Grief

I have not encountered an emotion more powerful than grief. Some would argue, or hope, that love is more powerful. Maybe. But no other emotion has knocked me around like grief has. I can’t recall being doubled over and writhing in love. I learned a lot from my most profound experience of grief. My thought is, if one can stand in the face of grief, invite it in, sit with it, feel it and allow it to move through until the next wave hits and then do it all over again, one can deal with any of the other emotions. The problem is, our culture teaches us and our natural propensity to move away from pain reinforces the inclination to withdraw from grief.

Imagine a funeral. In this case, I’ll call the surviving spouse “widow.” It could be “widower,” it doesn’t matter. As people are approaching the beginning of the receiving line, the question is asked, “How is she doing?” If the widow is abiding by the unspoken desires of our culture – swallowing her pain, keeping a stiff upper lip, managing her tears and, perhaps, comforting others – the reply is, “She’s doing well.” This is code for, “It’s ok to approach, she is not likely to trigger your suppressed grief.” If, on the other hand, she is fully present with her emotion, tearfully allowing herself to express it, unapologetically showing her grief, the answer would be, “She’s having a hard time,” code for, “Be prepared to confront your own emotion.”

Grief is like a yawn, when someone shows you theirs you almost always have to deal with your own. When we encounter someone who is grieving, especially if they have the audacity to actually speak of it, what gets triggered in us is our own, unprocessed grief. We don’t have to have lost someone to death to experience grief. Grief is a healthy human response to the loss of a relationship or friendship, the loss of a career or valued job, the loss of a valued possession, the loss of a pet. Note that the common denominator in each case is “loss” of something important to us.

Loss is a highly subjective experience. No one gets to legitimately judge what one person describes as loss as worthy or unworthy of a grief response or the intensity or duration of that response. Each of us has experienced losses throughout our lives. The degree to which we acknowledge the loss, feel the grief associated with it and allow that grief to process will determine how much residual energy remains. I imagine it like a vat into which unprocessed grief is deposited. It hides out in the body, maybe disguising itself as a physical symptom – neck, back, jaw, feet, head or any pain. Or it could manifest as an emotional issue, depression or anxiety. We may wonder why we tear up at a movie or TV commercial. It isn’t that the medium is so powerful, it’s that the stimulus caught us off guard and triggered the vat of unprocessed grief and gave us opportunity to release some. Rather than resorting to the common reaction of feeling embarrassed, averting our gaze, quickly drying our tears and swallowing the emotion, that is the time to breath deeply, to lean in, to notice what is happening in our body, to let whatever is coming up move.

In reality, grief comes in waves. Typically, the first waves come crashing down, hard. They seem to come at frequent intervals, barely giving us a chance to catch our breath until the next onslaught. Shock may mitigate the early expressions of grief but we can’t count on that to last. At some point, we will be laid bare against, what feels like, a relentless assault. As time passes, the waves won’t seem as large and they will come at less frequent intervals. There will be the occasional rogue wave of grief that seems to come out of nowhere, usually in response to some internal or external trigger, that lays us out in a way that we hoped we were finished with. This can go on for years.

I’ve heard it said many times, “There is no right way to grieve.” That is probably true. But I will suggest that there is a wrong way to grieve. Humans have the capacity to suppress emotion. We can deny or minimize it. We can medicate it with alcohol, drugs, TV, sex, or any number of compulsive behaviors. We can keep ourselves too busy to give it a chance to surface. We can sell ourselves short by convincing ourselves that we have “handled it,” “moved past it” or “dealt with it.”

We don’t get to handle, move past or deal with grief. Once it enters our lives, it becomes a part of us. It becomes interwoven into the fabric of our being. It becomes a thing that may reappear without warning. Fortunately, we, as humans, are fully capable of adjusting to the loss(es). We are quite capable of feeling the pain and letting it move. Being present with it, talking about it and feeling it in our bodies are all necessary components of grieving in the “right” way. Time, awareness and breath seem to help us learn to manage it.

