Transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood is difficult. You usually don’t want to be told what to do – and most likely aren’t reading this article. But parents of young adults might be because you are struggling to help your child grow and figure out how to navigate life away from the nest. Depression, anxiety, pornography, drug use, issues with school or work and issues with significant others are among many difficulties young adults face during that transition from high school to college or from serving a Church mission to being back in college. Over the years, as a counselor in Orem, Utah, I’ve noticed a few things that parents do who successfully help their child navigate this period. First, they give them space. Your child is going to make mistakes. Giving them space to do so shows that you trust them and honor their ‘adulthood’. This doesn’t mean, however, that you run the other way and cut them off. They need a safe place to come back to, in a consultative manner. They still need you to be there so they can process what is going on. They might not come right away, but they do come eventually. Make yourself available and reach out to them. You can’t force them to share, but you can invite them. You can say to them, ‘You might not want to talk, but just know that I am here for you and I care about you. I’m happy to listen if you want to share’. Second, they create emotional safety. When your child does share with you, you want to ‘hold emotional space’ for them by accepting, validating and reflecting what they are saying rather than telling them what to do. You might not agree with what they are doing or saying, but telling them they are wrong and then telling them what to do will close the door of them sharing at all. You want to help them figure things out rather than force them to think the way you do. You can, for example, validate the emotions they feel rather than the actions they are doing. Saying, ‘I can see that breaking up has really been painful for you’, rather than, ‘Stopping going to church just because you broke up isn’t going to help. You just need to keep going’ can be helpful. You might not agree with their choices/actions, but you can certainly empathize and understand their emotions (that then led to certain actions).
Many couples that come in to see me for counseling are dealing with the devastating effects of an affair or infidelity. There is a process that usually happens as things unfold. For the sake of this article, I will assume that it is the male partner who has had the affair, although this certainly is not always the case. When couples come in they are still, often, in the discovery phase. She is continuing to learn about what he has done or at the least she worries and fears that there is more than what she knows. He seems contrite and sorry to a degree and willing to go to therapy. After talking, it usually seems that there is more to it that what has been discovered or disclosed. Sometimes for women, they are having a hard time dealing with the shock and betrayal. I notice at this time that they are also dealing with fear of losing him. For some women they seem as if they are mad, hurt and afraid. That fear keeps them from really sharing their feelings about what has happened. There can be desperation at this point too. Sometimes they try to win or keep their husband because they realize that he has gone out and has been with or still is with someone else. There is an element of competition, perhaps. This can be very difficult because to her, it seems as if she isn’t able to fully embrace and share her feelings because if she did, he would get upset and leave for good. Over time, he gradually, as my experience with couples has shown, opens up more and shares more details about what he has done or is doing. As the couple works through therapy, it becomes safer to talk about these emotions and she does. For male partner, this can be surprising, and he often states that ‘I thought we were doing fine, where did this come from?’. This is because she hasn’t felt safe enough with him to share it before, but after working through some of the issue they face, she has felt more secure and stable in the relationship – so she shares more of the hurt or betrayal that she is feeling because she isn’t afraid that it will end their relationship. It’s important to understand that this is a normal part of the process of healing. A good couple’s therapist will be able to help a couple navigate the different stages of healing after an affair.
I’m currently accepting new clients in my Orem Utah counseling center office. Call me at 801-215-9581
Written by Dr Triston Morgan, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Pornography is often mistaken as a ‘sex addiction’. Some have said to me that, ‘If me and my wife just had sex more, pornography wouldn’t be an issue’. This is a myth and false. It has less to do with frequency of intercourse and more to do with the emotions behind so many things. Pornography temporarily numbs someone from feeling uncomfortable emotions. It keeps them from feeling what is really going on in their life. It helps them avoid. For example, feeling rejected, alone and unseen is uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to feel these types of emotion’s so they try to avoid them. They might recognize that those emotions are present, but their main goal then becomes to get rid of them without first picking them up and experiencing them. The only way to do this is to numb yourself. You can’t move something that you first don’t have. You have to pick up the emotion if you are going to do something with it. That act is counterintuitive and difficult. Pornography is one way that people avoid feeling what is right there in their lives. It numbs them from feeling rejected, alone or unseen. But those emotions don’t go away, however. They get buried and still influence us. Learning to feel uncomfortable emotions and increasing your emotional capacity is part of the solution to addiction to pornography. Simply stopping using pornography isn’t enough to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Moving pornography out of the way only serves as a move towards creating more space to feel your emotions and therefore increase your emotional capacity.
