Author Archives: Heather Davidson

Postpartum PTSD

Many clinicians and doctors may confuse the symptoms of Postpartum PTSD with Postpartum Depression. While there may be some overlap in symptoms such as having difficulty bonding with the baby, feeling sad or having a low mood, loosing interest in activities once enjoyed, difficulty sleeping, and withdrawing socially, the importance between these two disorders is significant. In addition, the course of treatment between Postpartum Depression versus Postpartum PTSD is different, and therefore obtaining a correct diagnosis is crucial. If you or your partner had a traumatic birth experience, review the following symptoms to determine if you or your partner may have Postpartum PTSD.

1. You or your partner experienced a traumatic birth in which you believed yourself, your partner or baby experienced actual or was at threat of serious injury or death.

  • The traumatic experience may have happened during the pregnancy, during the birth experience or shortly after the birth.
  • Events that could cause this include having to undergo an emergency C-section, having your baby be whisked away right after delivery due to medical complications, being coerced into unwanted medical interventions such as cutting of the perineum, experiencing a hemorrhage, developing an infection, etc.

2. You or your partner re-experiences the trauma.

  • This may look like a full-blown flashback, intrusive memories of the event, or having nightmares about the event.
  • People, places or things that remind you or your partner of the event may trigger some of these reactions (even the baby may cause you or your partner to feel triggered).
  • The triggers may cause emotional and/or physical reactions.

3. You or your partner avoid people, places or things that represent or remind you or your partner of the trauma.

  • Again, this could look like avoiding people, places or things…but could also be the avoidance of emotions associated with the trauma.
  • Because the avoidance of emotions may be apart of PTSD symptoms, you or your partner may vacillate between feeling flat or numb to feeling irritable or emotionally out of control.
  • Your baby may remind you of the trauma…many mothers experience difficulty bonding because of this and experience a lot of guilt over feeling this way—it is important to know that this is part of PTSD and not because you or your partner is a “bad mother.”

4. You or your partner are experiencing negative changes in your thoughts and mood.

  • This may include negative beliefs about oneself, others and the world.
  • You or your partner may also experience difficulties with your memory related to the trauma.
  • Blame of yourself and others in regards to their role in the trauma may be exaggerated.
  • You or your partner may seem stuck in emotions related to the trauma (fear, horror, anxiety, shame, sadness).
  • You or your partner may feel detached from others and may not want to spend time with others.
  • You or your partner may no longer be interested in activities you once enjoyed prior to the trauma.

5. You or your partner are experiencing an increase in “arousal” symptoms.

  • Arousal in this context means feeling on edge or hypervigilant.
  • It can also include having difficulty falling asleep, having difficulty concentrating and experiencing an exaggerated startle response.
  • Irritability can also be included in this group of symptoms.

If you or your partner are experiencing these symptoms as a result of a traumatic childbirth experience it is important to get appropriate and effective treatment.

10 Signs Your Loved One May Be Struggling with Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction has become an epidemic in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and estimated 2.1 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin. For more information please visit:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

Increasingly I have seen clients who have either a romantic partner or a family member who is suffering from opioid abuse. Review the following red flags to determine if someone in your life may be struggling with opioid abuse:

  1. They use old painkiller prescriptions: You may find your loved one using old or expired painkillers from past surgeries or injuries. When you ask about their use, they may become defensive or secretive. They may accuse you of being unsupportive of their illness or pain condition.
  2. You find (or suspect they are hiding) pills: You may find pills that are clearly being hidden. Others just suspect their partner is hiding pills due to the other behavioral signs.
  3. They experience paranoia: You may notice your loved one becoming increasing paranoid about yours or others behavior. Sometimes the paranoia may be subtle. For instance one client reported his wife believing her family was excluding her from events and talking about her. Other times the paranoia may be more obvious. For example another client’s partner believed someone had left him a “bomb” in a shoebox which had clearly been left by neighborhood kids playing a harmless prank.
  4. Changes in sleep patterns: Usually the opiate addict is oversleeping or not getting enough sleep. You may find that your loved one is sleeping more, or falls asleep at inopportune times (at the dinner table, watching TV or even in the middle of a conversation). The term used for this is “nodding off.” If your loved one is withdrawing they may need very little sleep or experience insomnia.
  5. Irritability: You may notice your loved one becoming increasingly more irritable and short of patience.
  6. They experience flu-like symptoms: When will notice flu-like symptoms when your loved one is experiencing withdraw. They may complain of, or you may notice he/she experiencing nausea, headaches, sweating, joint pain, etc.
  7. Low or no sexual desire: Opiates can change hormone levels that influence sexual desire. When using it may be near impossible for the male addict to get or maintain an erection, and for the female addict to experience physical changes associated with arousal.
  8. Changes in lifestyle: Your loved one may stop engaging in activities they once enjoyed such as exercising or spending time with family or friends.
  9. Money or property is missing: You may notice valuables start to disappear. Another sign may be unexplained cash withdraws from bank accounts or large charges on credit cards.
  10. Appearance changes: Your loved one may start caring less about their appearance, looking disheveled or unclean at times. He/she may neglect basic self-care and grooming.

