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Arleen Fitzgerald - Behavioral Health

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Contributing Experts

Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W.

Behavioral Health

Holding a grudge: Who is it you're really hurting?

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Aug. 23, 2012

When you've been wronged, bitter feelings can sometimes be difficult to shake. And, you may find yourself holding a grudge against someone – unable to forget or forgive. But, here's something to consider: These ill feelings you're harboring could be toxic – harming both your emotional and physical health.

Anger, blame and hostility can rev up the body's stress responses. And, research has shown that these negative emotions may strain your heart and immune system.

On the other hand, when you find the strength to forgive someone – perhaps it's a friend who has said or done something hurtful – you free yourself of these harmful stressors.

Choosing peace

So, how do you forgive when the mere thought of the insult or incident is upsetting?

First, understand this: Forgiveness doesn't mean excusing, accepting or forgetting someone's behavior. It doesn't even mean you must reconcile with the person.

But, it can be a liberating act to let go of negative feelings toward the person.

Remember, if you hold on to a grudge, you give someone else power over you.

Forgiveness means you're in control again. And, in the process, you can move on with a greater sense of personal power and peace.

Making the choice to forgive might be all it takes. But, these strategies may help, too:

  • Reflect – and get it out. Think about what upset you. How would you express why it wasn't OK? As part of letting go, calmly share your take on it with someone you trust.
  • Rewrite your story. Could there be a less offensive explanation for what happened? Can you find a way to take it less personally? Maybe even try putting yourself in the shoes of the person who has hurt you.
  • Find power in the positive. When you dwell on wounded feelings, it can be draining. Instead, try to focus on the good you encounter every day – whether that's a kind friend, loving pet or lovely place.

Do it for yourself

Letting anger and resentment slide off your back can take practice. But, do yourself a favor and commit to being nonstick when it comes to hurtful, hard feelings. It's a great way to feel happier – and healthier, too.

When it feels unforgivable

Of course, some grievances – such as in cases of abuse – may be so grave that forgiveness seems impossible. If you're struggling with a difficult situation or complex emotions, consider counseling by a mental health professional. You may need help to cope with your feelings – and to move forward positively and safely.

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Teachable moments: Talking with your preteen about sex

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Aug. 8, 2012

Talking with your preteen about sex may not be among the easiest conversations you'll ever have. But, those chats could be some of the most important.

You might get a chance to learn what your tween – a term for kids in the 9- to 12-year-old range – has questions about. You might also find out what he or she already knows. And, you can talk about the possible consequences of sex – including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Maybe you're thinking your child seems too young for such matters. But, experts agree that it's best to have these talks early – and regularly. You can't be sure when children will need this information.

Above all, these conversations give you an opportunity to share your values and beliefs – to help guide your child in the right direction.

Look for teachable moments

Don't just have "the talk." Make it more meaningful by using real situations to discuss sex – on an ongoing basis. For example, you might broach the subject when:

  • You notice your son has downloaded music with inappropriate lyrics.
  • Another parent tells you that some kids at your child's school are in trouble for "sexting."
  • Your daughter asks to watch a popular movie or TV series for teens. The previews show questionable content, including sexual activity.
  • One of your tween's friends has posted suggestive photos on a social networking site.
  • A news story breaks about a celebrity's provocative or offensive behavior.

A wise approach

As much as possible, try to make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you with questions about sex. Be honest. Listen thoughtfully, even if you don't agree with all that you hear. Don't be critical. And, don't laugh – even if you feel a bit awkward or a question seems silly. As your kids become teens, you want them to know you're there to listen with care.

Remember, this is also a time when tweens are going through body changes. Maybe you feel uncomfortable or aren't sure how to answer certain questions. If so, consider asking your child's doctor to be part of the conversation.

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Questions and answers from webinar: "Stress Less and Enjoy Your Relationships More"

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – July 27, 2012

Thanks to all who attended last Tuesday's webinar on stress and relationships. Many of you had follow up questions which will be answered here.

Are indigestion symptoms due to the blood flow redirection? Yes, as the body perceives a threat, it goes into "fight or flee" mode. The blood is directed away from the small muscle groups (such as the digestive tract) to the large muscle groups (such as legs and arms) to enable one's survival.

Is there a natural way to increase a woman's oxytocin to enjoy sex more? The presentation gave many suggestions of ways that women can increase oxytocin levels for themselves such as exercise, relaxation, connecting with friends, hugging and cuddling. There are many ways that men can increase a woman's oxytocin levels-making coffee in the morning, sending a text during the day to say "I'm thinking of you". If a woman's oxytocin levels are filled by both her activities (the 90%) as well as those of her spouse/partner (the 10%), chances are increased that she will be in the mood for sex. There is an old saying that is directed to men "If you want more sex, empty the garbage without being asked".

