Friday, July 17, 2015

When old stories come alive: Working with Triggers

“Trigger,” as in psychology or psychotherapy world, refers to words, places, people or people’s certain characteristics, sounds, smells, or practically anything that brings back alive the unresolved old memories or our old reactions to them. You hear a car backfire, and your body and mind immediately get filled with fears and you duck down as if you were in a war zone. You run into someone whose voice tone reminds you of your late abusive mother – often, you do not even realize this part – then you feel as if you did something wrong and should defend yourself,  just as you used to do when you were 9 years old.

It takes some detective work to understand what you are experiencing and to set yourself free from those triggers. However, one inquiry I have found very useful for myself and my clients is “how is this different from what happened back then?” For example, "how is this woman different from my late abusive mother?" – "She has never yelled at me; she is a friend, not my parent; she smiles more than my mother did; and I am a 45-year-old grown-up woman, not a 9-year-old girl who is fearful."

It is important for you to gauge your level of comfort being in a triggering situation or with triggering people. If some grounding exercises (deep breathing, rubbing your hands, stomping your feet, etc.) are called for, then use them first. When we are triggered, it means that our brain mixes up what happened in the past and what is happening in the present. The question “how is what’s happening now different from what happened then?” can help you manage the triggering situations and not be controlled by your old wounds, by helping you differentiate the present from the past.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Touch and Go – Finding balance in emotional pain

If you are like me, you probably struggle with difficult emotions when they show up, rather strongly, especially in the wrong place at the wrong time. For instance, walking in a shopping mall with friends, you see something that reminds you of your late mother. You choke on tears right there, and you hurry to hide them. Or, you have been plugged in to TV, phone, the internet, and social media all evening, and when you finally turn it all off to sleep, the silence accompanied by loneliness hits you in the core of your heart. 

If you want a better way of handling these situations than ignoring, denying, or covering up, try “Touch and Go” that has been going around in mindfulness practice traditions.

Find a place where it is quiet and you can be alone and find some time you won’t be interrupted for about half an hour. Then practice “touch.” It means you let yourself feel it, allow yourself to immerse in what the here-and-now brings into your heart, mind, and body. Touch means hold it gently and lightly, and without judgment or screening. This is the time for you to make friends with your innermost self and let your voice heard. Instead of fighting back, let the loneliness stay there and give you whatever message it has for you. If burning anger about the unexpected loss is what you find, gently hold it until it melts down to sorrow and sadness.

You will know when the time for letting it go comes, once you have touched it fully. Letting go is to allow the emotion to go through your body and mind, and then leave on its own terms. Know that it is not only ok to let it go, but also healthy to not hold on to it. If there is any unresolved business, which is the case most of the time, it will come back when the time is right. Breathe in and out; notice your surroundings; and move on to doing your work, attending people around you, having a sip of coffee you are holding, and laughing at funny video clips. Reconnecting with your whole self and coming back to the life as it is.   

Whatever emotions you are struggling with, or even if you are unsure what is going on with you on the inside, the simple “touch and go” exercise can help you connect to your difficult experiences while keeping you balanced. Continuing to touch can cause problems such as depression; continuing to let go without touching also is unhealthy because it will control your life. It is an art to do both at the right timing. But a simple art that has a great power to change our lives.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lionheart Therapy Blog: The crazy little thing called hope

Lionheart Therapy Blog: The crazy little thing called hope: Going through a loss and what comes with it, I have come to notice different ways of how people respond to the news of my loss, and how I r...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The crazy little thing called hope

Going through a loss and what comes with it, I have come to notice different ways of how people respond to the news of my loss, and how I react to their responses. One particular way that caught my attention is that upon the news, many people tried to offer or remind me of hope, the possibilities of regaining what I have lost or a sort of replacement for it in the future. While I understand where their heart is and appreciate the caring offer, I found myself being distracted from my own grieving process.

“Really? I can have it again?” The glimpse of bright light shining through the murky heaviness in my heart. It was like an afternoon shower on a scorching summer day that I desperately needed to quench my thirsts. But it didn’t stop there. Later I found myself reminding of the hope and telling myself to cling to them, whenever I felt the pains of loss and the void that it had left with me. As long as I was holding on to the hope, I would not have to feel the pains of losing something very important and meaningful to me.

That was not the way I wanted to say good-bye to it, I realized. Just as much meaningful as it had been for me to have it, I knew that not having it any more was also a precious experience for me. I wanted to treat the grieving with the same respect, attention, spaces, and time, while staying open to any possibilities. It felt like I had tried to neglect the part of me that had been so engaged in having it, because now it was in pain, and I do not like to feel pain. Fortunately I knew it would not work that way.

For a difficult experience not to become a traumatic one, we need to allow space for ourselves to take time to bite, chew, taste, swallow, and digest the experience. Reaching out for the right support is very important when you need it, and it is also absolutely fine to withdraw when you need to lick your wounds. Experiencing a loss naturally brings up a sense of disconnection and existential loneliness. There is nothing wrong with having a taste of these. Just remember to touch them gently and let them go when it is time. And, know that it is ok to want to smile and feel happy and light again, when it naturally arises in you.

