As a therapist, I’ve heard this many times. You probably have, too. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself! And sure, you can absolutely choose to believe or not believe in something despite the evidence for or against it! But you’re probably not really saying you don’t believe in it, you’re probably saying:
1. I don't think people can change or I don’t think therapy works (for me).
As people, we are constantly changing whether we realize it or not. Our brain is constantly taking in new information and adapting or solidifying behaviors to accommodate. Yet, we don't know what we don't’ know. A therapist is educated and trained in understanding these processes of the brain and can introduce new ideas, concepts and behaviors that will challenge whatever is been holding you back. People can change. Therapists know this because they get to have an active role in clients make amazing and inspiring transformations in their lives. They are witnesses to human adaptability and change nearly every day.
Now, it’s true that some people start therapy and don’t or won’t change. Some people drop out of therapy when challenged on self-protective thoughts or behaviors. Or they give up when they don’t like the therapist or even feel judged by the therapist. There is a term called attrition which is when someone drops out of treatment before desired results are achieved. There are lots of reasons for early drop-out but let’s save that for another article. The point is, just like a diet not followed, an exercise regimen not implemented, or a budget disregarded, the therapeutic process is going to be more useful if you participate in session, be willing to adapt your behavior and challenge your go-to thinking patterns outside of sessions. It’s. Hard. Work. Yet, change is possible and achievable!
2. I don’t want/like to talk to a stranger about my problems
Fair enough. But consider this: When you talk to a therapist, you are not a stranger, you are a client. The difference? Therapists have taken on an ethical oath to have “unconditional, positive regard” for their clients. Their job is literally to see the best in you, to like you, care for you, and to do all in their power to help and not harm you. They’ve also legally promised to keep almost everything you share confidential (unless your at risk of serious bodily harm). This is not the same relationship you have with a random stranger standing at Walmart. Your therapist cares. Yes, it’s their job, but it’s their job to genuinely care. However, not only does your therapist like you and care about you, they care about you enough tell you when something in your life isn’t serving you well. They have no personal motivation to get you to change your behaviors other than to want you to have success in therapy and in life. They also have the skills and tools to back that up by helping you figure out what things would work better for you in your life. The goal of therapy is to work together to create and implement a plan that will bring you the most peace and fulfillment in your life. Not many strangers do that!
So, believe in therapy or not. Go to therapy or don’t. Make meaningful change in your life or maintain the status quo. We, as therapists, will be there as your guide, coach and cheerleader the moment you are ready to believe in us and make the changes you desire. We know it can work because whether you believe in us or not, we believe in you.
[Disclosure: Holiday-Induced Depression and Anxiety [H-IDA] is not an actual diagnosis. However, the holiday season is a common enough trigger for symptoms of depression and anxiety that we've coined the phrase for the purposes of this article.]
We stereotype the holiday season as a time of happiness and tranquility. You can scroll through nearly any form of social media to see happy families engaging in time-honored traditions and loving embraces. There are picture-perfect family poses complete with santa hats and exaggerated smiles. Many people LOVE the holiday season. If you do, that’s fantastic, but then this article is not for you.
In fact, this article is for those who feel hopeless, lonely, heartbroken, anxious or overwhelmed during the holidays. It’s for those of you for whom the hustle and bustle, stress of difficult family relationships or profound grief following the loss of a loved one permeates the season. Perhaps you already know why the holidays are so painful for you. Maybe you’ve experienced a death, estrangement, divorce, financial difficulties, or health problems this past year that you feel ten-fold during what is “supposed” to be a happy season. Maybe you are not sure why you feel this way at all or you just tend to feel a little down or pessimistic around this time. Perhaps the emotional highs of Christmas morning are followed by a sense of hollowness as the tree is taken down and twinkling lights go out. Even when you do have a loving family, your basic needs met, and realistic expectations that things will continue in that way for you, it’s possible to feel an inexplicable emptiness and pain that is magnified against the joy it seems is felt by everyone BUT you.
For whatever the reason this season is difficult for you, here are some suggestions to get you through:
Manage your expectations.
It’s important to be realistic about the unmet expectations you have for yourself, others and the world when it comes to the holidays. Think of the “shoulds” you might be subconsciously filtering how things actually are, through the way you feel they “should” be. For example, “I should have more money,” “I shouldn't have to work so hard,” “I should be able to have closer, more fulfilling relationships,” “It shouldn’t snow,” “I shouldn’t have to work when others get time off,” “My family should be whole.”
