Let’s Talk About Sex…or Lack Thereof


When my partner and I met, we were all about chemistry. We christened every room in the house, as well as both of our cars…many times. We made love in a sunny Arizona field and in the shade of a redwood in a public park in Vancouver. We went at it for hours on end and accomplished many, many big O’s. The pull was so strong and intoxicating that it lured me away from another man I deeply loved. We simply could not keep our hands off each other. 

Fast forward 8 years. Two small children, 6 years of cohabitation, 1,001 dances, 357 arguments and reconciliations, one million shared laughs, 5,467 cups of understanding, 34,784 mixed buckets of compromise and acceptance, and a countless number of adventures later. I feel as united with him as ever, closer to him than I have ever been with any other romantic partner. After going through childbirth and parenting with this wonderful man, I feel like we’ve been to war together, and this solidifies the ties between us like blood, making him my family as much as my mother or brother. 

And I don’t remember the last time we did it. 

Yes, we are currently 6 weeks postpartum. And yes, we have a very curious and combative 4 year old under the roof. Of course, I’ve heard all the stories that the healthy sex life disappears with young children in the mix. I’m not unrealistic enough to expect the unrestrained passion of our early days to survive the many years of our partnership. The mystery is gone, and all that jazz.

I don’t want a sexless marriage, but honestly, I don’t really want sex. In my head, I really, really do, but at the end of the day when the brief moment of opportunity presents itself, I really don’t. 

The last time we attempted sex (yes, it was only an attempt), I was in my third trimester. It was late at night, and we tried to sneak in a quickie. While we tried several different positions in an attempt to accommodate my humongous belly and simultaneously pricked our ears for any signs of awakening from our 4 year old in the next room, we somehow lost the desire halfway through. To say it was frustrating is putting it mildly. My partner complained that we are always rushing and there is no longer any foreplay. My big, giant pregnant belly didn’t make me feel sexy; nor was it a turn-on for my man. Sex felt more like work, something we had to do in order to, as my friend’s wise mother puts it, “grease the wheels of marriage.” 

Soon after this, D left town for a couple of weeks. I got a yeast infection. I gave birth, and I needed time to heal. I’m experiencing some kind of pelvic prolapse (sorry for the TMI, but isn’t this whole post a bit of that anyway?), and I am now a bit freaked out to have sex, at least until after I go to my postnatal follow-up appointment. I feel very far away from sex with my partner. I don’t know how to get there. I suggested we start massaging each other to “reaquaint” ourselves, yet once again, I would much rather read a book or tune into Netflix when the evening rolls around. He is starting to show me some desire, thank God, which I think will push us in the right direction. However, when I think about the act of sex, it still feels like something I should do, instead of something I want to do. 

When did sex become work?

I remember a time in my life, about a decade or so back, when I went through a sexual liberation phase. Not that I was going around sleeping with everyone or anything; I did more of that in my early 20’s before I was really sexually liberated. I read about the erotic, talked with my friends a lot about sex, generally pushed myself to become very sex-positive in every way, and explored in a very open way with my one trusted partner (or two consecutive partners, the second being my current man). I felt so juicy and inspired during this time, and endlessly enthusiastic about sex.

I want that back. I need to create space for that. I don’t know how, or when, because I just don’t have that kid of open-ended time to relax into the nectar of slow sex with little munchkins around. It is so hard to shift into an erotic space when one has only small pockets of time and very little energy. Yet, I think if I can pull it off, it will give me twice as much energy as I have now.

Maybe I need to cancel my Netflix account. Maybe I need to erase me Facebook profile, and dedicate my limited time to increasing intimacy in my partnership. Maybe I need to take it easier on myself, give us more time to adjust as a family, and understand my passion is directed towards small children during this time period.

I am really not sure. Please, tell me about your sex life post-kids, or post several years of marriage, after the shine has worn off. Let’s have a frank discussion, people, let’s talk about sex!

 

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How to Create Freedom? Embrace Limitations.

Life is so full of paradox, isn’t it?

My entire life, I have done my best to deny, run from, and rebel against limitations. My hippie parents taught me that the rules didn’t have to apply to me, and I still sometimes find myself believing in the fallacy of that sense of entitlement. I’ve always looked for ways out of the grindstone, and I have often found them.

I dropped out of high school after my junior year, took some time off to party and work and party some more, then I went directly to college. I’ve taken many extended vacations to travel and “find myself,” and my family repeatedly gave me a place to stay while I got back on my feet financially after each of these extended leaves. I didn’t experience consistent rules and consequences as a child, and learned to walk all over my mom as a result.

When I finally got my driver’s license at the age of 18, I learned that if I ignore tickets, they get bigger and bigger, and they turn into arrest warrants. This was when I began to learn that the rules do in fact apply to me. Still, I continued and continue to look for ways out. How can I support myself, make good money even, without having to work a grueling 8-5 job? How can I make a lot of money working just a little? How can I manifest a permanent vacation? I know it’s possible, and I am just the special person who will figure it out.

Not.

The longer I live, the more experiences I have that teach me the responsibilities continue to grow. More and more people grow to depend on me. What I considered stressful 10 years ago would feel like a vacation now. I’ve come to accept this little by little, yet I still fight it at times, in subtle ways, like in my habit of always running late.

