How Compassion Helps You Fight Back Against the Hurtful Voices in Your Head

In the third part of this series on learning to love yourself after a violent relationship, I look at how to use compassion to actually change the way your mind works.

As I talked about here and here, abuse disrupts our ability to seek out and provide the warmth and nurture that all mammals need to function. Our response mechanisms short-circuit and we have to relearn how to treat ourselves with gentleness and care.

Plus, when you’ve experienced a trauma like domestic violence, your fight-or-flight reactors go into overdrive as you try to combat the very real external threat.

But the upshot of our traumatic experience is that we’re also under attack from internal threats: pain, despair, loss, heartbreak – intense emotions that hurt and frighten us.

From a psychological perspective, we react the same way to external threats as to internal ones. So, when these feelings rise up, we counter-attack. We self-attack.

We treat the emotions with ridicule, aggression, frustration or disappointment. We try to fight them away.

But these emotions aren’t an external threat that you can simply force into retreat. They are part of you, and fighting with them will hurt you.

When our legitimate distress is met with cruelty and rejection, it makes us feel ashamed. We tell ourselves that we’re weak, stupid, not good enough… that we brought this on ourselves.

One way to tackle this is to imagine the self-attacking voice – the voice that shames you for the way you feel – as a separate person. Try to visualise them. What do they look like? What emotions are they directing at you? What do they want from you?

Then: Do they have your best interests at heart? What would happen if they left you alone? Who gains from them treating you like this?

Why are you scared of standing up to them?

You may find that the person you hear attacking you isn’t your own voice at all. You may find that it sounds suspiciously like the partner that made your life miserable. Or a parent, authority figure or bully that made you feel small. Maybe even someone that made you feel like you weren’t strong enough to stand up to the abuse.

And, if that’s the case, ask yourself: what right, what legitimacy, does that person have to attack you like this? Why do you feel you have to submit to their opinion?

What makes you think that their criticisms are at all valid?

Working out where this voice comes from won’t make it shut up. But that doesn’t mean you have to listen.

Instead, work on developing some empathy for your negative emotions. Remember the compassionate image that you developed? How would they respond to someone feeling your pain?

This is not easy. You’re working against the fight-or-flight instincts that tell you how to handle a threat. You’re talking over the voice that has dominated your emotional defenses for far too long. It will not let you take over without a struggle.

But you have to challenge the authority of that voice. You can’t just accept it – and you certainly can’t just accept it as part of who you are.

Be patient. You may need to try out different ways of handling your negative emotions and showing kindness to yourself before you find a way that works for you. These feelings might take a long time to quiet down.

What’s more, in order to really heal, you have to go beyond self-soothing – you also need to gather positive momentum for the future, setting goals and giving your vulnerable self the motivation and encouragement it needs to succeed.

The important thing is that, however you do it, you’re approaching yourself with compassion. You’re not judging, shaming or attacking the negative emotions. You’re not giving credence to the voice that attacks you.

If you’re struggling to recover from an abusive relationship, I hope that this series has helped you develop the tools you need to be kinder to yourself. If you feel you need more support, please do get in touch. I’ve helped hundreds of people to get through their divorce trauma – if you’d like to hear more, you can book a clarity call here.

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The First Step Domestic Violence Survivors Can Take to Learn to Love Themselves Again

Last week I described how many survivors of domestic violence and abuse get so caught up in beating themselves up that they can’t give themselves the care and compassion they need to heal.

In this post, I’ll explain how to take the first step towards fixing this problem, by building a compassionate image.

If you’ve been a violent relationship, you’ve been deprived of the things that we need the most from those we love, in order to feel psychologically sound and healthy.

Things like kindness, nurture, and a sense of physical and emotional safety.

This can make it hard to picture what a loving persona actually looks like.

We all know what words like kindness and love and compassion mean on an intellectual level – but when we’ve been hurt and betrayed, it’s hard to really feel them.

The purpose of the compassionate image exercise is to start to reconnect with these ideas on an emotional level by creating a fully-formed image of compassion. This gives us an internal reference point that we can keep coming back to.

As a starting point, your compassionate image needs to be built around four essential qualities: warmth, strength, wisdom and non-judgement. Beyond this, it is your own personal ideal and should reflect all the ways in which you want to be loved and cared for.

Find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and breathe deeply and focus without any distractions. Your mind might wander, and that’s ok – just try to guide it gently back to the image you’re creating. You want to feel as relaxed as possible, so don’t try to force anything!

