Monday, April 30, 2012

Just Ignore It, Maybe It'll Go Away

Everybody knows October is pink ribbon month for breast cancer awareness. Cancer is terrible. I'm all for awareness, early detection, treatment, and a cure. If you were reading last year, you know I donated all proceeds in October to the cause. Around 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. That's a lot.

 Just in the U.S. this year
• between 400,000 and 600,000 adult women will be raped (about 1 in 10)
and a little over half a million girls under 16 (about 1 in 5) will be sexually abused or assaulted
 • and at least 100,000 boys under 16 (about 1 in 8) will be sexually abused or assaulted, regardless of sexual orientation.

 We're talking over a million victims a year. (That's a 1, followed by 6 zeros.) That's a lot.

Statistics say, if you know three women, you know someone who has been sexually abused, even if you don't know who it is. Now, at least 90% of sexually abused people know their abusers. So you tell me: what are the odds that you know at least one abuser, even if you don't know who it is? Yep, you almost certainly do.

Breast cancer is terrible. So is the fact that a million people - mostly female, mostly children, are victims of sexual abuse. But how many people know that April is teal ribbon month for sexual assault awareness? Where were the ads and PSAs? The merchandise? The pro athletes with teal Nikes?

We teach others how to treat us. Where was the fuss from the general public to say we don't want abusers treating our daughters, friends, partners, and neighbors this way?

They say silence implies consent....

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Positive Psychology is NOT Positive Thinking

... and Marley was dead, to begin with. This must be clearly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from what you're about to read. (Apologies to Charles Dickens.)

Positive psychology is more than a perspective. It's "an assertion that psychological health is more than the absence of disease, it is about human flourishing," says David Bowling. Just like we spend time and energy to maintain or improve our physical condition, positive psychology asks us to consider investing some of those resources in our mental health.

Positive psychology, like coaching, is interested in moving people from 0 ("stuck") to +10. On the other hand, traditional psychology (aka, "therapy") is mostly only concerned with moving people from -10 to 0. I like it because fits my coaching style - it's preventive maintenance.

Don't get me wrong. You want to take a ride on the crazy train, go right ahead. You want to be stuck in denial and believe enough thoughts of sunshine and daisies will make it all better, have a nice day. It's your life; you're entitled to your decision. You want to think it's all the same, fine - be stuck in neutral. The rest of us are moving in a positive direction.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Walk on Your Wild Side (Day)

You've heard Lou Reed's Talk a Walk On the Wild Side, right? Well, that's not quite what this day is about, but that's a good starting place. The song, purportedly, is about various characters in Andy Warhol's entourage, some of whom had rather fluid sexual identities. The title phrase was a pick-up line used by transsexual prostitutes.

(Sheesh, people, sit down, I'm not done. I'm not suggesting we all go to the red light district.) Consider this:

YOU are in the center of your world (in yellow). That's as it should be. Surrounding you is your comfort zone (red). Your comfort zone is protective; it keeps you from danger and the scary unknown. It also gets in your way and treats you like a baby sometimes. If it's too thick, you won't see - let alone explore - the possibilities that lay beyond in the wild blue yonder. You'll have to take a machete and carve a path.

But once you break through, there's opportunity. Les Brown reminds us that we have to do what we've never done to be who we've never been.

Talk with people instead of to them. Approach the day by considering how you could make everyone else's better. Be proactive rather than reactive. Take the first step toward a really big, scary goal. Make the change. Venture forth.

Take a walk on your wild side. See what's out there. It might be good. You might be great!

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National Pet Day

It's National Pet Day, primarily to create public awareness about the 16,000 dogs and cats being euthanized every day in shelters.

I think maybe as humans, we can only be fair-weather friends. All you have to do is consider the divorce rate - we can barely be loyal to each other, regardless of a vow to do so, so it's hardly shocking that we'll ditch a fur-person.

But we are stewards of the earth; that doesn't apply just to pollution and recycling agendas. And the reason is, while we're the most responsible for mucking it up in the first place, we as humans are also the best-equipped for making improvements. That includes improving our own lives.

Pets are GOOD for us! Yes, of course they provide companionship and lower our blood pressure. Yes, they give us a reason to get out and be more active. Did you know pets also lower cholesterol levels?

Pets are good for our mental health, too. Since it's April and Autism Awareness Month, did you know that there are autism service dogs? Yep! They help calm kids with autism and help them communicate. Similarly, pets help kids with ADD/ADHD or other learning challenges learn how to manage stress and frustration and calm themselves.

Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression, maybe because spending time with pets can boost levels of serotonin and dopamine. Pet owners also tend to have less stress. Even watching fish in an aquarium reduces muscle tension and pulse rate. And beyond that, pets can minimize symptoms of anxiety, bipolar disorder, and even PTSD!

Pets remind us that we are needed. They fulfill our most basic need to touch. This need is ingrained from birth because it's the first interactive soothing we learn.

If you're already a pet family, that's awesome! If not, consider your situation. Can you spare a few bucks to help out your local shelter? Can you spare a little more to make an animal part of your family? Not for them, though God knows they'll love you for it. But, could you do it for your own well-being?

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

4 Things Good Parents Do to Hurt Their Kids

April is, among other things, Child Abuse Awareness Month. Well-meaning parents - as well as aunts, uncles, and other caretakers - never want to see kids get hurt. Sometimes, though, those same well-meaning folks do things that DO end up hurting their kids. Here are three examples of things parents do all the time - things you might not consider as harmful. And yet.

Child abuse consists of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. And by definition, it occurs with the intent of doing harm, or at least with the intent of not caring about the child. So take note: the examples below are NOT child abuse! I'm using them only to show how easy it is to do damage, even when we have the best of intentions. Hey, nobody said parenting was easy!

1. Parents who want to teach girl power often end up teaching girl stereotypes. Of course we believe in girl power, and we encourage our girls, right? We do it when we take our daughters to dance class. How many parents do it when they teach their daughters how to check the oil in the car?

Our words and actions aren't consistent. We surround them with bright pink and girl-power them right back to Donna Reed days. We give them Barbies (you can be anything), Bratz (as long as you look like a club babe), and crafts (and engage in wholesome activities), yet expect them to be interested in science and soccer. Mixed messages, much?

Socializing our girls this way handicaps them, which is cruel. Of course they can love pink, and all things Barbie. Just encourage them to also explore a variety of activities that aren't so gender-specific.

2. Parents assume their kids are healthy since they aren't obese. Shopping according to the food pyramid we all learn about is incredibly expensive right now. At the same time, child obesity rates are up. What's a caring parent to do? It's a well-documented problem.

I know quite a few parents who are hyper-aware of it, but they counter obesity with outdoor-only play and underfeeding their kids. Well, their girls. (After all, Junior might want to go out for football or wrestling, and we can't have him underweight. And girls are supposed to be skinny, right? So what if their thighs are smaller than their knees?)

I also know a couple families where the parents aren't big milk fans, so they just never have much. They might have cheese or yogurt at one meal a day. Consequently, in both families, calcium deficiency has taken its toll on growing bones. Cut the Starbucks, take your lunch to work, or whatever, but make sure your kids are getting what they need.

3. Lots of parents don't see a difference between discipline and punishment. Yes, there is one. Discipline is training, punishment is a consequence of bad behavior. Discipline is what we do for our bodies when we work out, or say no to excessive dessert. It's what parents should do with their kids all the time - teach them how to behave. Punishment is what happens when the police get the bad guys and they go to jail. Or when little Missy can't control her mouth and has to sit in her room for a while.

And then, once a rule is set, it has to be enforced. Kids need predictability and clear boundaries - even teenagers. If they know the rule is "no whining for candy when we're in line to pay," they also need to know the consequence for breaking the rule.

Some parents teach "Don't whine" without explaining why (teaching appropriate behavior) or what will happen as a consequence (teaching discipline). Make the punishment fit the crime, and teach the consequence as part of the rule, so everybody knows.

4. Parents want their kids to be enlightened, but teach them to be sexist. Think of #1, and then apply the same type of thinking to boys. Then, take it a step further. Remember that kids see everything. They learn a crazy amount of stuff from watching what their parents do.

If Mama is always unhappy with her body, Sissy will learn to be unhappy with hers and Bubba will learn that a good woman (like Mama) will always lack self-confidence. If daddy has a collection of men's magazines, Bubba will learn to objectify women and Sissy will learn that men (maybe even Daddy) will only like her if she's pretty and acts slutty.

Then Bubba and Sissy grow up and marry normal people, and realize there's a problem, or they grow up and marry other Bubba's and Sissy's, and feel trapped and unhappy.