I have learned a lot since grief entered my life. While I don’t welcome the next wave, I, also, don’t fear it. It is never too late to take on the processing of grief. The most effective tools that I have used are of the energetic variety. If emotion is energy and energy wants to move, it makes sense that the most effective way to move through grief is to utilize tools that address it’s energetic component.

Finding and sitting with someone with training and experience can facilitate the process of moving through. I offer grief counseling, including Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) both in-person and remotely. Contact me with any questions.

ACEP’s EFT Training Program

A New EFT Training Program

EFT training

Top Of Head Tapping Point for Emotional Freedom Techniques

I completed my own EFT training certification in March of 2015, I was certified as an advanced practitioner of EFT (ACAP-EFT). That was the result of about two years of training that included  in-person workshops, telephone consultations and the submission of several videos for evaluation by the trainers. The ACEP EFT training, at that time, was called Gold Standard EFT to reflect the reclaiming of EFT from, simply, a self-help tool to a powerful clinical tool. I felt somewhat confident in my use of EFT but had some difficulty incorporating it into my clinical practice.  The latest incarnation of EFT certification offered by ACEP is geared toward mental health professionals and focuses on how to incorporate EFT into a therapist’s toolbox.

Combination of On-line & Virtual Group Training

We just finished the first group of trainees with the second group ready to start in November 2017. I am one of four facilitators of the training who conduct four virtual workgroups where we answer questions, supervise practice sessions and offer guidance to the trainees who view 16 on-line modules. Trainees learn two of the Emotional Freedom Techniques as well as background information regarding trauma treatment. Level 2 will offer additional techniques as well as refinement of those presented in Level 1.

Having experienced the training as a facilitator and getting feedback from the trainees, I can say that this is a stellar training. Several trainees have commented on the amount of information presented and the quality of skills taught for the low cost of the training. Mental health professionals will also receive continuing education credits for the course.

If you’re a mental health professional and would like more information about incorporating this state-of-the-art therapy into your practice, contact me for more information. Emotional Freedom Techniques is rapidly moving into the main stream, backed by research consisting of multiple randomized controlled studies as well as meta-analyses that are demonstrating the efficacy of EFT in treating trauma, anxiety and depression.

The first training sold out in nine days. There are a few spots left in the November training. Get all the details here.

 

The Dalai Lama’s Guide to Getting Through the Next 4 Years

Take care of yourself

Take care of yourself

Here’s a post from msn.com, re-tooled for your reading ease.

What a pit we’ve fallen into. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, maintains our “surrounding situation” should not be the end to all happiness.

His Holiness spoke with Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN before President Trump’s inauguration about preserving hope through the next four years. He professed his optimism for America, saying Donald Trump is but one man in a nation that “belongs to the people.” We’ll see.

Read on for the Dalai Lama’s sage advice.

Have more compassion for yourself.

That means less self-criticism. If someone is “honest, truthful,” about themselves, embracing the good and the bad, they can find happiness “no matter what [the] surrounding situation,” the Dalai Lama told Gupta.

Think more.

Not about the news or work, but about yourself and your experiences. “Nothing exists as [it] appears,” the Dalai Lama said. When you reflect on emotions, “then the very basis of these negative emotions becomes thinner, thinner, thinner.” His Holiness wakes up at 3 a.m. to meditate for five hours, but 10 minutes of mindfulness a day works too.

Get good friends.

“Constant anger is very bad for our health,” he said. So he thinks about compassion and makes sure he is “surrounded by [other] compassionate people.” He continued later: “We need friend. In order to develop genuine friendship, trust is very important. For trust, if you show them genuine sort of respect, genuine love, then trust come.”

Remember you were a kid once.

Because kids “don’t care what’s their religion, what’s their nationality, they don’t care what sort of family background” they have, the Dalai Lama said. “Basic human nature is compassionate.”

So, lead a compassionate and mindful life-easier said than done. His Holiness also said it is important for a leader, spiritual or otherwise, to “act like a human being.” Again, we’ll see.

Original post here:

 

Election Results Got You Down?

I admit that I am feeling very much thrown off my center. I, now, realize how relatively easy it is stay centered and to maintain my meditation and other self-care practices when things are going well. Here, in the middle of the storm, we get to face the shadow, lean in and trust.

