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Archive for 2017

Hurricane Harvey . . . . and stress in your love relationship

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Yesterday I read about a journalist interested in interviewing couples who had to postpone their wedding due to Harvey. I found this interesting because my counseling specialty is relationships and I know that this natural disaster has the power to impact couples in either a positive or negative way. John Gottman, renowned relationship researcher, says that how couples look back on earlier difficulties in their relationship is predictive of how it will turn out. Some couples “glorify the struggle”, meaning that they drew strength from the adversity they weathered together. They made it a “we” problem and worked through obstacles together. Other couples get dragged down by the difficult times and fall into disillusionment. They look at it as a “me” problem and build resentment and walls in their relationship. Ten years ago, my husband and I experienced our own storm when I had a health crisis. My health was initially very compromised and then it turned into a chronic problem that I have to manage daily. While not every day has been unicorns and rainbows in our marriage, we did get stronger over time because of the difficulty we faced together. Through that experience I knew that I could trust my husband to be there for me in big and little ways, and we deepened our commitment to one another. People notice and ask what the secret to our marriage is and I jokingly say it was my near-death experience. It’s not that the trauma we experienced gave us the tools to improve our marriage, but rather it gave us the desire to work on it. Commitment is a verb and it means working on your relationship daily, and like all couples, we still had to work on how we dealt with emotion and conflict. If your home flooded, you and your partner are likely to have some emotion and conflict to manage. If you are having trouble leaning into one another so that one day you will be able to “glorify the struggle”, I encourage you to get help sooner rather than later. Sadly, most couples wait an average of six years from the onset of trouble before they seek counseling, and by then some serious damage could occur. We know that emotions related to the flood are high now due to Acute Stress. Sometimes couples struggle with emotions because one is needing a lot of emotional expression and support and the other doesn’t have a comfort level in dealing with emotion. We call this a meta-emotion mismatch and it is one of the most common problems we see in couples. Some people may be having trouble coping with the stress of losing everything and they may be turning towards addictive substances or behaviors to numb their feelings, and that surely can negatively impact their relationship. Couples could also be arguing a lot about flood related things, like money or “what do we do now?”. How people argue matters. Some may not like or understand the way their partner deals with conflict, or they may be letting harsh criticism and defensiveness hijack any meaningful problem-solving discussions. Again, not every day will be unicorns and rainbows for even the best of marriages, but if the bad days are starting to outnumber the good days, please don’t wait to address it. Please visit our website for our ever-expanding list of resources for people impacted by the flood.

Hurricane Harvey . . . . feeling sadness

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Yesterday a friend from Dallas came to visit and as we drove into town on Kingwood Drive she asked about the devastation.  In that moment, I realized that to her things seemed very normal here.  The adrenaline surge that we felt the last few weeks was gone.  Traffic was not congested, donation centers and shelters were not evident, and volunteers were now out shopping and having lunch instead of delivering sandwiches or ripping out sheetrock.  I drove through Barrington for her to see the wreckage, and while the mounds of trash provided evidence of the flood, very few people were outside.  It was then that I knew that there would now be room for people to start feeling sadness.  In the early stages of grief, we are too busy or too numb to feel sad, even though the situation warrants it.  It is not until we settle into the fact that our life is profoundly different in an unwanted way that we start to sow the seeds of sadness.  People who were less affected by Harvey are moving back into normal routines. And while people who had to leave their homes are trying to get back into normal routines, things are far from normal, and they are feeling it.  Sadness is an expected emotion because it is tied to something missing in our life.  Even if people have accepted the loss of material things, they are still experiencing the loss of the comfort of their daily routines.  Sadness is one of the most uncomfortable emotions we can feel.  People who experience it want it to go away quickly and people who witness in others want to make them feel happy instead of sad.  But we must be careful not to jump past sadness too quickly.  Sadness is a productive emotion because when we allow ourselves to feel it we can better figure out our next steps. It serves like a GPS, guiding us in the right direction.  When we try to fight it, we may find that it settles into hopelessness, despair and deep depression.  Being emotionally healthy means that we honor our feelings, and that includes being able to sit with uncomfortable emotions at times.  It is important to talk about your loss and sadness but so often we force a happy smile so as not to make others uncomfortable.  We fear that expression of sadness will weaken us, but the opposite is true.  If you are starting to feel the weight of sadness, it might be time to talk to a compassionate friend or get some counseling. If you are witnessing someone’s sadness, you might feel uncomfortable but just try to listen.   Feeling heard and understood helps.  Don’t try to get them off of the feeling by offering hollow platitudes.   Recognize your own discomfort, but try hard to tune into the other’s sadness and offer validation and empathy for what they are feeling in the moment.  Our tendency is say things like “It will be OK” or “I am sure God has great things in store for you” or “Count your blessings instead of your losses”.  All of those things may be true, but they are emotionally dismissive statements and don’t invite others to fully feel their emotions.  We especially do that with children because we hate when kids are sad, but the best thing we can do for a child is to help them understand that what they are feeling is normal.  What has happened warrants sadness and if they feel it, it is OK for them to express it.  With both adults and children, we need to give them permission to feel their sadness.  We need to help them understand that they don’t need to fear it, and we need to let them know that we can handle their negative emotions.  If you or a love one is struggling, area therapists are available to help.  Please check out our list of resources for flood victims.

