Posts Tagged With: fear

You Always Have A Choice!

Viktor Frankl space choose

What I love about these words from Viktor Frankl is the clear communication that we have a choice. We can choose how we are going to respond or what we are going to think or how we are going to act. Now I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like we have a choice but that is an illusion. Unless you have a diagnosable brain malfunction that makes it literally impossible to choose, you can choose. Viktor Frankl survived being a prisoner at Nazi concentration camps in the 1940’s. I think he knows what he’s talking about. Think about your circumstances, how they seem so awful and you think you don’t have a choice about how you respond. Now think about being in a concentration camp where you literally have no visible choices. Dr. Frankl has communicated to us from real life experience that we always have the ability to choose how we will respond in any circumstance.

What is it that you are facing right now that you think you don’t have a choice? Is it true you don’t have a choice? Do you have to yell at your partner because you are so angry that she won’t listen to you? Do you have to believe you are not enough because that’s the message others have told you? Do you have to go on ruminating on everything you have to do because that’s what you’ve always done? The answer to all three and many more is, No! You get to choose. Right now you can choose to believe that you have value and worth. You do. Simply because you exist, you matter. You can choose a healthier way to communicate your frustration with your partner. You can stop those runaway-train-like thoughts. You really can. I know all of these for a fact because I have done each one.

It seems really hard at first to start choosing and not being a victim to the world around you. Don’t give up. Stay with it. If you find you need help, then reach out for it. You may need a counselor/therapist. Go for it! You have a choice there, too. 🙂

Categories: Boundaries, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Parent-wounds, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Clinging to the Present

At times in our journey through life, it becomes increasingly more difficult to live in the present. We don’t know what is going to happen regarding our health, our finances, our children, or relationships. Much of life is out of our hands, so what do we do? Continue to live in the knowledge of this moment. No matter what is happening. Your boyfriend may be ending his interest in you, your daughter may be moving hundreds of miles away, your bank account may be draining rapidly without much hope of deposits, your job may be on a precarious ledge. We may react to these occurrences with fear or perhaps sadness, and that’s ok. Keep your focus on the emotion connected to the in-the-present situation. It’s sad when a loved one leaves or ends a relationship with us, it’s scary when we aren’t sure how things will work out for us.

Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you can get through this. Talk to good, trusted friends about how you are feeling and ask to be held accountable to not creating stories about how your situation will end. Remember that rearview mirror? You have made it to today. You will make it through the next breath. That is your focus, this breath, this moment.

I’m feeling this right now. My daughter and I are heading back to North Carolina for a check-up. She is not doing well. She has lost 10-15 pounds since we returned home, she is lethargic and not feeling well. She has done what she can to let her transplant coordinator know of her situation without any concern from her. Maybe all is well. I do not know. I can only look at what I see, feel my fear, take a breath and let it go. We will have answers in about a week. I will deal with the answers when we get them. Until then: No stories, feel my fear for a moment then let it go as I take a long, slow deep breath. The God of the universe is in control, I can rest knowing that whatever the answers are, He will help me.

Categories: Depression, Growth, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Freedom from Expectations

I’m having surgery on my foot in a few days.  Several people have asked me if I am nervous about it.  I’m not at the moment.  I think about the surgery now and then.  I remind myself that I will most likely be in a lot of pain for awhile.  I don’t know how long.  I don’t know how intense the pain will be.  I don’t even know if I will come out of the anesthesia.  Chances are I will.  I don’t know if the surgery will solve the pain that is the impetus for the surgery.  So many unknowns before me create a state of curiosity, not fear (most of the time) courtesy of an adventure to Afghanistan in 2010 with a humanitarian organization.  I participated in training prior to our departure to prepare for the cultural differences I would experience.  One of the trainers suggested a technique to help rid our minds of expectations.  The technique was useful as I entered a land and culture completely new to me with a sense of awe but few expectations.  This approach meant I could not be disappointed as I had no idea what to expect.  Each moment filled in the color and shape on my canvas until, at the end, I had a complete picture of my experience that was filled in moment by moment.  Only a small portion needed to be erased and then filled in with reality because reality was the majority of that which existed on the canvas.  It was a powerful lesson.

I have used this technique many times since that adventure.  I teach it to my clients as well.  It is what I call the Blank Canvas approach.   When I have unknown situations approaching I visualize them as a blank canvas, which for me is actually a meadow that has been untouched by human hands.  It has no paths through it, just gently swaying meadow grass, groves of Aspen trees, and high alpine flowers.  The sky is a crisp, rich high altitude blue, with a few wisps of cotton ball clouds in the sky.  It’s the perfect summer day in my sweet Rocky Mountains.  This visualization replaces my fear with peace. It becomes the springboard for any upcoming adventure into the unknown.  It is from this place that I begin my journey into a space I have never travelled and I get to see it unfold before me.  I do not  bulldoze my meadow and fill it in with manmade experiences, rather, I use the meadow scene to bring my mind back to a peaceful state prior to my experience.  As soon as the moment of the new experience starts I shift my mind to simply taking that experience in and letting the pieces fall into place one by one, creating a whole new memory for me.

