8 Unique Ways to Up Your Self-Care Scene

Oh, self-care. That frequently elusive path to relaxation and happiness, you are the bane of so many. 

And yet...

We need you! You're crucial for our healing, de-stressing and sense of self-worth.

So here, dear reader, are eight unique ways you can boost your self-care in the easiest, least anxiety-inducing ways possible. No touching even, I promise! 

1) Be an urban explorer. Go with a friend if you aren't comfortable discovering a new place. The important thing is to go somewhere new. Get in the car and head to somewhere unusual in your own town. Or hop off the bus at the stop two before yours.

2) Splurge on citrus. Buy a few lemons, Cara Cara oranges, a blood orange maybe, and at least one grapefruit, etc. Wash and cut into slices. Trim the rind and arrange on a favorite plate, platter. Inhale your citrus sunset. Citrus improves our mood and is great for our immune system too.

3) Blow bubbles. Bubble wands were 99 cents at Michael's a few months ago. I bought 12. Do you remember how satisfying it was to blow bubbles or twirl around with a bubble wand in your hand? No? Then you really need this tip.

4) Deep breathes. Breathe in to the count of 1, 2, 3 and then breathe out to the same: 1, 2, 3. Repeat 4x. Then tell people about it on your social media and look like a mindfulness CHAMP.

5) Go to bed early. I mean, early. If you normally shut the lights out by 10:00, do it at 9:30. Whatever your usual time is (please tell me you have a usual time), make it 30 minutes earlier. Good sleep can right many wrongs.

6) Wrap yourself in a (weighted) blanket. Great for folks who have anxiety or sleep challenges. Here's a little bit about them from a small business. Weighted blankets can be expensive but it's possible to find people that rent the ones they make as a "try before you buy" and also gently used ones. Leave a comment if you need help finding one.

7) Go to a field, the Eno, your backyard...somewhere and pick wildflowers. Even dandelions count. Dandelions are only a weed if you think they are. {My four year old doesn't think of them as a weed.) Bring home and gather in a small vase. Flowers of any kind are cheery and cheering.

8) De-clutter. Grab a grocery style paper bag. Go around the house and fill it with anything that feels like clutter. For me that means not beautiful or functional. Extra stuff pulls energy away from what's important like your healing or self-care. When you're done put the bag in the car and drop it off at TROSA.

Got a unique tip? Share it below. Thanks for reading!

The One Big Little Thing Survivors Need to Know About Sex

We're wrapping up SAAM here in April. We've talked facts and prevention but I wanted to bring in something that most people, including likely your therapist, don't talk about: how past sexual abuse affects intimacy.

Sexual abuse can have long term effects on physical health and emotional wellness.  The more early childhood trauma you were exposed to, the higher your risk for health and wellness challenges. But less well known is how past sexual abuse affects intimacy. From the work I do with survivors, I knew that there was a linkage. So I conducted a brief survey last summer that looked at exactly that issue.

The response below was the first that came in:

Like many abuse survivors, Jane is suffering alone with this. And that can make dealing with something as personal as intimacy challenges even harder. So let's get this out of the way: there's nothing wrong with Jane. Her inability to orgasm after sexual abuse is common. (Also common are flashbacks, pain during sex, lack of desire and an inability to get aroused.) But what's going on? There are a combination of reasons for a lack of orgasm. Let's look at four different factors:

  1. Ability and desire to be vulnerable. Trauma such as rape can take away our ability to be vulnerable. But this unique kind of brave openness is a way that we build and deepen connections with others. If we aren't being vulnerable with trusted people in our lives, we feel lonely and frustrated. "Why doesn't anyone understand me?" is a natural thought. When vulnerability doesn't happen during intimacy, it's a double whammy! We're frustrated, feel disconnected and our satisfaction with sex is compromised. 
  2. Unpredictability of our body. Even if we feel excited about our partner and want to be vulnerable, our body can betray us. This can show up many ways including an inability to orgasm. Some survivors experience a betrayal of their body for the first time during abuse. In spite of not wanting what was happening, their body responded in a sexual way. Although this can be heartbreaking and confusing, it is completely normal. Even years after abuse ends, our body can betray us. 
  3. The nature of an orgasm. An orgasm is a surrender to sexual excitement. Inherent in orgasm is a relinquishing of control and predictability. But power and control is at the center of abuse. As a result, abuse survivors tend to hold fast to what they can control. Yielding control to someone else, especially sexually, can be scary. As if that's not enough, the part of our brain that controls behavior becomes less controlled during orgasm. So survivors might be fighting against their own instincts and biology itself during sex.
  4. Triggers. Triggers from abuse are unpredictable. Triggers are more likely to surface during vulnerable times or momentous life experiences. They can show up years after abuse has ended and even if the survivor is in a loving relationship. Having someone touch you in a specific place or hearing a certain word could be a trigger that inhibits orgasm.

There are many possible factors for survivors like Jane who have challenges in intimacy. And yet, while an understanding of how past abuse can impacts present day can be helpful, just as important is a sense of agency about the abuse. So what can Jane do?

