I need you to be okay with me, or do I?

Growing into a strong, confident, capable person takes time.

When you allow yourself to think about it, every one of us started out completely dependent upon the grownup(s) who cared for us. We were born with certain unconscious instincts and reflexes we used to influence or manipulate our caretaker to give us what we needed in order to survive. Before we learned to talk and express our needs verbally, we figured out that when we cried, our guardian might respond to our pitiful pleas for attention: “Change my diaper…I’m hungry…I’m tired” are some of the basic needs we depended upon others to perform. Without our ability to sway others into attending to our needs, we would have died.

Hopefully, we had parents who did what they could to understand what was required when we cried and who did their best to accommodate our needs. Because our manipulation worked so well, we may have figured out (unconsciously) that we could get our grownup to attend to us whenever we needed something. Hence, this was the beginning of us learning how to manipulate others

As an infant, this was a brilliant method to insure our survival.  As babies, we had no ability to earn a living, drive a car, find shelter, or cook and feed ourselves; therefore, we were compelled to depend upon those around us who could provide these necessities for our comfort and survival. But, as we grew up and became more capable of doing things for ourselves, our dependence upon others became lessened. Or did it? For the most part, it is accurate that we became more proficient at caring for our physical needs, however, how well did we learn to take care of our emotional and social needs?

What prompts you to make the choices you select? Much of what we choose is based on our values and beliefs. Yet we also choose based on needs (of which we tend to be unaware) that may have never been met. There are spaces inside of each of us which feel empty although we have minimal awareness of their existence or even how to satisfy them. All we know is that “I feel used up…worn out…got nothing left to give…” This is an indication that we are missing something inside.  Because we are now considered adults, we’ve learned that crying to get our needs met no longer works (most of the time). Looking for comfort and approval from others will generally end in disappointment, yet without awareness, we set others up to fill those gaps for us. 

Here is an example of how this process can look:

I have a friend, Laurie, who is the greatest caretaker I know. All of her friends know to come to her when they need help. They know they can count on her and she will always say “yes” because disappointing anyone is her worst nightmare. Helping out others always seems to be her priority. Consequently, others ask for her assistance regularly, and she’s unwilling to say “no”; “I don’t want to let them down…” she would say when I commented that she looked exhausted. What she was really saying was that she has no idea how to feel good about herself unless someone tells her how special she is or invaluable her help has been to them.  So she is depending upon others to reassure her of her value and then she feels fulfilled.

On one occasion, she agreed to pick her friend up from DIA, the airport in Denver, two hours from her home.  She arrived a bit late as she encountered traffic. Instead of her friend expressing gratitude, she complained about her delay. “Do you know that she didn’t even say ‘thank you’…all she did was give me grief for being  late…see if I ever do anything for her again…” my friend declared! What she was quietly saying inside her head was ‘poor me…I’m so nice and look at what she’s doing to me…’   My friend frequently felt unappreciated. “…look at all I do for others…I sure wish my friends would be more considerate on my time and my willingness to help…” she repeatedly would grumble. When asked why she continued to give so much of herself to others, she simply stated she was “loving too much…” Is there really such a concept? Generally, love brings joy and positive feelings, not depression and resentment. The only conclusion that I helped Laurie recognize was that what she was doing was not out of love but out of fear; that her motivation was to keep people from getting angry with her then withdrawing their love. “That is what I learned growing up…if I didn’t do just what my mother wanted she would ignore me until I complied...my father would scare me by yelling when he didn’t get what he wanted…”  Laurie realized. Because of these patterns she faced growing up, Laurie learned to give to others reluctantly out of fear of losing their love as well as always saying ‘yes’ out of fear of others’ anger if she said ‘no’. Laurie would give of herself to get love and prevent herself from being abandoned. She couldn’t stand for anyone to be angry with her so she felt compelled to say ‘yes’ regardless of what was asked of her. That sounds very much like the role of a victim or a martyr; a rather unappealing characteristic.

This is how the pattern works: You’re feeling uncomfortable and you want to feel better. How to do that for yourself has  you stumped. No one ever taught you how and you have yet to learn that for yourself. So, you do favors for others in an attempt to have them tell you how wonderful you are and that they could never have gotten by without you. Another way to feel competent and worthy is by others seeing you in the fancy car you drive, the amount of money you have, the big house you live in, your talented kids, etc. Because others admire you for your accomplishments,  you feel much better about yourself. Another risky method to feel good is to help others out so you become their hero/savior.  Usually, the person you assisted will express gratitude to you for your help. Now you feel jubilant and recharged. But for how long does that “fix” last? When you think about it, you have to repeat the process again and again and again until you become totally depleted. You have nothing left. That’s when the anger and resentment rears its ugly head; “I’ll never help out that ungrateful woman again…” generally is the next thought. So you’ve gone from being dependent upon others to feel good about yourself to being against them and what you experience is rage. This persistent habit is what is known as the cycle of codependency; you’re bouncing back and forth between doing for others or being against them.

