The Meadows Blog

Mental health professionals can improve treatment through trauma-centered and gender-responsive approaches

When men seek treatment for addiction, depression, and mental health disorders the outcomes are often quite positive. However, there is still room for improvement, since the risk for relapse after treatment is still somewhat high. Dan Griffin, an American sociologist who has studied gender and recovery and trained at Hazelden as a chemical dependency counselor, thinks that the men would be more likely to maintain recovery if treatment programs take a more trauma-centered and gender-specific approach.

Published in Relationships
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 00:00

Men and the Illusion of Anger

Note: The following is a partial transcript of a Facebook Live Presentation Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows, did on August 26, 2016. You can find the recorded video version on his Facebook page.

First and foremost, let me be very clear about what I mean by “the illusion of men’s anger,” because I can already hear some people saying, “The illusion of men’s anger?! My father’s anger, my mother’s anger, my husband’s, my partner’s anger is not an illusion, Dan! It’s not an illusion when the person is yelling at me, it’s not an illusion when the person is hitting me, it’s not an illusion when the person is acting violently toward me.”

I absolutely agree with you. That is not the intention of this conversation.

The purpose of this conversation is to get at the root of what’s behind men’s anger and to share thoughts on how we can all interact with one another in a more authentic way.

This is a personal topic for me. I’ve been an “angry man.” I’ve had a lot of problems with anger. But, has anger really been the issue for me? That’s the question I really think all men should ask themselves if they want to be able to heal the impact that anger has had on their relationships—their relationship with self, their relationships with others, and their relationships with the community.

Anger Is a Mask

I am far from perfect in this practice, but I hope that what I’m learning about myself and my anger might be helpful for some of the men—and some of the women—out there.

The truth is I’m not angry.

I act angry, but often, what I really am feeling is fear. Or, I’m feeling insecure, or I’m dealing with other feelings and they are coming out as anger because I haven’t allowed myself to feel things or taken the time to process what’s really going on.

This is important because as men we are often backed into a corner with our feelings. We’re told that the only feeling that’s socially acceptable for us, the only one that you’re not going to be shamed for is anger. “Yeah, he’s angry, but at least he’s not crying like a little baby. “

He’s acting angry because there’s no space for him to talk about his fear.

Emotional Authenticity vs. Anger Management

Why does that matter? We talk a lot about anger management, and we talk about the problems men have with anger. I don’t think the solution to men’s problem with anger is teaching them “anger management.” I think the solution is helping them to have a better connection to self, better connections to others, and the space and permission for authentic emotional expression.

I care deeply about my relationships. But, I didn’t have the best model for how a man can be open and vulnerable in relationships so I’m still learning how to do that. What I’m beginning to realize is that anger has never really been the issue for me. The issue is how deeply I experience and feel things—how emotional I am, how quickly I feel sad, how quickly I feel afraid, how quickly I feel insecure. The more that I can stay true to those feeling and experiences, the easier it is for me to navigate.

Although, if I allow myself to feel afraid, and to express that to others, I still have to deal with the shame that comes along with the fear. Like a lot of men, I didn’t really have anybody when I was growing up who told me that it was okay for a man to feel afraid and that it was okay for a man to feel sad. So, I have to work through all of this shame and stuff I have in my head about that.

But, the more I feed my authentic self, the more the anger dissipates. That’s not “anger management;” that’s emotional congruence. It’s emotional authenticity. We don’t “manage” the anger. The anger just dissolves. The anger dissipates when it’s just smoke that hides my true self.

Permission to Be Your Authentic Self

So, for men, the challenge is for us to be able to find permission to be the men we really are.

Who are you? Who are you in each of your relationships, who are you in each of your experiences? Are you aware of how you’re feeling? Can you take a deep breath? Can you look below the surface of what’s beneath the anger?

When you feel the anger rising, can you stop before you say or do anything, and find the space to recognize your true feelings? If you feel afraid, can you say to yourself, “I feel afraid, and when I feel afraid I feel weak, and when I feel weak I feel ashamed?” And can you recognize that deciding what to do with those feelings is nobody’s problem but yours?

When I feel sad, I feel ashamed and I feel embarrassed. I feel like there’s something wrong with me as a man—but that’s not true. That’s the illusion of men’s anger.

Real Change is Possible

When men act out in anger there’s no illusion to it. It can destroy; it can hurt; it can damage. The illusion is us thinking that if we just manage men’s anger, it’s going to get better—that if we just create programs that are about men having to control their behavior, it’s going to get better.

Things will change when…

  • we raise boys to be open and authentic in how they express themselves, 
  • we create safe places for men to be open and authentic in how they express themselves, and
  • we coach and support men in all their relationships to be the man that they desperately want to be.

If you struggle with anger, take some time to just take a deep breath and notice what other emotions are coming up. Find someone you trust that you can talk to about those challenges you are feeling on a regular basis. Someone who will understand when you say that you noticed how afraid you were feeling or how shame came up for you and will respond with compassion and understanding.

