23 Traits of People with the Victim/Learned Helplessness Mindset:

23 Traits of People with the Victim/Learned Helplessness Mindset:

When we’ve experienced relational trauma, we’ve been victimized. Some of us stay victimized long after the trauma has happened and this wreaks havoc on our lives and relationships.

 

Some of us have been the one with the victim mindset, and some of us have been in relationship to someone who perceives the world through the victim mindset. (And some of us have played both parts.) No matter which side we’ve been on, if we’ve experienced it, we’ve felt the dread, fear and infuriation this mindset brings with it.

 

Perceiving from the victim mindset is different from being victimized although the two are related. Those of us who have survived trauma, especially in early childhood, often stay stuck in the victim role and our victim mindset is born.

 

Clinically, we refer to the victim mindset as learned helplessness. Learned helplessness happens when we are exposed to an aversive stimulus that we cannot avoid. Whether we are trying to avoid a slap, bullying at school, sexual abuse, or mistreatment from friends, if we feel powerless enough, we will learn that, no matter what we do, we can’t stop it. Studies show that many creatures including fish are susceptible to the learned helplessness phenomenon.

 

This is an allegory I often tell when I’m working with clients:

 

A few decades ago, circus animal handlers tied baby elephants to a tent stake. They attached a heavy chain from the baby elephant’s leg to a stake near the tent so that they could be left unsupervised without wandering away. Throughout its life, this is how handlers kept the circus elephant. Once the elephant matured, the handlers exchanged the heavy chain for a thin rope. The strength of a heavy chain was no longer needed; just a little bit of resistance against the animal’s leg was enough to keep it from freeing itself. The elephant was more than strong enough to pull its leg away from the tent stake and roam free, but because of its early conditioning, it didn’t realize this. It gave up at even the slightest bit of resistance. At one point, the elephant was actually stuck, and it habituated to being stuck. It continued to believe that it was helpless passed the point of objective helplessness.

 

This story is a great way to pictorialize the learned helplessness/ victim mindset. At some point, we are helpless, and we are subject to feeling helpless long after our objective helplessness.

 

Whether we are the person with the learned helplessness/victim mindset or we’re interacting with someone who is stuck in the learned helplessness/victim mindset, we find ourselves emotionally drained. It’s a challenge no matter which role we play. If we are the victim, we move through life feeling powerless and miserable. In reference to the circus elephant, we might think, “You can see that I’m stuck! Why won’t you help me and untie my leg from the tent stake?!” If we are in relationship to a victim, we feel irritated and burdened. We probably think, “Just start walking away from the tent, and you’ll see you’re not actually stuck!”

 

It’s hard to be the one who feels dependent on someone else to change things, and it’s hard to be the one who is charged with the impossible burden of changing something for someone else. Nothing is ever enough, and everybody feels it. In this dynamic, everybody is set up for failure.   

 

Here is a list of 23 common characteristics demonstrated by those of us with the learned helplessness/victim mindset:

 

1) Self-pity: We typically wallow in how hard things are for us. We feel entitled to better treatment and circumstances, but don’t know how to manage our disappointment or set and maintain a healthy boundary. Instead, we feel bad for ourselves and wait for someone or something to improve our situation.    

 

2) Lack of Accountability: Our feelings and circumstances are not our responsibilities. Instead of taking care of our feelings and identifying our part in a situation, we look to external stimuli that we’re sure is the culprit of our discomfort. If good things happen, we’re not sure how or why, but we know it couldn’t be because of anything we did. We wait for the other shoe to drop. If something bad happens, we are usually anxious about it but not surprised.

 

3) Passive-Aggressive: Growing up, it either wasn’t safe to disagree or assert ourselves, we went unheard, or we weren’t taught how to do it. We do not know how to appropriately self-advocate or assert ourselves, so we communicate our displeasure and hurt through passive-aggressive comments, actions, and silence. We wait for the other person to address an issue and when they do, we often become defensive or deny any hurt, disappointment, anger, or resentment.     