The way out of the codependency trap takes effort and it’s worth it.

To halt bouncing back and forth between being for others or against others (dependency or counterdependency), it must begin with becoming acquainted with yourself. Start by asking yourself questions such as ‘who am I?’ ‘what do I want, dream of, value, enjoy, am enthusiastic about, etc.? This enables you to free yourself from the dysfunctional pattern and begin to define yourself rather than having other people determine who they want you to be. (See article “Who Am I? August 2017).  Avoid responding to questions with “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” Always respond with something even if it’s “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you” The more you practice checking in with yourself, the easier it becomes. Developing the ability to know your point of view then permits you to share yourself with others. No more need to manipulate, coerce or control others because you’re giving yourself all the support, praise and nurturing you require. You now can help others (as you did before) however, now your motive is authentic rather than manipulative. You offer assistance because your values tell you it is the right thing to do rather than because you need to feel important.   We have no control over others behavior or words, therefore, knowing ourselves, and sharing ourselves allows us to feel whole and complete rather than needy and at the whim of others. This is about taking charge of your life so each of us has the ultimate choice in how we live.                                                                                                                             Here is a conversation you might find yourself having quietly inside when you become comfortable with yourself:              “I will continue to be a kind, helpful and generous person because that’s who I am. Tell me you love me or hate me, it’s okay. I no longer need your approval to feel validated. If you thank me, great. If you don’t, I still am pleased with myself because I’m living within what my values recognizes as doing the right thing. I am now just fine with myself.

Who am I? Finding my authentic self

Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I?” This may seem like an odd question to ask yourself yet unless you clearly know the answers, you’ll be unable to be comfortable with yourself and incapable of sharing your authentic self with others. Consider how important this question is.

We can respond with descriptive words such as, “I’m female…I’m a wife and mother…I’m a nurse and psychotherapist…” We often list roles we play, interests we have, our profession, or what is commonly called “self-stats” such as our hometown, appearance, education and so on. However, when it comes to truly knowing ourselves, most of us discover that how we portray ourselves tends to be based on who others think we are (or should be) or depending upon what we do jobwise. Becoming fully acquainted and comfortable with who we are is a key to living life in an liberated and joyful manner. Feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, so to speak, is important for going through life as a contented human being.  Isn’t that what we hope for?

Our sense of self – our “identity” – who I am -  is very important; however, when it comes from what others think about us, how we look, or how we behave, we worry about being judged or measured by others (and fearful of falling short of their requirements). In order to feel okay about ourselves and function as best as we can, we may put on an act, a facade, a mask. We all do it all the time – we present our ‘best-self’ to the world. This can be a useful skill. It enables us to adjust our words, tone and actions to better connect to the person with whom we are communicating. However, when we do so habitually and unconsciously, we can lose who we are and that can hurt us. The true problem arises when how we feel about ourselves inside is in conflict with the face we show to the outside world. It’s as if the real “me” is hiding underneath. We often feel like an imposter or a fraud because how we feel inside is different from the mask we show on the outside. This internal battle is called incongruency - how I feel inside and what I express outwardly are at odds. This sets up a “civil war” inside and we feel wounded.

This reality was a lesson I learned the hard way. My very loving parents raised me to be obedient, agreeable and pleasant to be around rather than encouraging me to discover who I truly was. This isn’t about     parent-bashing; it’s about realizing my parents were human and had shortcoming in their skillset.  My parents seemed to be in line with Billy Crystal’s character, Fernando, who stated, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” Feeling good about myself was based on how others perceived me. Inside I was dying. Keeping up this act was impossible, and it finally took its toll. In my late 20’s, I felt empty, worn out, used up and no longer wanted to live. I was so miserable yet didn’t realize it until one day I felt like I was having a “nervous breakdown.” I had become so angry, depressed and unhappy that I was nonfunctional. Being unaware of why I felt so bad was baffling. Fortunately, I found a competent therapist who aided me in figuring out what was going on and taught me skills to become acquainted with who I was for the first time. What I discovered was that my view of  “me” had been shaped by others. I depended on others to reveal how worthwhile, attractive, successful, loved, important, respected, etc. I was (also described as external validation). I had no idea who I was except for who others expected me to be. This shaped the perspective from which I viewed myself and the world. Changing this viewpoint was necessary and becoming aware of “who I am” was life altering in the most positive way. The process had its challenges yet there was never a moment that I had any regrets. The journey was worth the effort. Even when I discovered aspects of myself that were less than sparkling qualities, at least I was aware and then could do something to modify them, if I chose. Learning to be the genuine me became very freeing and has enabled me to live my life joyfully and securely.