I often work with college students who have a difficult time transitioning to the workload, social aspect and emotional difficulties of being out of the home. Going off to college or leaving home for the first time can be complicated. Many young adults struggle to make the adjustment and need help. Those who make it to my office often have a family member urging them to get help, or they have realized that they need help an are proactive enough to get it (although this is more rare). I work with these clients to develop independent living skills so that they can function at work, school and with their friends, while maintaining a good connection with family at home. One of the reasons the struggle is that they haven’t had a chance to go out on their own yet. It seems ironic, because now that they are out on their own, its too much for them. Don’t worry – this is normal. Its ok to have a difficult time in this transition. However, its important to note several milestones as they progress:
- Financial – are they able to financially manage their money without parents overseeing it all?
- Social – are they able to balance their social life with work and school? Do they have a social life or are they secluded in their apartment”
- Scholastic – are they able to meet the demands of school and ask for help when needed?
- Work – are they working and are they able to maintain a job while engaged in the rest of their life?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these, they might need help. See out a therapist who knows how to help young people transition here.
By Triston Morgan, PhD, LMFT
Someone once told me that when they finally got rid of pornography in their life, that they would ‘miss it’. This is common for those struggling with this problem. The reason that this is is because you form an attachment with pornography. It is there for you when you are struggling with stress or problems in your relationships. It is there when you are bored or lonely. It gives you a powerful reinforcer when you use it. However, the aftermath of shame is so powerful ,that you are often left thinking – why did I do this again. I promised that I would never do it after the last time. This shame often leads you to use again, ironically.
Overcoming pornography isn’t something that you can do alone. Many individuals will go through a cycle of using and then making a firm determination to ‘never do it again’. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough and many people become frustrated because of this seemingly never-ending pattern. Its important to include family members, friends support groups and professionals into your recovery so that you have the tools and support necessary to deal with this powerful behavior.
For most of us, depression is something that comes and goes. For a few of us, it’s something that comes and stays – for reasons that we don’t always know or understand. When we lose someone lose to us or have a situation that hurts, we might feel down. This type of depression can be situational more than anything else. This happens often after women give birth. For months following, they might feel down or blue. If they are able to pull themselves out of it through sleep, eating well, taking a shower, reading a book or some any other way that they use to cope, then its usually not post-partum depression. If it doesn’t go away after these attempts, it can be something more serious and may need medical or professional help. Depression is the same way. We can’t expect to pull ourselves out of depression on our own when it is the more serious type. Counselors are trained professionals who can help. Many of them will utilize the power of your relationships and invite your family to attend sessions. This helps because you are then able to connect to those who matter most and work it out together.
Every now and then, most of us feel down or blue – this is different than depression. Situational sadness comes and goes with whatever is getting us down. For example, if you don’t get recognized for something you worked hard at, you will probably feel sad. After time, your sadness will start to disappear. It isn’t as sad over time. This is situational. Depression, on the other hand, seems to last beyond these events. Even when something potentially sad has come and gone and if there is seemingly no reason to feel sad, you still might feel sad. This can especially be true in the winter. The days are shorter and colder. This causes most of us to stop moving as much, and to stay inside. We then lack exercise and sun light. On top of that, with the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, we tend to eat food that isn’t as healthy. We eat more sugar. This all contributes to feeling sad when we don’t seem to have anything to be sad about. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is what happens to many people during the winter months. Most people don’t realize they have this type of problem, they just think that they are down or blue. It is more than just having the ‘winter blues’. It impedes you in your daily life and interferes with your functioning. Recognizing that you have SAD will help you know what to do to overcome and let go of it. Some of the symptoms include: feeling sad, losing interest once enjoyed, change in appetite, change in sleep (usually sleeping more), loss of energy, restless activity, feeling worthless or guilty, trouble making decisions, and thoughts of suicide or death. If you think you might have this type of depression talk with a therapist today.