Cut to an EMDR training I attended last weekend. Trainings are great in a therapist’s world, because not only do we learn new skills to help us become better practitioners, but we also get therapy in the process. We practice on each other, which is awesome, scary, and exhausting.

I can share more about EMDR at a later date if requested, but right now I just want to share my process as it relates to this post. As the “client,” my job was to come up with some kind of stress or trauma trigger that is current in my life. I chose the recurring experience of driving in traffic while running late. I create this scene in my life A LOT, and I am so over it.

The process: track my “therapist’s” fingers with my eyes as she moves them quickly side to side in front of my face while I hold the mental image, feelings, and negative belief about myself that correspond to driving in traffic while running late. After each set, describe what I see, think, or feel, “go with that,” and continue sets until I come to a place of resolution (or run out of time). Sounds strange, I know, but the shit works, and is evidence based to boost.

This process took me all over the place, from issues with my parents, to core issues with myself. Basically, it took me to the root of why I tend to run late. Here is an abbreviated version of my mental movie stream of consciousness: Running late, yelling at myself in my head, I’m a bad person, I always do this. That critical parent part of me yelling and the small child cowering in a corner. The rebellious adolescent popping up, yelling back at the critical parent, this is all bullshit. Fuck limitations anyway. I don’t need to deal with any of this. Tired. Don’t want to fight. This isn’t the way. Maybe this inner critic, that looks and acts like a monster has something valuable for me to learn, and I should try to listen. Don’t want to. Try. Try. This monster wants respect. This monster is here to teach me about limitations. Limits are real, and they do apply to me. I can be friends with them. When I work with them, life is better. I have more choices and mobility. This part of me that wants to throw them off and be on permanent vacation is dead energy. I thrive when I honor my commitments. Running late is how I try to deny limitations. That is dead energy. Life is less stressful, more relaxed and free, when I give myself extra time, when I respect and honor limitations.

I am an alchemist. I can manipulate limitations and create freedom. I am part of this web of life, but I am not trapped in it. I can move all around. It is a sacred honor to be responsible to others, to have that trust placed in me. And I am not alone. I can let go, and let others support me and help me. Limitations have to do with being connected. Rebelling against them is actually antisocial. Life is a dance of shared responsibility. I want to be responsible and I can still rest. Interdependence.

By respecting and learning to manipulate limitations, I become a magician, creating exactly what I want in my life. I build skills, which brings more cash flow into my life, which gives me more mobility and freedom. I can do all of this in an effortless manner, because I have support just as I undertake the joy of supporting others.

So you see: the paradox of limitation and freedom. One does not attain freedom by shirking off the limitations. One attains freedom by diving into the limitations, getting to know them intimately, weaving one’s own web of interconnectedness.

And so it goes. 

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Do Expectations Ruin Relationships?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much it is fair to hold our friends and family to our own standards. On the one hand, it is a matter of self respect to expect certain qualities from those we love and choose to spend time with. On the other hand, who are we to say how other people should behave? They probably have a perfectly good reason for their behavior, and I don’t want to lose otherwise good friends because they disappoint me sometimes.

Of course, this topic is different when you look at family as opposed to friends. Take my brother, for example. I love him without end. He is horrible at returning calls or responding to invitations. Seriously, he is deeply faulted in this way. We never know if he is going to show up to family functions. Therefore, we can’t plan for him, we don’t know what he might bring to a potluck, and we don’t know if we should cook enough for him. It is incredibly annoying. It is actually quite disrespectful of him to not consider any of this. How hard exactly is it to pick up the phone, or send a quick text or email? If I think about it, I get pissed.

Thankfully, my sister helps me keep perspective on this. How? She gets extremely angry and vents about it to me leading up to almost every family gathering. She threatens to write him off completely. She is so vehement, in fact, that I find myself sticking up for him. And I find myself coming to the conclusion that I love him, he is my only brother, and I cannot change him, so I may as well accept him as is.

Is this codependent. Am I enabling his behavior? I don’t know. What I do know is that I enjoy the time that I spend with him, and I spend a lot less time being upset if I don’t expect him to function in ways in which he just seems somewhat handicapped.

Another example. I mentioned a friend who I felt really let me down in a recent post here. After we lived in the same town and were really close friends for about 10 years, she divorced her husband and moved an hour away. I didn’t expect our friendship to change because of these events, but boy was I wrong. She almost completely fell off the grid for quite a while, and has never since been available to me as she was before. I felt abandoned and took it really personally, so much that I considered writing her off, and wondered if she had ever been my friend at all.

When she did make time for me, she was often very distracted. When my mom died, I expected her to be there for me, as she had lost her dad a few years back. I expected she would empathize and understand what I needed. I expected wrong. She actually completely blew me off for months after my mom’s death. I was hurt and pissed, and really didn’t want anything to do with her for a while.

Then, I received a condolence card from another good friend in the mail about a month ago, which was also months after my mom’s death. I was pleasantly touched and surprised by this gesture, and it made me examine how i had no expectations of this friend to be there for me. I wondered why. It’s not that I consider the other friend a better friend; I actually feel very close to the one who sent me the card. The only difference is that we have never actually lived in the same town and been involved in one another’s lives on a day to day basis. It’s a different kind of relationship, I guess.

