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A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane Harvey’

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 . . . 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


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

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

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Kingwood, Texas 77339
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