Let's talk about you and me, but not in that kind of way; in the comparison kind of way

I’ve been thinking about thinking, and i’m thinking you’ve been doing a lot of thinking too. You might even dabble in overthinking at times. It’s a tendency, a pattern within our mind. I’m going to take the next few blog entries to explore some of these patterns of our mind’s thinking, as I’m thinking all this thinking leads us to think a whole lot of crap about ourselves, and often gets us into a lot of trouble. That’s just what I think. Urgh, that’s a lot of thinking right there.

Let’s visit with the tendency to compare. We start comparing early on, in our single digit years perhaps. We realize we’re different genders, different colors, different sizes. We start picking up on our doings and how some might do something this way and some might do it that way. Initially it’s different, but eventually it rears its head into becoming better or more than. Differences suddenly become threatening, and we start comparing ourselves to others and to others’ doings and havings. Most of us compare up, so that I, me, my, mine is less than you and yours. Your ball hitting is better than mine, your clothes are better than mine, your house is better than mine, your mom’s cooking is better than mine’s. Of course, of course, you might be one of the lucky ones, on the other side.

Perhaps you didn’t compare then, perhaps you always had enough and were enough. Don’t you go boasting, for it eventually got you. Grades, school performance, dating options, college options, your physical size, your bank account, your car, your house, your kids, your kids’ grades. Eventually you compared. Commercialism at its core needed you to compare in order to survive. So most of us have compared. And it turns out comparison just makes us feel like shit. All the time. We feel less than, not enough, not accomplished, not valued, not pretty, not skinny or too skinny, not cool enough. Be honest with yourself, there are ways you think the grass is greener on the other side.

But is it? I have curly, often messy hair. For a long time in my life it was hard to deal with. I tried to straighten it, I tried to tie it up, I tried to cut it off. It tangled up, it got in the way, it was hard to comb or figure out what the hell to do with it most days. it always looked like a good example for a horror movie ‘do every morning I woke up. Most mornings it still does. But at some point I just stopped fighting it and just let it be what it wants to be. Some days the curls are tight and bouncy, some days they’re wildly trying to not acknowledge each other’s existence. And let me tell you about their poor existence when I do back-to-back snowboarding trips, with the helmet smashing them down, or maybe they’d like to share about the misery of multiple days backpacking trips where no water, no comb, no mirror is anywhere in sight. Painful existence, but I bet you they kind of like the messy freedom.

And this curls thing turned out to be so much more than about hair and curls. I noticed that tendency in most other areas in my life— a constant tug to notice the better, to compare, to put myself down and feel like shit. This tug to need to change something, fix something, buy something. A short relief would follow after the new cure, then back on the treadmill of comparison I was. This is wrong, this is not right, or good, or enough. Fix it, cover it, hide it, try to ignore it while it gnaws at the core of my soul.

it turns out the grass is just greener where we water it. Once we learn to focus on and appreciate that which we have, it all falls into a beautiful sense. Instead of thinking “ I wish I had legs like that”, focus on “I am glad my legs are carrying me up the stairs or up the mountain, or off the toilet”. Once one area becomes slightly lighter and easier to work with, the others will seem doable also. For me, it started with the curls, but maybe I had already been on the journey for a while, I don’t know. I was distracted and busy fixing for a long time until I found the curls. So I allowed more things to just be the way they wanted to be, the way it felt easier, lighter, more fluid.

If we’re able to switch our attention from external, from focusing on how others are and how others seem to be doing, and instead look within and notice, and start clearing and letting go of the need to compare and put ourselves down, it does get greener around. Instead of wanting the straight, easy to comb, quick to fix hair (but honestly, is it really though?), we realize that sometimes having curls (or not!) works out just fine. At the end of the day, we all end up having messy, undone, hat hair. It’s great we have it. I’m almost certain my head is a lot warmer because I have the hair I have. I’ve learned to appreciate the hair I have, and I’m not lying, most days I absolutely love my hair, with all its glorious mess and all. And if you don’t have the hair, then maybe you don’t have to worry about hat hair, and that’s also a glorious thing.

