Processing Thoughts and Emotions

You Have The Power To Endure

I frequently talk about Viktor Frankl with my clients. He survived Nazi concentration camps from 1942-1945. His freedom came when his camp was liberated at the end of World War II. A Psychiatrist, he was intrigued by the motivations and actions of himself, fellow prisoners and guards in this unplanned and unwanted research experiment. After the war, he turned his discovery of the power human beings possess to survive horrific experiences into a therapeutic method: Logotherapy.

In the most unlikely of places, Dr. Frankl made a decision to be the best prisoner he could be. He didn’t execute this perfectly as he admits in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning but his intention gave him purpose and the will to surviveHe reasoned if he was able to do this in a concentration camp, then anyone can. As human beings, we have the ability to choose our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes.

My circumstances are not even remotely as challenging as Dr. Frankl’s. Still, I recognize I have the same choices. In simple trivial situations like driving behind a slow vehicle I can get upset about it or relax, recognizing I have no power over the driver. I only have power over myself. I know that unhealthy, illegal and unwise decisions will have a negative impact on me and potentially others so I choose to breathe, be calm, and recognize that my impatience is likely my own responsibility for not leaving enough time for the inevitable slow driver, accident or heavy traffic.

The same goes for the more painful situations in my life. It’s important to note, this doesn’t mean I pretend to be fine. Oh, no! We must be real about the emotions we have in all situations whether trivial or intense. Acknowledge your emotions, understand why you feel what you do, validate your emotions then have a conversation with yourself about what to do. I go into this process in greater length here and here.

Remember, you have the power to decide what you think, feel, say and do in all situations. No one decides that for you.

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Doing and Feeling Balance

Vintage balanceI took a break from everything for a few days over the holidays. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened and it felt awesome! I had to pick up a few dropped pieces afterwards but it was still worth it. Life can get so busy sometimes it’s easy to forget to just be, not do. Sometimes life is so painful we avoid the being so we don’t have to feel; the doing serves as a painkiller of sorts. Some days we need more being and feeling. Some days we need a break from the feeling. Too much feeling can overwhelm us.

Find the balance that works for you of feeling and doing. Everyone is different. Our needs vary. I need a lot of being and feeling. I need time to just sit and ponder. In that space emotion rises to the surface. I identify it, understand it, sit with it, decide what I want to do because of it, then let it go ~ until the next time it shows up. Then I go through the same process. The more I allow myself to intentionally be with my emotions, processing them not just swirling in them haphazardly, the less control my emotions have over me.

Make time to find your balance between doing and feeling.

Categories: Acceptance, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

De-Icing

ice formations in winter streamIt’s that time of year again, the holidays. As with each year since I started blogging I will post holiday-related topics for the next few weeks. Last week was Thanksgiving for those of us here in the States. Generally I have enjoyed my Thanksgiving holiday but not so this year. There were some highlights: gathering together with most of my children and grandchildren, seeing siblings, nieces, nephews, a few cousins, my mother-in-law and my mom. It was a chaotic experience with many people I did not know and that was not enjoyable. Sometimes I am in the mood for conversations with strangers but this year, not so much. This year, I just wanted to be with family. I definitely felt my dad’s absence and that was part of my sadness.

I experienced the strangling of disappointment and anger taking over inside of me. It sucked me down into a  familiar hole. I stayed there for several days. I was less patient with those around me, especially strangers in cars who received eye rolls and shouts of frustration. All of which I’m sure went unnoticed. It felt safer to yell at them. They can’t yell back (or at least I won’t hear them if they do). You know those times when you only want to have one-sided conversations because you are pretty certain a two-way conversation won’t go well? I felt gloomy, eyore-ish, and it’s been hard to get out of it.

I stopped to take stock of the why. My self-care was nearly non-existent while I was away for the week of Thanksgiving. I had been expecting myself to survive on the basics alone and that is not enough for me. On my last day away, I grabbed my husband and our puppy and went on a walk. I griped along the way, getting all that life-sucking poison out. I requested that we leave early (a looming snowstorm sealed that deal for me!) to put an end to this misery. Along the way, we stopped on a pedestrian bridge that overlooked the Roaring Fork River (sounds big but it’s just a stream really, especially in the winter). The clear frigid waters lolly gagged and splashed around huge boulders and scattered tree limbs. Patches of ice formed on the rocks on the downstream side of the bridge while the upstream side, in full sun, remained ice free. Something about that caught my attention. Maybe my heart was like the river. When I am on the downstream side, away from my source for internal warmth, I ice over. It’s harder for me to stay grounded. When I move toward the warmth of my source (in my case, God), the hardness and ice inside of me begin to melt.

