Coping with sadness and grief

Pain and sorrow are natural feelings that serve an adaptive purpose. Disappointment helps you change your perspective on life and learn from experiences. These feelings allow you to adapt to changed circumstances, such as after the loss of a job, or a loved one. These feelings deserve your full attention at first. Allow yourself to experience them fully for a while, because there’s no clock, no defined length time on how long you should experience sadness, disappointment, and grief. Healing, adjusting, recovering a zest for life, taking new directions, filling gaps, and exploring the new are processes that start as you experience sadness and grief, and all take time.

There’s not set time as to ‘how long’ is good enough. You only know this.

The issue is that you need to avoid prolonged grieving and watch for any sign that your feelings are persisting past their expiration date. If you find that you become stuck in a downward spiral of paralysis, and you are unable to move forward, then now is the time to distance yourself from sadness and start building resources to grow through life’s challenges. Watch out for signs of becoming depressed, like seeing the world as a hopeless place, isolating yourself, and feeling inadequacy, guilt, shame or low self-worth.

Some resources are demonstrated scientifically to work better than others. Among them:

Gratitude. Counter your sadness and the gloom and doom that accompanies it by listing, every day, three good things that happened today. Keep a journal, or write them on post-it notes, have them readily available.

Get grounded. Some call it living the present, or practicing mindfulness.   Simply take the time to notice what is happening in the here and now. Use your senses,  – vision, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling – to become fully aware of what is going on around you. It is a kind of stop sign, that tells you to stop thinking about the grief and feeling it, if only for a little while.

Get going. There’s a tendency to stop doing the very things that make you happy and it perpetuates the sadness. Write down your moments of fun, and pay attention to activities you used to enjoy. Build them back into your life. Actions and behaviors will impact your feelings positively.

Connect. We’re biologically wired to connect with others. It makes us feel safe, calm, secure, and happy. Grief does the opposite. It disconnects you from others and bring our attention fully to the self. List all the people who are your sources of support. Now reach out to them.

Help others. We’re also wired to give to something larger than ourselves. Grief and sadness collapse awareness and lead to brooding and isolation. Get out of your ego-system and embrace a greater purpose through various contributions of your time such as volunteering.

Value yourself. Take a chance to reflect on your values, strengths and passions, what you do and what defines you. You’ve come so far in life for a reason. Use your strengths to plan how you are going to move on.

Face your sadness. Efforts to numb the pain with alcohol, oversleeping or social media overuse will be temporary. You would be delaying the pain, not erasing it. Escapist behaviors might also have consequences that add to your bag of pains. You only heal by confronting the pain. Allow yourself to cry or grieve in any way that is best for you. Acknowledgement of the pain is the first step toward recovering from it.

Emotional Resilience – Coping with adversity

Some call it ‘mental toughness’, others will talk about ‘emotional resilience’.  These words describe our capacity to face adversity and to cope with stress, and our ability to bounce back to our usual state of balance after some severe or emotionally challenging events.

“What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger” said Nietzsche.

In other words, each time we experience a stressful event and  we successfully go back to a state of balance , our tolerance, or resilience threshold,  shifts  upward, toward  strength and increased ability to cope with difficult events in the future.

It also means that we develop our ability to handle greater complexity: what seemed insurmountable yesterday was lived through, and hence an experience will become more manageable, though still painful, tomorrow. We’ve learned something from the experience, from its context and intensity, and we’ve shown ability to adapt, learn and grow.

Resilience is dynamic, and built over time; it is not something we are born with. It defines our ability to  positively adapt to  and recover from circumstances   such as deprivation, trauma, loss, threats, illness, accidents, and so on. It allows us to show and build life skills competences.

Some of us get caught in a loop and experience delays in adapting to and growing out of a crisis.  For instance, if a negative circumstance is far too overwhelming for our current capabilities, psychological distress involving grief,  fear, rage, frustration and other emotions,  or mental injury, can occur.  This results in symptoms such as victimization, overwhelm, fatigue, substance abuse, and mental health problems in the form of depression, post traumatic disorders, phobias, anxieties, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.

This in turn marks the difference between survivors, who grow out of challenges and transform a situation into one of personal growth and development,   and persons who sustain mental injury and may take longer, to adapt and grow out of their challenge.

Everyone has a different threshold of resilience overall, and resilience levels differ in any one person according to the type of crisis they meet. This in lay terms distinguishes between who is ‘weak’ and who is ‘strong’ and how a person is very ‘strong’ in one situation and ‘weak’ in another.

Since we all react differently to an identical trauma, these words do not account for the severity of circumstances a person must live through. While all of us will experience the loss of a loved one at least once in our life, not all of us experience accidents, tragedies, abuse, natural disasters or war.  Our age too makes a difference. 2/3 of children who  sustain trauma in early childhood may  have all kinds of issues later in life such as social maladjustment and violence* , while an adult may suffer from depression only or simply rebound quickly.

Resilience is also affected by our moods and our physical health at the time of the crisis, and by the length of exposure to the event.

Finally, resilience is not about ‘toughening up’, ‘bearing it like a man’, or ‘chin up, stiff lips’. It requires acknowledging feelings, grief, anger, pain, and  allowing those to be ‘felt’ as opposed to boxed in and ignored or controlled.

