Tag Archive: emotions

Jun 13

Emotions Don’t Define Us: Reconsider Your View of Them

Emotions Don't Define Us
I’ve written quite a bit about emotions and their purpose for us. They give us information and they are wise friends who speak truth into us. Yet this morning I am reflecting on the idea that often we allow our emotions to define us. Emotions were never meant to define….that is a distortion we create when we misunderstand their purpose.
Emotions were never meant to define us. Click To Tweet
They are information givers. I love this quote I heard on Anne with an E (an awesome show on Netflix): “Emotion is rarely convenient and often intolerable but I find in the moment that I don’t mind it. Grief is the price you pay for love.”
Grief is the price you pay for love. Click To Tweet
Emotion is rarely convenient and often intolerable but I find in the moment that I don’t mind… Click To Tweet
She gets it. We don’t have to feel good to be okay. We can be okay no matter how we feel because emotions are not definitions. They indicate something has happened in our past or present that needs attending to.
Emotions indicate something has happened in our past or present that needs attending to Click To Tweet
Maybe it’s grief that is being processed to incorporate loss into life. Maybe it’s shame from abuse in the past that needs to be challenged. Maybe it’s fear telling us something is wrong and we need to look at it. These are valuable tools for growth and change. Listening to them and seeing the problem helps us grow, mature, and change.
Listening to emotions and seeing the problem helps us grow, mature, and change. Click To Tweet
I’ve walked in my own story of grief over the last two months and I am sure it will continue. I find sadness and grief come at unexpected times, indicating to me it’s time to stop and honor my memories, my sadness, and acknowledge my loss. I sit with many people whose emotions give them clues to healing and change that needs to happen.
Please don’t dismiss your emotions as invaluable or unimportant. Please don’t let them define who you are but allow them to be what they are…beautiful signals communicating to us information that we would be wise to consider. Need help understanding what your emotions are saying, a counselor can help.

Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/emotions-dont-define/

Oct 03

Help I Feel Bad. Are Negative Emotions Really a Bad Thing?

emotionsEmotions get a bad wrap in our culture. Somehow we have decided that it is okay to accept some emotions while labeling others as negative or bad. In doing that we somehow communicate to ourselves and our kids that certain emotions are normal and others are abnormal.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people come into my office with problems because they:
  • think they are crazy for having feelings
  • ignore their feelings and now they are too big to ignore
  • they see no useful value in feelings yet are confused as to why they are stuck
  • they are frustrated with some relationship in their life
Let me first say, EVERYONE HAS FEELINGS!!!! (There, I FEEL better).
It is perfectly normal to feel, emotions don’t make you crazy but actually NORMAL. Yes, that is right, feelings are perfectly normal. WHAT?? Even the “bad” ones like anxiety, grief, sadness and anger? Yes, even those are completely and totally NORMAL!
It is perfectly normal to feel, emotions don’t make you crazy but actually NORMAL. Click To Tweet
Somehow, we have lost an understanding of the purpose and benefit of emotions.  Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of problems like: clinical anxiety disorders, major depression, relationship problems, and addiction issues.
Emotions are a God given, God designed signal system, similar to our senses. Click To Tweet
One of the ways that humans uniquely image God is our emotional nature. Click To Tweet
God and EmotionsEmotions are God given. God is an emotional God who feels all range of emotions, even the ones we label as bad. One of the ways that humans uniquely image God is our emotional  nature. God designed emotions to be a signal system, similar to our senses. We collect information about the physical world through our five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch). No one labels one of these senses as bad, just because they smell something bad. Your nose is just giving you information. There is a bad smell; I think I should leave the room (this may or may not happen a lot in my house…because I live with boys).   Our senses serve to protect and guide us through the physical world.
Emotions work in a similar way. We get information about the relational world through feelings (sad, angry, afraid, happy, content, shame, safe, love, alone etc.). Emotions give us information. They tell us what we need and give us energy to take action. Emotions serve to protect and guide us in the relational world.
If you ignore a feeling, that is trying to give you information and you aren’t listening…it will get LOUDER. I mean, wouldn’t you get louder if you were trying to get someone’s attention?? So ignoring, stuffing, numbing, or denying a feeling only creates louder feelings. These louder feelings are what send some into panic, depression, or fits of rage. Not only that, if you ignore, stuff, numb, or deny the “bad” feelings…then you mute the “good” feelings too. This is not at all what we want. We numb or ignore because we want the good feelings…but maybe that’s not the way to get them. Maybe we must accept that there are times when we will feel needed hard feelings like sadness or fear and that is okay, normal, and healthy.
Emotions serve to protect and guide us in the relational world. Click To Tweet
Another reason people avoid emotions is because they don’t like the feeling and are concerned they will get “stuck” in a certain emotion. Emotions are not permanent states of being. We feel a variety of different things throughout the day. Emotions ebb and flow like running water. Yet not acknowledging or accepting a feeling does cause it to linger and sometimes it takes a while for us to process something that has happened.
Emotions are not permanent states of being. Click To Tweet
So what can you do to start paying attention to the signals your emotions give you:
  • Give yourself permission to feel.
  • Validate your emotions. Let it be okay, seen, and experienced.
  • Pay attention to the emotions as they flow throughout the day, name them, write them down.
  • What message is the emotion giving you, what do you need? Contemplate this before you act.
  • Share your emotion and need with a safe person (someone who loves you as you are, flaws and all).
  • Watch the movie Inside Out for more help on understanding feelings and their purpose (such a good movie…I can’t even begin to say how much I love it and how accurate it is in explaining emotions).
  • Seek help. Counselors can help give you language for emotion and will walk you through this process with a specific focus on you, your history, and your issues.
Feelings serve to help us identify needs, connect in relationships, and heal from hurts and traumas. To deny this aspect of your self is like living life on mute instead of full stereo sound OR in black/white instead of full color! Let’s live life in full color and embrace a life full of emotions.
“Don’t be afraid.  Don’t give up.  The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty enough to save you.  He will take great delight in you.  The quietness of his love will calm you down.  He will sing with joy because of you.”  Zephaniah 3:16-17