What do you do when your husband/partner doesn't put forth much emotional effort? Many times, we have to teach our spouse/partner what we need from them. If your spouse/partner grew up in a home where people weren't demonstrative emotionally, they may have no point of reference. Ask for what you need and more importantly, demonstrate what you would like to see more of from your loved one.

What if he always watches TV-all waking hours? Marriage is all about balance of "me time" and "us time". Watching TV may have become their "go to" activity for such a long time, that they may not even be aware of it. Plan some other activities and let them know ahead of time, plan some activities you know they will enjoy (even if you don't). Put your requests into "I need" statements and watch any complaining you may do when he turns on the TV.

What do you consider fair fighting? Being aware that conflict or disagreements are part of any relationship and that it is not a sign of weakness. Fair fighting is making your point, and your partner making theirs, known in ways that shows ownership of your feelings such as "I want" or "I need" and staying away from "you always make me feel..." When you find your discussion headed towards the four types of communication that can lead to danger-criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling-that you call a time out. Let each person cool off and then come back to your discussion when cooler heads and hearts can prevail.

Are you saying that women have to be the ones to make more sacrifices than the men in the relationship? Not at all-marriage is all about balance between each other's needs. Find ways to let each other know when it's one of those "tonight you really need your spouse/partner to listen" and they will have to sacrifice their "alone time" to meet your needs rather than their own. Women have to do the same for men-there will be times when a day has been particularly stressful and the man needs more distance and then the woman has to make a sacrifice for the relationship. At the end of the month, do you feel that there is a 50-50 balance of sacrifice in the relationship?

Any suggestions for those who feel stress in trying to form those social connections that are supposed to help alleviate stress? Excellent question. Some people are more comfortable forming social relationships than others. If you find it difficult to form those social relationships, know that you are not alone. Sometimes, you will have to fake the confidence to strike up a conversation at a get-together or party. The more experiences that you then have with successfully forming relationships, the more comfortable you will be with reaching out to others. Some people need to have lots of friends and others are comfortable with having just one or two close relationships. Do what works for you, but keep in mind the Mental Health America survey that showed how important a sense of connectedness is in helping to manage day to day stress.

My girlfriend may be depressed but does not acknowledge any problem. What can I do? Be as supportive and helpful as you can. Emphasize that depression has a large biological component and that it is not a sign of character weakness. You might be helpful if you can ask around and get recommendations of therapists as people with depression often don't have the energy to do that. Agree to attend sessions with her until she is comfortable going on her own. If she still refuses to go, you go and see a therapist to find ways of coping with living with a person who is depressed. They can be very helpful with coping skills that will lessen the pressure you may be feeling.

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Happily Ever After: Nurturing the art of couplehood

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – July 5, 2012

When you're comfortable in your marriage, it's often easy to take it for granted. You love your spouse – that's what's important, right?

Love, commitment, trust, respect ... in lasting, fulfilling relationships, these mutual traits and feelings do all matter greatly.

But, marriages also need tending to thrive – to stay strong and satisfying.

Love as a verb

Whether you're newlyweds or celebrating years together, you can take steps to enrich and care for your relationship. Help strengthen your bond with these loving acts:

  • Say and do nice things. Stable, happy couples tend to have a "5-to-1 ratio." That's at least five positive interactions for each negative one. You don't have to keep score. But, remind yourself to give a compliment or a pat on the back, pour a cup of tea or lend a hand with a chore. And, you may find that your other half naturally follows your lead.
  • Reach out and connect. Romantic date nights and a healthy sex life help keep the spark alive. But, find small ways every day to enjoy time together – and to touch. Maybe that's holding hands on a walk, sharing a welcome-home hug or cuddling on the couch.
  • Share, listen, learn. Do you think your partner should instinctively know what you want or need? Or, that you always know what your spouse is thinking? Couples can get themselves in trouble when they don't talk openly about what's on their minds. Strive to have thoughtful discussions – and to be a good listener.
  • Fight fair. Even happy couples argue sometimes. When disagreements arise, try to keep them in perspective. Ask yourself: Is this a big deal? Can I see it from his (or her) point of view? And, here's another key to harmony over hard feelings: Avoid hurtful words, name-calling and bringing up old conflicts.
  • See the beauty in your differences. How dull would life be if your partner were just like you? Part of growing as a couple is accepting what's unique about your spouse and your marriage. Remember what you love about your spouse. What brought you together? Cherish those traits.

So, try to love – or at least laugh off – minor quirks. That way, you can relish how you differ – as well as how you mesh!

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