How the Brain Reacts to Traumatic Grief

How the Brain Reacts to Traumatic Grief

There are many things to keep in mind when considering events that are described as “traumatic” and capable of causing considerable and long lasting grief. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that the response of someone who has experienced a traumatic event is due to intense chemical changes in the brain. This means it is usually completely natural and often not under the control of the individual. Expecting someone who gone through a traumatizing event to get over it is unrealistic, counterproductive and insensitive. None of us can simply “snap out of it” so expecting that is not realistic and completely lacking in empathy.


Because the reactions have a biochemical basis, the prolonged nature of a series of traumatic events or the severity of even a single event can cause mental disorders. These may be due to trauma or grief and sometimes both. We will discuss trauma and grief separately to develop a better understanding. Even so, it is important to understand they are interconnected and that trauma is often followed by severe grief and sorrow. If the initiating events are severe enough, disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder can develop. In the worst case scenario, both disorders render the patient incapable of continuing their life and they cannot remain functional. These disorders are diagnosed illnesses of the brain and should be treated as such by seasoned and qualified treatment professionals.


There are a number of events that can cause significant trauma such as the loss of a loved one or being subject to sexual abuse, rape and bullying among others. During the event itself, a “flight, freeze or fight mechanism” is initiated in our brain caused by the release of chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. Our body responds to prepare for danger by increasing breathing and heart rate and directing a large amount of blood flow to our muscles to face the danger and as such we experience anxiety, fear, panic and stress.


If the events are severe enough, the brain is rewired to respond to stimuli even long after the event has passed. Sometimes these stimuli are only remotely related to the event and in severe cases may have no relation to the event whatsoever! The region in our brain known as the hippocampus is responsible for converting short term to long term memory. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can cause reduction of volume of this area and this causes the brain to have difficulty distinguishing past events from the present which often causes these triggers to occur. PTSD also causes reduction in the volume of the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex; an area in the brain responsible for controlling the amygdala of the brain which causes these emotional responses. The amygdala then becomes hyperactive leading to increased response to often innocuous stimuli.

As a result of all this the patient undergoes flashbacks, nightmares and experiences panic and fear to any event that can remotely trigger the memory of the initial trauma. This entire process can be solved with proper medication and psychotherapy with a specially trained professional.


Grief is the emotion encountered after a traumatic event. This motion can, at times, run its course. However, prolonged continuation of the same or even different traumatic encounters, can cause an individual to develop Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It is imperative to understand that this is a medically diagnosed disorder of the brain and that patients can’t simply fix themselves by trying to be happy or making an effort to go out more.


Patients will often isolate themselves and experience emotions of guilt and self loathing at times as well. They may feel a lack of energy when it comes to carrying out their regular activities and experience long bouts of sadness and gloom. Or they may perceive situations and the future in a negative light and with a lack of hope. Physical symptoms can also include feeling tired, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, insomnia and reduced or increased appetite. At their worst, they may be prone to self harm and immediate help is required.


Depression is linked to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain which becomes the biochemical cause of the feeling of gloom and the physical and emotional symptoms described. Depression is an illness that has to be treated with appropriate medication and psychotherapy with a seasoned professional.

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The above discussion makes it crystal clear the trauma and grief aren’t emotions that any of us can simply snap out of or that should be taken lightly. They can progress to serious mental illness and hence appropriate measures should be taken to help and support the patient through the disorders associated with traumatic events.


Healing Retreat for Trauma

Healing Retreat for Trauma

In his book “The Body Keeps the Score”, Bessel van der Kolk beautifully examines the way trauma will often stay stuck in an individual’s body as well as their mind. As a result, their brain’s alarm system will go haywire and they become trapped in repetitive patterns of trauma re-creation.


Trauma Is Relative

Trauma is relative, and it is not how extreme an event is for us that determines whether or not it is “trauma”, rather it’s the way that negative experience is defining and controlling our life. Furthermore, for many people struggling with an unresolved trauma history, talk based therapies may not be enough to really help. For the trauma survivor, just talking about a traumatic event often produces feelings of being overwhelmed and even dissociation. The frontal, reasoning part of our brain will go off line and what is left “driving the bus” is our primal brain; the amygdala and the limbic system. So even though you may have a client nodding and responding to questions, they may very well be a thousand miles away. Disconnecting from body and mind has kept many people safe for a long time, and that learned defense mechanism will often still kick in, even in the therapy office.


In my private practice I sometimes have clients where there is only a certain point we can go to before it becomes unsafe. It is really hard to dive into someone’s deepest and darkest story when I know, and they know, that they have to pick up the kids from school in an hour. I am not saying that individual therapy is not helpful and effective, on the contrary – it absolutely is. But when it comes to severe trauma, people often need something more.