But it doesn’t stop there. Ice builds inside of me when I am not getting out on walks, feeling fresh air and sunshine on my skin. I desperately need to soak in nature, do yoga, and spend time in solitude with my thoughts and prayers. Those are my biggies, the most important pieces of my self-care that must be regular ingredients in my life. I had a profound experience of what happens to me when I starve myself. I am working on stabilizing again, turning toward the sun, feeling the ice crystals softening and chunks of ice peeling away from soul. I feel warmth growing again and with it, hope that I will be ok.

Categories: Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, holidays, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Relationships, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Freaked-Out? Sad? Angry?

human_mindNot happy about current circumstances and want to navigate well? You don’t have to just wallow in your misery, you can do something productive. First, clearly identify what you are feeling (anger, sadness, fear…) and the thoughts that are dictating the emotions. Emotions don’t just show up all on their own. They are linked to cognitive thought: you have a thought and an emotion will follow. We sometimes notice the emotion and not the dictating thought so it’s super important to get back to, “Where did this feeling come from?” The reason? If the thought isn’t based in reality, it’s not worth entertaining and neither is the accompanying the emotion. We often feel these not-based-in-reality emotions anyway and develop incredibly unhealthy neural pathways that become ingrained in our brain and feel like a reflex when in fact they are an unhealthy learned behavior that we keep feeding.

For instance: “With this new President-elect, our country is going down the tubes, freedom will be lost, this is horrible!” What is true at this moment that you know for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt? We have a new President-elect. That’s it. We don’t actually know what he will do. We know what he said he will do, but nothing has actually been done yet. Breathe. Remind yourself of what you know for sure. Let go of all the places your mind is going with the “what ifs”. They are crazy-making and completely unhelpful. You can mourn the loss of your candidate if you did not vote for Trump. You can celebrate that your candidate won if you voted for Trump. That’s it. Nothing more. Don’t get too puffed up about all that is going to happen or too depressed about all that is going to happen because–none of it has happened yet. Stay with the here and now and breathe deeply and slowly.

Next, after feeling the emotions based in reality, take a deep breath, splash some water on your face and ask yourself, “Where do I have control? Is there anything I can do about the situation that is healthy, legal and wise?” At the very least, we always have the ability to choose how we are going to react, what kind of attitude we are going to have, if we want to smile and find the joy in our life. Always! Viktor Frankl learned this in a Nazi-run concentration camp during World War II. If he learned this concept in the very worst of circumstances then we can surely do this in our circumstances. I know, if you are reading this, you already have way more freedom and more to find joy in than a concentration camp prisoner.

Now, move on. Surely you have something you need to be doing or could be doing that is productive. Maybe it’s time for a good dose of self-care (something you can do that fills you up in a good way–healthy, legal and wise!). Go for a walk, pet your dog/cat, talk to a friend, listen to music, feel the sun/fresh air, read a book, knit, play piano, write…the list could go on and on. Be good to your body and your mind. Fill up and restore so you can reset. You will deal with whatever happens when it happens and until then, you can take care of yourself, anchor to the present and bring joy into this world in your own unique way 🙂

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Oh Those Pesky Emotions!

steep-mountainIn my line of work, I repeatedly help people identify their emotions. For some, a lifetime of shoving emotions away in an attempt to avoid pain creates the belief that they don’t have emotions. Then I come along and challenge that line of thinking and completely rattle their world. A person enters my office because something isn’t working. It’s possible a spouse, family member, co-worker or friend may have suggested they seek counseling but no matter the why, the person has voluntarily entered my office (I rarely work with court-ordered clients). They embark on a journey that has twists and turns, rocks and ravines, steep hills and eventually a place of inner peace and integration. Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, just more manageable. The person has healthy tools to navigate the challenges that will inevitably come.

Integration means the person will now feel the full experience of life rather than run away from or try to bury the emotions they don’t like. At first this is unsettling because it’s unfamiliar. After time, as feelings become more understood, they are easier to accept, acknowledge and process. Now the person experiences inner peace and the confidence to be fully present in life.

