Tag Archives: mental health

The Other Side of the Couch – What It Costs Us

The woman was talking to her son, age seven. He was in tears. “I’m sorry, Robbie, but you’re just going to have to learn to control yourself. You can’t dissolve into tears over every little thing.”

Two little boys were having an argument over a toy. One child hit the other one. A parent standing nearby said, “Hit him back, Johnny.”

The little boy had fallen and skinned his knee. He began to cry loudly. His peers, slightly older and already wise in the ways of the world, taunted him. “What a crybaby – he is a girl.”

The preceding stories are typical interactions that happen every day, every week, every month, every year in our society. They represent pervasive attitudes toward raising young boys to be men. The message goes something like this: “It is not good to let boys grow up to be too sensitive. They will be ridiculed: they will not have what it takes to succeed in a competitive world. It MAY be all right for them to express some feelings when they are very young, but they should not be coddled. The last thing anyone wants is a son who is a sissy.”

Sensitivity to the experience of others, the ability to feel with another person in his/her joy or pain, is often regarded as suspect when it is displayed by boys or men. This attitude presents a significant barrier to improved world community.

A central task that faces human beings is that of maintaining a balance between self and other. Human as we are, we can neither live alone nor together; we are caught in an ongoing tension between yearning for connection and affiliation and yearning for autonomy and independence. The experience of empathy – a process during which a person experiences the experience of another AS IF it were her own and AT THE SAME TIME is clearly aware of her own self – clearly mirrors that ultimate humanity.

The empathic process calls on the individual to perceive affective cues, both verbal and non-verbal, which serve as indicators of the other’s emotional state. The individual, perceiving these cues, takes the role of the other, experiencing the other’s feelings vicariously. Empathic ability is complex, requiring a clear self-concept, the ability to connect affectively, and flexible ego boundaries. Empathic ability has been posited to be a strong indicator of effective human functioning and maturity. A major component of effective parenting rests on parental ability to empathize. Inability to empathize, on the other hand, has been linked with a variety of antisocial behaviors (narcissism, in particular).

When empathy is broken down into its various components (perceptual, affective/cognitive, communicative) boys and girls do well on all aspects of tasks other than the motivation to attend or perceive. In other words, girls notice the non-verbal and verbal cues necessary to arouse empathy. They seem to be more perceptually attuned to pick up on these cues. Boys, when trained in research settings in doing this, were equally able on the other parts of the tasks. Differences in measured empathic ability diminished with direct teaching of perceptual skills to boys.

The implications of these findings are both heart-rending and hopeful. The ability to empathize is an essential human skill. Our culture encourages girls to have it because it fits with our definition of female. Boys, who need it just as much and who benefit from direct teaching of how to pick up on perceptual cues from others, are instead taught to deny their own feelings and to ignore the feelings of others.

Boys may require actual specific teaching of skills that girls acquire as part of their identity. Boys seem to be deliberately trained away from acquiring this set of skills because of well-intentioned parents’ fears for their future success in an out-of-balance society. Young boys are placed in an emotional
catch-22 by this process -subject to deep emotional arousal, yet not given the tools to understand it or to release it into altruism or prosocial behavior.

Our world is poorly served by this unfortunate situation. Something little boys and men need – full emotional, flexible responsiveness – is being withheld from them, through no fault of their own. Knowing that it can be and must be directly taught is essential information for our world’s future functioning.

Parent: “Johnny, you hit your friend. What is he doing? “
Johnny: “He is crying and holding his arm.”
Parent: “If someone hits you, how do you feel?”
Johnny: “I feel sad and mad.”
Parent: “How do you think your friend feels right now?”
Johnny: “Sad and mad.”
Parent: “What can you do to help?”
Johnny: “I can give him a hug and say I’m sorry.”
Parent: “Good job, Johnny – I am proud of you for noticing that your friend is sad and mad and needs help.”

This little scenario is an illustration of two-step perspective taking that helps a child understand the beginnings of empathic connection. It works! As we enter a New Year, as we leave behind a year fraught with pain and distress, may we all take heart from the good and decent men and women who are learning and teaching the lessons of empathy and care needed by all human beings.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com .

Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Tagged as boysempathygirlsHopemasculinitymental healthnarcissimSusan Hammonds-White

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The Other Side of the Couch – Charleston

CharlestonI was on the way to Charleston on Friday, June 26, 2015, as President Obama gave the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine African-American members of the AME Emanuel Church who were gunned down by a white 21-one-year-old who had been indoctrinated by a white supremacist organization.  I was on the way to a city that embodies in so many ways the contradictions, struggles, pain that 150 years – no, 300 years – have not erased from this country.  The bloody war, known in the North as the Civil War, in some parts of the South still called the War Between the States, or less benignly, the War of Northern Aggression, still incites pain.  Black or white, Northern or Southern, the history of war, occupation, slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression is unfortunately alive today.

President Obama said,

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.  By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.


I am moved by this eloquent response to unspeakable tragedy.  I am moved by the families of those massacred, who offered forgiveness to the murderer.  I am moved by the people of Charleston, who, rather than withdrawing into factions and anger, came together with tears in the face of this tragedy.  I hope that political divisions can be put aside as we come together to work for a better tomorrow.

It’s not about the Confederate Flag.  It’s about us.  All of us.  May we all be Charleston, and create a better future for our country, united.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch: Worrying

Young Woman Biting Her Finger Nail





Are you a worrier?

So many people in this day and age are troubled by worry…worrying about what if this, and what if that…what will happen if this happens, how will I handle things if that…We spend precious energy on these what IFS, and too often in the process we lose track of the what NOW.

I spend many working hours with people who are troubled by many “what ifs.”  And it doesn’t help to be logical and explain that worrying isn’t very useful.  If worry could be affected by logic, it would not have the hold on us that it often does.

Worry, in many cases, is a message from our hearts (our emotional world) to our heads (our rational world) that is saying:  Be careful!  Watch out!  Take care!  Have you ever tried to be logical with a child who is frightened?  That’s about what it’s like when our rational brains try to tell our emotional hearts to calm down.

I have found it much more helpful to first accept the emotion:  “Of course you’re scared.  I understand that you’re worried about _____.”  It reminds me of being with my daughter when she was very young and was afraid of Gaston, the bully in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”  I didn’t try to talk her out of her feelings; instead we found a ritual that involved telling Gaston to “Go away, scat, vamoose, you are not welcome.”  We did that together.  So the worry was met, not dismissed, witnessed, and together we created a different way of responding to it.

If you are worried, you might try:

  • Accepting the feeling
  • Taking a compassionate stance toward the part of you that is worrying
  • Creating a message of support that both witnesses and shifts the response.

Could change your head AND your heart!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!








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The Other Side of the Couch 4: Depression, Untreated, Can Be Fatal

Sad Teenage Girl

About four weeks ago I started taking a medication called a beta blocker.  This medication is taken by many people, and many do well on it, but others do not.  One of the side effects of this medication is depression.  I turned out to be one of those people for whom even a tiny dose of this medication leads to a rapid descent into depression.  I wasn’t sleeping well. I was waking up exhausted;. My appetite was off, and I began to feel hopeless and unmotivated to handle my daily obligations.  I began to cry frequently, and I could not stop thinking about Robin Williams and his sad death.

I am a licensed professional counselor with years of experience in the field and I recognized pretty quickly that these were not normal experiences for me.  I know the difference between being blue and sliding into a major depressive episode and I was on my way to the latter.  I called my doctor, stopped the medication, and almost immediately (within two days) was back to my regular self.  I was still sad about Robin Williams’ tragic death, but I was also able to stop obsessing about it.

Robin’s suicide may have been influenced by a medication that he was prescribed for his early Parkinson’s diagnosis.  Many medications can have these kinds of side effects.  Sometimes depression just happens without any particular cause.  Sometimes prolonged stress can tip one over into a major depressive episode.

Knowing the signs that point to depression can save lives.  If you notice sleep and appetite changes, thinking over and over again about something without being able to let go of it, negative thoughts about yourself, including feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, fatigue, lack of motivation (that “whatever” feeling), and especially thoughts about death (They would be better off without me; I’ll show them; They’ll miss me when I’m gone) or any kind of thought about planning what you would do to die, SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP.  Depression can be treated, but death cannot.

Depression can manifest in children and adolescents somewhat differently. Often restlessness and irritability are components of this illness in minors.

A great resource for help with depression and other mental illnesses is NAMI.  You can find great information at www.nami.org.  It’s worth reaching out for help, because help is available.  Depression is an illness, just like any other.  Treat it like an illness, and get help.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!


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