How to Turn Your Childhood Hardship Into Success

broken doll face

It is possible to experience childhood adversity and still feel good as an adult. In my most recent study of 310 successful men and women — featured in my latest book, The Adversity Advantage — 40% experienced child abuse, witnessed domestic violence, or had an alcoholic/substance abusing parent struggling with addiction. If you broaden the definition to include poverty, death of a family member, divorce, or mental illness, 60% experienced serious childhood adversity. In spite of these impactful childhood problems, this group of successful people reported a high level of life satisfaction as adults, much higher than the average in the population.

Many reported that things did not come easily for them, however. They grew up with poor role models for communication, conflict negotiation, self-esteem, forming relationships, and expression of anger. The abuse they experienced created many personal and work problems. Turning their adversity into successes required them to become students of factors that lead to success.

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How Changing Masculinity Is Good For Mental Health

daughter putting lipstick on father

Men are statistically less likely than women to seek help for mental health and to celebrate Men’s Health Week we’re highlighting issues specifically related to men and their mental health.

There’s a scene at the beginning of Anchorman when the narrator talks about the seventies, a time when, “only men were allowed to read the news.”

It’s said in earnest, in a deep, booming voice, and you get the impression the man behind the mic longs for that lost, halcyon era. It’s also meant to be a joke. The kind of thing we laugh about now because the character the film goes on to lionize is quite clearly a jackass. Burgundy’s misogyny and toxic masculinity is something we look back on almost fondly because we imagine we’ve progressed beyond his willful ignorance.

Of course, toxic masculinity has a ways to go before it disappears. There remains a huge number of men driven by insecurity and a mix of hatred and fear of women. It would be foolhardy to swaddle ourselves in the belief that gender issues are a thing of the past in our society.

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How Depression Strengthened My Relationship With My Son

black father comforting son

Men are statistically less likely than women to seek help for mental health. To celebrate Men’s Health Week we highlighted issues specifically related to men and their mental health.  

It was my worst fear. I missed the opportunity to help my 15-year-old old son when he most needed me.

In 2015 I faced the worst depression of my life. It felt like I was in a dark and bottomless pit. I felt distant from myself and my family. Days went by and my most significant family interaction was sitting silently at the dinner table with my hoodie pulled over my head.

One of the oaths I swore to myself when I was younger was that I would use the lessons from my early experiences with depression to make life better for my kids. At the same time I was facing my depression, however, my son faced his own depression as a result of being bullied at school.

Thinking about that season of my life, I wish now that I had been able to think a little more clearly. Maybe I could have picked up on his signs and supported him? Maybe he would have had an easier time if we had talked more? Continue reading How Depression Strengthened My Relationship With My Son

How Divorce Impacts Men’s Mental Health

sad wedding cake toppers

When Zak married his ex-wife, he wasn’t sure they were compatible. At the time it didn’t deter him, however. He was in love, and that seemed like enough.

“I think that’s normal,” Zak said.

Rather than spending time as a married couple without children, Zak and his wife started a family immediately after the honeymoon. After their first child was born, and somewhere between multiple moves, career shifts, and learning to be parents, their relationship became strained.

The changes were stressful, Zak said, and they exposed a preexisting lack of communication.

“We didn’t proactively do any work on the marriage,” Zak admitted. “Nobody said, ‘Hey, we need to go to therapy’ or ‘We need to work on this.’” Continue reading How Divorce Impacts Men’s Mental Health

Why Men Don’t Deal With Mental Health

black man depressed sitting

One of the biggest challenges that men face is dealing with their mental health. Frequently men cope with mental health issues in unhealthy ways including substance abuse, self-medication, anger, aggression, and isolation. Six million men in the United States suffer from depression, and that number increases each year. Some young men (more so than young women) also develop schizophrenia, a debilitating mental health condition that includes detachment from reality and emotional instability. Despite the growing epidemic, men tend to be reluctant to talk about it.

I understand the challenges men face all too well. For most of my life, I wasn’t aware that my depression was tied into masculinity and the way that men often think about their mental health. In my life, when I feel emasculated from rejection or failure, especially romantically, I experience severe depression.

As I’ve become aware of my own mental health issues, and continue to talk about it with my therapist, I’ve experienced increased happiness and well-being. Most importantly, I’ve felt more masculine than ever before.

Continue reading Why Men Don’t Deal With Mental Health

What My Therapist Told Me After My Horrible Divorce

divorced dad carrying son field

After a 25 year marriage, to the woman who I thought was the love of my life, I am now divorced and single. I know lots of men who say that divorce is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. For me that’s not the case.