Building up/recovering your natural resilience

Your personality traits and your environment are major factors in your ability to deal with stressful situations. This makes it important for you to know what situations you can easily cope with, and the ones you have problems handling.

Support groups, associations of psychologists and other professionals all recommend the following, to implement as a priority, in any order:

  • Commit to recovery from the situation and make it your priority for a while.
  • Delay making life decisions (change of job or  residence, separation or marriage etc, until you feel your emotional stability has returned, whether this takes days, weeks or months after the event)
  • Spend time developing, improving, maintaining relationship with partner, kids, family members, friends and other acquaintances. The closer and more meaningful your relationships are, the better your ability to cope when distressed or stressed.
  • Talk about your feelings with people who are close to you. Let some steam off in safe settings. Vent it out, in safety. You may find that people around you have lived similar circumstances and they can guide you and support you as they share your burden.
  • Gain understanding, seek knowledge about the situation. This helps you view the crisis not as an unbearable problem, but as a situation you can act upon decisively, because you know the facts.  It also helps reduce fear, which tends to exaggerate as stress levels rise.
  • Accept that circumstances sometimes can’t be changed; in this case, walk out of the situation if you can, or develop your other coping skills if you can’t.
  • As you come out and recover from the event, develop a set of recovery goals (e.g., spending time with close friends) and carry them out, slowly. Delay making big decisions.
  • Improve your physical health, with nutritional choices, physical exercise, relaxation, and enough sleep. These steps will ease the stress you are under.
  • Implement a daily routine and stick to it – show the world that you are stating that life goes on as usual, regardless of whatever scare comes your way.
  • Develop a hobby, an interest which can absorb you, something you enjoy doing.
  • Help others, volunteer to help.  Being a support to others is documented to increase ability to cope with difficulties. It makes you feel more capable.
  • Look at learning from the past, review how you handled the events, as this becomes an opportunity for self discovery and acceptance, and will help you develop confidence in your ability to handle future events.
  • Keep a long-term perspective on the events; see them in the broader context of your life, and life span.
  • Cultivate hopefulness and optimism. Visualize what positive outcome you expect further down the line. As the saying goes, ‘there’s light at the end of the tunnel’
  • Wonder what the meaning of your life is, in this situation and in your future.
  • Call for professional assistance, medical doctors for medication, and therapists for counselling and psychological support, pastoral counsel for spiritual support.

 

If you wish to discuss some troublesome event and find ways to move forward, please contact me to schedule your obligation free, 30 minute consultation.

Sources and Resources:
An excellent book is “Man’s Search for Meaning “by Viktor Frankl, the father of Logotherapy. Various printed and online resources are available on topics such as trauma, PTSD, depression, OCD, etc, with coping tips and strategies.

 *see online references on the work of Emmy E. Werner, Developmental Psychologist

Transforming Our Internal Universe – Part 2 : The Feedback Loop

This post revisits the  topic  of my previous blog, Transforming Our Internal Universe on changing our brains and how we can release encoded memories and break old habits in order to rewire our minds for greater performance and overall enjoyment of life.

To summarize, in order to change, grow and develop ourselves, we need to demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances and then adopt new habits by initially breaking old ones. Being provided with instant feedback from the responses of our environment as we act and do things greatly assists our personal understanding of the consequences of our actions, for example, as a child when you first touched fire, the feedback was immediate: a burn.

Similar principles apply in more sophisticated forms later in life: as we apply a method of relating to others, at work or at home, their reactions teach us how to adapt our responses to various persons, for the best possible outcome in our communication. The same applies to our work and living habits: a certain way of doing things, such as handling our pile of documents on our desk or setting up a schedule of appointment for the week, may be efficient in which case the outcome (feedback) is immediate and positive: the way we organized ourselves saved us time and effort while fostering a sense of achievement. This type of feedback is self -reinforcing: the more we do of the same, the more we reinforce a habitual way of doing things.

At times, the feedback is less successful or can even be disastrous. If our communication is not well received or not understood, it potentially leads to tense moments when interacting with others. The way we keep organizing our desk leads to the loss of needed documents, generally at the very time they are needed, or we keep our schedule in such way that we miss an appointment.

This type of feedback, after it happens a number of times and doesn’t lead to a desired outcome, tells us that it is time to change the way we are handling things.

We seek to create new behaviors and ways to do things to create the outcome we desire. Accordingly we look for positive feedback. This in turn reinforces our idea that we can adopt this new strategy and it gives us the motivation to pursue it and refine it.

Change requires first that we become aware that something is not working and not serving us. It then requires that the discomfort is great enough for us to want to take steps to get back to a state of satisfaction. It then requires intent. The matter moves from “ something’s wrong “ to “what” to change to “how “ to change it.
The question “how” happens often as we are feeling the full impact of discomfort, stress or even distress about our current condition or issue. It is generally at that stage that we start educating ourselves through self-help or various educational books or any methods on the topic relevant to our issue. Because we are exploring brand new ways to do things, the question now moves from “can I change it” to “how can I change it”, as we become more aware of the issue and grasp ways to solve the issue.