 

4) Quit Relationships, Jobs, Hobbies, etc.: Instead of maintaining proximity to a person or situation and working through challenges, when we experience hardship in a dynamic we cut someone out of our lives, quit a job or hobby, or otherwise remove ourselves from the relationship or situation. (Abusive or toxic situations are not included in this dysfunctional behavior. It is perfectly healthy and recommended to remove ourselves from an abusive or toxic circumstance.)

 

5) Critical of Ourselves and Others: It is hard to be compassionate for others when we a) didn’t experience much compassion growing up b) aren’t compassionate with ourselves and c) haven’t been able to receive compassion from others in any meaningful way. We nitpick, judge ourselves and others harshly, and hold people to unreasonably high standards.        

 

6) Blaming: We believe that everything would be so much better if someone else changed their behavior. Everything feels like a personal affront, and we believe that others know exactly how we are interpreting their actions but just don’t care. We inflict unnecessary pain in relationships because of our unwillingness or inability to accept responsibility for our choices and feelings.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca      

7) Frequent Comparison: We look around to see who among us has it better than we think we have it. We vilify those people and feel sorry for ourselves. We feel better about ourselves (but it is short-lived) if we identify someone who is not as smart or successful.      

 

8) Difficulty Letting Go of Conflict and Grudges: Man, do we hold grudges. We bring up perceived wrongdoing long after it happened. It often feels like those wounds happened yesterday. And we don’t back down. When given the choice of being happy or right, we almost always choose to be right. (But since we don’t see our choices, that’s not how we would tell it. We believe we’re just doing what we have to do.)    

 

9) Don’t Know or Respect Self-Boundaries: We are out of touch with our boundaries, so we are constantly going above and beyond, even when it doesn’t work for us. We are constantly doing more than we can do. We don’t know how to say no and are afraid that, if we do, we will be rejected and abandoned.

 

10) Often Feel Slighted or Targeted: We do not feel considered by others. We feel targeted and cheated. We’re not faithful believers in the unintentional or giving the benefit of the doubt to others. If we feel bad about something, it’s because someone wanted us to feel bad. People aren’t just doing things, they are doing things to us. And we can be really hard on the people who we believe have perpetrated a slight.

 

11) “It’s Never Enough” Mindset: We are constantly aware of and looking for lack. We’re inclined to focus on the negative even when something positive happens. If we get a raise, it happened too late. If we get engaged, we don’t like the way it happened. If we go on an incredible vacation, the weather sucks or the accommodations aren’t up to our standards. If it’s raining happiness, we will pull out an umbrella and wonder why it’s not raining down on us.

 

12) Insecure: We need constant validation or reassurance at work, in our relationships, and everywhere else. We don’t trust our own experience, so we need it narrated to us by others. But we only want the positive version. And not too much of that, either, or we’ll feel uncomfortable and mistrustful.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

13) Loud Inner Critic: Our inner critic is our loudest internal voice. We could have always done something better, smarter, more thoroughly, or more efficiently. We don’t look as good as we want to. We aren’t as worthy as everyone else. We amplify our mistakes and gloss over our positive attributes if we see them at all.

 

14) Unhealthy Management of Feelings/Mismanagement of Anger: We don’t know how to take care of ourselves and our feelings. We look to people and things outside of us to improve our mood, situation, or to make us feel better. When we’re angry, it’s usually disproportionate to the situation, and we’re often mean. We oscillate between quietly seething and exploding in rage.

 

15) Complains: Pretty much everything can be turned into a complaint. We are unable to sit with happiness, joy, relaxation, or neutrality for any length of time. Our negative-biased brains are in overdrive, constantly searching for what’s wrong, what’s lacking, and what could be better. We are never satisfied, and everyone around us knows it.

 

16) Difficulty Accepting Compliments: We are uncomfortable with most types of attention and don’t respond favorably to positive attention, compliments, and gifts. You will not often hear us utter a gracious, “Thank you so much.” You will hear a constrained, “Oh… um, thanks.” We often tell people why they are wrong to compliment us. We feel undeserving and mistrustful of compliments. But we are even worse with negative attention…

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

17) “It’s Not Fair” Attitude: We begrudge other people their happiness and take it personally. It’s not fair that they have what they have and we only have what we have. It’s not fair that life is as hard as it is for us. We firmly believe that our lives should be better, easier, or smoother in some way.     