If you like what you read, please comment below or share on social media. ❤️

Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/negative-emotions/

May 31

Grief, A Vital Process For A Healthy Life

Grief Definition
Loss. Death. Mourning. Sadness. All these words come to mind for many of us when we think of grief. Most of us associate grief with a big loss, like the death of someone we love. In America, there is an unspoken expectation that grief happen quickly or privately. We rally around people during crisis and loss but weeks or months later the unspoken message is move on. We are a culture comfortable with surface level conversations but uncomfortable with hurt, pain, and sadness. Grief is probably the most misunderstood idea.
We are a culture comfortable with surface level conversations but uncomfortable with hurt. Click To Tweet
What is grief?
Grief is the process of incorporating loss into our lives and the acceptance of a new normal. Loss happens throughout our lives in many different forms. I define loss as any change connected to something or someone of value to us that must be accepted. Because loss is connected to what we value, loss is an individual experience. What I might consider a loss might not be a loss to you. There are universal values that we all agree fall under the loss category: losing loved ones to death, a divorce, or a sudden violent trauma.
Grief is the process of incorporating loss into our lives and the acceptance of a new normal. Click To Tweet
Any change involves some level of loss because of the nature of change. Even a good change, a marriage or the birth of a child involves change and loss: the loss of freedom or independence in a way that one had before. So even with something we universally agree is a good change there is a grief process to incorporate that change into our lives.
Any change involves some level of loss because of the nature of change. Click To Tweet
What happens when we deny the loss and suppress our feelings?
Well, emotions are signals and give us energy to act. To deny the signal is like hitting the snooze button on an alarm clock. The emotion will come again. If there is continual emotional suppression, then your body may decide you aren’t listening to the emotional signal so it will try to communicate with you physically. The brain and body are meant to express a range of emotions based on the situations we are presented with in life. Emotions help our brain and body process life. To deny this critical dimension of our bodies confuses our brain and puts it in a higher level of stress. This stress comes with heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which can impact your physical well-being. I am not a medical doctor but I do know that if your body senses that it is under attack then heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tenseness, and breathing all increase in an effort to prepare us to protect ourselves. This level of arousal over time is detrimental to our body. It affects sleep, weight, immunity, energy, and over-all functioning.
Emotions are signals and give us energy to act. To deny the signal is like hitting snooze. Click To Tweet
Somehow our culture has correlated strength with no-emotionality and weakness with emotional expression. This is how we function and what so many teach our children. “Don’t cry.” “Be strong.” So when loss hits (of any kind), we feel “crazy” when we feel legitimate loss emotions….especially if the loss is not a societally acceptable loss. What is sad is we are anything but “crazy” we are functioning normally. Our mind and body is doing exactly what it was created to do.
Back to the concept of grief: learning to incorporate loss into our lives and the acceptance of a new normal. This process is critical for living in the world and facing all the loss that comes with normal life. However, delaying or denying the experience of grief actually adds to suffering instead of preventing it.
Grief is critical for living in the world and facing all the loss that comes with normal life Click To Tweet
Grief involves:
  • The permission to feel whatever you feel. Feelings are what they are. Allow yourself to identify all the feelings you feel throughout the day and take note of them. Use an emotion word list to help you (especially if naming the feeling is new to you). Take note of the emotion you feel and write them down. You will find yourself feeling a range of emotions and that is normal. No feeling is bad. Hear and accept your feelings. You may feel shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, guilt, fear, denial, relief, gratitude, confused, overwhelmed, love, lonely, or abandoned. I want to repeat….all these feelings are NORMAL. There is no right or wrong way to feel when faced with loss.