Then, guide your image by asking yourself questions such as:

How would you want your ideal caring-compassionate image to look? Are they human, or is this represented by a particular animal? Or even something else entirely, like sunlight, or the sea? What colours do you associate with them? If they are human, are they male or female? Young or old? Would they look like you?

How would your ideal caring-compassionate image sound? What are their vocal qualities (if they have them)? How does this make you feel?

What other sensory qualities are attached to your ideal caring-compassionate image? Keep in mind the qualities of warmth, strength, wisdom and non-judgment here.

How would you like your ideal caring-compassionate image to relate to you? How would you relate to them?

Perhaps you connect through touch? Laughter? Vocal support? Or perhaps it’s simply an unspoken sense of security?

Try to keep in mind all the time that this image brings you complete compassion.

As you continue in your healing journey, this compassion image will be something you refer back to again and again. You can use it to remind yourself what warmth, strength and love truly look like for you – and can tap back into this ideal when you’re tempted to lash out at yourself and others, or when those around you treat you with less compassion than you need.

It gives you a benchmark for working out what kind of people you genuinely want to have in your life – and the kind of person that you want to be.

In my next post, I’ll explain how, armed with your compassionate image, you can start to use compassion to change the way your mind works, helping you to break out of self-destructive cycles and get on the right road to recovery.

Have you tried the compassionate image exercise? I’d love to hear about your experience – if you feel comfortable, please do let me know in the comments section below.

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Got a Gut Feeling? Your Gut Might Cause ALL Your Feelings!

lose-belly-fat1Do you ever get a gut feeling about something? I was fascinated to learn that our gut and the health of our gut plays a huge role in how we feel.

Almost as much, perhaps even as much, as our minds do.

We spend all our time working our brain and the rest of our body to boost our emotions, but we may be ignoring half the cause of problems. Isn’t it exciting to think that we can literally feel happier and emotionally stronger, even boost our immune system and overall health, just by taking better care of our gut?

If you’re feeling down, anxious, depressed, or just want a big old boost of happiness-inducing serotonin, it turns out your gut most likely has a huge influence over it all, as its proposed in this very entertaining Huffington Post article.

The little friends in your second brain

You’ve probably heard of our friends the ‘good bacteria’ battling it out against the ‘bad bacteria’ in our digestive tract – our second brain. Well, the state of these micro flora and how well the good bacteria are doing determines a whole host of health-related factors.

For example, good bacteria decides how well the toxic by-products of your digestion are neutralized and whether harmful pathogenic bacteria or other substances are prevented or allowed to grow. And it determines how much hormone production there is and many other factors that affect the health of your immune system.

Did you know you have two nervous systems too?

SetWidth700-ADMA-Blog-GUT-FEELING-OR-ANALYTICS-Vlad-Andrianov-V2That’s right. You have two nervous systems – one is the central nervous system we all know and love, which is in your brain and spinal cord. But you also have the ‘enteric’ nervous system, which is in your gastrointestinal tract – your gut.

Through this whole system your brain and gut are connected and the bacteria in your gut sends messages to the brain through the nervous system. These messages affect your mood, and you know the surprising part?

Your gut sends your brain more messages than the other way around. Your gut sends instructions on how to make you feel all day long. And since we can influence those messages, it’s something we should pay attention to, wouldn’t you agree?

Happiness, anxiety and depression

You have neurons in your gut, which is another reason we call it the second brain. And these neurons produce neurotransmitters like serotonin – the primary chemical responsible for your feelings of well-being and happiness. We all know that, right?

But here’s another surprise. Serotonin is found in larger quantities in the gut than in the brain. So let’s influence our primary serotonin-producing environment in our gut and make more of it!

You may have experienced stomach pains or irritable bowel syndrome during times of great anxiety. There’s clearly a strong relationship between anxiety and the health of our gut.

There is even a strong line of scientific work proposing that certain probiotics can affect levels of proinflammatory cytokines and tryptophan in the gut, which have been implicated in depression.

OK, I get it! So how do I start improving my gut?!” I hear you ask.

Well, that’s the next stage of my investigation. And don’t worry, I’ll share my findings with you as I go.

Perhaps you already have some ideas.

Share them with us!

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Don’t Hate the Love Month, Learn to Love It!

tumblr_mi7851G9Nl1qlo84oo1_500The love month is upon us, and some people hate it because they are single. Is this you?

Well, time to cheer up – here’s how anyone can learn to love the love month. The thing to remember is that a romantic relationship is not just about sex. It’s about intimacy too, in all its many guises.

Love and intimacy are actually around you all the time in different forms. The problem is, as human beings in our society, we are attached to love or intimacy in a particular form or package.

