After a traumatic experience, it may feel like triggers are everywhere. Sights, sounds, smells, places, or even thoughts that remind you of what happened can suddenly send you spiraling. If you get too heavily triggered, you may even flashback and feel as if the traumatic event is happening all over again.
No wonder avoiding triggers can become a habit. Nobody wants to be retraumatized. At least to some degree, avoidance can be necessary and helpful at times, but what happens when it becomes your main strategy for coping with triggers?
When we avoid things that cause us anxiety, we’re essentially teaching our brains that we can’t handle whatever it is we’re avoiding. Your brain learns the following:
Triggers = Anxiety
Avoidance = Instant Relief
Instead of draining triggers of their power to cause panic, avoidance heightens the association between triggers and danger, which increases anxiety and makes you want to avoid even more. And the more you avoid, the more limited your life becomes.
So how do you keep avoidance from taking over your life without getting overwhelmed and retraumatized by all the triggers? It takes a balance. By working with a therapist, you can begin learning new tools for managing triggers, that way avoidance is no longer the only means of relief.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being a therapist has a lot of perks, one of those being the countless opportunities for introspection. Being able to sit with negative, painful, and intense emotions is a part of the job description. I will shamelessly admit that at one point, this was my Achilles heel. In my early days of therapy, witnessing clients experiencing difficult emotions was uncomfortable for me. My instinct was to “fix it.” I wanted to make it better, make it go away, paint over it with an inspiring phrase or motivational quote, deflect, or better yet, lighten the mood with a good ol’ joke. Not cool.
You see, the problem was that I had an unhealthy relationship with my own emotions. I was unable to tolerate distressing emotions and had in turn developed a number of strategies to avoid dealing with my emotions. This made me less understanding, empathetic, and emotionally available. Choosing to work on my relationship with my emotions has enabled me to better understand myself and others and has improved my capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
When we attempt to avoid, suppress, control, numb, or deny the existence of our emotions, paradoxically, emotional distress is maintained and sometimes intensified. Maybe you have heard the saying, “don’t think about a pink elephant.” Ironic process theory states that deliberate attempts to suppress a thought often lead to an increase in having the thought. So, if you were told to not think about a pink elephant, ironic process theory predicts that you would experience an uptick in the amount of pink elephant related thoughts. This concept can be applied to emotions as well. When we attempt to avoid our emotions, we increase our own suffering. Haruki Murakami once said, “Pain in inevitable, suffering is optional.”
So how do you cultivate a healthier relationship with your emotions? It begins with self-awareness and understanding your responses to negative emotions. By examining your own behaviors and looking out for clues that indicate your relationship with your emotions could use work, you can begin taking steps toward creating an emotionally enriched existence. Here are 2 warning signs that you may be on the outs with your emotions:
Overuse of distraction techniques.
I love a good distraction, but you know what they say, everything in moderation. Being busy can be a great thing, but the ‘why’ for your busyness is important. If you are keeping yourself busy in an attempt to avoid experiencing painful or negative emotions, you may be doing yourself a disservice. You can’t outrun your emotions. Emotional avoidance reinforces that idea that worry, doubt, anxiety, anger, sadness, discomfort, etc. are “dangerous” or “bad,” therefore we must avoid them or run away from them. This belief reduces your ability to tolerate pain associated with many of life’s challenges.
You judge yourself harshly for feeling bad.
Feeling bad is a part of the human experience. You are allowed to have bad days, you are allowed to feel sad, angry, lonely, anxious, rejected, afraid, envious, or whatever emotion is coming up for you. Experiencing a difficult emotion does not make you “weak,” it makes you courageous for being vulnerable enough to own that experience. Growing up, were you told to “suck it up, get over it, man up, quit your crying, stop overreacting, just be happy,” or any version of these phrases? Many of us were, which has proven to be detrimental in adulthood. These phrases can communicate the belief that you shouldn’t feel how you feel and perhaps your feelings are “wrong.” These phrases can lead to an inability to trust your own emotions, believing that they will lead you astray if you give them a voice or acknowledge their existence. You are entitled to your emotions and giving yourself permission to feel your feelings can help to normalize your emotional experience and prevent further pain from self-criticism.
