As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

Have you ever noticed that one guy at work, the one who you’ve never liked, but couldn’t put your finger on why? Or the neighbor who, for some reason, when she smiles at you, you feel irritated? Or why you can’t stand the smell of a certain laundry detergent? Or why, even though you’re accomplished in your field, you feel like an idiot before you give a presentation?

We all have an information processing system hardwired into our brains. This processing system has evolved to help us integrate emotional turmoil into our mental health and is essential for healing. This system helps us to let go of what is not useful information and make connections to what is useful about an experience so that we can adapt, grow, learn, and face similar situations more intelligently.

Here is an example:

You have a stressful interaction with your mother-in-law while she is visiting for a holiday. You feel angry, disappointed, and resentful. Your chest is tight, and your stomach is in knots. You think negative thoughts about her (“She’s always such a cold, demanding jerk.”) and about yourself (“What is wrong with me that after so many years, I can’t seem to avoid these situations with her? Is it me?”)

You keep mulling over what happened, talk about it with friends, maybe even have a stress dream about it that night. The next day, you still feel a bothered by it but not nearly as much. You’re able to think more clearly about it and understand that you two interpret things differently and that there are ways that you can skillfully manage this. This is your brain’s information processing system at work. It’s transformed this disturbing situation into a learning experience. (You can also thank your REM sleep phase for this since this is the time during which wishes, learning/lessons, survival/stress experiences are processed through the action of “synaptic pruning.”

Because of this uninterrupted time to process, your brain was able to associate the memory of the interaction with your mother-in-law and useful information already stored in your brain (from other stressful interactions with her and others) to create resolution. You remember what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and that it isn’t personal, that this is just the way she is and that you have useful tools for interacting with her. The intense emotional reaction you felt the day before is gone.

Unfortunately, our brains do not adaptively store all of our experiences in this way. Sometimes we encounter traumatic experiences or otherwise stressful experiences that overwhelm our brain’s capacity to process and adaptively store information received during these experiences. This is often referred to as “going off-line.” It’s kind of like short-circuiting.

When we encounter extreme stress, the emotional and physical reactions we experience during the event keep the brain from identifying useful information about the situation; there is no resolve. What happens instead is that the event and its information is maladaptively stored. This means that the event and its components are stored in the brain and body as it happened. Everything you saw, heard, felt (physically and emotionally), tasted, smelled, thought remain in their original, unprocessed form.

You do your best to move through it, but whenever any of these senses are triggered, your emotional disturbance level sky-rockets and you have a reaction. Many times, multiple unprocessed events are linked to one another in such a way that if one is triggered, all are triggered. These events, while often linked to one another, are stored in isolation so that they are not linked to anything adaptive.

No amount of time will help them to integrate. It’s as though these events are frozen in time. An event could have happened 40 years ago, but when triggered it’s as though it is still happening or just happened.

Our personalities, coping skills, perspectives, and beliefs about ourselves and others can develop through the lens of these unprocessed events and impact our emotional and physical capabilities.

Research shows that it’s not just clearly identifiable traumatic events that are responsible for this outcome, but any event or pattern that our brain experienced as overwhelming.

It could be the way someone spoke to you as a child, your interpretation of someone’s behavior you witnessed at three years old or making a mistake during an academic oral exam in second grade. We don’t always know how our brains will store an event.

The good news is that we’re not stuck here. There are therapeutic tools that can help us to free ourselves from the suffering of an unconscious cycle or unprocessed event. One of the most efficacious and reliable tools is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy. This therapy helps us to safely contact the disturbing event or maladaptive cycle and process it, giving us a new understanding of the situation so that we can use its information intelligently.

If you would like to know more about EMDR Therapy, please call or email me. I would love to talk with you more about this process and see if it’s right for you. If you’re not quite ready to reach out yet, that’s ok, too. You can find more information on EMDR Therapy here and here.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

At some point, most of us have a hard time letting someone have their feelings. When someone is mad at us or sad about something we’ve done or said, we feel uncomfortable. We get defensive (“That’s not what I meant!”), aggressive (“Ugh, you always do this! Whatever. You don’t need to get upset about it.”), or we try to clean it up by backtracking.

