happiness, mindful

How to Make Anxiety A Lot Less Painful

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“You are not a mess. You are a feeling person in a messy world.” ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Anxiety can be hardwired and genetic. It can be passed down from generation to generation. It can be a result of trauma and high-stress scenarios, including divorce, moving, and death. These things are out of our control, and can be really challenging to work through.

But, anxiety can also come as a result of certain behaviors, lifestyle choices, and beliefs that you have about yourself and the world. And that, my friend, is always within your control.

I want to challenge the way you’re thinking about anxiety. Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

What thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors are leading to my anxiety? How can I address these behaviors and change the beliefs, thoughts, or emotions that create the anxiety to begin with?

I used to have really extreme experiences with anxiety. I would wake up feeling this pit in my stomach, like something really terrible was about to happen at any moment. Except… everything was fine.

I had a good job, I was making a decent amount of money, I had a nice apartment, I was in a seemingly good relationship, and it seemed like everything was working out in my favor.

On the outside, I seemed fine, but on the inside, I was dreading getting out of bed in the morning. Sometimes I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I would call my manager and tell her I was having a rough start to the day (again) and would be in as soon as I was “back to normal.”

My breath would become choppy. My heart would race. My palms would sweat. My hands would shake. My thoughts would bounce between “What the heck’s wrong with you?” to “Why can’t you just suck it up and go to work?” and from “Am I going to have a heart attack?” to “Do I need to go back to the doctor again today?”

I had anxiety, and I felt so pathetic about it. I felt guilty for not being more appreciative of all the things that were going right in my life. I hated myself for feeling anxious. I hated myself because I thought there was something really wrong with me that would never get better.

It wasn’t until I realized that I had the whole situation backward that I was able to start making changes.

I realized that it wasn’t the anxiety itself that was causing me to suffer—it was the way I was thinking about and engaging with the anxiety that was the issue. 

Here’s the thing: Anxiety is a normal human emotion that serves an evolutionary purpose. It’s a feeling that we get when something is threatening us. Anxiety is an emotion that serves as a trigger to activate our fight-or-flight response in response to a dangerous situation. So it’s normal to feel anxiety, and just because you may feel anxious doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.

How we think about our anxiety is what will create our relationship to the emotion itself. 

If every time you feel anxious you think negative thoughts about yourself, then you send yourself into a downward spiral of guilt, shame, anger, depression, and even more anxiety. You feel more anxious just because you’re anxious.

But if you can reframe your thoughts to come from a place of positivity and love, everything changes. Instead of feeling like you’re broken or there’s something that needs to be fixed, you start to recognize that it’s natural to have an emotion like anxiety, and that you don’t need to engage with it in a negative, self-hating way.

You can simply acknowledge its presence, try to notice what caused it, and non-judgmentally let it go. 

Once we become conscious of our limiting beliefs and fears around anxiety, we can choose to see things differently.

We can train our brains to know that anxiety is a part of life, and that it doesn’t dictate our worth as a human being.

We can choose to reframe our beliefs to become more positive, accepting, and loving, in order to go easier on ourselves when we do experience anxiety.

And we can take action steps toward living a life that is in more balance, with less anxiety and stress, and more happiness every day.

By becoming aware of our thoughts and beliefs around anxiety and fear, we can consciously choose which beliefs are empowering and get to stay, and which are blocking our growth so that we can release them. Because here’s the bitter truth:

Your thoughts about anxiety can cause you to suffer more than experiencing the anxiety itself.

A while back, I got really interested in anxiety and my mindset overall. I started working with a coach who helped me understand on a more practical level the lessons I had learned from all the books I’d read: that your thoughts create your reality, and you are always in control of your thoughts.

I started to reframe my thoughts about anxiety and shifted the lens through which I see the world from one of lack/fear to one of abundance/love.

My life hasn’t been the same since.

I still experience anxiety and fear—OMG, I experience so much fear! Running my own business feels approximately like: 50 percent singing in my shower and dancing around my apartment to Katy Perry and 50 percent wanting to hide in a cave for the rest of my life and never emerge again. But my relationship to anxiety and fear has changed, because my mindset has changed. I no longer see my anxiety as a crippling force in my life that I desperately want to get rid of.

I now see anxiety as a gift, as a sign from the Universe that something is off balance in my life, and I feel grateful for having all of the tools I need to get back into balance. It is now my mission to help you do the same.

So when you feel anxiety, check in with yourself on what your thoughts and beliefs around anxiety are. Do you talk down to yourself for feeling anxious? Do you judge yourself or criticize yourself? Can you be more compassionate instead? Do you believe you are an anxious person? Can you be willing to see yourself as something different?

By becoming aware of the stories we tell ourselves about how we are and how the world is, we can consciously choose which stories serve us, and which need to be rewritten. You have the power to rewrite your anxiety story. The question is: will you do it?