I know this journey! I learned to stuff my emotions because I thought only happiness was acceptable. I cut off so many emotions. When I was challenged to fully feel, I had no idea what I was doing. It took years of therapy, coaching and participating in safe groups to get to the integrated place I experience today. I am not saying I have it all together, just solidly committed to this journey of healing and relishing the freedom I experience today.

Do you want peace, confidence and freedom, too? Get help! We cannot do this on our own. Find a therapist, coach or group that will guide you toward understanding and integrating your emotions. Check out Psychology Today or Theravive to find a therapist/counselor near you. If you live in the Denver/Boulder area you can contact me 🙂 Journey Forward

Categories: Acceptance, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Panic or OK? Mind Over Matter!

I had dental work done last week. I generally don’t like going to the dentist. I don’t like poking, scraping, prodding or pain. After the dreaded shot of novocain, the back of my throat felt like it was swelling to the point where I thought I couldn’t breathe. I was not having an allergic reaction but my mind was telling me to panic. I could feel it starting to take over. Then I remembered to think this through. If I didn’t focus on the swelling sensation, I could take a deep breath through my nose. I put my hand on my stomach and began to take slow, easy, relaxing breaths. I told myself, “You can breathe. You are OK.” The swelling sensation was still there but as long as I kept my focus on “You are OK” then I was OK.

human_mindOur mind is so powerful but we don’t often spend time thinking about how much control we actually have over it. It’s a potent weapon that, when unchecked, can cause devastating damage; however, when we learn how to manage its potency we become Jedi masters (not like we can make things move with our mind but you get the reference!). We can stop intrusive, unhealthy thoughts. We can shift our focus from grumbling to appreciation. We can recognize and live out our own freedom. Life is full and rich and satisfying when we use our brain’s influence for us, not against!

Categories: Acceptance, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“If we take responsibility for our feelings, we can use them to make our relationships better. Our anger is often a signal that someone has wronged us. If we feel that the person who has wronged us is responsible for our anger, we are in trouble. We will stay angry until the other person decides to make it better, and that could be a very long time.”
– Dr Henry Cloud

So, this is the quote I opened when checking my email tonight. This might not seem like anything to write about until you know the circumstances. I got into an altercation with family. As my anger rose and I sequestered myself, I thought I would use the time to check my email. I don’t always open Dr. Cloud’s emails because I get one every single day and I usually don’t have a whole lot of time to check my email so his usually just get deleted. When I saw it tonight I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder what Dr. Cloud has for me…hopefully something relevant,” and I got the quote above. It was awesome! So, I am breathing deeply, acknowledging and owning my anger, understanding it makes sense (based on reality not a made up story), accepting my part in it all and working on letting it go (not an instant action but I am on the right path).

Categories: Growth, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Facebook Blues

I often hear from people who, after perusing Facebook, begin to feel down about themselves and the status of their lives. This is typically a result of seeing your friends in all their shiny glory. People often post the really awesome, fun, exciting, happy moments in their life. The Instagram or Facebook post is just a snapshot of a person’s life; it is not a representation of the whole picture. It is a glimpse of a moment. A moment that peeked within them the desire to let others in on it. It’s possible in the moments just before or just after the one moment you get to see, all hell was breaking loose. Perhaps the day started out with a low but somewhere in all the moments that make up a day, something that felt good happened and rather than share the low, the person chooses to share the good.

You know what I’m talking about because, if you are a Facebook user, you have done this and guess what? It’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with sharing these sweet glimpses of your life. Keep it all in perspective when you are the viewer of other’s posts. Every person on this planet has good moments and bad moments. Some may choose to only see the bad or on the flip side, only see the good. Both views are out of balance.

When you begin to slip into the Facebook Blues because everyone’s life seems so much better than yours, catch yourself. Say STOP! And remember the truth: no one’s life is all good or all bad. Although you may be feeling down at that moment because you are thinking that everyone else’s life is better than yours remind yourself that your emotion is following your thoughts. The emotion does not deserve to be in the front seat driving your life. In this space, notice the sadness or looming depression and remind yourself you have good and bad. All people have good and bad. The shiny isn’t all there is. Deep breath in, deep breath out…close out your Facebook session and go do something that makes you feel good (it must be healthy, wise and legal!) 🙂

Categories: Acceptance, Growth, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Mind: Friend or Foe?