 

18) Vacillate Between “It’s Not My Fault” and “Everything is Always My Fault Because I’m Terrible” Attitudes: When we’re not blaming other people for doing the wrong thing or causing us to have to deal with uncomfortable feelings, we blame ourselves because, after all, we believe that we are terrible. We either take on too little responsibility for wrongdoing or too much and beat ourselves up mercilessly.

 

19) Cannot See Choices: We see all of our actions, thoughts, and feelings as inevitable reactions to external stimuli. Life, people, and situations have power; we’re simply living in reaction to them. Our lives are not in our own hands. And that’s exactly how we relate, talk, behave, and live. We don’t choose how to spend our money, what to eat, or how much to drink; it just sort of… happens.        

 

20) Often Feel Resentful: Because we don’t know how to manage and communicate our feelings, we usually bottle them up and store them away in our resentment bank. This resentment leaks out and alienates us from others. Over time, if left unchecked, this resentment turns into contempt.      

 

21) Defensive When Given Constructive Feedback: This is the kiss of death. Anyone who knows us knows that we don’t do well with attention. We fear that people will notice that we do not measure up so, when there are ways in which we are not measuring up, and someone says so, we cry, get defensive, and blame others. Once we get ourselves together, we meet our new demands passive-aggressively.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

22) “Life Just Happens to Me” Mindset: Because we cannot see our choices, we don’t see our lives as a series of choices as much as a series of events that happened to us because of other events that happened to us and so on. We feel completely disempowered and stuck in relationships, jobs, and life situations. Drama, hardship, and struggle are always at our front door, sneaking through windows, and wreaking havoc in our homes.

 

23) Difficulty Reaching Out: We often wait to be contacted by others. It either doesn’t occur to us that we can reach out, too, or we feel uncomfortable doing it, as though we’re overstepping our bounds or being a bother. Besides, if someone really loves us and wants to make time for us, they’ll reach out no matter how long it’s been since they’ve heard from us.   

 

This way of living is really hard on us, and it’s very hard on our relationships. We feel some level of miserable most of the time, and it rubs off on others. Many of us come by this victim/learned helplessness mentality honestly. It’s an understandable response to adverse and traumatic experiences. Transitioning out of this mindset takes deliberate effort, patience, and time, but it can happen.

 

I don’t have a quick “10 Ways to Stop Learned Helplessness” follow-up article because it can’t be done in 10 quick and easy steps. It takes time and effort, and often the guidance of a psychotherapist or coach. Like everything, it is a practice.

 

If you would like to talk more about shifting your mindset or changing the way you respond to someone who you believe employs this mindset, please contact me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

Triumph in Disagreement

Triumph in 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

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

“So about how long should it take until I feel better?” “How long do you think I’ll need therapy?” “How many sessions should I expect to attend before my problem is solved?” I have asked all of these questions during time spent on the other side of the couch. I know what it’s like to want concrete answers and expectations met. Everyone wants a sure thing in the face of so much uncertainty.

Therapy is not exactly a sure thing. Surely, it can and does help, but it’s not as simple as basic input of time and results yielded. Results depend on client honesty (with themselves and the therapist), right fit with a therapist, client’s commitment to the work both in and out of the therapy office, and right fit with whatever therapeutic modality is used.

Therapy is almost never a quick fix, but there are quicker-fix type/brief therapeutic modalities available. Whether or not these protocols are right for someone depends on a lot- personality, history, diagnosis, whether or not a person has experienced complex trauma. Even in the best of scenarios, it still requires the practice of skills through time to maintain results.

Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are five really (really) broad categories we use to organize treatment strategies:

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy:

Makes the unconscious conscious, insight oriented. Emphasis on client-therapist relationship. Brief therapy model (20 session maximum) is not the rule, but is available for single-incident trauma like an attack, rape, catastrophic event, targeting a single life shift.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy: Jungian, Dream Work, Attachment-based

Often used for: Increasing self-compassion, improving self-concept, self-actualization, mood disorders, relational problems, trauma, developing insight to identify and manage internal conflict, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families,

*Psychoanalysis: Multiple times per week. The therapist is a blank slate onto which client projects their beliefs and experiences. Relies heavily on free association.

 

Behavior Therapy:

Focuses on conditioning new behavior. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Aversion Therapy, System Desensitization

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Anger issues, Impulse control problems, self-injury

 

Cognitive Therapy:

Focuses on changing thought pattern. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Suicidal ideation, Anxiety disorders

 

Humanistic Therapy:

Focuses on cultivating personal accountability and reaching highest potential. Emphasis on free will. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: Gestalt, Client-Centered, Transpersonal, Solution-Focused, Adlerian  

Often used for: Improving self-concept, self-actualization, improving communication with others, cultivating self-awareness, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families, existential crises  

 

Integrative or Holistic Therapy:

Often referred to as “Eclectic Therapy.” (Some practitioners will basically fight to the death in disagreement over whether or not Integrative is also Eclectic.) Uses various modalities depending on what is indicated for each client. One therapeutic modality combines various features of the previous four categories. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: EMDR, Narrative, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectical Behavior, Internal Family Systems, Gottman Method, Transactional Analysis

Often used for: All of the above

 

Some people prefer to see the same therapist for various issues they’d like to target while others seek out a different specialist to treat each issue. There’s no right way to do this, just whatever feels like it’s working for the client. Some clients come with an agenda and leave when their goals have been reached. Some stay for a while after because they like having a professional to talk to who’s all about them. Plenty of people try therapy and find it difficult to give themselves over to the process, take a more passive route to treatment, get frustrated and give up. Sometimes this is because traditional psychotherapy is not a good fit for them right now, maybe ever. There are so many other great therapeutic options. Traditional psychotherapy is not the only way to heal or feel better.

 

I know it’s overwhelming to look for a therapist and decide which kind of therapy would be best for you, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem for years, and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and ask for help.

 

If you describe the issue and a little bit about yourself, many of us will be able to direct you in the right direction. There are plenty of therapists who won’t do this because they are sure that they can handle it regardless of their training and orientation. While I would like to believe that this is mostly the exception rather than the rule, it happens. If you feel too overwhelmed or busy or exhausted to educate yourself on various therapeutic tools and modalities, remember that you can interview multiple therapists at a time to see who feels like the best fit for you. (You can also do this regardless of your stamina to self-educate.) Once you start seeing a therapist, you can audition us. If you’re not feelin’ it for some reason, you can switch. It’s ok not to like your therapist or to like them, but feel like they’re not actually helping you. Therapy is an investment, and you have the right to switch providers at any time for any reason. If you’re feeling like you need to discontinue treatment, I usually recommend addressing this with the therapist; sometimes it just takes a little direct communication to shift things. Even if you don’t plan on continuing your work with the therapist, honest feedback is good for both sides.

 

If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me or call and I would be happy to answer any questions. This is one of my favorite subjects!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.

 

We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.

 

We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.

 

The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.

 

But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?

 

Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.

 

How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?

 

When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

A while back, I wrote a post directed toward parents who regret parenthood. And I don’t just mean sometimes. I don’t mean that “Ugh, I hate this part,” feeling. I mean the whole thing, the conflict of loving their children but hating the entire process.