I also remembered that this friend had also lost a parent, and I had never even bothered to ask her the details about this loss. Granted, she lost her dad as a child, but this again gave me pause and made me wonder how good of a friend I am. Would I measure up to my own standards? And why do I hold some friends to higher standards? Do I really want to write off a great, old friend just because she isn’t meeting my expectations? Who am I to judge anyway?

I realized then that I need to move my first friend into another category of expectations, which is the category for friends who live out of town. We can go for months without speaking. I don’t expect them to check in regularly, but when we do get to spend time together, it is like no time has passed. This shift really helped.

Incidentally, this friend did recently contact me, and we spent a great afternoon together. A week later, a plant that she gave me a year ago bloomed with bright magenta flowers. The plant is very low-maintenance, yet incredibly rewarding with its bright and colorful display of vitality. Much like our friendship.

What standards do you hold for your friends and family? How accepting is too accepting for you? do you think it is fair and productive to have expectations of those close to you? Let me know; I really want to hear!

 

How to Support Loved Ones in Grief

ImageGrief: an experience that many of us don’t know what to do with or how to react to when we come in contact with it. Before my recent experiences with grief, I really didn’t have much of an idea of how to support others in grief. I had my therapeutic training, but that only goes so far and doesn’t always translate to being there for loved ones. It seems to me that in Western culture, at least in the U.S., we are so far removed from the concept of death that we become extremely uncomfortable when it touches us. For this reason, I wasn’t surprised when many of those close to me had no idea how to support me in my grief after the loss of my mother. For those that did give me support that worked, I was pleasantly surprised. For those that didn’t, I mostly understood.

Below I have compiled a few pieces of advice for those close to someone grieving. These are things that did and didn’t work for me while I was (and continue to be) marching down the grief highway. They may or may not be true for others!

  • Do call and check in regularly. Ask if I need anything, including practical things like food or childcare. Keep calling after the loss happens. Keep checking in and offering help, regardless of whether or not I call you back. Don’t expect me to call you back. Hearing your voice and knowing you are here for me is worth so much, even if I don’t respond to you.
  • Don’t say you “can’t imagine” what I am going through. I know I’ve been guilty of saying this to people before I experienced major loss in my life. Having now been on the receiving end of this one, I can see it really doesn’t help. For me, when I heard this, I felt isolated and separate, as if I was going through it alone.
  • Do express to me your understanding that death is a natural and normal part of life. A friend of mine simply said about my experience, “We are all going to experience that.” Even though he hasn’t experienced it yet, and maybe can’t imagine it, I felt his solidarity with my experience. I felt supported.
  • Do share your grief stories with me. This has been one of the most valuable forms of support to me. Seeing other people who have come out the other side of grief helps immensely.
  • Don’t pay me unexpected visits. Give me space to be in my cave. Call if you want to visit, and wait for my response.
  • Do show up for me, especially if you are a close friend. I was really dismayed that a person I had considered one of my closest friends barely acknowledged the loss I experienced, and simply did not show up. I even confronted her about it. She promptly apologized, explained herself, and then continued to not show up. I was especially disappointed because she is one of the few people I know close to my age who has lost a parent, and she is someone I have felt very comfortable with in expressing these difficult emotions in the past. I can only guess that she either A) hasn’t dealt with her own grief around the loss of her father a few years back and is therefore not comfortable showing up, or B) is not as good of a friend as I once thought she was. I haven’t felt very compelled to reach out to learn which one it is. Okay, excuse the rant! Any feedback will be appreciated.
  • Don’t give me the sad face the first time you see me in passing after the loss. Seriously, this is the worst. I’m at the grocery store, in a great mood, weeks after my mom died, her death being the last thing on my mind at the moment. And there is my friend, who sees me and immediately associates me with all things tragic. The overly concerned, “How are you?” Well, I was just great, until I ran into you! I am absolutely sure I’ve done this in the past. I remember bringing it up to a friend who’d recently lost her dad the first time I saw her out at a concert after her loss, and she told me straight up not to talk about it. Understand, with grief come myriad emotions. It is not just about depression and despair. For me, there has been a surprising amount of joy in the release of my mom’s spirit. So, don’t project your idea of what grief is onto me. Instead, when you see me, greet me with an uplifting smile. Let me know how happy you are to see me. Tell me you heard about my loss and are available to talk or help out in any way. Pay attention and respond to my response. If I just nod and smile and say thank you, move on to the next subject.
  • Do share your memories with me. In the time of my mom’s passing, family and friends gathered together on several occasions. It was such a treat for me to hear stories about my mom from those in her generation, stories I had never heard that helped me get to know her in ways I never did before. Another extended family member sent me old pictures of my mom. These stories and mementos are such a sacrament, like healing salve on an open wound.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Please gift us with your contribution to this list, because I know that everyone has a different experience with grief. Thanks for reading!