What Is Needed

Survivor’s of trauma need a sanctuary: A safe and controlled place where they can get vulnerable and let got of the pressure to hold themselves together. This is why I love working in week-long intensive therapy settings with trauma survivors. In these personal and powerful retreats we are able to engage that primal brain with both experiential and body based approaches. By removing someone from the responsibilities and distractions of daily life and providing them with 24-hour therapeutic support, they can finally let themselves unravel the trauma story that has been shaping who they are for far too long. Yes, it isn’t easy, it may require missing a couple days of work as well as a financial investment, but that is a very small price to pay to be truly free.

Written and offered by Brennon Moore, MS, CTT, CADC-II.

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5 Steps to Managing Survivor’s Guilt with First Responders

5 Steps to Managing Survivor’s Guilt with First Responders

The path of a first responder is not for everyone. It takes an incredible dedication and a willingness to respond to a calling that demands and is emersed in personal sacrifice. Firefighters and police officers are professions with a very high committment to duty. They work to protect others which, sadly, also means that these are the professionals who are likely to experience Line of Duty Deaths within their ranks. One of the negative impacts that these tragic situations can have is commonly called Survivor’s Guilt.

Survivor’s Guilt is a reaction that might be experienced by officers or firefighters – especially when there is a death in the line of duty. It is not only those who survive the experience, but all those who are touched by the loss, indirectly and even through relationships with others who feel the loss. It might be expressed in self-directed feelings of guilt and anger if the person feels responsible for the death or feels guilty over being alive and trying to move on. Guilt is common among people who have experienced a loss due to natural causes, but it can be heightened in such situations due to the role a police officer or a firefighter might have as a protector.

If you or your department are facing such a tragic loss it is important to know that this reaction can be a part of a normal grieving process or it can become a significant factor preventing you and others from overcoming it. This is especially so if you don’t acknowledge the guilt or if you truly think that you should have done more or could have prevented it despite the objective circumstances.

So, what can be done about survivor’s guilt?

Here are 5 Steps to Managing Survivor’s Guilt with First Responders, as well as some helpful resources:

1. Acknowledge its presence and normalcy

The first step to working with this guilt is for you to acknowledge that it exists. If we are suffering from this guilt we must work to identify what we are feeling as guilt and acknowledge whether it only appears in certain situations or is a constant feeling. It is important to work with the idea that this guilt is normal, that it is expected, but that it is not necessarily rational or reflects reality.

2. Seek help

If survivor’s guilt is preventing you from moving on, going back into the field, or disrupting your life, counseling or therapy with a seasoned professional who specializes in working with first responders and critical events may be recommended. While some officers or firefighters might feel apprehensive about the idea of goin to therapy, it can be a great asset and help work the guilt and other challenging effects that may arise in a safe and confidential environment. It is useful to encourage other officers to seek counseling or to support it within the system – especially since team cohesion is so important in these fields and not doing so could lead to higher risk to the whole team. Proactive departments will create a way for their team members to be able to easily access counseling anonymously.


3. Talk about it

It’s best to talk about survivor’s guilt in a safe environment, such as a therapeutic setting. However, if you can’t do this at the moment, talking about it to others can also help. Your department may even want to bring in a Critical Incident Stress Management professional to talk with the team on site. Some people you know might withdraw and avoid the conversations. They may feel stuck in a cycle of thoughts and overwhelmed by this feeling guilt. Talking to others about it can help reduce the feelings of guilt. It is important to find people that the first responder trusts and who will offer support and understanding.

4. Allow the grieving process to flow

Some of us find it especially hard to allow ourselves to feel sadness or experience grief. Others will focus on the guilt as it may offer them more control and be an emotion that is easier to deal with, as it places the emphasis on their own responsibility rather than on the reality of the death. It can be especially difficult when the loss is the result of an accident and without any forseeable malace. The grieving process is unique for every one of us and it is important that we allow it to occur. The grieving process is just that – a process, which takes time. Remember too, that the grief experience is both personal and unique.

5. Honor the people who have died

Your losses can not be undone, but they can be honored. If you or someone you know is struggling with survivor’s guilt you might find it helpful and grounding to try to find new ways to remember and honor those who have lost their lives. You can do this on a personal level by engaging in a honoring service to the community or by making a contribution to the community by creating a memorial fund, for instance. Every one of us can all find a noble way to honor the people who have lost their lives.


Survivor’s guilt is a natural reaction to an unnatural loss, especially with LODD among police officers and firefighters. This is a situation that you can improve with professional counseling or therapy and conversely become more problematic without help.


Safe Call Now offers anonymous, peer to peer support for peace officers and firefighters/rescue.

For first responders who are struggling with stress after a traumatic event as well as family/home stressors the one-week Living Centered program at Onsite can be a game changer.

La Hacienda, located in the Texas HillCountry offers addiction and substance dependence help – including a track specifically for first responders.

For more severe conditions, such as PTSD, treatment centers such as Sierra Tucson and The Meadows who are leaders in post-trauma services, may help.

CISM services in Texas and individual counseling services specific to First Responders, LODD, grief and traumatic events can be found at PIR, LLC.

Survivor’s Guilt and First Responders / Houston / Live Better Live Now

Nurses In Recovery

Nurses in recovery from addiction; when professionals need help.

