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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psyumorist (tm)



Oct 2013, No. I, Sec. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

 

Table of Contents:

Sec. I

Shrink Rap I: Shootings and Shutdowns:  Once Again On the Edge
Shrink Rap II:  The Missing Parent Syndrome (MPS):  How Psychosocial Loss Impacts Adult Children & Strategies for Building Bridges and Reworking the Grief – Pt
Readers’ Offerings:  Responses to “Shootings and Shutdowns”
Testimonials:  Wells-Robertson/Community Services, Gaithersburg City Government
Main Essay:  Building Stress Resilience and Organizational Hardiness despite Doing “More with Less”

Phone Coaching-Consultation-Counseling with the Stress Doc ™ and Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.

Shrink Rap I:

Shootings and Shutdowns:  Once Again On the Edge

For many in the Greater-Metro DC area, the close proximity in time and space between the Washington Navy Yard tragedy and the Government Shutdown travesty has only heightened a sense of vulnerability.  Of course, none are more impacted than Federal Employees.  Yet, even if not a Fed, so many folks in this region are connected to the federal government for their livelihood and well-being.  Holding the government hostage has wide-spread and profound ramifications.  (And with each passing day, dysfunctional trunk-like tentacles constrict and impair more and more of the nation.)  Individuals and families are once again living on an economic-political and psychological precipice.

 As a friend and federal employee passionately noted after the Navy Yard horror, some system-wide support, including timely information updates, more than just water cooler discussion and rumor, would have been vital to help federal employees cope with their own emotions as well as the status of family, friends, and colleagues.  In her (national security) shop, “no one talked about their feelings or concerns…I was crying and praying for families and friends.”  And one suspects she and many others are praying such a rampage does not happen again.
 

The Rise of Grief Ghosts and the Need for Grief Groups

Not surprisingly, this current intersection of crises stirs memories related to previous shutdowns or threats as well as previous shootings (e.g., the sniper-related reign of terror back in 2002).  Grief ghosts will likely be walking the halls and cubes of government buildings as well as in basements and warehouses for the foreseeable future.  Employees won’t just be burnt up; many will be feeling burnt out!

When this brinksmanship finally ends, there will be numbers of employees who will not be able to return to “business as usual.”  While some individuals may benefit from counseling services through the federal Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), federal agencies can send a much more positive and proactive message.  Agencies need to recognize the normative nature of trauma-induced or trauma-related stress as well as the tension inherent in repeated exposure to critical uncertainty.  Large numbers of people may need time to vent and share with their colleagues, including the need for some communal grief work and emotional/team support. Please consider the following intervention/prevention steps for positively moving and supporting people through this challenging if not crisis-riddled time:

1.  Management Training:  Helping managers and supervisors understand the impact of the challenges and crises hitting federal employees today, including the likelihood of stress-induced or trauma-like echoes.  Also, we know that individuals carrying around their own personal pressures and tensions, not related to the recent upheavals, can become quite anxious or agitated, may feel more out of control, during such a stormy period. Such training will enable management personnel to more compassionately, effectively, and efficiently recognize and reach out to employees needing collegial or professional assistance.  This training would also help managers facilitate some team sharing and support.  Of course, some of the management personnel may need their own counseling, coaching, or emotional bolstering.  Again, many folks are uncomfortable reaching out to the EAP.  This strategic step would provide an additional resource.

2.  Employee Support.  Two forms of employee support come to mind:

a. All Hands Meetings – this would provide some of the content mentioned above; again, it’s a way of disseminating to the branch or division, as a community vital information and to acknowledge the recent confusion and chaos; sharing and grieving is seen as normal and natural; a 30-60 minute session seems appropriate

b. Support Groups – these groups would be voluntary and smaller in number (based on my experience as a stress and critical incident consultant, group size should not exceed fifteen).  And, if given sufficient time, say one half-day, some truly productive grieving, problem-solving, and individual/team healing can occur.  And this setting will enable a trained facilitator to identify and encourage individuals needing more emotional support to seek appropriate assistance.