    There is no right or wrong way to feel when faced with loss. Click To Tweet

  • Connect with supportive safe people. We are not meant to live in isolation but in supportive community. I think this may be where our culture wars against us. In America, we value the independent individual over the group. The trouble is independence breed’s isolation. In isolation, humans struggle. Just look at movies like Castaway and Martian. We need each other. Especially in times of stress and trouble. Sharing our emotions and thoughts about loss with supportive safe people helps us in multiple ways.
    • Processing our pain and loss with people helps us recognize that our emotions are normal
    • We experience comfort and support from others.
    • We are better able to mentally incorporate the loss into our lives when we are able to talk about it and share with others.
  • The search for meaning. We are meaning creators. We search for meaning in everything and often this is a subtle and unconscious process. Often during loss we subtly take meaning from the experience about the world and ourselves. The danger of suppressing emotion and putting on a strong face to the world is the creation of an unhealthy meaning. Processing it alone (and only in our own heads) increases the likelihood that we will arrive at a meaning that is harmful. When we don’t share our emotions and thoughts with others, our inner critic grows and increases our shame experiences. For example: if someone loses a job to a layoff and they never grieve or share it then they may determine that there is something wrong with them and begin to question their worth and value.

    When we don’t share our emotions and thoughts with others, our inner critic grows. Click To Tweet

  • Self-Care. The grief process, although a necessary one, is an emotionally and physically exhausting process. Giving yourself permission to take care of you during this process is important. Pay attention to your sleeping, eating, exercise, feelings, connection time, and enjoyable activities.

    Giving yourself permission to take care of you during grief is important. Click To Tweet

  • Expect the process to be one that is up and down. Incorporating loss into life is not a straight-line journey but a roller coaster ride. That’s okay and normal. No matter the loss, some days will be easier than others. Expect hard days, they won’t last forever. Self-Care during hard days may look different than easy days.

    Incorporating loss into life is not a straight-line journey but a roller coaster ride. Click To Tweet

  • Compassionate Acceptance. Ultimately the goal of grief is accepting life as it is (not how we wish it were) and adjusting to the new normal. Whether it’s life without a loved one or life after retirement or life in a new town or life with a new job or life with the family we have (instead of the one we wish for) or any other reality we must accept…grief is the process that gets us here. Yet the grief journey is not one that can be undertaken without compassion…compassion for us, compassion received from others, and compassion from God. Jesus was a “man of sorrows…acquainted with grief” who “bore our grief’s and carried our sorrows”. Life is hard and pain is real. Yet, we do not have a God that doesn’t know what it is like to suffer or feel overwhelming sorrow. We have a God who can sympathize with us and wants us to “draw near…to find help in our time of need”. (Isaiah 53:3-4; Hebrews 4:14-16)