Back to surgery.  I am focusing on my peaceful meadow.  I’m getting my prescriptions filled, stocking the kitchen with healthy, body nourishing, comfort food (are healthy and comfort an oxymoron when referencing food?), cleaning the house, doing laundry and in general preparing for the days of inactivity ahead of me; all the while not really knowing what I’m going to feel or experience.  There’s a balance between preparation and freedom from expectations.  It’s a precarious and attainable balance.

Categories: Boundaries, Depression, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vulnerability Leads to Freedom

I have mentioned in previous posts about my participation in John Townsend’s Counselor Training Program. I’m with talented people who inspire me to grow. We get down deep into our own issues, letting all parts of ourselves rise to the surface in a sweet dance of vulnerability. I have a history of being a people-pleasing, perfectionistic co-dependent. In December, Dr. Townsend gave us a chance to practice leading a role-play method of group counseling. I really wanted to take a shot at it, but I felt a lot of fear as I blurted out, “I’ll volunteer!” Dr. Townsend sensed my fear and asked me about it. Over the next ten minutes tears streamed down my face while I faced the group and let them know how fearful I was of their judgement and rejection. It was a pivotal moment for me. After hearing authentic affirmations from the group, I dried my tears and bumbled my way through leading Dr. Townsend on a mock role-play. After the initial fear died down, I felt exhilaration coursing through my veins. I got into it and put aside any need for approval. It didn’t matter if i did it “right”. I was totally open to the journey of learning, not the destination of perfection. In that moment I crossed the threshold into freedom. This was one of those experiences that you simply must have for yourself to fully grasp the power of that moment. Some of us get so locked into wondering what others want and trying to please them, that we miss out on actually living our own life. That is not how we must live. For me, freedom was found in opening up with a trusted group and sharing my deeply ingrained fear of rejection. Vulnerability was the path and genuine acceptance of me, flaws and all, was the antidote.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

An Alternative to the Emotional Band-Aide

There’s an interesting belief out there that we can “fix” our emotions so that we don’t feel sad, angry or afraid. Some people say, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I love that song,  it’s fun, catchy and upbeat. It does put me in a good mood when I hear it BUT that is not the answer to my fear. Just pretend it’s not there? I don’t think so. Some say, “Count to ten and then your anger will go away.” Yes, that can be a useful technique to keep one from doing something hurtful to another, but it is not the answer for why the anger is there in the first place. If you are sad you might hear, “Just think of how good your life is compared to someone worse off than you.” And that is supposed to lift your sadness? While each of those phrases has been useful to some, not one of them addresses the deeper need of the person or the emotion. Each is more of a band-aide to get through the moment and pretend you’re fine.

These ideas of getting rid of our emotions exist in varying forms in different cultures and spiritual beliefs. I am a believer in God. I am focused on yielding to God and allowing him to work through me, to change me, to guide me into becoming a person who genuinely loves with my words and actions. My growth on this journey does not mean that now I don’t feel anymore. In fact, I feel more deeply now than when I lived on autopilot: doing things my way but not consciously. Sometimes I hear people say that to heal from our sadness, anger or fear, we must pray more, read more, draw closer to God. I believe all of those are helpful in connecting with God, gaining a deeper understanding of who he is and who we are in relationship to him; however, they are not the antidote to our emotional states.

I believe the “antidote” to our emotional state is found in acknowledging that it is there, not in attempting to get rid of it. It is the concept of acceptance. Accept where you are at the moment. Identify it. Ask yourself the question, “What am I feeling?” In Anger and Sadness and Fear, Oh My! I wrote about the emotion clusters and challenged readers to come up with emotion identifiers. This would be a good time to use those. Look at the range of words describing joy, anger, sadness and fear then determine which one best captures where you are at in that moment. Say it aloud to yourself, “I feel intimidated right now.” This helps create a connection with your emotion.

In understanding ourselves better and developing greater awareness, it’s important to look at our cognitive (thought) state in addition to our emotional state. To do this, ask yourself what you have been thinking or what just happened that may be connected to the emotion you are feeling right now. In my example of feeling intimidated, I would check in with why I might be feeling that.  For example, perhaps I just had a conversation with another counselor who seemed to have a much better understanding of the theoretical foundations of therapy. An automatic response for me in that type of situation is to think less of myself. That would explain why I was feeling intimidated.

Now that I understand the connection between my experience and my feelings, it’s imperative that I validate my emotion. Does it make sense that I feel intimidated when I perceive someone to be intellectually superior to me? Yes, it does. Sure, there are words of encouragement we might say to someone else or to ourselves to “make us feel better” but now is not the time. If we jump to that, we perpetuate the band-aide mentality and we don’t get to the root of the problem. At this point, let yourself feel what you are feeling. I would then notice the intimidation, what it feels like, and explore why I’m feeling it. “I feel less than, like I’m just not good enough.” Now we are getting to a root.