 

When we react to the I-don’t-like-the-way-I-feel-when-you-feel-the-way-you-feel feeling, it usually doesn’t help the situation, right? The other person experiences our efforts as invalidating and self-serving (and they’re right). Everyone gets more upset, and we cause more hurt.

 

So, what can we do? Instead of trying to control how someone feels, instead of trying to control the way they interpret our actions and words, we can show respect and dignity to the other person and their experience while taking care of our feelings about their feelings.

 

This requires:

 

  • Curiosity about the other person’s experience
  • Presence, both with ourselves and with the other
  • Self-compassion for our own experience

 

When we’re employing curiosity, it’s important that the curiosity be as genuine as possible (or at least the wish for it). We’re not looking for ways in which we think they misunderstood us or for an in somewhere. We want to understand their experience. We want to know what they heard and saw and felt.

 

Engaging our presence will help us keep our reactivity to a minimum and provide a solid foundation for the conversation. It’s a great way to soothe ourselves in a moment of upset and show up emotionally and cognitively for the other person (and for any difficult situation).

 

Using self-compassion is helpful for something like this because it helps stabilize us and our need to make sure we’re ok with the other person. It gives us what we are looking for, the knowledge that we are ok, right from the source- ourselves. Often, the reason why we go on the defensive/offensive or try to convince the other person out of their feelings is that we need validation that we’re ok. But when we try to feel ok using those tactics we invalidate the other person. Then, there are two people who feel invalidated and are putting their needs on each other.

 

Managing conflict isn’t easy, and relational discord feels bad. Often, we are challenged by our need to be right and our need to maintain peace in the relationship. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Ultimately, what matters is our ability to validate our own experience and our desire to see and hear the other person. Because many of our experiences will not be shared, it is important for us to be able to validate ourselves and respect other people’s perspectives.

 

The more curious we are about others’ experiences, the more likely it is that we will come to an understanding. If I’m busy trying to talk someone out of their anger, I probably won’t hear their need to feel respected. I probably won’t hear that they experienced me as belittling, that they felt insignificant and small. Chances are, we’ll keep rolling around in the same cycle because we’ll both keep triggering each other and waiting for the other to back down.

 

We will not always do this. I don’t always do this. There are plenty of times when I find myself acting defensively because I don’t like the way I feel when someone else feels the way they feel. But it’s less often. The more I practice taking care of myself and giving someone space for their own experience, the more I feel like it’s my natural primary response.

 

If you’d like to know more about managing conflict, please email or call me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

“The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”
-Allen Ginsberg

 

When I first started my own work with mindfulness and radical acceptance, I found myself saying, “I’ll accept this feeling/ this symptom so that I don’t have to have it anymore.” That’s… not really acceptance but it was the best I could do at the time. Since working with clients around mindfulness and radical acceptance, I have heard this sentiment hundreds of times. It’s hard to get behind the idea that accepting our pain or feelings or aversive experiences has therapeutic value, that it could ever help us to make positive changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is driven by just this, accepting the hard-to-accept.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven Hayes in the early 1980s and tested by Robert Zettle in the mid-1980s. It is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is based on Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s (ACT) main objective is to help participants turn toward their feelings and symptoms instead of resisting them. The protocol helps participants learn how not to overreact nor underreact nor altogether avoid the associations with these feelings and symptoms. With ACT, we learn to accept ourselves and the experience we are having in the present moment so that we can commit to a behavior aligned with our values.

 

ACT succinctly describes the change in psychological flexibility in this way:

 

We go from F.E.A.R.

 

F- fusion with our thoughts

E- evaluation of our experience

A- avoidance of our experience

R- reason-giving for our behavior

 

To A.C.T.