Among the skills I learned from my therapist was how to recognize when I was being either sincere or inauthentic. What I now understood was that our body will always react to what we are saying and doing from our survival brain (the Amygdala) long before our thinking brain (the Hippocampus) recognizes what’s going on. Practicing how to scan the body for signals is a key to initially becoming knowledgeable about oneself. This is accomplished by using conscious breathing to notice how the body feels. When we are speaking and doing things which are consistent with our values and beliefs, there will be a sense of calm and comfort (our gut will feel relaxed and our muscles will be smooth). Conversely, when we do or say something that is motivated by maneuvering others to make us feel better, we likely will feel a tightness in our gut, a racing heart, sweaty palms, etc., which notifies us we are experiencing internal conflict. This occurs unconsciously which is why we must initially use the information from our bodies to reveal what is truly happening inside. Can you appreciate how useful this simple tool can be to inform you about what is truly happening? There was a Harvard study which revealed that giving yourself two seconds prior to responding (less than one breath) will create a 93% better outcome. Essentially, by giving yourself two seconds, you’ve moved from reacting (the survival brain) to responding (the thoughtful brain).

Now that there is more calmness and less agitation internally, you can use your evolved, more creative brain to check in with yourself. Asking questions such as, ”What do I feel, think, believe, desire, value, dream of, need, etc.?” enables more personal information to be accessed in order to respond genuinely. Clarifying these points creates an opportunity to bond with another person from a solid position rather than from an uncertain one.

What is also important to remember is that when a question is asked, always respond. This enables you to continue to practice a greater understanding yourself. Avoid phrases such as “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” This can lessen your ability to respect yourself.  When uncertain as to how to respond, consider using phrases such as, “I’d like to think about what you’re asking…let me get back to you” or “How about if I contact you about my decision by Friday…” There is always a way to be courteous to others while being true to yourself.

Does this sound like finding your true self will turn you into an insensitive and selfish person? Well, actually the opposite is true. Being kind, helpful, charitable and caring (to name a few characteristics) is now done out of true desire rather than out of deficiency. Your behavior may be identical (such as giving a friend a ride when their car has broken down), however, the key that separates the healthy, selfless act from an unhealthy dependency is your motive. This is where knowing yourself and being honest makes the difference. Ask yourself, “What is my motive for doing this?…Do I need praise and approval or am I doing this because what I’m offering is truly consistent with my values?” Answering these questions is essential. When you act from your authentic self, you are living congruently within your values and beliefs. Experiencing a sense of peace and comfort within yourself is the gift you gain. There then becomes a sense of wholeness, balance and connection to others (which I consider to be sacred).

Continuing to practice these simple (but not easy) skills, will enable you to interact with others in the most respectful manner for everyone involved. And it definitely does take practice. There is a tendency to revert back to our ‘default mode, ’a place that has become comfortably familiar, when there is no consistently new input. Practicing is comparable to saving the newly learned skills in an updated file on your computer so it is there when you open it again.

It’s important to acknowledge a caveat at this point. As you become more acquainted and contented with yourself, those who have known how you used to behave can become frightened seeing the changes in you. Remember, this, too, is happening unconsciously, under the surface. Their fear may come from their inability to now get you to comply with what they want (whereas in the past you would have always submitted to their wishes). You might hear comments such as, “You were so much nicer before you went into therapy” or “You’re such a b*tch now…what happened to you?” Remind yourself what is actually going on; they are no longer able to get you to do what they used to be able to persuade you to do. It’s compassionate to acknowledge their discomfort with your changes. A phrase that I found helpful was to say, “Please don’t take my changes personally…it’s about becoming a better me and it’s not about you…” Remember, you may need to repeat this over and over again until they truly hear you.