I’ve received a lot of feedback about it. Many people were grateful and expressed that they’d been feeling alone with their guilt and regret. Feelings are complicated, people are complex, and our culture is still learning how to accept and hold all of this. My message was that it’s ok to regret or hate parenthood, that it’s ok not to feel as though you were cut out to be a parent whether your kid is 3 months, 2 years old, 6, 10, 16, 22, or 27 years old. It seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

There’s a theory developed by Donald W. Winnicott called “The Good Enough Mother.” It was developed in the culture of the 1950s which is why it only refers to the mother. It’s more complicated than the title suggests, but basically, he tells us that parents should slowly titrate the soothing to their children’s frustration, that parents should slowly and methodically transition from immediately meeting a child’s needs to letting the child self-soothe and learn how to get their needs met. But that’s not all. Upon further study of his theory, we find that Winnicott talks about the dangers of chasing perfect parenting. He cautions that striving for perfect parenting does a real number on developing brains.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of parents, families, and children. I’ve seen parents who wanted children from the time they were children, parents who somehow found themselves suddenly parents, and parents who figured they’d want kids some day, so they had them. A significant amount of these parents realized that they didn’t like being parenthood. Not only was it different from what they’d envisioned; it turns out the whole thing (or much of the thing) felt completely contrary to everything they wanted.

These parents have struggled with regret, guilt over the regret, anger over what they feel they’ve missed, and angst over how this might impact their children. (Although, there have been some parents who swapped their angst and guilt for denial.)

These parents need to hear that they don’t have to love parenthood to love their kids.

There are a million reasons not to love parenthood- poverty, any and all of the –isms, trauma, lack of a support network, disliking our own children, resenting the responsibility and experiencing it as an unwanted burden.

If you are a parent who regrets or hates parenthood, you’re not alone. You deserve compassion and respect. I know it’s taboo to regret something society tells us is the pinnacle of love and value and meaning. If you would like therapeutic or referrals for adjunct support, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Say It Better

Say It Better

It occurs to me every so often that my job is instrumental in helping me manage life. I’m really lucky. I get to spend my days learning about what works and what doesn’t and for whom. I get to talk and think all day about the human brain and its connection with the body, what to do when we find ourselves in various pickles, and best practices for increasing our well-being. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I take for granted. Last week, I realized how much I take for granted having a constructive conversation.

 

All the time (and I mean, constantly) I hear people say to one another, “How many more times are we going to have this conversation?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” or “How long are we going to have to keep revisiting this subject until you finally get it?” Most of the time the answer to that question is- however many times it takes because we don’t learn from lectures and conversations and words alone. Our most effective preceptor is experience. So, on the one hand, when a need or a goal is really important to us, and we feel it’s not being met, we can definitely count on having multiple conversations about it over and over and over. We might as well make ourselves a little more comfortable and feel a little less crazy by learning how to practice and apply effective conversation skills.

 

You might remember from the 80s, the T.H.I.N.K. method for communication (which I’m not totally sure but I think might have been founded on some Buddhist principles for wise speech).

 

At some point, you probably saw the poster for it in a humanities class, at a presentation given by your Human Resources department, or on a wall in your kindergarten classroom. Decades later, most of us have forgotten the message brought to us by that wise little poster. At any rate, it said:

 

Before you speak,

 

T- is it thoughtful?

H- is it helpful?

I- what is my intention?

N- is it necessary?

K- is it kind?

 

And honestly, it’s a technique that I use every day, both at work and in the rest of life. We cannot underestimate the healing power of deliberate and compassionate communication. I’m going to break it down with some more questions for deeper self-inquiry. The T.H.I.N.K. method is always simple, but it’s not always easy.

 

T- it is thoughtful:

Have I reflected on my experience to optimize this conversation? Am I fully present for this conversation or am I feeling pretty reactive right now? Am I clear on my message, needs, experience, and feelings? Is this a good time for each of us to talk about it?

 

H- is it helpful:

Does this help the other person understand my experience? Does it help me express my feelings and needs? How will it help our connection?

 

I- what is my intention:

What do I want the other person to know about how I am feeling and what I need? What do I need from this interaction?

 

N- is it necessary:

Is what I am about to say critical to my message? Is it essential to understanding my experience?

 

K- is it kind:

Am I approaching this conversation with the utmost dignity, respect, love, and compassion for myself and the other person? If I am feeling reactive, am I trying to hurt the other person so that they feel what I feel? For both of us to get the most out of this, do I need to pause or take a longer break before I continue this discussion?