One thing she can do is talk about the abuse. I know from Jane's survey that she told partners that she is a sexual abuse survivor. And yet, sexual abuse is not a "one and done" topic. We know that triggers and challenges like a lack of orgasm can surface any time. Continued conversations about our abuse and how it's showing up in our lives is an essential, everyday practice. These conversations must happen with trusted friends, family and in peer support groups. All too often survivors talk about abuse only with their therapist. Support outside a professional's office strengthens relationships and keeps focus on the present.

Jane also needs to talk specifically about her inability to orgasm. It's important for her to use her own language to talk about what's going on.

I don't think it's possible for Jane to know what she knows without speaking out loud to a trusted person. We have to voice something in order for it to be real. When pain exists only as a personal deficiency in our mind, we can fool ourself into thinking it doesn't matter or that we are wrong or defective. But when we speak pain aloud, we own it, instead of it owning us. From that place we move to resolution.

I can't emphasize enough the importance for Jane of having trusted people in her life. If this is a challenge (and it is for many of us), Jane can work on this with vulnerability exchanges. Examples of low risk vulnerability exchanges would be saying "no" to something small or sharing a personal story. Being sexual with someone is a high risk area for many of us. So starting low is better as a way to practice vulnerability and build up a team of trusted people.

Finally, it's imperative that Jane's chosen partner is a desired partner. A desired partner is one that causes butterflies, in a good way. Feeling indifferent to a partner or going through the motions is a recipe for disaster. No sizzle=all fizzle. It's also a red flag to feel anxious, scared or sexually pressured by a partner. If a current partner reminds Jane of any kind of negative experience, desire will go down. We're more likely to orgasm when we relax and get excited by the person we're with. That's also the sign of a healthy relationship.

It can be embarrassing and lonely to be unable to orgasm with a chosen partner. But Jane isn't wrong and she isn't alone. And there are real steps that she and others like her can take to feel sexual in the way they want to.

How Words Hurt Kids: What Happens When Slang Replaces Truth

Recently, I read something on Facebook that made me wince...

An aunt was helping her young niece in the shower. She reminded her to wash the whole body, including her vagina*. The niece responded, "where's my vagina?". The aunt pointed, asking "what do you call that?". The niece, following her gesture, said, "my lady parts."

Haha! We can all laugh about that, right?

But should we?

There are many reasons parents choose not to use the real names of body parts. Discussing sex or basic reproductive functions can feel daunting. Religion may also influence parenting choices. And no matter how we identify or what our current values are, we can never quite get away from how our parents raised us. Messages we learned as kids about the body influences our decisions today. "Boobs", "lady parts" and "hoo-hah" are pretend, slang. At some point, though, reality catches up with pretend and the effects are broader than you'd think.

While sometimes funny in the moment, slang is dangerous for kids.

Incorrect language can make kids look and feel stupid. Some of their peers know something that they don't. Those kids know what a vagina is and likely what it does. Knowledge is power; it's social cache, on and off the playground. Not being in the know can lead to feelings of insecurity and fear. These are not the feelings we want to cultivate, especially if we want to keep kids safe. Kids who are confident in their knowledge and trust their parents to protect and inform them are harder to coerce or groom.

Using slang also secretizes something. Slang is code that not everyone knows. "That's excluding!" my four year old would say. She's right. Secrets involve excluding some information from other people. She knows excluding doesn't feel good or safe. But she doesn't know that secrets shrinks people. Not only uncomfortable, a secret makes people smaller, and feel less capable than they are. Kids are especially susceptible to the dangers of secrets. They lack the agency of adults and often can't understand the potential impact behind secret keeping. Nothing about kids' bodies should be made secret. Privacy or "private areas" okay; secrets are not.

Ignorance and smallness are big deals but there's more. Slang reduces the female body into something not deserving of respect. If a girl uses the same slang ("boobs") that she sees someone else use to catcall or mock, she will associate her body with something less than.

Why give the body respect if we don't even use the correct names to describe it?

As a commodity, a thing, a woman's body is more easy to control. This is even more true of black women whose bodies are often fetishized in ways that white women's bodies are not.  Control looks like chopped parts in advertising. It looks like a multi-billion industry (and public health crisis) built on violence against women. It sounds like pregnant women being called "hosts" and presents as husbands being able to sue their wives for an abortion. Everyone loses when the female body is controlled and reduced.

"But my kiddo is in Kindergarten, surely this isn't an issue for her?"

Think again.

"More than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as 6 to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size,". That's a huge percentage of kids in the early years of their schooling. These kids, little children, worry about their weight. Why?

Because even at 6, kids can recognize what a "desirable" body looks like.  And when these kids look in their own mirror, they don't see it.

This isn't middle school; these kids are 1st and 2nd graders.

Kids, in many ways, become more vulnerable as they get older. They may not be as easy to trick but they are more aware of what the world expects them to know and how they "should" be (thin) or behave (diet). (Poor children, children of color or kids suffering from trauma often have even more challenges.) We need kids, especially girls, to feel self-confident and hang onto that confidence. Body image is not something kids are born with; it is learned. We must help kids love and appreciate their bodies. 