    Ultimately the goal of grief is accepting life as it is (not how we wish it were) and adjusting… Click To Tweet The grief journey is not one that can be undertaken without compassion. Click To Tweet

Life comes with loss and struggle is part of life for everyone. Grief enables us to incorporate loss into life and accept life for what it is. Grief unites us. We all experience it for so many different things. Grief brings about our vulnerabilities and drives us to others and God for comfort. To deny these realities increases your suffering. Life can be beautiful even in the midst of pain and struggle.
Life can be beautiful even in the midst of pain and struggle. Click To Tweet
“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief—But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” Hilary Stanton Zunin 
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love” Washington Irving
 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/grief/

Sep 28

Deep Feelings and the Gospel

Loss hurts. Change brings fear of the unknown. Struggle is hard. Trauma changes us.
Sadness, anger, shame, and fear can feel overwhelming leaving us stuck and frozen, not knowing what to do.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Psalm 42:5
“My tears have been my food day and night” Psalm 42:3
How much do we identify with the Psalmist? How much do we struggle with loss, sadness, anger, fear, and shame? How many nights have we wrestled and cried.
Frequently we think it is wrong to experience normal feelings or that somehow it means we don’t have enough faith.
Life in this fallen world hurts. Feelings don’t show a lack of faith but that we are normal humans, living in a broken world.
Feelings don’t show a lack of faith but that we are normal humans Click To Tweet
The Psalmist reminds us that our souls are thirsty for more…..
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God for the living God.” Psalm 42:1-2 

deer2

The water our souls thirst for is found in Jesus. He is Living Water. Every other relationship on this earth will fail to satisfy.
Loss and hurt is a reminder of our need for Him.
Shame and the pain of trauma is a reminder of the deep brokenness of creation and our need for Him.
It’s not wrong to feel. It’s not wrong to be overwhelmed. It’s human. Click To Tweet
It’s not wrong to feel. It’s not wrong to be overwhelmed. It’s human. God is pained over the brokenness of the world, too. God can handle your questions. Your feelings communicate needs.
God is pained over the brokenness of the world, too. Click To Tweet
In this Psalm, the writer knows he needs to praise God and remember how faithful and loving the Lord has been to Him. He challenges his inner dialogue and reminds himself of the truth!
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation, and my God
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock; “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 42:5-11
God is good. God is faithful. He has proven His love for me time and again. Remember. He loves us with an everlasting, initiating, unconditional, redeeming, restoring and rescuing love.
He loves us with an everlasting, initiating, unconditional, and rescuing love. Click To Tweet

Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/feelings/

Sep 01

Feelings: What’s the Point??