The “shoulds” create inner-resentment and can even build up over time to depression and anxiety. Acknowledging your unmet expectations is the first step in letting them go. Do an exercise where you free-write every should statement about the holidays and evaluate whether you are considering your “shoulds” to be objective truths. Challenge yourself to see it more realistically. The biggest culprit of holiday depression and anxiety is often the fear of, or actual unmet expectations.
It’s easy to get focused on shopping and buying- Filling your online carts full to the brim and enough to break your monthly budget is a common experience this time of year. Do you hit that “buy now” button or do you hover over, knowing you can’t afford it and feeling like it’s all pointless, anyway. While shopping can give you a temporary emotional high, you’re better off dumping your online cart and closing the browser. Instead, turn the season in to “doing” and “creating” rather than “buying” and you're going to create longer-lasting memories and better connections with others.
Check out local community events to participate in, say yes to social engagements, volunteer with charitable organizations and make the gift exchanges a side gig rather than a main event. If you’re still hesitant to pare down, stop and try to name every gift you gave or received last year. How memorable were those items, really, just one year later? Did they provide long-lasting happiness? Did they improve your relationships with others? If not, were they worth it? Focus on activities and people rather than things and you will feel much more fulfilled. In fact…..
Focus on relationships
This seems obvious- the reason for the season is about relationships and focusing on things outside of ourselves. This may mean religious beliefs or connection with others. But if you’ve lost a relationship, it’s hard to feel positive at this time of year. Actively remembering your lost loved one and involving the memory of them in the process of celebrating the holiday can bring some additional peace. They are ever-present in your mind, so talk about them and the good moments you had. Honor their memory and spend some time thinking about what they felt about the holidays or celebrations and traditions they appreciated. The grief process is different for everyone so be gentle on yourself if you can do this yet.
Something else that can be helpful is to remember there are likely many people still in your life worth strengthening a connection with. Set a goal to improve or strengthen one relationship. What can you do to make amends or to forgive? Are there acquaintances you could work toward developing a friendship with? Can you work to build better boundaries to feeler safe in a relationship with someone? Perhaps you could learn the Love Language of your chosen person and focus on creating a better, healthier bond by demonstrating love in their own love language. Due to the nature of historically difficult relationships, you may want to involve a therapist in this process.
Be a GIVER of charity and gracious RECEIVER when offered charity.
It seems obvious this time of year, but if you are going through difficult financial times, you may be the one in need of some charity. If that’s the case, graciously accept help when offered. It’s noble to do so, because when you do, you provide others the opportunity to feel meaningful in their own life. That is a gift you give to them. Of course, no matter how little you have or how much you are struggling, you can find someone you can help as well. Shoveling a neighbors walk, paying it forward at a drive-through, writing a kind note or volunteering will help you feel you have purpose and worth. You feel greater connections to humanity when you help others, even if you do not physically interact with the person. You start seeing the good in the world and believing it is there. You know that because you ARE the good in the world.
Please know, the holidays are rough for many people. You are not alone in that. There may be many differing reasons but following the steps above may help you get through them, and potentially even enjoy them, a little bit better.
Have other suggestions? Comment below!
As a mental health professional and wannabe (but far from it) tech-nerd, I’ve spent the past few weeks reviewing apps that may improve my clients’ (and your) mental health! So take a few minutes and a bit of your data plan to read this blog post and download some positivity to your smartphones, tablets, and life!
APPS LISTED IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
A beautiful sunset overlooking a sweeping green vista. Swelling instrumental music with a powerful, clear voice singing a meaningful ballad. A quiet moment with a loved one and suddenly your heart swells with love and adoration for them. What do these things have in common? These are the human moments that create connection to our spiritual selves. When I left organized religion behind, I was afraid (and told) I would lose the comfort that comes from these beautiful moments. The moments where you feel warmth in your chest and clarity of mind. I was told I wouldn’t “feel the spirit” any more if I didn’t attribute these moments to God speaking truth of his existence and love for me.