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happiness, mindful

How To Be Open-Minded When Others See the World Differently

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“Most disagreements are caused by different perceptions that created different realities.” ~Unknown

When I was thirteen, I experienced a monumental change in my young life.

It wasn’t a big move, no one close to me died, and although puberty was rocking my world in the worst way, it was something else altogether that shook me to the core:

The movie Titanic came out.

I know, I know, it’s just a movie, and I was just another swooning teenager wishing that I was the one Jack never wanted to let go of, but it hit me hard. Truth, love, the pain of loss: a woman following her heart and risking it all for true love. I relished every second of its three hours and fifteen minute run time.

So much that I saw it multiple times over winter break at school—usually with my equally enamored mom, sometimes with my best friend, always with a lump in my throat. I held back tears as I saw Jack’s face disappearing into the icy waters, always wondering why Rose couldn’t make room for him on the raft, each time imagining myself in the situation: falling in love, making tough choices, persevering through loss.

(Spoiler alert: the ship sinks.)

Returning to school a few weeks later, I knew I’d been changed. Titanic was helping me to sort out the girl I was from the woman I was becoming, and I figured it was having an equal effect on those around me. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into class on the first day back at school and read an obviously related quote on the white board:

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” ~Tennyson

I smiled inside, realizing that my eighth grade teacher must have seen Titanic too, feeling a kindred recognition of just how important this epic film was. After all, it was a sweeping success across the country, breaking records and hearts and box office sales.

As I settled into my seat and he began to lecture, I prepared to listen to what his thoughts were about the film: maybe he had a historical critique, or an interpretation of the film’s depiction of the human condition?

Oh, how wrong I was.

It turns out that the local football team had gone to the super bowl during this same break, and while I was losing it over Jack and Rose, many others were losing it over this team’s big loss.

As my teacher began to lecture and joke with classmates about “the value of making it to the super bowl at all” I hung my head in frustration and confusion. There was a life-changing movie in theatres, cataloguing one of the worst catastrophes in history. Why didn’t anyone care about this? Isn’t this quote on the board far more applicable to a love story than to a football team?

Doesn’t everyone feel the way that I do??

In retrospect, my Titanic example is funny (and somewhat ridiculous). Of course not everyone felt the same soul shaking connection to a movie, and of course not everyone had the newly awakened hormones of a teenage girl. (Say Leeeeoooo with some longing in a whispery voice, and you’ve got my thirteen-year-old daydreams pegged pretty well.)

When we’re that young it’s easy to make major mistakes in our perception of others, but within this comical event are the seeds of an issue that would continue to show up, both in my life and others.

There’s Imperfection in Perception

My misinterpretation of a teacher’s quote on the board is an early mistake in “encoding” and “decoding.” Those two words are just fancy talk for the complicated interaction that is communication, and how they’re related to something called the “confirmation bias.”

See, when I read those words on the white board, they confirmed something that I (unconsciously) assumed to be true: everyone cared about this thing that I did (ahem, Titanic, cough) and of course this quote about love must relate to it. The words on the board spoke to me in a way that I thought was universal: my thirteen-year-old brain knew exactly what they meant.

When words are spoken, however (or written on a white board in eighth grade), the intention of the communicator can get lost in the understanding. When I say something to you, I’m “encoding” information that I want to communicate; I’m trying to get you to understand me.

The trouble comes when we forget that each person understands (or “decodes”) information differently—we hear what we know, we hear what we want, and we hear what makes sense based on our life thus far.

See, this variability in perception happens because each of us views the world through a slightly different lens. What the word “love” means to me could be different than what it means to you; for example, what has the word “love” meant in the past? Has it been controlling or unconditional, loaded with expectations or adoration?

The actual words we use are simply a jumping off place, and then they’re strung together in beads of sentences that can appear a different color to each person listening. The “colors” (or meaning) we assign to words vary because all of us do; and because our minds are expert categorizers, we often understand things in a way that already makes sense with our existent worldview.

It’s for this reason that two people can read the same news article and come away with different interpretations, or feel entirely different about the events going on in the world: We tend to pay attention to information that confirms what we already believe to be true, and disregard the rest of what we see. It’s not due to callousness either; it’s the way that we’re wired.

Our brains are really good at simplifying and organizing. In order to cognitively make sense of a complicated and busy world, we have to become expert categorizers. This is adaptive, and it helps our overworked brains make sense of things.

The hiccups only come when we forget that the way we’ve organized the world is different than the way that others have; when we assume that each person interprets the world and its events the way that we do.

So, what do we do? If everyone could mean something different when they say “I love you” or “let’s go get some ice cream” then how on earth are we ever supposed to understand each other? Is all social coherence lost?

The answer is simple, but not easy: We must keep an open (and present) mind.