The bottom line:  Through no fault of their own, federal employees are caught in a political crossfire.  Eventually, appropriate follow-up debriefing and/or additional support will be needed.  The above interventions will help employees be more resilient in managing the aftermath of these stressors; people will sooner be able to productively resume their missions, roles and responsibilities.  And in contrast to the factions of dysfunctional and erosive stalemate, federal management will be perceived as a proactive and constructive force for the greater good.

 Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™

Stress and Critical Incident Consultant

stressdoc@aol.com

www.stressdoc.com

Shrink Rap II:

The Missing Parent Syndrome (MPS):  How Psychosocial Loss Impacts

Adult Children & Strategies for Building Bridges and Reworking the Grief – Pt I

Two recent events reminded me of what I am dubbing “MPS” – the Missing Parent Syndrome.  The parent is not literally missing; more MPS reflects a sudden, overwhelming event or illness, and/or chronic condition (e.g., a serious stroke, perhaps with lingering post-depressive symptoms, or ongoing dysfunctional substance abuse, maybe even severe workaholic patterns, etc.) that affect mind-body-psyche health, feeling of fragility vs. hardiness, sense of self, and capacity for mature engagement with others.

In addition, the Missing Parent may be away for lengthy periods of time because of the type of work; think of a mother or father in or employed by the military stationed overseas.  Of course, a person temporarily living outside the family doesn’t automatically breed an MPS scenario.  However, upon the MP’s return, if this individual and/or the family have prolonged difficulty with reintegrating healthy partner-parental roles, the extended household may be sowing MPS seeds.

The MP just cannot be as emotionally available as they were before the bio-psycho-social turning point.  There’s a new or exaggerated self-centeredness, callousness, or pronounced cautiousness; their defensive and self-protective walls have gone up limiting give and take openness and authenticity.  The MP will push you away – passively or aggressively – if you get too close to their pain or shame.  And if the pattern persists, what may have been a psychological-interpersonal problem for the child can take on biochemical dimensions, including states of intense agitation, aggression, and/or depression.  And this phenomenon is particularly pronounced and hurtful when the parent is still physically present in the child’s life.  Also, MPS may involve adult children of almost any age as much as youngsters and teens.

Let me provide some “Missing Parent” examples, along with key family dynamics, followed by some MSP intervention strategies:

1.  Lonely, Wounded Mother and “Clinging” Son.  A Supervisor, who I’ll call Eric, in a recent workshop with five other management-level colleagues, shared how his once vital mother (now in her 50s) has become depressed, has gained considerable weight, and mostly stays at home.  Actually, it’s been ten years since she really has been that vibrant fun loving woman Eric once knew and still longs for.  Ten years ago this late 20s gentlemen left for the military.  Also, his younger brother graduated high school and was spending less time at home.  More recently, Eric has become engaged and his fiancée is expecting.  He did not mention any involvement between his mother and his fiancée.

In addition to the family separation issues, I suspect “grief ghosts” were rearing and roaring.  The oldest son’s father had left the household when he was one.  The father eventually remarried and there has been really no involvement with the family.  For this man, the mother, not the father, is the “missing parent.”

However, the mother has always been bitter about the loss; and I’m sure her ex’s remarrying only added that proverbial salt to the wound.  In fact, over the years Eric shared how his mother would scold him for behaving “like his father.”  He acknowledged looking like his father.  Still, when Eric drives fifty miles to be with his mother, this young man can’t understand why she won’t make an effort to get dressed or doesn’t want to go out and have a good time.  In addition to not understanding her depression, he refuses to recognize that his mom, at least for the foreseeable future, will not be recapturing her former, seemingly joyful manner of living.  Not surprisingly, Eric himself is becoming increasingly depressed by the visits.  And, alas, he knows his mother will not seek medical assistance for her depression.