What to do to help your kids become successful adults

There are hundreds of ideas and suggestions for how to parent right and thousands of ideas of how to not screw up your kids’ futures. So many opinions and so much, often unsolicited, advice.

If you’re actually curios and looking for one more idea, I’d like to offer you some pieces of information based on research. The longest longitudinal study of human behavior, the Harvard Grant Study, spanning from 1938 until present, provides us with much information about factors that impact our ability to end up as healthy, successful, and happy adults.

Two factors have become evident in our ability to become happy and successful adults. The first one: Love. Being seen and heard, being appreciated and valued for who we are, as we are. The second: having a good work ethic.

As a parent, here are ways you can address and support the growth of these two characteristics. First, do your best to see your kids: ask many questions about their days, their friends, their lives, and what makes them feel alive, and less questions about their grades, their performance, their awards and accomplishments. Notice and appreciate their style of dressing, their choices in friendships and their passions, however small or large they are. This lets them know they matter and are valued for who they are, rather than for what they do.

The second one, that work ethic part? Guess what was a constant in those adults’ responses about their childhood. Brace yourselves, for winter is coming. Oops, wrong movie. The consistent factor in those children’s lives was that they did chores. Chores. As children. The younger they started, the better they were able to develop a “pitch in” mind set, a tendency to step it up and take initiative in completing work.

So the next time you set up the chores list, or the next time you get back attitude and rolling of the eyes about the chores, just remind yourselves that there you are, supporting your kids towards becoming successful adults. Ignore the attitude and reinforce the completion of the chore. And for those of you who struggle with half-assed chores (sorry, should’ve told you I am fluent in Vulgar), know that we, as humans, improve by practicing and by doing a little more each time. Having that “I can get better” mindset is another important strength for a kiddo. So appreciate the half-assed, and figure out ways to encourage more in the future.

If you’re needing more help with both learning how to see your kiddos more, or how to figure out about this whole chores chart mess, reach out. I’ve got a few pieces of advice, but you have to ask for it first.

Now go out there and tell your kids you’re happy to see them.

EMDR and Brainspotting: similarities and differences in processing trauma

Although there are exceptions, EMDR and Brainspotting are both tools of therapy, typically used after the you, as the client, and I, as the therapist, have built a relationship with unconditional rapport, and have come to an agreement that one of these tools would be beneficial in our work together.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), has been around since the 1970s, and has become fairly popular amongst therapists in the last two decades. In a typical EMDR session, the therapist follows a scripted protocol to process a difficult memory, while using bilateral movement (alternate eye movements, audio or tactile).  A memory can be processed during one session, or can be revisited throughout several sessions, until the emotional reaction subsides.

David Grand discovered Brainspotting in 2003, mainly through exploration of Somatic Experiencing and EMDR. David Grand believes the way a person gazes and certain points in their vision can stimulate the emotional memory stored in the body. During a typical Brainspotting session, the client and therapist decide on a ‘target’ which can be a difficult memory, a future event which causes emotions, a certain emotion or physical sensation which is often unexplained by the situation. The two then find one still point in the vision field (“brainspot”), where the client then gazes the entire time, while allowing the brain and the body to bring up whatever is necessary: memories, thoughts, sensations, etc.

Both modalities focus on utilizing the brain (central nervous system) in order to process through stored memories of trauma, and rewire the brain, leading to some significant breakthroughs in therapy. Both can utilize the vision field, although EMDR has progressed to use other types of bilateral movement, such as tapping or audio.  Both access the information stored in the amygdala, which is not accessed through verbal processing. Both therapies tend to be cathartic and fairly exhausting, leading to clients needing a slow pace rest of a day, or possibly even a nap.