Luckily, I discovered these comforting moments-- such as when you feel not so alone in your troubles, feel like everything’s going to work out okay (or at least for the best) or that love is in abundance-- are sought and found by Catholics, Buddhists and Atheists, alike. They are not a ™ of any particular religion or belief system! In fact, I have the ability (as we all do) to invoke this emotional state at almost any time. Here's how:
What is it about music that can cause us to feel so deeply? There are lots of evolution-based theories, such as the ones listed here, but scientists say that music triggers the reward, emotion and arousal centers of our brain. Whatever the reason, religion typically offers lots of musical experiences to help us connect to our spiritual side. You don’t need religion to find music that speaks to your soul. Whether you generally listen to scream-o or pop ballads, you should also look for songs to which you emotionally connect. Perhaps you heard s song in an emotional movie scene, or it was playing when something meaningful happened in your life. Try finding these tunes, melodies, or instrumentals and play them again to relive those moments and feel the warmth in your chest and tears in your eyes. I’ll give you some examples of music that does this for me:
This music gives me chills and immediately makes me think of my love for my spouse. Or the bridge in this song gets me every time. Ahh, youth. Wasn’t Leo so dreamy? This song is one chosen for all my grandma’s grandchildren to sing at her funeral. Since then, it quickly triggers feelings of peace and forgiveness for her as well as feelings of love and the support of my immediate family. If you read the YouTube comments under any of these songs, you’ll see the many comments about the emotional impact of them on people from all over. For me, they immediately trigger thoughts and feelings of love, belonging, connection, and beauty. I see the faces of my children, my spouse or my family and my heart swells with love and gratitude for each; while I simultaneously recognize the fragility of life and even a bit of impending existential loss.
And just to drive home the point, here is an adorable baby being triggered by mom’s singing!
We are also often spiritually in-tune when being part of nature. Whether it’s because you believe a god or gods created nature for man’s enjoyment, or because it’s our mother earth that provides literally everything and to whom we physically/evolutionarily belong, we feel great connection with nature. Nature is a fantastic place to meditate as well, and heighten the likelihood you will feel a spiritually elevated.
Meditation can come in many forms and what’s most important is that you find a method you will actually use. Robin Hunt, a therapist with Family Solutions has a great video demonstration on how to combine meditation and the outdoors. If you’re not likely to sit in nature and meditate, there’s an app for that! This app may help you learn to slow your breathing while concentrating on the beauty all around us. Build nature and meditation in to your day, even if it means sitting on your deck or porch while you sip your morning coffee. Focus on the warmth of the drink, your breathing between sips, your inner thoughts, or attempt to completely clear your mind. Whatever your technique, meditation can take you to a place of inner peace and calm.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our connections to each other can create feelings of intense emotion and capture that soulful, spirituality we crave. I have vivid memories of adolescence: staying up late with friends and laying out on the trampoline under the stars, talking about life and our dreams and goals. I remember the moments I laid eyes on each of my children for the first time (after their birth or when first meeting them prior to adoption). And my heart still aches with love when I reach out to hold my husband’s hand and I think of his loving dedication to me and our children. That moment of connection, the memory of connection, and the hope for future connection fills our limbic systems with a flood of hormonal responses that give us the tingly feel-goods.
We can also experience a lesser known emotion called elevation when we watch humans “being bros” to other humans or animals. Want to know there is still good in the world? There’s a whole subreddit for that! And Youtube is full of heroic videos because as bad as we think the world is, there is actually so much good. Realizing that can help us feel connected as well.
See how you feel after watching videos such as these:
These heroic, peaceful, love-filled, nostalgic, connecting moments are ones we don’t experience often enough and I’d encourage you to attempt to experience one at least once a day. Religion offers music, opportunities to connect with other humans in shared belief, charitable acts and even quiet places of meditation. It is a great way to “feel the spirit.” But there are many other ways to experience these emotions that don't require religion if you seek them out. Ultimately, these emotions are a form of mindfulness that can help combat feelings of loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety.
For best results, mix and match or combine them all. Go for a walk with your child and belt out a favorite tune together. Attend an outdoor concert with a friend. Talk about life while watching fireworks and holding hands with a loved one. Who doesn't feel good watching Fourth of July fireworks with family and hearing "God Bless the USA" blasting in the background! Meditate in nature. Create the lasting moments that fuel whatever it is you believe we have: Spirits, souls, or powerhouse nervous systems that can bring us just as much elation as anxiety. Take advantage of what makes us unique as humans.
As a therapist, when we tell people what we do as a career, we often get told, “I went to therapy before. I think it can work great for some people it just wasn’t for me.” In fact, people can usually think of several friends/family in their lives who could benefit from therapy before thinking about it for themselves. When I ask the follow up question (as therapists are trained to do) about why it “wasn’t for them,” I tend to get the same responses every time. See if you’ve ever thought, felt, or said any of this about your prior experience with therapy:
1. I didn’t like the therapist.
I totally get this. You’re not going to jive with everyone. Whether the therapist just didn’t get you, you’re fundamentally polar opposites as people, or the therapist was seemingly preoccupied with something else and didn’t give you the attentiveness you deserve, you don’t want to waste time or money seeing a therapist you don't like.