feelingsI can’t begin to tell you how many people come into my office with problems because they:
  • think they are crazy for having feelings
  • ignore their feelings and now they are too big to ignore
  • they see no useful value in feelings yet are confused as to why they are stuck
  • they are frustrated with some relationship in their life
Let me first say, EVERYONE HAS FEELINGS!!!! (There, I FEEL better).
It is perfectly normal to feel, emotions don’t make you crazy but actually NORMAL. Click To Tweet
It is perfectly normal to feel, emotions don’t make you crazy but actually NORMAL. Yes, that is right, feelings are perfectly normal. WHAT?? Even the “bad” ones like anxiety and sadness and anger? Yes, even those are completely and totally NORMAL!
Somehow, we have lost an understanding of the purpose and benefit of emotions. We have decided that they are for the super emotional, nurturing types (like touchy feely counselors) but that “normal” people don’t talk about, acknowledge or express feelings. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of problems like: clinical anxiety disorders, major depression, relationship problems, and addiction issues.
Emotions are a God given, God designed signal system, similar to our senses. Click To Tweet
Emotions are a God given, God designed signal system, similar to our senses. We collect information about the physical world through our five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch). No one labels one of these senses as bad, just because they smell something bad. They just give you information. There is a bad smell; I think I should leave the room (this may or may not happen a lot in my house…boys).   Our senses serve to protect and guide us through the physical world.
Emotions work in a similar way. We get information about the relational world through feelings (sad, angry, afraid, happy, content, shame, safe, love, alone etc.). Emotions give us information. They tell us what we need and give us energy to take action. Emotions serve to protect and guide us in the relational world.
Emotions serve to protect and guide us in the relational world. Click To Tweet
If you ignore a feeling, because it is trying to give you information and you aren’t listening…it will get LOUDER. I mean, wouldn’t you get louder if you were trying to get someone’s attention?? So ignoring, stuffing, numbing, or denying a feeling only creates louder feelings. These louder feelings are what send some into panic, depression, or fits of rage. Not only that, if you ignore, stuff, numb, or deny the “bad” feelings…then you mute the “good” feelings too. YIKES!
Another reason people avoid emotions is because they don’t like the feeling and are concerned they will get “stuck” in a certain emotion. Emotions are not permanent states of being. We feel a variety of different things throughout the day. Emotions ebb and flow like running water.
Emotions are not permanent states of being. Click To Tweet
So what can you do to start paying attention to the signals your emotions give you:
  • Give yourself permission to feel.
  • Pay attention to the emotions as they flow throughout the day, name them, write them down.
  • What message is the emotion giving you, what do you need?
  • Share your emotion and need with a safe person (someone who loves you as you are, flaws and all)
  • Watch the movie Inside Out for more help on understanding feelings and their purpose (such a good movie…I can’t even begin to say how much I love it).
  • Seek help. Counselors can help give you language for emotion and will walk you through this process with a specific focus on you, your history, and your issues.
Emotions serve to help us identify needs, connect in relationships, and heal from hurts and traumas. To deny this aspect of your self is like living life on mute instead of full stereo sound OR in black/white instead of full color!
“Don’t be afraid.  Don’t give up.  The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty enough to save you.  He will take great delight in you.  The quietness of his love will calm you down.  He will sing with joy because of you.”  Zephaniah 3:16-17

If you like what you read, please comment below or share on social media. ❤️

Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/feelings-whats-the-point/

Mar 18

Help! My Thoughts Won’t Stop!!

As a counselor, one of the common things people struggle with are what I call spinning or out of control thoughts.  The psychological term for this is rumination and we all struggle with this.  Usually we ruminate about a fear or worry.  We are worried and afraid, so we continually think about it to try and solve it or fix it.  Often we are trying to think our way out of a feeling!
Mindfulness is very big in psychology right now and has proven very helpful with rumination.  Mindfulness has personally helped a lot of clients.
Mindfulness Overview
Mindfulness has to do with the quality of awareness that we bring to what we are doing and experiencing, to being in the here and now.  It has to do with learning to focus on being in the present, to focusing our attention on what we are doing and what is happening in the present. We have to learn to control our attention. Many of us are distracted by images, thoughts and feelings of the past, perhaps dissociating, worrying about the future, negative moods and anxieties about the present.   It’s hard to put these things away and concentrate on the task at hand.
So the One-mindfulness skill is an effort to help us focus our attention on the here and now, to be able to absorb the DBT information and take part in the present. Please do not judge yourselves about this. This can be a difficult skill for people to learn. It requires lots of practice and willingness. Be patient with yourself.”
From DBT Self Help
Mindfulness is a Biblical Idea.  Although, these concepts are fairly new to psychology, the principles and concepts are found in scripture.
  • Be Fully Present in the Current Moment with God
    • “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:9
    • “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him, fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices” Psalm 37:7
    • “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 46:8
  • In the present moment, notice how God cares for the world around you and for you in very practical ways! God wants our focus to be in the present of today’s moments!
    • “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6: 25-34
    • When Jesus deals with his disciple’s anxiety, He points out what He observes in the present moment around them. Look at the birds, consider the flowers. Sometimes, just simply observing the world with our senses (smell, taste, touch, sight) can bring mental calm. If nothing else, counting your breaths and slowing them can bring physical calm. Jesus keeps them in the present moment by telling them to only focus on today.
  • Christian Mindfulness is Rest for your soul! In emotional distress, the Bible indicates that God wants us to come to Him and find rest. What specific activities keep you in the present moment with Jesus and give you rest?
    • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28
    • “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
  • Don’t assume your judgment of your thoughts or feelings is truth (just observe your thoughts or feelings without judgment in the moment). Observe the thought and test it against God’s Word
    • Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. Proverbs 28:26
    • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
    • “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Mindfulness Examples
Mindfulness involves:
Awareness: What is going on around me, what do I see, what do I smell, what do I taste, how do things feel as I touch them?
Nonjudgmental View of Thoughts: Thoughts or feelings aren’t bad or good, normal or abnormal. They are  just thoughts and feelings.  They flow in and out like water.
Staying in the Moment: This may be the hardest part for those that focus on the past or worry about the future.
Takes Practice: This takes practice during non-emotional times so that it becomes easier to do during emotionally overwhelming times. Practice staying in the moment and observing what you notice with your senses during showers, brushing teeth, or during daily chores. Click Here for samples of mindfulness exercises.