You don’t have to practice Buddhism to recogize the wisdom found in this article. I found it to be helpful, especially the offering by Josh Korda, Dharma Punx NYC.

Buddhist teachers respond to Trump’s presidential win

Wishing you peace (and for that pit in my stomach to dissipate),
George

Stop, Drop & Listen: Cultivating Joy & Peace

Joy & Peace

Although the path to accessing them is not always clear, we each possess an innate capacity to experience joy, peace and contentment. Like most things worth having, cultivating these qualities takes some practice. Giving ourselves the opportunity to slow down and pay attention to what is happening in our mind/body system is necessary to accessing the qualities that most people would say are important to have in life. Slowing down and becoming aware is mindfulness.

joy

Be in peace

In the book The HeartMath Solution:The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence we learn about the wisdom of the heart and what we can learn about our minds and our bodies by taking the time to slow down and tune in. It amazes me each time I’m reminded that the number of nerves that send information from the heart to the brain far outnumbers the number of nerves that send information from the brain to the heart. We’ve always considered the brain to be control-central to the mind/body system. It may just be that the heart is the predominant receptor organ of the system and that we have much to gain by slowing down and learning to tune in to what the heart is telling us. 

Stop, Drop & Listen

Life can become a series of automatic reactions to the stimuli in our lives. It is too easy to separate the mind/body system into its components and lose touch with the self-care messages that are being continually broadcast.

Taking “Stop, Drop & Listen” breaks at several points throughout the day can help to reconnect us to our selves and assist us in cultivating a sense of peace – Stop what you are doing, Drop into your experience & Listen to what your mind/body is telling you.

Stop – put your phone down, close your eyes and take long, slow, deep breaths.

Drop – into your experience. What do you feel in your body? Notice any tension you might be holding. As we become so accustomed to how we hold our bodies, it may take some practice to notice what is happening. What is happening in your mind? What are your predominant thoughts? Do they serve you or take you to places that do not enhance your life? What are your beliefs about you, others and the world? Are they true? Are you aware of any emotion? Can you label it? Is there a physical sensation that you can pair with the emotion? Again, this is a practice that takes time to cultivate.

Listen –  for any messages that may appear. Do you notice any recurring patterns over time? Are there unresolved issues or unanswered questions? Ask the question and pay attention to what comes up. What is your mind/body telling you?

 Dedicate 8 Breaths A Day

Here is a simple exercise from Mindful.org that could, easily, become part of your daily wellness practice. It takes only 8 breaths (you have the option of more) and can be done anywhere. This is a helpful format for structuring your Stop, Drop & Listen breaks.

Taking the time to be with your self will help you to reconnect with your body/mind system. The benefits will, likely, show up as increased physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Being healthy in these areas requires mindful presence and intentional action.

Be in peace.

 

 

 

Standing Up For Good Posture

Posture matters

Posture matters

Good Posture

The first time I saw this Charles Schultz comic was when it was first published in 1964. I always remembered it and it and I contacted Charles Schultz’ organization to get a copy of it, which hangs on the wall in my office.

I heard it a lot when I was growing up, “Stand up straight!” “Don’t slouch!”  I didn’t recognize my posture, at that time, as possibly being related to my mental state but, now as I look back, I was a depressed kid with depressed posture. How we hold our bodies affects our mental state and our mental state affects how we hold our bodies. There is a “chicken & egg” thing going on here.

One component of mindfulness practice is being aware of how we are holding our bodies. When we slouch, our bodies are not in the best position to deal with the constant pull of gravity. Ignoring this can lead to skeletal, muscular, neurological, as well as, psychological issues.

Fortunately, all the self-care behaviors that we strive to bring into our lives will have a positive affect on our posture. You don’t have to bring in more. Keeping up with our physical, mental and spiritual hygiene practices will help us to, “Stand up straight!”

Here’s a short TED Talk on The Benefits of Good Posture.

Finding Balance As A Means Of Managing Depression & Anxiety

It’s all a balancing act

If you’ve ever tried to stand on one foot, you know that achieving balance is a process. As you shift your weight to your standing leg, you begin to negotiate with gravity and your body to help keep you upright.