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How to Change Habits

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I’ve got quite a few habits I’d like to change, and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. From daily actions I take that harm me more than help me, to automatic thoughts that limits me in major ways, I have plenty of room to grow and change in positive ways. My inspired quest right now is exactly this: how do we change habits in a lasting way? Here’s my brainstorm so far:

1. Mindfulness meditation. This works especially for unconscious, compulsive actions or automatic thinking habits. We keep engaging in habits that don’t serve us because we are not thinking. It’s routine. It’s what we know and find comfortable. It’s a pathway that has been carved in our brain that is of least resistance, much like a river that cuts a pathway through rock and earth will not flow any other way unless a dam is built and a new pathway is carved. This takes a lot of work! Mindfulness meditation can help us wake up from the trance of habitual thinking and action. With practice, we can start to notice the moment we make the decision to act on a habit, or the moment a thought arises that does not serve us. If you want to know more about mindfulness meditation, ask me. It will inspire me to get off on my butt and write!

2. Monitor and change behaviors. This includes several steps.

  • Choose the habit you want to change, and state the habit you want to create positively. For example, instead of, “I am not going to eat crappy food,” you would say, “I am only going to eat healthy foods.” This is important, because your brain follows your thoughts, so if you state what you are NOT going to do, your mind will be more likely to fixate on the forbidden than to focus on the positive change.
  • Commit to creating this new habit. There’s no room for half-assed goals here. You need to make a decision, and it needs to be definite.
  • Consider accountability partners.
  • Break down the practical steps you need to take to actualize the change into your daily life, and make these steps measurable goals. Create a schedule to support these changes. For instance, if my goal is that I want to exercise more, I need to decide how much more, and what I need to do to make my schedule accommodate this. I will then have a definite plan, and it is more likely to become routine. Guess what? Routines become habit!
  • Track your progress. Keep a note of it in your scheduler. Check in with it every day. Feel good when you see yourself doing it more and more.
  • Reward yourself as you meet your goals, that is, if changing the habit and meeting the goals is not reward enough itself!

3. Take it deeper. Sometimes a purely behavioral approach doesn’t work. This is generally because we did not truly commit or because we have deeper work to do around the habit we wish to change. Here are some ideas that you may find fruitful:

  • Examine resistance. A lot of times when we try to change habits, resistance comes up. Looking at this resistance may give you some clues to the deeper issues that may be present.
  • Look at the underlying needs. People engage in bad habits to fill needs that are not being filled in other ways. Ask yourself what is the need you are meeting in engaging in something that you see as unhealthy. Find another way to meet that need.
  • Be compassionate and allow yourself to cheat at times. Rigidity can create a narrow black and white view that makes change impossible. Create some space for yourself to make mistakes. Let yourself breathe, relax, and refocus.
  • Go deeper still. Changing habits can bring core issues to light. Spend some time exploring these issues if you feel they are ripe for healing. Journal. Talk with a friend or counselor. Dream on it. Take time to truly tune into yourself. You are so worth it!

I’ve got a list of 9 new habits I want to create. Now I just need to choose one and take some of my own advice. What about you, readers? Do you have any useful strategies for changing habits that you can share?

7 Ways to Heal from Stress and PTSD

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the damaging effects of chronic, overwhelming stress. Today, I will follow this up with some ways I learned to heal from these conditions. This all came from a very informative PTSD training with John Preston, Psy.D.

1. Hold and be held. Particularly with babies, tactile stimulation does wonders. In one study, a control group held babies for two hours a day while an experimental group held babies for four hours a day. After six weeks, the babies in the experimental group cried 43% less. This applies cross-culturally. Babies who are held more are least likely to develop PTSD or hypercortisolemia. While the first year is so critical for lifelong brain development, I don’t think human touch ever becomes less essential. Sure, maybe we don’t need four hours a day, but hugs, cuddles, and massages go a long way.

2. Medication. I am not one to believe in going straight for the magic pill, but there are several medications that can be helpful if you are feeling very overwhelmed or out of control. Several types of medication can activate Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which strengthens neural pathways and can protect the brain from damage by extreme stress. All antidepressants activate BDNF (this is their one common denominator). Others that can be used for this purpose are Lithium, Depakote, Tegratol, Lamictal, and Seroquel. And guess what? Omega-3 fatty acids are also neural-protective. If you think you may need medication, of course talk with your doctor or psychiatrist.

3. Movement. Exercise also activates the neural pathway protector BDNF. It increases seratonin levels as well. Much of the feeling of PTSD is that of being “frozen.” Movement of any kind can immediately snap one out of that feeling.

4. Make choices that increase safety and structure in your daily life. In events of trauma and abuse/neglect, a common theme is powerlessness. Looking at brain chemistry, BDNF decreases when an individual experiences perceived powerlessness. Of course, it is not possible to always be in control of one’s circumstances, but it is possible to make choices that increases the chances of safety. It is also possible to have a regular schedule that increases predictability in your daily life. This will help. If this point interests you, look into the Seeking Safety program.

5. Mindfulness-based stress reduction. I love this one. It is a form of meditation and  consists of simple exercises one can do  to increase one’s mindfulness, which strengthens the brain and increases one’s ability to have control over where attention is placed. There is a lot of good science out there showing that this stuff really works.

6. Facing fears. The act of facing fears actually increases the frontal lobe’s ability to dampen down anxiety. It also gives one a restored sense of self-efficacy and control. When I am at my best, I try to face one fear every day. it is amazingly uplifting.