- - - - -

The job of any parent - regardless of species - is to prepare offspring to live successfully, independently. It's one of the best pieces of advice I ever got as a new parent, and it's true. The trick is, it's hard to think long-term when it comes to our kids. We don't want them to grow up and leave, and we certainly don't want to think of ourselves getting old! It's easier to plan and act in the now. But if our actions today may have a negative impact on the life we want for our kids in the future, it's up to us to change. Thankfully, as humans, we have a relatively long time to get it right.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Just How Stressed Are You?

A couple weekends ago, I had a vendor booth at a school carnival - the Unchained volunteer crew and I were giving free stress assessments. And I was doing some unscientific research. I figured the demographic mix would allow me to apply my observations to the general public.

My findings:
• Most people recognize that they suffer from stress
• Nearly everyone underestimates how much stress affects them
• A few people are in total denial of stress

One woman told me, very seriously, that she had no stress in life whatsoever, just panic attacks once in a while. Uh-huh. There was no polite way to respond, so I gave her a non-committal "Mmm," and watched her go her merry, if deluded, way.

But it supported my observation that nearly everyone underestimates the impact of stress.

Take a look at the following groups of events. If you've experienced any of them in the past year, or know you'll be dealing with them within the next 6 months, the specific item will apply. Most events have a number range - use the higher number if the event affects/affected you more and the lower number if it won't be/wasn't that bad. Jot down a number for every event that applies to you.

100 - Death of a spouse

60 to 80 - Death of a parent, separation or divorce, jail term, or death of close family member

45 to 55 - Major personal injury or illness, marriage, fired at work, buying a home, became engaged to be married, or serious illness or injury in family

30 to 40 - Pregnancy, sexual health issues, gain of new family member, change in financial state, death of close friend, change to different line of work, or facing foreclosure or in debt between $30,000 and $75,000

25 to 29 - Change in responsibilities at work, outstanding personal achievement, one spouse begins or ends work/retires, begin/graduate college, addiction to tobacco/drugs/alcohol, change in living conditions, move of more than 500 miles, or change in personal habits

19 to 24 - Trouble with boss, mandatory change in work hours, being bullied at work or school, change in church activities, or change in social/leisure/recreational activities

15 to 18 - Belittling or verbally abusive spouse, in debt between $10,000 and $30,000, change in sleeping habits or < 6 hours nightly, change in eating habits, micromanaged at work, repression of emotion or personality at work, or suppressing wants or needs to make someone else happy

11 to 14 - Pressured by time and performance standards, vacation, spending major holiday alone or away from family, unable to meet goals, living or working in overcrowded conditions, daily commute of over 1 hour each way, or minor violation of the law

7 to 10 - Spiritual discontent, lack of control over work, feeling pressure of responsibilities, limited access to information, relationship problems, fear of personal rejection, root canal or other major dental work, or legalistic school/family environment

4 to 6 - Prolonged exposure to high volumes of noise/music, poor posture, seasonal allergies, or chronic improper diet (daily fast food?)

How to score: add up your numbers for a (very) rough estimate of your stress.

Less than 150 points: You're facing everyday stressors and handling them just fine. Make sure you have a few options when life throws you a curveball, but don't stress (ha ha) about it!

150 to 199 points: There's a potential for crisis looming on your horizon. You have enough stress that you have a 33% chance of experiencing stress-related physical symptoms, both now and within the next year or so. I bet you already have the occasional stress-related symptom. (High blood pressure, headaches including migraines, heartburn, "tummy troubles" including ulcers, chest pain, insomnia, neck pain, compulsive over-eating and obesity or loss of appetite, grinding teeth, increased smoking and/or caffeine consumption, chronic fatigue, decreased sex drive, and a compromised immune system resulting in more viral and fungal infections.)

200 to 299 points: You're having a rough time, aren't you? You have a 50% chance of exhibiting stress-related symptoms both now and within the next two years, stemming from your current stress. But you probably already have at least one of the above symptoms pretty regularly. Beside those, be cautious about heart disease, cancer, lung and breathing problems, hypertension and stroke, and ulcerative colitis. You may want to consider letting a mental health professional or coach help you incorporate stress management techniques into your daily life!

Over 300 points: Why are you still reading this? You're in the midst of a major life crisis, sweetheart. Besides the aggravation of regular symptoms, you have an 80% chance of a serious illness as a direct result of your stress at some point in the next two years. It's time for professional help. Start by making an appointment with your physician. Follow up with a mental health professional or life coach for stress reduction and management help.

Okay, so to recap, you can admit there's stress in your life, and be in denial about what it's doing to you. But when you have chronic headaches, ulcers, fatigue, grinding teeth, viral infections, and whatnot (or worse), don't say you weren't warned.

Accumulated stress IS bigger than you are, no matter how tough, how in denial, how strong-willed you think you are. And it CAN kill you, or at least make your life even more miserable.

I'm not just preaching; I've been there. (Spoiler alert: coaches aren't born with some freakish immunity to life's problems.) I've been blessed to have known some very cool coaches, and long story short - I manage stress now, now the other way 'round. You can, too.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Just The Facts, and Lots of Teal Ribbons

Every single one of us either knows - or is - a survivor of sexual abuse or assault. Wait, it gets worse. Since nearly all victims know their attacker, that means that nearly all of us also know someone who has been sexually abusive.

Here's the deal. It's Sexual Assault Awareness Month - teal ribbons, if you please - and while we generally have an ideal about how bad it is, sexual assault and abuse covers a lot more territory than we'd like to think, and it affects pretty much all of us.


• Think of any three females you know. Statistics show that (at least) one of them is a survivor of sexual abuse.
• 1 in 10 women is sexually abused as an adult, usually between 18 and 30 years old.
• 2 in 10 girls are sexually abused as children or before age 18.
• 1 in 12 college men admitted that they have performed acts that could be defined as rape. Yet 84% of these men believe their actions do not count as rape.
• 1 in 6 boys is abused before the age of 16 - regardless of sexual orientation.
• At least 1 in 10 children are victims of incest.
• 1 in 10 children who are maltreated are also sexually abused - 20% of them before they're 8 years old.
• There are about 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
• About 85 in 100 girls are victims of sexual harassment in public school.
• Most sexual crimes are NOT committed by Mr. Stranger-Danger Predator. Over 9 in 10 are committed by someone the victim knows. (And for what it's worth, the predator in your neighborhood is 98% likely to be heterosexual, even if he rapes boys. Remember, rape isn't about sex so much as control.)
• Almost half of all rapes occur in the victims' homes.
• 1 in 5 kids is solicited sexually online.
• About a quarter of sexual offenders are under 18 years old.
• Less than a third of all rape cases are ever reported. Other types of abuses (molestation, incest, harassment, threats, or child sexual abuse) are nearly never reported.
• In the time it took you to read to this point, another girl or woman was raped. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a female is raped every 2 minutes in this country.


You can easily find lists of common symptoms of sexual abuse. But you won't find much on longer-term consequences.
• In younger children, sexual abuse can cause seizures and actually alter brain development.
• Younger children who are sexually abused are almost guaranteed to become repeat victims of similar abuse. They are unlikely to be able to develop any kind of appropriate personal boundaries as adults. Women are at least two times as likely to be victimized, men are five times as likely.
• Child victims may suffer psychological symptoms for the rest of their lives. They are more likely than any other group to become sexual offenders themselves.
• Teen victims are more likely than others to develop eating disorders, suicidal behavior, and risky sexual behavior ... all of which may last for years.
• Victims of marital or date rape are 11 times more likely to be clinically depressed, and 6 times more likely to experience social phobia than are non-victims.
• Adult victims may suffer psychological symptoms for 10 to 15 years or more.

Ways to get involved

Victims aren't just random strangers. They are your children, your partners, your family. Sexual abuse isn't a socially acceptable topic. (Which is exactly why it flourishes.) But if you aren't a victim, you probably know dozens - whether you realize it or not. And how does that make you feel? Uh huh.

1. Join the teal ribbon campaign. Buy a pin or make your own, get a car magnet or tie a length of ribbon on your car antenna or on the end of the right windshield wiper. Just having it out there makes it more likely that others will notice, and maybe ask.
2. Get educated. What we used to "know" about sexual abuse is half wrong, and only the tip of the iceberg compared to what we now "know" - and as Agent K said in Men in Black, imagine what we'll know tomorrow. If you're a parent, share with your kids and make sure they know they can talk to you about anything!
3. Take action in your community, if you have the time. Visit for lots of low-cost and free ways to take action.

I have only a handful of pet causes. This is one. It gets its own blog post because it is nearly an epidemic. If we want to look outside the U.S., it's ... well, it's no better. In some countries, it's rare to find a female who hasn't been a victim of unimaginable sexual abuse.

What does it say about us as humans, that we can allow half the population to be victimized while we stand by? I'm posting this to get your attention. I'm extending a call to action because just knowing about it doesn't stop it. Letting others know it's unacceptable - that's the first step.

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