Anger is Ugly

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What is anger to you? 

When I hear whispers of anger and I ask to hear more - people usually say:  I'm afraid of anger.  It's dangerous.  I'll lose control.  It doesn't do any good.  It's destructive.  I don't like to feel it.  It's ugly.  I don't have a right to it.  Women aren't supposed to get angry.

We may judge ourselves or others for being angry.  It may feel scary and out of control.  Hurtful and not helpful.  Many of us know reactive anger.  We usually want to banish it.

But what if we get curious about our anger? 

Anger is an emotion and our emotions are designed to tell us something - they want us to listen.  It's an ingenious way to direct us towards our internal experience.  So instead of running from it, banishing it, or condemning it....let's get curious about it. 

What is our anger trying to tell us?

Like all emotions anger can be primary or secondary

Anger as a secondary emotion is usually covering up for a different emotion.  Usually its covering up sadness/hurt, fear, or shame.  It's much less vulnerable to let anger out than show tears, or feel that gut slamming hit of shame.  More times than not anger rushes up to protect us from tender feelings hiding underneath (usually out of awareness) and can infuse us with a (false sense) of power.

Primary Anger is the Real Deal

Usually this rises if someone crosses a boundary, threatens us, or treats us in a way that is disrespectful or unfair.  It's like an alarm system that alerts us.  This surge of anger lets us know we need to take action or change something.  This energy can generate the courage and determination to stand up for ourselves.

Slow Down and Listen

Either something tender is hidden beneath many layers; or something is going on that is not right. So it's important to pay attention.  If we can identify the emotion accurately, it can lead us to our needs; which then can provide clues as to what needs to come next.

 

Therapy is a place where we slow down and listen.  If you'd like help uncovering what lies inside your anger, I'd love to hear from you.  Please contact me via phone (503.224.6559) or my contact form.

 

 

Five Minutes a Day

I'm a firm believer in the Five Minutes a Day Plan. 

I hear it, I read it, I know it - the well researched benefits of meditation, the positive effects of deep breathing, the pay-off of intentionally setting aside time to be still.  But knowing it and incorporating it can be two totally different things! 

My Recipe for Getting the Ball Rolling

It helps me to keep in mind some of the specific ways this is of benefit:

Meditation:

  • The brain and body undergo structural changes that promote relaxation
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves the immune system
  • It relaxes the amygdala - so emotional stability improves
  • Reduces stress and increases happiness & concentration
  • Decreases loneliness and increases compassion
  • Increases self-awareness and slows down reactivity

Breathing:

  • Calms the nervous system
  • Reduces tension and anxiety
  • Releases endorphins, body's natural pain-killers
  • Increase in oxygen provides energy
  • Can be an instant and quick "re-set"

How Do I Fit it All in?

The days are stacked full of to do's.  We are supposed to exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, work, and all the other life obligations.  So just the act of trying to fit it into our busy days can in and of itself feel stressful.  It feels like one more thing on my list or I literally can't see where to fit it in.

Just Five Minutes, Really?

So my remedy for that is to just promise yourself 5 minutes every day.  While you may read that 20 minutes a day is necessary for benefits - I think setting a daily practice is the first step and what's most important now.  And I have to say if I just have to find or schedule 5 minutes, that feels doable - both in terms of fitting it into the day, as well as combatting the resistance to sitting still!  Doing it every day makes all the difference - you will reap benefits by sticking with that plan.  And once you've got that down, you may be so inclined to gradually creep up the minutes that you carve out for yourself.

Resources

Here are a few sites I like regarding the benefits of meditation:

Huffington Post Article

Emma Sappala Article

Art of Living Article

Here is a site I like that demonstrates a few simple breathing exercises - my favorite is the 4-7-8 exercise:

Andrew Weil Site Article

 

If you would like to explore these ideas further, feel free to contact me at 503.224.6559 or submit a contact form.

 

Make Space For Yourself

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What is Self-Care? 

Self-care can mean going to yoga, massage, flowers, a hot bath, or a girls night out.  But when I talk about self-care, I am thinking of:

Simply allowing ourselves to be human. 

The Ultimate Self Care derives from the deliberate intent to make space for this. 