Your relationship with your emotions is similar to any other relationship you have had. It is a relationship that requires kindness, attention, nurturing, curiosity, understanding, awareness, and respect. Improving your relationship with your emotions involves embracing the emotions that come and allowing them to be, which ultimately helps you to develop a capacity to tolerate unpleasant life experiences.
Have you ever let your kid’s backpack go too long without being cleaned out? It’s like the creature from the black lagoon’s habitat in there! There’s no telling what you may find but you can be pretty sure it will be horrifying.
Kids also need to clean out there emotional backpacks on the regular!
I got caught talking so my teacher wrote my name on the board.
So I stuff embarrassment, anger and injustice (because my friend started the conversation) into my emotional backpack.
I finally figured out that math concept I’ve been faking that I understood for days but couldn’t celebrate because I wanted everyone (including my teacher) to think I already got it.
So I stuff frustration, deferred pride & self-hatred into my emotional backpack.
My best friends were pulled for a special project and I wasn’t so I had to hustle all of recess to find new kids to play with.
So I stuff sadness, loneliness and feelings of inferiority into my emotional backpack.
Some kids like to verbally unpack their emotional backpacks and a feelings chart can be helpful. You can ask which of these feelings did you feel today? Encourage them to list more than one and then say, “It was important enough for you to carry (enter their feeling word here) with you all day & you brought them home. What do they want to say?”
Some kids like to creatively unpack their emotional backpacks. Encourage them to build paint or journal their feelings. A prompt that might help would be, “It sounds like you felt really proud of yourself today but you didn’t get to shine. Can you show me that shine with your markers & glitter or magnet tiles.”
PSA: Playdough is great for cleaning up glitter
Some kids like to physically clean out their emotional backpacks. You can offer the opportunity to write out difficult feelings and tape them to a punching bag, trampoline or bury them in the back yard.
Cleaning out our emotional backpacks should help mitigate meltdowns, sibling squabbles and rigidity after school.
Parents might want to try cleaning out their emotional work bags too!
Littles and Pre-K Kids
No Drama Discipline – By Daniel J. J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
- This is a parenting book on how to stay calm when your child isn’t calm. This book helps you combine connection and clear limits every time your child needs discipline.
The Way I Feel – By Janan Cain
- A simple book on feelings. We like to read it to our kid clients and ask them about times they’ve felt those feelings.
Charlotte and the Quiet Place – By Deborah Sosin and Sara Woolley
- A great description of what it feels like when you’re overstimulated and overwhelmed and what they can do about it.
Moody Cow Meditates – By Kerry Lee MacLean
- This books is really cute and I think many parents with more “outspoken” kids will relate to it! It does a really good job describing anger and how to calm the internal storm.
Jabari Jumps – By Gaia Cornwall
- This is an inspiring story of a kid struggling with anxiety around trying a new skill, his dad supported him and celebrated with him when he did it.
Sitting Still Like a Frog – By Eline Snel
- This book introduces mindfulness techniques in a child-friendly way
Blessing of a Skinned Knee – By Wendy Mogel, PhD
- This book is helpful for parents struggling with over-parenting, wanting to raise self-controlled, self-reliant children.
Whole Brain Child – By Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson
- This book explains the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Children and how to work with them to help regulate their emotions and enjoy childhood more mindfully.
Brainstorm – By Daniel J Siegel
- This explains the changes that happen in the adolescent brain and it also provides discussion guides for parents and children.
Untangled – By Lisa Damour, PhD
- This book guides parents through seven important transitions from childhood to womanhood addressing a girl’s inner and outer world.
The Care and Keeping of You (Revised): The Body Book for Younger Girls – By Valorie Schaefer
- This book is forthright description of a girls changing body. I recommend parents read it first so that they’re prepared to answer questions and discuss the topics further with their girls.
- Also, read The Atlantic article about this book here: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/08/the-puberty-book-embraced-by-preteens-and-sex-educators/569044/
“You should be grateful” is a phrase you may tell yourself sometimes, or you may hear it from others. On the surface, it seems harmless enough. After all, gratitude is a virtue. But the unspoken message behind it is often “You should be grateful instead of feeling upset.” That kind of message easily leads to shame: “I’m a bad person because of the way I feel.”