Find balance to manage depression & anxiety

Finding balance is the key to physical, emotional, mental & energetic wellness.

As you stand there, you begin to notice subtle to not-so-subtle shifts that require you to make adjustments so that you can balance. You never just arrive at a point of balance and get to stay there indefinitely. There is a continual back and forth that is necessary to keep us upright.

So it is with treating depression & anxiety. Each of these conditions require a continual negotiation with our bodies, minds, emotions and the outside world to facilitate our managing the effects of either. It is easy for someone with depression & anxiety to move into hopelessness. The ruminations, despair and fear can seem insurmountable. It appears that the people around us are handling their lives so much better than we are (often an illusion) and we worry that no one can or wants to understand what is happening inside us.

Moving away from the disease model of depression & anxiety

I don’t think that it is helpful to view depression & anxiety as diseases to be treated. In the traditional, western approach to medicine, disease is treated with medication. This belief does wonders for the bottom lines of the medical, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries but, often, offers little relief (and, certainly not a cure) to those who suffer with depression & anxiety.

I prefer to look at depression & anxiety as indicators of a life out of balance. Rather than throwing a pill at the problem, it is far more beneficial to begin treating all aspects of the body/mind system. The most accessible place to start is the physical body, start moving. We don’t need to run marathons or, even, 5Ks. Go outside, weather and safety permitting, or go to a gym, mall or rec center and start moving your body in a steady, rhythmic fashion. My favorite piece of advice to give to my patients, “Go out and walk like you mean it.” Research shows us that regular, physical activity is the single most effective behavior for positively regulating mood. It is necessary for everyone and critical for anyone with mood disregulation. Exercise is the place to start. If physical limitation prohibits vigorous exercise, do what you can and keep reading for more behaviors to help you bring greater balance to your life.

Trim Tab Theory of Transformation & Growth

Architect, visionary, philosopher and inventor Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983)  introduced his Trim Tab Theory of Transformation & Growth. He uses the analogy of a large ship with a large rudder. The rudder is made of thousands of pounds of steel and is surrounded by thousands of pounds of water pressure. The amount of force that it would take to move the rudder is greater than could be supplied by a motor that could fit on the ship. At the end of the rudder is a smaller, lighter, more mobile piece of steel called a trim tab. When the trim tab is more easily moved, it coaxes the rudder to move in the desired direction.

How does this apply to this topic? Imagine that depression & anxiety are the rudder. If I asked you to move the rudder (stop being anxious or depressed), you wouldn’t know what to do. But, if I suggested you start focusing on the trim tab components of your life (see my S.T.R.E.S.S.S.S.S Formula For Wellness) and you began to exercise, manage sleep, meditate, etc., you’d, eventually, feel the rudder that is your life begin to move in a better direction.

I know, from personal experience, how depression & anxiety can rob us of motivation. The mere idea of taking on a self-care regimen can feel too big to even consider. My advice, pick something, pick one self-care behavior (my bias is toward exercise being the first) and start to make small, incremental movement toward making it a part of your life. Start to move the trim tab and, as you begin to feel the benefit, you may find the motivation and increased sense of control to bring other self-balancing behaviors into your life.

You don’t have to do this alone. Seek the help of friends and family, where possible. Enlist the help of a mental health professional. Tell them about the Trim Tab Theory and choose the element of self-care that you want to start with. Tell people, specifically, how they can support you: “Call me every morning at 6:00 and remind me to get up.” “Keep inviting me to go for walks, even if I decline.” This will help you to feel less alone and may empower your efforts.

Here is an interview with Dr. James Gordon about his book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. He has some good ideas. Also, contact me about using Energy Psychology techniques that can help to reveal self-defeating patterns of thinking and discharge the emotion that keeps us stuck in depression & anxiety. I can work with you face-to-face or remotely.

Do what you can, no matter how small your efforts seem. The most important qualities to managing depression & anxiety or making any kind of change in our lives are Practice, Patience & Persistence.