*Jamie, An anonymous contributor said this: “I can think of about six therapists I’ve been to in my life. A few of them I saw only once or twice, tops. I just didn’t connect with them for various reasons. If I didn’t connect with them after a session or two, I’d just quit scheduling with them. Then I’d kind of just think the problem wasn’t going to be helped by therapy anyway. When things got worse instead of better [after quitting therapy] I’d eventually try therapy again. By eventually, I mean a couple of years would go by. I probably shouldn’t have struggled for that long but I was convinced no one could help me. That’s not true though because the other three [therapists] I probably saw for several months to a year each. So this was like, once was when I as a teen, then again in my early 20s and the shortest time in my 30s. Each one of those therapists couldn’t have been more different than the other in personality and therapy style. I don’t know, it was like I just liked spending time with them and felt lighter after sessions. I think what made the difference was they genuinely seemed to like me and believed in me. I always remember one therapist who said, 'I like meeting with you because you know deep down what the answer is, you just need someone to listen while you process it out loud.' That meant a lot because I felt the therapist really did believe in me. So if they challenged me at times, I knew it was coming from a caring place and I listened to their feedback. Mostly, I think each one [of the therapists] taught me to trust myself and be okay with who I am. I don’t know that I’ll need to go to therapy again in the future but if I do, I know I may have to try a couple of people before I find the right match. I know that can be frustrating but I feel like it’s just part of the process.”
2) It just felt weird to complain about my problems to a stranger.
Fair enough. Some people just don’t like to talk about their feelings. Some cultures (whether a family culture or a societal culture) believe feelings=weakness or talking about feelings makes you weak. Plus, if you have a good friends or family who listen and are there for you when your struggling, you might think that’s good enough.
Those social connections can be powerfully healing, but they also require mutual support. You may be unable to talk to a friend or loved one about your stress who is going through a lot themselves. Your therapist isn’t going to make the session about themselves or have you stop to comfort them. Or at least, they shouldn't! You get to be totally selfish in monopolizing the time and conversation while in therapy. That’s expected because it is your time and money.
Besides, sometimes family and friends, as well-meaning as they may be, are actually too close to a situation themselves to be able to give sound advice. I mean, you can only complain about your boyfriend so much before they give Tom the stink-eye every time at the next family BBQ. That may not be helpful when you’re trying to make it work and realize deep down, both you and Tom are contributing to the relationship problems!
Therapists do far more than just listen and tell you Tom is a loser and you deserve better. They are trained to know how to help you figure out why you chose to be in a relationship with Tom in the first place, and what part you can play in improving your relationship with Tom. They can stay much more neutral while allowing you to figure out if Tom is the guy for you. They can even help you learn the skills to move forward in that relationship or find better Toms in the future. They can do all this for you while not being part of the family group [gossiping] text messages you just know are happening behind your back!
3) Things got better on their own.
Again, this makes sense! Sometimes situations do spontaneously improve! That difficult boss you have might get transferred. The marital stress may turn a corner and improve. You might get on an antidepressant and feel a lot better!
Another thing to consider, however, is that you may have been unconsciously putting things out there (such as a lack of assertiveness) that was subtly attracting difficult relationships. These subconscious driving forces may be things that when addressed in therapy, started leading to the "spontaneous" life changes you were seeing! But therapy is not just about improving life problems in the short term, but also preventing them from becoming recurring life problems and decrease your susceptibility to stress and struggles over time. The therapy work you were doing could have been the catalyst for your new, improved life!
I would encourage you that if you’ve given therapy a chance before, but didn’t like the therapist, felt weird about talking about your problems, or life just suddenly improved, consider going back if you even THINK you might need it. If you want to be happier, feel more confident, think about the past less or worry less about the future, call us. Family Solutions Counseling has several therapists you are welcome to “try us out” before finding the one you connect with and make the lasting changes you deserve.
*Name was changed to protect confidentiality
Many of us are striving to achieve something in our lives: Emotional health. Whether we think about it that way or not, when we pursue “happiness,” emotional health and stability is often our goal. One of my favorite actresses is Kristen Bell. You know, Veronica Mars, The Good Place....this cute little film called Frozen.....She is not my favorite because she is objectively the best actress or even subjectively, to me, the best actress. She’s certainly very talented, sure. However, what draws me to her, and many of us to her, is her energy, candor, wit, and obvious inner strength. Okay, maybe this is what you'd describe as a girl crush? Anyway, these traits can’t help but come across the screen and make me feel like I, too, can achieve a Kristen Bell-like zest for life.