But gratitude doesn’t have to be so invalidating. You’re allowed to feel upset. You don’t have to celebrate the heartbreaking moments in life in order to be grateful, and you don’t have to ignore them either.
True gratitude isn’t a ban on all difficult emotions, it’s just a way of balancing out what we feel. When feeling depressed or angry, it can be easy to forget the positive things in life and fall into despair. Practicing gratitude is a way to keep us from forgetting the things we actually do enjoy. It reminds us that even when times are hard there are still good things in life. Even when we feel upset, there’s still hope.
For more information, contact email@example.com.
Parenting is difficult in every generation. Currently though, it is so hard because we are dealing with not only how our parents parented us, how our friends are parenting their kids, and what the latest parenting book says. We are also faced with how influencers on social media, experts on podcasts and literally every person we’ve met since high school (thank you social media) is handling every minute problem of parenting. There are so many voices and they all have an air of importance and authority. How can you know what is best for your family? How can you get off this wild carousel?
What about learning to parent from a place of personal values instead of peer pressure or indecisiveness?
Consider these questions and process them with your co-parent to identify your values:
- Where do we spend the majority of our time and our money? When we have to choose between two important things, which one usually wins out?
- If I have a day where I feel like a great mom/dad what have I spent the day focused on or what feedback did I get from my kids?
- Whose approval really matters to me as a parent (note: not whose approval should matter or whose I wish matters but whose really does).
- If I have a rough parenting day, when my head hits the pillow I think, “that was a dumpster fire of a day but I hope my kids still know__________________.”
- Imagine that your child is a young adult coming home for a visit with the person they are seriously dating. You have some time alone with their significant other, and they say to you, “I’m grateful to be in a relationship with someone who (fill in the blank).” Try to come up with a list of at least three and no more than five things. It could be hardworking, empathetic listener, gracious with those in need, spiritually attuned, etc. Try to be as specific as you need to to identify what it will take to parent this kind of person.
Once you identify your values, quiet the voices that go against your parenting values. This may mean unfollowing some social media accounts, taking certain books to the used book store for resale or repeating a mantra when your Aunt Karen gives you parenting advice that doesn’t fit for you. It could be something like, “We will parent from a place of value, not of pressure.”
If you need more help sorting through your value system in order to parent from a place of value consider seeing a therapist for parental coaching. If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to contact me (Kate) here at East Dallas Therapy!
It’s hard to know the difference between feeling unsafe or uncomfortable and when we’re actually in danger. When we feel unsafe we’re bringing in our past experiences and our anxieties. But when we’re in danger we’re actually at risk.
It’s important to define what wisdom is and what it sounds like to you. As situations come up and you have to make a decision, wisdom will always lead you with courage and caution. Here are some helpful ways to differentiate fear and wisdom:
- Wisdom can take a calculated risk- it can imagine a positive outcome, as well as an unfortunate outcome.
- Wisdom is slow and reflective.
- Fear is reactive and visceral. It can’t image a positive outcome and gives you tunnel vision.
- Wisdom is the path that leads to more joy even if it’s uncomfortable sometimes.
- Fear leads to anxiety and hiding.
So for you, how do you know which mode you’re in?? Take a moment and write down what fear feels like in your body, how do you show that you are afraid? Is it jumpiness? Tension in your neck? Shutting down? getting busy?
What does fear sound like in your head? What do your thoughts sound like? Racing thoughts? Overgeneralizing the negative outcomes? Triggering past memories? Maybe it’s minimizing the risks and you fight through it? Not stopping to consider the possible outcomes?
Then take a moment and ask yourself what does wisdom feel like in your body? How does it express itself? And what does wisdom sound like in your head?
We can all be led to take calculated risks and embrace change when we understand what wisdom feels like and what wisdom sounds like. We can also be led into hiding and anxiety if we let fear take control. But between the stimuli and the reaction there is space to choose. You can choose wisdom and joy!
If you want to process your fears and how you make decisions reach out to us! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here read more about us.
Sometimes unhealthy relationships give you weird skills. For instance, you may realize you pick up on the tiniest changes in facial expressions. Others don’t even notice, but you’re already registering someone else’s body language and slight variations in tone. You can guess what others are thinking and feeling before they even say a word.