At that point, intent and will power come into play. We consider will as the ability to choose a course and stick to it, no matter what. A simple example would be the decision to stop smoking or lose weight. With will, we believe we can quit cold turkey, or stick to a low calorie diet for the weeks or months it takes to reach ideal weight. We build up our resolve through positive words, creation of a plan, enlisting friends’ support, and many other devices.

“Sticking to it” is the key. This method works for many but not all. Along the way, a cigarette will be smoked and a chocolate cake will be eaten. This may lead to a sense of failure, with the thoughts “ I am weak”, “I can’t do it”. Some will then give up and return to smoking and high calorie diets, while others will persist and give another try at “sticking to it”. The issue becomes that as ‘failures’ pile up, we become much less motivated to give it another try. What can we do then, except for giving up?

There is another approach to using our will and intent: it involves being realistic and expecting failures along the way, and in doing so, we can make the failures more manageable. This requires being aware that what has been wired into our brain for months if not years (e.g., a smoking habit) can not be undone through a statement “just like that, I can will” (please see my previous blog: Transforming Our Internal Universe) for information about how we create and keep habits not only at the thought level, but also how our whole body sets a “normal” threshold of arousal through our biological systems’ operations and creation of chemical cocktail releases, as well as wiring of our neural pathways).

In essence, all our behaviors are not simply the result of habits and mental processes. We have to take into account that we have neurologically wired ourselves to maintain those habits and that not only mental, but also physiological process within our bodies must be taken into account. If behavior and bodily responses are changed, it can re-align thoughts and emotions that are repetitive and habitual, and all those in turn lead us to repeat behaviors of which we are no longer aware, because we are on auto-pilot.

So how to achieve change? It will not happen merely by discounting the strength of our wiring and implementing a new behavior through will alone and which we stack upon old wiring. If this were the case, we would end up with competing drives. Instead, we have to undo the current wiring of our synapses in order to create new wiring, along a new path and then make that path habitual so that associated chemical releases in our bodies change too, until we have developed strong mental connections that lead to a new habit of doing, thinking and feeling.

The key to the will element is to stick to a realistic expectation as we go and in our decision to use a number of tools to reach this goal, one tool being REPETITION of a desired new behavior or pattern of thinking and its associated emotions. Some other tools are: developing awareness of our current wiring, and learning simple techniques to develop such awareness, so we can catch ourselves in the moment and undo the wiring while also implementing, right here, right now, an alternative response. Finally, we need awareness to observe the feedback and draw lessons from it.

If the feedback seems to be the outcome we seek, then we have a new path to pursue by reinforcing our wiring build-up and fostering new cocktails of chemical releases in our bodies. If the outcome is not what we sought, we can seek a brand new path or a slightly different one so we can tweak the responses, or feedback we get.

It is a slow process, made of trials and errors, and hence exercising will is not to “quit smoking” (this is our goal) but to stick to steps that allow us to build our will, and as we become more proficient, leading us toward our goal.

In doing this, we consistently align body and mind and observe our emotions, to foster change, because our being is congruent, without pulls and pushes from one part of ourselves against the other. This ‘consistent’ observation of self and alignment is not a difficult technique to learn and takes no time to implement. It consists in replacing outdated and no longer useful thoughts with new ones. Once such method as been applied to one area of your life, it becomes ‘wired’ too, as memory, thought and behavior, and also as body sensations and physiological and chemical processes, and finally as emotions. You can then draw on this knowledge, where you whole self is ‘aligned’ to now tackle other aspects of yourself that you want to improve, using this same technique over and over again.

In essence, we learn to notice and analyze the feedback we get before and as we change, apply some techniques to develop greater awareness of the various processes going on in our bodies as beacons and compass, do the same with learning to accurately define our emotions, use tools to defuse our thoughts as they relate to what we want to change, learn to operate in the now, moment by moment, and rest our chattering mind and in doing this using our intent or will to REPEAT a new pattern, which in turn creates new neural pathways in our minds.

Those tools and techniques will be the topic of my next blog.

Link to Wired Article on line:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_feedbackloop/

Psychological Defense Mechanisms Defined (Part 2)

Following are definitions of some typical defense mechanisms, organized hierarchically from the least to the most effective.

Pathological Defense Mechanisms

Phobia formation is a means to avoid dealing with a root or primary anxiety by developing a substitute: for instance avoiding crowds (agoraphobia) instead of dealing with a fear of work meetings.

Denial is a primitive mechanism that is part of very early childhood development. Denial is the refusal to accept reality or a particular fact because it is too threatening and anxiety producing. In the face of the evidence, we fight by minimizing the issue. To give an example, in a case of physical violence, the victim insists ‘it wasn’t that bad’. Denial can mean flatly rejecting reality. This happens through suppression, repression or blocking.

There are however some situations where denial is adaptive and not pathological. For example, it might be adaptive for a person who is dying to have some denial.

Distortion involves grossly reshaping external reality to meet internal needs, such as by falsifying your memories of a situation,  to make it more acceptable or so that in your mind you become the victim rather than the culprit.

Delusional or paranoid projection involves full-blown delusions about external reality–– usually including a feeling of persecution. This causes the sufferer to become isolated from reality and create an imaginary alternative world.