If you like what you read, please comment below or share on social media. ❤️

rest and hope in God

Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/thoughts/

Feb 11

What Am I Reacting To?

What Are You Reacting To? Reactions are strong emotions (i.e. anger) that we have in response to external events (i.e. being cut off in traffic) or people.
For example, let’s say my spouse points out a mistake or corrects me in some area (this is a made up example…ha ha). I feel hurt, frustrated, and angry. Seems simple enough, a lot of us have been there. However we don’t just leave it at…I feel hurt, frustrated, and angry… we take action based on these strong emotions. In my above example, when I feel hurt, frustrated, and angry, I might lash out with some disrespectful retort or stomp off but give the silent treatment later (again, this is made up and has never happened…wink, wink).
There are a million ways we act based on how we react!
But what if, we aren’t reacting completely to the words or actions being done to us? What if there is more behind it? Knowing what is really behind my emotions could make a huge impact.
So there are a few questions to consider when we feel a strong emotion, like anger, fear, or sadness:
  1. Does this remind me of something from my past? Could you be reacting to a past trauma, a past relationship, or a controlling or dysfunctional parent?? Since our emotional brain, pairs emotions with situations and bypasses our thinking brain, it is common for us to be in a situation that our brain sees as similar to a past experience and feel the past emotion in the present. This happens without your awareness, so your perception may be that the current situation caused the emotion but it’s possible that you are reacting to something else entirely. This is very common for people who have experienced any type of trauma.
  1. What am I assuming? Could I be making some assumptions about the other person’s motives? Am I mind reading their intentions? Could they have good, loving intentions that I am assuming are evil? Am I assuming something about the future? Am I considering my assumed version of the future is truth rather than just one possible outcome? Our assumptions taint our reality. I may think that someone is intentionally being critical, mean, and is out to harm me in some way…but, perhaps they had a totally different motive. Yet, I react to what I assume the other person was thinking and feeling. And let’s be honest, we have no way of really knowing what someone else is thinking and feeling unless we ask them. Yep, don’t tend to want to do that in the middle of an unpleasant emotion. What if I did and I learned their real motive, perhaps my emotional experience changes?
  1. What am I expecting? Am I expecting this person to not notice that I have weaknesses, sins, and imperfections? Am I expecting that person to never sin or show their personal weakness and imperfections? Am I expecting that person to meet a need that no human can meet? That’s really at the heart of a lot of it, we don’t like to see our yuck and it hurts to have it pointed out. We don’t like other people’s yuck because it impacts us. We expect things from situations and relationships that just are not realistic.
Now most of the time our past, our assumptions, and our expectations happen automatically without a lot of analysis on our part. Something happens, we feel, and then we react. But, what are you reacting to? How can you slow the process down?
One big way is to learn to share your emotions instead of your action in response to the emotion.
Back to my totally made up example, my spouse points out a mistake and I say, “wow that hurt and I am starting to feel angry”.
I know what you are thinking, “people don’t talk that way…that’s only for touchy, feely, counselors”. You may be right; most people don’t talk that way. However, talking that way:
  • Brings your experience into the moment.
  • Brings your experience into the relationship.
  • It gives the other person the benefit of the doubt and allows them to say, “Oh, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I thought I was being helpful because I love you” (or something like that).
  • It gives people an opportunity to comfort us.
  • It gives people an opportunity to tell us their real intentions.
  • It helps distinguish this situation from past situations.
So what am I reacting to??? Worth some more thought, don’t you agree? I would love your thoughts.
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Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/reacting/

Sep 06

Anxiety

ANXIETY!