Open-mindedness

Keeping an open mind is realizing that we all perceive the world that we live in differently. It’s remembering that when we read (or listen) we are “decoding” at the same time—trying to understand and make sense of information, all through our unique and limited worldview.

It’s being patient when we feel misunderstood, and allowing for the possibility that we’re also misunderstanding others.

Open-mindedness is being forgiving of people who hold different opinions and reminding ourselves that we’ve really only ever been one person; we don’t necessarily know what the world is like for others.

Being open-minded is another form of mindfulness, really. It’s pausing before responding, and asking ourselves: What do I already believe to be true about this person, this event, this political party? What in my past is causing me to feel agitated, or generous, or suspicious? What does the person speaking to me actually mean?

Even if we don’t always have the answers, simply allowing the questions to percolate our perception can open us up to the world around us.

Not having answers also gives us the chance to ask questions; if we don’t know what someone means by a statement, we can ask them to clarify. If that’s not an option (because who likes to feed trolls on the internet, right?) then can we at least hold space for a worldview that varies from ours?

Even if we don’t agree with it, even if it makes our blood boil, can we pause while we try to understand it? Slow down our categorizing minds and realize that the world looks different from varying angles?

It’s difficult to pause when we’re agitated, but it’s definitely possible. Practicing mindfulness in communication (whether it’s with a loved one or a stranger on the internet) can give us space to ask these questions, extend our understanding, and allow for differences.

Listening to an idea with an open mind is letting go of all the reasons it’s wrong, or right, and allowing the person (or words) to be what they are. It’s digesting things with the knowledge that we’re bringing our own “stuff” to the table; keeping in mind that our history colors each and every interaction we have.

It’s a complicated world that we navigate, and there are benefits to the assumptions we jump to minute by minute. But in order to sift through assumptions we’ve first got to be aware of them, and that involves being vigilant of our monkey minds as often as possible. It involves pausing, taking a breath, and asking ourselves: Is this person talking about Titanic, or football?

happiness

How to Ask for What You Want and Need (No, It’s Not Selfish)

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“It’s not selfish to put yourself first—it’s self-full.” ~Iyanla Vanzant

I’ve always thought of myself as individualistic. When I was a teenager, I often felt the desire to go against the grain, dressing alternatively and shunning bands my peers liked because I felt they were too popular. So it came as a huge surprise to me when my therapist called me a people pleaser the other day.

I recently started cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, and during the first session my therapist identified that I put other people’s needs and wants ahead of my own.

He’d asked me to give an example of a situation that is currently making me anxious (since anxiety is both a cause and symptom of insomnia), and I told him a landscaper made a mistake in my yard and I was feeling bad asking him to fix it.

I’d hired the landscaper to build a fence and incorporate a parking pad into my backyard space. While the fence turned out awesome, the landscaper brought too much loam and turned the parking pad area into a hill that sloped down from the fence to the garage. When I asked him to level it, he got angry and said he had already spent man-hours on the project and would be losing money.

I started to feel bad. Was his business doing okay? Did he have kids?

“The job you agreed upon was for him to level it,” my therapist said. “It has to be level.”

“But what if he is losing money?”

“That’s none of your business. You wanted it level. It has to be level.”

It took him repeating that sentence to me a few more times before the concept clicked, and I knew he was right. I was putting someone else’s wants and needs above my own. I do it all the time.

“Why don’t I put myself first?” I asked him. “It’s like I think I don’t deserve to be treated as well as other people.”

I expected my therapist to say I have low self-esteem and needed to work on that, but instead he said, “Because you’re framing it wrong.”

Then he asked, “What’s your favorite ice cream?”

Thrown off by the change in topic, I stammered something about Maple Walnut.

“And is there an ice cream flavor you dislike?”

“Tiger.”

“So when you go to an ice cream store, do you ask yourself whether you deserve Maple Walnut or if you should just accept Tiger?”

“Of course not.”

“There you go. It isn’t about whether you deserve to have something, it’s that you want it. Plain and simple.”

It was simple. Suddenly I felt like I’d been let in on the secret all the confident, take-no-crap, boundary-setting people in my life have known forever. If they want something, they go for it. They don’t stand around questioning whether or not they deserve to have it.

In my case, I wanted the parking pad incorporated into my yard so that I could enjoy the added space. Therefore, the backyard has to be level.

“Now that you know your position, the next step is to communicate it correctly,” my therapist continued. “Do not ask, ‘Can you please make this level?’ Simply say, ‘We agreed it would be level, so it has to be level.’”

We ran through hypothetical life situations where I could apply this technique, and each time I made the mistake of asking the other person to “please” grant my wishes instead of communicating my wants and needs. Every time I smiled sheepishly at the mistake, it hammered home how I unconsciously present myself to other people.

While trying to be polite and accommodate everyone else, I might actually be telling people I’m a doormat. Of course people are going to walk all over me because I haven’t given them guidance on where they can and cannot step!