The crazy little thing called hope has a place in our lives. But, don’t let it take away from you the precious richness of grieving.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Non-doing self-care

Recently I have come across quite a few articles about self-care, some of which I found helpful and yet majority of which did not really stick with me. “Do yoga for 15 minutes first thing in the morning,” “make your favorite tea and have a quiet time,” and “a bubble bath at the end of the day,” etc. These are all nurturing activities that can reduce your anxiety level and help you feel replenished on a daily basis.

What I would like to point out is a different kind and seemingly easier way of self-care: Non-doing self-care. Have you ever felt overwhelmed just by thinking that I need to do one more thing to release the stress from doing too much? I have. Squeezing in more in the to-do list requires adjustment, rearrangement, and, let’s not forget, courage, especially so when it is something you are not familiar with. This is one of the reasons why most of the suggestions do not stick with me, and if you are like me you might be feeling guilty about not taking care of yourself.

On the other hand, choosing not to do something that does not serve you is a great way of self-care because it eliminates the source of stress and opens up a space for choice and freedom. 

So here is my list of non-doing self-care ideas:
  • Not writing a blog post when I am not in the mood (yes, mood is very important in the production of a good blog post).
  • Choosing not to cook dinner because I feel tired and overwhelmed.
  • Choosing not being on Twitter because I have more than enough screen time and my eyes are not getting any younger.
  • Saying no to a party that makes me nervous just thinking about being there.
  • Not doing chores or quitting it half-way (when it can wait) because I have other things I want to do.
  • Choosing not to have dairy foods (I am lactose-intolerant) because I care about how my body feels, not because I shouldn't.
  • Choosing not to reply to a friend’s email because I don’t see any value in  maintaining the relationship.

What we often miss when it comes to self-care is that a shift in perspectives on “why” can make a big difference. If I feel guilty about not going to a party and feel like a loser because I am not a people person, the decision is rather a source of stress. If I refused to go because I am aware that the anxiety is overwhelming and overweighs the benefits of going, then not going serves the purpose of taking good care of myself. The bottom line is that making the decision out of a caring heart makes it a self-care act.

As I grow older, I realize tremendous value in only keeping what works for me. A wise elimination is in fact a great virtue to develop, and the truth is that actually we all practice this non-doing self-care at times without even realizing. What is in your non-doing self-care list?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Difficult and Positive – Giving emotions a fair treatment

“I just want to be happy. Is that too much to ask? I want this sadness to go away so that I can live my life.”
“I shouldn't be feeling jealousy about his success, he’s my brother and I know he has worked hard for it.”
 “After what happened to me, I just tried to think happy thoughts whenever I felt sad and frustrated.”

I am sure these sound familiar and you probably wonder what is wrong with thinking this way – trying to be future-oriented, focusing on positive things, and wanting to be happy. As a society, we promote these values and we grow up being encouraged to embody them.

But I would like to shed light on the values and importance of feeling sad, frustrated, fearful, anxious, jealousy, angry, or whatever emotions that we would do all kinds of things in order not to feel, and we often refer as “negative feelings.” We see them as “negative” because they don’t seem to help us feel pleasant or achieve what we want to get.

What I have seen in myself and other fellow humans is that we suffer more when we deny the existence of certain feelings in us, as we spend a great deal of energy on denying. It is as if you only have one hand to use because your other hand is always on duty to make sure the lid is on the Pandora’s box.  There are constant anxiety and fears in the back of our minds that say “it will be a disaster if this anger comes out” or “I will ruin my marriage if I let her know my frustration.” Without knowing, we spend lots of mental, physical, and spiritual energy on managing these “negative” feelings.

I am not writing this to give you “5 easy steps to manage negative feelings better.” I do not believe we can continue to keep negative feelings under control with denial and sugar-coating. If your intention is to befriend yourself and live as a whole person by learning new ways of relating to your emotions, then here are a few pointers for you. 

  • Know that some emotions are “difficult” rather than “negative,” because we often struggle accepting that we are experiencing them. However, they are not “negative” emotions as they bring us great information about us.
  • Admit to yourself that you are feeling anger, frustration, fear, sadness, etc., even if it is the worst feeling you can imagine. If you are feeling guilty about being angry, then admit the guilty feeling as well. It is already there, so there is no point in denying it. Just because you deny it and you are quite good at it, it does not mean it is not there. So admit and accept the existence of the feeling that you are experiencing.
  • Make time and space, and experience the emotion fully in your body. Emotions consist of multiple bodily sensations before we add to them thoughts, judgments, analysis, etc. For example, jealousy feels to me like burning sensations in my belly and throat, and I have tension in my jaws. There is alertness in my body as some destructive force wants to come out. As I stay with the urge it gradually softens and I find sadness that comes from not having something I want. If your bodily sensations and/or emotions are overwhelming, you might want to do this with a trustworthy person who can guide you and provide a safe container for you.

For closure, if you’d like, gently ask yourself what wisdom the difficult emotion you were in touch with has taught you. Sometimes I find more grieving to do underneath jealousy; or I realize the need to pursuit certain elements in relationships that used to be hidden behind anger and frustration. No matter what you learn from them, all emotions are great teachers as they come to us to enrich our relationships with ourselves and others. So give them a fair treatment with respect and gratitude.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015