Opiate addiction is extremely powerful and difficult to overcome. While you cannot force your loved one into treatment or sober living, you can seek support for yourself. Counseling can be beneficial for you to set healthy boundaries with your loved one, help you cope with your own emotional reactions regarding the abuse, decrease any enabling or codependent behavior you may be engaging in, and finally to make more difficult decisions about the relationship if your loved one won’t get help (separation, divorce, a period of no contact, etc.).

Women & Infertility

A woman is considered to be infertile if she has not become pregnant after one year of actively trying to become pregnant. Infertility is thought to affect 10% of all women in the United States (www.womenshealt.gov). Infertility can be caused by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Primary Ovarian Insufficiency, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, Endometriosis and Uterine Fibroids. Certain STDs can also impact a woman’s ability to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term. Scar tissue from previous surgeries or ectopic pregnancies can also cause infertility in women. Aging also impacts a woman’s ability to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term. After age 30, a woman’s ability to get to pregnant becomes more difficult each year. In addition stress, not being within a healthy weight range, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse and an unhealthy diet can contribute to infertility.

If you have been having sex regularly without birth control and have not become pregnant after one year, you should consult with your OBGYN. The doctor will want to know if you have been ovulating regularly. To do this you can either keep track of your daily morning body temperature, tracking how your cervical mucus appears or using ovulation test kits. Your doctor may order blood tests to detect ovulation or an ultrasound. Depending on the results of these tests your doctor may order a hysterosalpingography, which is an x-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes. This x-ray can detect some types of scaring or other obstructions that could be causing infertility. Sometimes a laparoscopic surgery is needed to get a better look at what could be causing infertility.

The cause of your infertility will guide the treatment. Some women can successfully become pregnant, and carry to term with the use of hormone drugs. Another option to treat infertility is artificial insemination or assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilization. Some women have had success getting pregnant despite their infertility with the use of alternative medicine. Some women use alternative medicine in conjuncture with western medicine. Alternative medicine options include acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, massage, Reiki or homeopathy.

Some women find counseling to be helpful when struggling with infertility. Counseling can be used to:

  • Cope with the stress of infertility and the related treatments
  • Address any emotional barriers that could be contributing to infertility
  • Explore the various fertility treatments and the impacts they may have on you and your partner
  • Identify ways to increase social and emotional supports
  • Help you and your partner decide what is best for your relationship given the specific options presented to you by your treating physician
  • Help couples improve their sexual connection after the stress of infertility treatments

What is “Gaslighting”?

“Gaslighting” is a type of emotional abuse. The term comes from the play (1938) and then later the movie Gaslight (1944) in which a husband slowly begins to convince his wife and others that she is crazy. Gaslighting happens slowly over time leaving the victim feeling confused, anxious, depressed and often isolated. Listed below are 7 red flags that may indicate that you are being gaslighted by your partner:

  1. They lie. Blatantly, and a lot: Gaslighters will lie even when they know that you know they are lying. That is part of their game. They will insist that they are right, leaving you feeling confused and doubting your ability to discern truth from fiction.
  2. They dismiss your concerns: Gaslighters will dismiss any concerns you may present to them. They will often insist that you are “too dramatic” or “crazy.” You will be left feeling invalidated and as if you are not allowed to have any needs in the relationship.
  3. They use children or pets as a pawn to gain control: Gaslighters will often use your children or pets as a way to manipulate you, especially if they know how important the role of parenting (or pet parenting) is to you. They may threaten to take the children or pets away from you, often citing a list of flaws they perceive you have as justification. This leaves you feeling terrified, but also guessing your self-worth.
  4. They tell others you are “crazy:” Gaslighters will attempt to turn those close to you against you, often telling them you are crazy. Sometimes this will be done without your knowledge and you may simply notice neighbors, friends or family members distancing themselves from you. Other times Gaslighters will make false police reports or file legal documents with the court system in an attempt to have you charged with a crime you did not commit based on fabrications. Remember, anyone can file anything with the courts or police. Legally the police and court system must accept the reports or documents. Even if the charges and claims are dismissed against you, the Gaslighter will still use these documents against you. Even if the charges are dismissed, they will then use these documents to share with others and attempt to convince them that you are crazy, and that they are the victim.
  5. They put their baggage on you: They will accuse you of behaviors that they are actually engaging in, “You’re abusive!” “You’re controlling!” “You’re a toxic person!” This puts you on the defensive and distracts you from being able to see the gaslighter’s behavior. The Gaslighter is essentially projecting their issues on to you.
  6. You find yourself looking back: You will find yourself unhappy in the relationship but may be confused as to why (your needs will be dismissed, you are being told you are crazy). You soon begin to look back into your past, including at past relationships and realize you were happier and more confident. Pay attention to evidence from the past that you are not the person the gaslighter is accusing you of being!
  7. You cannot do anything right: No matter what you do, you find it is not good enough for the Gaslighter. Even if you adjust to the Gaslighters requests and expectations you will find yourself falling short. Occasionally the Gaslighter will throw in a compliment or praise simply to keep you confused.

Remember, anyone is susceptible to gaslighting. Gaslighters are master manipulators and abuse their victims slowly over time. If you find yourself experiencing some of these red flags, it may be helpful to go to counseling to determine what you would like to do next.

How Your Family Impacts The Way You Fight With Your Partner

Fighting is normal and healthy in any relationship—and in fact it can help long-term relationships strengthen. However, there is a different between healthy and unhealthy fighting. And sometimes the way we communicated and fought with our families of origin can contribute to our fighting styles. Family of origin can be defined as the immediate family or others who lived in the household and had a significant influence on your life. The following steps will help you identify the influence of your family of origin on the way you fight with your partner.

Step 1:  Identify Your Family of Origin

Family of origin can mean not only who your immediate family is/was, but can also include extended relatives who lived with you or had significant influence on your life.  Foster parents or anyone else that provided significant care for you can also be considered part of your family of origin. List their names and relationships to you.         

Step 2:  Explore How Conflict Was Dealt With in Your Family of Origin

Take at least an hour for yourself to answer the questions below. It is okay to take a break and come back to the questions if you feel stuck. Sometimes there may be gaps or questions that are difficult to answer. If you feel comfortable you may ask a sibling, parent or other family member these questions to get another perspective or to help you fill in these gaps. 

1. What did a “fight” or “conflict” mean in your family

2. How did each family member contribute to or engage in the conflict?

3. Sometimes family members cope by withdrawing…Who in your family disengaged in the conflict? And what did this look like?

4. How did you cope with conflicts or fights in your family?

5. What was each family members role in conflict in your family (including yourself)?  Who was the peacemaker?  Scapegoat?  Provoker? Etc.

6. What emotions or feelings were not okay to express during a conflict?  In general?  Who determined this and how?

7. Were there certain emotions or feelings that were used frequently during conflict?  How were they used and who used them?

Step 3:  Examine How You Handle Conflict in Your Relationship

Give yourself about an hour to complete these questions. To answer these questions think of a recent fight with your partner—especially one that was difficult to resolve. 

1. When your partner and you argue, what is typically your role?

2. During a conflict with your partner, what emotions feel safe to express? Which emotions do you find yourself struggling to express?

3. Think about the times when fights seem to escalate. What specific behaviors contribute to this escalation?

4. Consider times during a conflict with your partner when you feel very triggered, or bothered by their actions. Why are these actions triggering for you? How do you then respond to these triggers?

5. How do you cope with, or soothe yourself during a conflict with your partner? 

Step 4:  Check for Parallels

Again you should allow yourself an hour to complete the following questions. Review your answers to the previous sections before you answer the questions below. Again if you feel overwhelmed or stuck it is okay to take a break from the questions and return to them later.