That means when I come home after a really long hard day and I'm exhausted to the bone - I ask my partner to take the kids for 20 minutes while I lie down for a rest; or if I'm not in the mood to go out after work, I decide to tell my friend "no thanks"; or I choose to take time alone to work on my project, even if that means less time with my family that day.

It can feel practically impossible to carve out that space when others are around: their needs usually trump ours.  But an invisible barrier emerges from our own insidious voice.  It warns us if we admit we need this space, then we are acknowledging: "I cannot do it all; I get worn out; I do need a break; my body needs restoration; I'm not always able to be ON". 

In other words, I am simply human. And yet somehow I cannot let myself be human. Why not?  The rational mind may say yes!  But our powerful core beliefs deliver these messages instead:

  • I'm weak
  • I'm letting people down
  • I'm not capable
  • I'm not a good mom/spouse/partner/friend
  • I'm not loving enough
  • It's selfish
  • It's not safe

However, if we can let ourselves be human and carve out space for these simple human needs, we may be surprised by the freedom, lightness, space that opens up inside of us.  It is not sustainable to ignore ourselves - and ultimately we pay the price.  Somewhere down the road.

The path to well-being begins when we notice and make space for ourselves. 

To be tired.  For our body to hurt.  To need a quiet night.  To have 10 minutes for a cup of tea.

Can you start with these little steps? 

  • When you notice that you feel tired, sit down for 5 minutes
  • When you notice you feel stressed, listen to a soothing song with your earbuds
  • Set your alarm 3 times a day, to stop, put your hand on your heart and take 3 deep breaths

These steps do not involve asking something of anyone else.  We can start here - by noticing, taking a small step to soothe, comfort, decompress -- to ease your way into making space for yourself.

If you feel drawn to carving out space for yourself, I'm happy to explore that with you. Please give me a call at 503.224.6559.

 

My Favorite Season

With the start of Fall, I find myself taking inventory:  Along with the falling leaves, what do I need to let go of?  As I look forward to the energy of the crisp air, what new beginnings stir within?

I've had quite a hiatus from this blog.  And it is interesting how the rhythms of daily life can feel like an undertow.  Continuously pulled along and perhaps a bit under by the tasks at hand - the day to day responsibilities of life. 

When I say "pulled under", I mean automatically going along without pausing to ask:

  • Am I connected to myself right now? 
  • Am I in alignment with my vision, my integrity, my core beliefs?
  • Am I aware of my energy level, my needs, my emotions, my body?

As I see how many months have passed since I wrote I am aware of the cost of the undertow.  I'd rather set my course, than be pulled along.  I'm ready to pause and reset: to let go of being on automatic pilot; to let go of ignoring myself.

In this new beginning, I determine where I will set my focus.  To engage with my feet firmly planted, feeling the earth underneath, grounding me in this moment, this day.  So I can set my intention: what matters most to me today - right now?

Then yes, I must still attend to the tasks at hand - yet also make space for even the tiniest step towards my intention:

  • pull up my website
  • review my list of blog ideas
  • watch/read to inspire
  • spend 15 minutes free-hand writing
  • gather photos to use
  • remind myself it doesn't have to be brilliant or perfect, so just dive in!

We have the potential to create our lives - in each moment.  We may stray, but we can always come back.

Gosh Darn it, I'm Worth It!!!

So here come those ridiculous affirmations again. I can certainly understand how many of you may be suspicious about the idea of affirmations. Even without Stuart Smally, they can seem like a waste of effort.  But I want to share with you a way to set up an Affirmation Practice that is actually quite powerful.

When I first opened myself up to a practice of affirmations, I thought it was just about writing the affirmation down x number of times morning and night.  Keep doing that and the magic will happen…well, not exactly.

How to Set up an Affirmation Practice (FIT Part 2)

Two Types of Affirmations: Set an Intention or Deconstruct a False Negative Belief.

How to Set An Intention: Call up a quality that reflects how you want to be in the world that you can access inside yourself, such as, “I center myself with grace and ease.” It can be something that arises naturally in certain moments, or that you have worked to cultivate within you.

How to Deconstruct False Negative Beliefs – I learned this from Jen Sincero. Here’s how it works:

  • Find the belief, “I’m not a good teacher because I don’t get through to the kids.”
  • Now you ask – Is this true? Look for evidence you have that disproves this.
  • Next come up with examples where you did get through to the kids. Recall specific incidents.
  • Then write a Statement of Truth:  “When I connect with the kids one on one, they learn the material”.