7. Exposure therapy. This can be useful for people who have been traumatized and feel strong enough to face their trauma. It is one of the most common therapies used for PTSD. Research has shown that exposure therapy strengthens the Arterial Cingulate (AC) and expands neural pathways between the AC and amygdala (remember the top-down control dampening down the anxiety/arousal I talked about last time?). Being able to look at the traumatic event while calm and centered in the present gives one the ability to handle stressful situations more effectively. It also minimizes the effect of the trauma. However, this needs to be executed carefully. An individual needs to learn emotional management skills before he/she begins this work in order to avoid re-traumatization.

Did you know stress can cause brain damage?

ImageI went to a training on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) recently. I did learn quite a bit about how to treat PTSD, but the presenter’s information about the effects of chronic and/or severe stress was what really struck me and stuck with me. So, I am going to blather a bit, and it may be somewhat technical, but I need to get this down on the page in order to internalize the info a bit more, if you know what I mean. Hopefully, some of you will find it interesting and learn from it as well.

Many of us have probably heard of the stress-related hormone cortisol. I myself have heard a lot about how it causes belly fat. What I didn’t know was that chronically high levels of cortisol can cause a condition called Hypercortisolemia. Quite a mouthful, right? Here’s the thing: there are two very important structures in the brain that help us to regulate our emotions (the Arterial Cingulate, or AC, and the Hippocampus). These structures are packed with cortisol receptors, and if they care constantly being bombarded with cortisol, they become damaged and unable to do their job properly. This is hypercortisolemia.

I am talking lifelong effects, especially when this occurs in young, developing brains.

Impacts of hypercortisolemia:

1) The Artertial Cingulate (AC) has top down control over the amygdala. You know that reptilian part of your brain that gets triggered in the present because something reminds you of painful memories from the past, even when you know things have changed, but you’re still tripping? That’s the amygdala working. It never forgets, but isn’t always rational. So basically the AC is the structure that tells the amygdala, “Calm down, relax, that was then, this is now.” If the AC is damaged, the amygdala is hyperactive (oh, please, god, no), and anxiety goes up.

2) The risk of depression goes up from a 15% chance (general population) to a whopping 58% chance. Not fun.

3) Some of the other clinical outcomes include severe personality disorders (especially borderline, for you other psych nerds out there), attachment problems, vulnerability to PTSD, and chronic PTSD.

Obviously this is serious. Take a big breath of relief, because most people will not get this condition. It is not generally caused by your run of the mill everyday stress.

Causes/ Risk Factors of Hypercortisolemia:

1) Ongoing trauma or chronic stress

2) Prenatal conditions: Cortisol can cross the placental barrier and damage a developing brain. Depressed or chronically stressed pregnant women need to have their cortisol levels screened and take anti-depressants if they are high.

3) Severe neglect

Now I am going to go on a bit of a tangent and talk a little bit about severe neglect, as the effects are quite tragic. Some of the behavioral symptoms of severe neglect include hypersensitivity (reacting more strongly to stress and taking longer to calm down), self-mutilation, and aggression.

Another symptom of severe neglect is alcohol abuse. Even in studies with primates, all of the monkeys were given alcohol, and it was the neglected monkeys who drank regularly and excessively.

Individuals who have experienced severe neglect also are more likely to have lifelong attachment problems. Studies on primates also show that neglected monkeys are not accepted, as they do not know how to read social cues. Neglected monkeys will have no mates. If they are inseminated, they will not take care of their babies (as a side note, this makes me kind of want to hurt whatever researchers felt the need to so deeply damage these poor monkeys).

Severe neglect can also cause lifelong neurobiological changes. Cortisol goes up (increased anxiety, depression, and lack of deep sleep). Seratonin goes down (more irritability, anxiety, impulsivity). Oxytocin goes down (causing problems with developing healthy attachments).

Another uplifting animal study: Infant rats were separated from their mothers for six hours a day very early in life. Another group was also separated, but continued to receive tactile stimulation. The control group was left to bond with their mommies. After a bit of all this, these amazing researchers threw all of the rats in a tub of water. Guess what? Those rats that stayed with their mommies and those rats that continued to receive tactile stimulation both fought for their little rat lives for TWICE as long.

Obviously, it is the very young brain that is most at risk here. However, experiencing trauma also happens to quite a lot of us, more than I like to believe is true.

Take home message? Take care of your baby. Get checked out if you are pregnant and tend toward depression or have a lot of stress in your life right now (but don’t stress!). If you do go through something traumatic, ask for help if you are feeling you are not getting over it after a month or so.

I am going to wrap up this highly uplifting post right now, but I will be back with some ways that you can deal with and heal this fun stuff.

Quiz: What’s your communication style?

ImageWe all have our own ways of communicating. What’s yours? Do you speak carefully and listen with full attention, or talk over others? Do you speak your mind, or hold it inside? Answer these questions honestly in order to gain some insight on your communication habits: those that help you, and those that hurt you. Take out a piece of paper and pen to get started, and don’t forget to have fun with it!