My ex-wife left me for a man 20 years younger than me. That fact alone was alone was enough to send my mind down a deep, dark rabbit hole. Any ounce of self-confidence I had quickly flew out the window. No only did I go down a path of self-loathing and sadness, but I was crushed under a mountain of legal fees (no, she did not go quietly or kindly). I felt completely duped –– as though I couldn’t even trust my own gut anymore. Where had it come from? How could I have misjudged someone for a quarter century? What had I done to make her recoil in such hate?

Before the divorce I was financially stable. We’re not talking vacation home stable, but I was able to support our five person family –– which in today’s economy — is a dream, I know. Times have changed. My life certainly has. After the divorce, I am now struggling to pay rent for the two bedroom apartment I currently live in. That part is tough, but it’s nothing compared to the pain and devastation I feel about not being able to see my kids everyday. That keeps me up at night. That gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. That aspect of this entire nightmare is what makes me want to give up on everything –– and yet, my kids are the only reason to keep going. Continue reading What My Therapist Told Me After My Horrible Divorce

It’s Time To Retire These Self-Harm Alternatives

red marker cap off

I started self-injuring when I was 17-years-old, the result of not knowing how to manage the overwhelming emotions accompanying years of sexual abuse by a teacher. Self-injury became my way of expressing extreme feelings of fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness, shame, and a complete loss of control. Over time, self-injury became the only way I knew how to deal with emotions, and I didn’t know what else to do.

When I decided I wanted to stop self-harming, the only information I could find advised me to color on my arms with markers, snap a rubber band on my wrist or hold an ice cube. If I was angry, the suggestions were to “get it out” by punching pillows, ripping magazines or throwing ice against a wall.

Well, in short, drawing on my arms with red marker only increased my desire to see real blood and holding ice cubes didn’t hurt enough. At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was cut or burn for real. And I still felt overwhelmed.

It turns out I’m not alone in this experience, and these popular substitute self-injury alternatives are partly to blame. Continue reading It’s Time To Retire These Self-Harm Alternatives

Unboxing the Realities of Moving with Anxiety

woman moving box

I’ve always tended to romanticize the thought of moving away. Once I shed my hometown, I would finally become someone who never forgets to floss and sleeps precisely eight hours a night in crisp white linens. Making the big move is an ideal time to introduce other changes in your life too, but you can’t move away from yourself. Or your anxiety. After the move, I might have become slightly more committed to my oral hygiene, but my Persian cat’s weepy eyes still constantly left mysterious beige spots on my cotton sheets.

Perhaps, like me, the idea of starting over somewhere new is your go-to escapist daydream. As the realities of moving set in, however, it can become difficult to keep your anxiety in-check.

Before setting off I tried to deal with the less romantic realities. Pondering housing, thinking about relationships, and coping with these changing elements of my life gave me somewhere to focus my anxiety. I reasoned that this focus would help me identify everything that could potentially go wrong and eliminate the risks. This strategy, however, kept me from acknowledging I was doing something brave and that the risk was part of what made the experience exciting, too. Continue reading Unboxing the Realities of Moving with Anxiety

When Does Therapy Start ‘Working?’

woman client couch therapist

Ashley Laderer remembers exactly when therapy started working for her, the first time she could feel its benefits without any doubts or skepticism. The healing began with a single, surprising word: “lumpy.”

During her initial sessions Laderer constantly felt nauseous and had anxiety about vomiting.

“My therapist was like, ‘We need to stop giving the nausea so much power. Let’s make it less powerful,’” Laderer recalled.

Rather than saying she felt nauseous or had nausea, her therapist suggested using “lumpy” to describe what she was experiencing.

“At first it seemed so silly and I always forgot to use the word,” Laderer said. “But then in session I would always say ‘lumpy’ instead of nauseous.”

Shortly after, Laderer felt significantly better about her nausea and anxiety. She recognized this as a result of therapy. Continue reading When Does Therapy Start ‘Working?’

When Anger and Emotions Run Your Life

angry woman expletives cartoon

I became self-aware of my anger in my early 20s after I was diagnosed as bipolar. Shortly after my diagnosis, I was at a bar with some friends and an ex-boyfriend showed up with his new girlfriend. Some words were said and instead of walking away to cool off, I threw myself at her and wrapped my fingers around her throat. Two bouncers pulled me off and frog-marched me to the door. Even though I clearly had been drinking, I got into my car and sped off to a friend’s house. I crashed on their couch and drove home sober early the following morning.

I marveled later that I was not pulled over for drunk driving and, had I been, how much my life would have changed. I marveled that assault charges were never filed against me. I also marveled at how my anger may have become my new normal.

It was a wake-up call. Something had to change, but the actual change wouldn’t come until much later. Continue reading When Anger and Emotions Run Your Life