Here are four things you can do:

1) Use the right language to describe body parts...yours and theirs. Picking and choosing the correct body parts to use ("vulva" but not "breasts") is confusing. Even if it feels uncomfortable, use these correct words.

2) Normalize conversations around sexuality with kids. When they ask, tell them. Sex is nothing to hide away or feel shamed about. When you talk openly, kids know to go to you, not porn or other kids, for information.

3) Watch your language about your own body. Kids take cues from parents modeling when they are newborns. Negative self-talk including your weight are no exception. 

3) Help kids know what their body is valued for. It's not for cuteness or hotness but for strength, capability, doing good in the world. Telling them that you noticed their strong legs when they were swimming. Or how hard they were working to pass the ball to a teammate. Allow kids to see that you notice their efforts also helps develop a growth mindset.

Slang hurts everyone. But it can immobilize kids. Slang keeps kids small and stupid while also perpetuating the confusing Catch-22 of both disposability and idealization of certain female bodies.

Use the right language. Start now. Do it today.

*for this story, I am going to use the language that the aunt used, not the correct terms.

Behind The Scenes: "Do I Make a Report?"

Email from Katherine:

"I recently learned that Kentucky has no statue of limitations for sexual abuse cases. My cousin abused me in Kentucky. I'm now wondering if I should report my abuse. I was always told I shouldn't because it didn't matter. My cousin has a partner and family now.  I am wondering if my reporting would save their lives or ruin them."

Oooof, that's a really hard decision, Katherine. I'm thinking of a few things that would help *me* make such a decision.

1) Abuse that happened by an older kid is sometimes seen very differently by them. Did you ever confront your cousin about abusing you? If so, how did they respond? Someone's willingness to admit that they hurt someone can help us figure out if they're an abuser or someone who made a bad choice once.

2) I try to look at someone's behavior since the incident of the abuse. I seek out other relationship red flags besides physical or sexual abuse. How do they treat the other people in their life, especially women? I look for respect, equal partnerships. What about other areas of their life: work, school, friendships? Click here to view my slides on Relationship Red Flags for warning signs of potentially abusive behavior.

3) I'm struck by your sentence of "always being told I shouldn't because it doesn't matter," "Should" seldom steers us in the right direction. This is a time for you to listen to you. What does your gut instinct tell you about reporting? When you think about reporting him...does it seem like the "right" thing to do? Or does it feel like a "should"?

It's impossible to tell if someone's life may be ruined (and how do we define that anyway?) but your relationship with these folks will be perpetually changed. Consider whether that matters to you, Katherine. Good luck!

~~~

Reader, you can learn more about statutes of limitations for NC or any state in the US by clicking here. 

Anyone can also click here to ask a question. It will be answered here on the blog, changing any revealing details to protect your confidentiality. And this form goes only to me.

"No Secrets" & More: 3 Kids Safety Tips You Need To Know

April starts Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) so let's kick things off and talk about kids.

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Child sexual abuse is one of the most under-rated and pervasive crimes in this country. Conservative estimates say 1 in 5 girls, 1 in 15 boys, will be sexually abused by the time they are 18. I use the number 1 in 4 girls along with other facts here (insert link for the file infographic). My own belief is that the numbers are more like 1 in 3 girls, 1 in 7 boys especially if contact and non-contact abuse is included in a definition. Regardless of exact numbers, sexual abuse among children is common.

The good news is that there are things that you as a parent can do to help keep your children safe. Here are three ideas:

  1. Introduce a "no secrets" agreement. We have told my daughter that there are no secrets in our house. There are surprises (what Santa might bring, for example) but there are no secrets. She knows from her time at her excellent preschool about the idea of excluding. I've built off of that. Secrets exclude people. So no one should ever ask her to keep a secret. We've made an agreement that she should tell my husband or I if anyone ever uses the word "secret" with her.

  2. Make a big deal about "no". She says "no" to my tickling and I instantly stop. When she is sticking her face uncomfortably close to my own, I tell her "no". If my "no" doesn't stop her actions immediately, I remove my body from her reach. Consent conversations must start early with kids. You can do this by teaching them they have the right to say "no" about anything with their bodies. This includes asking them to give someone a hug (or kiss) and modeling you saying "no," with your body.

  3. Identify their safe people*. If a parent or caregiver wasn't around and a child needed help or support, who could they ask for help? Teachers and the police are often in this category for many kids. But who else? Your child needs to know that there are other adults that they can count on for help. You and your kiddo should have a conversation where they identify 2-3 grown-ups that they feel comfortable asking for help. For us, my daughter chose 2-3 neighbors on our street with whom we are close as a family and she felt safe talking to.

If you are a child in an abusive situation, it can feel like not only does no one else see what you see but that no one can help. One of your many goals as a parent is to avoid having your child feel that way. These three tools help create a foundation of trust between you and your child. So hopefully if anything bad does happen, your kiddo will tell you straight away. And when they do, that you will believe them.

What are the ways that you help keep your kids safe? Leave a comment below.

~~~

*Depending on age/maturity, starting with "safe people" can be easier than "tricky people".