7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

“The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”
-Allen Ginsberg

 

When I first started my own work with mindfulness and radical acceptance, I found myself saying, “I’ll accept this feeling/ this symptom so that I don’t have to have it anymore.” That’s… not really acceptance but it was the best I could do at the time. Since working with clients around mindfulness and radical acceptance, I have heard this sentiment hundreds of times. It’s hard to get behind the idea that accepting our pain or feelings or aversive experiences has therapeutic value, that it could ever help us to make positive changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is driven by just this, accepting the hard-to-accept.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven Hayes in the early 1980s and tested by Robert Zettle in the mid-1980s. It is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is based on Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s (ACT) main objective is to help participants turn toward their feelings and symptoms instead of resisting them. The protocol helps participants learn how not to overreact nor underreact nor altogether avoid the associations with these feelings and symptoms. With ACT, we learn to accept ourselves and the experience we are having in the present moment so that we can commit to a behavior aligned with our values.

 

ACT succinctly describes the change in psychological flexibility in this way:

 

We go from F.E.A.R.

 

F- fusion with our thoughts

E- evaluation of our experience

A- avoidance of our experience

R- reason-giving for our behavior

 

To A.C.T.

 

A-accept our reactions and be present

C- choose a valued direction

T- take action

 

In the book, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Hayes, Strosahi, and Wilson, we’re given the six core principles to help us develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reifythoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to oneself.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

 

ACT emphasizes mindfulness because presence of mind/contact with the present is the only way to change behavior. Now is the only time that we can truly choose a behavior. We habituate to looking at the world in a certain way which makes us miss important external and internal cues to help us determine what is happening in the present moment by thinking about the past or the future. Awareness of the present moment helps us to differentiate between what we are afraid is happening and what is actually happening. It helps us to describe what is happening and then make choices in response. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

The “acceptance” part of ACT is problematic for some. “So then, if I’m supposed to accept my feelings and my experience, does that mean I’m supposed to accept abuse and maltreatment?” The answer to that will always be no. When we accept our feelings and experience, it means we accept the information that we are receiving and can make choices based on that information. It means that we accept that this is how it is right, not that this is how it should continue to be.

 

When we practice acceptance of what’s happening we can mindfully make choices that are in alignment with our values. I like to use this phrasing in my own life and when working with clients: “I’m going to keep choosing the same behavior of ______ because I care about______.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to ______ because I care about ________.” So, someone might say “I am going to keep choosing the same behavior of confronting people when they treat me with disrespect because I care about my feelings and how I’m treated.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to respectfully disengaging from an argument when it no longer feels productive because I care about my feelings and this relationship and I know that continuing in unproductive conversation usually leads to hurt feelings and resentment.”

 

Sometimes the choice is hard to make. For instance, “I choose to go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling more refreshed” is a great behavior goal. But what if it means sacrificing quality time spent with loved ones? This is where present moment focus and acceptance of your experience comes in handy. You might prefer to spend the time with your loved ones and wake up feeling a little more sluggish.

 

I know it’s hard to identify choices so let’s do it together. If you want to talk more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, changing behaviors, or anything else, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What Is Gender

What Is Gender

Gender is confusing. It’s often used and understood as a synonym for sexual genitalia. Consult any dictionary, and you’ll see. And while, in our culture, both terms are inextricably linked with one another, they are different. They’re associations with one another (and our staunch adherence to them) have proven oppressive and dangerously limiting.

For some, it’s never an issue; they’re born, they are raised as the sex they were assigned at birth, identify with that sex and its associated gender, and it’s all good. For many others, it’s not so easy. Some of us feel confined by the limits of our current conceptualization of gender upon which our society has agreed and enforced for generations.

Even in places where people self-describe as open-minded and accepting, a cis man wearing a dress is assumed to be in costume, and a femme or high femme woman with fully grown out leg hair is a spectacle.

Gender is a construct, and we have agreed that being masculine means one thing and being feminine means another. Many of us who disagree with this construct do so while following the rules. We feel that we are following these rules against our wills. When people do break free and live authentically, however outside the norm, they are mocked, isolated, bullied, attacked, and even killed.

For years, in the Trans community, “passing” has been a goal. Some want to pass in hopes of feeling in alignment with who they know themselves to be. Some want to pass to look and feel like and be accepted as a “real” man or woman. (Please note that I am absolutely simplifying this concept.) This is a testament to the generations of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, sexism, and misogyny that inform our culture. Men must “look like men, ” and women must “look like women.” To this day it’s still an issue of safety as MTF (male-to-female) people are the most targeted members of our community. (And MTF People of Color make up a substantial portion of that group.)

