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!

Gratitude in Recovery

img_1678Many people, when they first realize they have addiction, think about what they lost. They have lost time, money, jobs, maybe important relationships, with family and others. Maybe their health has suffered. Maybe they spent time in jail. They look around and compare themselves to peers and see this one has a house, that one a secure job, or a career. They see this one found a life partner, that one is raising children. It takes time to start thinking differently. It takes time to recognize the madness that continuing to drink and/or use drugs could have continued. They could have lost much, much more. When the desperation of having to drink or drug every day lessens, then disappears, when the cravings stop, the gratitude can start. It grows with each day spent clean and sober. Eventually, we move toward a place of realizing that we have been given a gift that not everyone receives. Some people do not get clean and sober. Some of us die. We begin to realize that we have to do the work to clean up our past, to live well today, respect others, and take responsibility for our choices to retain this gift. It is only by cultivating gratitude that we can rebuild our lives and start to have meaningful connection with others. Feeling grateful in recovery is a continuing journey, one that takes a lifetime and it naturally ebbs and flows, one day at a time.

Asking for support

asking for help

This is really a beautiful expression making it okay to ask for support. Many people consider therapy only when they are desperate, when things are really bad. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you are willing to be open to self-explore, an acknowledgement that maybe you don’t have all the answers, that you might be lost. Coming to therapy is refusing to give up. It’s an act of wanting that glimmer of hope to become a guiding light again, to perhaps burst into flame! Therapy can help people maintain emotional health too. Don’t wait too long. Come tell me your story. Refuse to give up.

Setting Boundaries

Many people are confused about how to set boundaries. People commonly say they don’t like confrontation or they don’t want to hurt other people. It is a common experience that people are disrespectful when setting boundaries, get angry, start yelling, and people can feel scared, or embarrassed, and decide it’s just not worth it. The question to ask yourself is what happens for you when you don’t set limits with others? It usually means you don’t get your needs met.
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Boundaries can be set in clear, calm, specific ways that make your limits clear and leave others responsible for choosing their response. 
 
♦ Take the time to vent your emotions after something happens that you don’t like. Talk to someone else. Be calm when you approach the person. You might want to make notes and rehearse what you will say so you can stick to it without getting derailed by emotion.
 
♦ Make a decision about what you will and will not tolerate.
 
♦ Describe the behavior of the other person clearly without judgment or interpretation, so that everyone on the planet can agree that is what happened
For example: Jane, when you raised your voice and said “you’re an idiot…” then add “and I felt (how you felt not what you thought) hurt/angry/sad/whatever.
 
♦ Avoid interpretation and judgment because that invites anger and will escalate arguing.
For example: do not say “because you’re just insecure!”
 
♦ Be clear about the consequences you set and be prepared to follow through! Keep it short. Do not justify, defend, or explain. If you do, you tell the other person your boundaries are negotiable, and they are not.
For example: I want you to stop raising your voice and calling me names when we talk. If you don’t stop, I am going to end conversations, and walk away, when you do those things.
 
Finally, allow yourself to make mistakes. Learning new skills takes time and practice. Believe that you are worth setting limits with others. Asking for your needs to be met is an emotionally healthy act and you deserve it!