Sometimes the holidays hurt. When we have lost loved ones or when we are reminded of what we used to have, the holidays can turn from joyous to painful. During these times, it’s important to remember a few things. First, let the pain come in – embrace it. There is no need to try and hide from it or run. If we try to hide from it or ignore it, we often develop addictions to cover what we are feeling – ways to numb ourselves from uncomfortable emotions. In this numbed state, we don’t ever get to embrace and subsequently let go of painful emotions. It’s important to remember that in order to let go of something, we first have to have it (embrace it). Remember that these emotions come and go, they won’t stay with us forever. Second, find a way to honor your loved ones who have gone on or circumstances lost. I spoke with a friend once who had dealt with the loss of a job and a more abundant life. During times when this was more apparent, he was able to be grateful for the relationship he had and focus on enjoying them above all else. After having material possessions and different opportunities pass him by he realized what is most important as he put his life back together. As he did this, he was able to be grateful for past opportunities and current blessings. Third, some find comfort in having what I call ‘Present Mindedness’ – the ability to be in the moment. We let ourselves enjoy the here and now without stopping ourselves because we need to maintain anger or sadness from the past or from other current situations. We don’t have to punish ourselves – we deserve to be happy now.
Effective pornography treatment often includes family members. As I have worked with hundreds of individuals struggling with pornography use over the years, I have found that those who have loving, supportive family members often have better outcomes. For example, couples therapy is often a good place for you to learn how to connect with others instead of checking out or numbing through pornography use. This is a difficult thing to do because your spouse is someone who has the power to reject you in a way that can really hurt. It is hard to be vulnerable in these circumstances because of this fear of being hurt or rejected. It is also difficult because you are also working to heal the pain your spouse feels because of your pornography use.
One thing that you need is someone to be a ‘real’ person to you. Pornography is a fantasy world where there are no consequences and where other people’s emotions don’t matter. This is why couples therapy is so important – your spouse becomes more real to you as you let her describe and share her pain with you. She becomes more real to you as she is someone who your actions impact. She becomes more real to you as her experience is just as important as yours. A husband can turn their wife into pornography by not letting her be real – discounting her experience and not asking to hear it. A wife, inadvertently, can turn herself into pornography for her husband by thinking that she doesn’t want to stress her husband out by telling him about her feelings and therefore doesn’t say anything even though she is hurting.
Consider the impact that working with your spouse can have on your recovery from pornography use. As difficult as it is to face these issues, it’s a crucial part of your progress.
I am often asked the question, “Do I need medication?” As a counselor in Utah County, I work with couples, families, individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, pornography use, drug and alcohol use and other issues – all of which might need medication at some point. As a counselor, I am not trained to prescribe medication or do medication management, however, I often collaborate with practioners (i.e., MD’s, nurse practioners) who are. Together we are able to help many individuals overcome anxiety or depression. Talk therapy (couples counseling or individual therapy) and medication are often a good combination to combat the issues that bring most people into therapy.
My colleagues who prescribe medications often tell me how medications act like crutches. They aren’t meant for long term use or to be a ‘fix-all’, but rather, they are meant to give support so that an individual can gain strength. Once strong enough, the crutches are discarded and the individual moves on under their own power.
So, when clients ask if medication is warranted, I refer them to someone trained in this type of treatment. Medication is not always the answer, but there are times when it is best practice, however, to use medication and traditional talk therapy together (i.e., Bipolar disorder treatment). I refer them to see an MD, psychiatrist or nurse practioner. I encourage them to meet with someone who does Genetic testing for medications. This is a method where an individual submits a DNA sample which is sent to a lab for testing. The results show the individual and prescribing professional which meds are most likely to work with the individuals genetic structure (usually for anxiety or depression medications). My nurse practitioner colleague tells me that this ‘takes the guess work out of medication management’. Given that the typical experience for individuals trying medications is months of trial and error, this is a relief to many.