1. Your best friend in the world has been showing up perpetually late almost every time you make plans, and your patience is wearing thin. You:
A)
Grin and bear it. You figure she must be busy, and besides, you can always find ways to busy yourself while you wait.                                                           B)  Send her a text asking where she is every five minutes until she arrives, when you give her a piece of your mind.                                                                         C) Communicate to her that you feel like she doesn’t value your relationship when she habitually arrives late. Tell her that you prefer not to spend your spare time waiting for her, and ask her if she can make more of an effort to show on time.                                                                                                  D)  Purposefully make plans for noon when you know you can’t be there until 12:30. Let her have a taste of her own medicine

2. For the last five years, your family has convened at your sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. The holiday is nearing, and you haven’t received an invitation. What do you do?                                                                                                 A)  Wait until you hear from her. You trust it will all work out.                                                 B)  Send an email to the whole family. Announce you will host this year, as no one else has offered, and assign each family member a dish to prepare for the feast.                            C)  Call her, and offer to host it this year if she would prefer to take a break.                       D)  Whine to your friends about your lack of Thanksgiving plans until you finagle a back-up invitation to another dinner, just in case.

3. A project comes up at work that you feel is perfect for you, but your boss assigns it to someone else, which leaves you feeling disappointed. You:                                                 A)  Say nothing, and keep working hard. Someone is bound to notice your talent eventually.                                                                                                                              B)  Confront your boss and demand to know why you didn’t get the assignment when it’s obvious you’re the perfect candidate. You’ve done your time after all, and you know you deserve it.                                                                                                                              C)  Ask your boss what you need to do differently in order to be considered for future projects like this one.                                                                                                             D)  Stop working so hard. If you aren’t going to be given opportunities to advance, why bother?

4. Your significant other wants to know what you want to do for your upcoming birthday. How do you reply?                                                                                                                 A)  “Surprise me!”                                                                                                                   B)  He doesn’t even have to ask! You already gave him a sheet of paper with information for the spa resort you’ve chosen for the weekend, a detailed itinerary of your activities, and a list of what to buy you for a birthday gift.                                                                             C)  “I’ve been wanting to get away for a weekend, maybe a bed and breakfast, but what do you think? Can we afford it?”                                                                                            D)  Tell him whatever he wants to do is fine, and then give him the cold shoulder when he doesn’t plan it the way you wanted.

5. Someone cuts in front of you in line at the airport ticket counter. You’re in a hurry and afraid you may miss your flight. You:                                                                                       A)  Attempt to diffuse your seething anger by telling yourself they must be in an even bigger hurry than you are.                                                                                                                    B)  Take a step closer to them, glare, and exclaim, “Oh, hell no!”                                        C)  Politely direct them to the back of the line.                                                                      D)  Silently glower.

6. You’re at a party, when you spot an acquaintance that you simultaneously admire and feel intimidated by. Do you approach or keep your distance?                                                A)  You keep your distance. When they don’t approach you, you decide they either didn’t recognize you or didn’t see you.                                                                                            B)  Immediately approach them, remind them of how you met, and entertain them with stories about your boyfriend/cat/boss/toddler for the rest of the evening.                           C)  You wait until they don’t seem deep in a conversation with anyone, then approach and remind them of how you met. You work into the conversation the thing you admire about them, because you know everyone loves a compliment.                                                      D)  You wait for them to approach you, not wanting to appear to eager. When they never do approach, you write them off as stuck-up, and decide you’re too good for them anyway.

7. One of the seemingly most solid couples in your close group of friends suddenly splits, because she cheated on him. Your initial response is anger towards her, and sympathy for him. What do you do?                                                                                                            A)  Only spend time with her if she calls you to make plans. It’s hard to place your feelings to the side, but you know it is not your place to judge, because no one can see inside of anyone else’s heart.                                                                                                                  B)  Call her and let her know that you find her actions disgusting.                                       C)  Call them both, and let them both know you are here if they need any support. Let her know your emotions, but listen to her side of the story and try to understand.                     D)  Stop returning her phone calls and emails. She’ll get the message eventually.

8. Your in-laws come to stay for a week once a year, and during this time, your mother-in-law is constantly telling you how to raise your kids. You:                                                       A)  Let her have her say, and maybe even try putting some of her advice into practice. She’s only here once a year, after all. You can put up with it for that long.                            B)  Snap at her that you are the mother and you will decide how to raise your own kids.   C)  Gently suggest that, while you appreciate her advice, you have your own ideas about parenting. Offer her literature that explains your parenting methods.                                   D)  Hint to your husband that his family may be more comfortable in a hotel when they come to visit.

9. Have you ever been in a physical altercation?                                                                  A)  Never; at least I never fought back.                                                                                    B)  Yes, I used to fight a lot. I have enough of a reputation that people know not to mess with me.                                                                                                                                     C)  I fought with my siblings and/or best friends once in a while as a kid.                            D)  Generally, I am very calm and would never start a fight. But, there have been a few occasions when I’ve lost it and lashed out when someone made me really mad.

Scoring: Tally which letter you chose most.                                                                             If you chose mostly A, you’re a Peacekeeper.                                                                      If you chose mostly B, you’re a Warrior.                                                                                 If you chose mostly C, you’re a Diplomat.                                                                             If you chose mostly D, you’re a Martyr/Sneak Attacker.