At the end of the appointment, I resolved to start setting boundaries and ask for what I want in life, and I saw results immediately. When I told the landscaper the yard had to be level, he fixed it. By no longer questioning whether or not I “deserved” the same treatment as everyone else and simply asking for it, I gained self-confidence.

Granted, not all situations in life are as clear-cut as standing up for yourself with a landscaper. There are times to stand your ground and times to compromise, and the trick is to learn to tell the difference.

Sometimes our wants and needs can directly affect other people, or their wants and needs can be in conflict with our own. In this case, it’s important to remember to balance healthy self-assertion with consideration and respect for others.

For someone who habitually puts other people’s wants and needs ahead of her own, putting myself first simply means treating myself the same way I treat them—not trampling on everyone else!

The ice cream story has changed my perception on putting myself first. It’s not selfish—it’s self-full. Sometimes I slip back into old habits and wonder if I deserve something, but then I remind myself I wouldn’t accept Tiger when I want Maple Walnut.

Here are a few simple steps to setting boundaries and asking for what you want and need in life:

1. Know your position.

The most important step in setting boundaries is to know your position—what you want—and to stick with it. That way when someone comes back at you trying to change your mind, you can simply go back to your position.

Imagine you’re at a dealership and you tell the salespeople that your budget is 10K. If they respond, “We have a newer model with leather seats and a sunroof for 13K,” your response should be, “My budget is 10K.” If they tell you only rust buckets go for 10K, tell them your budget is 10K and then walk away.

Don’t forget what you want or need. It’s easier not to be bullied or walked on when you are confident in your position.

2. Communicate your position.

Communicate your position properly is just as important. When you ask someone to honor your wishes or approve of your position, you’re asking them to make you happy. But when you tell them what you want or need, you’re making yourself happy.

If a friend asks you to go to a party with them but you don’t want a late night, you can choose to say no or agree to go on your own terms. Rather than asking if it’s okay if you leave early, tell them that you will go with them for a bit but you want to get a good sleep.

If a friend is having an elaborate and expensive birthday and you can’t afford to attend multiple events, tell them. You do not have to apologize. Simply communicate what you can and cannot do.

People don’t necessarily aim to walk on you, but if you don’t communicate what you want and expect, there is a better chance it will happen. Have you ever felt taken advantage of but didn’t communicate your feelings, and the frustration built up inside of you until you finally snapped? Or worse: snapped at the wrong person? I’ve definitely been guilty of that.

If you set boundaries and communicate them, everyone will know where they stand, and it will prevent future blowups.

3. Stop asking if you “deserve” what you want.

In my opinion, this is the most important principle. Do not question whether or not you deserve things in life. Simply know what you want and go for it.

People who don’t set boundaries often don’t feel they “deserve” to set boundaries, and they feel that way because they’re used to always putting other people first. Their low self-esteem has been reinforced by their own inability to state what they want. It’s a vicious cycle.

We can’t always get what we want in life, but we definitely won’t get it if we don’t ask. By focusing on what you want or need in life, rather than questioning whether you’re worthy to receive, you will help guide your own success and self-confidence will follow!

happiness, mindful

How Expectations Can Drive People Away and How to Let Go of Control

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By FaFa: Last Sunday, I was angry about the running guy who informed me he couldn’t run with me in the last minute.  After that, he disappeared and I was upset about his behaviour. HOW should I do? I felt guilty about my performance.

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I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” ~Bruce Lee

About five years ago, I had a falling out with a close friend. I was irritated because she didn’t do the things I thought she should and she didn’t give as much as I did. I felt I had been very generous with her, and I expected her to do the same. I felt she owed me.

My anger became unmanageable and started seeping into pretty much every interaction we had. She began cancelling dinner plans and camping trips. She wouldn’t call me back after days of me leaving a message. It happened out of nowhere, and of course everything was her fault.

Except that it didn’t. And it wasn’t.

Not too long ago, I was a bit of a control freak. I didn’t know it, of course, and I would have described myself as open-minded and easy going. In reality, I was tormented by my own expectations.

Since I was a child, I had an image in my head about who I was supposed to be. What my family was supposed to look like. What house I was supposed to live in. What career success wassupposed to mean. That’s a lot of supposing! I had always assumed these expectations were my future.

I am an artist by trade, and in my art studio, I have many tools. Paintbrushes, sanders, stencil cutters, and paper punches fill shelves up to the ceiling. However, I tell people that the most important tools I use are flexibility of mind and a practice of not having expectations as to the outcome. This allows new and amazing techniques to be discovered and yields paintings that continuously surprise and delight me. I find these tools are useful outside of the art studio as well.

As time went on and distance grew between me and my friend, I began to feel enraged by her apparent apathy toward me and everything that I “had done for her.”