Nurses are a population that we would not usually associate with addiction. However, the rates of drug addiction among nurses, as well as other health practitioners are quite high. Nurses have access to different sorts of medical substances that have different effects on the body. The addiction is not necessarily to cocaine or other drugs, but commonly to prescription drugs with different effects. Around 10% of all nurses struggle with an addiction. However, the rate may be higher for nurses who work in more stressful situations, such as the E.R. or with a psychiatric population, for instance. Nurses in different jobs may also have different types of access to substances and different ways of obtaining them. For instance, some nurses may dilute patient medication or use the leftover substance.

Nurses have a highly stressful job. Not only do they see ill and dying people, but they also have to deal with the many problems of their job, like irregular hours, highly demanding work, challenging and distressed patients/family members, and a high responsibility. All these factors make them prone to burnout and stress, which, combined with the access to substances they have, and other individual factors, makes it more likely for them to fall into addiction.


There is a stigma and a culture of silence surrounding this issue. It is understandable, considering that individuals in the healthcare profession may place their patients at risk by abusing substances and engage in a breach of professional ethics by stealing medications and using them on the job.

However, it is important that nurses are offered supportive and professional recovery services and can be helped overcome their addiction. A nurse who can not accept the problem or admit it out of a fear of losing everything that they have or out of the strong guilt they feel continues to put patients at risk. A nurse who is in recovery may not be apt for working with patients, so is not risking their lives or well-being while having a chance to get better.

Often, the first step is a report. Colleagues, patients or doctors may need to report a nurse that has an impaired state out of a responsibility to, firstly, protect the patients and the reputation of the profession and of the institution, but also, secondly, to protect the nurse who probably requires professional help. Colleagues have not only an ethical, but also a legal duty to make the report.

Nurses in recovery may have a difficult process ahead of them. Many institutions have been offering nurses the option to get treatment rather than lose their licenses, thus removing an important obstacle on the way to recovery – the fear of being fired, losing the license, losing the job, losing the respect of their colleagues and peers and of course, their livelihood. However, this is just a first step.


Many obstacles can complicate the recovery process. An important aspect is that nurses continue to work in an environment with a high accessibility to drugs, so a higher supervision is required. Another is the mentality many health care professionals might have, that their knowledge and expertise on the topics of drugs can protect them from addiction or give them more control. However, this slippery slope type of thinking can be what leads to a problem in the first place. It can also complicate the addiction recovery process, as a nurse might think that they can beat addiction easily due to their professional skills. Key point – addiction doesn’t discriminate.

Another aspect that needs to be addressed are the strong feelings of shame and guilt. While the person may have committed unethical acts, it’s important to focus on the recovery process, rather than to continue shaming and stigmatizing the individual, as this is likely to worsen the situation.

It may also be important to consider the special needs of nurses with addiction as a clinical population. Their knowledge, mentality, environment and feelings all will play an important role in the recovery process, which is why it becomes important to adjust this process to better help and understand how nurses experience their addiction and associated factors.

Addiction recovery services that don’t take into account the specific and individual needs of nurses and medical professionals in recovery, may not be quite as well-equipped or effective in providing the support basis truly needed for long lasting recovery. Need Detox? – Get Started Here.


Nurses In Recovery / Live Better Live Now / Houston, Texas

SPOTLIGHT – Who Is Ben Carrettin?

SPOTLIGHT – Who Is Ben Carrettin?

Benjamin is the owner of Practice Improvement Resources, LLC under which he has built two initiatives: Live Better Live Now and Texas Recovery Support. He has served as a founding board member with Greater Houston Area Treatment Providers / GHATP (the largest independent behavioral collaborative organization in Houston), as an active member of Houston Group Psychotherapy Society / HGPS, and is the Founder and Lead Administrator of Greater Houston Wellness / GHW (a focused collective of seasoned specialists in the Houston area). He is also the founder of a unique human behavior consultative service for business and law; called ESI.


Benjamin Carrettin has been working in the mental health field since 1992. He has worked in a variety of settings including private practice, private and grant-funded intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs and full inpatient hospitalization. Benjamin earned his undergraduate from the University of St Thomas and attended Texas Southern University under a full scholarship for his Masters in Clinical Psychology. He is a fully and independently Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the State of Texas as well as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC). Ben is nationally Board Certified by the NBCC, is a Certified Anger Resolution Therapist (CART) and has received intensive training in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISM). In 2012, Benjamin completed a sixteen week Lay Chaplaincy training program in pastoral care with a specialized focus on the hospitalized, infirm and terminally ill and their loved ones. Benjamin is an active volunteer with the Texas Society of Addiction Medicine (TSAM); the state chapter of the well-known national organization and has served on several other community boards, service groups and task forces. He has completed advanced training in stress and pain management for medical patients as well as over seventy-two hours of direct training in Positive Recovery (a specialized program blending best practice addiction recovery with neurologically-supported principles of Positive Psychology).