 

A-accept our reactions and be present

C- choose a valued direction

T- take action

 

In the book, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Hayes, Strosahi, and Wilson, we’re given the six core principles to help us develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reifythoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to oneself.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

 

ACT emphasizes mindfulness because presence of mind/contact with the present is the only way to change behavior. Now is the only time that we can truly choose a behavior. We habituate to looking at the world in a certain way which makes us miss important external and internal cues to help us determine what is happening in the present moment by thinking about the past or the future. Awareness of the present moment helps us to differentiate between what we are afraid is happening and what is actually happening. It helps us to describe what is happening and then make choices in response. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

The “acceptance” part of ACT is problematic for some. “So then, if I’m supposed to accept my feelings and my experience, does that mean I’m supposed to accept abuse and maltreatment?” The answer to that will always be no. When we accept our feelings and experience, it means we accept the information that we are receiving and can make choices based on that information. It means that we accept that this is how it is right, not that this is how it should continue to be.

 

When we practice acceptance of what’s happening we can mindfully make choices that are in alignment with our values. I like to use this phrasing in my own life and when working with clients: “I’m going to keep choosing the same behavior of ______ because I care about______.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to ______ because I care about ________.” So, someone might say “I am going to keep choosing the same behavior of confronting people when they treat me with disrespect because I care about my feelings and how I’m treated.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to respectfully disengaging from an argument when it no longer feels productive because I care about my feelings and this relationship and I know that continuing in unproductive conversation usually leads to hurt feelings and resentment.”

 

Sometimes the choice is hard to make. For instance, “I choose to go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling more refreshed” is a great behavior goal. But what if it means sacrificing quality time spent with loved ones? This is where present moment focus and acceptance of your experience comes in handy. You might prefer to spend the time with your loved ones and wake up feeling a little more sluggish.

 

I know it’s hard to identify choices so let’s do it together. If you want to talk more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, changing behaviors, or anything else, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

When You’re Stuck on the Corner of Anxiety & Dread

When You’re Stuck on the Corner of Anxiety & Dread

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
Michel de Montaigne

 

You know how when you’re anxious, there are certain thoughts that feel really real? And obviously, you have to engage them because to think of anything else would be irresponsible. You have to figure this out!! And you have to find every possible solution to every possibility so that you can either prevent it or mitigate the damages.

 

You have a weird rash so, you go online, and after reading some stuff, you’ve decided it’s indicative of some terrible health condition. Or you’re thinking about a loved one, and suddenly you’re convinced that the person will die. Or it’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re awake (either because you haven’t fallen to sleep yet or because something woke you up) and you start thinking about your financial situation, the 500 things you have to do tomorrow, and how you never get enough sleep. Or you’re enjoying yourself, and you’re feeling good, but then you think, “I’m so happy right now. What if this all goes away? I’d be devastated.”

 

I know I don’t have to tell you that there are limitless scenarios. 90% of it runs through your mind. We’re usually anxiously replaying something that has already happened or anxiously thinking about something that hasn’t.

 

I’m a big believer in feelings as guides, but sometimes we feel less guided by them and more overwhelmed. They can’t guide us as effectively when we are in a state of overwhelm. Sometimes what we need is to get some space from the intensity, to get some sleep, and to face it with a fresher perspective. (And then sometimes it’s not even trying to guide us. Sometimes it’s just anxiety being anxiety, and it needs us to nip it in the bud.)

 

So, try these evidence-based practices:

 

  • Move from what if-ing/ future-tripping/freaking out to presentifying yourself:

Notice that you’re dwelling or what if-ing the situation to death and pause. Bring your attention to what’s happening now. Some Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapists call this practice “going from What If to What Is.” Let’s say I’m thinking about an upcoming out-of-state move. I start making a list of what I have to take care of before I move. Then I start thinking of all the different bureaucracies I have to deal with to accomplish my task list. Pretty quickly after that, I’m freaking out about how much there is to do and what if I can’t get it all done and about how bureaucracy makes me crazy and then I’m overwhelmed and spinning. I’ll bring myself out of my unproductive spinning by asking myself, “What is happening right now?” In that moment of right now, I am sitting at the table making a to-do list. Your future self can’t be productive because it doesn’t exist yet. Your present self does. Focus on what you know is happening right now.