That’s called mindreading, and many people do it. In fact, sometimes people expect you to do it. That’s how you acquired the skill in the first place. Maybe you grew up in a family where direct communication was discouraged. If you didn’t guess what people wanted before they said something, you got in trouble or were accused of not loving them enough to figure it out.
Or maybe you’ve been in a toxic relationship that required a lot of mindreading. You may have gotten used to constantly scanning conversations for warning signs of the next meltdown or blowup. In any case, mindreading helped you avoid danger. You learned to read the cues so you could either step in to prevent something bad from happening or run away from it.
As useful as it is, though, mindreading comes with its own problems. For one thing, accurately guessing what others think 100% of the time is impossible! Spending so much energy on reading between the lines can be exhausting. Plus, the more you try to guess what other people think, the more likely you are to eventually misunderstand them.
While mindreading may have been a useful tool to have in a toxic relationship, it may no longer work as well in other relationships. This is because abusive relationships teach you to expect the negative. For example, if a friend doesn’t reply to your text, you automatically assume the negative – they don’t like you anymore – rather than assuming the positive – they’re just busy and will get back to you later.
When you feel tempted to mindread, it can be helpful to remind yourself:
· Mindreading helped me survive…
· …but it’s an impossible task that puts too much pressure on me.
· It’s not my responsibility to guess what others want/think/feel.
· If others want something, they can clearly communicate their needs to me.
· Instead of stressing and guessing, I can ask others what they think.
Mindreading can happen so automatically you don’t notice when you’re doing it. If you’d like some help figuring out how to let go of stressing over what others think, set up an appointment at eastdallastherapy.com or contact email@example.com.
Deconstruction. What does that mean? We don’t see deconstruction in every day life. The closest thing might be ground zero, an imploded building or a bunch of computer parts pulled out. What is deconstruction anyway? I think we all hear about this word a lot and I haven’t seen many able to reconstruct after the destruction, hmmmhmmm I mean deconstruction is done.
It is very destabilizing when people begin to take away long held beliefs that once provided a firm foundation to your identity. Everything comes into question. Questioning these things coupled with shame that usually originates from the church, makes it difficult to distinguish what we really believe anymore.
With my clients we talk about holding on to those aspects of faith and religious life that still feel authentic. Not just those things you “make yourself believe” but those concepts and beliefs about God that feel real and essential. Deconstruction can often feel like you are tossed from doubt to shame to anger to bitterness to doubt again, then grasping for hope and finding it is ill-fitting for the present version of yourself.
One thing that has seemed to help people walking through this time is to ask,
I know there is a lot you don’t know- a lot of uncertainty. Take away the shoulds. Let yourself express those beliefs you hold now.
I’ve never encountered someone who couldn’t come up with at least one belief that remains. Even if it’s more ambiguous than it once was, or more gray. It’s ok. You can’t should your way through deconstruction. You have to let yourself be right where we are.
Our nerves are fried.
It’s been one of the most challenging years. We have faced a lifetime of ups and downs within the span of a few months. If you are squeezed in any one essential area of life it can feel like your whole foundation has been rocked. These essential areas are what we build our lives on: our financial security, our health, our close relationships, our view of God, our views of the world. They have been flipped on their heads during the pandemic.
And now we’re facing a second or third wave of COVID. Which brings a second or third wave of fear, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, outrage at our politics, and uncertainty about our future.
We’re all feeling it.
Even in the middle of the fear though, we have to remember we’ve been here before. We learned some things the first time. If we hadn’t learned to cope with this the first time, we would still be curled up in a ball on the floor. Maybe we did curl up in a ball for a bit. But we figured out how to get back up.
So I wonder, what helped you get back up? What fear did you learn to soothe? What white hot anxiety did you learn to abate? Remembering that can help you this time.
I think it has something to do with bringing your attention to what you can control. For me it’s this belief: If my family, my kids, my garden, and my dog are here with me, I’m ok. I can be ok when the world is not ok.
I can be ok when the world is not ok.
It could be this:
Other’s judgements and opinions have nothing to do with me. I don’t have to doubt my decisions because someone else does.
I don’t have to doubt my decisions just because someone else does.
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