I thought to myself, “I would never treat anyone that way. How dare she do that to me?” and “After all I’ve given her, she should want to give back!” Every thought I had praised me for all the good deeds I had done and blamed her for ruining our friendship. I was the victim and she was the wrong doer.

One day, I sat down to enlighten her about how she had negatively impacted our relationship. Her reaction was horrifying to me. She said she was going to take a step back from our friendship.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean, I was telling her how she could singlehandedly improve things. What was wrong with her that she didn’t understand that? We stopped speaking and I didn’t see her for a long time.

Then something life changing happened—sobriety. In the first year after I quit drinking, I learned a lot about myself and my need to control just about everything in order to meet my expectations.

I learned how my expectations of others (unexpressed, by the way, because “I shouldn’t have to say it!”) and the anger that followed when people didn’t act the way I thought they should, actually drove people away.

The entire time our friendship was breaking down, I thought that if she would just do the things I wanted her to do, not only would our friendship be fixed, but everyone involved would be better off. I knew better than she did. My way of living was better than hers. She, of course, ran away from me like I was on fire.

My need to control others was unfounded, unrealistic, and unattainable. It was a hard thing to admit that my way wasn’t better than her way and, in fact, people weren’t abandoning me. I was driving them to leave. I saw that other relationships in my life were also going down this path. I had to change.

One day after surfing, I went to sit on a bench overlooking the water. One of the “old guys” we surfed with, who lived across the street, came and talked with me as the sun was setting over the ocean and I was lamenting about the stresses in my life. He said one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me: “I don’t do stress. Stress is optional.”

WTF? How on earth does one not get stressed? Teach me, Oh Wise One. I thought deeply about this and about my issues with expectations and control. I needed control in order to meet my own expectations. When those expectations were not met, anxiety, anger and depression followed. Where does stress fit in?

The stress comes from trying to control actions that I think can bring my expectations to fruition. Have you ever seen the YouTube video of the zoo keeper trying to take a photo of all the baby pandas together? He expected a cute shot. All he got is a video of him trying to put baby pandas in a line, as one by one they continuously wandered off.

I know that’s kind of a cut and dry example, and life isn’t always cut and dry. However, the primary reason that I would get so pissed when my expectations were not met is rather simple: “My way is superior to everyone else’s way. How can people be so stupid and disrespectful?”

I don’t want to be an angry person. I don’t want to be unhappy with the people in my life. At some point, I realized that all of the control I was attempting to put on others was really me trying to make others meet my own expectations. That doesn’t work. Like ever. And it creates a huge amount of stress and frustration akin to trying keep baby pandas in line.

The real questions are: Who do I think I am? Why do I think I can control anything? What does it really matter if people are late, or my flight is cancelled, or my hat got lost when it flew off the top of the car.

Do these things affect my life? Sure, they can. Is it worth having an explosive hissy fit and making myself and everyone around me miserable? Uh, that would be a no. (Embarrassingly, the loss of that damn hat came close to ruining our evening.)

Advice from an Artist—Three Ways to Let Go:

1. Have zero expectations about how anything is going to turn out in the end.

It’s easier said than done, but if I went into the art studio expecting a certain painting to be created, I would be disappointed all the time. It’s so much easier to have an open mind and go with the flow.

This is also true when it comes to other people. By accepting the fact that people are not predictable, I am not attached to outcomes about how they “should” be.

 2. Stop trying to control everything.

My passion is creating, but I can’t always get in the studio to paint. And guess what? I don’t pitch a fit. I simply do what needs to be done to continue on.

For whatever reason, this is easy for me to apply to my business, and harder to apply to situations that involve people. I have to peel my fingers from the white-knuckle grip they have on how people should be and be okay with the possibility of “my way” not being an option. Perhaps somebody else has an awesome way I’ve never even thought of.

3. Be flexible and don’t be attached to outcomes.

I choose to open my mind to all the possibilities. In the studio, experimentation and the ability to adjust comes very easily. In life, not so much. Last minute changes in dinner plans aren’t going to kill me. When someone is “inconveniencing” me by wanting to meet at 8:00 instead of 6:30 I don’t get pissed anymore. I go for a hike because now I have time to.

Does that sound too simple? I don’t think it is.

My old friend and I have begun to repair our friendship. She moved away and I miss her dearly. We have talked about the past, but not in great detail. I try to show her that my thinking has changed and I don’t want anything from her but her friendship. It’s a hard thing to repair when you live far away but it’s mending little by little.

I no longer expect her or anyone to think like me. When I start feeling superior, I have to remember that I’m no better and no worse than any other person on the planet. I hope she forgives her wayward friend. At the time, I really thought that I was doing her a favor by showing her a better way to live. It was hard to realize that my ego was running the show.