Interventions:  Logical and Psychological

a) Logical.  Not surprisingly, the group wanted Eric to “honor thy mother,” to accept where she is and just “be” with her.  A popular suggestion was staying home and sharing Chinese delivery.  And, of course, a vital component of mature love is placing another’s needs before one’s own.  (At the same time, one must be aware of possible unhealthy self-denial patterns, e.g., giving one’s self away and thereby enabling another’s dysfunctional behavior and decision-making.)

b) Psychological.  It’s vital to recognize that before a person can implement logical problem-solving, he may have to engage in psychological processing.  And in this instance, Eric needed to own his anger fueled by unrealistic expectations of his mother.  In addition to not understanding his mom’s depression, he is presently trapped by irrational anger.  But at a deeper emotional level, his anger distracts from a painful sadness regarding the reality of his mother’s compromised state and living condition.  And sometimes children can be frightened by role reversal – when a parent becomes less functional and increasingly needy.

In addition, it’s hard to say precisely what impact Eric beginning a new family is having on his mother; it is possible some old echoes (abandoned by Eric’s father) and fears of further disconnection are being stirred.  Of course, mom may be worried that she will be eclipsed by her son’s new constellation.

After much back and forth with the group, the true complexity of the family entanglement began dawning on Eric.  He seemed receptive about calling the EAP for guidance.  In hindsight, I wish I had more specifically explored or mentioned two resources:  1) does his mom belong to a church, and might a church member make a home visit? and 2) if contacted, a counselor from a United Way Family Counseling Agency would likely make a home visit, with the hope of developing a supportive relationship with his mother.  The longer term goal, naturally, would be getting Eric’s mom the medical and therapeutic help she needs.

And finally, counseling for Eric would allow him to grieve the lost “idealized mother,” enabling him to feel less deprived and burdened.  And with this step, he has a real fighting chance to become a more realistically caring son.  In addition, Eric spoke of a conflict with an older woman in the workplace that certainly had “mother-child” overtones.  When MPS issues are not acknowledged, disguised or misguided battles invariably break out.

And in Part II, I will do some exploration that hits close to home:  how the death of my girlfriend Diana’s 19 y.o. daughter, and Diana’s subsequent emotional devastation and withdrawal, impacted the relationship with her still living 17 y.o. daughter.  And why and how, nineteen years later, opportunity arose to:  1) revisit this painful “missing parent” issue and 2) clear up and clean up much of the wound.  Until then…Practice Safe Stress!

Readers’ Offerings:

1) Hi Mark!

Fantastic take and recommendations on the federal dysfunction that is gripping the nation: good for you!

Margie(Sypniewski) Roop, LPCC-S; CEAP; SAP

Regional EAP Director, LifeServices EAP, Workplace Behavior Sage

---------  

Good morning, StressDoc!

Outstanding information I received from my co-worker today.

Thank you so much for addressing how we’re coping with the tragedy in the Navy Yard.

I felt emotion was swept under the rug when I came to work the next day.  The streets covered with media, I watched pools of federal workers walk through the very street that was riddled with police cars, SWAT vans, ambulances, and fire trucks just the day before.  I was personally apprehensive about coming up the escalators to see what the street looked like after such a tragic event.  I was so surprised to see it was as if nothing had ever happened.  I guess I was expecting a more solemn commute and reintegration to the workplace—maybe a wreath or bouquet of flowers close by.  I don’t know…

The office did not address what we might be experiencing emotionally until later the next week.

Again, thank you so much for addressing it.  Your words were very comforting.

Yours,

S.

-----

Mark,

Of course—I’m not sure what service my comments would provide.  I was just hoping to give my perspective on the issue; help someone maybe.

 As a military spouse and 23-year veteran, I’m surprised there has been no bereavement of some sort here on the street.  When a small child was killed by a weather event in our town in Oklahoma, the community came together and mourned.  Similarly in Hawaii, when a young Airman was killed by a freak work accident, the community came together with his family and mourned, brought flowers, and remembered him.

I’m just so curious why, in the federal government, don’t we come together as a community?  I think it would be so helpful to many folks who otherwise don’t have that support system.

Anyhoo, I hope you have a great weekend.  Thanks for listening.

S.  Yes, anonymous would be great.

Testimonials: 

Wells-Robertson/Community Services, Gaithersburg City Government; 5-Hour Resiliency and Rejuvenation Team Building Retreat

July 1, 2013

Mark, thank you very much for the information.  I appreciate the follow-up and will certainly keep your services in mind.