Obviously, this is not true for every Trans person. There are plenty of people in the Trans community for whom passing isn’t much of a goal, and there are many who’ve found more peace and happiness after transitioning. Happiness is a universal goal, and many eventually find it after they have transitioned. (Most people don’t find immediate fulfillment; transitioning is often a long and arduous process during which a person can face various types of rejection and self-doubt. Years of managing the stress brought on by denying oneself, living in fear of being rejected for living authentically compounded by the stress of letting go and allowing oneself to transition is an enormous undertaking.)

But there is a whole group of people who identify as Trans and don’t want HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or surgeries. Some Trans people want HRT but not surgery. Some want some of the surgeries but not all and don’t want HRT. Some FTMs will never look the way we’ve been conditioned to identify as male, and some MTFs will never look the way we’ve been conditioned to identify as female. Most of us assume that when someone transitions they’ll start behaving and presenting in a way that our culture affirms as masculine enough or feminine enough.

We have decided what is masculine and feminine, which characteristics are ok to swap and which are definitely not ok. Straight men can have long hair, but they can’t wear makeup. Women can have buzz cuts and abstain from shaving body hair, but they’d better be Lesbian. Our culture puts an incredible amount of pressure on its members to conform to its rules and has assembled a loyal and persuasive army of militant enforcers who are always more than willing to defend these rules.

In response, so much dangerous adherence to these limits is the notion of being gender-fluid. Gender fluidity is gaining momentum. A lot of people don’t feel they should have to comply with a certain presentation based on their genitals. So they don’t. They identify and present however feels most authentic to them. They don’t ask for permission. They don’t appease. People who are gender-fluid have looked at the gender, and sexual constructs created by the dominant groups in our culture and have opted out. They are creating a safer, more inclusive culture where we are not defined by our presentations or ruled by binaries and either-or options.

I’m often asked about “detransitioning” and how common it is. This is a complicated subject and will take time and commitment to discuss. If you have any questions about what I’ve written or would like to discuss detransitioning, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to talk about this with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.

 

We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.

 

We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.

 

The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.

 

But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?

 

Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.

 

How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?

 

When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Learning to Stay

Learning to Stay

As a species, we’re in for some challenges. Humans have both nervous systems and self-awareness, the awareness of change, loss, and of death. We are aware that situations change and it motivates us to hold onto the situations we like and try to force a shift in situations we don’t like. We’re aware of loss so; we go to great lengths in trying to avoid it. We’re aware of death and generally fear it so, we engage in all sorts of behaviors and thinking in an attempt to gain control over it. Since everything is temporary, all of our grasping and holding and forcing and avoiding is useless. There is no lasting way for us to ever really hold onto something or someone, force a shift, or avoid change, loss, or death. And this creates a pretty uneasy sense of being.

 

Look at some of your own fear-based beliefs for a second. What makes you nervous? What are you believing when you notice the nervousness? What do you dread? What are you believing when you notice the dread?

 

We have an extensive list of strategies that we employ to avoid feeling the discomfort of these beliefs, to avoid feeling our fear of life’s fluidity. We numb. We fight ourselves or others. We seek comfort in addiction.

 

Underneath all of this struggle is the fear that we are not ok.

 

In the mythology of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama’s final challenge before he reached enlightenment was doubt. Mara, the dark deity symbol of humanity’s shadow side, our challenging emotions, appeared to Siddhartha in the form many distractions some of which were fear, pain, and lust. Finally, Mara appeared to him as doubt. Siddhartha experienced the most difficulty and discomfort with this last challenge. Siddhartha put his hand to the ground and felt the earth, calling upon it to ground him and give him strength. He looked up at Mara and said, “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.”

 

I’m always struck by this story. I find it comforting that Siddhartha, someone who had practiced for years, received years of mentoring and training and support, someone who was so well-resourced still felt the challenge of Mara, of the hard-to-feel, painful human emotions. I also appreciate that working through his last challenge involved asking for help, that he didn’t try to do it alone. And to boot, he invited the damn thing to tea!!

 

Siddhartha didn’t gain freedom from Mara all at once. It took years of practice and training. Gradually, after reaching out for help and engaging his own presence, he extricated himself. He was free.

 

On this quest for our own freedom, we learn of at least two important resources available to us as suggested by the Buddha mythology: 1) to ask for help when dealing with a challenge and 2) to be present with our experience of our process.