Having successfully engaged the process of learning to manage a life-time of depression, I can tell you that it can be done. Your depressed mind will tell you that it is all a waste of effort and that your situation is unique and can’t be helped. When this happens, say, “Thank you. This is real and it is not true.” You’re saying “thank you” to the mind that is trying, in unhelpful ways, to keep you stuck and feeling safe, “this is real,” acknowledging to the mind/body that the feelings you have are real and “this is not true” to challenge the lies that the depressed/anxious mind produces.

For people currently taking medication for depression & anxiety, don’t stop without the guidance of your healthcare professional. Fortifying yourself with a  sound practice of self-care can bring greater benefits from your medication and can offer the foundation upon which to gradually discontinue the use of medication, if that is the course of action you and your prescriber undertake together.

Contact me for more help. I wish you the best.

Thoughts vs. Feelings: There is a difference

“I feel like…”

A bright red heart and gray brain sit on opposite ends of a dark gray board balanced on a gray question mark. Isolated on white.

Is it a thought or a feeling?

It is everywhere. It’s used in casual conversation as well as in newspaper columns, by my fellow therapists, celebrity interviews, novels and, sometimes, can be found in more academic writing. I’m talking about people saying, “I feel like…”:

“I feel like Bernie Sanders would be a good president.”

“I feel like she would look better with short hair.”

“I feel like you should major in psychology rather than engineering.”

In each of these examples, the speaker introduces their thought disguised as a feeling. “Bernie Sanders would be a good president” is a thought as is, “She would look better with short hair” and ” You should major in psychology rather than engineering.” The speakers may have some emotion or feeling that is generated as a result of their thoughts, but it is important to our management of emotion to be able to distinguish between a thought and a feeling.

Consider this statement that will be much more emotionally loaded: “I feel like women who have abortions should be punished.” If challenged by someone who has a different opinion about women who have abortions, the speaker could shut down the conversation by saying, “That’s just how I feel.” We’ve been taught that people are entitled to their feelings and that we have no right to discount someone’s feelings. The problem is, “women who have abortions should be punished” is a thought or, if held long enough and nurtured, can become a belief. While we may hold that people’s feelings cannot be challenged, when we identify a thought or belief in ourselves or someone else, we can stop to consider whether or not there is evidence to support such a thought.

It doesn’t matter the age (although Millennials seem to use it more) or the level of education (I just busted a PhD who has written three books),  I often hear my patients begin with, ” I feel like..” and then complete the sentence with a thought. This practice has become so ingrained, when I point this out, I am often met with a quizzical look.

Think about how the level of discourse could be elevated if people recognized their opinions as, mere, thoughts rather than thinking that their opinions have more validity because they elevate them, erroneously, to the level of feeling.

Person A: ” I feel like women who have abortions should be punished.”

Peron B: “Really, why do you think that?”

Person A: “That’s just how I feel.”

or

Person A: “I am deeply opposed to abortion and believe that women who have them should be punished.”

Peron B: “Tell me more about how you came to believe that.”

Helping my patients to identify feelings is central to my work as a psychotherapist. If I buy into convention and allow patients to continue with their thought as if it were a feeling, they will be impeded in their processes of identifying actual feelings that they may be having. I prefer not to be complicit in our culture becoming even more dissociated from feelings by allowing people to believe they are engaging their feelings with, “I feel like…” when they are, actually, entertaining a thought. I feel like, rather, I believe it will help us, as a culture, to become more emotionally competent when we are better able to distinguish what we think from what we feel.

Read more on this thought in this New York Times column by op-ed writer, Molly Worthen.

The Number One Predictor Of Divorce

Contempt

Contempt

John Gottman, PhD is recognized by many as the guru of couples counseling. He and his staff conduct much of their research by holding couples captive (voluntarily, of course) in a Big Brother-style house. For days at a time, each and every movement and interaction between the couple is recorded and observed. Gottman gets to see how the interactions of “successful” couples differ from those who ended up getting divorced. After years of research, he claims to be able to predict, by observing a couple’s interaction for a very short amount of time, whether the couple is likely to be successful or not.

Gottman is a prolific author of advice to couples. This short article highlights several of Gottman’s key points building a successful relationship.