If it isn’t tall, dark and handsome with the name ‘boyfriend’ OR hot and sexy with the name ‘girlfriend’ then we reject it. And when we do that, we fail to see just how much love we have in our life so we wind up running around spitting at couples and cursing at happy matches because we feel angry about being single.

tumblr_mhg7ttnalJ1qj4315o1_400Love is all around you, it’s no cliché

Love is all around and perhaps you don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend but you will have 4-5 amazing people in your life who provide love in its different ways.

This feeling we have of a need for love is actually a need for the various components of love and intimacy, and when we reject and shut off these things because they do not fit some sort of socially accepted package, we are stopping ourselves from enjoying a huge amount of pleasure endorphins and overall feelings of wellbeing.

If you break down the components of a romantic relationship, you might find you have a lot of love around. Here are some examples.

Companionship

Your mother/father/the dude you watch football with/a friend you watch movies with or collect stamps with – who provides companionship in your life? You get this in many places.

Snuggles

Who do you get snuggles from? Perhaps a beloved pet, a huggy friend, your mother/father or a giant teddy bear. You could volunteer at a shelter or go visit a dogs’ home or buy a giant pink panther teddy bear. You could even put a sign up that you will give away free hugs to get your snuggle time. The simple act of snuggling releases endorphins – doesn’t matter who or what with.

Laughter

Who makes you laugh? Don’t tell me no one makes you laugh in your life! Surround yourself with gigglers or go try out some Laughter Yoga.

Good Listening

Find someone in your life who really listens to you and gets you. You already know this person and perhaps you don’t spend enough time with him or her. Schedule that in.

Romance

When you are single, it’s tricky to get the romance fix BUT there are probably single people in your life you can flirt with so find them and flirt with them.

If you are brave and put yourself out there into environments where you are in close physical contact with new people, it might just creep up on you. Join a dance class and try out that tango with a hunky man, or go to a dating event and simply enjoy the spark of getting to know new people.

See how much easier the love month is to bear when you break it down and find the components?

Go and get the intimacy you need. It’s all there just waiting for you!

Happy Valentine’s day!

Lots of hugs

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Go on, give yourself permission to climb into a Porg-hole!

Porgie-300x275When I was little, I had a bull terrier named Porgie. I loved her so much so, that I would greet her on all fours, hide her in my bed so she wouldn’t be cold and even come home and climb into her dog basket with her. She was an absolutely mental dog and I loved her craziness and zaniness. Porgie however, was no ordinary dog. She harbored a secret.

Not only did she chase her tail with joy, sit in the pantry and slip in her own drool waiting for a dog biscuit and eat noisily like each meal was her last, she had an inner wisdom which far exceeded her dog years.

I truly believe that Porgie was a guru in a previous lifetime.

Every few months, Porgie would be in a bad mood. Who knows what caused it – perhaps hormones, a phantom pregnancy, or Pluto aligning incorrectly with Venus. When this happened, she would go to the bottom of the garden and go dig a hole. She would then crawl into this ‘Porg-hole’ and growl if anyone came near her. I would attempt to coax her out with food but she didn’t come out and she let me know that I was not welcome. 3-4 days later, she would come out of the hole, cover it up and come bounding back as if nothing had happened.

porghole-300x200I used to think this was more evidence that my dog was weird and unwell but actually thinking back on it today – it was sheer genius.

In today’s society, we don’t ever allow ourselves to dwell in a bad mood. We are told to ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’ and be happy. The dawn of Emotional Intelligence has created an international outbreak of suppressed human beings who don’t allow themselves to just be grumpy and to just be with their grumpiness, unhappiness or depression until is passes. Instead we must apply an emotional avoidance trigger or tranquilize ourselves with alcohol, drugs or antidepressants until ‘rational intelligence returns’.

GROWL. What Daniel Goleman didn’t realize when he wrote his NY Times bestseller ‘Emotional Intelligence’, was that he helped contribute to the mass suppression of emotions which is commonplace in today’s society. Instead of expressing raw emotions, feeling them authentically, crying, screaming and just being grumpy when we feel grumpy, we are expected to be cool, calm, collected robots who smile politely, play political ping pong with the sales guy we hate and certainly don’t flinch in the boardroom when someone missed a deadline and messed up our project.

Your EQ is now more important than your IQ as this man managed to convince and advise nations that suppression is healthy, balanced and somehow good for us.

In describing the importance of acknowledging our emotional states, American psychologist Dr Maurice Elias says, “Emotions are human beings, i.e. warning systems as to what is really going on around them. Emotions are our most reliable indicators of how things are going in our lives. Emotions help keep us on the right track by making sure that we are led by more than the mental/intellectual faculties of thought, perception, reason, and memory.”