Throughout his career Benjamin has continued to improve his knowledge and expertise through advanced training courses, field application training, specialized training in corporate and legal processes, as well as additional graduate level coursework and advanced training programs. The areas of his focus include neurology/biology, behavioral cues of deception, positive psychology and epigenetics (gene expression), cancer resilience, medical meditation, violence in the workplace, bio-mechanical basis of behavior, Eastern philosophy and the mind, critical incidents in industrial and corporate settings, first responders and traumatic events, opiate addiction recovery and much more. He is also a professional trainer in the area of social media and ethics.


In addition to working in mental health, Benjamin has also worked in behavioral managed care, both in a clinical capacity and as a Federal Network Manager as well as State Network Manager for Texas. One of his many duties included investigating concerns regarding physician and clinician quality of service, adherence to best practice guidelines, as well as both business and clinical ethics issues of contracted hospitals, physicians and clinicians. To this end, Benjamin is keenly aware of current best practices in the field of counseling as well as up-to-date, proven techniques to increase successful outcomes for his private clients. He continues to be actively sought for by behavioral health hospitals, physician groups and facilities to assist them towards more effectively negotiating their contracts with insurance / managed care organizations (MCO) as well as conducting private training workshops for private practitioners, teaching them how to build and improve their practice and work more successfully with insurance companies.


Beyond the more commonly known field applications for a specialist in human behavior, Benjamin Carrettin provides behavioral analysis and solution-oriented services for business and law. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), Human Resource (HR) professionals, Law Firms / Plaintiff Attorneys and Business Leadership can access the follow services; Voir Dire Consultative Services, In-Service Training and Workshops, New Hire/Employee Assessment, Public Speaking and Presentation Skills for Leadership, Pre-Trial Focus Group Video Analysis, Clinical Assessment / Resource Identification and Workforce Transition Coaching. Benjamin’s own experience working in the business sector and the field of human behavior, his graduate education in Clinical Psychology as well as advanced training in Human Resources, Organizational Psychology, Strategic Management and Pre-Trial Focus Groups have helped him to successfully support clients across a much wider array of industries.


In his private practice, Benjamin still provides individual, couple and family services for cancer patients and their families, heart disease and depression, peace officers/first responders (traumatic events), professionals in addiction recovery, complicating anxiety/fear, grief and bereavement, survivors of suicide (SOS), death/dying and life transition.



Ben Carrettin is a Nationally Board Certified and Licensed Professional Counselor and is the owner of Practice Improvement Resources, LLC; a private business which offers an array of specialized counseling, evidenced-based clinical and targeted Business and Professional Services to individuals and businesses. 


Written and Posted by Live Better Live Now editorial staff

Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms

The concept of defense mechanisms was introduced originally by Freud and were a part of the psychoanalytic theory. The definition of defense mechanisms concerned the idea that these were the conscious and unconscious tools the person used to protect their mind from anxiety, fear, guilt and other negative experiences. Since then, the concept of defense mechanisms has been widely adopted in other psychological theories. In particular, defense mechanisms have been used in the study of addiction, outlining the different mechanisms that addicts use to avoid accepting their problem, seeking treatment for the disease or taking active responsibility for change. Let’s examine these mechanisms.


This is a simple enough mechanism and it concerns the lack of awareness that a problem exists. The person will simply say that it’s all fine and that there is nothing to worry about. The person is usually aware on some level that there is a problem, but this is intolerable for them, so they deny it. They can deny it to themselves or to others. The difference between denying and lying, as seen next is that the person who is in denial is not aware of the problem, while lying involves consciously saying falsehoods. Denial is often the first reaction to the problem, but it can be hard to overcome, as it doesn’t allow for the possibility of accepting the situation and often represents a strong barrier.


Lying involves distorting the truth, omitting details or changing the facts. For instance, a person might lie about how much alcohol they consume, how often they use it or how they feel about the situation. Lying can appear as a way of protecting the self, but also of maintaining the situation’s status quo rather than changing anything. Lying might persist until the other person has caught on and confronts the individual or even beyond that. Usually, with lying there is more awareness of the issue, but still there is the unwillingness to accept it as an issue, while the main goal is to keep the others off of the addict’s back.



Here, the person will try to make the other individual feel guilty or confused about the situation so that the person with the addiction is not bothered. A person might mock the accusation, say that it’s ridiculous or complain about what the other person does. For instance, an alcoholic might respond to an accusation about his drinking problem with “You’re accusing me of what? That’s just silly! Though maybe I could cut down on drinking if you were more supportive”. The person might blame the other individual for their problem and they try to make the person feel bad for even suggesting it. They might try to elicit sympathy by mentioning the hard circumstances of their life as well.


Here, the person might accept that something is wrong, but they will put on the blame on other people or situations. They might say that their partner is responsible for their decision or accuse the partner of something else in turn. An alcoholic might say that he drinks, but then blame his wife for being too cold or watching too much TV or having other flaws. They might use gaslighting – saying that what’s happening is not really happening, rather that the other person doesn’t know how to have fun, that they are too sensitive, too “prudish” or other things used to accuse their partner.


