As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

Have you ever noticed that one guy at work, the one who you’ve never liked, but couldn’t put your finger on why? Or the neighbor who, for some reason, when she smiles at you, you feel irritated? Or why you can’t stand the smell of a certain laundry detergent? Or why, even though you’re accomplished in your field, you feel like an idiot before you give a presentation?

We all have an information processing system hardwired into our brains. This processing system has evolved to help us integrate emotional turmoil into our mental health and is essential for healing. This system helps us to let go of what is not useful information and make connections to what is useful about an experience so that we can adapt, grow, learn, and face similar situations more intelligently.

Here is an example:

You have a stressful interaction with your mother-in-law while she is visiting for a holiday. You feel angry, disappointed, and resentful. Your chest is tight, and your stomach is in knots. You think negative thoughts about her (“She’s always such a cold, demanding jerk.”) and about yourself (“What is wrong with me that after so many years, I can’t seem to avoid these situations with her? Is it me?”)

You keep mulling over what happened, talk about it with friends, maybe even have a stress dream about it that night. The next day, you still feel a bothered by it but not nearly as much. You’re able to think more clearly about it and understand that you two interpret things differently and that there are ways that you can skillfully manage this. This is your brain’s information processing system at work. It’s transformed this disturbing situation into a learning experience. (You can also thank your REM sleep phase for this since this is the time during which wishes, learning/lessons, survival/stress experiences are processed through the action of “synaptic pruning.”

Because of this uninterrupted time to process, your brain was able to associate the memory of the interaction with your mother-in-law and useful information already stored in your brain (from other stressful interactions with her and others) to create resolution. You remember what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and that it isn’t personal, that this is just the way she is and that you have useful tools for interacting with her. The intense emotional reaction you felt the day before is gone.

Unfortunately, our brains do not adaptively store all of our experiences in this way. Sometimes we encounter traumatic experiences or otherwise stressful experiences that overwhelm our brain’s capacity to process and adaptively store information received during these experiences. This is often referred to as “going off-line.” It’s kind of like short-circuiting.

When we encounter extreme stress, the emotional and physical reactions we experience during the event keep the brain from identifying useful information about the situation; there is no resolve. What happens instead is that the event and its information is maladaptively stored. This means that the event and its components are stored in the brain and body as it happened. Everything you saw, heard, felt (physically and emotionally), tasted, smelled, thought remain in their original, unprocessed form.

You do your best to move through it, but whenever any of these senses are triggered, your emotional disturbance level sky-rockets and you have a reaction. Many times, multiple unprocessed events are linked to one another in such a way that if one is triggered, all are triggered. These events, while often linked to one another, are stored in isolation so that they are not linked to anything adaptive.

No amount of time will help them to integrate. It’s as though these events are frozen in time. An event could have happened 40 years ago, but when triggered it’s as though it is still happening or just happened.

Our personalities, coping skills, perspectives, and beliefs about ourselves and others can develop through the lens of these unprocessed events and impact our emotional and physical capabilities.

Research shows that it’s not just clearly identifiable traumatic events that are responsible for this outcome, but any event or pattern that our brain experienced as overwhelming.

It could be the way someone spoke to you as a child, your interpretation of someone’s behavior you witnessed at three years old or making a mistake during an academic oral exam in second grade. We don’t always know how our brains will store an event.

The good news is that we’re not stuck here. There are therapeutic tools that can help us to free ourselves from the suffering of an unconscious cycle or unprocessed event. One of the most efficacious and reliable tools is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy. This therapy helps us to safely contact the disturbing event or maladaptive cycle and process it, giving us a new understanding of the situation so that we can use its information intelligently.

If you would like to know more about EMDR Therapy, please call or email me. I would love to talk with you more about this process and see if it’s right for you. If you’re not quite ready to reach out yet, that’s ok, too. You can find more information on EMDR Therapy here and here.


Love and Be Loved,

90 Second Eternity

90 Second Eternity

The natural lifespan for an emotion is 90 seconds. From the time the emotion is triggered until it passes through our nervous system, 90 seconds pass. Something special happens to turn those 90 seconds of emotion into a mood or a type of day- our thoughts. Most of us aren’t sad or angry or irritated or frustrated or anxious for 90 seconds until we feel better. No, we think some thoughts, feel unpleasant feelings, think some more thoughts, feel a few more unpleasant feelings. We’ll get our behavior involved and maybe yell at the car in front of us or brush hurriedly past someone. Then, we’ll think some more thoughts and feel some more feelings. This can last so much longer than 90 seconds.