Feel Into It

So – you come up with the intention or the affirmation.  Then what you do is recall that memory of when it happened.  Again make it come truly alive:

The teacher remembers her student and what they worked on and how the student’s face lit up because he finally got a concept he’d struggled with for so long – and the teacher felt an excited energy, a warmth in her heart, a huge smile on her face – she felt capable, effective, proud, and happy for herself and the student.

Now she calls all of this up – and she puts her hands where she feels these sensations in her body – and she activates those feelings – she makes it as alive as possible and again breathes into it – she may say these words out loud.  All the while, she feels into it.

What’s the Point?

  • Regenerates these feelings in the body
  • This shifts pathways in the brain
  • As you practice this, you can activate these feelings in times of stress, worry, or self-doubt
  • For those of you who believe in the forces of the Universe, it sends out a vibration to the Universe that it can respond to in kind.
 If you have any questions about my therapy practice, or want to learn more about this, I’m happy to share more with you – give me a call at my NW Portland counseling office, 503.224.6559.

Feel Into It...

How many of you remember this from SNL?  We used to joke about this incessantly – it certainly echoed what people felt about doing affirmations – utterly ridiculous– laughable & completely ineffective – obviously.

And of course, I thought this too.  Yet, as I come across people I consider teachers on my spiritual path, I have discovered something very powerful.  I like to think of it as “Feel Into It” (FIT).

This FIT applies to any practice (Gratitude, Loving-kindness, Affirmations) as well as achieving goals, building confidence, identifying feelings/needs, and strengthening our intuition/inner wisdom.

What do I Mean by “Feel Into It”?   It’s All in the Body!

Let’s take the Gratitude Practice, for example:
When you write down your 5 gratitudes at the end of the day, instead of just listing them, try pausing at each one, and really Feel Into what it actually felt like at the time.  Let’s say I had shared a sweet moment with my daughter that was warm, close, and loving.  I can call up that memory – relive it – and bring up the way it felt in that moment, and notice what I feel in my body as I reflect.  It could be that my heart area feels warm or expansive, or I feel an alive energy in my core, or a calm and easing of tension in my shoulders.  Then I can sit with that feeling and let it expand inside me as I breathe into it.

What’s the Benefit Being Fully Present?

When we call the active feelings up into our bodies, it actually comes alive again inside our bodies.  And we receive the beneficial effects from that earlier moment – It can trigger the release of dopamine and oxytocin which has a calming and feel good affect (we feel that sense of peace or contentment or love).

So you get a double-dose – the time when the event occurred and then recreating it again as you also layer on the feelings of gratitude for it.

Perhaps you have heard that our brain is like velcro to negative events: doing this counteracts that wiring. It is a way to increase our attention and focus on “positive” events that feel good in our bodies. It strengthens those pathways in the brain.

Most importantly, as you get more proficient at this, you can call this up to help change your state if you are feeling anxious or scared or sad. So doing this allows you to mindfully choose where to direct your attention and shift your energy.

The key is feeling it inside the body – making it come alive again.

If this speaks to you or sparks your curiosity, I’m happy to talk more in-depth about it with you.  Feel free to give me a call at 503.224.6559 to schedule an initial counseling session at my NW Portland office.

The Critical Mind - What is it? Do I Have One of Those?

Just what is this Critical Mind?

People often think of it as:

Self-Doubt.  Self-Critic.  Judging Mind.  Not Believing in Myself.   Being Too Hard on Myself.

What are the Clues to tracking down the Critical Mind?

It may attack in the form of:
    •    drip drip drip – like a slow leaky faucet or
    •    pow! – a punch in the gut or
    •    silent & stealth – completely undetected like lethal gas
It can leave you feeling:
    •    jabbed by sharp little pokes
    •    heavy, weighed down, & sluggish
    •    cranky & angry like hornets
    •    overwhelmed & out of control like being sucked into a tornado

This Critical Mind generates judgments and criticisms about how we don’t measure up.

Most of us have some form of this.  The volume may be turned up or turned down.  The frequency may be high or low.  It is typically experienced as a Voice in our head.