Where does this come from, this belief that I am not good enough? For me, I didn’t get noticed very much as a child. My parents provided my basic needs for survival but forgot about my emotional needs. I spent most of my life trying to be enough for others and incorrectly figuring out what I needed to do in my quest for acceptance. In a situation with someone I perceive as superior to me, I go to a deflated state. I feel hopeless because I think, “I can’t compete here. I’ll never be enough for this person.” This is where I need to do some work. For me, this required working with a therapist to not only understand these connections all the way back to my foundations but to get outside perspective on what’s true versus the incorrect and damaging beliefs I perpetuate. I’m not so sure this can happen in a vacuum. I firmly believe we need to bring professional help into this part of our healing.

Now that you understand the why’s behind the thought and the emotion, you can continue with the healing process. As I’m standing there, aware of my emotion of intimidation – a mix of fear, sadness and anger – I can address it. It might sound a bit like this for me: “Ah, yes here you are. That part of me that feels less than. You showed up when I was little and I tried to make sense of the world on my own. If I’m not good enough then I have to beat myself up. From the beat up place, I decide I don’t like this person. She made me feel bad about myself, she’s the enemy. That way I don’t have to be around her, because now she’s “bad” in my eyes, and I can bring myself back up to “good.” That is my unhealthy response.  The truth is, I may not be as smart as this person, but that does not define my worth. I can appreciate this individual’s brilliance on the subject of therapy, be thankful that our civilization has people who know more than I do, and still value what I bring to the table. Each of us has something to offer that makes the world a better place. For some, their contribution is more visible than others, but that doesn’t alter in any way the value we each bring to one another. Ahhh, that intimidated feeling is dissipating and I can begin to hear this person without the distraction of my “less than belief” getting in the way.”

Without using a band-aide, this process encourages feeling our emotions and moving forward.  The identified emotion and the discovered thought behind it create a connection for why the emotion rose to the surface.  The underlying beliefs that triggered the emotional response were addressed and brought into a healthier focus.  With a view that is based more in reality, the emotion began to disappear.  The fuel that sparked the emotion is gone for now, replaced by an understanding of the hurtful reality of the spark.

This process, while incredibly freeing, is not easy and does not happen overnight. It takes professional help and repetition to become adept at utilizing the process. After about 8 years of walking on this awareness path, I am much better at using the skill I have described. I don’t use the skill flawlessly and I don’t use it all the time. I do not encourage perfection as the goal, just a general trend toward positive change and growth.  The next time you are aware of an emotion you are feeling, feel free to give this awareness technique a try.  Remember, you may need a counselor who advocates awareness or mindfulness and looking at your past to help you understand why you are responding the way you are.  Here’s to no more band-aides!

Disclaimer: There are some emotional states that require medication not this process to find healing.  In those circumstances, please seek the help of a mental health professional.

Categories: Depression, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anger and Sadness and Fear, Oh My!

The common thread here is emotions and our dread of them.  People generally like to feel good.   We are most comfortable with the emotions that fall in the joy realm.  I adhere to the belief that there are four main clusters of emotion: fear, sadness, anger, and joy.  Any given emotion might be purely in one cluster or a combination of two or more.  I use the word “cluster” because under each heading are many variations of that emotion.  Anger can be frustration, irritation, or infuriation, just to name a few.

When we feel emotions that fall into the joy category, we have a pleasant sensation associated with them.  All is well in the world or at least we are content with where things are.  We want this emotional state to remain constant and will sometimes ignore reality in an attempt to stay there.  Some of us try to medicate to maintain a sense of joy.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, humans are capable of feeling all emotions.  Emotions are not something to be feared.  They are a barometer of sorts indicating our reaction to something that has happened or words we have heard.  Our emotional response gives us the opportunity to attune to an internal boundary that indicates our preferences, what we are ok with or not.  If someone important to us dies it is normal to feel sad.  A person we liked is gone and we cannot be with that person any more.  Our barometer says, “This does not feel good to me” and the natural response is sadness.  If a person stops suddenly in front of us while we’re driving, we might respond with anger, “It is not OK with me if you put my life in jeopardy.”  It’s appropriate to feel that.  (How we respond to our emotions is an entirely different topic that I will address at another time.)

If the entire emotional realm  is one which you attempt to avoid, I challenge you to give it a bit of thought.  Think of all the words you can to describe each cluster heading: fear, sadness, anger, and joy.  Notice how the words you come up with describe degrees of intensity.  It might also be helpful to give some thought to the idea that our emotions are a barometer.

The topic of emotions is vast.  We are just skimming the surface at this point.  Consider this Emotions 101.  There will be more blogs to come addressing this far-reaching territory.

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