By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Steve Legallet, LMFT
As family therapists, we are seeing more and more young people who are suffering from various degrees of depression, anxiety, addictions and social isolation as they try to mask all of the emotions and negative consequences associated with theses self-defeating behaviors. We also see many concerned and baffled parents who struggle with trying to find ways to help their wounded and isolated kids.
If you have a son or daughter who is suffering, addicted, depressed, anxious, isolated, angry and/or shut down, here are some words that you might consider writing or saying to open the door to a new avenue of communication:
Dear Son or Daughter,
We see that you are struggling and suffering. We imagine that there are many thoughts and feelings underneath your anger including confusion, fear, hopelessness, and pain.
We understand that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and that coping with your emotions can be very challenging. What we want more than anything else is to help you find ways to let people into your life and for you to stop pushing us away. What we want is for all of us to talk more and spend more time together, which may involve talking or being quiet sometimes. We would like to know more about you and your world too. Maybe you could tell us more about your interests, including the computer games you play, the movies you watch, the music you like, the websites you look at. Will you consider this?
Will you consider spending time with us, and the rest of the family? Will you consider having at least a day or two a week where we do something together? Bike, walk, a movie, a game? Will you consider for a moment that your life can improve if we work at this together?
It is important you know that even though you feel bad and even though at times your behavior has been bad, we know that you are not a bad person, and that you have a good heart. Good people can make bad decisions and good people can make mistakes. The question is, do you have what it takes to learn from those mistakes and become a better person for it? Are you willing to learn how to manage your emotions without exploding on others or imploding with self-hate?
We hope you will give yourself a chance to have a good life, which means being willing to change and improve your behavior. It takes maturity and strength to be open and willing to accept help from others. We hope you will choose that.
We know that many times we have reacted to your anger by acting out our own anger in ways that have not been helpful. We know there are so many times when we went on talking when we should have just listened. These are the things that we will continue to work on.
We know that a lot of things have happened, both in the world and in our family that have contributed to your pain. We want to hear about your feelings and really have the opportunity to hear you, to apologize, and to acknowledge your pain.
What we are asking for you to do is to trust in our love for you and the loving intentions behind our efforts to help you. We ask that you trust us by letting down your wall just enough to see the love we have for you. We know it is hard to trust and we all have our work to do, but we hope you will stay open to change. Again, it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to let others help you through the dark times and to help you to see a glimmer of light. We hope you will do this.
Will you consider that things can change and improve, even if you don’t believe it now? Will you consider the possibility that you are lovable and valuable and that your life can have meaning and purpose?
Mom and Dad (or other caregivers and loved ones)