Regression is reverting to an earlier stage of development in the face of unacceptable impulses. For  example an older child who is overwhelmed with fear, anger and growing sexual impulses,  might become clinging and begin thumb-sucking.

Splitting (also known as black and white thinking).  This means thinking in absolutes, with no middle ground, such as making judgments about a person’s character on the basis of a single event. Black and white thinking is a narcissist’s main defense mechanism.

Devaluation is viewing an object or person as having exaggerated negative qualities, being flawed.  It relates to black and white thinking.

Idealisation. The other face of the black and white thinking coin. It consists in rendering  someone or something perfect and ideal.

Immature Defense Mechanisms

Fantasy is a tendency to resolve conflicts or escape real problems by retreating from reality and living through television, daydreams, the Internet, imagination, etc.This kind of defense can be beneficial if we use our fantasies to rehearse or prepare for future success or if we fantasise about future events. Constructive fantasy might involve thinking about and imagining tomorrow’s presentation at work, or relaxing during a stressful moment by thinking about upcoming holidays. Many self-help and Cognitive Behavioural therapy methods are based on fantasy, such as rehearsal, sensitization/desensitization to a future event, empathy, etc. When applied with a goal in mind, fantasy is a mature defense mechanism.

However, fantasy can also become a problem. If you begin imagining the worst possible consequences to an event, this can lead to fear or reliving a bad situation, which in turn may lead to anger and depression.

By helping us avoid condemnation and criticism, fantasizing images of success can protect our self-esteem when we fail to meet social or other expectations.   But merely imagining solutions to problems is not actually solving them! Action must follow. When a person starts to live in the world of fantasy she or he has created instead of facing the real world and real challenges, at that point fantasy has become a pathological defense mechanism.

Projection means attributing to someone else thoughts and feelings that are actually our own but that we don’t want to admit to or that we feel are unacceptable. We are projecting parts of ourselves onto someone else. This is what happens when an angry spouse accuses his or her partner of hostility,  or when an unfaithful husband displays jealousy  of his  wife whom he always thinks is being unfaithful.  Projection is the abuser’s choice of defense mechanisms when about to abuse (“s/he is jealous, it’s his/her fault) and after the abuse has taken place (“s/he made me do it”).

This defense mechanism includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, blaming and “injustice collecting”.

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” (Nietzsche)

Projecting our negative emotions reduces anxiety because the emotion is released and expressed, without us having to actually recognize the emotion as part of ourselves. Projection is prevalent in some personality disorders

Condensation is a form of projection that involves  a third party. The person projects onto another what someone else did . To revisit the example above, an unfaithful husband would accuse his spouse of having an affair based on his knowledge that a female acquaintance may be having an affair.

Hypochondria is another immature defense mechanism that can occur when we take negative feelings we have about others and turn them into negative feelings about ourselves—going so far as to develop actual physical symptoms such as pain, illness and anxiety.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is the expression of aggression we feel towards others through indirect or passive behaviours, rather than through overt, direct hostility.

Acting-out behaviour is the direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse to avoid being conscious of the emotion that accompanies it.

Neurotic Defense Mechanisms

Intellectualization involves separating our emotions from ideas, thinking about wishes in formal, affectively neutral terms and not acting on them, distancing, and attempting to suppress or master our emotional stress. For example, instead of dealing with the fear and sadness that naturally arises when someone is told of a life-threatening illness, some people will hide behind big words and a clinical analysis of the event, say by focusing on statistical odds of recovery.

Rationalization consists of consciously reframing our perceptions in the face of changing realities in order to protect ourselves against internal guilt or to find a logical justification for a decision that was actually arrived at through a different thought process. For example, the promotion wished for and not obtained becomes “well, I didn’t want the position anyway”.

Rationalization can be constructive—for instance when someone sees the “silver lining” in an apparently negative event, or assumes that everything happens for the best and tries to find the blessing in disguise: “So, I didn’t get into med school, but now I can really focus on finding my true vocation.” Rationalization is an after-the-fact defense mechanism connected to the self-serving purpose: failure is ascribed to outside factors, whereas success comes from oneself.

Repression blocks unacceptable feelings from rising to awareness. It is a similar to suppression, and can take form of  memory lapses, or a lack of awareness of one’s physical or mental status. There is a conscious emotion, but the idea behind it is repressed or absent.  For instance a person would suppress pleasant thoughts about someone because he or she fears reject from them.

Whatever we are trying to push away into the subconscious is not lost. The subconscious tends to empower it, and the more one tries to repress something, the more powerful it becomes.

Eventually the repressed feeling will start to manifest itself in actions, often in ways that may not be clear  to the person repressing it, but that are noticed by others.

Suppression. Unlikerepression, which is unconscious, suppression is a conscious process, a choice not to think about something. Repression can often be detrimental and manifests itself through a symptom. A repressed sexual desire, for example, might re-surface in the form of a nervous cough. The individual is not conscious of the desire and cannot express it aloud, but the body still articulates the desire through symptoms. Traumatic events are said to be “repressed,” yet it seems that they are remembered in a distorted manner and can express themselves through physical ills.