 

Sometimes it’s not possible to be this thoughtful. We’re people, and we react when we feel strongly about something. Sometimes we act or speak impulsively. And sometimes others can’t or won’t hear us no matter what. And sometimes there just isn’t time and space. Our world moves at hyper speed, and we are pretty consistently pressured by this. But when we can pause for a minute, reflect, and inquire, we give ourselves and others the gift of clarity. Over time and with practice, we find that this quality of communication paves the way a deeper insight. This is crucial for changing behavior and patterns. Go forth and effectively communicate.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

Pain is inevitable. If you’re alive, you feel pain. I write a lot about techniques and skills we can engage to alleviate our pain and suffering. There are so many options available to us, and I like to spread the word about protocols I’ve found useful. When we’re in emotional, physical, or spiritual pain, sometimes we need to apply a technique or change positions or take a medication or seek support to help ease some of our burdens.

And sometimes we need to sit with it.

This is often confusing to us because of our cultural messaging about pain. It’s categorized as “bad” and in need of immediate amelioration. It is our adversary. The way we deal with pain is to either totally stigmatize it and think we must be bad humans if we’re experiencing it or to completely normalize it and search for someone or something to help us keep ourselves from feeling it. We think “I’m in pain. I must be bad,” or “I’m in pain and I can’t handle it.” If we are in pain, we’re encouraged to throw everything we’ve got in our tool kits at it and never look back. Take a pill; take ten pills; take a vacation; move; buy something; buy everything; get rid of everything you own and live a monastic, minimal life; get a divorce; get married; do something; do anything; produce any external result.

There is a time for acting, for taking steps, for making major life changes and there is a time for inaction, for sitting with the information we’re receiving from our pain or discomfort. “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

All over the internet, in magazines, in self-help books, at workshops we can find myriad strategies for managing and relieving pain. Everywhere we look we see titles reading, “5 Quick Tips for Relieving Anxiety” and “6 Ways to Getting Over It.” I contribute to this, too! I write about tips and sometimes use catchy titles in hopes of drawing attention to tools I’ve found useful both personally and clinically. It’s great to have so many options, and it’s proficient to apply techniques to feeling better. But the answer isn’t always to do something.

It’s important that we face our pain, see it, and pay attention to it. It is important that we hear what our pain is telling us. Pain is useful. It communicates perceived danger, wounding, and injury. It contains essential information about our immediate and unmet needs.

Pain is always trying to tell us something, and it will never get its need met if we don’t figure out what it’s telling us. If it doesn’t get its need met, it will keep gnawing at us in bigger and louder (and often more uncomfortable) ways. Pain understands that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. So, it opens its mouth and talks to us anyway it knows how. If that doesn’t work, it raises the volume of its voice and continues to raise it until we hear what it’s saying and investigate. If we treat our pain with respect, dignity, and curiosity, we will begin to understand what it needs from us. The more we understand our pain, the less afraid of it we will be and to sit with it will feel more tolerable. Eventually, our relationship to pain will change.

There are two irrefutable truths about pain: 1) We will always experience it and 2) It will always hurt. We will always experience pain because we are living beings and all living beings experience some form of pain. It will always hurt because that is the most effective way of getting our attention.

As we learn to sit with our pain we will begin to notice that our reactions to much of our pain stimuli will change from “Oh my god, I’m going to die,” to “Oh my god, I feel like I’m going to die,” and “This really sucks but let’s see what the hell is happening here,” and “Damn, I’m in so much pain. Let’s see what this pain wants or needs from me,” and so on.

If you’d like to try this on your own, I recommend experimenting with something more surface-level at first. Try sitting with a minor irritation like an itch or the frustration of waiting for a website page to load. With more substantial pain, it is wise to start our inquiry into our pain with the accompaniment and guidance of a skilled practitioner. A lot can come up, and we can become very overwhelmed very quickly. That’s kind of the thing about pain, isn’t it? Sitting with it is, well, painful.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

(Side note: I am right there with you. I also don’t like pain and still find myself avoiding it or ignoring it. No one is exempt from this process.)

