Focusing On What Does And Doesn’t Actually Help Gives You More Control In Challenging Relationships.

We get to this place by showing up as ourselves, and not as who we think others want us to be. When we let people know who we truly are, we can get authentic love, support, and belonging. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Vered Shashoua, LCSW. Kimberly is an advocate, teacher, and therapist at […]

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We get to this place by showing up as ourselves, and not as who we think others want us to be. When we let people know who we truly are, we can get authentic love, support, and belonging.
We get to this place by showing up as ourselves, and not as who we think others want us to be. When we let people know who we truly are, we can get authentic love, support, and belonging.

We get to this place by showing up as ourselves, and not as who we think others want us to be. When we let people know who we truly are, we can get authentic love, support, and belonging.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Vered Shashoua, LCSW. Kimberly is an advocate, teacher, and therapist at Vered Counseling. She provides therapy to teens and their families in Asheville, NC, as well as online. Kimberly specializes in working with teen girls (including issues like depression, anxiety, and perfectionism) and helps teens navigate issues related to gender identity.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! What is your backstory?

Ialways knew I was going to work with teens, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. In college, I got a degree in essentially “the brain” — majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology and minoring in Speech-Audiology Pathology. I considered going to medical school to possibly become a pediatric neurologist.

It wasn’t until I worked in an emergency room that I decided to not go to medical school. There were two main reasons: One, I saw many chronic conditions that were getting worse because mental health and other issues made it difficult for people to follow up with appropriate treatment. Two, most of the doctors I connected with tried to talk me out of going to medical school. They said “If I knew what being a doctor was actually going to be like, I would have never done it.”

The overwhelming message was that physicians are great for quick repairs — like surgeries — but they are as helpless as anyone else when it comes to helping people make lasting improvements in their lives.

After getting my Masters and full licensure, I decided to start a private practice in Asheville, NC. I love what I do. I get to help teens discover who they are and to hold onto that spark that makes each of them special, despite whatever issues they’re dealing with or what they’ve been through in the past. I love helping parents understand their child and learn ways for the whole family to be healthier and more connected. In my opinion, there’s no better job in the world!

While talking with other clinicians, I noticed that there were some issues many therapists shied away from or felt they didn’t know how to handle, notably around how to support transgender clients and clients experiencing suicidal thinking. Most clinicians don’t get any training in issues of gender, and almost half of clinicians don’t get any graduate level training in working with suicidal clients! I do in-person workshops, while also providing online classes and self-paced CEUs to therapists across the country.

With the holiday season upon us, many people are visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?

The biggest question to ask yourself when dealing with difficult relatives is “Do I have a real relationship with this person?” If your parents criticize your hair and job, but aside from those frustrations, you feel loved and supported, that’s a relationship worth nurturing.

Signs of a damaging relationship include feeling like you’re always on guard, feeling like you can’t breathe, or feeling like you have to put on a fake persona the entire time. If you can’t ever be yourself, you can’t authentically connect with the other person. Is the relationship is based more on survival than love and support?

Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. In families where celebrating separately is not an option, what advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?

If there is a relative that you know who always makes you feel panicky or worse about yourself, try to minimize time spent around them. You can also prepare for these interactions. You can ask yourself “Do I trust this person? Is what they have to say helpful or true?” If you can clearly see that this relative is full of it, the nonsense they say can get under your skin less.

It’s also to have a plan for decompressing after stressful interactions. You can text a friend or talk to another relative who’s on your side. If you don’t have anyone accessible, you can search the internet to find a local warmline to call or text. Warmlines are hotlines for people to call when they’re feeling frustrated or lonely, but not actually at the point of crisis.

We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?

There can certainly be varying degrees of pain and harm caused by family members. In all cases, the most important thing is to figure out a way to keep yourself feeling safe and in control.

If you depend on this family member for a lot of things (you’re staying with them, they’re your only ride out of your remote location, they have access to your bank account), it might be appropriate to look at the interaction in terms of survival. You might have to put on a mask and pretend like everything’s fine in order to get what you need. There’s nothing wrong with putting your survival and basic needs/safety first.

If you do have to put on a mask, it’s important that you build in periods where you can vent, de-stress, or just feel safe. Knowing that there’s people you can talk to, a room you can hide out in, or a crisis line you can text if you’re feeling overwhelmed can help you get through.

If you have to deal with a family member who is frustrating, but doesn’t cause you high levels of distress, you can use positive distractions, such as thinking of something you’re looking forward to once you get back home. Slow, deep breaths while listening to the other person can also help you feel calm. It’s a cliche, but only because it actually works. It won’t cure stress, but it does help you stay calmer and feel in control.

Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?

With teens, there’s this conflict because they often know when something is wrong, but have the least power to take action and change it. I’ve helped a lot of teens end the struggle with unsupportive family members by seeing what they realistically can and can’t do.