These are a few tools to work with to create the best version of yourself as possible. Isn’t that what we all want? Do you believe you deserve to feel at ease with yourself and others? Then practice these new skills and notice how your life can transform. If you think that it would be beneficial having a guide to help you navigate these enhancements and modifications, feel free to contact me.

Barbara Pickholz-Weiner

What Did You Say . . . ? Understanding what others are communicating

With last month’s article, Self-Talk, in mind, here is a supplement to that column.

Now that you have some information about speaking to yourself in a kinder, more supportive manner, it’s time to focus on how you hear what others are saying to you. What you perceive depends upon how you were raised and what you heard growing up, what you say to yourself quietly inside, as well as the history you have with the person with whom you are communicating.

Communication is one of the essential components of creating trust. Without trust, there’s very little of anything productive or positive that can occur within the relationship. Mastering skills which enable you to interpret conversations in the manner in which they are intended leads to a more fulfilling connection to others.

How often have you misinterpreted another’s concern for you simply because you became triggered by what they said? Could this be due to a hurtful or thoughtless experience from your past of which you are unaware? This is a primary cause of conflict among friends, couples, coworkers or family members.  What you hear and what was said may be different. “That’s not what I said or meant…” is a common response from the stunned speaker. They become perplexed as to how the conversation went in such an unexpected direction.

Here is an example. Several years ago, as I was sitting in the food court in the St Louis airport awaiting the departure of my flight home, I overheard a conversation between a husband and wife (the tables were so close together that it was impossible to ignore them).

“Honey, I’m taking the camera case and the duffle bag and I’ll meet you at the gate… I’m taking the camera case and the duffle bag… I’ll meet you at the gate …now remember, I’m taking the camera case and the duffle bag… I’ll meet you at the gate…” After the husband repeated this message several times, he walked away.  The wife, noticing that I had obviously overheard the conversation, turned to me and disclosed, “…my husband thinks I’m an idiot…he thinks I’m so stupid…” In that moment, I had several choices: I could ignore her, nod politely or communicate what I heard her husband express, which was the option I chose.  “Wow! That surprises me... I heard what your husband said so differently than what you expressed...”  Clearly, her interest was piqued. “What do you mean?…” she asked. The words that came out of my mouth were as follows: “What I heard him say was how much he loves you…his desire was to make your load lighter and that he wanted to make sure you will not worry when you gather up your bags because he took the two items…” The expression on her face was one of utter amazement.  “Oh my God! I would have never gotten that in a million years…I much prefer your version than my own…” she said. “Thank you so much…From now on, I will hear my husband talking to me more positively in my head instead of my own critical voice…”

Obviously, I knew nothing about who this woman was or what her relationship was like with her husband.  However, witnessing the exchange between the two of them helped me to realize how unaware the wife was to her husband’s true motive, which was to make her life easier by reducing her anxiety.

When we become frightened, our brain is hard wired to activate our primitive survival mechanisms. Fear can be paralyzing whereas anger generally is activating. Becoming enraged enables you to create enough energy to take action instead of feeling stuck. Be aware, however, that the choices made while in survival mode may cause an unintended and distressing outcome because those choices are based on an automatic reaction. When you give yourself two seconds to respond instead of react, the outcome is usually more beneficial.

Have you ever had an experience, for example, where you came home later than expected and your partner yelled at you? “Where have you been… who were you with…how stupid could you be coming home this late especially because you have to get so up early tomorrow…?”  If you were to give yourself a breath (so you can respond instead of react), you’d likely recognize that the harsh tone was more out of fear than anger. If your partner was able to slow down enough and breathe, there could be acknowledgement that the reaction was likely based on their concern that something was terribly wrong; what if you were in a car crash or worse…dead!  Reacting to anger by raising one’s voice would seem reasonable once you’ve realized it was more out of panic than rage.

Understanding what the person is intending to convey is valuable. Consider reframing what you are hearing from your loved one. How about giving yourself a breath and acknowledging to yourself, “I’ll bet s/he is afraid something was terribly wrong…s/he loves me so much that if I were injured or dead, that would be devastating to him/her…” Wouldn’t your response be so different once you’ve realized that their reaction was out of concern for you and their anxiety that there was something wrong? Might you feel some compassion for them? Rather than yelling back, give yourself a moment to breathe (enabling you to respond rather than react), and then acknowledge their emotions; “…You seem really upset…I’m sorry to have worried you…next time I’ll call if I’m going to be more than 15 minutes late…” The outcome of that conversation will be much more productive and possibly even bring the two of you closer.