 

It’s so hard to keep ourselves from being swept away by the runaway train of our limiting beliefs, beliefs about ourselves and others, about the nature of the world; our fears of unworthiness; our doubt of our own lovability. Sometimes we can see this train coming for us and we freeze, unable to fight it. Sometimes we don’t see it coming; we realize we’re on it and don’t know how it happened. Sometimes we try to outrun it or fight it. One way or another, it picks us up anyway. Most of us are familiar with this cycle. Most of us know exactly what it’s like to be caught in Mara’s grip and to feel utterly helpless.

 

Asking for help is hard enough. Sitting with the discomfort, bringing presence to it is even more challenging. It requires a willing attentiveness, a moment of pause, and gentle inquiry. The sheer thought of asking ourselves gentle, inquiring questions when we’re in the middle of some kind of freak out brings with it its own uncomfortable trials.

 

Something I’ve found helpful both personally and professionally is Byron Katie’s work. It is aptly named “The Work.” She gives us four questions to pose to ourselves when we are facing the underlying doubt of our ok-ness. In those moments, Katie recommends that we ask ourselves:

 

  1. Is it true? We know that the experience of the belief feels real, but is the belief true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the indisputable evidence?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens for you? What is it like for you? What is the impact of this thought or belief on you? On others?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Can you sense what life would be like, what you would be like if you no longer lived your life by this thought or belief?

 

These four questions get us off to a good start in dismantling maladaptive or limiting thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs that served us at one time in our lives, but that are now crippling us. If you find it difficult to ask yourself these questions, start with this one: Am I willing to pay attention to what this experience is like for me? We can’t always jump right in so, simply bringing the intention of presence if often a good place to start.

 

I recommend first trying these investigative questions with a shallow or midlevel fear-based belief. Since we are often floating around in the experience of these thoughts and beliefs, identified with them, bringing attention and presence can be really intense. Start slow. If you’d like to apply this approach to deeper fears and beliefs including trauma, I recommend doing so with the help and support of a therapist or healer.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

When You Want to Face Your Fear

When You Want to Face Your Fear

What are you afraid of? What fears and feelings of dread do you try to put out of your mind for as long as you can (the same ones that always seem to creep back in)?

When we look at our fears, we look at what makes us uncomfortable. We are afraid of discomfort.

The fear of being uncomfortable is what keeps us at the same job we hate, in the same relationships that we know is wrong for us. It’s what keeps us from training for a marathon, having that difficult conversation, and going on a road trip alone. It’s what keeps us from being the most us we can be. “Sure,” we tell ourselves, “I’m unhappy at my job, but to do what I really want would mean going back to school and I just…” We tell ourselves that it’s easier, better to stay in the relationship, train for the marathon later (never), and not have the difficult conversation.

We’re wrong. How is it easier to go without needs met, feel dissatisfied, and stay boxed in? How is it easier to be unhappy? It’s kind of funny how we won’t push ourselves out of an uncomfortable spot because we’re afraid that we will feel… uncomfortable.

I’m no different. I’ve not tried things I’ve wanted to try, stayed when I knew I should go, and not had the difficult conversations because it seemed easier, better not to. I was scared of being more uncomfortable or uncomfortable in a new way.

What makes me laugh a little is this: the more we tell ourselves that it’s too scary, too much trouble, too uncomfortable, the more we are training our brains to believe it, to dread it, to experience an increase in anxiety when we think about making a change. We work together in concert with our brains to stay uncomfortable.

“Awesome,” you say. “I’m unhappy, and you’re telling me I’m going to stay unhappy, and it’s my fault.” Yes and no. You don’t have to stay unhappy, and you do have a choice about which way to go.

Remember Newton’s first law of motion? “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” If you’re moving, you tend to keep moving, and if you’re at rest, you tend to stay at rest unless something else is introduced. We notice this when we hit our stride during physical activity or when we stop what we are doing and find it a bit harder to start again.

The first thing we can do, before we do anything else, is to acknowledge that the change might feel uncomfortable and that we might want to turn around and go back. (As humans we like it when our feelings are addressed and validated.) Then we can tell ourselves that, when we get to the place where we want to stop and retreat, we will keep going. We will calm our fears by reminding ourselves that we can maintain our stride in this change by keeping pace. We’ll just keep whatever pace with which we started. As we get used to our own pace, we can pick it up a little bit, then a little bit more.

We can ask ourselves, “What’s happening right now?” Instead of thinking about how scared we are of something that may or may not happen or how much we would rather be doing something else, we can ask ourselves what is happening in that very moment, making no interpretation of or judgment about it. This will help us to keep our focus.