You know how it goes. You wake up and realize you over slept. First thought of the day, “No!! Why?!!” As you grab your phone to shut off your alarm, you notice that people have already texted and emailed with questions and concerns about pressing issues. You walk the dog, but he takes his sweet time making any progress on his business. You start taking an inventory of all the things you have to do today, all the things that will need your attention until you can finally relax at home again. Your stomach tenses. A neighbor, retired, stops to say good morning and casually chat. You feel kind of bad for pulling your dog away from her and toward home. You take your dog back home and grab everything you’ll need for the day- almost. You forget your lunch. You run to the train stop relieved to see that it hasn’t come yet. You notice that there is an inordinate amount of people waiting at the stop. You can see on train stop display that the wait time is longer than usual. You’re pissed again. Eventually, your train comes, and it’s crowded beyond measure, but you manage to climb in and hang on. You’re glad that you’re moving in the right direction and allow yourself to think, “Maybe because it’s so crowded, the driver won’t make the usual stops, and I won’t actually be that late.” Thanks to the fact that neurons that fire together wire together, your brain is used to feeling anxious about getting to the next thing so, it fires off more thoughts about how much you have to do, how stressful it all is, and how infuriating it is that you are wedged in between what feels like the entire population of the city. You arrive to work, find that people are impatiently waiting for you. As you start to think, “At least I have my delicious lunch waiting for me at lunchtime,” until you remember that you left it sitting on the table in your haste to make the train.


Yikes. This morning sounds stressful. We’ve all had them. Sometimes we’re able to regroup and make the next half of the day better, other times we just don’t think we have it in us. We’ve all definitely blamed a bad mood, bad day, even a bad week on a morning like this. Together, the frustrating events and our thoughts created a perfect storm for continued feelings of unpleasantness. (And we all know that it doesn’t even necessarily take an event in tandem with thought to cause more uncomfortable feelings. We can do it all by ourselves armed with only our thoughts.)


The thing is, it’s pretty much always our thoughts that create the unpleasantness. Traffic jam got you upset? Thoughts. Colleague irritating you? Thoughts. Afraid you won’t get what you want at work? Thoughts. Resentful that your spouse hasn’t once thought to clean the baseboards? Thoughts. Tired and cranky and stressed and busy? Thoughts.


Don’t get me wrong, thinking is totally a part of the human experience, and there is no way to avoid it (unless we experience major cognitive decline). And I’m not saying thoughts are bad; they’re not. They can be really useful to us. It’s the meaning we make of them and the rumination that challenges us. We decide that an event means a certain thing so we think thoughts associated with that thing and they gain momentum. Ultimately, the fear is that we are not ok/will not be ok as a result of it.


When we experience and unpleasant feeling, think thoughts associated with it, fear is often at the heart of it; we are usually attuning to some kind of vulnerability of life.


We can’t and don’t need to avoid or thoughts, but we could learn how to guide them. We could learn how to use our thoughts instead of being used by our thoughts.


Some people are fine with this and don’t experience that much suffering with their thoughts, or they do, but they find purpose in their suffering. To those, people I say, great! Looks like you’ve figured out what works for you and you don’t need me to tell you anything. To everyone else, I feel you.


And some of you might say, “Whatever, dude, stuff is stressful!! I can’t just not be stressed. I’m not flakey enough. What, am I suddenly just not going to care about being on time, what my boss thinks of me, or if I’m doing life right?!” And the answer is… kind of. You can be less stressed though it certainly won’t happen suddenly. (And you will also see that you are doing life just fine, but we won’t get to that yet.)


When we care about how we feel, we are more deliberate with our thoughts. If we don’t care about how we feel, then we allow ourselves to fall down the rabbit hole of rumination or put our happiness in the hands of other people, places, and things. The trick is to remind ourselves that we care about how we feel. The other trick is to ask ourselves these questions:


1)Do I care about how I’m feeling?

2)What am I observing about my experience right now?

3)It’s hard to feel __________.

4)What can I do about the situation I’m in?

5)What can I do to make myself happier/more at peace/neutral (whatever feels doable for you) in this moment?


It’s natural to think about what we have next on the agenda, what we have yet to accomplish, the miles to go before we sleep. And feeling time-poor and responsibility-rich is challenging. I’m not saying that you have to get to a place of rapturous joy on that crowded train with your whole day in front of you, but maybe you can feel a little less dread and discomfort. You can feel a little more grounded.

Because we have nervous systems, we won’t always be able to respond like this. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be humans having human experiences.


Love and Be Loved,

“How could I not have known?”

“How could I not have known?”

There are times in our lives when it serves us not to know something, times when it serves us not to know something about what’s happened in the past, what’s happening now, or our feelings and experience. It will upset the status quo, and we are committed to protecting our status quo even when it’s killing us. Eventually, the attachment to not knowing dominates us.

We repress and suppress painful memories, our awareness. We do this for lots of reasons. We try not to know that our partner is trapped in an addiction because we don’t know how we’d deal with it, how our families would deal with it. We try not to know that we’re being cheated on because we don’t want to get divorced or break up and we don’t know how to recover from the betrayal. We try not to know that we’ve fallen out of love with someone or something because we don’t know how to move forward and we don’t want to hurt anyone. We try not to know what happened in our childhood households because if we were to know it, we’d have to rearrange our understanding of life and relationships. We try not to know that we’re depressed because it is so stigmatized and we don’t want to seem weak or sick.

We try not to know that we’re stuck in our own addiction cycle. We try not to know that we’re afraid of expressing emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, that we are ashamed of how we feel.

But one day we’re presented with irrefutable evidence or we feel we just can’t keep avoiding it or someone shines the light on the truth… and the thing we were trying so hard not to know makes itself known.