Last winter, I returned home from my office later than expected. My husband arrived home before I did. “Barbara, you left the garage door open…” he informed me. Because our house had been broken into a few years ago, my husband’s distress was even more understandable. Considering that I had been practicing effective communication skills for a long time, I still fell into the automatic, defensive trap. “No I didn’t... “ I blurted out, even though it could have been no one other than  me.  After I gave myself a breath and moved past survival (defensive) mode, I realized that there had been snow which accumulated under the garage door so when I closed it, the snow  prevented the door from remaining down. My next action (now that I could think rather than react) was to ask my husband what ideas he had to prevent this from ever happening again. “How about if you stay in the driveway until the garage door is closed?” he suggested. “What a reasonable solution!” I acknowledged. “Thanks for your suggestion…” finally came out of my mouth.  When I was able to engage my rational brain instead of my panicked brain, hearing the concern my husband was expressing then became possible. Since that experience, asking for his input and suggestions has become easier. As my mother always said, “two heads are better than one…” and she was right. Asking for another’s perspective can open up far more possibilities. Rather than viewing yourself as incompetent, consider recognizing yourself as quite clever by asking for assistance from others.

Transforming your usual method of assuming and functioning will take effort, no doubt. Initially it may feel uncomfortable or unnatural. Do it anyway. It’s worth the effort. Remember, practicing the new patterns will serve to reinforce the changes to the way you perceive experiences as well as to how you act. Now  that’s a rewarding change!

Self-Talk; friend or foe?

Have you ever had someone talk to you in such a rude, nasty and disrespectful way that you felt so abused and bullied that all you wanted to do was either punch the person or run away from them? That would be a reasonable response to such an offensive person.  What if you found out that this was happening to you every day, all day long? What would you do about it? What if you recognized that you were actually doing this to yourself? “What do you mean I’m the one doing this?!?!?” you might say to yourself.  “That’s ridiculous!! Why would I ever do that?” This month’s topic focuses on our internal self-talk.

We all talk to ourselves nonstop, whether we are aware of it or not. Is it positive and constructive or negative and damaging? Were you aware that most of the time our inner voice is negative? This is a relic from our prehistoric days when our brain needed to remember the frightening and negative occurrences in order to survive. This behavior is now obsolete, yet our evolving brain continues to have remnants from our past primitive brain.

If you were to be truthful and say out loud what you might be saying quietly (and often unconsciously) inside your own head when you feel inadequate or you’ve made a mistake, what might that be? If you are like most of us humans, it likely would be very critical and a hurtful put down. The incredible part is that most of us don’t even realize we are doing it! The majority of self talk takes place so quickly and habitually that we don't even notice we are doing it. Yet, the primitive, or unconscious, part of our brain is taking it all in, both constructive and destructive. And the unconscious mind simply accepts everything you tell it, and then responds according to what it is hearing. Even though your self talk may be irrational when you think about it consciously, your body will always respond to the inner messages as if they were really true. There might be a tightening of your muscles, high blood pressure, anxiety, migraine headaches, depression, diarrhea, etc. These signals are our body’s way of communicating that we are giving ourselves wounding messages.  How we talk to ourselves has a great impact on the quality of our lives: how we feel about ourselves and our well-being. Everything we think and say influences the way we feel about ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually.

When I reflect back on some of the fault-finding phrases I would say when I disappointed myself or was less than perfect, the most persistent phrase I’d subtly, quietly say to myself was, “…you dumb idiot…what did you do that for?” Less often, yet still a part of my internal dialog was, “Why bother…you’ll never be able to do that” “You haven’t been productive at all today you worthless piece of…” “God, you look awful today” “Why did you say that, you stupid idiot?” Without awareness, I simply repeated insults I had been saying to myself since I was about 6 years old (prior to age six, many children have minimal ability to be critical of themselves). When you were a baby or even a young child, can you imagine looking in a mirror and saying, “What is wrong with you? Why are you so hungry all the time! Why did you poop in your diaper? Can’t you see you are annoying Mom? It’s your fault she is so tired!” Of course not. So what happened to change that? Life happened, and all the messages that were absorbed from everyone and everywhere brought you to where you are now. What we often are unable to recognize is that the disapproving, hateful character assaults with which we attack ourselves as adults are just as illogical and undeserved as those offered by our imaginary baby above.