Hurricane Harvey . . . the good, the bad and the ugly about acute stress

Monday, September 11th, 2017

We have been dealing with the effects of the flood for two weeks and feelings have been all over the place. We are experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly of Acute Stress. Let’s talk about “the bad” first. In previous posts, I talked about symptoms such as anger, numbing, guilt, irritability and sadness. But the list of symptoms for acute stress is much longer, and I know personally I have experienced some of them, such as impaired memory and concentration, fatigue and insomnia. Others who were more directly affected (being rescued, loss of job, loss of home, etc.) may be experiencing other symptoms, such as confusion, intrusive thoughts/memories, helplessness, relational conflict, social withdrawal, impaired work or school performance, loss of pleasure, nightmares and a spacey feeling, which we call dissociation. These are expected symptoms, but most people are resilient, recovering within 6-16 months. And now for “the ugly” . . . More severe reactions may occur in some individuals, such as severe re-experiencing (flashbacks) of the rising flood waters or being rescued, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, severe dissociation (not feeling connected to one’s own body, amnesia), extreme avoidance or problematic substance use. If you or someone you know is experiencing severe symptoms, it is time to seek professional help as a diagnosis of PTSD may be on the horizon. So, what are the “good” things that can potentially arise from enduring this trauma? Highly stressful situations are often the impetus for our persona growth. Think of your own history and times of personal growth and you will realize that it is often tied to a painful event, like a divorce, illness or job loss. The idea is not new. Nietzsche’s famous line is “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Natural disasters can create what is called “post-traumatic growth”. Now I am not saying that losing everything in flood is something to embrace. It is not. But, some individuals will be profoundly changed in a positive way because of it. Post-traumatic growth is not universal, but it is also not unusual. After Hurricane Katrina, the study of post-traumatic growth took off as many people reported improvements in their life. It’s hard to say what that growth will be, but growth tends to occur in five basic areas: new opportunities, closer relationships or enhanced empathy, sense of one’s own strength, greater appreciation for life and a significant change or deepening in spiritual beliefs. Flood victims are currently feeling great suffering, yet over time some may experience growth that they cannot imagine right now. According to research, it appears that those who have not endured repeated trauma in their lifetime are more likely to experience this type of growth. As a community, I think we are experiencing a form of post-traumatic growth, and I hope it sticks. Social support and connection to our community have skyrocketed. We have abandoned the notion that political, racial, religious and socio-economic differences separate us because we are all having a common experience. We are mired in sadness about our losses, yet we have never felt so much fellowship in our community. Without this natural disaster, we would not have experienced this. The flood may be the beginning of the story, but it is not the end. There is hope. And as always, I want to close my post by reminding you that local therapists are committed to helping those who are struggling. Please see our ever-expanding Resource and Referral list on our website.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Hurricane Harvey . . . . survivor guilt and numbness

