We Are Not Our Thoughts

IMG_1869Most of us believe that what we think is who we are. This is supported in western culture. There are many sayings and affirmations that reinforce this idea. We often get stuck there. We believe our thoughts are one hundred percent true. Not only that, we believe we must act on them. What if that is not the case? How many times have you made the mistake of acting thoughts you believed were true only to find out that you made an erroneous assumption, or lacked all the information to make a sound judgment? What about emotions? How often have you acted on impulse, without thinking something through, without asking yourself, what is the evidence this is true? Is there another way to look at this? What if I wait for this thought or feeling to pass? Have your impulsive responses led to damaged relationships, an inability to connect with others, lost jobs, income, or opportunities ?

One of the tenets of psychology is that we have the power to change our thoughts and feelings. It is possible to distance ourselves from our thoughts, to feel less ruled by them. The first step occurs by increasing awareness of those thoughts and feelings and beginning to question their validity. This is challenging because we believe so strongly that our thoughts define us. This is not an easy exercise. Start by practicing a deliberate pause before speaking or taking action, especially in relationships, which I introduced in this blog entry on communication: Setting BoundariesBut what do we do when our internal dialogue is self-defeating? What about thoughts that I’m not good enough, that I can’t handle this, that I feel too anxious or sad, or angry, or want to die? Then what? What do we do with that?

One skill to develop is self-talk. We all talk to ourselves. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have conversations with ourselves. Start noticing how you speak to yourself. If you drop a glass on the floor, do you call yourself an idiot or do you say it’s just a glass, it was a mistake? This noticing will help you understand how you treat yourself, what you think of yourself, what you like about how you treat yourself, and what you want to change. You can use that same self-talk in new ways. You can learn to become your own coach. You can say to yourself I’m okay right now. I don’t like this feeling but I know it will pass. It has passed before. Pairing self-talk with other skills like distraction, especially if pleasurable, increases the chance that change can happen. Changing your environment, going for a walk, listening to music, calling someone can change your thoughts and feelings and provide relief. Even temporary relief can build emotional resilience. It takes practice and does not work all the time but it’s a start. Give me a call and we can talk about other changes you have the power to make if you are willing to take a look and consider the possibilities.

Do you do too much?

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This is a follow up post to the one I did on Practicing Self-care. It is very easy to take on more and more tasks and responsibilities. It seems the expectation that we work well beyond what is normal capacity, that we can recover during little time off (actually feel rested by spending time with friends and other loved ones, and pursuing leisure interests), has become acceptable. This often leads to increased anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, drinking, drug use, insomnia, and conflicts in relationships and with family. Resentment grows.

Yet, the response seems to be what is wrong that you can’t handle it? Take the time to notice what you have agreed to take on. Become aware of when things changed for you. What else changed around the same time? Have you noticed you feel a general decrease in your overall satisfaction in your life? What if you are simply expecting an unreasonable level of involvement from yourself? If someone else were doing as much as you are, what would you say to them? You are worthy of noticing, of taking the time to reflect, to make changes to feel better now.

Practicing Self-care

IMG_1746I have been thinking a lot about self-care lately. It’s usually not that we don’t know what to do to best support ourselves, it’s that those practices take a back seat to other priorities. We get busy at work. We worry about finances. We put in more hours. We get busy trying to maintain a hectic schedule. We try to accommodate the needs of others before our own. Sometimes that is reasonable. We do the best we can. In doing so, we can lose something along the way: ourselves.

Yes, self-care. Most of us cannot fly off to a tropical island vacation tomorrow. That would be nice, right? I have to think about little things that I can incorporate into my day to day experience like a great tasting cup of coffee, a break to really stretch my body, walking away from whatever I am doing for ten minutes, a change of scenery, talking to someone else. I do better when I periodically ask myself what I need in the moment. When did I last eat or drink something?

And then there are, what I call follow up activities, the things we know about that help, like walking in nature, resting, having a hot meal, going to bed early, yoga, meditation, listening to music, exercise, spiritual practice, retreats, weekend getaways, pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and especially spending time with people who want to spend time with you.

When I feel overwhelmed, when I feel tired all the time, that is when I want to increase my self-care, even in some small way, so I meet the priorities I set for myself. I cannot sustain a hectic pace for long without making changes to get my needs met. I deserve to treat myself as if I matter. I am the one who can best do that.

Assertiveness

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This is a follow up to my blog on Setting Boundaries (https://robinslavinlmhc.org/2018/12/28/setting-boundaries/).

Learning assertiveness skills has so many benefits. Assertiveness means using skills to express your feelings, thoughts, and needs, while respecting the rights of others. There are other types of communication. If you engage in passive communication, you allow others the dominant role; you lose, they win. When you are acting in an aggressive way, you win, the other person loses. With assertiveness, the problem is attacked, not the person. By acting in an appropriate direct, open, and honest way, healthy relationships grow, interpersonal conflict becomes greatly reduced, and overall satisfaction in life greatly improves. You get your needs met!

Fair Fighting Rules

Fair-Dirty Fighting

I came across this article from TherapistAid.com on how to fight fairly: how to talk about conflict and move toward compromise, even when emotions run high and things seem nearly impossible to resolve. The key to healthy and long-lasting relationships is the willingness to keep trying to improve communication.

Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset.
Are you truly angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.

Discuss one issue at a time.
“You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.

No degrading language.
Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is forgotten.

Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.
“I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take responsibility for your feelings (no, you can’t say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”).

Take turns talking.
This can be tough, but be careful not to interrupt. If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer allowing 1 minute for each person to speak without interruption. Don’t spend your partner’s minute thinking about what you want to say. Listen!

No stonewalling.
Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to retreat into your shell and refuse to speak. This refusal to communicate is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset. If you absolutely cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out. Agree to resume the discussion later.

No yelling.
Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse.
Take a time-out if things get too heated. In a perfect world we would all follow these rules 100% of the time, but it just doesn’t work like that. If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem after everyone has cooled down.

Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
There isn’t always a perfect answer to an argument. Life is just too messy for that. Do your best to come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides). If you can’t come to a compromise, merely understanding can help soothe negative feelings.

TherapistAid.com © 2014

Learning new ways of communicating takes practice. If two people can make the commitment to fight fairly, what brought you together in the first place can be rediscovered, leading back to true connection, validation, and love which makes taking the risk worth it!