Some filtering questions for those of you who are Givers at heart (and maybe sometimes over-functioning) 🙂
Many of us (we therapists know we’re In this category too!) find ourselves giving beyond our means and in ways that are unsustainable. People sometimes take more than they give back. And there is always a need that arises among the people we care about. We can find ourselves running around trying to meet these needs and we can get so tired and drained! We sometimes don’t stop to think if it’s something we want to do or something we can do.
If you relate to this, here are a few questions to ask yourself that might help you filter through these situations. Sometimes you can give sacrificially to others and sometimes you may need to practice saying no to others and saying yes to yourself and your needs.
Sidenote: We believe the end goal in our relationships is to be generous to others in a sustainable way. We aren’t advocating for you to be self focused, but to tend to your needs so that you have more to give to those around you.
So ask yourself these questions:
- Is the person asking for your help? Sometimes when we hear about something difficult we want to fix it. But sometimes people don’t need anything from you than just to listen.
- Do you have it to give? Do you have the food in the pantry to be able to make someone a meal? Do you have the time to sit and listen to someone without being late something else? Do you have the patience and energy to give to this person without losing patience for those that you know you must give it to (aka your kids or spouse)
- Can you give joyfully? Without resentment or bitterness.
- Can you give without expecting something in return?
This feels like a sucker punch even as a write this, but when I’ve tried to follow my instincts with how much I can realistically give I end up feeling more rested and centered. Try this out and see how your emotional (and financial and mental) reserves seem to change.
“I know I’m supposed to let myself feel what I feel…but whenever I try, I get depressed for days.”
It’s true that processing your emotions means allowing yourself to feel them. But here’s the thing: when you’ve been stuffing down your feelings for so long, there can be so many intense emotions trapped on the inside that feeling them all at once leads to overwhelm.
And that can make you feel stuck. Stuffing your emotions means invalidating them, and that doesn’t feel good, but then feeling your emotions means inviting a flood of them so strong you either spiral downward or shut down entirely. That doesn’t feel good either. Where does the relief come in?
If feeling your emotions tends to do this to you, that may be a sign to take things slower. You don’t have to feel everything at once. Take it step by step. Give yourself space to feel just a little piece at a time, and as soon as you’ve had a moment to feel a little bit, take a step back. Give yourself permission to take a break, recharge, and do something you enjoy. You can go back to feeling your emotions later when you’re feeling rejuvenated and ready again.
Here are some tips for how you can feel your emotions safely:
- Write down what each step of your downward spiral looks like. Know the signs that you’re getting too overwhelmed and need a break.
- Create a plan for how to recharge after feeling your emotions. What’s something that truly helps your body feel better? Do you need to take a walk? Listen to some upbeat music? Watch a favorite movie?
- Set a timer for as long as you want – a minute, 5 minutes, 15, whatever feels safest and most doable for you. While the timer is running, notice your emotions and how they feel in your body. Allow them to be there without judging them. When the time is up, take a break.
- Visualize putting your emotions away somewhere safe. You can imagine storing them in a vase, a treasure box, or some other container that marks them as precious and important.
- Remind yourself that you can revisit them later.
You’ll notice that with repetition, the time you can spend feeling your emotions gets longer. The more you practice, the easier it gets!
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 email@example.com.
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!
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
I wondered today, as I was making my lunch, if most of us deep down inside have some perfectionistic tendencies. I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist in the classic sense, because I don’t care much about living up to other people’s view of me. But I’m noticing I have very high expectations for myself. While I was making a mediocre chicken salad for lunch today I was thinking, this just isn’t good enough. It’s not creative, I don’t have the ingredients I need, or the energy to make it better. Then I thought, no one is here telling me this isn’t good enough. It was coming from my own desire to do more. It’s a silly example, but I think it illustrates my point. We all want to live up to the vision in our heads. We want to achieve our goals. Or we want to live up to other’s goals for us, and the potential others see in us. I think that’s human nature to want to improve. We want to show ourselves as perfect to others and ourselves. We probably don’t say it so bluntly, but you can find the message of perfectionism in the always and never statements we tell ourselves. I want to ALWAYS be professional, I want to ALWAYS be on time, I NEVER want to make a mistake like this again.
Another example is a client I had a while ago who wanted to be successful as a mother so bad. She spent all her time with her kids, and couldn’t give herself a break. Then she got completely frustrated and exhausted and had to leave for the weekend to recharge. It was all or nothing. She was either a successful mom at home day and night, exhausted or had to feel guilty if she took some time away. She couldn’t see that she could care about her family and herself. She could be a good mom and do things she enjoyed that recharged her.
The ALWAYS and NEVER framework (perfectionism) has a rigid view of self. That rigidity can be crippling. It’s like a bowling alley where the edges of the lane move closer and closer. If you roll the ball in a very straight line, you win! If it falls in the gutter, you lose. It’s a trap.
Maybe it’s time to consider widening the lane. Health comes in a FLEXIBLE view of self. Peace and rest come with it too.
In counseling I like to say people are a constellation of themselves. They aren’t strictly one thing. We can be any one of the stars in the constellation, depending on the day, the mood, the fact that you’re hungry or tired. It can vary depending on the life stage. All of it is you. If we can view ourselves as a constellation, we can loosen the grip on who we think we should be, and just be.
If you’d like to explore this more for yourself, begin to notice when you feel those lanes closing in. It might be an ALWAYS or NEVER statement. It might be an area where you keep criticizing yourself.
You can be more than one thing. You can make mistakes. Your constellation will have some contradictions. (For example, fun and serious, prompt but sometimes forgetful, mom
If you have time, draw a constellation. Put at least 20 stars. Label each one with qualities you possess- good and not-so-good. Allow for contradictions. You might begin to notice some themes about who you are. Practice self-compassion and reflection.
Morgan Myers, LPC-intern
Supervised by Jessica Taylor, LPC-S
Morgan is a therapist at East Dallas Psychotherapy specializing in mothers with young kids overwhelmed by life, figuring out relationships, and dealing with depression and anxiety. For more about her click here.
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