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Some people may be wondering why they are experiencing “survivor guilt”. Some are wondering why they are feeling nothing. The short answer is both are common and expected responses after natural disasters. We are in a period of acute stress. We can’t really call it PTSD yet because not enough time has elapsed for that diagnosis. Both Acute Stress and PTSD are forms of anxiety and grief, but the more serious PTSD means you are stuck in the process. If you are feeling nothing, it is your way of coping, at least for the moment, with the tragedy we are experiencing. Sometimes when things feel too big, we shut it down and section it off as a means of protecting ourselves from the pain. It hasn’t sunk in yet. The numbness is actually somewhat productive in the early stages. Not being weighed down by heavy feelings helps us to kick it into high gear to clean out flooded houses, contact insurance companies, deal with FEMA, etc. The same is true after the death of a loved one. There is a lot to do in planning a funeral, and it is not until we are done with the busy-ness and into the daily routine of our new unwanted reality that we begin to feel. This numbness is why therapists’ offices are dead right now. The phone isn’t ringing like you might think. In about a month or two we will be full to capacity with people who are starting feel the pain and are moving through the stages of grief. Instead of feeling nothing, many of you have the unwanted feeling of survival guilt or “why was I spared when so many others are suffering?”. It is also a normal reaction and part of the acute stress process. There are different types of survivor guilt that have varying intensity and duration. For example, if you were the only person to survive a plane crash, your guilt would be much more intense. Or you would have a lot more to work through if you were somehow responsible for the tragedy, like being the driver of a car that crashed and all your passengers died. But neither of these situations apply to this natural disaster. What people are experiencing now is feeling guilty for feeling relieved that it is not them. You might be worried that you have some deficiency in your character for feeling this way. Some people also struggle with WHY they were spared. Why did the water stop right at my doorstep when my neighbor’s house was destroyed? Try to understand that you are capable of feeling two feelings at the same time. You can feel relief as well as compassion for your struggling neighbor. It’s not an either/or situation. And it is normal to not want to feel the pain we see others experiencing. We all have felt pain and loss because they are universal feelings, and we don’t want others to feel that way, so we feel guilty. I don’t know that we ever understand the WHY of such tragedies, but I do know that to cope it helps to dive in and helping others alleviate their pain. It helps us to channel our guilt into something positive. If you are struggling with survivor guilt please understand that it is a normal part of the acute stress process, but if it becomes too intense or persists too long you may need to seek professional help. When the emotional storm from Harvey hits, local therapists will be available to help, and please note that some services are free of charge. For more information, please check out the resources on our website.

Hurricane Harvey . . . . acute stress and PTSD

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

We are tired of dealing with the wrath of Harvey. It has been exhausting. We want our old lives back. We want to forget about what happened. But we can’t. No matter how hard we try, we can’t. Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time since the storm hit, trying to get back into normal routines. All of the TVs were showing things that made it impossible for me to put my mind elsewhere. Watching Irma swirl towards Florida sent shock waves through my body. I now know what it means to live through a devastating hurricane/flood and my heart was breaking for the people who were going to suffer. Driving around town I see shrubs covered with a grayish white film, showing where the water line was. I continue to hear helicopters and wonder what is happening, whereas in the past I would not pay attention to that sound. And when I pass by the Community Center, I no longer see a Community Center. All I see is the place where I was taking elderly women off of rescue boats, in the pouring rain, carrying them up the muddy hill, with their bag of pills, their walker and their cat in a cardboard box. And then there’s my rubber boots. Those nasty rubber boots that I wore for three days. I can’t look at them. They have been relegated to the garage, and I may have to throw them away, just like I did with the dress I wore to my mother’s funeral. Too many memories. We are all in a state of acute stress. There are painful reminders of what we are dealing with and what we have been through. People who had to be rescued have horrific memories that they will play over and over in their heads. For most of us who were not direct flood victims, we will gradually resume our normal lives, despite living with the annoying inconveniences I already talked about. Our triggers will simmer down and in time our acute stress will subside. For those whose lives have been turned upside down, there will still be many who manage just fine. I spoke with one man whose house flooded and he told me he and his wife would be fine. They both had good jobs and could afford to rebuild, even without flood insurance. He was mentally strong and had a vision of things being OK at some point in the future. But that won’t be the case for some members of our community. Some will develop full blown PTSD. They don’t have a sense that life will be OK. They are struggling, paralyzed by fear, and have no compass as to how they will move forward. Some of the people affected by the flood were not mentally strong to begin with. Many already had a mountain of problems. Some had past histories of childhood trauma that are now getting reactivated . . . they feel like trapped victims all over again. These are the people I worry about because they can’t cope with their new situation. And when we can’t cope we try to numb our feelings with substances or entertain thoughts of ending our life. It’s that painful. As we move out of our own acute stress reaction we need to be there for our most vulnerable neighbors. If you need additional support please get help. If you know or suspect that someone is struggling, please urge them to get help. Alysha Roll, has been compiling a list of resources and she has posted it on our website, and we will continue to update that list as we get new information. We, and other local therapists, are committed to helping our community recover.