When I’m working on a painting and I make a mark that I didn’t intend to, I don’t look at it as a “mistake.” I look at it as an opportunity to go down a road I may not have seen had it not been for that out of place mark. This is how I strive to live my life now. When a monkey wrench is thrown in, I put it in my back pocket figuring that a wrench may come in handy at some point.

And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Just as with my art, I choose to live open-minded to all experiences. Also, just like my paintings, life isn’t only made up of straight lines. There are twists, turns, and interruptions. The question I must ask myself is, do I want to put up a fight whenever something unexpected happens, or go with the flow and gracefully see where this new road leads?

We can’t control other people and situations. But we can choose to set expectations aside and not put so much emphasis on how things are going to end up. After all, it truly is about the journey.

And the destination? Well, sometimes the most beautiful views are the ones that we stumble upon unexpectedly, while on the way to where we’re “supposed” to be.

happiness, relationship

How to Open Your Heart to Love After Heartbreak

by Vishnu

The last thing you want to hear about after heartbreak is love.

love

After your heart has been shattered, your life turned upside down and your questioning of humanity begins, you wonder if it’s all worth it.

Is it worth it to put your heart out there?

Is it worth it to trust another person again?

Is love worth all the pain that you’ve gone through?

I didn’t think it was for several years after my divorce. Yes, there were highs in marriage, but the lows after divorce were so low that I didn’t think I ever wanted to return to that place again.

I never again wanted to swim in a place of loss, vulnerability and pain.

On my own journey back from this place of darkness, I realized that love is worth it.

I realized that one benefit of your heart breaking is that it breaks open. Your heart has the capacity to love bolder, stronger and deeper after loss.

Heartbreak won’t just open your heart; it can awaken your soul. There are so many parts of you that were sleeping that were likely shaken up.

Can the tsunami of the heart be your solid ground? Can the depths of despair and rejection be the seeds of new love?

Here are 5 ways to bounce back and open your heart again after heartbreak.

1. Process your emotions

You won’t be able to move on until you experience the emotions of heartbreak and loss.

You must let go of the resistance to feeling uncomfortable emotions.

You might feel denial and resistance is the way to go so you won’t feel the pain, but this will only prolong the time it will take you to heal.

If you grew up in a family that refused to experience emotions or denied emotions exist, this is going to be a life-changing process. I’ve found that emotions will not kill you.

To process your emotions, write it out (through journaling or a diary). Speak it out (to a friend or therapist).

Allow yourself to go to the darkest, most painful parts of yourself.

The intensity of your emotions will taper over time. It may feel unbearable in the beginning, but it does get better. Once you experience the emotional overwhelm, you’ll find you can sit with your emotions more easily.

2. Choose love over fear

Your grief and anger about the breakup will turn to fear at some point. You might think that one strategy to avoid this kind of pain is never to be in another relationship again. Brilliant! Except once you realize that, your colorful world turns to a black and white landscape where you’re barely living. Avoiding love is not the recipe for opening your heart to love.

You must choose love each and every time.

You have to choose to see your past relationship through a loving lens. You have to see your ex through the prism of love. You have to see your heartbreak as love.

You also choose love over fear in opening your heart. You realize that you have two choices: you can build walls and hide your heart, or you can venture out. You have a choice in every decision you make.

You can stay home or go out. You can put up a dating profile or take it down. You can speak to the Harvard woman your family wants to introduce you to or you can pretend you missed the email with her contact Information.

3. Take emotional risks

Loving someone takes a lot of emotional risk. You risk being hurt. You risk opening your life up to pain and suffering. You risk a marriage gone wrong, losing your house and splitting your kids with your ex.

Yes, a lot can go wrong with love, but there’s a lot to gain from love, too.

I’m dubious about love at first sight and loving by jumping all in. I prefer love to be more like how I enter a swimming pool. Some people say, who cares if it’s freezing cold? Just cannon ball in. Jump off the side and plunge yourself into the water. It may be freezing, it may be deep, but after 10 seconds in, you’ll adjust. I prefer not to enter a pool this way. I go in one toe at a time, until my body is immersed in the water.

You don’t have to jump all in after a broken heart. You can take it slow. You can share what you’re comfortable with. There aren’t just two degrees of relationships: superficial and committed. Take smaller risks each day.

4. Trust yourself

You are worried that you’ll make the wrong decision when you love again. You’ll wind up with someone else who breaks your confidence, betrays your trust and breaks your heart.

You have no guarantees or certainties when you open your heart to another person. You can’t trust or believe in anyone else; but oh, you can.

You have yourself. If you really think about it, you always know. When you’ve found the right person, you know. When you’ve found the wrong person, you always know.

99% of heartbreak begins before it starts. A sure recipe for disaster is to stay in a relationship with the wrong person.

You don’t have to trust anyone else. You only need to trust your judgment, your heart and your intuition.