In her article titled ‘How to Understand, Express and Release your Emotions’, author Mary Kurus, a renowned psychologist based in New York, writes that emotions control our thinking, behavior and actions. If you ignore, dismiss or repress your feelings, you’re setting yourself up for physical illness.

The understanding is that emotions that are not felt and released can spawn a host of ailments: cancers, arthritis, and many types of chronic illnesses. The explanation is that negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, negativity, frustration and depression cause chemical reactions in our bodies that are very different from the chemicals released when we feel positive emotions such as happiness and contentment and also when we’re feeling loved and accepted.

Signs that you are repressing your emotions

When we have an experience that is painful or difficult we often dismiss the emotions or bury them under busyness, exercise, comfort eating or drinking. The problem is that our suppressed emotions don’t like being hidden. Our negative feelings stay with us; in the muscles, ligaments, stomach and midriff. These emotions remain buried within us until we allow ourselves to feel them and deal with them, thereby releasing them.

Short Term Emotion Avoidance Triggers (STEATs) and other ‘methods’ we use to suppress or avoid our emotions:

  • Ignoring feelings.
  • Pretending something hasn’t happened.
  • Overeating.
  • Eating foods loaded with sugar and fat (‘comfort eating’).
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol.
  • Excessive use of recreational drugs.
  • Using prescription drugs such as tranquilizers or antidepressants.
  • Exercising compulsively.
  • Behaving compulsively.
  • Excessive sex with or without a partner.
  • Excessive busyness.
  • Constantly intellectualizing and analyzing situations.
  • Excessive reading or TV viewing.
  • Spending hours watching romantic movies or fantasizing about ‘the one’.
  • Working excessively.
  • Keeping conversations superficial.
  • Burying angry emotions under the mask of peace and love.

You cannot control your emotions BUT truly acknowledging them and feeling them, allows them to move on

You cannot change or control your emotions. Think of the people who trundle along day after day, seeming to function normally. And then one day they’ll suddenly explode over something seemingly trivial or harmless. This behavior is a result of a pressure-cooker syndrome; apply a little heat in the form of a tense situation and repressed emotions boil over. The more you try to control your emotions the more your emotions resist. Eventually you lose emotional control. It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s not popular in today’s society to express negative emotions in public. Seeming out of control is interpreted as a sign of weakness. We’re often uncomfortable around people who express strong emotions. As a society we’re taught to hide our emotions, to be ashamed of them and to be afraid of them.

We spend a great deal of time talking ‘about’ our feelings and emotions and very little time actually processing and feeling them. We attend workshops, visit therapists, and they describe how we feel.

We talk and talk about our emotions, intellectualizing and analyzing them, but how much time do we actually spend feeling them?

We are emotional creations and we must learn how to know our emotions, be with them, and release them in healthy ways.

Although I disagree with Daniel Goleman and his thoughts on intellectualizing our emotions before we give ourself permission to feel them – taking out our frustrations on others is also not particularly evolved. I know he wrote his book to prevent irrational rants in the workplace but the problem is we have become deader and more resigned than ever. Depression rates have never been so high as they are today and some psychologists believe that depression is simply long term suppression of emotion.

So Porgie had it right after all.

pawFeeling crabby? Go dig a hole away from others and go BE crabby and do not stop being crabby until you feel pruney with your crabbiness. Growl. Its really fun actually. Surrender to the emotions, feel them and be them until they naturally pass and peel away like layers of an onion. The crabiness is concealing a deep sadness, fear or anger so get to the root cause of your emotion so you can release the tension in your body and prevent long term illness from happening.

So, to hell with your EQ, smiling when you don’t mean it and fake bubbliness- its plastic and weird. Let people know how you feel in life. Give yourself permission to be a glorious crabby depressed mess until you are sick to death of it. Give yourself permission to climb into a Porg hole today – you will feel a hellava lots happier tomorrow and guarantee longer healthier life too.

Thanks be to Guru Porgie…

Till next time

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Are You Choosing Your Life Or Just Surviving?

DepressedOne of my clients was so traumatized by something brutal which happened in her life. She dealt with it by swallowing everything down, including alcohol, drugs and just numbing herself.

 

Many would say she ‘chose’ her path of destruction

In life this word ‘choice’ always gets tossed about. Perhaps too much. How we always have a choice in everything we do. How everything we do is our choice.

I believe that on one level but I am beginning to think that true choice is something which becomes available when you’re on the higher echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs;

MaslowsHiearchyofNeeds

 

You need to be able to think straight to truly ‘choose’

Otherwise we’re just reacting and stumbling along. The thing about being in survival is you go back to basics and consequently have no true ‘choice’ because you’re just existing to survive. You can’t think properly and operate robotically.