A main difference between EMDR and Brainspotting is that Brainspotting is more flexible, without a written script. This puts the client in the lead position, allowing the therapist to follow the client’s natural direction, without needing to stick to a protocol. Clients often process memories at a much faster rate than in EMDR, and often describe their internal experience as “watching a movie on fast forward”. Brainspotting utilizes client’s own descriptions of their experience throughout the processing to decide which direction to follow, and the ‘disturbance’ of a memory can often go from a 10 to a 1 within a short amount of time. In this sense, and from my personal experience, Brainspotting tends to work at a significantly faster pace than EMDR. Also from my experience, clients tend to be able to process through difficult memories at a high intensity, then self soothe and calm the body in an impressively quick manner, as opposed to EMDR, which can have lasting disturbance for the rest of the day. Since the entire process of Brainspotting is similar to focused mindfulness or meditation, clients tend to naturally learn how to become more aware of their own body sensations, as well as their innate ability to self soothe their body by utilizing their breath and visualizations.

The decision of which modality will work best is made by the client and therapist; my personal preference is a slight combination of the two, which involves the brainspotting modality, while also utilizing bilateral stimulation. Through brainspotting, I have seen clients have significant breakthroughs in processing traumas of childhood, professional and performance anxiety, traumas of adulthood such as accidents, infidelity and divorce, as well as addictions, grief and emotional dysregulation.

Think your teen is asleep? Think again!

A study published in Pediatrics in 2009 found that teenagers are not getting an adequate amount of sleep. This was especially prevalent in teens with high usage of electronics. Some statistics of what these teens reported doing after 9pm: 82% reported watching TV, 55% being online, 44% talking on the phone, 42% reported listening to an MP3 player, 36% watching movies, 34% reported text messaging, 24% reported playing computer games. There were significant connections between high usage of electronics and drinking caffeine (some as much as four espressos a day!), as well as falling asleep in class. Only 20% of the teens surveyed reported getting the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep a night. And this was 2009, before the Ipad was released!

Taking into consideration that a teenager’s brain is in the midst of a major growth spurt, and that most of the learning and wiring of the brain happens while sleeping, these statistics are quite concerning. Some things you can do in your house (and yes, there will be disagreement from your teen): make the bedroom a bedroom, meaning furnish and decorate it to honor the bed. Make the bed as comfortable and inviting as possible: clean, soft sheets, comfortable pillows and blankets. Paint the walls soothing colors and provide curtains or blinds in order to limit outside lights and noise. If possible, keep the desk and electronics out of the bedroom. Our brains register what we do in each room and react accordingly, so if our brains recognize the bedroom as the place where homework anxiety happens, it reacts negatively when we try to go to sleep.

Pay attention to nature and wildlife around: all gets quiet with the sunset and all wakes up with the sunrise. Humans also used to go to sleep as sunsets started happening, and wake up with the sunrise. Nowadays, due to electricity and many entertainment options, our natural schedule is thrown off and our brain is confused and over-used. By changing your environment in the evening, you’re recreating the natural changes sunsets usually bring along. Remove or dim down electronics, toys, noise makers of any sort. Set an electronics ‘curfew’ for the house, where all electronics are set into chargers or away from rooms at a certain time of the night, and enforce this rule. Dim lights in the house, encourage quiet activities such as board or card games, drawing, reading, hot baths. 

By attempting to recreate a more natural sleeping environment and helping your teens get more sleep, you’re ultimately supporting their development, school performance, and most importantly, their health!


How to deal with holiday stressors

If you’re feeling pressured to buy expensive gifts.....

Know:

Kids don’t typically remember what their gifts were by Mid January! Materialism.....leads to less happiness, less social connections, more depression/anxiety. Time with you is much more important---builds relationships, teaches skills, gives attention.
The receiver does not feel as much as the giver: control your own need, make it about them.

Do:

Turn off the TV or social media (Comparison is the root of so much pain!)
“Santa has a budget”: Talk to older kids about what they want, explain “if x, then no y”. Wrap up things individually, split up clothing or toy parts, with names on them.
Give small things that can be meaningful to them.
Open one gift at a time, take turns. Focus on each gift, make it special.
Get family into spirit of giving by donating some of their toys or things.
Put things into perspective for yourself: will this gift matter in a year?

If you fear being alone, feeling lonely, missing someone or worrying about family....