 

  • Mindfulness in the present moment:

This is similar to what’s practiced in #1, but it’s slower and more involved. You’ll bring your attention to your senses, one-by-one. Notice how you’re sitting or standing, how it feels, what muscles are tense and which are relaxed. If you want to try progressive muscle relaxation, you can go here for a helpful guide. Notice what you see around you, what it looks like. Notice how you might describe what you see. Observe what you hear, what you feel, what you smell and how you might describe these observations. Mindfulness slows us down and helps us to stay present.

 

  • Exercise self-compassion:

Sometimes (most times) what we need to help us calm our anxious little brains is a little self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, renowned self-compassion researcher, has prescribed these questions to help us get in touch with our compassion as we reflect on our experience.

 

“What am I observing?

“What am I feeling?”

“What am I needing right now?”

“Do I have a request of myself or someone else?”

 

Self-compassion/compassion is proven to be the best resource available to the human brain in times of struggle, anxiety, sadness/depression, anger, frustration, guilt, and shame.

 

  • Square breathing:

Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat 4x. Reevaluate and do it again if you need to. Square breathing helps to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as our “rest and digest system”) which is responsible for slowing down our movement and thought.

 

  • Take a moment of gratitude:

Say to yourself, “I’m so grateful for this moment.” This helps us pull ourselves out of the anxiety spins and is another way for us to be present. It is especially helpful when we are thinking about something that makes us feel happy or content only to have fear hijack our thoughts and start to dread the inevitable dissolution of that happiness. We’ve all felt it. “I’m really enjoying my family.” “My life is going so well.” “I don’t want this vacation to end.” “I have never been so happy.” The truth is, we won’t always be the same level of happiness or content for the rest of our lives. But we can’t prepare for how and when things will change. We don’t have to obsess over it. Whenever we notice that familiar dread moving in, we can pause that thought and think, “I’m so grateful for this moment.” Each time a dread thought makes its way in, redirect your thinking back to the gratitude you were feeling just a moment ago. “I’m so grateful for this moment.”

 

 

Try this short, powerful list of practices the next time you’re feeling plagued by the anxiety loop. See what works best for you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Defeat Dread

Defeat Dread

What do you dread? What makes you procrastinate or immerse yourself in distraction or lose sleep or start and stop a hundred times before you actually do the thing? Some of us dread nearly everything. Some of us dread a few things here and there. (Some people don’t really dread much of anything and to you, I say congratulations, please show the rest of us how you stay so present, and this article isn’t meant for you.)

 

Many of us live in a constant state of dead (also known as anxiety); some of us are conscious of this and some aren’t. We dread things that will never actually happen, things that could realistically happen but aren’t right now, and things we can’t identify. We try out various types of behavior to manage this dread, but it doesn’t ever really abate.

 

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Mastering Clinical Challenges (Butler, Fennell, Hackmann) anxiety is described as “a complimentary overestimation of the likelihood and magnitude of negative outcomes and an underestimation of internal or external resources by which catastrophe might be managed.” I love this. Anxiety/dread is the overestimation of obstacles and the underestimation of resources. It’s such an organized way of looking at anxiety and dread.

 

This overestimation of an event and underestimation of our ability to handle it manifests in the form of cognitive distortions. We find our brains swimming in thoughts like “I’ll never be in a loving relationship again,” “There is something wrong with me,” “I’ll never be able to handle this,” or “This is all my fault.” (And really that’s a tiny list of cognitive distortions. There is no limit to the thoughts we can think that will reinforce our fears.)

 

David Burns, M.D. compiled a list of the types of cognitive distortions we use. (And if you check out his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, you might find some other useful information.) When we’re freaking out we are usually doing at least one of these:

-All or nothing thinking (black and white thinking, absolutes)

-Overgeneralization (viewing a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat)

-Mental Filter (dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives)

-Discounting the positives (insisting positives or accomplishments don’t count)

-Jumping to conclusions (mind reading and fortune telling- both from negative perspective)

-Magnification or Minimization (blowing things out of proportion or shrinking their importance)

-Emotional Reasoning (“I feel like an idiot, so I must be one,” or “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll put it off.”)