Suppression generally deals with thoughts and actions that are unpleasant but not totally despicable. Suppression can therefore be managed and generally yields more positive results than repression. Sometimes it is even useful and rational to focus on one thing at a time, suppressing other problems until that one is solved. Counting to ten before doing anything when you are angry is an example of a form of suppression that can be useful and constructive in everyday life.

Withdrawal is a strategy where you remove yourself from things that remind you of painful or stressful thoughts and emotions. Because we can’t avoid daily reminders of an event, as we talk with friends, watch TV, perform some activity, etc, the regular use of withdrawal can mean the end of social life. Unless it is acknowledged and used consciously for only a limited period, withdrawal can be one the most severe defense mechanisms, leading to or exacerbating feelings of alienation and loneliness.

Reaction Formation occurs when a behaviour perceived as dangerous is converted to the opposite of what one really wants or feels­­––for example, taking care of someone when what you really wants is for someone to take care of you; or nurturing a child when your first impulse is to scold. Basically the unwanted behaviour creates anxiety, so choosing a reverse form of behaviour appears safe. If what you really feel is hate––which is morally objectionable, you turn it into love––which is agreeable and sanctioned.

This strategy of reaction is effective in the short term but it eventually breaks down, because you lose the ability to perceive your feelings accurately.

Displacement Is about separating a strong emotion from its real object and redirecting it toward someone or something that is safer or more acceptable in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening. For instance, instead of hating your father for divorcing your mother and “abandoning” you, you displace that emotion into hating your stepmother, being angry at the boss, kicking the dog, or yelling at your spouse.

 

Most often, we take out our frustrations on the people we love. Sometimes displacement results in suicide or depression, when frustrations are redirected towards oneself.

Compartmentalisation involved modifying or separating parts of your self from being aware of other parts of your self and adopting a temporary and drastic modification of your character to avoid emotional distress. This occurs when an honest person cheats on their tax return or rides a train without ticket.

Dissociation usually stems from a trauma, intense pain, or a serious identity crisis. It may manifest itself in disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, memory loss, Multiple Personality Disorder, Dissociative Amnesia, as well as the more common phenomena of flashbacks. Dissociatedmemories become partial and distorted. It is as if under intense stress the ability of the consciousness to include all the thoughts and emotions fails, and some are lost. In this case, a person may remember what happened, but forget how it felt.

Everyday life disassociation involves assumptions about things and people. In this case, people tend to discard some parts of reality that contradict their beliefs.

Healthy Defense Mechanisms

Fortunately, there are also mature defense mechanisms that are common in ‘healthy’ people. Many of them in fact originate in “immature” and childhood behaviours, but have been honed over time to optimize success in life and relationships. Using these defenses gives us a sense of pleasure and feelings of mastery in our life. They can help us integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts and still be effective. Other people are likely to see us as good or virtuous when we use these strategies. Examples of Healthy Defense Mechanisms include:

Sublimation means channelling our unacceptable impulses into more acceptable outlets. This strategy transforms negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behaviours, or emotions––whether through art, sports, hobbies, charity and volunteer work, or even one’s profession. Sublimation is one of the most successful and productive defense mechanisms available. It is a beneficial form of displacement. An example would be painting artwork when you’re feeling angry at something or someone.

Altruism involves constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.

Compensation comes into play when we psychologically counterbalance weaknesses in one area by drawing on strengths in other areas, when we strive for excellence in areas where we are weak, or when we recognize a weakness in one area, but try to excel in another. These are all healthy ways to handle the anxiety of feeling inferior or inadequate. There are, however, unhealthy ways to compensate, such as a person feeling unloved becoming promiscuous, substituting quantity for quality.

Suppression, which we discussed earlier, is the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality and  being able to later access the emotion and accept it.

Anticipation involves realistic planning for future discomfort.

Humor uses the open expression of ideas and feelings––especially ones that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about––in ways that give pleasure to others. Humor lets you call a spade a spade. However, humor is not the same as wit, which is more likely to be a form of displacement. The use of caustic and demeaning humour and sarcasm is a form a disguised criticism and can be very hurtful to others.

Identification, involves identifying with someone else, adopting their personality and character, in order to solve some emotional difficulty and avoid anxiety.

Undoing Is based on the notion that it is possible to make amends, to correct mistakes we have made, and to take back behaviour and thoughts that are unacceptable. In essence, it involves feeling guilty and trying to do something to undo the harm that may have been inflicted: we are trying to reverse or undo a feeling by acting in an opposite or compensatory manner. The simplest example of this is an apology. A negative form of undoing would be to praise someone excessively after having insulted them.

Transforming Our Internal Universe: Changing our brains with the power of thoughts, emotions, and the body.

When we achieve congruence in speech, thought and action, we function at our peak, because our whole being is fully engaged, with all parts of ourselves working harmoniously and co-operatively toward a goal or a state of being.

However, how do we synchronise these three parts for peak functioning?

This comes through the integration of feelings, senses, and thoughts.

Such integration involves understanding and managing our inner world, which includes the rational mind (the thoughts) and our capacity to have and identify certain emotions. It also involves understanding the relationship between our environment and our body, through its ability to sense and self regulate. In this sense, all aspects are interconnected.