And thank you very much for your efforts during our retreat.  I’ve heard wonderfully positive follow-up comments about how useful, empowering, invigorating, and relevant the workshop was.  The team definitely left with a renewed energy.

Britta Monaco  |  Director  |  Department of Community & Public Relations
City of Gaithersburg  |  31 S. Summit Ave.  |  Gaithersburg, MD  20877
P:  301-258-6310 x2111  |  F:  301-948-6149

bmonaco@gaithersburgmd.gov
--------------------

Subject: retreat feedback
Date: 7/12/2013
From: MHerndon@gaithersburgmd.gov and jfrazierbey@gaithersburgmd.gov

Hi Mark
 
From both the Wells and Community Services perspectives, we appreciated the atmosphere you helped us create whereby folks felt comfortable talking and discussing sometimes sensitive issues.  We appreciate your motivational style and bringing in your sense of  humor which is so very helpful and fun!  The humor and style of presentation you do is very contagious and really gets the participants to be truly involved in the process.  We feel the role play and self-reflection exercise were great.  The role play really fostered teamwork and creative group thinking.
 
We also appreciate the time you gave us prior to the retreat so you could do proper research and prepare for the issues we felt were important.
 
Maureen Herndon
Division Manager
Community Services
City of Gaithersburg
301-258-6395 ex 1

mherndon@gaithersburgmd.gov

Jimmy Frazier-Bey
Division Chief
Homeless Services
City of Gaithersburg

jfrazier@gaithersburgmd.gov
------------

Subject: Wells Robertson Staff Retreat
Date: 7/12/2013
From: LCarazo@gaithersburgmd.gov

Mark:

I personally want to thank you for your patience and your special ways of making things so clear during the whole day.

We were all awake and willing to continue to participate until the end of the day, and that to me means a great “facilitator”

Best Regards,

Lourdes

LOURDES CARAZO
Acting Clinical Supervisor
Wells Robertson House
City of Gaithersburg

Tel. 301 258- 6390
lcarazo@gaithersburgmd.gov
----------------------------

From:
Shadell Canty
Sent:
Thursday, June 27
To:
Wells Robertson; Community Services

Thanks!!! Excellent Retreat!!  I was very motivated. I am proud to be a part of the Wells team and I am proud to work under the leadership of JFB, Lourdes and Elaine Johnson!!! Kudos to everyone!!!!!
 

Main Essay:

A somewhat shorter version of this Q & A was just published by Workforce.com.  It’s a very contemporary and relevant question, ironically posed in poetic format:  How do we cope with employee stress from them having to do more with less?  My answer is straightforward yet thought-provoking prose and ideas, with an occasional twist of humor, of course.  Enjoy!

Mark

------------------------------

Dear Workforce:

How do we cope with employee stress from them having to do more with less? Like many companies, ours has had to make tough choices in recent years. So far so good.... but we want to defuse any problems that might arise.

-- Chief Worry Officer, services/software, New York City

Building Stress Resilience and Organizational Hardiness despite Doing “More with Less”

Dear CWO,

I like your job title.  The troops will more likely sense you feel their pain.  And this is vital, for research has updated the old saw:  “Misery loves company.”  Actually, it really likes miserable company!  While I’m being a tad playful, there is a serious message.  When a company has had to make tough cutbacks, one of the most important dynamics is that everyone in the company makes some sacrifice; all, in some fashion, are walking in those “more with less” shoes, (and occasionally feeling the bunions) 

Let me also provide a proactive list of stress resiliency bullet points:

1.  Hold Town Hall Meeting.  Consider having an “all hands” meeting for the troops to review where you’ve been as company-division-department, etc. – bumps and strengths – during this tough transition. (And if necessary make it web-video friendly; get a “satellite” perspective.)  I might hold a panel forum with an array of levels having an opportunity to share what have been the challenges, the stress points; some humor here is especially invaluable.  As I once penned:  “People are less defensive and more open to a serious message gift-wrapped with humor.”

In addition, highlight what has been learned, including improvements made, noteworthy efforts and achievements, as well as areas to be strengthened.  Perhaps give out some awards.  Especially underscore where there’s been interdepartmental sharing and synergy.  Not only did systems circle the wagons in tough times, but they interlinked, supported, fortified, and coordinated as well.