Now ask, “What hurtful phrases have I been saying to myself?” In order to answer this question effectively, it’s useful to first become aware of what you might be subtly saying to yourself about your personality or your performance. One tool that I’ve found to be useful is to be aware of what is going on in my body. Remember, our body will always react to the silent, destructive statements we are conveying; therefore, when we begin to scan our body for its signals, we will feel physical survival reactions such as a tightening of the muscles, nausea, dry mouth, sweaty palms and rapid heart rate, to name a few. Once I notice these physical reactions, I then make a conscious effort to listen to what I was just saying to myself and to catch myself when I’m saying demeaning messages. When you notice that you’ve been giving yourself destructive commands, first give yourself a compliment simply for noticing. You may say to yourself, as I do, “Good for you, Barbara, for noticing…” or “Good catch…” or “Way to go, Buddy…you got it.”  Allow yourself to create whatever phrase is meaningful to you. The more you practice identifying your internal dialog, the quicker you are able to notice, and then adjust, it. What I quickly discovered, during the first week of this exercise, was that I whispered belittling remarks to myself at least 50 times a week! I was stunned! I kept at it, and now I find myself being critical of myself infrequently, maybe a few times a month. What an improvement! I continue to use this skill and still notice steady progress.

After practicing and becoming more proficient at recognizing the internal chatter, there now is an opportunity to talk to yourself in a more friendly way. Here are some examples. Perhaps If you say to yourself, “You dumb idiot…what did you do that for?” First, acknowledge and compliment yourself for noticing, then neutralize the negative thoughts with supportive ones, “I did the best I could…I need to remember to take it more slowly and give myself a breath first next time.” Maybe you find yourself saying, “Why bother…you’ll never be able to do that.” Now that you’ve exposed the negative message, offset it with constructive comments, “This is important to me so I’ll do the best I can…if necessary, I’ll do more research or ask for help next time…” If I find myself saying, “God, you look awful today,” I can reframe that to “…Oh, well…I put myself together as best I could…I’ll give myself more time tomorrow…” Modify the self talk with positive thoughts whenever you become aware of the disrespectful ones. The more consistently you practice, the easier it is to recognize and alter.

Be a kind and encouraging friend to yourself instead a bully. Consider negative self talk simply as a bad habit because that is all that it is. As with any undesirable habit, it’s possible to change your thoughts once you recognize what is going on. It does take time and practice because the pattern probably has been in place for years. The sooner you start, the quicker you’ll see the positive changes that are so beneficial. Go for it. You deserve it!

The Habitual Mind

The Habitual Mind - How we got here and methods to change what is no longer working

Waking up and feeling excited and enthusiastic about the new day is what many of us desire yet few of us experience. Because of present and past life circumstances, we sometimes find ourselves feeling out of balance... unable to pull it together...overwhelmed...stuck…repeating old patterns...devoid of skills...depleted of resources… experiencing unsatisfying relationships. Stress or life transitions can create struggles, challenges and confusion. Feeling insecure, anxious, frustrated, angry, hopeless, embittered, discouraged may also be experienced.  You may even feel spiritually adrift. What a miserable way to live! Did you know you could change that and do it differently? With guidance, support and coaching, it is possible to become the best version of yourself.

The famous ancient philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I believe that all life is worthwhile, but the unintended life is a problem. I am committed to the task of helping people understand that living well, powerfully and effectively with an abundance of happiness and success is within every person’s grasp.  Once you become aware of how to direct your own life with purpose and competence, responsibility and intentions, feeling hopeful and powerful, only then are you truly in control of your destiny.

There are so many reasons why people continue using their tried and true useless yet familiar methods to survive each day. They don’t know what else to do. Consider the challenge of getting through a day where you are experiencing physical and/or emotional pain. Most of us will do almost anything to make it stop. Whether it’s using a prescription medication or an illicit substance, taking something that stopped the pain in the past is generally viewed as necessary for relief. That was my experience. For seven years I suffered and struggled to maintain a “normal” life after both of my knees became so painful I could barely walk. Looking at today’s headlines, the opioid epidemic is ever-present, and I vowed to avoid the potential for a dependence upon analgesic medication which would leave me nearly nonfunctional and disconnected. I embarked on learning how to manage my own pain without medication. My trainings included methods to eliminate pain through hypnosis, whether through self-hypnosis or using a therapeutic guide and reframing the painful sensations into just a neutral experience. Recognizing that my brain had untapped resources to assist my healing became my focus. And what a blessing it was! I managed the pain, although I did eventually require surgery. I had two knee replacements within four months and was able to recover and reclaim my life without taking pain medication. I’m appreciating life again completely pain-free.  If you were struggling with any sort of pain, whether physical or depression and anxiety, wouldn’t you want this for yourself?  The mind and the body are closely connected. When physical pain is felt, it impacts our emotions. Conversely, when we are experiencing emotional discomfort, our physical pain is intensified.