-Should Statements (or “shouldn’t,” “must,” “have to,”)

-Labeling (identifying with mistakes or shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” saying “I’m a loser,” or “a fool.”)

-Personalization and Blame (blaming ourselves for something for which we weren’t entirely responsible or blaming other people and overlook ways that our attitudes and behavior might have contributed to a problem)

 

When we’re in them, it can be challenging to identify which distortions we’re using (or that we are using any of them at all). What to do? A helpful step is 1) slowing down and trying to identify what you are doing and which distortions you are employing so that you can gain a little bit of perspective and stop being dominated by your dread and anxiety. 2) If you’re having difficulty identifying any and it all just seems like rational thought, try getting out of your head and back into your body. Breathe deeply and notice how your abdominal muscles feel as you inhale and exhale. Notice any sensations you feel in your body and acknowledge them.

Some people find that the first two steps are enough, that once they have calmed themselves a bit and identified their irrational thinking, they are back in control. Sometimes the situation calls for more backup. When it does, you can try 3) examining the evidence that proves (or disproves) your distortion. If your distortion is saying “I never do anything right,” you can list things that you know you have done right. And even with the best tools, it’s still easy to fall down the rabbit hole of dread and anxiety. If you want to walk through it together, I’d love to tackle it with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“I have anxiety… or do I?”

“I have anxiety… or do I?”

I’m a therapist. I talk a lot about feelings. On this site, I write a lot about feelings, how overwhelming they can be, the consequence of letting them spin out of control, and how to manage them. Since I don’t want feelings to get a bad reputation, I’m going to talk about what incredible guides they can be.

People come to see me for help with their relationships, careers, decision-making, and trauma work. Feelings play an important role in all of these situations. It’s common for people to have trouble deciphering and trusting their feelings. For most of us, when feelings are left unidentified or untrusted they can start to feel like they are totally out of our control. This is when emotion management is really helpful.

And sometimes they’re not out of control. Sometimes they don’t need to be contained and managed. There are times when all we need to do is listen to them because they are telling us something we need to know. This is tricky, though. It can be a tough balance between listening to what our feelings are telling us and feeling overwhelmed and confused by them.

A lot of us struggle with this. We look for ways to soothe feelings we would rather not feel. We look for ways to soothe others’ feelings that they would rather not feel. We reinforce that certain feelings are nothing more than a hurdle to jump. We just want those feelings to go away so that we can feel good again and do what we want to do. It’s understandable.

Remember the example about fire? When we put our hand near a flame, we feel the heat. The closer we move our hand to that flame, the more heat we can feel and the greater the pain we experience. If it didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t be inspired to keep a prudent distance from the flame, and we’d get burned. The pain serves as a useful guide to help us protect ourselves from danger.

We can use this logic for all emotion states, too. If we’re resentful, it might mean we need to self-advocate. If we’re embarrassed, it might mean we need to be more honest with ourselves. If we’re anxious, it might mean we need to put more effort into something. And let’s look at a big one- guilt and shame. Sometimes these emotion states are warning us and sometimes they’re drowning us… and sometimes it’s both.

There are plenty of times when feelings are less about our present experience and more about our past experience. When this happens, the anxiety that we’re feeling might have nothing to do with our level of effort. This is when managing and containing the feeling is important because the guide is a bit off; it’s your brain’s way of trying to predict what is going to happen next based on an old pattern, not the current pattern.

The best way to differentiate between feelings as guides and feelings as overwhelming monsters that need to be managed and contained is to learn about your patterns, past, and present, and start making connections.

If you have any questions about how you can use your feelings as guides, please call or email me. My contact information is located in the “Contact Me” section of this website. I look forward to talking with you!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What You Need to Know About Happiness

What You Need to Know About Happiness

It’s nothing new that there are a many goods and services that communicate how flawed we are, how we are not ok as we are. It’s part of what drives the market. Seriously, there is so much of this stuff available to us that there is no way I could make an exhaustive list here. We hear and see it so much that we start to believe and feel it. “I’m not as good of a parent because my kid doesn’t have four different kinds of carriers (at minimum) and the newest multicolored toys which promote brain development.” “I don’t have a good body because I don’t have a thigh gap or a shelf-butt.” The examples of this are pretty limitless. We have creams, clothes, pills, places to live, jobs, vacation destinations, ways to look, ways to feel, technologic devices, cars, food… an innumerable amount of things that are thrown at us to let us know that we are not complete until we have them in our possession. Heck, not only are we incomplete (and missing out), we aren’t as good as the other humans who are already using these products.