5. Use pain as wisdom

Do you believe that your pain keeps you stuck in the past and prevents you from finding love again?

What if your greatest weakness, your pain, can be your superpower?

Your pain can be see through the prism of loss and heartache, or through the prism of wisdom.

If you survived heartbreak, you understand others and yourself better.

If you survived heartbreak, you know who’s right for you and who’s not.

If you survived heartbreak, your heart’s more attuned to what you want.

In the pain is your wisdom. In your wisdom is your strength. In your strength is your ability to love again.

You can do this.

mindful

Nothing’s less sexy than road rage: on anxiety management

By Elloa

Anxiety-words.jpg

Most of what we humans struggle with involves anxiety in some form.

Anxiety, Dr. Murray Bowen (the creator of Family Systems Theory) proposed, is the fuel of all human relationships 1.

I know that sounds a bit weird. It makes more sense to think that love, connection or belonging are the fuel of all relationships, but stay with me here. Think about what comes up for you if you imagine your sense of love, connection or belonging being taken away from you or threatened in some way. How do you feel?

My bet: anxious. You might not call it anxiety (I didn’t, for years.) You might call it fear, or sadness, or numbness, or scared. You might get angry or defensive. You might want to shut down or pull away. You might try to brush it off, telling yourself not all that convincingly that you don’t care that much.

Each of these responses sits under the umbrella category of anxiety.

Because fundamentally, we are interdependent creatures. We need each other. We need to belong, and we need to feel connected. There are of course the rare ones among us who seem genuinely content being loners; perhaps they are anomalies, or perhaps they have buried the pain of disconnection so deeply that they no longer feel it.

Perhaps though, the ones who feel most comfortable being alone are the ones with the most relationship anxiety.

We are used to thinking about anxiety in terms of a condition that people have individually. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the US (18% of the population)  2 and over 8 million in the UK.  3

We are also used to thinking of mental disorders in distinct and separate categories: anxiety, depression, addictions, and so on. Yet if we look at the root rather than the manifestation of each of these issues, we’ll see one thing at their core: relationships.

Over and over again in 12 step meetings, I used to hear people say, “My real problem is relationships. I thought it was the drugs/food/alcohol/gambling/sex/love/porn addiction, but really, it is relationships. I don’t really know how to do them, and they scare me.”

We’re not simply talking about romantic love relationships here. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that most of us human beings are not in right relationship with life itself.

So, back to anxiety. We don’t really think of it as a relationship issue, yet perhaps that is precisely what it is.

As obvious as it sounds, you’re always anxious in relation to someone or something (usually, someone, right?).

Our inability to hold ourselves in the anxiety that our relationships and interactions generate — our tendency to react rather than to respond — is what creates so much of the violence, acting out, harm to self and others that is a very real problem in our world.

We may struggle with the anxiety that arises during a heated debate with a colleague, a polite yet tense interaction with a neighbour, a horrid argument with our partner, or even an encounter with a total stranger.

One Monday morning a few weeks ago, I saw a woman at the wheel having a shouty-conversation with her upset daughter who was on the pavement. The woman’s car was right in the middle of a fairly busy main road in my town. Cars started to beep at her to move. Her daughter was shouting with an air of desperation that she needed her mum’s help, and I could feel the mum’s anxiety escalating wildly.

A moment later, she snapped, roaring at another driver to FUCK OFF. It reminded me of the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, except that instead of saying “mischief managed,” the refrain here was “anxiety not managed.”

Then, not some ten minutes later, I saw a different woman whose dog was out of control in her garden. I was about to walk past with Molly, right next to it, and this dog was throwing itself against the gate, gnashing its teeth and trying to leap over the wall towards us. It was a scary red zone dog, one of the breeds that got a bad reputation in the nineties for mauling people to death. I stopped dead on the pavement next to her, wary and worried for Molly’s safety.

Once she got hold of the dog, I saw the woman pick up a bit of wood and start to whack, whack, whack… it was behind a wall so I don’t know if she was hitting the dog or the floor next to the dog, but I have a horrid feeling it was the former. It was distressing to witness.

In both cases, if these women were more able to just be in their anxiety without acting out, there would have been a different response.

A tiny gap would have opened up. The gap could mean the difference between reacting and responding.

As Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and psychiatrist once wrote,

“Between stimulus and response [or reaction] there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

By the way, if you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning by Frankl, I urge you to do so.

In closing, this is what I strongly believe we need to aim for collectively, now more than ever—to practice responding from a principled space rather than reacting urgently and unconsciously to every little thing that happens around us.

We need to become emotionally mature, emotionally responsible, emotionally adult.

I’m saying this from a place of observation and with compassion rather than with judgement. I have failed to respond and have reacted many, manymany times in my life. I am also doing my very best to grow (up), to become emotionally responsible (response-able) and to practise the art of responding rather than reacting.

Effective anxiety management doesn’t sound sexy, but the rewards of being able to do it really are.

And let’s face it:

Nothing’s less sexy than road rage.

mindful

Healing Low Self-Esteem: Failing Doesn’t Make You a Failure

                  By

                     “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” ~Zig Ziglar

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Take a second and imagine little you: running around like the little ragamuffin you were. Imagine as far back as you can—back when you were first able to comprehend feedback from parents, teachers, or whatever other authorities were around.

When considering the cause of low self-esteem, the most obvious answers are under the umbrella of past abuses or failures: a parent who demanded straight As, an abusive spouse, etc. These are common forms of mistreatment that cause some people’s self-esteem to tank.

But for those who’ve lived fairly easy lives, while surrounded by reasonably supportive people, low self-esteem has no obvious root (I talked about my own experience with this here.) What’s worse is that having an issue we don’t understand can make us feel weak or defective because the problem seemingly has no cause.

So if you’ve suffered with low self-esteem, even if just occasionally or in certain situations, research is now pointing us in an interesting direction. There’s a surprising link that can help us out, and it has everything to do with effort.

How Low Self-Esteem Takes Shape

Are you one of those people who think Sigmund Freud is an absolute dunce? I don’t blame you. But he was right about something, and it’s that what happens to us during childhood shapes us—big time.

Researchers in the Netherlands discovered that parents who praise their children for innate qualities may actually do more harm than good. According to the study, parents should instead praise children for their hard work and effort.

So what’s the difference? It’s hardly possible to distinguish between a mom exclaiming, “Oh, you’re such a good reader!” and another who says, “Oh, you worked so hard on your reading assignment!” But this difference is significant.

Children who were praised for “being” something felt a strange pressure that children who were praised for their work didn’t feel: When they fail, they associate the failure with an innate quality instead of associating it with the amount or quality of work they did.

As you can imagine, associating your failures with innate flaws instead of just the quality of effort you put in can be damaging to a child’s impressionable self-image. And it can continue to wreak havoc on your adult self.

Suddenly “I didn’t study enough” becomes “I’m stupid,” or “I need more practice with painting” becomes “I’m a bad artist,” etc. The low value falls on the self, not on the action taken.

To put it another way, this kind of praise conditions us to think we are supposed to already be something without practice or trial and error. After falling short of this irrational standard a few times, self-esteem can drop quickly.

The researchers also found that parents were more likely to praise children with low self-esteem for their innate qualities, thinking it would help give them a needed boost. Whoops.

If you think this sounds like a bunch of BS, I can vouch for it personally.

For much of my life, I wouldn’t try anything that I felt I wasn’t “innately” good at. I was big on beginner’s luck and anything I knew how to do intuitively, without much effort. Everything else (especially when hand-eye coordination was involved) could suck it as far as I was concerned.

My parents were not major enforcers of hard work, so their praises were usually directed at innate qualities.

As I grew up, this subtle distinction wreaked havoc in many areas of my life. I would quit things at the first sign of trouble, becoming extremely discouraged, and sometimes even feeling ashamed at the slightest mistake.

Basically, how I behaved and my upbringing exemplified the above theory: I had no understanding of commitment and how it was the key to being talented in any area. Instead, I fearfully avoided anything that required practice and stuck to things I felt I had a “knack” for. I believed that what I did was who I was—for better or worse.

Separating Yourself From Your Effort

So ask yourself this: What is your relationship with hard work and effort? How about innate talent? How do you see yourself when moving toward a goal?

If you’ve had self-esteem issues in your life, you may be familiar with quitting or shying away from effort. Maybe you felt bad when you weren’t immediately good at a new task, thinking you just “didn’t have it in you.”

So you need to begin catching yourself in these thought patterns. A failure of any kind does not reflect that you are a failure. It is simply that your action failed to have the impact you wanted.

So begin to:

1. Consciously separate these two things in your mind. Each time you recognize this pattern, remind yourself that a failed attempt at something does not equate to a failed person.

2. Suspend negative self-talk and replace it with a more neutral belief. For example, if you intensely feel that you’ve failed at something, remind yourself that it is probably a common mistake and getting good at any task requires patience.

3. Truly begin to understand that failure is necessary for success in anything. View
failures (as best you can) as learning opportunities that will propel you to the next stage.

The book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How does a great job of debunking the “innate talent” myth. The author explains where talent and skill actually come from. (Spoiler alert: it’s practice)

Every expert in every field is the result of around ten thousand hours of committed practice.” ~The Talent Code

Extraordinary innate talent is sort of a myth, perpetuated by meaningless phrases like “you either have it or you don’t!” Of course, it’s safe to say that we all have propensities for certain things, but that does not bar those who don’t from practicing and developing that skill too.

So the next time you hold yourself to unrealistic expectations, remember: You are not your effort.