Mary Beth George

Hurricane Harvey . . . feeling angry

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Anyone else feeling irritated? In the last 24 hours I have felt irritated a bunch. I am irritated that my exhausted body was woken up by a panting dog afraid of thunder, and that we might get even one more drop of rain. I was cranky because traffic jams all over Kingwood caused me to be late for work. I was annoyed because my cell phone kept dropping calls. I was frustrated that do-gooders have wiped the shelves clean of packaged chips and Gatorade to feed clean-up crews, but these are two things I need to make school lunches. Yes, I know there are supplies at other stores, but I want to go to the store right by my house. I breathed a heavy sigh when I realized I can’t just run over to Bed Bath and Beyond to exchange my Soda Stream CO2 canister . . . I now have to go to The Woodlands. And then I was flooded by thoughts of all of the inconveniences I am facing because so many places I am used to going are not open for business. And I am irritated that there is no end in sight to these inconveniences. I get it, these are inconveniences and others are facing real tragedy. Not only do flood victims have these irritations, they also have full on anger. They are angry about long waits when calling FEMA, only to get an unhelpful person on the other end. They are angry at the absence of the Red Cross in Kingwood. They are feeling rage about how the SJRA handled the rapid release of water from the dam. They are pissed at themselves for not having flood insurance. They are angry in Fosters Mill for having to deal with a truly shitty situation. They feel grateful that friends and relatives took them in, but everyone is getting on their last nerve. They are miffed that volunteers threw away salvageable items. And they are disgusted with themselves for feeling needy and like a victim, two qualities they really hate. They might even have a twinge of being mad at God for doing this to them, because after all, they are good people and didn’t deserve this. Well folks, meet Stage 3 of Grief. Tensions are rising and we are losing our patience. This situation stinks. Life has given us lemons and there is no lemonade in sight, only a sour taste in our mouth. But we need to be talking about our anger, not dismissing it or pushing it aside. If you are like me, you are feeling low level anger. It’s more irritation and annoyance, but those are valid feelings given the situation. If you are trying to deny those feelings by saying things like “I have nothing to be angry about because others lost their homes and I didn’t”, you are being dismissive of your own experience. Hell yes, these things are irritating and disruptive to the life we knew before we met Harvey. You can hold two feelings at the same time. You can be grateful and irritated at the same time. Even flood victims are being dismissive of their feelings by saying things like “It’s just stuff, at least we are alive”. Yes, that’s true, but anger is the right feeling. Anger means something unjust has happened and they have a right to be angry. We all do. Anger is a normal part of the grief process. Feel it. Allow it to be there. If you don’t, down the road you will be like a soda can that was shaken, and then explodes.

Mary Beth George

Hurricane Harvey . . . feeling gratitude

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Gratitude – that’s the emotion of the day. My family and my business were spared the wrath of Harvey, and while I feel grateful for that, that is not what I am referring to. I am talking about my gratitude for all of the people coming out of the woodwork to help with recovery efforts. I am blown away by people’s generosity and kindness. We are helping an elderly couple with disabilities gut their home, and for a variety of reasons this has been no easy task. And just when I think I am going to lose my shit, some angels show up ready to work. A family with 6 children stopped to offer us a cold drink, and when they saw the mess we had they redirected their efforts and put the kids to work. Another person showed up and offered to bleach/power wash the entire house. Wow! People from Hudson and Hundreds Foundation showed up and worked their asses off. I went to Kroger to get more Gatorade for our helpers and the woman ahead of me in line paid for it. A friend from College Station sent a message about an apartment being offered for free. I don’t eat gluten, so much of the food being offered I cannot eat, but someone alerted me to a group that was distributing gluten free sandwiches. My father-in-law texted and said he is sending a big fat check. My BFF in Connecticut is collecting gift cards for me to distribute. We are reaching out to local therapists to join us in offering free counseling services and many have responded with an enthusiastic “Yes”. My 17-year old came out to help for the sixth straight day without complaint. My exhausted husband who had to work at his real job this evening, spent the day helping. AND THIS WAS JUST IN ONE DAY! If this hurricane has done one positive thing, it has restored my faith in humanity. I am on my knees in gratitude. My broken heart is being held together by the kindness of others.