 If you’re a…Peacekeeper: You are very intuitive and have a special gift for making others feel comfortable. Your generous disposition allows you to think of others before yourself. You have the ability to go beyond yourself and the everyday grind, which results in an aura of peace that surrounds you and your loved ones. People come to rest in your haven.

Constantly tuning into others’ needs may leave you at a loss when it comes to understanding your own. With no clear signal from you, loves ones are left in the dark when it comes to supporting you. Furthermore, if you are not careful, you could attract freeloaders and abusers into your life that take advantage of your easygoing nature. Keep a feeling journal to track how situations and people emotionally affect you. If something or someone bothers you, express this. If your loved ones are unresponsive, consider whether they are someone you want in your life.

You have an ocean of untapped potential inside of you that you can only access by turning your finely tuned ear inward. Ask yourself regularly, what is your passion, and what practical steps can you take to manifest it in your daily life? Where do you want to be one, five, ten years from now? Map out the steps you need to take to get there. This is your path. Stay on it.

If you’re a…Warrior: You are strong, straightforward, and honest. You know what you want, and have absolutely no qualms about asking for it. Your passion is a bright light that inspires those around you. You are a person of action, who is most comfortable being in charge.

However, your confidence and sharp tongue may intimidate others, and you may savor the taste of power more than you care to admit. You don’t always think before you speak, and it’s quite likely your hot temper has burned more than one important person in your life.

You will best serve your loved ones and yourself by practicing the following: When you sense yourself becoming angry or frustrated with a person or situation, halt your impulse to attack. Instead, take a full 24 hours before responding. During this respite, take a jog, go to a kickboxing class, sing, scream, whatever it is you need to release the stress of inaction. Pick up a pen and write it out. The next day, re-examine the situation that triggered you. Ask yourself if it is truly a battle worth fighting. If your answer is yes, find a way to communicate your feelings and state your needs without blaming the other person. Remember, there are more sides than one to any given story. Practice listening. Use a bit of that vast supply of courage you possess to let down your walls. Let people in, and trust their intentions.

If you’re a…Diplomat: Congratulations! You are an assertive communicator, voicing your needs clearly while receiving information and balancing the needs of others. Others feel comfortable with you, because they know where you stand, and they respect you for respecting yourself.

You will do well in the teaching, counseling, or healing fields. Remember, this is a gift. Give thanks for your gift by sharing it with the people around you. Have patience for those who do not communicate as well as you, and gently model your skills, so that others can learn from you.

If you’re a…Martyr/ Sneak Attacker: Uh-oh. Watch out. You say one thing and mean another. You win others over by playing the victim, but then ambush them when they least expect it. You need to learn to take responsibility for your emotions, your words, and your actions. Be authentic. You have an infinitely bright light inside of you. Don’t be afraid to let it shine.

You and only you can decide your destiny. Sure, there may be some unforeseen experiences that are truly beyond your control, but it is a mistake to believe that anyone around you has any control over your life. If you want something, you need to communicate clearly that you want it, and work for it. Nobody owes you anything, nor can they read your mind.

Before you speak, ask yourself if you really mean what you are about to say. Be honest with yourself. Ask if it will serve your higher purpose and that of those around you. Do you want to move forward with your words, or backwards? When you match your words with your true intentions, you will experience greater success in life, as well as deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Positive thinking: Finding light in the darkness

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“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” ~ Og Mandino

I’ve been writing a bit in this blog about my journey through a life-threatening miscarriage to the discovery that I had a partial molar pregnancy, which is basically a pregnancy that can become cancerous. After the miscarriage, I had to get weekly blood draws to follow my hormone levels, to know that the tissue from the pregnancy was completely gone and was not continuing to grow and spread. Really fun stuff, right?

This week, my doctor told me that my blood tests are showing me as officially not pregnant, which means I am in the clear. It has been eight weeks since I originally learned that the pregnancy was not viable, and the ordeal is finally over! It was a terrible, horrifying experience, and I am eternally grateful for it.

Why? Because I learned so much. My awareness grew in so many directions. You know the cartoon where the light bulb appears over the person’s head when he/she gets an idea? Well, this was like thousands of light bulbs flashing inside of my head, all at once, as the realization of impermanence hit me. I feel so much more spiritually connected right now, much less afraid of death. Right now, that Dark Mother is my ally. She holds my hand and that cold chill I feel on my skin wakes me up and reminds me to live each moment as if it is the last. 

One of the most powerful therapeutic tools that I know is the Reframe. As defined by wikipedia,Cognitive reframing consists of changing the way people see things and trying to find alternative ways of viewing ideas, events, situations, or a variety of other concepts.” I constantly use this with my clients when I see them getting stuck in complaining, playing the role of the victim, or getting stuck in anger and judgment. I constantly use it with myself when I get stuck (which is at least a hundred times a day).

The questions to ask: Is there another way to look at this situation? Can I turn it on it’s side, upside-down, or backwards? Can I turn myself over and look at it again? Maybe put it away, take a break, do something pleasurable, and look at it again, in new light?

The point of this exercise is to find the positive in an uncomfortable, painful, struggle. It is the realization that you have the power to choose how to see a situation. You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond, and the state of your mind will drive your response.