The Voice says words like: stupid, idiot, ugly, fat, failure, weak, show-off, freak, boring, lazy, careless

The Voice generates these kinds of thoughts: you could have done better, you screwed that up, you let them down, what’s wrong with you? you’re out of control, you’re not doing it right, you’re too shy/loud/ uptight, you are not good enough, nobody likes you, you should be able to, you should have known.

The Voice has power because it feels like this Voice speaks The Truth.

How do we get this Critical Mind?

The Critical Mind is formed by the internalization of messages from important people in our past.  It primarily comes from messages (either spoken or unspoken) by our parents.  Sometimes others like teachers or cruel peers leave their trace as deposits in the Critical Mind.

When we are children we are defenseless against this – we are like little sponges and we absorb everything that comes our way.  The messages may come in a direct verbal form like, “you screwed that up!” or indirect like, “if you had done it this way, you wouldn’t have fallen down.”  We especially absorb non-verbal messages and energy.

A key piece here is the concept of internalization – those external messages transform inside us to become our own internal voice.  Moreover, it is actually so much a part of us, that typically, we don’t even notice its presence.  But we feel its effects whether we notice it or not.  And herein lies the danger, if you will.

Who Me? Couldn’t Be!

Sometimes people are adamant that this voice does not exist inside — and again that is because this voice is so sneaky and so integrated into who we are that it operates under the radar.  But when people begin directing their awareness to pay very close attention, they can detect the traces of this harsh voice.  This discovery can be surprising, overwhelming, and painful.

The good news though, is that this detection allows you to start working with the antidote to the Critical Mind.  This is one of the cornerstones of my counseling practice – if you would like to learn more about working with this antidote, feel free to set up a therapy appointment at my office in NW Portland by calling me at 503.224.6559.

 

How Do You "Do" Self- Compassion?

How do you “do” Self-Compassion when you notice the Critical Mind?

OK, perhaps you are game to experiment with this Self-Compassion business – but you are not sure how.  So let’s say your awareness has caught that harsh voice criticizing you – and it weighs you down, or punches you in the gut, or leaves you feeling prickly.  How do you work with that?

Specifically, you could say to yourself in a soft and kind voice, “This is so hard right now.  I am really struggling with this.  When I make a mistake, I beat myself up. It’s hard for me to make mistakes.”

I think for most of us, this is extremely challenging:

  • It may feel false or insincere – like you have to fake it
  • It can make you feel silly or it seems ridiculous
  • It is hard to see how doing this is helpful in the least

Frankly I think doing this seems so hard because it opens us up to feeling vulnerable.  And most of us did not receive this kind of care growing up.  So we don’t really get how to go about it – and it feels foreign and uncomfortable.

 

How to Get Started with Self-Compassion

So how do you get there? How do you get started? How do you embark on this path of Self-Compassion?

1.  Start Simple — when you notice you are being hard on yourself – pause, take a long slow deep breath, (maybe two or three even), try to modulate your voice to be softer, practice saying to yourself, “This is really hard.”  or“I am having a hard time right now.”  That’s it – stop there for now.

If you just do that, you have made huge strides. This is a practice – like yoga or meditation – keep coming back to it, just like every breath comes over and over again.

2.  Acknowledge your doubts that come up or the discomfort that you may feel.  For example, you can say to yourself, “This feels silly – I’m not sure if this is doing any good”.  Naming it helps ease our “resistance” to it.

3.  Try a little tenderness –You could also rest your hand on your heart or give yourself a hug or a caress.  The research shows that physical touch even from yourself to yourself releases the oxytocin hormone – which promotes relaxation, and reduces anxiety and stress.

4.  Meditate – You could also start doing a loving kindness meditation.  At first, you may not feel a noticeable type of benefit.  However, it does start to change the wiring in your brain – it helps lay down the grooves for a practice of self-acceptance & self-love, and taps into the energy of accessing loving kindness in this form.

I love helping people apply this in their own life when I’m working with them in therapy.  If you ‘d like to talk about how to do that, call me (503.224.6559) at my NW counseling office so we can consult over the phone.

The Road to Self-Compassion

Why do We Need Self-Compassion?

I think it surprises people when they first start paying attention to the Critical Mind – how pervasive that negative voice in their head really is. Unfortunately, being angry with ourselves for falling short damages our sense of self: it can lead to depression, anxiety, and relentless stress.