What an ugly word that conjures images  of stressful moments, failures, fears, and bodily anguish!  Those that suffer from it know that it is the uninvited guest that completely destroys the present moment.  And, unless you’ve battled this monster, you don’t completely understand the intensity or cyclical nature of this problem.  So for all fellow strugglers  and for those that love someone who struggles, this post is for you!

funny-anxiety-girl

 So, what is ANXIETY exactly?

Anxiety is FEAR.  Ok, blog post over.  See ya next week!  No really, anxiety is fear but fear without a direct threat.  An example of fear with a direct threat would be standing in front of someone with a gun pointed at you ready to pull the trigger (Yikes!).  This is a direct threat to your safety.  When that happens, your body starts preparing to fight or flee.  Your heart rate rises, your blood pumps faster, your body releases chemicals to help you respond and protect yourself.  This happens instantaneously as your brain processes the fear response.

ANXIETY is a fear response without a direct threat.

So, how does one develop a fear minus a direct threat?

Well, the brain has different places that serve different purposes.  There is an emotional brain (the amygdala) and a logical brain (the cortex).  Most of our conscious thoughts and decisions happen from our logical brain.  The emotional brain is different.  It has the ability to sense danger and produce the fear emotion without letting the logical brain in on the process (uh oh).  This part of your brain also stores emotional memories and learns not by reason but by the pairing a specific situation with a specific emotion.  Because the emotional brain can bypass the logical brain, many of us don’t know what started the fear and anxiety process in the first place.

Now anxiety is always based on a perceived threat.  Your emotional brain determined that something was a threat to you and initiated the fight or flight physical response.  But that physical response is so intense and scary without a direct threat starring us in the face that we become afraid of the physical anxiety reaction itself!  Now the vicious anxiety cycle has begun!

Anxiety cycleWhat makes this cycle hard to break are TWO things:

  • Your emotional brain has paired fear with whatever the internal/external trigger was and it can not be undone unless that trigger is paired with a different emotion.  This is not a logical process.  

  • You usually flee whatever the situation is that is causing this anxiety (fleeing is a natural response to fear), HOWEVER, this tells the emotional brain that it is correct to be afraid of the situation and reinforces the pairing.

Now many things can lead someone into this cycle and a skilled counselor can help you uncover what got you to this point.  Yet, just knowing the why behind anxiety can’t undo or stop the process because it isn’t a purely logical process.  The good news is that there are several things you can do in the moment of anxiety that can help regardless of the why behind your anxiety!!  I will elaborate in more detail in the weeks to come on each of these ideas.

  • Since anxiety has a physical response, there are physical things that you can do to help combat that fight/flight reaction.  Slow down your breathing.  If you slow down your breathing, than your heart rate will follow.  I like to do a counting breath of 4.  Breathe in 2, 3, 4…Breathe out 2, 3, 4…. repeat until your heart rate has slowed down.

  • Focus on the present moment by observing what you see, taste, smell, touch, and hear.  These are often things that we over look but are a great way to help refocus our thinking, which is often catastrophic by this point.

  • Be with a trusted/safe person while in the anxiety producing situation (no fleeing).  Young children deal with the anxiety of learning about their world by having the secure base of mom and dad.  Watch a child crawl around to explore a new room; they will continually check back to make sure mom or dad is still watching.  We are wired for connection and we heal/grow through being connected to safe people who help us process our stuff.

  • Tell yourself the truth.  Go back to my previous explanation of how the emotional brain learns.  It learns by pairing.  Each of the above suggestions helps the emotional brain pair new experiences with the feared trigger.  Not only that but using your logical brain to question your fear can also help calm down the emotional brain.  Just because the emotional brain can bypass the logical brain when reacting, doesn’t mean that the logical brain can’t come in and help calm down the emotional brain with the truth.  However, this only works after the physical symptoms have come down to a more manageable level.

    anxiety to restHang in there friend, there is always hope!

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Permanent link to this article: http://counseling4hope.com/whats-behind-anxiety/

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