And then when you do act angry, you can go back and you clean it up because you took the time to reflect on what you were really feeling and to see the illusion of your anger.

It’s not about doing it perfectly, it’s about doing it consciously. That’s the gift.

Learn More with Dan

If you’re a mental health professional or clinician who’d like some tips on how to address the unique needs of men in trauma treatment, be sure to sign up for Dan’s FREE webinar on The Man Rules & The Principles of Recovery. It’s happening on September 14, 2016; 11 a.m. – 12:30 Pacific (2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern).

If you’re a man in recovery, who’s ready to take it up a notch, and transform your experience of recovery register for A Man’s Way Retreat at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. During the five-day intensive, Dan will lead you through activities, group sessions, and mindfulness exercises focused on taking your recovery - and your life - to the next level. The next session is coming up October 3 – 7, 2016. To register call 800-244-4949, and ask about the limited-time 25 percent discount offer!

Published in Treatment & Recovery

When bystanders pulled Stanford University swimmer and Olympic hopeful Brock Turner away from the woman he was sexually assaulting behind a fraternity house dumpster, he laughed.

When the judge in the resulting sexual assault trial handed down a sentence much more lenient than the recommended six years of jail time, citing the “severe impact” he feared a harsher sentence may have on the 20-year-old, many felt that he might as well have laughed.

Both reactions to Turner’s crime make light of the traumatic and often devastating impact that rape and sexual assault has on its victims. The Brock Turner case opened up many fraught and painful discussions about rape culture and the way that society tends to blame victims of sexual assault and normalize sexual violence.

Many of those same wounds are being reopened this week with the news that Turner will be released from jail after serving only 3 months of a 6 months sentence. The news is not surprising—most expected him to only serve part of his sentence on a presumption of good behavior—but, for many, it’s serving as an unwanted reminder of their own sexual traumas and the ways in which their pain was silenced, ridiculed, or ignored.

The Long-Lasting Impact of Sexual Assault

Researchers aren’t sure why, but rape seems to have a more severe impact on a person than other types of trauma. It’s normal to feel some symptoms of traumatic stress for a few weeks after any experience with violence. Those who develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however, can continue to experience problems with sleeping, nightmares, panic, severe anxiety and depression that last for months or years. As time goes on, if the person does not receive treatment for the disorder, the symptoms can get worse and worse, and even become debilitating.

People can develop PTSD after any number of horrific events including combat, car accidents, and life-threatening injuries, but rape victims have been found to be more likely to struggle with long-term psychological and physiological issues. They also have a higher risk of developing PTSD and related disorders.

In addition to PTSD, women who were raped have also been found to be more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction, pain during intercourse, menstrual problems, and inhibited arousal.

Why Does Rape Have a Stronger Impact Than Other Types of Trauma?

Though no one has yet been able to determine the reason why rape has such a heightened traumatic impact, some theorize that both brain chemistry and rape culture play a role.

Cortisol, a hormone that is released in times of stress, was reported in a 2011 study to be found at higher levels in rape victims than in those of people otherwise traumatized.

The exact reason is unknown, but some researchers believe that it could be that the physical closeness of rape prompts the body to respond differently to rape and sexual assault than it does to other types of trauma.

Another possibility is that rape victims’ levels of cortisol are elevated due to the level of shame they experience—shame has been found in some studies to be linked to higher levels of cortisol. If the shame theory holds true, it further illustrates the importance of changing the way we treat rape and sexual assault victims as a society.

Recovery from Rape and Sexual Trauma

Many women who are traumatized by rape experience a secondary traumatization through the harsh scrutiny, blaming, and shaming they receive from law enforcement, family, peers, and others are often reluctant to ask for any further help. Men who are raped or sexually assaulted may be even more unlikely to report the crime or ask for help from the resulting trauma, due to stigmas related to men, sex, and powerlessness.

More must be done to help lift the burden of shame from both male and female victims of sexual assault, and raise awareness about treatment options for PTSD and other mental health issues that often result from the emotional trauma of sexual assault.

If you’d like to talk to us about treatment options for sexual trauma and related disorders, please give us a call at 866-330-1925. Our specialists are glad to answer any questions you may have and understand the importance of keeping your call strictly confidential.

Published in Trauma
Thursday, 18 August 2016 00:00

Trauma from Natural Disasters Can Linger

Trauma that arises from natural disasters—like the horrific flood that has devastated much of Louisiana this week—can have a heavy emotional toll on those who are directly affected, including survivors, rescue workers, volunteers, bystanders, and witnesses. Mild to moderate stress reactions are normal and expected for anyone involved. Although their reactions, emotions, and behaviors may seem extreme at the time, they generally don’t turn into chronic disorders.

For some, though, the trauma can be so overwhelming that it more or less “rewires” the person’s brain, putting them in a state of hypervigilance and/or helplessness for many months or years beyond the event leaving them with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe anxiety and depression.

When Does Stress Become a Stress Disorder?