We might still be scared for a while. That’s ok. We have to keep doing it. Keep showing up, keep having those difficult conversations, keep training, keep applying. When we feel overwhelmed by self-doubt, insecurity, and fear, we’ll keep going. We’ll teach ourselves that we can manage our fears, that they aren’t as threatening as we once thought, and that addressing our fear is not nearly as uncomfortable as being driven by it.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Learn to Manage Your Anger

Learn to Manage Your Anger

I will be the first to say that plenty of things have irritated me, made me mad, frustrated me, or gotten under my skin. I will also be the first to say that I hated how I felt and wanted to be more easy-going about most of the things that bothered me. Some years back I decided that I should probably find out how I could manage my frustration if I wanted to feel more easy-going about things.

Eventually, I started reading, researching, and talking to people about anger. Where does it come from? What drives it? What are some effective ways of understanding and managing anger?

Before I started my quest, I felt the effects of anger on my brain, but I had a hard time seeing the fuller picture. I knew that it was hard to think clearly or make wise decisions the angrier I felt. As I explored the effects of anger, I learned the way the brain shuts down and impacts our behavior (and our relationships) as it succumbs to the anger. Simply, anger makes us stupid.

Sometimes it takes a lot to make us angry. Sometimes it just takes a certain look, a comment, or what would normally appear to be an insignificant action (but for various reasons sends you into full blown rage). It can start to feel like we’re at the mercy of our emotions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of being controlled by my feelings. I feel more stable and resourced when I am managing my emotions.

So, I decided to take what I had learned and put it to good use. Over the years, it has helped me to be more curious about my experience. What is important about how I am feeling? Why?

A couple of years ago, I brought this way of thinking to my therapeutic work to help other people who wanted to learn better ways of managing their feelings. Now, I am bringing it to you. If you have any questions or would like clarification about anything, let me know!

Alright, think of a situation that makes you angry. Maybe you feel it when your partner makes a particular comment or when you’re engaged in various activities at work. Thinking about it right now, ask yourself, “What is important about how I am feeling? Why?”

At first, anger appeals to us because it can make us feel powerful. Situations in which we might otherwise feel vulnerable or powerless tend to leave us feeling ineffectual. These are times when we might reach for the closest coping mechanism, no matter how it impacts us later. Eventually, using anger doesn’t feel as good as it used to and we start to feel like our anger is controlling us. What is that anger doing for us? And what is hiding underneath it?

Take a look at this:

 

A n g e r

/               \

Hurt       Fear

 

Typically, when we react in anger to something or someone, we are hiding behind that feeling to avoid experiencing less savory feelings such as hurt and fear. Depending on the accessibility of our feelings, it might take any amount of exploration. Why does a specific comment get to you the way it does? If you are honest with yourself, you know that it doesn’t simply “piss you off” or feel disrespectful. Ask yourself some questions. What about it pisses you off or feels disrespectful? Why is that important? These are good starter questions if you have a hard time thinking of yourself being hurt or fearful.

For those of you who have more access to your fear and hurt, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of? And what part of me is hurt/wounded and seeking protection underneath this anger?”

You can use these questions to slow you down in the moment or after the fact to gain perspective (and strengthen yourself for the next time around). As you use this strategy, let me know how it’s going for you. I can’t wait to hear about it!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Managing and Learning from Fear and Failure

Managing and Learning from Fear and Failure

I’m willing to bet that you have experienced failure. In fact, you have probably had some real showstoppers. I can relate.

We all want the experience of success whether it’s in our relationships, careers, academics, finances, safe-driving records- whatever. Failure isn’t usually one of our goals. It’s a funny thing about failure, though; we go from “not counting failure as a goal” (reasonable), to “failure is the worst thing that could ever happen.” How… did we get there? And more importantly, why?

Perhaps some of us grew up in an era during which undiscerning praise and awards were given to us for merely showing up. Perhaps, through that, some of us now believe that there is no failure or that failure is not our fault. Others might have understood those trophies and awards, as a sort of “Hail Mary”, deliverance from such failure that is a dark abyss of shame into which we would fall and never get out. Maybe some of us were intentionally taught that failure is an outcome worse than death, and we still believe it. Maybe we’re afraid of failure for other reasons.

Why? What does failure mean to us? Some people overidentify with failure- failure means “I’m not a good (fill in the blank).” Others become overwhelmed- “I just can’t handle going through that again,” and attempt an escape in various ways. It’s easy to be blinded by our pain and forget that these are stories we tell ourselves, not facts. But we believe them. We believe that if we fail a test, we’re (feel in the blank); if we end a relationship, we must not be (fill in the blank); if our business isn’t thriving, it’s obviously because of (fill in the blank).