We do have a tool to help us change this: our Awareness.  When we slow down, get still, stay curious, and notice mindfully (without judgment), we interrupt that cycle of the Critical Mind eroding our sense of self.

And this puts us in a place where we can open ourselves up to Self-Compassion.

Self-Compassion takes the Awareness to a deeper level that promotes resilience: it enables us to take charge of our own healing.

When I mention Self-Compassion many people balk – initially it can be hard to swallow:

  • If I am too soft on myself I won’t get anything done
  • That sounds too touchy-feely/woo woo for me
  • I understand the value, I just can’t see myself doing that

But what exactly do I mean when I say Self-Compassion?

It is a way to take care of ourselves with love and kindness.  When we practice Self-Compassion, we are actively “seeing” ourselves and demonstrating that our hurt or struggle matters.  We give ourselves the attention and care we needed, but often did not receive growing up.

I love what Kristin Neff, PhD says:

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

In this clip, she shares what she considers to be a few important nuggets of Self-Compassion:

 

And Christopher Germer, PhD asserts that mindful self compassion is the foundation of emotional healing.

Practicing self-compassion promotes joy, peace, and vitality.  In my counseling practice, I love helping people add more self-compassion in their lives.  Please give me a call at 503.224.6559, if this speaks to you.

Awareness: A Magic Trick to Tame that Wild Voice in Your Head

 

Do you ever find yourself with these kinds of phrases running through your head?

  • “I just blew it again in front of my boss”
  • “look at my hair – what a disaster”
  • “if I say that, I’ll sound like a complete idiot”

These words may blast out like a cannon, or slink in surreptitiously, or grind away like a dishwasher churning in the background.  This is the work of the Critical Mind: it catches every little mistake, is highly opinionated, and ultimately ensures that we feel like we are no good unless we get it right every time.

This insidious voice chips away at our well being by belittling, questioning, nagging, and berating us.  It usually runs wild & free, completely unchecked.

 

How can you tell if you’ve got one of these on the loose?

Perhaps you:

  •  find that others’ opinions matter more than your own
  • compare yourself to others
  • second guess yourself more than you’d like

Or it may be true that:

  • you have high expectations of yourself and others
  • when things don’t go according to plan, it is hard to reset yourself

You may notice that you feel:

  • pressured, stressed, tense, angry
  • low level depression, heavy, feeling numb
  • hopeless, fear, feel like giving up

The Critical Mind’s lethal weapon is our ignorance of its damaging presence.  That means its in our hands to tame this voice and take back our power.  We do this with the magic recipe of Awareness, Gratitude, and Self-Compassion.

 

How to Take Back Your Power

Awareness is where it’s at.  It is a simple and magical solution because it can stop the Critical Mind right in its tracks.  The way this works is like this:

  • First, set an intention to pay attention to that voice in your head
  • Be curious – you want to get to know how this voice works
  • As you pay attention, you will begin to notice what this voice says to you
  • At that moment, slow down and note to yourself what you just heard

For example, when you notice that you just told yourself you were stupid for dropping your keys – you can then pause here for a moment – as if you just saw a bloom on a flower that you never noticed before, and you can say to yourself – “oh look at that, I just told myself I was stupid for dropping my keys”.

The most important piece of this is to make that observation without judgment – if your tone can be neutral that works, or even better if the tone can have some kindness or softness to it.

 

Applying the Practice to Daily Life

When you make that observation without judgment you have just stopped Critical Mind in its tracks. Because, in that moment, you have just stepped out of it instead of being sucked in without realizing it.  Like if all of a sudden you get cut off in traffic, and you are yelling and angry (this is being sucked in) – but then if you pause and notice with curiosity, “gee I’m getting pretty riled up here” – you are no longer caught up in it.

Practicing awareness like this is the first and most powerful step of neutralizing the Critical Mind. You can think of it as a mindfulness practice – where you will come back to it over and over – being curious, being present, practicing being neutral.

Your challenge this week is to set an intention for increased awareness so that you start noticing when and where that voice pops up in your life.

Now that you’ve encountered the first ingredient in this magic recipe, feel free to check out the next ones in my blogs.  Or if your curious about how we can work with this in therapy, give me a call to talk about coming in for a counseling session.