This will usually involve demanding that the other person drop the subject or else… The threat can be of leaving the person, of drinking worse or even of hurting the other individual. Threats can escalate to violence, emotional, psychological or financial abuse. The person might even threaten to kill themselves in order to get the other to comply with what they want.


Judging involves shifting focus to the actions of the other person and asking them to do something differently. It places the responsibility for the addict’s behavior on the other individual. For example, a person might say that their wife is too controlling and doesn’t know how to relax, so if she were more easy-going, the husband wouldn’t have to drink. The person might label the concern of the other partner as a desire for control or insecurity, putting a label on it to make it seem like their partner is the one on the wrong.


First described in psychoanalysis, projection is a mechanism in which the person ignores their own flaws in themselves, places them on the other individual and then criticizes or judges them. For instance, a person might say that their partner is the one who is weak-willed and dependent. To make it more clear, a cheating partner might suspect their spouse of cheating and get angry at the idea. In addictions, the person might place all the blame and all the problems on their partner.


Blaming is directly placing the responsibility on the other person, without making it subtle or indirect. The person will admit to drinking, but say it’s the fault of their wife, who doesn’t get them, of their friends, who make them go along with it, of the economy, that doesn’t allow them to get a job and so on. The person fully denies being responsible for their own actions and presents the situation as the fault of someone or something else.



Humor involves making light of the situation and deflecting accusations through jokes and sarcasm. A drug user might say: “Sure, I’m a crackhead. Can’t get through the day without a dose.” Other addicts can talk about similar things and make it seem as though others are exaggerating or that the accusations are ridiculous. The person might be sarcastic about their tendencies to use substances or kid around the situation, making light of the concern of their family to make it seem as if they are paranoid.


This involves the use of logic and arguments grounded in theory to justify the problem. A person might say that drinking alcohol is good for their health or that using substances is the best way to have spiritual experiences and broaden their horizons. Intellectualizing often involves turning to “authority”, such as studies or psychologists or important church members to twist their words or take them out of context in order to justify the situation. A person might have a whole theory worked out to justify their addiction or to use faulty logic to support it.


Although similar to intellectualizing, rationalizing is more focused on finding mundane reasons. A person might say that they can’t be alcoholics because they don’t get drunk every day or because they have never gotten in trouble at work or because they make money, for instance. Rationalizing might involve saying that alcohol is just their way to wind down and other similar arguments that are focused on explaining away the situation. The classic “If I wanted to quit, I would quit” can be a rationalization, as the person uses the argument to calm themselves and others, not seeing that it’s a faulty argument.


Silence involves simply withdrawing from others and not saying anything. The person might refuse to respond to any accusations or pleas and act indifferently. This mechanism involves simply ignoring the situation and either hoping that others will tire of it eventually or showing that the person finds the whole matter beneath them. Indifference can be very frustrating and hard to overcome, as the person refuses to engage in discussions or to change their behavior, rather, they usually continue as they were without responding to other people.


Outwardly this may appear as though the person is complying so that the others will leave the matter to rest. The person might say they will stop using substances and seek treatment, agreeing with the accusations, but in reality they will usually not do any of these things or do the bare minimum, just for show. If a person uses this mechanism, they tend to lack the motivation for real change and still don’t see the real problem. Rather, they think that the problem is the insistence others have on a change and such, so to solve this problem they make false promises or outwardly seem to go along with the treatment to get back to the way things were as soon as they can.


Minimizing is making the problem less. The person might say that they drink, but they don’t drink that much, that other people drink they more, that they are functional and so who cares and other similar matters. The idea is to make the problem look like less or to make it seem small by comparison, for example, by saying that, sure, they use drugs, but it’s not like they do it at work and, besides they only use like once a month, so it’s not a problem. The addict might also minimize the problem for themselves, hoping to believe that it’s under control and, even if it’s not, it’s just a small, unimportant matter, so it doesn’t mean anything either way.


Cockiness is a general attitude. The person will percieve themselves as being invincible, better than others, stronger and smarter and, thus, able to handle the situation. They might challenge themselves to drink more, for instance, believing that they can give up at any minute and that they are not like those other folks who get addicted. This is a narcissistic belief and an illusion the person might cling to to feel safe and untouchable. The idea that they can quit any time can also be associated with a cocky attitude.


Justifying is finding reasons for the problem. It can overlap with blaming and with rationalizing, for instance. Justifying is saying that anyone in their position would use substances or saying that they need it or that it is medical.


The next mechanism is explaining. It involves weaving a story concerning a particular situation to show that their behavior was necessary or expected. For example, an alcoholic might say that they knew they shouldn’t have been drinking, but that all their friends were there and it would have been offensive to reject a drink and that it was tradition and so on. An explanation involves finding a way in which the person’s behavior seemed possible and that it was related to the circumstances, not associated with any larger problem, for instance.