1. Consider your role in conflict when with your family and when with your partner.  What are the similarities?  The differences?  Why might these similarities and differences exist? How might your past be influencing your expectations today?

2. Think about how the role you play in conflict with your partner benefits you, and then hurts you.  How do the costs and benefits compare to those from the role with your family?

3. Look at which emotions were difficult to express during a conflict in your family and with your partner.  What are the similarities and the differences and why might these exist?

4. In what ways is your coping or self-soothing when you argue with your partner similar to the ways you coped and self-soothed when in conflict with your family?  What are the differences?

5. When are you most likely to make yourself vulnerable? What happens when you do let your guard down?

5. Revisit the times when fights seem to escalate with your partner and when you feel very triggered by your partner.  Who in your family of origin perhaps acted the same towards you during a conflict? 

Remember…Once you understand your behavior it can often be easier to change this behavior. Keep in mind that this work can be challenging so you may need to pace yourself and explore slowly.

Do You Have Social Anxiety?

Many people experience anxiety or feel uncomfortable in certain social situations. This nervousness and worry may be normal and appropriate given the situation. For instance most people, even those without social anxiety, may feel nervous meeting their girlfriend/boyfriend’s family for the first time. It would also be normal to feel anxious at a professional event where you have to give a toast or presentation. Another example of very normal social anxiety would be feeling uncomfortable interacting with difficult relatives at a family event. However if you notice that you feel uncomfortable and anxious in almost all social situations you may have social anxiety. Review the symptom checklist below to determine the impact of your social anxiety:

1. In social situations I believe others are judging me or testing me.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

2. I avoid social situations because I am fearful I will become too anxious.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

3. Just anticipating a social interaction can make me experience some of the following physical reactions: vomiting, headache, sweating, heart palpitations, feeling flushed, panic attacks, hyperventilating, shaking, dizziness, nausea, blushing, tightness in chest, voice changes, diarrhea.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

4. During a social interaction I experience some of the following physical reactions: vomiting, headache, sweating, heart palpitations, feeling flushed, panic attacks, hyperventilating, dizziness, nausea, blushing, tightness in chest, voice changes, diarrhea.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

5. I find myself spending an excessive amount of time worrying about a social interaction even before it takes place.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

6. My thoughts about a social interaction feel beyond my control or obsessive.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

7. I think that people I interact with know how nervous and embarrassed I feel.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

8. I believe I will make a fool of myself in front of others.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

9. I believe that compared to other people, my fear of social interactions seems excessive.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

10. In a social situation I purposefully try to make myself invisible to avoid embarrassment and anxiety.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

11. Friends and family members have told me that my fear of social interactions seems excessive.

All of the time Very often Sometimes Rarely Never

12. I use drugs and alcohol to make social interactions easier.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

13. I feel physically, mentally and emotionally drained from my anxiety about interacting with others or avoiding others.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

14. My fear and anxiety about social situations prevents me from engaging in hobbies or activities I enjoy doing.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

15. My fear and anxiety about social situations leads to problems with romantic partners, friends or family.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

16. My fear and anxiety about social situations impacts my professional performance.

All of the time | Very often | Sometimes | Rarely | Never

Review and tally your answers by category (All of the time, Very often, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never). This checklist is not a diagnostic tool but can help gauge the impact of your social anxiety. If you answered “All of the time” or “Very often” to more than half of the questions you may have social anxiety. However, the best way to determine if you have social anxiety is to consult with a mental health professional. Regardless of the outcome of this checklist, if you believe your social anxiety is causing problems in your life, it may be worth seeking professional help. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR Therapy are both very effective methods for treating social anxiety.