2.  Seek Team-Department Input.  Perhaps after the town meeting (or even in preparation for the big event), do a similar “local” analysis as noted above.  The more people believe they are being listened to, that their diverse “worries” and ideas are respected and considered, the more they will see themselves as not just part of the problem but also instrumental in the solution.  (Of course, acknowledgement doesn’t mean agreement.  And most don’t expect immediate accord.  But people want to know their argument is being genuinely heard if not addressed.)  Finally, people will begin seeing you as a meaningful change agent – an aware, effective, and responsible individual who impacts positively mind, motivation, and morale and is also worthy of trust.

 3. Generate “TnT” Environment.  Management, in particular, can do two things to facilitate trust, especially vital in a changing, sometimes uncertain or turbulent environment.  First be transparent – Transparency and Trust are soul sisters and brothers!  As much as possible, share openly with folks what you know and what you don’t know.  Don’t fudge facts.  Be clear when you are speculating.  Don’t put a positive spin on a problem to suppress angst in the short-term.  That pseudo-Yin energy will likely turn around and bite you in the Yang.

Second, allow your audience or team members to raise tough questions and even to challenge some decisions made.  Employees want leaders that can handle intense and intimate interaction without management getting defensive.  And hold off jumping on someone’s attitude if they are not being abusive. (A little or occasional attitude isn't unreasonable if "streamlined" or "right-sized" times have persisted for a good while.)  Don’t handle an encounter by immediately proving why “you” are right and “they” are wrong.  Again, at least confirm that the other party believes you understand their perspective.  And if you are not sure of an answer, say so up front.  Also, let people know of the research you will do to address the problem raised.  And provide some time-line for report back.  This kind of head-heart toughness also builds your trust account

4.  Make Psychological Hardiness a Priority.  Psychological hardiness is a concept developed by Dr. Suzanne Kobasa and her research team while studying the health of AT&T executives during the stressful breakup of “Ma Bell.” Some execs were having a hard time physically and emotionally, while others were coping effectively with the transitional storm. The hardiest executives demonstrated what I call the “Four C’s of Psychological Hardiness”:

a. Commitment.  The hardy execs while not crazy about all the changes were still committed to doing really good work.  They also were committed to finding work-life balance; they were not spending long nights at work hoping they would be rewarded for self-sacrifice.

b. Control.  These effective execs understood that they would have to let go of some real control; they did not bury themselves in their silos, but were more open to exploring new assignments and role-responsibility shifts.

c. Change.  The most stress resilient were able to release considerable control as they understood that “change happens.”  These individuals were quicker to grieve their loss, perceived or actual.  They were also quicker to jump into new learning curves; and did not fight being an uncomfortable beginner.  I would say their personal mantra; I’m a learner not a loser!

d. Conditioning.  The hardiest execs engaged in regular aerobic exercise or physical conditioning.  Not only does exercise help you stay fit, manage your weight and improve your endurance and cardiovascular health, but it also releases mood-lifting bio-chemicals, a good antidote to mild feelings of agitation and/or depression.  Also, when everything’s up in the air--you can’t seem to close any projects or meet elusive deadlines--structured exercise provides a self-defined beginning and endpoint, for a tangible self of accomplishment and control.

How about instituting a wellness/hardiness program or competition among departments, with some team rewards at the end of the challenge?

Closing

Follow these four resiliency-hardiness building measures and your ship, even when hitting some rough water, should continue to stay the course.  Bon voyage!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote, kickoff and webinar speaker as well as "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring, and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  In addition, the "Doc" is a Team Building and Organizational Development Consultant as well as a Critical Incident/Grief Intervention Expert for Business Health Services, a National EAP/Wellness/OD Company.  He is providing "Stress and Communication,” as well as “Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building" programs for a variety of units at Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral Medicine Services.

A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  The Stress Doc blog appears in such platforms as HR.com, WorkforceWeek.com, and MentalHelpNet.  His award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite"www.stressdoc.com – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567.

 

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2013

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