This one usually involves a monologue that involves justifications, explanations and rationalizations for why the person is acting in a specific way. The person might say that they had always suffered from unfulfilled affective needs and that they drink in order to cover them, though they know it’s not right. An analysis usually means that the person is not connecting emotionally to the situation and that they haven’t fully accepted the reality of the situation.


Defiance involves actively resisting treatment and any attempts to change or talk. The person might state that it’s their life and that they don’t agree with the treatment and they won’t comply with it. They might sabotage the treatment in some way or show that they are displeased with the whole situation.


ereThis mechanism involves simply leaving the situation. The person might leave the room, the house or even the treatment center, rejecting the situation. It often occurs together with silence.


Finally, there is the self-explanatory shouting. The person might yell and insult others to intimidate and to be left alone.

One more thing…

Defense mechanisms are a part of who we are. They are built in to help us protect ourselves in physical and emotional situations where we perceive a threat of some sort. They are not a symptom or sign of being “broken” or a problem in and of themselves. However, they can get out of hand, be a strong indicator of something we need to face and have consequences when we let them lead us through our lives. A seasoned and experienced counselor can help you address challenges in your life where defense mechanisms may be serving more as a harmful hindrance than a help.


Defense Mechanisms / Live Better Live Now / Houston


Stress Management: 10 Practical Steps

Stress Management: 10 Practical Steps

The World Health Organization calls stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” Stress resulting in illness is the causative factor underlying more than 70% of all visits to the family doctor, medical doctors suggest. What is stress? We all talk about it but what does ‘stress’ mean and how does it affect our bodies?

Dr. Hans Selye, who first noted and described the concept of stress, defines stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it.” Stress is neither good nor bad. The effect of the stress is not determined by the stress itself, rather it is determined by how we handle the stress.

Effects of Stress

1. “Emergency Response” The emergency response mechanism activates with a physiological change when people believe they are in physical or mortal danger. Pupils dilate, blood pressure increases, and the production of stress hormones increase. The body prepares within seconds to respond, which is known as the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome. The adrenal glands pour out adrenaline and the production of other hormones is increased by the quickly reacting pituitary-adrenal-cortical system of the brain.

This is a healthy, adaptive response to immediate danger but if continually activated, this emergency response may cause a constantly higher-than-normal level of hormone production that can eventually cause physical wear-and-tear on the body. Health problems related to this constant high level of response include hypertension, headaches, ulcers, heart disease, and increased vulnerability to diabetes and colitis.

2. “General Adaptation Syndrome” In studies, Selye came to believe that diseases of adaptation such as hypertension could be produced by abnormal or excessive reaction to stress. The body would increase its supply of hormones in order to be ready for action to stress. Over a prolonged period of time, excessive stress leads to distress and the accompanying physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health problems.

Contributing factors to distress include a) your attitude to life and b) your mood (optimistic or pessimistic). Both help to create the atmosphere that assists your defence system in repairing small wounds, bruises, and infections. This is also the system that tries to destroy strange cells such as those of cancer, including leukaemia.

In mastering stress, you have to figure out what you are doing that contributes to your problem/challenge and change it. The four categories of change include: change your behaviour, change your thinking, change your lifestyle choices, and/or change the situations you are in. Symptoms of overstress include fatigue, aches and pains, anxiety, problems sleeping, depression, and lack of joy in your life

Practical Steps to Stress Management and Creating Balance

1. Make your life regular like ‘clock work.’ Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.

2. Give yourself a break – today.

3. Say ‘No’ more often when other people want your time. This includes social engagements, the family dinner on Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. Failing to set boundaries with “obligatory” social events often compounds stress.

4. Postpone making any changes in your living environment if you have been coping with undue stress. Change of any kind is stressful and limiting it until later is a good strategy if you are under a lot of pressure.

5. Reduce the number of hours you spend at work or school. If you are a work-a-holic or school-a-holic you need to reduce the energy drain on your body. TAKE SOME TIME OFF.

6. Nutritional eating habits and eating small meals helps to keep your blood sugar stabilized. Many people reach for something high in sugar content when feeling stressed which compounds the problem. Eat more vegetables. Reduce, limit or stop drinking alcohol – it really doesn’t help.

7. Rest your mind, as mind activities alleviate stress. These mind activities include reading, working on a craft, listening to music, playing a musical instrument, meditation, self-relaxation, dancing, and biofeedback.

8. Have a worry time if you must worry. When you find yourself worrying over a problem, set aside a time (I suggest to my students 7:30pm on Tuesday night) and then put off worrying until that time. Chances are you will not even remember what you were stressing yourself about.

9. Book time for yourself. In your daily or weekly schedule book time first for yourself and then the other activities you are involved in. Don’t let anything, except an emergency, usurp your commitment to yourself.

10. Have a massage, try Tai Chi, go to a seasoned counselor or coach – or another form of self-care activity.


LiveBetterLiveNow – West University, The Heights, Rice Village, Sugar Land and Bellaire.