Could it be that a traumatic experience from the past is keeping you from enjoying your life to the fullest? Trauma is so common that to focus on it seems comparable to focusing on air; it’s all around us, all the time, even though we may be consciously unaware of its presence. The truth is trauma affects every one of us, but the degree to which it influences our lives differs dramatically from person to person. It is important to remember that to heal trauma, it is NOT necessary to dredge up and relive memories. In fact, severe emotional pain can be re-traumatizing.

We always experience trauma as a physiological, or a body response. We will activate our survival response and feel our muscles tighten, our heart race, palms sweat; all the sensations you would associate with preparing to fight, run or faint. Once we realize that we have survived the threat, we’ll appear ''calm'' on the outside, but the internal physiology tells a very different story. The heart is still racing, blood pressure remains high, biological stress chemicals are still saturating the brain; in essence your nervous system is stuck on overdrive. This ''frozen'' state, while appearing calm, is still internally prepared to initiate the flight or fight procedures that we never had a chance to use. Because we were unable to complete these innate ''action plans,'' our body hangs on to the memory of needing to protect ourselves from a threat and the vast amount of energy produced becomes stuck inside us. When this occurs, we retain undischarged residual energy in our bodies and minds, which ultimately reveals itself as physical or emotional problems. Trauma disrupts the body’s natural equilibrium, freezing us in a state of hyperarousal and fear.

The important point to understand about this function is that it is involuntary. This simply means that the physiological mechanism governing this response resides in the primitive, instinctual parts of our brains and nervous systems (the Limbic System), and is NOT under our conscious control. Successful trauma treatment must address this imbalance and reestablish our physical sense of safety. Therefore, the key to healing traumatic symptoms is in our physiology. What we need to do to be freed from our symptoms and fears is to arouse our deep physiological resources and consciously utilize them.  In many people suffering from anxiety reactions and so-called ''psychosomatic'' conditions like migraines, muscular syndromes (e.g., fibromyalgia, back and neck pain), gastrointestinal disorders, severe PMS, asthma and even some epileptic seizures, these symptoms are likely the nervous system's attempt to contain the intense survival energies that remain in the body/mind as the result of unresolved trauma. When these energies can be gradually discharged, physiologically, the symptoms can often be dramatically reduced or even eliminated.  Sometimes all that's needed is for you to shake or tremble while noticing your symptoms, because this helps the body discharge stored energy from the trauma. This gentle shaking while focusing on your symptoms gives your unconscious mind the message that it's OK to let go now.

Because we are human animals, trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. With guidance and support, we are capable of learning to shake and tremble our way back to health. In being able to harness these primal and instinctual energies we can move through trauma and transform it. Trauma is about broken connections. Connection is broken with the body/self, family, friends, community, nature, and spirit, perpetuating the downward spiral of traumatic disturbance. Healing trauma is about restoring these connections. And that is my purpose; to help you heal.

Journeys Counseling Center, Inc. has been serving Teller County in Woodland Park and Cripple Creek since 1982. We offer professional, confidential, compassionate counseling and life-coaching for people in need of assistance in managing life issues and in finding the needed motivation and skills for lasting growth and change. We believe that seeing a therapist does not mean there is something wrong with you or that you are a “bad” person. Everyone begins therapy with a problem or a sense that something is amiss in their lives. Each of us would like to find a way to live a more accepting, fulfilling, and inspired life. We help you transition from where you are to where you want to be so you can become the best version of yourself. In our work together, I will show you how to develop empathy and compassion for what in you feels stuck or painful.  I will guide, support, and teach you tools, skills and resources to live your best life and to become the most authentic version of yourself as possible.  The areas that I am focusing on are: Freeing yourself from old, dysfunctional patterns/habits; Adjusting past faulty perceptions and beliefs, hence living a more conscious and deliberate life; Becoming more comfortable with yourself; Finding your voice so you’re able to speak up, speaking truthfully and communicating effectively; Learning to trust yourself. I provide a supportive yet objective sounding board or a witness to your life.

Bio: Barbara Pickholz-Weiner, RN, BSN, CACIII, MAC, EMDR II, began her college career as an art major at Kent State University. A radical shift in her world view led her to receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In addition to Masters in Addiction Counseling, Barbara has certifications in Neurolinguistic Programming, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Pain Management, Hypnosis and Regression Therapy, and is a Brain Injury Specialist. Barbara is the Program Director of Journeys Counseling Center, Inc. and has provided healing opportunities for people since 1982. Barbara and her husband peacefully cohabitate in a beautiful “Earthship” overlooking the north face of Pikes Peak.

 

Article published July 2017 in Ute Country News

Caring For Your Introvert

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.

Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.

What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

How many people are introverts? I performed exhaustive research on this question, in the form of a quick Google search. The answer: About 25 percent. Or: Just under half. Or—my favorite—"a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population."

Are introverts misunderstood? Wildly. That, it appears, is our lot in life. "It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert," write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig. (They are also the source of the quotation in the previous paragraph.) Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.

Are introverts oppressed? I would have to say so. For one thing, extroverts are overrepresented in politics, a profession in which only the garrulous are really comfortable. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Bill Clinton. They seem to come fully to life only around other people. To think of the few introverts who did rise to the top in politics—Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon—is merely to drive home the point. With the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, whose fabled aloofness and privateness were probably signs of a deep introverted streak (many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors), introverts are not considered "naturals" in politics.

Extroverts therefore dominate public life. This is a pity. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place. As Coolidge is supposed to have said, "Don't you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?" (He is also supposed to have said, "If you don't say anything, you won't be called on to repeat it." The only thing a true introvert dislikes more than talking about himself is repeating himself.)

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.

Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts. Also, it is probably due to our lack of small talk, a lack that extroverts often mistake for disdain. We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think bytalking, which is why their meetings never last less than six hours. "Introverts," writes a perceptive fellow named Thomas P. Crouser, in an online review of a recent book called Why Should Extroverts Make All the Money? (I'm not making thatup, either), "are driven to distraction by the semi-internal dialogue extroverts tend to conduct. Introverts don't outwardly complain, instead roll their eyes and silently curse the darkness." Just so.

The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either.

 

From: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/03/caring-for-your-introvert/302696/

Put Past Mistakes Behind You

The power to create the best you and the best life possible for tomorrow is in this moment. You can find the strength within to use the key of forgiveness to let go of the past and move into the future with a new perspective and an abundant appreciation for this fresh start. You have the opportunity to create an outcome for your life that’s of your choosing.

This is true no matter what your current situation. Say, for instance, you’re aware that you’re an alcoholic, a drug addict, a compulsive gambler, or an abusive person, but you’ve decided that you don’t want that. Forgive yourself by accepting that you’re capable of making changes, and then take control. Use the power of your mind to say:

I’m strong. I do deserve a new start. It’s okay to be me. It’s okay to have had my experiences. I accept that this is how I’ve lived, and I’m aware of how it has affected me. I forgive myself now for living that life, and I choose to never go back to it. I will break the patterns and cycles of the past.

You’re not letting yourself off the hook and telling yourself that it’s okay to be an alcoholic, a drug addict, a compulsive gambler, or an abusive person. You’re not giving yourself permission to do any of that again, believing it doesn’t matter. What you are doing is letting yourself know that the past is over and it’s okay for you to have experienced what you did because you learned your lesson. Now that it’s completely understood, you’re never going back there again. You’re not going to repeat these patterns. You’ve changed, and it’s okay to move on.

You can be happy with yourself. You can enjoy peace because you choose to no longer be controlled by your ego. It’s okay to be you. It’s good to love and forgive yourself for everything that was and start living for tomorrow. Create the destiny that you truly know you’re capable of.

You can become the person you want to be. You can change—if you do the work. Even if you’ve been very negative and hurtful, you can choose to transform and not be like that any longer. You can become a committed, honest, loving, compassionate individual; you never have to go back and re-create negativity in your life or the lives of others. Tell yourself: 

I no longer live in that mind-set. I no longer think those thoughts. I’m no longer controlled by my ego’s presence. I forgive myself for negative choices of the past by living in honesty today. I now choose to live in truth. 

What does it mean to live in truth? It means to live honestly at all levels. It’s not just about what you say; it’s about thoughts, actions, and the way you live. This involves authenticity—to live in alignment with who you know your true self to be. What you’ll receive is very empowering. You become free to live and explore the truth of who you really are as you move toward the future. You’re at liberty to change, develop, and go further in you own life within your own true spirit and mind.

From: http://www.healyourlife.com/put-past-mistakes-behind-you