On my recent commute, I was intrigued to find out that her husband, Dax Shepard, has a fantastic new podcast and his first interview subject was Kristen. As I listened to the interview, Dax and Kristen were so relatable and brutally honest, as usual. I was again thoroughly impressed with Kristen’s life philosophies regarding having positive self-esteem and seeking to make choices based on what brings her joy. I found myself impressed with what an emotionally healthy person Kristen seems to be. Dax, too, has a lot of wisdom and insight but I mean, the interview subject was Kristin. Even as I was thinking how I could best use Kristin and Dax’s attitudes and philosophies to help my own therapy clients, and in her true, tell-it-like-it-is-while-remaining-adorable Kristen Bell way, she once again brought up her depression.
Yes, Kristen Bell, a seemingly mentally healthy person has a diagnosis of depression. It seems contradictory. How can I state that I believe that even while she describes how she struggles to get out of bed on some mornings due to her emotional state, that I also believe she is thriving emotionally? It’s important to note that I do not know Kristen Bell personally [um, but, six degrees of separation, amirite? It's only a matter of time]. Point being, I can’t definitively label her emotionally healthy, per se. Certainly it would be unethical of me to personally diagnose her. However, I can definitively say that she outwardly displays traits of someone who recognizes the value in, and actively works to maintain her emotional health. So let’s explore what it really means to be emotionally healthy, anyway:
Myth 1: Emotionally healthy people are never depressed/anxious/down on themselves, etc.
Fact: Emotionally healthy people are human [obviously]. Part of being human is having emotions: Yup, all of them. Furthermore, just as genetics and environment can contribute to medical conditions, so can they contribute to mental health conditions. It is certainly possible for an emotionally healthy person to have experienced a mental health condition. However, emotionally healthy people develop resilience, coping skills, awareness of their triggers, and a willingness to continue pursuing emotional health. They are devoted to their task. It’s important to note that there is also a difference between a trait and a state. A trait is an inherent or longstanding way of being. Emotionally healthy people have practiced the necessary skills for emotional health that it becomes closer to being a trait they have. A state is a moment-to-moment emotional fluctuation of being and is influenced by many factors, both internally and externally. Emotionally healthy people have learned how to manipulate their state of being, taking advantage of internal skills and external controls.
How do they do this? When Kristen wakes up and realizes she is feeling down and hopeless, does she wallow in that state of being the rest of the day? Not likely. She may allow herself to feel those feelings for a moment, then she probably takes active measures to change her state of being and connect back to her trait of positivity. She might think of all she has in her life that brings her joy, she might go for a jog to increase her endorphins and increase mindfulness. The good news is, we too, have the ability to change our state of being on a moment-to-moment basis. However, just like for Kristen, it may be necessary to work with a therapist or take medication to increase your ability to do so.
Myth 2: Emotionally healthy people have everything they want/have already achieved all their goals
Fact: Emotionally healthy people usually do have most of what they want. But it’s not for the reason you think. First of all, emotionally healthy can still be susceptible to the subtle/not-so-subtle marketing around them telling us we want/need more. Even Kristen Bell can’t pass up a good deal at Target! However, emotionally healthy people know to be wary of comparing themselves or what they have to others. Even people who aren’t wealthy or have very few material goods can achieve emotional health. The trick they have learned is to fully appreciate everything they have. If there is something they want, materialistically-speaking, or a goal they want to achieve, they set realistic goals to obtain what they want without sacrificing their acceptance and appreciation of their current reality. They may even self-analyze and attempt to gain insight when ever they do feel compelled towards attaining something. And they absolutely work to have realistic expectations of what the sought-after item, experience or achievement can bring them. Bottom line: They live in the present, without overly emphasizing or focusing on what may be to come in their future.
Myth 3: Emotionally healthy people are excited about the future.
Fact: They may be excited, especially about something specific, but more importantly they do not live in fear of the future. When you have learned to live in, be content with, and be mindful of your present moment, you realize that you are just as capable of doing so in future moments. You are empowered to know the level of control you have over yourself and your emotional state, no matter what comes your way. You even recognize there will be difficulties ahead, but you generally feel confident in your ability to use the same coping skills you possess now to move forward. Emotionally healthy people may also recognize the opportunities for growth that come from experiencing emotional pain and hardship. They don’t seek these difficult times, but they have a plan to thrive because of and in spite of them.
Myth 4: Emotionally healthy people have perfect relationships.