Depression And The Signs Of Suicide

Depression And The Signs Of Suicide

When you’re trying to lead a normal life and yet depression invades your every waking moment, the struggle of trying to pull off that charade can be more difficult than one could ever imagine.

Depression and the signs of suicide are unfortunately all too often items that go hand-in-hand.

People who do not either live with someone suffering from depression or battle depression themselves absolutely have no idea how dark the hole of depression is.

A truly difficult and dark depressive episode can certainly lead the sufferer to contemplating suicide. It gives people a sense of control, particularly when the person battling depression feels as if they have no control over their life anyway. Suicide looks like an easy way out.

It can look like it will put an end to the feelings of desperation, the feelings of total worthlessness, the overwhelming sadness that invades every pore of your being and the utter hopelessness that fills each waking moment.

Depression and signs of suicide are absolutely health concerns that should be taken very seriously.

If a friend or loved one that you know is suffering from depression and if you are concerned about the symptoms of suicide there are the few things that you can watch for. Remember to be helpful and supportive by listening and reassuring them of their self worth.

But while you are being supportive it is also absolutely imperative that you get your friend or loved one to their healthcare provider immediately.

Oftentimes treatments for depression at this level can involve an increase in therapeutic counseling, an adjustment in medication or even the addition of a new medication, or if the depression and signs of suicide are severe enough, hospitalization may be necessary.

If your friend or loved one begins to talk about suicide and then starts to give away favorite possessions, this is a serious sign of suicide and it must be dealt with immediately.

It indicates that the sufferer has seriously contemplated harming themselves. If they pull away from you and others who love, if they begin to miss work or school, if they no longer care about things that they have always cared about then these are negative signs related to depression and suicide. If you notice that your friend or loved one begins to alter their normal behavior associated with a depressive episode then you should also take action.

Sufferers to are seriously considering taking their own lives tend to pull away because they are attempting to make it less difficult on those they care about.

Depression and signs of suicide may also include excessive outburst of anger, guilt, changes in eating habits, sexual promiscuity, and alterations in sleep habits.

Never ignore depression and signs of suicide. You will never forgive yourself if you ignored the signs and your friend or loved one ends up successfully committing suicide.

Do not respond to with inappropriate humor, indifference, or attempts to just cheer the person up. The only correct response is to get professional help.

Live Better Live Now / Texas Recovery Support

HEADS UP HOUSTON ! Look what’s coming –

Suicide Prevention Symposium: Coming Together to Care 2015
Texas Suicide Prevention Council and Mental Health America of Texas.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 Houston, TX

What to do if a loved one is Suicidal

Depression Suicide: What to do if a loved one is Suicidal

Depression, characterized by erratic mood swings, loss of interest in hobbies and activities is a very serious emotional disorder affecting about 9.5 per cent of the nation.
Needless to say, it is could be a lot more fatal if a depressed person is heading towards suicide.

Here are some signs to know if your loved one is considering suicide as a result of depression.

Depression Suicide: Warning Signs to be Aware of

1. Mentions of Suicide or Death
2. Wanting to tie up loose ends or give away personal belongings
3. Engaging in reckless behavior such as heavy alcohol and drug use
4. Withdrawing from family and friends
5. Erratic mood swings
6. Inappropriately saying goodbye.
7. Verbal behavior that is ambiguous or indirect: (for example: “I want to go to sleep and never wake up.”, “I’m so depressed, I just can’t go on.”, “Does God punish suicides?”

Though the signs and warnings may vary from person to person, it is important that you are able to recognize such warnings and take some steps to help your loved one.

Helping a loved one who is showing signs of Depression Suicide

If you believe someone is contemplating suicide do seek help immediately. Keep in mind that there are several suicide prevention web sites and hotlines available to help those in need, but in case these are not within your reach, you can try the following:

1. Cultivate Physical Closeness: Simple hugs, kisses on the cheeks, loving pats and compliments go a long way in healing a broken heart or depressed mind. Remember, sometimes the little things DO count.
2. If the person is acutely suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Call for help.
3. Remember: suicidal behavior is a cry for help. Thus if someone contemplating suicide turns to you, it is likely that he believes that you are more caring and more informed about coping with depression, and more willing to help. This in itself is a positive, so this can be the time to empower yourself to be what the suicidal person views you to be; stronger and you are.
4. Other steps to take include reassuring them that help is available and that with appropriate treatment they can feel better. Try not to patronize them by simply telling them that “everything will be fine,” or that “they have everything to live for”.
5. Try to search the house for dangerous items such as guns and knives that could be potentially harmful. You cannot stop a determined person, but you might reduce options from the environment- especially if they may act impulsively.

In addition to the factors above, if you are of a spiritual inclination, this will be a good time to pray according to the framework of your faith. Indeed, prayer when used effectively can work wonders to aid in curtailing depression suicide. But don’t push your faith traditions on the suffering – support them at their framework, not yours.

Naturally we all would get concerned or frightened if a loved one seems on the brink of suicide resulting from depression, however as with all life’s problems, if we can catch it early and treat it, depression-fueled suicide can be prevented.