Once a thought exists in our mind, masses of physiological reactions occur in the body and emotions are felt.

Lets put it to the test: notice the sensations you feel when you recall a cherished event, or a person you love.  Then after a short break, do the same,but this time recall an intense moment, one of anger, frustration, fear, or sadness.

The  sensations are different and produce either well-being and relaxation or tension. These sensations are only the surface sensing of much deeper processes at play within your body.

The thoughts create a cascade of bodily reactions that in turn produce what and how we feel, and naturally how we act.  Each time we direct our attention or awareness to a given thought, feeling, event or situation, we set in motion subtle neurological processes that alter our blood flow, activate several glands and produce a chemical cocktail that is released in various organs and changes our physiological systems such as the respiratory or cardio-vascular systems, accelerating or slowing them down.  They also modify electrical impulses in various parts of the brain, and create new combinations and sequences in the neurological pathways.

All these processes remain unnoticed unless by our brain’s unconscious.  However, what we put our attention on, ultimately defines us on a neurological level: we become what we think and our body’s health is related to how and what we think.

Our habitual thinking trains our body to react to  certain habitual chemical processes.  Whatever the chemical releases, they become regular and reach a state of normality over time.  Some however become abnormal. For instance, increased arousal levels caused by adrenalin production, perhaps the result of a stressful life,  can over time lead to cardiac issues.  Yet we do not notice, because these conditions are our level of normal, that is usual and functioning.

Think of similar events occurring over time, such as the daily rush to work, and the way we think and react to this.  Chances are, we think and act in the same manner, time after time, without even noticing, and this in turn creates the same chemical processes that run repeatedly through our body.  Depending on the processes, rushing to work every day can be a fun and relaxing experience that can be nurturing to the body, or detrimental to our health. All depends on the feelings and thoughts associated with ‘going to work’ and the chemicals thus released internally.

Sometimes, we become aware of how we think and how we do things similarly and perhaps, how it may affect our body and our health.  Because we are versatile beings and are capable of thought, we can  then choose to keep our attention on the thoughts, feelings and actions that serve us,as opposed to those that, though once useful to us, we now recognize are detrimental to us.

For instance, placing your attention on pain in the body is beneficial: it tells you that you need to pay attention to an injury or illness, and take appropriate steps to heal.  However, if the pain becomes chronic, or if you worry about it , or get frustrated because the pain impedes your daily life, your focus makes the pain exist even more.  At that point, if you place your attention on something else, the part of the brain that processes body sensations switches off, and the pain goes away or its intensity reduces significantly.  If you pay attention to pain consistently, you wire your neurons strongly toward the pain, and you develop a more acute perception of it. Like a finely-tuned instrument, your body and thoughts are now able to feel the pain even more acutely.

Our attention brings anything to life.  We mold ourselves by the repeated attention we give to something: we are a work in progress, and through experiences, memories, fantasies, all information inputs alter our brain cells by neurologically rearranging and rewiring neural pathways through the various stimuli we get.

In essence, we become what we spend our time mentally attending to.  Hence, the thought that we have the ability to reshape our brain, and thus, reshape our destiny holds true.

Yet, can we unlock the means to manage our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to move from stress and pains toward regeneration and change?

The answer is yes and a stark contrast to older beliefs that the mind is static. 21st Century research shows us otherwise.

We have the neuro-plasticity to “break the habit of being my usual me.”  Our brain can and does evolve and it does so limitlessly.We are able to achieve congruence of thought, feeling, and action, as we move away from a state of stress and reactivity to a state of alert mindfulness.

Through our own stress, we exist in a primitive state of survival, one that limits our evolution.  We experience life, but do not reach our peak. Realising our potential demands alertness, flexibility and health.

Sometimes, we choose to remain in a situation that creates stress: a less than satisfying job, an unhealthy relationship or location, and so on…  Why is it so? Why do we stay in a situation we dislike? Why don’t we change what makes us suffer? We know intuitively that “this is not good for us”, yet we feel unable to change anything about it and “put up with it”.

The response is simple: because not only have we become accustomed to whatever conditions we live in, but we also have mentally become addicted to the emotional states they produce, and our bodies have come to assimilate that the chemical reactions that arouse from that state of being are normal and are to be expected.

As we become stuck in one mindset or attitude, genetics are partially responsible, but we have hardwired a part of our brain through repeated thoughts and actions. And these are difficult to change.

To consider changing is to accept becoming different: we are no longer who we used to be.

We first have to experience something that makes us feel uncomfortable enough to want things to be different, and we sense that to overcome our life conditions, we have to change something in ourselves.

So, how do we overcome this challenge of redefining ourselves? How do we change something in ourselves to create new connections in our brains, new habits, or new approaches to similar events? How do we create the principles upon which, from timid we become bold, from helpless with finances we become confident we can take care of our financial future? How do we move from feeling dissatisfied with our relationship or job, towards a stage where we can change their dynamics, or simply make a decision we may now still fear, that of leaving them?

Overcoming a challenge requires first that we demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances,and second that we adopt new habits, by initially breaking old habits, through the release of encoded memories of past similar experiences that are outdated and no longer apply to, nor serve us in, our present circumstances.