Fact: There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Sure. We know that. Okay, but how cute are Dax and Kristen together, especially when they are honest about their respective personal "issues" and shared relationship imperfections? Still, obviously emotional health is a difficult, though worth it, thing to achieve. Far more of us are striving to obtain it than have already achieved it. Because of the many of us in process of achieving emotional health, naturally, emotionally healthy people are likely to have plenty of relationships with people who are unhealthy emotionally. Relationships between emotionally healthy and emotionally unhealthy individuals are no healthier than the established boundaries between them. An emotionally healthy individual knows it is not his or her job to cater to the other person’s emotional state. They do not enable unhealthy people or unhealthy behaviors. Rather, they are clear they take accountability only for their own emotional state.
Due to that sense of personal accountability, emotionally healthy people are more likely to attract others who are emotionally healthy. Having other people around who are also emotionally healthy is a motivation to maintain their own emotional health. Since emotionally healthy people have learned they can’t bring someone along for the ride or achieve it for anyone but themselves, they know they need their strength to carry their own load. They also expect those around them to be accountable for their own emotional health. Interestingly, even this trait is inspiring to those around them who aspire to be emotionally healthy. Modeling emotional health is the healthiest way to help those around them also achieve it.
Myth 5: Once someone has achieved emotional health, they will always be emotionally healthy.
Fact: Once you’ve learned and implemented the skills to achieve emotional health, you are more likely to maintain it or more quickly know how to regain it if you are derailed. We can not control every experience life throws at us. It is always possible to experience a trauma that overwhelms the current ability to cope. Emotional health takes dedication but it is not completely within our control, either.
Consider the action a person who is in good physical health regularly takes: Exercise, eating healthy, and taking care of themselves. Imagine this person get injured and requires time to recover, lessening his or her ability to exercise and leading to some muscle loss. Even in this scenario, the person has the ability to control other aspects of their physical health: How they eat, sleep, and follow the treatment recommended for their injury. If they physically heal, they know how and what to do to get back on the path to their previous level of physical health.
We also have some control with our emotional health, even if there are factors outside of our control. As long as we are recognizing what is within our control, making our best efforts to maintain our emotional health in those controllable areas, and accepting ourselves during the many times we will fail, we may actually be a more emotionally healthy person than we thought. In fact, you may already have your own unique brand of Kristen Bell [insert the name of someone you think exudes emotional health here]-esque, adorableness.
Imagine you innocently hit your arm with your car door one day after returning from a long day of work and errands. You’ve bruised yourself. That was not fun. Maybe you even muse about how you tend to forget where various bruises came from, but assure yourself that with this one, certainly you’ll remember! Two days later, you gently bump the same spot on your desk at work. You pull your arm back dramatically, touch the tender, slightly discolored area and realize you have a bruise. That hurt. Hmm.... Where did that bruises come from, anyway?
Over the next few days, you are constantly reminded of these sensitive nerve endings on your forearm, though the tell-tale color has significantly faded. Someone puts their hand on your arm while speaking with you, you brush it against the doorway as you turn a corner too quickly, and even the hard spray setting on your shower suddenly seems just a little more aggressive than you remember.
What’s going on? Is there some cosmic joke, or scientific theory to explain a sudden universal attraction to explain the constant, painful reminders of the existence of this protuberance? Sure, cognitively, you know that’s not the case.
Now, instead of a physical breaking of blood vessels just under the skin (a bruise) leading to this new sensitivity, imagine a time when you were emotionally wounded by the way someone treated you. Think of how you might have reacted (or over-reacted) and felt deeply offended, or even lashed out verbally.
What if I told you that it wasn’t them. Well, it wasn’t about them, anyway. At least, not entirely. Just like the gentle spray on your arm from the warm shower water isn’t suddenly violently offensive, we are often hurt by the way people treat us because of deeper, earlier bruised egos and painful prior experiences that have left us emotionally sensitive and vulnerable to specific triggers.
Almost all of us have deeply ingrained negative beliefs about ourselves: Whether internalized through traumatic experiences that left us feeling as if we are not able to protect ourselves, abandonments that led us to feel unworthy of love, or unfair blame or unrealistic expectations placed on us that left us feeling we are innately bad.
The experiences connected to these beliefs may settle in to our subconscious after awhile, becoming difficult to remember the specifics. Yet, the messages we internalized may actually strengthen and be reinforced over time. Our mind may take future experiences, attach the negative belief and file it deep in our mind’s filing cabinet under “unsafe,” “unworthy,” “Not good enough,” or any number of categories. These negative belief files become crowded and we become more and more sensitive to people’s thoughtless, self-serving, immature or even intentionally cruel words and behavior towards us. Their behaviors, intentional or not, touch our sensitive, emotional nerve-endings causing us to recoil in pain even if we can’t remember the original cause of the sensitivity.