Taking a break from the “I Have A Question” series to remind you about the power of your mind. Most of us, barring any major mental health disorder, can choose what we want to believe. It seems like we don’t but we do…always.

Be aware of your thoughts and notice how they affect your emotions. Emotions follow thoughts. If the thought is negative, the emotion will be, too. For instance, if you make a mistake, then start thinking of every mistake you’ve made and end up in a depressed tailspin, you have chosen to go down an unnecessarily brutal path. Keep your mind focused on the one mistake you just made and use it as an opportunity to learn something. You can be mad but don’t dwell on it for too long.

The dialogue, either audibly or in your head, might sound like this: I totally screwed up the report. Ugh! I am so mad at myself! This is going to take time I don’t have! Ahhhhh! OK, take a deep breath in and out…in and out. Now, what can I do about this and what went wrong? Oh yeah, I didn’t double check my work. I was in a hurry, rushed through it and skipped proofreading. That’s on me. I don’t need to beat myself up over this, that won’t help. Just recognize it and learn from it. Deep breath in and out again…let go of the anger…and move on. I have other things I need to be doing right now and wallowing in this will not help me at all. I am human. I make mistakes. I can learn from my mistakes. Now, I’m going to work on this next task. You will need to repeat this each time the negative thoughts start creeping back in. They are kind of like cockroaches…hard to get rid of but if you’re persistent you will!

If you veer off the path and start recounting every time you screwed up or start telling yourself you are a loser, STOP! That won’t help you one bit. Literally say stop to yourself. Say it aloud if you can and start the above dialogue to get out of the old way. I can tell you from personal experience this works! Every time I use it, I have success and feel so much better. An added benefit is I usually have more clarity and energy to use on productive, life-giving tasks.

The shift is not easy. Meaning it won’t come naturally. We all have many horribly unhelpful neural pathways that are as strong as the fastest highway you can imagine. When we get on this learned neural pathway it seems like it’s a reflex but it isn’t. We learned it over time from a young age. It was likely modeled for us or it’s just part of how we are wired or it’s both. Knowing the origin and working through it can be helpful but you don’t have to in order to change the pathway. Be super intentional. Take this seriously and you will see results!

 

Categories: Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Have A Question About Anger, My Husband And Email

Q: When I’m so mad at my husband I can’t even look him in the eye……I should…..send Back view portrait of a young couple using laptopan email instead!! Works for us. Or even…..a phone call instead. Somehow….not seeing his eyes – I can be more honest. Why does that work, Karen?!?!?

A:  It’s wonderful that you and your husband have found a way to communicate that works for you when you are mad at him. It’s my belief that, while this method works, I wouldn’t recommend it for the long haul. Not being able to work through angry conversations eye to eye is an indicator that your adult communication muscle is weak. That’s not a technical term…just something I’m making up to describe the weakness. When we are little, we don’t have the most mature communication styles. In the ideal scenario our parents and caregivers would be guiding us to become adults. Not just keeping us alive until we get there but coaching us wisely in all manners of life. Few of us got this wise coaching. Many of us fended for ourselves while our parents were busy providing for us or perhaps just providing for themselves…few idyllic childhoods exist.

You can develop this communication muscle by being aware of what’s going on within you, your thoughts and emotions, on a regular basis. Become a good student of you. Another prerequisite is to let your husband know, when all is calm, that you want to try a new way of communicating when you’re mad at him. You won’t be able to do it perfectly so the first few times might sound like, “I’m mad at you and I need to work through this before I can talk to you about it.” He’ll know what you’re doing because you gave him an advance warning.

The next time you are mad at your husband, notice it. Understand what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Tell your husband your findings. If you can’t quite do that at first, let him know you are mad at him and trying the new way but you aren’t ready to talk just then. Let him know you need some time and specify how long: 15 minutes, an hour, a day. While you are away from him figure out what’s going on with you. Use your old way of writing your words down. When you have clarity, take your written words and speak them to your husband face to face. You’ll get better at this over time IF you keep exercising your adult communication muscle!

Note: The information on this blog is opinion only. If you are running into blocks you can’t get past, can’t understand your thoughts and emotions, are overwhelmed by your emotions…anything that is causing you emotional distress, please seek the help of a professional counselor.

 

Categories: I Have A Question, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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