My next article will describe some of the methods we can use to build up will, release old habits and how to rewire our minds for greater efficiency and happiness by achieving congruence of thought, feeling and senses as we learn to integrate senses, thoughts and body responses.

Coaching and counseling can help and support you in this work. How about contacting me for obligation-free information and for assistance in devising a three to ten week plan to help you get there?

MBB (Mind Body Bridging) is the method we will use as you journey to transform your mind. It is a 21st Century modality, used in various medical, psychological and coaching practices, with techniques drawn from the latest findings in neurological science and psychology, and thoroughly tested in clinical settings.

Our Everyday Life Saboteurs

….what they are, where they hide, what they do, and how to train them.

These are the little troublemakers that constantly frustrate our efforts to change our habits, get on with a project, or achieve a goal or an intention. They use subtle, creative and varied methods to get in our way, bring down our best laid out plans and gobble up our good resolutions. But here are ways to deal with them!

“saboteur: inner resistance that we must overcome every time we want to change our lives”

Have you ever started a sports routine and ended up back on the sofa after a few days or weeks of effort to stick to the schedule? Started a diet and then treated yourself to a huge restaurant meal to celebrate having shed a few pounds? Decided on a set of New Year’s resolutions, carried them out maybe a month or two, only to forget them all by March of the same year? Delayed making important decisions about your career, relationship or moving house?

For most of us, the sabotage happens repeatedly in specific areas of our lives. Our saboteurs have a personal profile, and they are very active in matters of health, action and decision making.

Here are some of the areas they love to work in:

• nutritional choices
• exercise
• time planning
• completing projects
• learning new subjects
• keeping a tidy home,
• making important decisions
• being in contact with others
• having the courage of your convictions and standing up for them
• engaging in cultural activities
• taking stock and time for contemplation

and generally…any situation that calls for us to use our will power or confront danger!

Saboteurs have a whole bagful of tricks and tactics. They operate without our even noticing, so we don’t realise that we are unconsciously delaying or forgetting to do things.

One tell-tale of sabotage is when you find yourself coming up with all kinds of excuses to talk yourself out of doing something, the favourite formula being…. “yes, but….” If you listen to your inner dialog, you may hear some of these excuses and tactics that undermine your commitment to act: “it can’t be done” or “it’s too difficult” or “I can’t do that”–or the all time favourite–“I just don’t have the time”.

Another common sabotage tactic is using the call of moral duty and false consideration for others to absolve ourselves from responsibility to act: “people don’t do that sort of things”; “what will they think?”, “I can’t do that to her”.

The next tactic is using conditional tense when formulating a resolution, because there’s no danger of immediate action in sight! That’s when we use the words “should”: “I really should get going” or “I can’t do it yet, first I have to…..”

Of course, that’s not the whole bag of tricks! There many other tactics, such as:

• Playing things down––“It’s not really that important”
• Not taking responsibility––“that’s not my job”, “it has nothing to do with me.”
• Playing things safe––“what if it doesn’t turn out the way I expect?”
• Taking it easy––“Let’s call for a pizza instead of cooking” or “I guess I’ll drive rather than bike this time.”
• Watering your goal down ––“I’ll give it a try…”
• Formulating your goals too vaguely in a non quantifiable way––“I want more money, less stress.”
• Setting up herculean plans by taking on too much or not planning at all––“I don’t know where to begin!”
• Using diversion tactics–– “I’m not in the mood now.”
• Making exceptions––“Having that creamy cake just once won’t hurt my diet.”
• Abandoning your goal––“It’s not worth it, it takes too much effort.
• Sideways glancing––“If he doesn’t need to do it, I don’t either.”
• Playing the victim––“I can’t help it!”…and finally
• Playing the loser––“What’s the point, I can’t seem to do anything right!”

Reading this list, which saboteurs do you recognise as your own favourite tricks when you are faced with decisions and need to act on or stick to a commitment?

Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with our saboteurs and tame them. We can train them, but first we need understand a few things about them. We can’t run away from them or drive them away. We can’t keep them locked up forever, with the firm iron of self-discipline. But we also can’t give up all resistance and let them take over either. Ultimately, we need learn to live with them and tame them to become our best friends.

Our saboteurs are part of our personality structure, and the more pressure we apply to getting rid of them, the more resistance we will meet and the more we’ll have to deal with them. Battling against a part of your personality is battling against yourself. But while we all have certain saboteurs, they are not the whole of who we are. We may need to allow them their place––but not let them rule.

Steps we can take are to make these internal saboteurs our friends are:

• Letting them win from time to time
• Reviewing the way you choose your language, changing “ I have to go to work” to “I am going to work” or instead of saying “I don’t have the time” practice saying “ I don’t want to do that” or “I’d rather do something else”
• Learning ways to self motivate that are neither applying the stick nor giving a carrot. Yes, it is possible to move away from pressure and reward; try using cost and benefit analysis instead!
• Matching an action’s challenges to your current ability to meet them by setting the bar not too high nor too low
• Deciding on it, planning it and then doing it, in a measurable, realistic way
• Practicing with small tasks and then moving on to bigger tasks progressively, to anchor new behaviours and habits

If you want to know more about how to identify your saboteurs, befriend and rally them to your causes, a course of CBT or NLP coaching can be very helpful; these techniques will foster changes in your saboteurs and help you anchor new useful habits for the very long term.