How can you reduce these sensitivities and sort through the old files of negative messages about yourself? There are many treatments and therapies that can help you recognize your triggers. You can learn positive coping skills so you don’t overreact in a way that (ironically) increases your chances of making a hurtful situation even more difficult to remedy (CBT and DBT are therapies that can help, for example).
There are therapies (such as EMDR) that can help you sift through the cabinet full of overstuffed files of painful experience and re-sort them in to more adaptive categories: “I did the best I could,” “I am good enough as I am,” or “I have ways to protect myself now.” When our mind jumps to these messages when confronted with a trigger, how much nicer would it be if you could really believe that! With internal messages such as these more positive ones, the power of future hurts is minimized- significantly.
If there are emotional triggers that keep bringing unwanted pain to your life, maybe now is the time to address those triggers. Family Solutions Counseling has therapists trained in CBT, DBT and even EMDR. Let’s talk about what can we do to help you reclaim your emotional strength and move you forward today.
Do you remember the last time you did something bold? Something Daring? Something that challenged you? You know it was bold and daring because the very thought of it made your palms sweat and your heart pound. More importantly, you knew it was bold and daring because there was a chance you could fail. Maybe even a BIG chance that you could fail BIG TIME. After doing something bold there is a tendency to want to retreat and hide, dreading to know if the bold move will pay off. Or not.
Part of the fear in living boldly comes from our previous failures. We remember the shame and embarrassment we felt and we cannot imagine having to experience those feelings again. Especially to willingly invite those painful emotions back in our life. Failure memories are strong because they are paired to such painful emotions. I mean, I still remember the time in middle school when I made it to the school-wide spelling bee, only to choke on the first word and be disqualified. I spelled the wrong word. Yup. The entirely WRONG word. I heard the word, I repeated the word, then I spelled the WRONG word. To this day, years later, I remember the word I was supposed to spell: quackery. That word reverberated in my brain for days later as I felt the extent of my shame, and embarrassment for even trying.
In high school, I mustered up the courage to ask my unrequited love to the girls choice dance. He said no. I was mortified and hid in my room the night of the dance, miserable and wishing I’d never asked at all. I vowed to never put myself through that shame and rejection again.
As an adult, my immediate supervisor encouraged me to apply for a promotion I wanted but for which I was unqualified. I tentatively put in an application, predicting a humiliating interview to come. However, I was not even asked to interview. I felt ashamed. I believed I should not have asked for what I did not deserve. I should have known my place. I’ve wished I could go back in time and withdraw my application. As if others knowing I even wanted or thought I was capable of the position was wrong of me.
Even putting these few examples of the many failures I’ve experienced in life brings me a bit of discomfort. The situations I’ve shared, I’m probably the only one that remembers any of them. Yet here I am, drudging them up and putting them out for the public to scrutinize.
It’s so much easier to play it safe in life. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and never put yourself out there. You can wait for successes to be bestowed upon you with little effort or risk of potential failure on your part, but how often does that really happen?
As I’ve begun to think of what it means to live boldly, I realized each of these fails, was actually a triumph on its own. Each time I put myself out there and faced the brutality of failure, I increased my ability to overcome failure. Overcoming failure means moving forward despite the failure.
Despite all my failings (and believe me, there are far more than three) perhaps I could classify myself as a success. That is, if you define success as a contributing member of society: someone who gets up each day and provides for my family, has attained some educational goals along the way, and tries my best to improve the lives and experiences of others, and do this time and again. Sure, then I am a success. I’m not wealthy or incredibly intelligent. I’m not the most creative person nor did I invent something life changing. But I’m out here doing things. I’m a thing doer. A tryer and sometimes succeed-er (okay, so maybe I just invented a new word). You could argue I have failed my way to being a succeed-er.
Thinking about it, perhaps I even failed my way to success. But wait- you are probably thinking- you aren't a “success” because you failed, it’s the fact that you succeeded and achieved that has led to your success! And you’d be right. Except, through every one of those small successes through the years, I had just as much chance at failure as the times I did try and I did fail. You always have a chance to fail. All it takes to really fail anything, is to give up, stop trying, not try at all, or call it quits before you know the end result. That’s failing. Every time we are faced with a failure, it just means we haven’t succeeded yet. That said, let’s say we adjust our original goals after failing and move towards something else. That’s not failing either. That’s just learning from the failures to move closer to future success.