What a trap. We are not ok, not enough until we are surrounded by all of these things… but by the time we start to feel like we’re gaining some ground, more products have come out or have been improved, and we’re right back where we started. And maybe we’re even worse off. Maybe now that we have all of these dependencies on our things, we’ve taken a few steps back. Dismal.

I am not imploring you to give up everything but the clothes on your back and live an utterly minimalist lifestyle. I like creature comforts, too. I have favorite clothes and favorite coffee and favorite devices and favorite places, too. I am not asking you to give any of this up. I am advocating that you change your thinking about what these things mean about you and your life. Change the meaning you’ve made of them. Make some space for you to be ok as you are.

What does this look like? It starts with changing your thinking. Sometimes this feels especially challenging the more dependent you have become on these goods and services. When you employ the various products packaged as happiness in a cup, it’s harder to respect your thoughts, your innate ability to create your happiness. It’s not just you. It happens to most of us at some point. “Obviously, it’s true that this product will make me a better, happier person. How dumb would I be to think that I could be just as happy (or happier) without it?” Don’t worry too much about it; you just think what you’ve been trained to think. Being consistent about changing your thinking is exactly what will help you readjust this part of the thought pattern.

A pretty critical part of the problem is that we want an easy solution to happiness. It’s two-fold. We think we need these products to make us better… and, once we get said product, we just wait for the transition to happen! Acquire this thing and all of your dreams will come true. Just being around it will make you better, happier. Honestly, that would be awesome. But here it comes…

We have work for it. We have to take an active role in our happiness because feelings and perceptions of experiences are produced inside of us. The good news? If the solution is inside of us, no one can break it or steal it or create a new and improved version. So, sure, it takes some work, but it’s worth it. (Also, it’s super light and travels well.)

So, start taking those baby steps toward changing your thinking. Ask yourself what you’re seeking. Is it confidence? A sense of belonging? A sense of purpose? Increased self-worth? What thoughts get in your way to connecting with it? When do you notice these thoughts? Making these connections harnesses your awareness. When you’re more aware of your process, it’s less overwhelming and more in your control. When it’s more in your control, you feel more confident about your ability to meet your needs.

So, the next time someone doesn’t text you back right away, and you start to freak out and freaking out makes you want to reach for something, stop. Ask yourself these questions. And it’s ok if you still end up reaching for that product. Just this step is a step in the direction you’ve been trying to go.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Regretting Parenthood- It’s OK

Regretting Parenthood- It’s OK

Time out. I want to take this time to address something that seems to be kept under fairly tight wraps:

For those of you who find yourselves in this taboo circumstance and in case you aren’t met with enough reassurance about it, I want you to know that it’s ok to regret parenthood. It’s ok, and it’s more common than you might think. You can even feel overwhelming love for your children and still regret having them. It’s ok if it feels like this is something more than the typical “Sure, I miss some things about my childfree days, but if I had it to do over again, I’d choose parenthood every time.”

It’s ok to regret parenthood even if you wanted children more than anything in life. It’s ok if you weren’t sure about or were staunch against ever having children, had them, and now regret having them. It’s ok if you vacillate between enjoying parenthood and regretting it. It’s ok. You’re not a bad person. And you’re not a bad parent.

For years, I’ve witnessed the oppressive guilt and shame that accompanies some of those who come in for support, for a safe place to reveal their regret for becoming parents… and it is one of the most courageous things I have ever seen, people who are honest about something that much of society says they should experience as the pinnacle of humanity. We need to make space and give support to this honesty.

The problem is not how you feel or that this is your experience. The problem is with the lack of support. If your feelings are not welcome, where are can you take them? Is it a sustainable solution to deny them or stuff them or disown them or…?