Benefits of Divorce Mediation

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Make Divorce Healthier Symposium and was able to meet likeminded therapists, lawyers, financial advisors and divorce coaches who all share the vision of making divorce healthier. When seeing couples or individuals who are going through the divorce process, I encourage them to seek mediation when possible. Here are a few ways mediating your divorce can be beneficial:

  • Mediation will save you money: Sadly, the divorce process is very broken. Remember, the longer your divorce drags on, the more money your lawyer will make. The money you and your spouse each spend on your respective lawyers is money wasted. The money lost hurts not only each of your futures, but also your children’s futures. However, with mediation you and your spouse will hire one lawyer to work collaboratively with you. This reduces the cost of divorce significantly.
  • Mediation is quicker: Because of the naturally collaborative process, mediation compared to traditional divorce is usually faster. Unlike traditional divorce, you do not have to wait for each of your lawyers to find time to communicate with each other, or wait for court dates that could be months away. This also reduces the anxiety and frustration experienced in the traditional divorce process.
  • Mediation is empowering: Both you and your spouse will have more control over the process during mediation. Compared to traditional divorce that often leaves each partner feeling powerless and confused, mediation can be an empowering experience. You and your spouse will get to determine the terms and conditions that work for your specific situation.
  • Mediation will protect your privacy: With a traditional divorce you will have to discuss private family matters (including finances, details about your children) in front of the court. Many people don’t realize they will have to discuss these personal details in front of court employees, officers and other families and lawyers also there for their court date. Mediation ensures privacy, as it can be done in your lawyer’s office.
  • Mediation may be better for your children: Not only will you save money that can go towards caring for your children or investing in their future, but mediation allows you and your spouse to model a cooperative and respectful ending to a relationship. Traditional divorce also usually forces children to undergo testing or evaluations by other professionals when parents cannot agree to a custody arrangement. This can be extremely stressful for children. However with mediation, these evaluations can be avoided. With mediation, you and your spouse can create a custody arrangement that works best for your family—instead of an arrangement mandated by a judge.
  • Mediation is a way to end your marriage with mutual respect and dignity: Remember, at one point you loved your spouse and willingly agreed to legally commit yourself to this person for life. Unlike traditional divorce, which often turns into a “pissing contest” and can get nasty very fast, mediation is a process that can honor the love you each had for each other (and maybe still have). In addition, if you have children, you will need to continue to have a cooperative and civil relationship with your spouse. Mediation is a process that will facilitate spouses being able to co-parent successfully.

If your spouse will not agree to mediation, suggest meeting with a counselor for a few sessions to at least discuss the pros and cons of mediation versus traditional divorce. Make sure you seek out a professional who understands the differences between mediation and traditional divorce. Unfortunately, you cannot force your spouse to mediate. Spouses who are angry, abusive, have narcissistic rage or those who simply want a fight, will likely not agree to mediation. If you find yourself in this situation, seek experienced legal counsel and counseling to help you through the divorce process.

9 Signs Your Partner is a Narcissist

Narcissistic personality disorder is marked by an individual’s belief they are superior to others, an exaggerated sense of one’s accomplishments and need to be well liked by others. Those traits are usually easy to see. In a relationship however, narcissistic traits can sometimes be hard to identify. Here are a few signs that your partner may be a narcissist:

1. They put you on a pedestal: Don’t flatter yourself…if your partner can’t see your flaws this could be a red flag, especially when the narcissist decides they no longer need you to inflate their ego. When the narcissist is putting you on a pedestal it is really so the narcissist can feel good about themselves…your perfection (which does not exist because it doesn’t exist in anyone) is a mere reflection of their own. Narcissists can be very charming and make others initially feel very good about themselves. However, the narcissist doesn’t actually care about you or your wellbeing. You are merely their to serve their ego, and once they no longer need you for that purpose they will discard you like a piece of trash. This is one reason why narcissists often struggle with committed relationships.

2. They cannot tolerate your flaws: If you are the partner of a narcissist you must remember you are viewed only as a mirror of the narcissist. Once the narcissist begins to see your very normal, human flaws, they cannot tolerate this because they are threatened by what it means about themselves. Some narcissists may focus on physical traits and become threatened if their partner gains weight for instance. For others they are threatened by normal anxieties and insecurities that in any health relationship are revealed as the partnership becomes more close and intimate.

3. They cannot take responsibility for their behavior: In any relationship both partners have a role in the relationship problems. However in a narcissist’s opinion you are the only one responsible for the relationship problems. A common explanation from the narcissist about their behavior is “I only act like that because I’m reacting to my partner’s behavior.” Not only is this not true, but it is the narcissists attempt at absolving him/her of any responsibility for the relationship problems. Look for this in the narcissists other relationships—for instance with their family members, coworkers, neighbors and friends. If you can obviously see them treating others this way, remind yourself you will be no different.

4. You’re always to blame: The narcissist will constantly focus on what their partner is doing wrong and how their partner is hurting them. They are always the victim. They cannot and will not look at their own behavior. Be careful. If you are always to blame and they are the victim, when the relationship ends the narcissist will believe they deserve anything and everything that is at stake (the children, pets, finances, joint assets, etc). Narcissists will often engage in slander and frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to establish themselves as the victim.

5. They never apologize: Or at least you never get a real apology. If you hear apologies like, “I’m sorry…I only act like that because you…” Run! To apologize is to take ownership of one’s behavior, which the narcissist is not capable of—unless they are getting something out of it. Be wary of apologies from a narcissist because there is usually another motive.

6. They need to be the focus of everyone else’s attention:
Whether at home, on facebook, out with friends, etc. the narcissist needs to be center of attention and everyone must like the narcissist. They may volunteer or be involved in other activities but it is simply to inflate their sense of self or to “image build.” The narcissist will also seek out relationships with others who he/she perceives to be important. Surrounding themselves with people deemed to be of a certain stature makes them feel they are equally as important.

7. They magnify their accomplishments: The narcissist will exaggerate their accomplishments. For instance, some may call themselves an “author” when they’ve literally never published anything and merely post rants online. While everyone has hobbies and other pursuits, the narcissist perceives theirs as overly important and highly successful (even though they are often not). Even mild success to a narcissist will make them believe they deserve recognition and deserve to be treated special by others.

8. You’re not allowed to have needs: The only needs that matter in the relationship are the narcissist’s. They believe they are entitled to have everyone attend to their needs while doing nothing for others. If the narcissist agrees to meet an expressed need in the relationship (example: I need you to keep our date nights and not cancel) it is only because they are getting something out of it. Be careful if you get the sense you’re only around to serve your partner. In addition, be careful of “gaslighting”—you may be accused about being unreasonable or even abusive for having needs.

9. They lash out when they don’t get what they want: When the narcissist doesn’t get what they want they lash out in extreme and inappropriate ways—this is often referred to as “narcissistic rage.” These actions could appear as child-like temper-tantrums, threats of abuse, or engaging in repeated frivolous lawsuits. Be wary if you feel as though your partner’s reaction to you or others when they don’t get what they want or are criticized is too extreme or does not fit the situation.

If you believe your partner could be a narcissist, seeking counseling could be helpful, especially in finding a way to safely get out of a relationship with a narcissist.

When Body Image Issues Follow You Into the Bedroom

Discomfort about your body can make you feel not only self-conscious in general, but also not confident in the bedroom. You may find yourself avoiding intimate situations with your partner or avoiding dating entirely. To overcome negative body image, it can be helpful to examine past events that influenced your body image.

Children and teens receive commentary about their body’s and appearances from parents, teachers, siblings, friends, strangers, etc. Sometimes this commentary is positive, “That dress looks great on you,” “I like your new haircut,” “I wish I had arms like yours…” Other times the commentary can be pretty mean, “Better watch what you’re eating,” “You’re legs are so hairy,” “You don’t have the right body type for that sport…” It’s the meaner comments (sometimes not even intentionally mean) that stick with us and can linger with us even as adults.

If you find yourself feeling really negative about a particular part of your body, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What parts of your body do you feel negative or self-conscious about?
  • When did you start to feel negative about your body or certain body parts?
  • What messaged did you receive about these body parts as a child/teen? Write down the specific messages—as well as who made the comments.
  • As a child/teen how did you feel when you heard these comments about your body?
  • How does it feel now to revisit these comments?
  • When were you able to ignore or brush off negative comments?
  • When were the comments most hurtful? Or had the deepest impact?
  • What were the differences between the times you could brush off the comments, versus the times when it was too much?
  • As a child/teen how did you cope with these negative comments? Did you avoid certain people, places and things? Activities? Types of clothes?

After you’ve identified where these negative influences came from, and how they influenced your body image, turn your attention to how these messages may STILL be impacting your life. As an adult you may still avoid, hide, or feel overly aware of certain parts of your body that you received negative comments about. These behaviors obviously impact behaviors in the bedroom—wanting to turn off the lights and not be seen, not wanting to remove a certain piece of clothing, being too in your head to enjoy the moment, only wanting to engage in certain sexual positions, etc. Try the following suggestions if you believe your negative body image is following you into the bedroom:

Check in with your partner: Does your partner know why you’re avoiding, hiding or not present during sex? Share with your partner how the insecurities about your body image are impact your sex life. He/she may already have known or suspected, or perhaps they will be surprised to hear your concerns. You may even learn your partner has their own insecurities.