I didn’t ever participate in a spelling bee again. I never asked another boy out again. Being unwilling to try when I had the ability to do so is my true failure. However, I still went for promotions at work and with more “fails” under my belt I was eventually promoted to a position I enjoy. I am now more careful about what I apply for but my only requirement is whether I would enjoy the position rather than whether I am really qualified on paper. Meanwhile, I have seen others go for and get positions they wouldn’t or don’t really enjoy, but accept because it fits their definition of the next step to success. If you achieve something that doesn’t make you happier, is that really success anyway?
If there is a goal you’ve been avoiding achieving, because the risk of failure is high and the reward of success seems unattainable, I encourage you to go for it. If there are things you are working towards in an effort to feel successful, but that won’t bring you happiness, I encourage you to redirect your focus. Failure is always possible. Failure is often painful. But embracing potential failure is the only way to achieve success. So go forth and Fail Forward.
What does it mean to have boundaries? This is a question I’ve been asked many times by clients and I often stumbled with the answer. I love the analogy found in the book, Boundaries: when to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life. The analogy essentially goes like this: Imagine you live in a neighborhood with neighbors on both sides. Your lawn goes right up to the neighbors lawn and there is no fence separating it. You set your sprinkler up to run during the night. After several days, you notice the area on your neighbor’s side of the lawn growing lush and green. Your own property at the property’s edge appears to be dying. You turn the water on the sprinkler to observe what’s happening. You see that somehow, the sprinkler twisted and is spraying all the water on your neighbor’s side of the boundary line.
What do you do now? Do you leave it? After all, you’ve been providing your neighbor’s lawn with nourishment for a few days. Is it wrong to stop now? Must you inform the neighbor that you will be turning the sprinkler back to your own yard, which you hope to save from withering away?
You decide to fix the sprinkler and turn it to your yard. You go inside. The next day your neighbor approaches you.
“I’m going to put your sprinkler on my yard again. It was really helping it green up.” He says.
What would you do? He was used to you watering his lawn (caring for his needs at the expense of your own). Was it rude to suddenly stop? Consider what your neighbor has lost during the time you were providing for him. He didn’t learn to care for his own lawn and now seems dependent on you. He’s been robbed of self-sufficiency by you inadvertently providing for him rather than yourself.
What if your neighbor said instead that he was now directing all his sprinklers to your own yard to green it up. You realize this would likely give twice as much water to that spot compared to the rest of the lawn. The over-watering could weaken the roots of the lawn, eventually destroying it. What’s the right response? After all, he is just trying to help you out, right?
Consider this: Sometimes, we realize we began to care more about others needs and wants rather than our own. After a period of time, we may realize people start to take from us to provide for themselves without getting our consent. Some people may decide they know what’s best for us and give us things we don’t need or want in our life and we feel helpless to say no. We feel rude if we turn them down. We feel we are inconsiderate if we stop providing for others even when we are dying on the inside when we do so.
What’s the solution? In the analogy, a fence might help to help clarify the boundary of the yard and even stop the sprinkler from watering outside of your property. We can then define the property line with our neighbor of where his property ends and ours begins. We let him know his plan to water your lawn will not work for you and if he plans to make any changes to the watering that could potentially impact both of you, he will need your permission. You explain that his current plan will simply not work for you. No more explanation or justification needed.
Author Anne Katherine’s book, Boundaries: where you end and I begin, says it all right in the title. A boundary in self and relationships is knowing where you end and others begin. From now on, when clients ask me what a boundary is, I will tell them this.
Our boundaries need to defined clearly so you, and others, know when there is a potential violation of those boundaries. When someone intrudes them the first time, we can evaluate where they have intruded upon obvious boundaries or violated ones they should have reasonably known about. If they did, perhaps this is not someone we need in our lives at all. If they didn’t or couldn’t have known about the boundary, or we have just discovered the need for such a boundary in our life, we need to respect ourselves and others enough to inform them of the boundary. The reason for the boundary is not necessary to explain. Simply that it is one. What does that look like?
“I do not appreciate when you….”
“I will not tolerate/It’s not okay with me….”
“I’m unable to provide you with…”
And the absolute, definitive, and best response when explaining a boundary?
"No" is a full sentence. When someone has violated your boundary, a simple "no" is all you must say.
Once we learn to assert our boundaries, we are in control of what we experience in our life. We experience more feelings of safety in our relationships and feel less resentment for those who might take advantage of our lack of boundaries. We know how much of our selves to share, when and with whom. Just like strong fences make good neighbors, so do strong, clear, personal boundaries make for better relationships and lives.
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. S. (2017). Boundaries: when to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Katherine, A. (2000). Boundaries: where you end and I begin. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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