Mary Beth George

Hurricane Harvey . . . my emotional meltdown

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

So where are everyone’s emotions today? Anyone affected directly or indirectly by the flood is going to experience lots of shifting emotions, and each day will be a little different. Yesterday was the first day I had a meltdown. The first several days were filled with an adrenaline rush to get people to safety, get them fed and in dry clothes. There was no time for tears. Every time I felt tears forming or a lump in my throat, I would quickly turn it off and get back to work. Then we moved into cleanup efforts, diving into the shit, literally. Again, we had to push emotions aside to get the job done. But yesterday was different because I had to go back to work. I stepped away from the energy of dealing with the flood and was forced to put my mind elsewhere. When I got home I checked Facebook, which BTW has been my lifeline for getting information, and saw several posts about KHS moving to Summer Creek. People’s comments reflected a shift in where they were in the grief process. The adrenaline is subsiding, as is the disbelief in what we are dealing with. People were trying to “bargain” and throw out ideas of how to keep kids in Kingwood, as if Humble ISD had not considered every viable option. And then there was anger. Anger at how their kids would be displaced, how their education might be compromised, and how life would be hard, very very hard. And then I watched the video of KHS, that frigging video that sent me over the edge. My son is a senior and goes to KPHS, but he was supposed to to got to KHS and we transferred before freshman year. We know the kids and families at KHS and my heart just broke as I watched in horror at the devastation. I sobbed and sobbed. All of the tears I held back all week came flowing out. There’s no more denying that what is happening is real, and it ain’t pretty. The reality we are facing is worthy of a big, fat meltdown. I think it is OK to let yourself fall apart a little right now. Let it out. Feel it to the depth of your core. Denying your grief only delays it. There is no getting around it, no matter how strong you think you are. We are moving through grief for our losses, and each day, possibly each hour will be a different emotion.

Hurricane Harvey . . . everyone’s emotional response will be different

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

I want to keep talking about mental health issues because there is not a person in our community that is not affected in some way emotionally. What I want us to think about today is that everyone will have a different emotional response to our current crisis. We need to understand that or we will be jumping into judgment and criticism very shortly, and that will make us lose that loving’ feeling that I am so liking right now. How people manage their emotions is on a continuum, with super over-feelers on one end and logical seemingly emotionless people on the other end. Super over-feelers feel emotion very intensely, and our current crisis is probably sending them into sensory overload that is emotionally painful. They are emotionally flooded and to cope with that they may be shutting down a bit, trying to avoid the pain. They may be posting blueberry cobbler recipes on Facebook instead of jumping into relief efforts. It’s not that they are heartless, but right now they don’t know how to manage their intense feelings so they will try to avoid them. On the other end of the continuum we have very logical, seemingly emotionless people. It seems like they are very disconnected from what is happening in our community. They are going about life as usual, going to the gym or working long hours at work, and not helping with relief efforts. These are people who don’t understand their own emotions, and if we don’t understand our own emotions it makes it very hard for us to deal with emotion in others. They may be offering very logical advice that lacks empathy, because logic is what they are good at. I am not knocking that – we need very logical people right now to help us solve some problems. But these people may be scared shitless to have to deal with someone’s intense pain right now because they don’t know how, so they can’t set foot in a flood victims house to help. The rest of us are in the mid-section of that continuum. We are coping the best we can, but truthfully we are off a bit too. I know I have been coping by eating crap and having a second glass of wine when I shouldn’t. As humans we are a quirky mix of the genes we were born with and the environment we grew up in. No one asked us where we wanted to be on that emotional continuum, so please, let’s all try to understand and not judge. It will help us keep that lovin’ feeling that is so abundant right now.

Mary Beth George

Hurricane Harvey . . . let’s keep talking mental health

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Let’s keep talking mental health . . . . We know that flood victims who lost everything have a high likelihood of developing PTSD. But we sometimes forget that first responders and people helping flood victims can also suffer the effects of secondary trauma. We have all seen disturbing images that will be burned into our memories forever. The sad stories we are hearing are making our hearts hurt. The smell of flooded homes is disgusting and no matter how much we will want to forget it, we won’t be able to. The sound of helicopters, sirens and emergency alerts may haunt us for a long time. Many of us have been working nonstop at relief efforts since the minute Harvey hit. We are exhausted. We may have “survivor guilt”. We may feel overwhelmed by the never ending list of people who need help. I know I “hit the wall” this morning. I need a break. I need to “put on my own oxygen mask first” as the saying goes. By taking some breaks we can recharge our batteries and be better able to serve. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are going to have to rebuild our community and that will take time and effort on all out parts. To avoid compassion fatigue we need to take breaks. We need to give ourselves permission for some self care. I am taking a bit of a break this morning to clean up my own house and go grocery shopping. While that doesn’t sound like fun, it will give me a much needed sense of order in my own life . . . and then I will be back out there this afternoon.

Mary Beth George


Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

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