Know:

Turn off the TV or social media (Comparison leads to buying things you don’t need!) When relatives are visiting: set rules and limits ahead of time, ex: we will have dinner between 3 and 5 pm, then switch into our evening routine. When you’re visiting others: decide if worth it (is my time and energy used well?), prioritize who you want to see or spend time with, plan it shorter or less often. Remember there’s no ‘perfect family’: lots of families are split apart, fighting, grieving, not together. Media lies: dinners don’t go on forever, not everyone’s there, not everyone’s happy! Our country is at war; think of what the soldiers and their families are going through and send them all some peaceful and loving energy of appreciation.
Lots of families don’t even acknowledge or celebrate holidays, take pressure off yourself!

Do:

Make a care package; donate, volunteer, bake cookies, spend time giving back to others. If single or alone, plan on a fun date by yourself (dinner and spa) or party hopping with friends. Think of the benefits of being single or alone---spontaneous fun others might not have. You decide if you want to focus on thoughts of loneliness and abandonment or if you’d rather focus on what you have and who you’re with.

Don’t work out past issues during family gatherings at the holidays.
Don’t look to change someone or the way they do things in your presence or in their lives; politics and religion beliefs will not change during one conversation, so it’s best to avoid those topics if possible. It is OK for us to have different perspectives and still like each other and spend time together. Don’t look for approval, attention or acknowledgement from family members. Accept them for who they are and do your best to enjoy your time together

If you find yourself feeling maxed out and running around with that busy holiday feeling:

1. Breathe 2. Give yourself a good talk/thought (“I’m healthy enough to get around all by myself”) 3. Keep things into perspective (My time is the most important gift) 4. Prioritize self care 5. Give yourself permission to not do it all 6. Delegate/ask for help!

Winter time blues got you?

I know there are historical reasons as to why exactly the holidays happen at this time of the year, but sometimes I just wonder if this is the universe's way to throw one more challenge at us. Fall and winter are tough on us all as is, with shorter days and long dark nights, cold temperatures, and not much outside play. Life seems to slow down, yet, we find we often don't have enough time to get it all done. That scale seems to go up then down constantly (or maybe just up this time!), and, suddenly, we all seem to turn a bit more grouchy. 
We try to escape our misery by turning on the TV or radio, and we're blasted away with holiday music, bright red and gold colors flying from every corner, all kinds of gift ideas for every person in our lives, and, to top it all, Hallmark movies remind us all of intact families having the greatest holidays of them all. Suddenly, we start panicking about gift lists requiring money we don't have, family time involving Leave it to Beaver families we don't have, romance ideas with no prince or princess to romance us, and even yearn for pets the allergist warned us about.  We drag ourselves to bed (or maybe to the bar?), grumbling and feeling about as lonely and pathetic as Scrooge might have been.
And that's what makes me think that perhaps this holiday thing is all about another challenge thrown our way. Perhaps it’s meant to be another opportunity for us to shine while working through it all. If you look around, you’ll find tons of books or websites reminding you of many ways to beat the winter blues and truly enjoy the colors of the season. Here are some quick ways:

  • Throughout the day, look around you for the things you use on a regular day that can easily be taken for granted. We often forget to remind ourselves of our many privileges, and miss out on experiencing gratitude.  Notice these items, and take a moment to take it all in, perhaps consider what it took to make it, or just simply notice the colors, texture, or its purpose. When was the last time you noticed and appreciated your comfy furniture or the privacy your curtains give you? And what about that can opener, what would life be without it? Let’s not forget the coffee maker or tea kettle, and that sliced bread is pretty amazing, too!

  • Notice the benefits of the season, things that are usually much more enjoyable at this time of the year. That nice sweater or fleece you love to feel on your body, the snuggling blanket while you’re watching TV or sitting by the fire, the smell of that steaming cup of soup or cocoa, the bright and playful lights covering the neighborhood. Notice them, take them in, and be thankful that you’re able to partake in all the little details that come along with the season.