Ask for positive feedback: Ask your partner to give you more positive feedback about your body and the parts he/she likes about your body. To your surprise they may even be the parts you are self-conscious about. Make sure to return the praise and compliment your partner…everyone has some insecurity about their body!

Get rid of the distorted images: While you can’t get rid of all the distorted images you encounter on a daily basis (for instance passing a billboard), you can choose to not purchase certain magazines or watch certain shows that feature airbrushed and digitally altered images. These images are not real. Do not compare yourself to unachievable and superhuman standards!

Look around: Once you’re turned your attention away from altered images, realistically compare your body to those you see around you. All of us have imperfect bodies! There is natural variation of any body part, and likely you will realize the aspects of your body that you are worried about aren’t radically different from those around you.

Take a risk: Avoidance fuels anxiety. The more you avoid, the more anxious you will become about the activity you are avoiding. Pick an activity you’re avoiding like wearing a certain piece of clothing or lingerie, engaging in a certain sexual position or even keeping some lights on during sex. If you are struggling with choosing an activity, make a list of the activities you are avoiding and select the easiest one. Go with that first.

Focus on the Positives: Instead of obsessing about what you don’t like about your body, focus on what you do like. When a negative thought pops into your head about your body, immediately redirect this line of thinking by saying something positive about your body. If you’re struggling with identifying what you like about your body, ask your partner or friends what they like…just be ready to accept the positive feedback. Others can shower you with positive feedback but ultimately you have to believe it.

Coping with a Miscarriage

One of out three pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. Although miscarriages are common, the loss of a pregnancy can be very distressing to a woman and her partner. The distress can be influenced by the meaning of the pregnancy to the couple, each partner’s personal history, the couples experience with medical providers during the pregnancy, the couples experiences with the fertility process, etc. Below are some common issues for women and their partners when they experience a miscarriage:

Frustration with the Medical Community—Remember your doctors primary concern is your physical health. This may come off as hurtful during such an emotional time. In addition, the medical terminology doctors use when talking about a miscarriage (such as referring to the baby as a “fetus” or “passed tissue”) may come off as confusing and cold. If you feel unsure about what your doctor is saying ask for clarification. If you feel too overwhelmed to ask the doctor for more information, have your partner or another supportive family member or friend ask on your behalf.

Complicated Grief—Advanced ultrasound technology creates an opportunity for early bonding experiences. Many women and their partners find that this can sometimes complicate the grief process. Remind yourself that it is normal to have felt bonded to your baby even if it was very early in your pregnancy. There is a misconception that the duration of the pregnancy is related to the level of grief. However, research shows that level of grief is more closely related to the meaning given to the pregnancy. Also keep in mind that it is also normal for women and their partners to experience this grief differently. Be patient with yourself and your partner. It is normal to take a few steps forward, then a few steps back when grieving. When ready, it may be helpful to share your feelings of grief with your partner, a supportive family member or friend, or a counselor.

Dealing with Feelings of Self-Blame and Guilt—Women and their partners receive more information than ever from their doctors, family, friends and the media about what to expect during pregnancy. While there are benefits to this, women’s behaviors during their pregnancy are now often looked at with much scrutiny, not only by others, but by themselves. After a miscarriage women and/or their partners may feel riddled with guilt over exercising, traveling, having sex, eating certain foods, etc. while they were pregnant. Many of behaviors and activities that women worry caused the miscarriage are safe and healthy to engage in while pregnant. To reduce feelings of blame and guilt get reliable information from your OB/GYN.

Not Knowing How to Cope—After a miscarriage it is common to experience anxiety, depression, anger, confusion or hopelessness after a miscarriage. Furthermore it is also common for the emotions that you and your partner after a miscarriage to be different. Remember that what might be effective for you in coping with the loss may be different for your partner—this is okay. Be patient with each other and understand that it is okay for each of you to cope with the loss differently. If you find yourself still struggling with how to cope with the loss it could be helpful to speak to a counselor.