Sometimes we fall apart with this knowledge. Sometimes we steel ourselves against it. Sometimes we oscillate between the two.

We ask ourselves how this could have happened right under our noses. We wonder how we could not have known. We feel guilt for not having seen it all this time and anger for seeing it now. We blame ourselves for not knowing sooner and not changing courses, not stopping whatever was happening, not getting help sooner. Avoidance is an understandable response to stress. Stress is painful, and our brains are wired to be pain-averse. It’s what’s kept us safe and alive for generations. Some of us experienced trauma during childhood and learned to believe that we are helpless against pain or that resolving the thing that’s causing us pain is just as awful as experiencing the thing itself. Lose-lose.

It benefits us to learn about why we didn’t want to know something, why we fought knowing for so long, what it would have meant for us to know, and what it meant for us not to. When we understand the meaning, we made out of knowing versus not knowing we can have compassion for ourselves. Eventually, we can learn to stop blaming ourselves, figure out why we had to keep ourselves from not knowing and internalize that we can accept and handle the future knowledge that comes our way, no matter how painful. This takes time and practice.

We can also practice asking ourselves what we are trying not to know in our everyday lives. When sense ourselves avoiding something, a feeling, a situation, a person, we can ask ourselves what we are trying not to know. If the awareness of avoidance is still new for us and we don’t quite have the hang of it, we can ask ourselves what we are trying not to know by looking at our behavior. Sometimes the very thought of asking ourselves what we are trying not to know is terrifying.

If this sounds like you, I get it, and I would love to help you with this. Please contact me to talk about next steps. You don’t have to stay stuck in not knowing. You can upset your status quo, address the knowing, and see that you’re ok.


Love and Be Loved,

Try This When You Are Overwhelmed by Stress

Try This When You Are Overwhelmed by Stress

Ever heard the phrase, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it?” It’s the motto for the experience-based outdoor education program, Outward Bound. The idea is both simple and revolutionary; if you can’t avoid an experience it, explore it. Find out more about it, what you need, and why that’s important.

This takes a lot of intention because, to be honest, most of the time, we want to get out of things. We want to get out of our uncomfortable situations, painful feelings, anxiety-addled thoughts. We want to end our imbalanced relationships and quit our stressful jobs. We want to get out of discomfort and into comfort.

We end up living lives of dread- dread of chaos, dread of pain, dread of all kinds of woe. In our attempt to keep ourselves out of discomfort, we live full-time in anticipation of it which can be pretty uncomfortable. That’s the worst part of all of it! In our effort to prepare for or avoid dis-ease, we end up living lives full of it. It seems a little counterintuitive.

Sometimes just the thought of sitting without pain or stress or discomfort sends us into a tailspin. “But I sit with it every day! I feel depressed and anxious all the time because I’m sitting with it!” people say. “If you knew how bad I felt, you wouldn’t tell me to try to ‘sit with it.’”

I get it. Life can feel like one big compound-stress heap sometimes (or a lot of the times), especially when you live in a metropolitan area. Things are more expensive, quicker-paced, more competitive, and more crowded.

I’m not simply talking about sitting with your discomfort and thinking about how uncomfortable you are. (I have a feeling you might already do that…) I’m talking about intentionality- intentional curiosity, intentional honesty, intentional exploration. It’s the opposite of stewing in your stress.

Let’s take math, for instance, any math. Remember how our teachers wanted us to show our work? Most likely, you didn’t get credit for answering a problem correctly unless you showed all of your work. They wanted us to be able to see how we arrived at the numerical destination to show that we understood everything that went into making that outcome possible. Then, we could build on our understanding and have the ability to answer increasingly challenging questions. Incidentally, some of us didn’t feel very confident in our math computation capabilities. Some days it can feel like life is one giant math problem.

I’m asking you to try breaking it down; break-down the problem or insecurity or stress to see how you arrived here and what it will take for you to be able to do what you need or want to do. Solve for x by working backwards.

If a relationship is so stressful that you are contemplating ending it, first look at some of the information you have. How did it become this stressful? How do the two of you handle conflict? If you fight, what are the fights like? (Name-calling? Swearing? Throwing things? Hitting below the belt?)

If it’s your job that you are thinking of quitting, what has convinced you that your dis-ease will dissolve once you’re at a new job? How did you come to understand it this way? What’s the worst part of it and why?

Sometimes the answer will be to end a relationship, quit a job, sometimes not. The feeling of self-assuredness we seek regarding an outcome usually comes from the sense that we have adequate information (that we understand), feel resourced in ourselves and are connected to our intention. We don’t like to feel like we’re grasping around in the dark and will take the first thing we hit. That makes us feel more scared and desperate.

When you allow yourself to sit with what makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself questions, are honest with yourself about the answers, you give yourself the most solid platform from which to launch your intentional decision.

I’m also aware that this can’t always happen. Sometimes, life calls for fast and swift action. There are situations in which the only decision we have to make is to how we will respond. Either way, I’d love to talk with you more about this. I know it can feel overwhelming.


Love and Be Loved,