Let’s say a teen is having conflicts with their parents (in this situation, let’s say the parents are unreasonable about something and unwilling to learn). The teen may not be able to move out, get a job, or even get around town without their parent’s help. If the teen argues with them, it’s unlikely that the parent will respond positively, and they’ll reach a standstill. In these cases, I help teens accept that their parents aren’t going to change, as frustrating as it may be. Then, I help teens focus on expanding the connections they have with people who understand them.

While this is difficult (and it’s hard to wrestle with “why can’t they just get it?”), focusing on what does and doesn’t actually help gives you more control in challenging relationships.

Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although holiday gatherings are only a few days a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?

1. You don’t have to please everyone. If someone is saying something that is hurtful, you can speak up! Your feelings matter. It’s okay to ruffle some feathers at the gathering if doing so helps you feel like you’re being fully yourself.

2. It’s okay to fake it. It’s also okay if you want to pretend to be someone else over the holidays. Family relationships are complicated. If you want to bypass an argument by pretending that someone’s joke didn’t bother you, it’s fine. We all have limited amounts of energy and sometimes we don’t feel like dealing with something. If you decide to stifle your opinions during a gathering, make sure you have a person you can vent to afterwards.

3. Carve out some fun. It’s important to find things that you enjoy when you know you’ll be dealing with some stressful situations. Download a game on your phone or tablet, watch a movie or comedy special, or listen to a podcast. Choosing something that’s engaging to focus on can help provide you some relief.

4. Notice something positive in the here-and-now. Even in the middle of stress, what is good about this moment? Do you like your outfit? Is the food tasty? Is it cozy inside? Trying to find and focusing on the positive can help you get through a stressful event.

5. Next year in Jerusalem! This saying is a traditional ending to Passover, but it’s also a good mantra for the holidays. If you’re struggling, it’s important to consider whether you want to put yourself through this again. If the answer is yes, it might help you get through this season. If the answer is no, thinking about doing something different next year — staying home, visiting the mountains, or even going to another country — can be a great distraction and help you feel centered through the chaos.

What advice would you give to family members who are allies of someone struggling with mental illness at these gatherings?

You can’t fix things, but you can support your family member. You can ask them what they need and take cues from them. Just knowing that you’re available to listen and support them can mean a lot. Also, if they need any help in taking a break from the chaos, you can offer to take them to a movie or some other fun distraction.

How can they support strong mental health without causing friction with other members of the family?

I think this idea of not wanting to cause friction or upset others can become a slippery slope to condoning abuse. There are absolutely times when it is okay to cause friction with other people or even piss them off.

Relatives commenting about weight are a perennial issue. In most cases, I’d step in and say something like “her weight is none of your business,” and then change the topic.

If the situation was more serious, like the person had body image struggles or I knew those words would really sting, I’d step up what I’d say. I would call out that fatphobic thinking, tell them that no one’s weight is any of their business, and that implying that someone’s appearance matters — like it makes them a better person, more desirable, or is a morally good quality — is harmful nonsense.

Then, there’s the effects that outright bigotry has on mental health. If someone is part of a marginalized group, such as being transgender or Jewish, and a family member says something transphobic, anti-semitic, or generally racist, it is fine to leave. You don’t have to subject yourself to abuse just to continue the appearance of “family unity.” Your feelings matter and are just as important at racist uncle Joe’s.

If you are going to cause friction, it is important that you have a backup plan and aren’t relying on the person you angered. Make sure you’re staying in a hotel and not with that relative. Have your own transportation (or that you’re phone’s charged and has service if you need a rideshare).

What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?

My favorite quote is by the inimitable Mr. (Fred) Rogers. “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

For me, this gets to the core of not only the idea of therapy, but also human connection. We’re not alone in this, no matter what our jerk brain may be telling us. Other people have walked the path of depression, of experiencing abuse, and whatever you’ve gone though, you’re not alone. By talking with people we trust, people who deserve to hear our story, we find out that we’re in this together.

There’s nothing shameful about being a person. There’s nothing shameful about feeling jealous or angry or lonely. When you start talking with someone else who hears you and gets it, you can start moving from a place of beating yourself up to a place of growing and living.

If you could inspire a movement or a change in mental wellness, what would it be? How can people support you in this mission?

I would want people to know that the only way out of chaos is to be more of yourself, not less. There is something wonderful in every single person I’ve worked with, no exceptions. Even if you feel worthless, bad, or like there’s nothing special about you — I’ve found that there’s always something amazing sleeping within.

We get to this place by showing up as ourselves, and not as who we think others want us to be. When we let people know who we truly are, we can get authentic love, support, and belonging.

What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?

You can visit me at my website, or check out the Vered Counseling Facebook page for articles, resources, and inspiration.

Thank you this was so inspiring!

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