Suddenly all you feel you can focus on is getting the basic needs of physiology and safety; sleep, food, sex, homeostasis, safety of body, safety of employment.

All those old stuck emotions keep you held down, unable to rise above survival mode or think beyond it. When you don’t face those emotions and work to release them permanently you’re just stuck struggling to deal with them day by day, while also trying to operate a normal life and survive.

Everything beyond that is way out of your reach, and beyond your choice to have in your life.

Without releasing all those old stuck emotions, you can’t choose a different path consciously. You can’t just ‘switch’ off anger, deadness, and coping mechanisms to just be full of happiness or possibility.

Your unconscious mind is driving you blindly

Although you may consciously recognize that you’re on a self-destructive, unfulfilling path away from real healing, you don’t have the choice to get off it without taking the difficult step first to release all the crap that’s holding you there.

So your unconscious mind is robotically taking over and trying to get you through the day. And without any understanding of a real strategy for release and long term healing, your unconscious mind is pushing you to deal with the pain and stuck emotions the only way it knows how – with short term escape tactics.

For my client this was drugs and alcohol among other things.

How to release and escape the cycle

But my client has now been doing this incredible catharsis release process we designed and what is now there is pure sadness and compassion – for herself, others and her family.

She now has a choice!

A choice to take a different path and heal herself. To move beyond this kind of destructive survival mode and cycle, and towards happiness and possibility once more.

And she got there by taking that first bold step and facing those old stuck emotions head on, following our carefully developed release process.

Are you stuck in a similar place?

I’d love to help.

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“I’M NOT READY YET” The Price for Suffering

 

I’m not ready” A very common phrase we ALL use.

A case of: Not being prepared for what one is about to do or experience;

Not equipped or supplied with what is needed for some act or event,

Not prepared for immediate movement or action.

 

What can be debated is; whether being “Ready” is a fact of circumstance or whether it is a Mindset. I believe it is both. In a circumstance where we are aware of what is coming, it gives us a warning to prepare and choose whether or not to make ourselves ready for when that predicted situation or time comes.

In a scenario of an assignment due, if I am pro active and work on and complete this assignment shortly after it is handed to me, I can have the work handed in exactly when it is needed, avoiding the feeling of being stressed and resenting myself for not taking action sooner. Doing a rushed job, when I know I could have done better. BUT if I do however, delay the work that is required of me and push it aside to do things I enjoy or are a release when I feel it necessarily, rather than sticking it out and flourishing in the long run, I will by my OWN ACCORD put the stress on myself and when the day comes of handing in my assignment and showing my progress, I will most likely regret my action and NOT be ready. But not being “Ready” in this situation is completely determined by my actions or lack of.

In relation to Divorce, It can either be thrown at you without warning OR in other cases you have expected its arrival for quite some time. But in the same way, our response and choice of mindset is VITAL for what determines the final outcome.

Taking steps to Heal: A love/hate relationship. We select and Love the meaning of the word “HEAL” but resent the words “STEPS to getting there.” We just wish it could happen without the hard and painful work first. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

Here is an excerpt from the book “Naked Divorce for Women”

“Healing is an active process, and processing all the feelings and emotions associated with your divorce is essential to getting over it. Divorce acts like a cut and if you don’t dress the wound and work on the healing it will end up with a lot of scar tissue, which will leave a lasting imprint of your life.”

It is essential to take action through a painful process. Feeling ready should never be a consideration. We may never feel ready. If we only do the things we are ready for, we would only ever do the things we already know how to do. We would never learn new things, never grow or evolve.  How else would we have learnt how to walk? To read, take up a hobby, or raise children. We become ready by trying things and failing at them and keep trying until we succeed. You don’t become ready to do anything by hesitating and waiting.

So is THE PRICE OF SUFFERING a situationthat life unfairly throws on us? Or is it the price we pay by never accepting and moving on from what Life throws at us?  Next time you use the phrase:

“I’m not ready” ask yourself if that’s the real truth, or if what you’re really saying is “I’m too afraid”

You will only feel ready to ride a bike after you have been riding it long enough that you aren’t afraid that you will fall and get hurt. Being afraid to fall is not a crime. It’s how you handle the falland how quickly you get back up.  SUFFERING doesn’t have to be completely negative. It is in the suffering that we can grow the most and open ourselves up to opportunities we never sort possible if we hadn’t first learn how to take action against pain.

Till next time!

Lots of hugs