Over the years I’ve heard people in various stages of parenthood describe both their regret and their guilt and shame about their regret, people who have young children, adult children who have gone on to have their own children, and every stage in between. Parents who are close with their adult children, who love their children (and grandchildren) very much, share their regret about becoming a parent. One doesn’t negate the other; you can enjoy your children, love them, share a tight bond, and still feel that parenthood isn’t for you.

It’s ok that it’s not what you expected, and you wish that you had made a different choice. Again, your feelings about this don’t make you a bad person or a bad parent. They are not a reflection of your strength of character. It’s ok that you have feelings of resentment about the change or loss of your identity. You are not alone, and you are not wrong for feeling this way.

I think this next part is pretty obvious, but just in case it’s not, I am not advocating that a regretful parent tells their children that they made a mistake having them or that they clearly demonstrate these feelings through their behavior. That will add to the regret.

I’m saying that it’s ok to have your feelings and that you have a right to express them to trustworthy friends and family. You have the right to receive support and love from your circle. These are crucial aspects of feeling as good as possible about your parenting job.

There are plenty of people who feel that becoming a parent is the apex of their lives, and this is so, so beautiful. But there is no less beauty in someone who, for varying reasons, finds themselves in a parental role, feels that this was a huge mistake, and has the courage to speak up, get support, and do the best they can. It’s ok. You’re not wrong. You’re still a good person. There are plenty of reasons to explain why you might be experiencing this and not one of them has anything to do with being defective or “bad.” Let’s figure out what this feeling is all about.

If you would like to talk more about this, please contact me. I would love to connect with you.

You can call me at (415) 794-5243 or email at natalie@nataliemillsmft.com.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Managing Emotions Through Mindfulness

Managing Emotions Through Mindfulness

You’ve probably heard passing comments on the topic of mindfulness, but… what exactly is it? And what isn’t it? Author and teacher of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and
nonjudgmentally.” It’s a special, intentional, and heightened awareness. You can have an intellectual awareness that you are feeling anxious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are mindfully experiencing what it’s like to feel anxious. Awareness and mindfulness are not synonymous.

If you are mindfully aware that you are feeling anxious, you are tuning into your body, noticing how and where you can feel it. You are noticing your thoughts, your behaviors, and possible triggers of this current experience without judging yourself or the experience. With mindfulness, there is no “good” or “bad” evaluation of an experience. It simply is.

The act of intentionally acknowledging your experience, whatever it is, is intensely powerful. Instead of feeling controlled by a circumstance or feeling so overwhelmed by it that you distract yourself, mindfulness can teach you to move through it with trust and confidence. You are gaining insight into yourself and how you move through the world as you notice the narrative you have created about why things are the way they are. You get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t.

Sometimes, people confuse the idea of being mindfully aware and accepting a current moment with resignation. “So, if I am ‘being mindful’ as I listen to the news, I should just ‘accept’ that this is how things are, sit back, and let it happen?” Nope. Mindfulness and inaction aren’t synonymous either. In fact, being mindful of your experience and moving toward acceptance can help you to reach more grounded decisions and take calmer, more effective necessary action. It can give you the space to respond in a less reactive, more thoughtful way. You’re neither impulsive nor frozen; you are responsive.

A good start to enhancing your mindfulness is to try it when you are eating. Set aside a reasonable time for you to try this during a snack or mealtime. Notice how you feel as you prepare to eat. What do you notice about the way your body feels? What do you notice about your thoughts? Senses? Notice how you take the initial bite. Is it fast and deliberate? Slow and deliberate? What do you notice about the taste and texture? And do you go in for another bite before you’ve finished the first? Notice all of these things without judging. Continue bite for bite until you have finished. What was this experience like?

One of the great things about mindfulness is how accessible it is. You need not be a member of any particular religion. You need no guru or leader (although guided mediation is available for those who want it). It is simply you, your experience, and some intentional, nonjudgmental noticing. Anyone can do it- young, old, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, on your own, with a guide, any time of day, for however long, any number of times per day. It is limitless.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie