Healing disorganized attachment

If you’re struggling with a disorganized attachment style, you are torn between two or three different impulses in relationships. It feels chaotic inside, and it can get chaotic in your relationships.

Sometimes, people seem caring but then they seem to turn on you. For no reason that you can identify.

You are fine with acquaintances, but once a relationship gets deeper, you start feeling some internal chaos — like you don’t know whether to get way closer, to run away screaming, or to split the difference somehow!

You find yourself feeling like you’re going in two directions at once in the same relationship, and it’s exhausting for you (and maybe the other person!). It’s like wanting to floor the accelerator and pound on the brake of a car at the same time.

You are afraid to get close to people, afraid of the chaos this might unleash.

You have a vague sense of dread in relationships. You may not be able to identify quite what this is all about, but somehow, it feels like you aren’t really safe with others. You can’t settle.

You feel out of control of your own feelings, impulses, and behavior.

You alternate between trying to avoid someone and wanting to be very close to them, and you often don’t know what’s governing these cycles of closeness and distance.

You say things that other people find to be inconsistent. Like you ask for help, but then if help comes, it doesn’t feel safe, or good, or like what you asked for. Maybe others find you hard to please.

You sometimes feel like giving up on yourself, or giving up on relationships. But you have intense yearning at the very same time.

You feel stuck in your relationships, and if you’re in therapy, often feel stuck there — like you, your therapist, or both of you, are being too difficult!

Relationships feel like a landmine.

And yet, you need relationships.

You want to be close. (We all do!) When closeness stirs up memories of abandonment or hurt, though, it’s like your body starts doing something else. It’s as if you move toward and away from relationships at the same time.

Connection has gotten entangled with hurt. With fear. With rage. With desolation. With desperation. With conflict.

This is understandable.

This is what happens when the people who were supposed to take care of you, listen to you, and keep you safe were also the people who walked away from you, couldn’t listen, or were the source of hurt.

As children, we can’t just walk away

When we’re young, we don’t have the option to look at our parents and say, “This isn’t working out well. I think I’ll find parents who are a better match for my needs.”

We have to connect to them. Even when it’s scary. Even when it’s confusing. Even when it hurts. 

But, when we’re being hurt — physically, emotionally, or spiritually — we also have other impulses, to flee or to fight. Our self-protective impulses kick in.

These are good impulses. But they aren’t safe to employ with caregivers who are bigger and more powerful, than the moment, than you are. You end up with suppressed rage, an urge to run but nowhere to go —

And  yet still, the yearning for connection.

Often, this all gets so confusing that you freeze up — it’s like you don’t feel safe coming toward your caregivers, but there’s nowhere to go. You can’t fight. But it doesn’t feel safe to connect either.

As an adult, you feel like these same binds keep playing in your relationships over and over again. You may sometimes feel like you’re insane, and other times feel like the  whole world’s gone mad!

Things just don’t seem stable, or safe.

You just can’t get comfortable.

Someone feels great to be around one moment, and terrifying the next.

It’s like everything keeps getting flipped upside down in your mind, in your world.

It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Even when you’re with a partner, or a friend, or a therapist, who demonstrates that they care for you over and over again, and who never hurts you, sometimes you still can’t trust them. And, on a deeper level, you feel like you can’t trust yourself.

So what can be done?

When I see clients who have struggled with these binds, hope often starts to come in quite soon. A lot of this is that I get it about disorganized attachment, so from our very first session, we start to talk in an open way about yearnings, fears, yearnings towards and push-aways — and this opens up a safe space for all of the parts of you to come forward!

We also work, carefully, to help you through the traumatic reactions in your body — reactions to the “fear without solution” you experienced when you were small.

We notice empathically together what’s happening for you. For some clients, this is the first experience they’ve had of getting explicit compassion for their conflict within relationships. We start to notice what’s happening together, and what might happen next.

One client of mine and I started tracking a pattern together: She would feel connected in a session, like I was tracking her. She would start to share deeper things with me, to really start to kind of “land” — and then, all of a sudden, it was as if I couldn’t say anything right! The slightest shift in my tonality could be experienced as hurtful — and yet, it also didn’t feel safe for me to back off or be quieter to give her more room.

Knowing about this helped us both. We could talk, when she wasn’t in that fragile space, about what it might be about. We could connect, notice when she was feeling ready to dive deeper, and then check in with the part of her that might not feel safe to do that.

Therapy with disorganized attachment takes time. It takes delicacy! We both get to be human beings who make mistakes. One of the big things that heals is that I stick with you. We look carefully together at both the moments that feel great and the moments that don’t feel so good — and we find new experiences together. Experiences where you can come closer — and have your needs heard, met, seen, and understood. Experiences where you can have your terror understood, worked with, talked with directly, and soothed.

In this kind of therapy, you learn over time to be more compassionate with yourself. You learn to tolerate other people’s mistakes without them feeling so dangerous. You learn to notice what’s safe and what isn’t safe. You learn to draw toward people at a pace that’s safe for you.

We find together the moments where you connect in a secure, kind, well-boundaried way — and we notice this together! None of us are all one attachment style, so even though your relationships may have been fraught with significant conflict, there are still lovely moments that you have with people. You and I will have many great moments, and we’ll notice them together! We’ll notice what it’s like to come in my office and to just know that you’re welcome, or what it’s like to feel those tears of relief when your sense of urgent need is welcomed and understood.

We’ll work slowly and quickly, all at once!

Clients who do this deep work often report unexpected changes in their lives in a short time period: Sometimes, they feel an overall sense of increased calm. Sometimes, they find that they can take a nap when they’re tired and go to sleep at night, when this had been very difficult before.

Clients use words like “ease,” “safety,” “feeling welcome”.

Clients also use words like “relief” when they see and hear that I get them, and that we can work through the feelings that have been too hard to put to words — together.

Attachment wounds heal through relationships. So you and I work to build a relationship that feels safe enough, steady enough, good enough. (Not perfect, because no relationship is!).

If you’re dealing with wounds from this attachment style, please know that therapy can help. Even if it hasn’t helped before. Even if you’ve had your attachment dilemmas pathologized or you’ve been blamed before for your “faulty thinking” or your “poor communication.”

Once you work with a therapist who understands trauma and attachment wounds and knows how to work compassionately with them– well, it’s not necessarily smooth sailing. But it gets a heck of a lot easier!

Here are some therapies I highly recommend if you’re struggling with disorganized attachment types of struggles:

  1. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. A therapy that helps you to feel safe, secure, and grounded in your own body, and helps you to learn to reach out in ways that feel safe. You learn lots of tools for self-soothing, you get help resolving traumatic reactions, and with a therapist who is a good match, you find new experiences in relationships. This therapy is compassionate, non-pathologizing, helps you to slow down and notice what’s happening within yourself moment to moment.
  2. AEDP – (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy). A therapy that’s about developing a sense of safety with your therapist. A good AEDP therapist doesn’t just listen; she really engages and feels for you as you speak. AEDP therapists will help you to slow things down and to be mindful together of what’s happening within you. AEDP therapists say kind things, and then ask how you’re hearing those things — so that there’s lots and lots of space and permission to say, “I feel like it should feel good to hear that, but I actually feel scared…..” Or to say whatever it is that comes up in the moment. AEDP will help you notice what’s going on in yourself and in your relationships.
  3. Somatic Experiencing – Can help you to work through the intense feelings of overwhelm and shut-down in your body, and can help you to feel more empowered within yourself. SE can come as a huge relief for clients who “can’t talk about it,” because the therapist notices your breathing, your posture, and different motions you make, and helps you to find ways to feel better, stronger, and safer — often without any story needing to be attached at all!

The key thing is to find a therapist who “gets it” about disorganized attachment. Someone who you feel safe with who can help you to feel safe with yourself and connected with them. At a pace that feels right for you.

 

 

 

“Borderline Personality Disorder”

Clients who’ve been diagnosed as “borderline” often know very well what it feels like to be misunderstood, to feel abandoned by their treatment providers, and to feel confused by their own strong emotional reactions. There is true help for borderline personality disorder.

I see BPD as a big, long, agonized cry to have deep needs for connection and validation met. See my video on this:

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about the commitment it takes a therapist and a client to move through BPD symptoms and into healing. It’s work. And it’s worth it!

Looking for a way to counter splitting right away, and want a taste of how I conceptualize this stuff? Here’s my video on “How to Counter Splitting and Understand Relationship Triggers”:

Here’s a story that’s much like the stories of clients I’ve worked with.

She comes into me after abruptly leaving other therapies. She says those therapists started out okay (sometimes they even seemed wonderful.), but none of them really understood her in the end. . One therapist told her to “just quit being so emotional,” and another kicked her out of therapy after she showed up with cuts on her arms right after the therapist had tried to help her. 

She’s good at her job, but her home life feels impossible to manage. She locks herself in her room most of the time, and when she interacts with her husband at all, she very often screams at him.

She says she doesn’t know what comes over her, can’t seem to control these outbursts.

She’s attempted suicide multiple times, usually right after a boyfriend mentioned breaking up with her. She admits, with shame, that sometimes she’s even lied to keep a boyfriend from leaving. She would pretend to be pregnant or injured.

She’s lost most of her friends, and is afraid to reach out again. She feels like no one understands her, and why should they? She fears that if someone did understand her, they’d hate her just like she hates herself.

After our first session, she feels understood and starts to have an inkling that I won’t judge her. I talk straight with her early on, telling her that I know that I run the risk of her walking or running away, because she’s gotten so used to leaving before someone else can leave. I tell her that I sometimes make mistakes, and I will, at some point, probably inadvertently hurt her feelings. We discuss what we can do differently so that she can stay even when I don’t get everything right. And I help her to “pace” her sharing with me, and she learns that she can walk out of a session feeling good, feeling strong in herself. This is different from past therapy where she would sometimes blurt out so much information that she’d leave feeling raw with exposure and shame. She remarks on the feeling of safety she gets by knowing that I’ll encourage her to slow down her sharing if I see her getting overwhelmed.

In future sessions, I help her to focus on her body, on her sensations, and to build a sense of solidity and feeling grounded.

Throughout it all, we’re talking about her high sensitivity, how being so sensitive can feel like both blessing and curse. We do some guided imagery. We talk about some strategies she might use in her communications. And we help her to get in touch with a feeling of safety and confidence more easily.

Several weeks into therapy, she tells me that she’s quit screaming at her husband, and sometimes leaves her room and enjoys herself. We work more on other anxieties or anger she has.

Several months in, her life is looking much better and she’s gaining a sense of having options in how she acts.

Sometimes, she doesn’t feel like showing up to therapy. But because we made an agreement with each other, she shows up anyhow. We talk about what it’s like to run away, what it’s like to show up when she feels like running away, how difficult it can be for her to express her feelings directly. We talk about the things she’d like to tell me, the kinds of things she used to hide from saying by running away or hurting herself or raging. I ask, can she experiment with telling me openly how she feels, or maybe just a piece of it?

We together come to understand different pieces of herself, including a childlike part of herself who needs nurturing.

After getting in touch with herself more, she starts to explore other relationships. And to grieve the relationships she never enjoyed fully until now.

She starts to take up some hobbies she used to enjoy.

As therapy goes on, we walk together through the grief, rage, anger, and ultimately, sadness and sense of aloneness she’s experienced for so much of her life. This time, she feels like someone’s here with her, like she doesn’t have to endure these feelings alone anymore. With increased space to be herself and feel her feelings, she’s able to open up more with her husband as well.

She tells me, “I lost so much. I never knew that I could be like I am now. I thought I was evil inside. But now I feel beautiful. I understand why I did those things. But I don’t have to do them anymore.”

Sound good? Schedule your consultation with me here.

Some of the folks I’ve talked with who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder were dismissed by therapists and loved ones — They may have been told that their reactions and their feelings were “just being borderline” — A devastating thing to hear if you are highly sensitive, as folks with BPD are.

You may have learned to discount your own emotions while feeling immense shame at being “different” — and sometimes feeling rage at people who don’t seem to understand you. Rage, shame, chaos, numbness — the despair can seem inescapable. But there are ways out.

So what does this diagnosis really mean?

You can find the objective criteria by looking up those characteristics, so I’m not going to rehash the dsm definition here.

I’m going to speak about what I’ve seen this mean for people I’ve worked with.

Marsha Linehan, who’s done research on borderline personality disorder, likens the emotional experience of having borderline personality disorder to what it might feel like physically to “live without skin” — the lightest touch or contact can feel unbearable.

It means that your feelings may alternate between numbness and rage.

It means that you can feel super close to someone one moment, and the next, wonder why you ever wanted to know them.

It means that you may have a fear of abandonment that is truly frightening, and that, when someone leaves, you may feel abject terror — which can lead you to doing and saying things that you later just don’t respect. And you wonder, “Why did I do that? Why do I push the people I love away?”

It may mean that you get into relationships with people you’re not sure if you even like. Or that you feel like you create a new identity for yourself around each new relationship. You blend and become what you perceive other people want — often very skillfully. You may be charming, empathic, and give endlessly to others or just become what you sense they want. And at the end of the day, you may go, “But who am I?”

You may have hurt yourself or done some very impulsive things. Sometimes, it may have been because you felt you had no other way to express your pain. Sometimes, it may have been because parts of you felt so numb, and doing something intense helped you to feel yourself and your body again.

Many people who have borderline traits or experiences have not had many experiences with compassion and help working their way through their keen sense of sensitivity. Helping folks with this diagnosis, in my experience, involves a few different things:

1. Helping you to calm any crisis in your life. Safety first!

So we will want to develop ways for you to get through the day, ways to help ensure that you’ll stick with therapy so that we can make real progress.

We’ll work on helping you to feel a sense of stability and safety.

And we’ll work on helping you to establish a commitment to therapy, because if we’re going to work together, we need to get our relationship expectations and any concerns about safety sorted out. Working through struggles that come up in the therapy relationship is one of the fastest ways to change, and to move into true healing that extends to your other relationships.

Because the potential for change through this relationship is so important, and because you might be used to walking away before that can happen, I also require that, once you choose to work with me, you pay for several sessions in advance. Why? Because I know that feelings that come up in therapy can be tough, and I know that, in the past, you may have learned to walk away when you feared someone else would. You’ve likely abandoned yourself and your feelings so many times that it’s become automatic. We break that cycle in therapy right away by establishing a commitment.

2. Helping you to develop a sense of self. That means that I want to help you to connect with who you really are. Sometimes, folks with intense feelings end up living lives that end up being run by the chaos of just trying to manage or get away from those feelings — but beneath any chaos you may be experiencing is a deeply sensitive person with deeply felt values. Good therapy can help you to get in touch with who you are so that you can have a sense of yourself in the midst of relationships, and so that you can live from a place of integrity and solidity.

Some folks come into therapy actually needing to work through the sense of trauma of being abandoned so many times by people who couldn’t understand and couldn’t stay around the chaos.

3. Helping you to learn ways to soothe yourself and calm your own feelings and your own body. You may have been dealing with so much feeling and so much chaos, and it may be that you’ve never learned how to comfort yourself, how to calm yourself down. If your brain is screaming, “Danger!” when it looks like someone is about to leave you or when someone does something to trigger that sensitivity, it’s hard to even function in day-to-day life. You need help to develop resiliency, and we can work on that through helping you to develop ways to notice your feelings and calm them. You may have spent so much time trying to stifle your emotions or to get someone else to understand you that you haven’t yet learned how to identify your emotions and soothe yourself. We can work with that until it’s second nature for you to realize your feelings and to reach out when that will work, and to learn to self-soothe too. (Lots of clients tell me that my compassion for them becomes an internal presence for them quite quickly — and how rewarding it is to self-soothe through feeling the presence of someone else who cares for them!)

4. Helping you to build a life worth living. “Building a Life Worth Living” is a phrase I’m borrowing from Marsha Linehan, who developed dialectical behavioral therapy. DBT offers lots of ways for you to ground, cope, and navigate complex feelings and relationships so that you can do the work of learning who you are and you can build a life that you love to wake up to every day. Some of my clients find that they need tools to cope with trauma and emotional flashbacks. I offer tools for those too.

5. Helping you to heal from trauma. Many “borderlines” grew up in homes where their feelings were denied. You may have been much more sensitive than your parents were, and they may not have known how to teach you how to handle those emotions and express them in useful ways. You may have heard, “Toughen up!”, or “Stop crying,” or, “Why do you have to make such a big deal out of nothing?”

That, in itself, is a deep trauma that struck at the core of who you were, so you may have developed a “tough veneer” to avoid looking like things mattered — but beneath that veneer is still so much feeling that you’re not sure how to stand it.

Other traumas include outright abuse — sexual, physical, verbal, spiritual. This can occur in families, but also out on the school playground, or in churches — or in dating relationships or marriage.

Another trauma is that of the “borderline” label, which, while it can put some pieces together, can also be done in ways that are damaging. I’ve heard stories of counselors who waved off someone’s intense pain as okay to overlook because it was “just borderline manipulation.” I will take you seriously, and we’ll identify together where and why any “manipulation” comes in and how we can be direct with one another.

There’s hope of deep healing of BPD traits!

Many of the folks I work with start out with traits of this disorder, and I like working with people who struggle in these ways. Progress is often much faster than they expect once they have a relationship with me and some tools they can put to use right away. Most often, people feel like I really understand them and respect them in the first session.

People with bpd can overcome these symptoms. And when they do, they get in touch with that sensitivity and richness that was always there, and embrace them as gifts and traits to nurture. And they live lives full of purpose, joy, and deep emotion.

If you want to explore the possibility of working together for that, schedule a consultation with me today.

 

Group counseling

Group Counseling

Most of the people who are looking for help and healing have one major thing in common: They’re longing for a solid sense of connection. Common questions in therapy touch on this:

  • How can I hang onto who I am when I feel criticized?
  • Why don’t I have better, deeper, richer relationships?
  • Do other people experience what I’m talking about? Do I make sense?
  • I keep ending up in the same relationship patterns — I keep becoming the caretaker, or getting too needy, or ending relationships or having people fade away: What the heck is going on?
  • How do I come to feel worthy of love and connection?
  • How do I keep an open heart without being taken advantage of?
  • How can  I depend on other people when I’ve had to depend on myself my whole life?
  • Why do I get so anxious around other people? Will this ever stop?

Group therapy offers you powerful answers to these questions and more, in the form of experiences. In group, people come together on purpose, and they work together to build a sense of connection. In the kind of group I lead, you’re welcome to show up with your struggles, your yearnings, and your fears. The group helps you to put this stuff out there, and to be heard and responded to with genuineness and warmth.

A safe place to try something new

Often, our relationships are held back by us not knowing what’s okay to say, and what we need to keep hidden. Or our relationships end up in patterns that feel familiar, and we don’t know another way to act. Clients who are feeling stuck in these ways often say things like this:

  • I want to get closer to other people, but I don’t know when and how to open up.
  • I want to set boundaries, but I’m afraid I’ll be too harsh and I’ll lose people in my life. I need to know what to say and how to do this!
  • I wish I could stop taking care of other people so much, but I don’t know how to interrupt the pattern of everyone coming to me with their problems. It’s like I’ve trained people not to ask me about myself! So what now?
  • People say I’m standoffish, or too nice, or too needy — but I don’t know quite what that means. What am I doing, and what can I do instead?

In group, you get to try new things. You get to try on new behaviors, and practice saying the things you haven’t said to people in your world. You get to ask questions: “How am I coming across? What do you think of what I just said? Why do I feel like everyone is pulling back from me right now? I feel unheard, and I don’t know what to do.” In group, we make space for these questions, we make space for their answers, and we make space for you to fill in the gaps in your relationship experiences. If you tend to people-please, we help you to set kind boundaries. If you tend to disconnect, we help you to reconnect. If you do something that people find off-putting, we not only help you to identify what that is — but we help you to do something else that better meets your need and other people’s need for connection.

In my groups, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the healing power of community. When people deliberately come together for the purpose of connecting, amazing things happen.

“How do I sign up?”

If the stuff I’m talking about sounds like something you’re looking for, please contact me on my “Meet with me” page. Just schedule a consultation for my group — the consultation is free. I will want to meet with you one on one a couple times before the group, so we can talk over what the group entails, and so I can learn about you and what you’re working on. I’ve heard from group members that feeling safe with me first helped them to feel much safer in the group, much sooner. When you know that I’m attentive to your concerns and that I am here to support you in the group, it helps things a lot. So sign up for a consultation on the work with me page, and we’ll get that process of safety building started. You may opt to work with me one on one for some time before joining a group, or we may meet just a few times and get you started in group quite soon. We can find out what works best for you, together.

“When, where, and what’s the fee?”

My group will be meeting at my office, on 260 SW Madison Avenue (across from Many Hands Trading), in downtown Corvallis. I’ll fill you in on the details of when we meet in your consultation. I bill for group sessions by the month, and my current fee is $225 per month. This is less than half the cost of individual therapy, but many clients say that they get huge results from group work – they feel more confident in their relationships, more open, more able to set boundaries, and they stop feeling alone.

Schedule your meeting to discuss my group right here.

I look forward to meeting you!

 

 

 

 

Connection Survival Style: When longing is mixed with dread

A client walks into my office. She sits down, hunched over. Her face is pale. Her hands shake.

I say hi, and she says hello robotically almost, a fake smile covering her face. Then she looks down, away. Then stares at me, trying to keep eye contact. She’s heard, after all, that it’s only polite.

Her issues? They vary. People with the “connection survival style,” a phrase coined by Laurence Heller, often talk about a feeling of emptiness, and say, “I want to find out who I am.” Sometimes, they pride themselves on not needing anyone, but they are starting to feel twinges of longing, or they’re starting to develop a close relationship. Their sense of longing is becoming a fear, too, of being too much. Of losing their independence. Often, it’s a fear too old, too primal, to put into words.

She may have very well-rehearsed social skills. Or she may be huddled in her home most of the time, maybe spending most of her time with animals, or on nature trails. Whether she presents as sophisticated and poised or she presents as ill-at-ease, she’s likely dealing with the most fundamental of our emotional needs as an infant:

She didn’t get the level of connection she needed to really feel like she could be herself. She may not feel that she has a real self. She has been trying like mad to mirror others, in hopes that, by approximating the moves of connection, she’ll find her way in, find her way to being welcome.

At the same time, she’s terrified to reach out. Terrified to want. Terrified to connect.

Longing mingles with dread. Possibility and hope mingle with fear and despair.

She has a deep yearning for connection. But she fears connection too. Because it wasn’t dependable when she was young. Maybe her parents were ill, or preoccupied. Maybe they weren’t nice to her. Maybe they communicated to her, with their hurried way of tending to her young needs, that she was a burden.

Are you struggling with the connection survival style? Here are some indicators that you may be:

  • You feel like you don’t know who you really are.
  • You struggle with feelings of meaninglessness, emptiness.
  • You sometimes feel spacey, or like you’re floating, or disconnected somehow.
  • Other people feel foreign to you somehow, like you “don’t belong here”. Relationships don’t make intuitive sense. You don’t feel welcome or a part of things, no matter what. You may have learned lots of ways to compensate for this, but at heart, you feel like you’re acting somehow, going through the motions.
  • You experience unexplained fatigue, tension, and aches and pains.
  • You aren’t in touch with feelings of hunger and fullness. You may undereat or overeat, or forget to eat until painful hunger takes over, or until you’re physically weak.
  • You experience social anxiety.
  • You long for closeness to someone, but once you do get close, you get scared. Fear of abandonment creeps in, or anger at unmet needs, or you cycle between feeling exhilarated and disconnected.
  • You feel this underlying sense of dread in the pit of your stomach almost all. the. time. It may attach itself to different things happening in your life, but it seems wordless, sourceless, everpresent. Sometimes it’s a dull background feeling, and sometimes it almost overwhelms you.
  • You feel a lot of shame about wanting anything, about making yourself known, about speaking up — about many things. You may, deep down, feel ashamed for existing.

2 Subtypes of the connection style — or, in other ways, two common ways people escape the pain of their unmet connection needs:

  • Intellectualizing. You escape into the world of your thoughts.  If people ask you how you feel, you tell them what you think. If you start to feel something, you start working to think your way out of it. Maybe you analyze everything. Maybe people tell you you overthink things. When the longing in our hearts feels crushing, we go elsewhere: One place we can go to is the safe world of thinking. Maybe you’ve developed research skills, or hidden in the world of books. You probably have a great breadth of knowledge. But somehow, all that knowledge hasn’t brought you closer to knowing who you are.
  • Spiritualizing. If this is a way that you’ve worked to meet your connection needs, you are likely very sensitive to the spiritual world. While this is a gift and a resource, Laurence Heller also hypothesizes that you may be so skilled in picking up on spiritual things because it “has never felt safe to land on the planet.” Not feeling connected to people, you connect to God or spiritual beings instead.

Working with clients with the connection style is one of my favorite things. The fact that you are struggling with connection means that there are some basic unmet needs that go a long way back for you.

Here’s the good news:

We all have a fundamental need to connect, and we have the ability. You do too! The struggles you have just indicate that the need hasn’t been met for you. You didn’t get enough nurturing for you to quite land within your own body and your own experience.

Your shame isn’t based on a badness in you, even though it feels so deeply that way. It’s based on very young needs that went unmet. When those needs go unmet, we feel awful. If we feel awful for long enough, we start to give up hope, without being able to give up the need. If we give up the need, we start feeling that our need is bad. That we are unwelcome, unwanted, unlovable.

But that’s not the case. The case is that, for whatever reason, you didn’t get the nurturing you needed. Maybe you weren’t welcomed when you arrived on the planet, even, and so you didn’t get that basic message we all need when we’re born: “Hey, you’re here! And wow, you’re so delightful! Welcome to the family!” If you didn’t get that, you don’t feel welcome on the planet.

This can change. It takes time, it takes gentleness, and it takes patience. It takes a safe relationship. Some people find this through a pet, and then later on, they find a partner.

Some people find this first in therapy.

The connection survival style is a set of ways you learned to adapt, to survive, when your needs weren’t being met.

Now, the task is for you to connect to yourself, maybe for the first time. Sometimes, this starts with very simple things, like body awareness.

Often, we need a “safe enough other” in order to do this. A therapist who understands something about this survival style and how to work with your emotions, your body, your nervous system, and your spirituality — will have a good chance of helping you to navigate your way safely, gently, and gradually — into connection with yourself, and with others.

It’s beautiful work. Because the wounds of the connection survival style are preverbal, the therapy work we do around it is often difficult to put into words too.

But when people experience this work, they notice some things start to shift:

  • They start to feel a sense of safety, of welcome, first with me, and then with others.
  • They may notice changes in body temperature, like feeling warmer. Sometimes, they hadn’t noticed they felt cold! But the warmth, they notice.
  • They begin to notice and tend to their bodily signals, like hunger and tiredness.
  • They begin to reach out for connection with others, and to feel like it’s okay to do this!
  • They speak more easily. Some clients have told me that they had a throat constriction and that, in the course of this work, it loosens up.
  • They may even breathe more easily! When you’re unsure of yourself and your welcome, it can be like a trauma in your body. You may have tightened up, and you may be unconsciously holding your breath much of the time, or breathing shallowly. This work tends to help people to feel an openness in their chests, and to begin to breathe more deeply.
  • You feel settled, centered, calmer.
  • You start saying, “I would like….”, “I prefer….”, “I’m really feeling a longing for…..”
    And you can act on your wants and yearnings! Some clients say this gives their lives an organization that it’s never had before, that it’s like going from floating around waiting for things to happen to knowing what they want and feeling that, at least much of the time, they can make it happen.
  • Your shame diminishes, and as this happens, you get in touch with healthy anger. Anger helps you to set boundaries, to know when you’re not getting what you need, and to advocate for yourself.

The transformation in therapy with folks with the connection survival style is profound, as you can likely tell from this list.

This kind of work goes way beyond teaching you strategies or relationship skills. Clients who go through this work, and stay with it, say that they feel like they’ve finally come home. They say they feel like they know and like who they are.

They sometimes have difficulty putting into words how profound the changes are. But they do say that they can feel the shift in their bodies, in their emotions. Their loved ones say they too notice a deep difference.

You can experience profound shifts if you’re struggling with this style.

*This style and 3 others are explained in depth in Laurence Heller’s book, “Healing Developmental Trauma.” Laurence has offered a training called “NARM”, a method that combines Somatic Experiencing and relational work. Other people skilled in working with this style may have trainings like these:

-AEDP – Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. An exquisite therapy model that lets you and your therapist develop a connection that feels good, safe, and right, and that can help to heal very young hurts.

-Internal Family Systems Therapy – Helps you to get to know and care for the different parts of yourself.

-Somatic Experiencing or Sensorimotor Psychotherapy – Both of these help you to release trauma that’s held in the body and in habitual postures. Somatic Experiencing tends to focus more on body sensations, whereas Sensorimotor Psychotherapy will more often focus directly on relational trauma and themes around connection.

The most important thing in finding a therapist is your own sense of safety and the sense that you want to develop a connection with that person. The therapist who is helpful to you may have none of these trainings, or some mix of them or similar ones!  I list these trainings because, if your therapy thus far hasn’t helped you, it might be time to find someone with focused knowledge in the area you’re struggling with. Hopefully, this list gives you a start in knowing what you might want to look for next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My counselor just echoes me!”

You ever had a counselor who echoed whatever you said? You said, “I’ve had a hard week.” And he said, “You had a hard week, huh?”

Or if he was a creative echoer, maybe he changed it up a little from time to time. You’d say, “I had a hard week.” And he’d say, “So your week was difficult.”

Empathic, kind, caring listening can heal. But when a counselor just echoes you, you often can’t really tell if they’re really hearing you. Anyone can echo words back. It’s a game we learn to play as kids to infuriate our siblings, in fact! Remember this?

“Stop echoing me!” “Stop echoing me!”

Echoing is a technique of supportive therapy, and therapists who echo you a lot imagine that they’re practicing “reflective listening.” Sometimes they just echo you word for word.  At other times, they change the wording. Some try to reflect more than what you said, and this is where real resonance can happen, when someone acknowledges what you said and takes it a step further, in a way that’s deeply accurate and helps you to feel more of the feeling behind your own words.

Some clients mistakenly think that all counseling is reflective listening. And reflective listening can be maddening! Especially when it involves no real reflection on your words.

Other counselors steer clear of reflecting much on their words, and go instead straight for solutions. You say you’re angry, and they tell you why they think you’re angry, or what they think you should do about your anger. “Oh, you’re angry? I have this worksheet on the five steps to communicating anger in a healthy way.”

Or, “Oh, you’re angry? That’s good! You should express your anger.”

Or, “Oh, you’re angry? You need to learn to take responsibility for yourself and stop blaming others, and then you won’t be angry.”

Most of the time, things aren’t really said this simplistically, of course! But it can feel that way!

So if reflective listening isn’t helping me, but I don’t want a torrent of advice either, what’s left for a therapist to do?”

There is so much that a therapist can do that goes beyond parroting your words or advice-giving.

Here are some of the favorite things I’ve stumbled upon:

  1. Genuine reflection! Rather than echoing your words back, your therapist might reflect out loud on how your words hit them in that moment. A client of mine was complaining about a landlord of hers that sounded super unreasonable. And, at one point, I said, “Hey, can you give me her name and phone number? So I can, like, never call her?” She burst out laughing, and that became a natural launching point to more discussion. The fact that she knew I was on her side and shared her indignance helped her to move on to another piece of what was happening for her.

Another example of genuine reflection is when a client shares something difficult, and the therapist says, “Wow…..I’m just trying to imagine what that must have been like. I imagine I’d feel enraged, but like there was nothing at all that I could say or do. Is that how it was?”

If the client says that’s exactly it, with feeling, then I know we’ve landed on something important. If they say, “Well, not really like there was nothing I could say, but kinda like whatever I said would be used against me, but I had to speak up anyway,” then that moves us in another direction. It’s interactive, and everything the client says informs my next response. If your counselor is responsive in this way, she may sometimes be warm, and in the next breath be offbeat or funny, or be indignant on your behalf, or be feeling delight at some moment you shared. This kind of listening is more than reflection. It’s being with you, being affected by you. This kind of relationship can heal, the one where you feel not just seen and heard, but you feel felt.

2. Relational reflection: This is yet another layer of genuineness a counselor can bring to the encounter with you that can bring things up to a whole new level. You lean forward, and she leans forward too, delighted by your approach. Or you share a story, and she’s visibly moved by it. Or maybe you say something that really throws her off guard, and rather than going “neutral” (fake neutral!) or attempting a “counselory” response, she says, “I’m thrown off-guard right now! I’m not quite sure what to say.” She lets herself be visibly impacted by you. This is deeply healing when others have walked on eggshells around you. Or when no one, ever, has really seemed to stop and be moved by your words, your pain. Or when you haven’t had someone express genuine delight in your presence.

This kind of relationship and interaction can be life-changing, showing you what a genuine, feeling relationship can be like. If you’re struggled with relationships, this will inspire healing, a whole new experience that you start to take outside the therapist’s office and into other relationships in your life.

3. The “experiment”: This is one I learned in a training on Sensorimotor Psychotherapy training, and it’s used in somatic experiencing to some extent, as well. If I’m doing this, I encourage you to notice what happens when…..And then we try something. If you struggle to set boundaries with people, I might ask you to say, “no,” just that word, and imagine what happens in you when you do that. If you’re struggling to reach out to new people, I might ask you to simply imagine reaching out to me, and notice what happens then.

These kinds of experiments have so much possibility, and very often, they help clients to connect with emotions in  new ways. Sometimes, when I ask someone to feel a boundary around themselves and imagine that they can let people in and they can keep people at a safe distance, it’s life-changing right away.

Or we might do a verbal experiment. I might wonder if you’re struggling with feeling good enough, so I’ll ask you to notice what happens when I say, “You’re good enough!”

Or, “You’re worthy of love.”

The possibilities with this are pretty much endless, and it’s so much different from simply echoing your words back and it’s so much different from giving advice. This kind of therapy leads to whole new experiences within yourself.

Therapy can be interactive. It can bring you new experiences, new feelings. It can reconnect you with yourself and with other people.

When clients experience this kind of therapy, they say things like, “I thought I would just gain more insight into my problem. I didn’t know a completely different feeling was possible.”

They say, when the genuine relationship has been the missing piece, “I feel like a need is being met that I didn’t even know was there, and I feel safer and freer in my whole life now.”

They say, when we find a resonant experiment, “Wow! I can really do that?”

They say things feel new. They say that they feel relief, hope, connection.

This kind of therapy is possible for you. And there are other possibilities besides the ones I shared here!

You do not have to resign yourself to a therapy where you feel like you’re doing all the talking, or where your therapist simply offers tools and strategies. Keep looking for a therapist until you find one that helps you to experience something new. If you struggle with relationships, find a therapist who will relate to you in a way that no one has before. If you’ve been talking and talking and you know your intellectualizing isn’t helping you that much, find a therapist who does more than work with your thoughts.

If you’ve been stuck in your emotions, unable to move past tears or rage that seem to take over, find a therapist who knows how to help you to feel something different.

It’s a key to a healing therapy: Having a different experience than you’ve had before. And a different experience than you’d get at home with a very good parrot!

 

 

 

Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety can be agonizing. It’s awkward! It’s hard to talk about. It makes you feel like you’re forever on the outside. It’s adrenalizing, but with no clear actions to take. And it’s exhausting as well.

  • Are you a professional that loves your job, but dreads lunch time or meetings with your coworkers?
  • Are you terrified when someone approaches you to talk?
  • Do you freeze up in conversations, and only later come up with what you wish you would have said?
  • Are you overly agreeable with people, forgetting what you think and feel because your social anxiety takes over and makes you forget your thoughts?
  • Do you go to social events, and then spend hours later wondering how you came across, cringing at something awkward you may have said or done?
  • Or do you try to nerve yourself up to go to a party or out with friends, but your anxiety won’t let you?
  • You know that, in order to have the relationships you want, you need to leave your house sometimes—but you’re scared, or suddenly so tired, or so wired, that it’s just too hard to get out.
  • You know that people like you pretty well, most of the time—but your worry gets in the way of you really feeling that.
  • You know you’d be happier if you could be around people without being so overwhelmed—but you haven’t found a way to do that.
  • You’re stuck in a habit of fear, pain, short-term relief when you avoid social situations—but longing for something more.
  • You see statuses of friends of yours on Facebook, and you notice groups of friends together, people out doing adventures you wouldn’t dare dream of—and you feel that old ache. You’re isolated.

Social anxiety does that. It’s isolating. It’s often connected to a feeling of shame — that somehow, there’s something indefinably wrong with you. This shame goes hand in hand with a fear of rejection. It eats away at your real connections. It makes you feel alone. It makes you STAY alone, perpetuating the feeling of aloneness.

People who feel social anxiety often try several things. Maybe you’ve tried telling yourself not to be anxious. This usually makes it worse!

  • Maybe you’ve tried to go into social situations anyway, and have found yourself feeling claustrophobic, afraid, and acting awkward because your anxiety keeps you from being natural.
  • Maybe you’ve tried staying home and telling yourself that you don’t care. That you’re just an introvert. That you don’t need people anyway.
  • Or you’ve tried some anxiety-management techniques: You take a deep breath, tell yourself it will be okay. Sometimes they help a little bit, but nothing seems to ease that deep, gnawing fear.

What’s it like when you’ve overcome your social anxiety?

! Here’s what the other side looks like:

  • You are confident, able to talk with anyone.
  • You can look people in the eye and say what you think.
  • You get home from work and ask yourself, “What would I like to do this evening?” And you have a genuine choice about whether to stay home, go to dinner with friends, or take your colleague up on her coffee invitation.
  • You go home at the end of a party or a meal out and just do what’s next on your to do list, or just take a rest—without all the rumination about what you said and how you came across.
  • You’re able to just be yourself in situations, and know for sure that you are enough.

And then other things start happening:

  • An acquaintanceship becomes a friendship, then a deeper friendship.
  • You start an activity that you fall in love with.
  • You can laugh off the kind of awkward interactions that used to upset you.

And you have more energy than you’ve had before. It’s one of the most common things my clients mention when their social anxiety diminishes — they realize that their anxiety was exhausting! Not only did it deplete your physical energy, it fed other physical pains as well — headaches, neck and back pain, an upset stomach, and just feeling generally stiff and riled.

Once you have more energy, you’ll notice how tired you used to be.  You have the energy and the motivation to think, plan, dream, and come up with ideas and plans that you couldn’t even imagine before.

Self help strategies for social anxiety

There are several things that can help you to change your anxiety. Working through and past any toxic shame you’ve been holding is one of the most transformative ways to work with it.

And then, of course, there are management tools for in the meantime:

Breathing.

Orienting to what’s happening both within and around you.

Learning how much interaction you can handle, and giving yourself outs when you need them.

Planning in advance for social situations, and figuring out what helps you the most.

Finding a friend or two that you can talk with about your anxiety — friends who won’t try to fix it, or frantically try to calm you, but who will listen and empathize and maybe remind you of your neat qualities and why you’re fun to hang out with.

Simple self-care stuff — drinking water. Letting your nutrition nourish your energy and ease your jangled nerves.

Giving yourself plenty of time and space to unwind, journal, take a hike — do things that nourish you and your mind and body.

And gently taken, incremental, mindful risks. Like hanging out with two friends in a slightly more crowded place than usual. Or like extending a conversation with a colleague just by two minutes beyond the norm. Or saying “Hi” to people you see on your walk.

Simple things can add up, and help a lot over time.

My favorite therapies for social anxiety

I’ve used several approaches with clients with social anxiety. The ones that have worked best for my clients are:

  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and somatic experiencing techniques (two similar methods). Anxiety affects every part of the body, and noticing and working with the reactions in the body (rather than pretending it’s all in the brain) is very powerful.
  • Relationship-oriented therapy. We start with eliminating any anxiety you feel working with a therapist, and expand your comfort zone from there.
  • Working with feelings of shame that sometimes underlies the fear.
  • Trauma therapy techniques that focus on building a sense of safety in the moment.
  • Honorable mention: Hypnotherapy. It’s not my go-to technique these days, but I’ve used it to help clients with social anxiety, and it works quite well.

You don’t have to be hobbled by social anxiety, and you don’t need to forever merely “manage” the symptoms.

When you work through social anxiety, you see the whole world differently. Moreover, you are a part of it. You belong, and you know it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counseling Based on Your Needs Today

When you walk in my door, maybe you like the idea of the once a week structure, and that’s just right for you. Or it may be that you’re looking for something a bit different than a once a week meeting. Or it may be that you really thrive in sessions that have movement — maybe we walk the waterfront together, or sit cross-legged on my floor and toss a ball back and forth as we talk. One time, a teen and I sat together while both on our computers, doing IM. It was the easiest way for her to share with me something deeply important. The fact that we were in the room sitting together, but that she could have the distance of typing and seeing my responses in typing — made it possible for her to speak what had, up until then, been unspeakable.

And beyond just changing what we do in session — how we talk, how we move, where we sit, how we work with stuff — we can also make changes to how much time we spend together and how frequently. Here are a couple examples of when work like that can be helpful:

Between-session support and coaching when it feels like everything is falling apart

A client came to me when I was first getting started in my practice, and his situation was intense. He felt like his life was going downhill quickly, like he couldn’t get a grip. Like he had to get a grip, but didn’t know how. He was flying into rages, sometimes mad at himself and sometimes mad at the world. He and I set up meetings for once a week, and also scheduled phone calls so he could keep contact, get coaching when it felt like his world was falling apart, and so he could move forward on the goals of daily life that felt impossible without a bit of support. Those coaching calls were never long, but they made a big difference for him.

Intensive counseling several times a week when you want or need to move forward FAST

Another client came to me with a deadline: She HAD to get to work in just a few weeks, and her symptoms were making it hard for her to even function through a day at home. She couldn’t imagine what she would do once it was time to work all day. She was super nervous, couldn’t think straight much of the time, was having sleepless nights, and felt both exhausted and wired during the day. We met every day for a week, then 3 days the next week, and the next week, she was ready to return to work, and we did weekly sessions for awhile, and now she schedules just occasionally to check in or work on something focused.

Field Trips! Going together to have the experience that’s been hard for you

A client of mine who was very nervous in public saw some big changes after we walked together, downtown, and were able to see, right in the moment, where she felt free and at ease with people, and where she felt herself freezing up.  One of my clients had talked with me about her eating issues at some length, but one session of eating together made the problem she’d been having disappear forever. That’s because doing things is different from talking about them, and doing anxiety-provoking things  with someone who cares, is paying attention, and can draw out/remark on key things,  can change the experience altogether. (This, of course, is something I do only with clients’ permission and buy-in.)

Double sessions to support more in-depth work with one theme

Another client of mine had been working with me for awhile, and we found that we were getting into a routine with our weekly sessions: She’d come and check in, we’d start to land on something pretty important, and we’d get some work done on it and she’d wait until the next week, when we’d do it all over again. The thing was, the checking in and the wrapping up sometimes take just as much time as the part of the session where we really focus and dig into one topic. And she also no longer felt a need for weekly support. What she did want was to go deeper, to stay with an important topic for longer to reach more significant transformation. We moved to meeting every other week for 2 hour sessions.

Counseling customized to your needs, that changes as you change

The point is, the kind of work I do varies. Sometimes, your needs even vary from week to week. Most of my clients at least start out with the typical weekly session — but your needs and wants will evolve as time goes on, and that’s great! Your counseling should evolve as you evolve.

So we’ll discuss the structure of meetings that works best for you. Some people know right away with me that they want to work together a lot in the beginning phase. The up front investment usually means that they need fewer total sessions, because therapy 3 times a week seems to have bigger impact than the impact of one session multiplied by 3.

Some people want the weekly structure with some contact in between. Some find that the combination of working with me individually and attending my women’s group is synergistic and moves their healing forward faster than either one would do alone.

Wherever you are, we’ll work something out that’s right for you. And if your needs change, we’ll pay attention and discover together what it takes to keep the momentum going. That amount that’s not too much, not too little, not too hot, not too cold…..It’s wonderful to find that “Just right” combo. Come on in, and let’s find out what that combo is for you!

Marsha Marsha Marsha! BPD Video Series

I’ve recently taken a big interest in reading and listening to Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Her book, “Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, gives many insights and gems into this little-understood diagnosis. I like her practicality and her interest in what actually leads to this “disorder,” and more importantly, how to help folks in deep distress to find a way out of their agony. And she’s clear that it is emotional agony that folks with bpd often are going through. And that these problems can be solved. Life can become worth living, and relationships can become not only workable, but deep and rewarding.

So I’m doing a video series on some of the coolest things Marsha says. Because this is a book worth talking about! And also because it makes me think about tools and resources that can help people with the issues she’s discussing. Here are the videos:

Marsha Linehan’s Words on BPD and Demystifying the “Manipulative Suicide Gesture”

Some stupid stuff the DSM said about BPD, and why Marsha says it misses the point sometimes:

Understanding Relationship Triggers, Splitting, and the “Eternal Now” — and One Way to Prevent the Feelings Being So Overwhelming:

Toxic Shame, the Trance of Unworthiness

Toxic Shame: Tara Brach calls this shame a “Trance of unworthiness.” It’s increasingly being recognized as a legacy of relational trauma, and one that often isn’t identified as such. Toxic shame is an emotional flashback that feels like a truth. Not only is it a memory, it can get to feel like a necessary feeling, something that helps us avoid feeling devastated by rejection. It’s complicated, but it can be worked through. To make how it develops clear, let’s start by picturing a child, perhaps a little girl.

She, like all children, has a need to reach out to her parents. She has a need to express herself and to have people hear and accept her. She needs to be heard and met often enough that she gets the message over and over again, “Hey, you’re pretty cool! You are a member of our family. We love you. Your desires are acceptable. Your hugs are delightful. Your stories, your laughter, your tears, and your interests matter to us.” These messages are messages this little girl needs to get daily. No parent is perfect, and no child needs a parent who responds with 100 percent affection and attention all the time. But this little girl needs these to occur often enough that she really gets the message, “I am okay.”

Now, say that this little girl has parents who are busy, preoccupied with their jobs, or with another child. Or that one or both of her parents grew up in homes where they themselves weren’t validated and met. Something goes terribly, terribly wrong in this little girl’s environment. It happens on a daily basis, in little ways that make a huge hole in her heart over time. She says, “Hey, look what I can do!” And her mom says, “Can’t you see I’m busy right now?”

Later the same day, she comes to Mommy to give her a hug. And mom says, “You made a big mess in the living room, and you need to clean it up.”

This little girl is in a bind, big time. She needs her parents. When they push her away, or criticize her, her mind and body get messages that are unbearably painful. She learns:

  • I have to be perfect to be loved.
  • I am unlovable.
  • I am unworthy.
  • I’m not quite good enough.
  • My presence isn’t welcome.

Notice that none of the messages this girl takes in reflect on her parents’ inability or their issues. When we’re little, we are unable to reflect on the whole situation of those around us. If our reach isn’t reciprocated, we decide it’s about us.

Some children try desperately to be perfect, good enough, lovable enough.

Some children learn to pretend needlessness, having given up on getting care from those around them. Their shame endures underneath their facade of independence.

Some children alternate between reaching out and retreating deep inside into disconnection, distraction, escape.

Some children develop an inner critic that shames them and stops them from reaching out so that they won’t get hurt.

Children don’t have the option to leave. They don’t have the option to stop needing either, not really.

Children whose needs aren’t met, whatever their strategy is, grow up to be adults who still have a deep sense of shame and unlovability. They carry a deep feeling, a visceral one, that their reach cannot be met with love and acceptance. They carry a deep fear of being exiled.

This fear, this shame, carries different disguises. Some people who are mired in shame are very aware of their feeling of unworthiness. They have a fierce inner critic that reminds them, “Stay quiet. Stay small. Don’t reach out. You’re not good enough.”

Others carry the fear but aren’t consciously aware of it. They retreat from their feelings, or they blame others when things go wrong. They become masters at “prejection”: “I’ll reject you before you can reject me.”

Shame can be healed. It takes careful, gentle guidance to undo shame.

Shame lives in the body and the mind as a trauma. And an often unavowed one.

A person who is locked in this shame, this “Trance of unworthiness” (Thanks to Tara Brach for that phrase!), does not recognize that she is in a trance.

She has not identified the shame she feels as an imprint from long ago, from the heartache of a reach that went repeatedly unmet.

Further, shame is an emotion that exists within a childlike kind of tunnel vision. Shame is a sign, in other words, that we are still carrying the burden for people’s inability to meet our needs. And that we still have the childlike conception, “It’s all my fault, because I’m bad and worthless.”

Toxic shame like this leaves people frozen in a childlike state. Shame is an emotional memory of being rejected. But it doesn’t feel like a memory. It feels like the truth of who we are.

So let’s say that, in some way, you were this little girl. You now carry a sense of shame.

So how do we work with shame?

Here is a set of steps we can take:

  1. We calm our bodies and help counter the trauma response somatically. Here’s a tool to do that: Place one hand over your heart and another on your belly. This triggers a calming response in your body. As your hand is on your heart, call to your memory one experience of love and connection. Could be with a pet, or with a close friend, or a teacher. Pick one that’s solid, and let your body really sense into that feeling of love, safety, validation. Once those feelings are strong, breathe them in and out, with your hand over your heart. Let your body and mind take it in for 30 seconds. Linda Graham says,  “Doing the one-minute Hand on Heart exercise 5 times a day will actually begin to heal the heart and re-wire the brain.”
  2. We get mindful — Noticing body sensations (Start with positive or neutral ones!), emotions, thoughts. Name a thought as just a thought, a feeling as just a feeling. This will help you to get some distance from your shame.
  3. We get in touch with a sense of compassion. Self compassion can be a tough one when you’re dealing with a sense of shame. So don’t start with yourself. Start with a sense of compassion toward someone else in your life. And experiment with turning that sense of compassion inward. If you can do this even a little bit, it will help
  4. Let that feeling of shame within you meet the feeling of compassion. When you let the experience of love touch that experience of shame, the experience of shame will begin to transform.

These are simple steps, but that doesn’t make them easy! Shame is a sense of disconnect from relationships, and hence from ourselves.

Hence, one of the most powerful ways to transform shame is in an accepting relationship.

If you have people in your life who support you, you may start bringing this sense of support into your heart with the hand on heart exercise, and bringing that feeling back to the part of you that feels that shame.

If the feeling of shame tends to keep taking over and making it difficult to take in loving feelings, from yourself or from others, it may be time to get help. No matter what your shame tells you, there is truly no shame in seeking support for yourself. With the right kind of support, you’ll feel and know for yourself very soon what I already know:

You are lovable.

You are worthy of connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A step beyond “managing”

Knowing ways to manage your emotions is important.  It’s important  to have ways that you can settle yourself down, how good it is that you know how to distract from emotions when they get too strong.

But say that you’re like many of the clients I’ve worked with that have mastered this whole “distraction” thing. They have “managed” all their lives. They know how to stuff their emotions and needs. But something in their life throws their “management” off balance.

There’s a tragedy.

They’re abandoned by the person who they relied on for support.

They’re so tired that they can’t function well anymore.

Or some memories from the past start to break through.

Or their close relationships aren’t working.

Or they start to feel panicky and they don’t know why.

“Managing” isn’t working anymore. They want more out of life. They want the problems to stop. They want to be closer to people. They want to quit losing their friends or partners. Or they’re tired of giving to other people all the time, and they want to learn who they are — but they don’t know how to start to identify what they want under all those layers of distraction they’ve built up.

So here’s what we do together if you come see me:

1. We learn how you’ve been managing. We shore up that tool kit if you need more ways to do that. We find out exactly how you’ve been distracting and how you’ve been coping. We find out what those strategies have been doing for you. We might even practice them in session, and help you to manage your feelings deliberately. If you’ve always kinda numbed out or gone all intellectual when you’re about to feel something, I might encourage you to do that on purpose, and to notice what that does for you. And how you do it. And how it feels. And if you don’t love the strategy you have, I can help you find new ones.

2. We learn how to gently interrupt your distraction. So you start to have a feeling, but then say that your coping method of choice is to get very analytical. We will start to together notice when you’re doing that. And I might encourage you to come back to what was happening in you right before you started analyzing. Maybe it was grief, or anger, or a knot of fear. We come back, gently, to the stuff you’ve been distracting from. We find out a bit more about it. We find ways for you to start to tolerate that emotion so we can find out what it’s telling you.

Emotions can be telling you any number of things. They can be a clue to something unresolved from your past. They can be clues to something you want in your life now, but have been afraid to hope for. They can be clues to something that has been not quite right inside of you for some time, something that wants resolution. We start to use your emotions to create a map for who you are and where you want to be.

When your emotions are circular and overwhelming, we find ways to find out “the feeling beneath the feeling” so you can get true resolution and stop circling that same old block of that same old emotion.

When your emotion is unfamiliar, we get acquainted with it and learn what it’s telling you.

When your emotion signals a need or a want you have, we work together to learn how to meet it.

When your emotion is around unresolved pain, we resolve it. Piece by piece. Together. By feeling it bit by bit, by making sense of it, and by finding out what it says about who you are and what you need.

People often tell me that this stage of therapy is transformative, once they’re ready for it. This is where people learn that there’s so much more to life than “coping.” Energy frees up to do what they want. They start to notice what they want from their lives, and to go for it.

Their relationships become more genuine, more relaxed, more open.

They learn how to identify the emotions that are leading them somewhere good (even if the emotion is momentarily unpleasant), and how to stop the emotions that are old patterns that don’t get them anywhere. They start to feel when they’re being genuine, and to be able to return to that place of solidity inside.

When you know when to distract, and you also know how to face yourself, with all your pain and all your hurt and all your desires, things start changing inside you. And your life starts changing too.