Why not contact me for an obligation-free 30- to 45-minute assessment?

Self Care….not just a holiday activity

It’s midsummer and there’s still plenty of time to plan a break from work and enjoy some well-deserved rest. While you’re at it, you might also take some time to think about ways you can maintain some of that relaxation and self-care in your everyday life even after you go back to your usual routine.

How often do you treat yourself and do something just for you? What things do you do for yourself to stay physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally fit?

Taking time to care for yourself is a mark of self-respect and an affirmation that you value and love yourself! Self-care routines and activities are the supporting framework within which you create and maintain balance in your life. When you take the time to relax, build and preserve your energy, you will find that you are more able to tend to the needs of your loved ones and dedicate effective time to all your various activities and challenges–whether social or emotional. So many factors––healthy self esteem, relationships, and enjoyment of your life––depend on how well you take care of yourself.

The time and space you devote to this self-care is a necessary period of selfishness, which in turn multiplies your ability to give back. Think of it: what kind of support can you offer your partner, kids, friends, or colleagues, if you are ill, fatigued, or depressed? Now think, if you take the time to nurture your health, take some time on your own and dedicate it to uplifting activities, won’t you be stronger and happier and have more resources to share with them?

Here are a few tips for how to take some of that summer holiday spirit and transform it into everyday habits of self-care:

Identify your needs

Ideally, self-care balances out the effects of daily stressors such as office politics, queues at the bank, disagreements with close ones, and the daily activities and obligations––childcare, work, housework, social interactions, etc.

As you go through your day, pay attention to how often you oscillate between states of tension and relaxation. Try to identify the things that make you feel

  • interested
  • engrossed
  • happy
  • calm
  • relaxed

Why not make a list? These do not have to be activities! It may be as simple as the color of your clothing or your bedroom wall, fresh-cut flowers in the living room, a piece of music, a moment of daydreaming by the window, the smell of essential oils. Looking at a drawing, the arrangement of furniture in the dining room, or colorful and shapely utensils in the kitchen. This exercise is about becoming aware of how your environment and activities engage all your senses.

Understand that self-care is not a chore

We all have an intrinsic need for enjoyment in the things we do for ourselves. Whether your self-care activity merely consists in brushing your teeth or deciding to forego sugar in your tea today, enjoy and appreciate that you are doing something healthy for yourself. Guilt and procrastination have no place here.

Start slow, one nurturing activity at a time

Maybe you have never spent much time or thought looking after your own physical and emotional health. The less time you have spent so far taking care of your body, health and mind, the more you have to do now!!!! For some people, self-care may involve nothing short of completely re-engineering your life!

New habits take 3 weeks to anchor and up to 8 weeks to become permanent, especially when you are making a conscious decision to exchange an old habit for another more nurturing one. So, as you decide to start your self-care commitment––whether it’s during your holidays or within your daily routine–– remember that if you start with too ambitious a schedule, you meet with resistance from your own mind. Before you begin, you need not only to explore what good things your new habit will do for you, but also to break down your attachment to an old habit. You will also need to simplify your life by assessing what current activity and behaviour to replace, before you fit in the new one.

But self-care is not just about your daily routine. It is also the decision to act sometimes without planning, on the spur of the moment––for instance getting in the water even though you only intended to walk on the beach, or passing by the massage parlour and deciding to delay your next appointment! Get some spontaneity in your life!

Types of self-care

Self-care involves all aspects of your life–physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It can take many forms, including general fitness and exercise, health, hygiene, nutrition and vitamins, sleep and stress management, life skills, activities and people who bring you pleasure, fun and positive energy, and giving yourself the time and space for quietness and contemplation.

The possibilities are truly endless, and these are but a few suggestions:

Ideas for how to nurture yourself

Physical health –

  • Choose a sport such as biking and swimming or exercising at the gym.
  • Take on yoga or a stretch routine.
  • Sometimes a brisk or leisurely walk will do!
  • Soak in a bath, book a massage, take a nap
  • Sit in the sun for a few minutes

Emotional grounding –

  • Practice yoga breathing exercises
  • Listen to soft, pleasing music
  • Sing, hug someone, share your feelings with a friend
  • Pet your dog or cat
  • Talk to someone as you pretend they are facing you on an empty chair
  • Call a friend

Mental health –

  • Say a positive affirmation
  • Read a book
  • Start writing a diary
  • Express your feelings by  writing a poem or letter
  • Make a to-do list
  • Take practical steps to simplify your life

Spiritual health –

  • Spend a day outdoors connecting with the nature world
  • Meditate on the flame of a candle
  • Pray or talk to your guardian angel
  • Listen to a guided meditation tape

The list is endless!

If you feel that self-care is lacking in your daily schedule, why not book a few coaching sessions to help you examine your values, goals and desires to figure out the steps you can take to develop the foundation of a rewarding self-care routine? Now that’s nurture!