  • Give the best gift of them all: you. Yes, you and your full attention can warm a lot of people’s hearts and bring a lot of laughter in your life. Every day, make it a point to notice those around you, and exchange at least a few quality moments, if not more. Make eye contact with a stranger on the street, smile at the store greeter, chit chat with a co-worker, and focus on them, giving them a compliment or letting them know you’ve appreciated something about them. Make it a point to spend time with your partner, parents, children or other important people in your life; play a game, eat together, play in the snow. And if you have it within you, reach out in the community and volunteer at the local library, shelter, or food bank. You are much needed, much more than you are giving yourself credit for. 

Of course, there are many, many options: watching your diet, adding seasonal supplements, exercising regularly, spending time outdoors. Search for the options that best suit you and your needs; then pick one, maybe even two, try it out once or twice, stick with it if you need to. Do your best with it, see if you can get something out of it; besides, even just by trying it out you've accomplished something you can be proud of.  Just do something, it's the quickest way to cure the “I’m just sitting around doing nothing but feeling miserable” time.

Brainspotting

Are you ever at a party, or perhaps the grocery store and suddenly start feeling nervous, with your heart racing and palms sweating, for no reason at all? Or maybe you’re just hanging out at the park and, out of the blue, you get a strange, panicky feeling about your kids playing on the playground? Maybe you’re an athlete, and every time you come towards the ball, an overwhelming feeling of insecurity and failure takes over and you once again miss the hit?

Our memories work in a very unique way. Sometimes we remember our 10th birthday with such clarity, it would make a historian do a double take.  Other times, we can’t even remember what we had for dinner last night. Thinking back to some relationships, we only seem to remember all the bad days, and sometimes, if we’re one of the lucky ones, we might be able to think back to a few good ones too.

And sometimes, most often without our knowing, our brains keep track of the darkest and most unwanted moments we’ve ever experienced. Perhaps these moments are big traumas, such as a terrible car accident, an unexpected death or injury, the moment we found out about our parents’ divorce, or the one when we were broken up with. Sometimes these moments might be small traumas, like the time we spilled coffee all over our new outfit, or said that one joke followed by the choir of crickets. Either way, our brain takes notice of the rush of fear, confusion, embarrassment, and shame that rushes all over our body. It takes a very detailed picture of everything outside and inside our body, storing it for future use, just in case it might figure out a way to help us avoid a similar unwanted situation.

We have a full file with such pictures, and at some point in the future, we come across an item, a smell, or a person, who just happens to somehow match up with details in our stored images. When this happens, the brain suddenly wakes up and alerts all systems, putting us in the fight or flight response, just in case we need to act to protect ourselves. Our brains are our amazing protectors, always focused on protecting us and keeping us alive at all costs. What our brains don’t realize, is that just because one detail matches with a traumatic image, it does not automatically mean the same trauma will happen, which can lead to that sudden rush of fear or panic with no current, real threat in front of us.

There are several modes of therapy that can help our bodies and our brains reprocess and rewire in order to clear out some of those old pictures in our Trauma files.  You might be familiar with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which has been around for over three decades now, and can easily be misrepresented in crime shows on TV. A newer, similar form of therapy is Brainspotting.

After building a healthy relationship with a Brainspotting-trained therapist, the two of you might decide to use this therapy tool to process and release emotional memories stored in your body.  The process is often intensely emotional, cathartic and physically exhausting, but the results can be quick, insightful and very releasing. By clearing old traumatic memories, you can notice less ‘charge’ during conflicts in your relationships, more ease when speaking up or performing in public, and be better able to complete tasks that might be directly related to the old traumas, such as driving, sleeping, or going out in public. If that original picture stored by our brain in our traumatic file is vivid, with bright, neon colors, Brainspotting works to make that same picture into one that’s more of a vintage, faded image, with much less painful details. We still remember the event, but the emotional response is now lessened.

It’s important to remember that Brainspotting is a tool of therapy, to be used as part of the therapeutic relationship; sometimes it is not recommended, and every once in a while, not beneficial for some individuals. It is most beneficial when used as part of an inclusive treatment and supported by important lifestyle factors, such as having a supportive and nurturing environment.