Don’t dismiss or diminish the seriousness of symptoms of suicide. Professional help is a must. Call a hotline, get an emergent appointment with a psychiatrist or counselor. If things have gotten more advanced, then it may be time to call emergent response or go to an ER. Remember – over action is not nearly as tragic as what may be if we don’t act.

LiveBetterLiveNow – Houston


HEADS UP HOUSTON ! Look what’s coming –

Suicide Prevention Symposium: Coming Together to Care 2015
Texas Suicide Prevention Council and Mental Health America of Texas.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 Houston, TX


Survivors of Suicide – SOS

Survivors of Suicide – SOS

Suicide is a highly traumatic event. Losing a loved one to suicide is very painful and leaves lasting consequences for the people who are left behind. There are several different possible consequences and effects that the survivor of suicide might experience.


Depression, sadness and grief are reactions that might occur after any loss, however, they might be felt more strongly after a loss by suicide. The person might feel crushed by feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness, as they might feel a degree of responsibility for the suicide.

Depression and grief can be felt very strongly. A person might develop suicidal ideas and ideas that they might rejoin their loved ones by committing suicide. The pain is very strong, so it could be a good idea to reach out to mental health professionals and work with the grief in a more secure setting. Professional help might be especially needed if there are suicidal ideas.


Anger is another emotion that appears after a loss, but might be felt more strongly in a loss by suicide. The suicide survivor might feel anger at the person who committed suicide, but also at themselves, at other people (parents, friends, mental health professional, school authorities, etc.) who did not prevent the suicide. This is an emotion that is related to the grieving process.

Trauma and shock

The person might experience the after-effects of shock and trauma. It’s possible to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which counseling and therapy might be needed. The effects might be linked to flashbacks, nightmares, excessive evitation of anything related to the person who committed suicide or that might be related to suicide and severe limitations of the person’s life, hope for the future and relationships.


A possible first reaction to the situation is denial. The person might seemingly have a very subdued emotional reaction, not recognize what has happened or refuse to accept that it was a suicide. This reaction is usually a defense mechanism to protect a person’s mind from the shock and trauma, however, if the denial lasts for a long time, it can prevent the grieving process and lead to serious consequences. Denial might be expressed in different ways, for example, not crying or not getting angry, not touching the things or the room of the person who committed suicide, not visiting the grave, refusing help and refusing to talk about the situation for a long time. Denial might be a part of the grieving process, however, if denial does not give way to other reactions, it might seriously affect the person.

Guilt (the G word)

Guilt is commonly misidentified as a reaction among suicide survivors. Individuals might feel that they could have done more to prevent the suicide or that it was their fault that the person made that choice. But in truth, looking to ourselves for fault is an attempt to make sense or find a cause for the the senseless. Often times, the reason(s) is never fully revealed to anyone left behind. It is important to work with this emotion, because it can lead the person to act in self-destructive ways or to develop a strong depression.

Crisis of faith

This is a reaction that religious suicide survivors might experience. They might have a strong crisis and seek answers about why did someone close to them committed suicide or why their faith did not prevent what happened. The person might also feel anxious and worried about ideas related to suicide and hell or punishment. Some individuals might feel more drawn to religion for support in their grief, however, religious practices often do not substitute grief counseling.

Stigmatization by the community and blaming others

The aftermath of a suicide can be a difficult time, however, it can be made worse by the reactions other people have. Others might blame the person for allowing the suicide to happen or dismiss the reactions the person have. They might also discuss sensitive topics in an insensitive manner, for instance, saying that the person who committed suicide is surely in hell or that they were weak, in more extreme cases. Others might blame the family and friends and consider them to be dysfunctional or mentally ill as well. These reactions can worsen the state of the suicide survivor, especially if the person already feels guilty or responsible for what happened. In the aftermath of a suicide, some people might engage in finding someone or something to blame so as not to feel guilty, for example, family members might blame the friends or visa versa. This is usually not a constructive approach, as it often has to do with denial and with ignoring the pain different people are feeling at this time.

Seeking support and offering support

Individuals who are reeling from the loss of a loved one by suicide might look for support groups and share their story with others who have had similar experiences. It’s a healthy way of coping with the situation, be supported by others who can be truly empathetic, and learn ways to move through the grief. Other individuals might choose to continue to participate in these groups to help others with their grieving process and make new support networks.

One last thought

There are many difficult stages to the grieving process after the loss of a loved one and many different ways to grieve. A suicide can be shocking, unexpected and more difficult to deal with than other types of losses. The person might feel guilty, angry and sad, experiencing many negative emotions and living through very difficult times. However, it’s possible to have a grieving process that will allow the person to move forward with their life, especially if the process is done with professional help and support.




HEADS UP HOUSTON !  Look what’s coming –

Suicide Prevention Symposium: Coming Together to Care 2015
Texas Suicide Prevention Council and Mental Health America of Texas.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 Houston, TX


Live Better Live Now – Houston, Texas