Peter Levine, a renowned trauma expert and Senior Fellow at The Meadows, defines trauma not by the event, but by the person’s reactions to it and their symptoms. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, shootings, and massive violent attacks are events that typically come to mind when people think of traumatic events. Many might also include being involved in a serious accident, being a witness to a serious accident, or being the victim of or witness to a serious crime as “trauma.”

Some people will be more severely affected by a traumatic event and struggle for varying periods of time based on the nature of the event and their own temperament. Some of the warning signs that someone is experiencing levels of stress beyond what is normal and expected after a traumatic event and may be struggling with PTSD include…

  • Dissociation (amnesia, feeling as if he world is not real, losing your sense of identity, taking on a new identity, feeling disconnected from your body)
  • Flashbacks (vivid “screen” memories, night terrors, repetitive reenactment)
  • Panic attacks, violent impulses, inability to concentrate
  • Paralyzing anxiety, constant worry, severe phobias, obsessions, fear of losing control
  • Problematic drug and alcohol use, sexual acting out, eating issues, and other forms of self-medication
  • Delusions, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts

Any of these symptoms indicate that the person likely needs help from a mental health professional or treatment program.

When to Get Help for PTSD

It’s not possible to predict when or if someone who has experienced a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Some people will seem fine at first—maybe even strangely fine—only to be overcome with the disorder some time later. In general survivors of natural disasters should see a therapist or mental help professional if acute stress symptoms don’t subside after a month, or if they feel that their thoughts and emotions, and their lives, are spiraling out of control.

If a treatment program is needed, it might be helpful to look for one that offers not only talk therapy but also EMDR, Somatic Experiencing©, and the latest neurofeedback techniques for treating trauma. A comprehensive, brain-based approach can help PTSD sufferers recover more fully and return to “normal” more quickly.

Published in Trauma

America in the late Summer and early Fall. Among the sounds of lawn sprinklers, children laughing and playing outside, and bees buzzing by, you can often hear…

“Let’s Go, Guys!”
“We Got This!”
“C’mon you idiot, what the [redacted] are you doing?!”

…being shouted from living rooms all across the land.

Football is back.

And, this year, the shouting and celebration will likely start even earlier, as millions tune to watch the Summer Olympic Games in Rio beginning August 5.

Athletes Inspire Us

In 2015, NFL games made up 45 of 50 most-watched TV shows in the fall season. And, the Summer Olympics, which only take place every four years, are also sure to draw in similar numbers of viewers. It’s plain to see that there’s something about athletics that deeply resonates with many people.

Although each sports fan probably has his or her own personal reasons for loving their game, there are some common cultural touchstones across the (score)board. In these intense match-ups between opponents, we see stories of people finding and exceeding their limits, working through pain and injury, and falling down and getting back up. Many of us probably see parallels between these stories and our day-to-day lives.

As we watch our athlete-heroes sprint, tackle, throw, hit, cycle, swim with incredible speed, strength, and agility, they may appear to us to be invincible—maybe even superhuman. But, the truth is that outside of the arena, many athletes struggle with the same kinds of feelings and impulses we all do; many even battle mental disorders and addictions.

The Sports World’s Most Hidden Injuries

“In sports, there’s a lot of people out there suffering and they don’t even know it. That’s because they can’t identify with mental illness. These people just feel like they’re just having a bad day or that it’s just weakness,” says New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall in 2015 article for theguardian.com. Marshall was diagnosed with a personality disorder in 2010 and now advocates for others struggling with mental illness through his Project 375 Foundation.

For some athletes, their sport becomes a smoke screen that hides deeply rooted trauma and behavioral health issues. And, the higher the level an athlete reaches, the less likely they are to ask for help. Mental illness is often wrongly associated with weakness, and weakness is a trait that is unacceptable to most athletes. It’s also often unacceptable to their coaches and their fans, which makes talking about the problem even harder.

Breaking the Stigma ad Taking the First Step

Elite and professional athletes like Brandon Marshall and Michael Phelps, who has also recently come forward to public discuss his own mental health struggles, are playing a critical role in helping to break the stigma surrounding mental illness in the sports community and in our society at large.

Even though ultimately, athletes are responsible for their own performance in the arena, they don’t get there without help. Coaches, trainers, managers, agents, family, and friends all play a role in helping them develop the skills and the get the support they need to reach their full potential. Why can’t we start to look at treatment for mental illness the same way?

If there’s an addiction, a mood disorder, or a personality disorder that’s holding you back, you don’t have to feel ashamed and you don’t have to be afraid to reach out. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. In fact, speaking out in an environment where you fear you will not be well-received is the opposite of weak—it takes real guts and courage. And, you might be surprised by how people react. Once he came forward, other people in the league starting speaking out about their own struggles and asked him where to turn for help.

Treatment programs, like the ones we offer at The Meadows, are designed to help you heal your hidden emotional injuries, and practice and develop skills for moving forward with your life and reach your full potential. Don’t get sidelined by mental illness. Give us a call today and get back in the game, at 800-244-4949.

Published in Treatment & Recovery
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