Failure is a lot less powerful than that, although we can find our power in experiencing it. Failure does not define us. It communicates to us.

If we failed that (again, fill in the blank), maybe it means that we didn’t use the best form of preparation, that we need to learn how to manage conflict better, that we didn’t have all of the information we needed.

Maybe it wasn’t a failure at all, and something was incompatible for or with us. When we experience something as failure, we get to ask ourselves “why?” We get to find out what we need to do differently and how we can produce better results next time. We have the chance to learn, get smarter, get better.

When we fail, we can connect to our resilience. We get to see that, after all, the hardship, pain, and rejection we’re still standing. We’re given the chance to learn that we are our champions. We get back up after each fall, and continue with more knowledge, courage, and perspective, each time less controlled by our fear.

With that kind of perseverance, self-trust becomes increasingly available to us. We begin to realize our potential. We need less external validation. Reassessing our parameters, lifting a boundary here while strengthening a boundary there seems more doable for us… because we’re more comfortable with the truth about who we are.

This week, let’s be curious about our failures. Hey- and whatever you do? Don’t fail. Just kidding.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Learn How to Take Control of Your Fear

Learn How to Take Control of Your Fear

If you’ve ever had that uneasy feeling of insecurity creep in while you’re working on a project or sitting in a meeting, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve had thoughts like, “Do I even know what I’m doing? Am I good enough at this?” or “Everyone else sounds like they know what they’re talking about. They’re going to think I look stupid.” This is an incredibly painful and scary place to be.

You might do all sorts of things to avoid letting people see how insecure you are.  Maybe you keep quiet when you want to share an idea. Perhaps you don’t ask for clarification about something when you know you need it. Maybe keeping quiet isn’t your style and instead, you speak your mind, but not about the relevant issue at hand; you joke or talk in circles about the issue. You might take on a lot more responsibility than you can handle to prove your competence to others (and to yourself). There are a lot of different ways to hide insecurity.

Why is it so compelling to go to these lengths of protection against allowing others to see your self-doubt? Well, when you’re insecure about your ability, your skill, or your worth you’ve usually been comparing yourself to other people, generally in your group or cohort. Chances are, your cohort is important to you (as it is for most of us), and so is their acceptance and opinion. You fear their judgment, appearing one-dimensional, being misunderstood. You begin to feel that losing your membership to this group is a real possibility, that you could be excluded. As a human, you are a social being, driven to connect; you are motivated by relationships so, the threat of losing them is terrifying. You avoid exclusion and isolation from your group at all cost.

But when you’re focused on protecting yourself from pain and rejection, you’re not authentic which means you’re not being seen for who you are. Your group doesn’t get to see the real you and your bonds are not as strong as they might be. You’re trading one type of isolation for another. It can be easy to lose yourself in this and begin to develop more feelings of fear and loneliness.

What can you do? You don’t want to feel like this, but you don’t want them to find out you’re not as good as they think you are. There are many things you can do, but here are just a few. Here is the first recommendation:

 

-You’re going to have to stop thinking of yourself as, “not as good as they think you are.” That sounds like a substantial change in thought habit and it is, but it’s necessary. We can talk more about it. I’m not saying you don’t ever get to feel insecure again- it’s still an option (if you want it). Start slowly at first. For 10 or 15 minutes a day you will allow yourself to do something that gets you in touch with feeling your talent, worth, and expertise, on your way to becoming even more skilled. You can increase this time as you get the hang of it. This will build your confidence and increase your comfort with thinking more highly of yourself.

 

-Next, you have to allow yourself to say, “I don’t know.” You have to be able to say it to yourself and others. This will allow you to see that a) the earth doesn’t swallow you up if you don’t know everything and b) you can increase genuine self -confidence without knowing all the answers. I guarantee that you will find a sense of freedom the more you allow yourself to say, “I don’t know.”

-Finally, when someone compliments you or your work, start taking it in. Don’t push it aside. Don’t intellectualize it away until it’s meaningless. Allow yourself to feel positivity in it, however slight. Feel free to ask for specific feedback on the compliment, too, so that you can hold onto concrete examples of what someone appreciated about you or your work.

 

These are a few things that are helpful in getting the ball rolling away from your “fear of being found out,” toward the satisfaction and peace of living more authentically, enjoying increased self-confidence and more genuine relationships. People get to interact with you, not your defenses.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie