where it belongs.

That’s all of my rambling thoughts. I hope you ae encouraged. If you are, feel free to share and follow Yesterday’s Orphan for more.

Independence Overload!

Does your child with a trauma history seem to go to ridiculous extremes to avoid accepting your offers of help?  Do they seem to value independence over relationship?  I can relate.  And it can be maddening to deal with!!!

When they seem set upon personal failure in order to avoid compliance or obligation to anyone, it can be hard to watch them fail.  But failing forward may be the best teacher.  They choose not to participate in a family activity?  They miss out – – but it is set up in a way that they aren’t going to ruin it for the rest of the family.  And hopefully, they can do it with room to come back around.  I think sometimes my kids dig themselves into a hole and don’t know how to jump out – – how to change gears.

This type of planning takes some thought.  Birthdays, holidays and any type of celebration can bring on negative reactivity from some of our children.  By keeping plans low-key and flexible I am able to make adjustments to avoid their controlling (and ruining) the celebration time for everyone else.

For instance, for our daughter’s birthday, I was keenly aware that she had been incredibly oppositional and was apt to opt out.  It turned out that we had several in the family with accomplishments that were worthy of celebrating so I planned a family outing (we are party-sized without additional guests) to celebrate all of them including her birthday at the same time.  She was teetering on not going to the restaurant at absolute last minute.  We didn’t beg or bribe but allowed for her to stay if she wanted.  I told her she would still receive her present and we would bring food home for her if she chose.  Earlier in the day, I had given her a heads up so it wasn’t a surprise, and when she started in negative, just told her she didn’t have to decide right then, that it would be that evening and she had all day to decide what she wanted to do.  Either way was OK.  I think that was key.  She ended up going after all.

Of course, our disappointment or disapproval of the behavior sometimes shows, but be aware that what they may hear is that you are rejecting THEM, unaccepting of them — not just the behavior but the person underneath.  Because of this tendency, efforts to pressure them to change behavior by showing disapproval backfires.  The more you explain how wrong or hurtful their behavior is, the more they internalize rejection.  (So why do I keep doing it??? Insanity, I know!)  They really do want to please and gain your approval. (I know . . . REALLY!)

As we move full force into the Christmas season, I’m reminded of lessons learned; the “normal” separation and independence-seeking of my children given their ages; and the over-the-top independence that comes from their backgrounds.

The need for family and togetherness that is often at the heart of this season cannot be taken for granted.  It is there, but often under the surface of an outward stance of fierce independence which is fearful of depending on anyone else for anything, no matter how small.  Fearful of being/appearing vulnerable.  We can help them.  Help them anyway.  We can chisel away at the fierce exterior – – a little at a time – – here and there – – over time.  And allow their independence, their confident independence to grow past the fake independence that is a cover for their fear of being hurt.

Setting personal boundaries and keeping expectations flexible in the midst of progress toward relational goals is my go-to mindset for this season especially.

How about you?  I’d love to read your comments on how you are planning to navigate the holidays!

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Kids from hard places can have overwhelming emotions.  As a parent, I want to help my children learn to use positive coping skills and give them helpful tools.

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Hit Reply (if you are reading this in e-mail) or Contact in the menu above (if you are on the website) with “video” in your message to learn more about our premium essential oils and related products that you may want to add to your parenting toolbox.  

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Thanks for stopping by!

Dawn

ALL My Needs

“All my needs” . . . what does that cover?

ALL is the sum total, leaving nothing out. And “my needs” includes financial needs, daily food, shelter and clothing. I think it also includes the needs I have for relationships and belonging, purpose and value.

The Bible verse I have on our kitchen wall tells me that all my needs will be met (provided for) by God. Not my husband, my child, my friend, my pastor, my parents, my government or my local church.

Philippians 4:19 New International Version (NIV)
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

I think it is important to understand that while God can use any or all of these people and these avenues to meet our needs as he chooses, that’s the key phrase, “as he chooses”.

I copied a quote from one of the older Bibles we have, the WOW Student Bible article “The Twelfth Man” on the tradition of Texas A & M University football (a good read, but I won’t go into that here). This led to the story of Melchizedek, Biblical Priest and fore-runner to Jesus, the perfect 3-in-1 LEADER – – Prophet! Priest! King! Each of these, the Twelfth Man, Melchizedek, and Jesus arrived in an uncommon way.
And here’s the quote:

“Help doesn’t always arrive in the proper uniform.”

Of the many ways that this quote may be applicable, it has reinforced something that has been driven into me in my life recently. God has allowed my expected sources – – people I have counted on to meet some of my needs – – to dry up! Leaving me flipping out like a fish out of water, I had to settle down, breathe and wait for God to show me what my next move needed to be. Talk about HARD!

But my God came through as he always does and showed me that leaning on him – – and him alone – – was the answer. And enough. Because he has the solutions to whatever I need. He has the solutions for you as well.

Another hard thing was recognizing that all my flipping and flopping like a dying fish was prolonging the agony and keeping me away from the solutions he had waiting. I needed to focus on him and be ready to take the next step when he showed it to me.

Help may look different than what you expect and if you aren’t careful you might just miss it – – or delay it – – while you keep trying to wring help from the dried up sources you are holding on to.
God can use anyone or anything for his purposes. He seems to delight in blessing his people through unexpected sources. (When’s the last time you saw water coming from a rock, or saw a burning bush that was never consumed by the fire?)

I implore you, open your eyes, your heart, your mind and prepare for God’s unexpected blessings in your life. Get ready for the next step. He is more than able to meet your every need.

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Real life is often emotional and kid’s from hard places often have overwhelming emotions. As a parent, I want to help my children learn to use positive coping skills and give them helpful tools.

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