If You Say So…

If You Say So…

When I was past the fledging-therapist stage, but not yet a seasoned professional (so, maybe the adolescent-therapist stage), I was talking with my mentor about a clinical struggle I was having. I was really going through it. This is the day that he told me about the “If you say so” approach to life. The idea is pretty much “you are what you think,” but with more of an emphasis on personal accountability. He hadn’t said much about it when I had already decided that I hated it and that he was totally wrong. I remember fighting him pretty hard on it and trying to get him to validate that actually; I needed an easier, softer approach. He said, “Soft, yes. Easy, no.”

 

The “If you say so” teaching is easily described as this: the more energy we spend thinking about something, the more of a belief it becomes and the more probable the outcome of its nature. So, if I spend a lot of time thinking, “I can’t mess this up. It would be a disaster. I can’t. mess this. up!!” then, eventually I’ll believe that I really can’t mess whatever it is up because it would be a disaster. The more I believe it, the more pressure I put on myself and the higher the likelihood that I will make a mistake (“mess this up”) because I’m operating in panic or anticipatory anxiety mode. It’s not just about the words, but the feeling behind them. When we’re thinking these thoughts, we’re often feeling/sending ourselves the feeling of fear, dread, threat, or criticism.

 

I hated this approach so much when my mentor first told me about it because I didn’t like the idea that my outcome was my responsibility. I was coming out of a “, but life just happens to me!” phase and although it wasn’t serving me anymore, I was still seeking validation that it could. He wasn’t having any of that, though, so he continued to carry the accountability torch. For months we talked about the truth behind the fact that if we think something enough, we’ll believe it and it will manifest in our life situations. I staunchly defended against it, tried to poke holes in it, anything. Luckily, I failed.

 

After many (m a n y) conversations about it and the eventual incorporation of the practice into my own life, I began to experience the beauty of “If you say so.” I also realized that my mentor was teaching me to hold myself accountable for my choices of thought and responses in an incredibly self-compassionate way. He never used those exact words (it was something more like “show up for yourself” or something), but knowing what I know now, it’s clear that he was teaching me to cultivate self-compassion.

 

It was the “showing up for myself” or self-compassion that really made me adopt the belief that “If I say so,” it’s true. I looked back at all the negative self-beliefs I’d held and made clear associations between my negative thoughts that I’d turned into negative beliefs which turned into real things and situations. Since I had been paying attention to my thoughts and choosing them more deliberately, I was also able to see how I had turned my positive thoughts into positive beliefs which turned into real things and situations. For the first time, I felt empowered. I could decide how I was going to feel. I could decide what my experience was going to be like. I could decide how to respond to something, how much to personalize something, how much to let something go. It was my decision whether I was going to let a rude comment or a mistake or a scary situation ruin my day or week. I knew for the first time that I could let feelings and situations inform me and then let the rest go.

 

Research has confirmed that self-criticism and negative self-beliefs directly impact behavior, achievable outcomes, and self-efficacy in a negative way. Research has also confirmed that self-compassion and positive self-beliefs directly impact behavior, achievable outcomes, and self-efficacy in a positive way. The power in that is crazy!!!

 

Sometimes a lot has to happen before we feel ready to just switch our way of thinking. I get that; this was also true for me. I’d be happy to talk with you about what next steps would be helpful.

 

Give it a try first-

 

Right now, give yourself two minutes to observe your thoughts. If you’re having trouble and you need to jumpstart your thoughts (which almost never happens because they’re so good at flowing on their own except when you suddenly shine a spotlight on them), think about some of your goals or what’s important to you. Some people notice emotions or sensations in their body before they notice their thoughts. If this is you, then observe these feelings and sensations and notice the thoughts with which they’re associated. Do these thoughts, feelings, and sensations feel like a new experience to you or do they feel more familiar? Which beliefs have they fed? And finally, notice how these beliefs have demonstrated themselves in your life through your behavior, through a pattern, or through life situations.

 

The more we realize we really do have the power to create what we want to see in life, the more freedom we get to experience. (But again, I get it. At first, it’s like, “What the hell are you talking about? Shut up. Do you really think that if it were up to me, I’d have created this kind of life for myself?!”)

 

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