The experience: I absolutely abhorred going through the miscarriage(s). I hated my doctor, the way she was very jaded and clinical as she gave me the news both about the miscarriage and about the partial molar pregnancy. I never want to go to that office again. I don’t know if I want to try to get pregnant again. I am still grieving the loss. It continues to be a challenge to be present and happy for my friends who have new babies. I get extremely jealous of pregnant women.

The reframe: I value the experience so much, because it was a huge lesson. I learned from it. And I have so much more compassion for other women who’ve miscarried, a much deeper understanding for people facing life-threatening illnesses. I can be more present for people facing huge crises, including death. My struggles have given me more depth. I know my way through some dark places now, so I can walk with others, shining light. I am not afraid to be there anymore, and I will work hard to stay connected to this courage, to this peaceful knowing that pain is just a sensation and death is just the other side of life.

The cognitive reframe can be extremely useful in changing beliefs about oneself to gain more self-acceptance as well.

Belief about myself: I am lazy and unfocused (true, but…)

The reframe: I know how to relax. I am flexible and open to new ideas. I am creative, spontaneous, and an excellent brainstormer. I work well with deadlines (I feel sooo much better about myself now).

Try it. Every time you find yourself stuck in negative thoughts or actions, or if you are going through a difficult situation, stretch your vision. Stand on your head for a while. And tell me about it! Here are some wise parting words from Groucho.

Image“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” ~ Groucho Marx

Perfectionism

I’ve been studying the Bible of treatments for anxiety and phobias lately (also known as the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook), for my work, but the thing I love about my job is how much everything I learn along the way can be applied to my life, or just about anyone’s for that matter. What I would like to share from that book, over a few posts, are the four personality traits most linked to the experience of anxiety. Tonight, folks, it’s all about perfectionism.

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“Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”  -Leonard Cohen

Perfectionism is all about having high sky-high expectations (that are never met), and the inevitable disappointment that comes from focusing on small flaws and mistakes. Perfectionists tend to become so critical, that they are not able to see the positive. Perfectionistic thinking leads to low self-esteem. You try sooo hard, but always fail (because of that one small mistake you made on the way to glory), and therefore are a good-for-nothing nobody. Perfectionists will also completely stress themselves out and often become completely burnt out, just trying to be good enough, constantly fighting this inner critic that will never be satisfied.

Sound familiar at all?

If your answer is yes, here are some steps for shifting your attitude. 

  1. Let go of the idea that your worth is determined by your achievements and accomplishments. That’s right, you are good enough, just being you, doing absolutely nothing at all. Say that to yourself now. “I am good enough. I don’t have to strive to be anything. I am inherently good and worthy.” Stop comparing yourself to others. We all have unique gifts and it only takes the right circumstance to bring them out. Consider this quote by Alice Miller, who wrote the Drama of the Gifted Child. “One is free from depression when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of one’s own feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities.” 
  2. Recognize and overcome perfectionistic ways of thinking. Get a notebook, and listen to the way you talk to yourself. When you hear yourself “shoulding” on yourself, write it down. If you hear yourself using all-or nothing thinking (such as, If I can’t do this all right now, I’ll never get it done.), write it down. Finally, if you find yourself overgeneralizing in a negative sort of way (I messed up, just like I always do, or I made a mistake, which means I can never ever do anything right.), write it down. After you have a good idea of the specific ways you beat yourself up, write down some statements that counter these negative ones (Everyone makes mistakes and learns from them. I did one thing wrong, but I did alot of things right; I will do the best I can; I don’t have to finish this all now. I can do part of it now, and the rest later.) Post these new, more forgiving statements where you will see them. Write them down over and over. Say them out loud to yourself, very slowly, every single day.
  3. Focus on Positives. Take inventory every day of everything positive you accomplished. Notice when you disqualify a positive statement, with a “but…,” and stop yourself.
  4. Stop magnifying the importance of small errors. Seriously, how important is it? Enough to lose sleep? Enough to drive yourself crazy? We all make mistakes. I make one at least every minute. Haven’t you heard the famous quote? “The road to success is paved with failure.” -Unknown
  5. Work on goals that are realistic. If you’re not sure what realistic is, do some reality checking. Talk to people around you. Ask them if it seems attainable to them. If you continuously set goals you fail to attain, it’s time to break them into smaller pieces and give yourself more time. We all have limits. Accept yours.
  6. Cultivate more pleasure and recreation in your life. My favorite!!! Perfectionism tends to make us rigidly focused on attaining goals, denying our need for unstructured time, and as a result, our luscious creative life-force becomes stifled. Who wants that? Not me. So, take a break. Make a list of things you like to do just because they bring you joy or comfort. Do one of those things every day!
  7. Develop a process orientation. That old cliche about the journey being more important than the destination? It. Is. So. True. If nothing else, remember this. Everything continuously evolves. There will be a-ha moments when everything feels perfect and clear, and then there will be challenging lessons. Mostly, there will be challenging lessons. Focus your hunger on the growth, the learning, instead of the finished product. You will be much more satisfied that way. You will be more content, more relaxed, and more accepting of your mistakes. I promise.