I have recently had many conversations with individuals who have experienced change in their life that resulted in change to the roles they were used to playing. Perhaps all the children have moved out of the house and the role of parent has shifted. Perhaps job loss or school closure have led to new roles of income provider, or school teacher.
As we find ourselves going through life, we play many roles and wear many hats between personal, family, social, and professional lives, we use these areas of our lives to define who we are, what we like, and how we evaluate our self worth. While roles we play can offer a sense of security, and direction, they are often misunderstood as who we are and what makes us unique.
It is important to distinguish that the roles we play DO NOT make us who we are. We are separate beings outside of these roles. The role of Mother or Father are often ones that tend to consume our identity and while we may take great pride in honoring that role, it is important to note that we have needs and wants outside of these roles. When we let the roles we play become our identity, we lose the internal means of guiding our lives.
Using the example of a solar system; The Sun is the center of our solar system and the planets rotate around with the Sun and the gravitational pull as the guide for how the whole system functions. If we were to pluck the Sun out of the center of the system, the whole system would fall apart and cease to exist. When we use the roles we play such as (mother, father, our occupation, or other) we are making that the center of our system. However, what happens when that role changes, or goes away? Everything we have used to define ourselves no longer functions and we find our system fallen apart. Emotionally and mentally this feels as though our entire world has changed, and it feels that way because of how much power we gave to that role to define us.
Rather, if we understand that we are separate from the roles we play, then we create a system that supports change, and makes it easier to go through hard things or rather big changes in our lives with more acceptance, patience, and hope for the future. Rather than using roles for the center of our identity, we use values and core beliefs that create a foundation in every other area of our lives that can never crumble nor become life shattering.
If you have found yourself feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or unsure of how to guide your future, it may be due to overlapping roles and unclear values. Despite your current situation everyone can learn to better balance their lives, the roles they play, and bring more happiness into your life.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy helps children and adults of all ages. Therapists use EMDR therapy to address a wide range of challenges:
Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
Chronic Illness and medical issues
Depression and bipolar disorders
Grief and loss
PTSD and other trauma and stress-related issues
Substance abuse and addiction
Violence and abuse
How is EMDR therapy different from other therapies?
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or completing homework between sessions. EMDR therapy, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process.
EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
How does EMDR therapy affect the brain?
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help.
Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.
When I ask my clients if they have experienced trauma, often the answer is, “no.” Many individuals think of trauma within the lens of “Big T” traumas, or specific traumatic events. Some examples are those who have been exposed to war, terrorism, catastrophic events, and physical or sexual abuse. While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the most painful experiences an individual can experience during life. However, a person does not need to have experienced a specific event to experience the negative impact of trauma in their life.
Sometimes, an accumulation of distressing life events and beliefs in the form of “little t” traumas can produce a similar negative response in individuals. Some “little t” traumas can include interpersonal conflict, financial difficulties, abandonment or enmeshment, attachment wounds, breakups, moves, etc., resulting in pervasive negative beliefs about oneself or the world around them. The accumulation of these events is important to consider in their impact. Many individuals come to therapy due to this accumulation of “little t” traumas, often noting difficulty pinpointing what is distressing in particular, yet noting a feeling of powerlessness or unhappiness in life.
Whether you have experienced “Big T” or “little t” trauma there is hope in many treatment options. One modality that is helpful with both “Big T” and “little t” trauma is EMDR therapy. Sometimes, clients are unfamiliar with this modality. This short video gives a brief intro to EMDR, and how this treatment can help neutralize the distressing events, while helping the client connect to a more positive belief about themselves.
I’ve been talking with a lot of clients about narratives lately – the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Narratives are powerful and shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If you grew up in an environment that didn’t talk about sex, or spoke of it in negative or fear-based terms, that creates a powerful narrative. Just a few of the examples I’ve come across:
Sex is bad, I’m having sexual thoughts/feelings, so I’m bad.
Sex is embarrassing.
Only “those kind of people” are interested in sex.
I want/think about sex too much.
I want/think about sex too little.
I don’t have to right kind of body to be sexual.
Sex is too embarrassing to talk about with my partner.
Many of these narratives are powerful enough on their own, but they often get attached to painful emotions which heightens the power they have over us. If you are struggling with an unhelpful narrative surrounding sex, give yourself a break. You aren’t broken. You’re doing the best you can with the narratives you’ve been given. The good news is that we can change our narratives around sex – much like forging a new path through a forest – we can create narratives that lead to increased peace and pleasure. Some examples:
Sex is good, and pleasurable and multipurpose. My sexual thoughts and feelings are natural and I can choose to engage with those thoughts and feelings in ways that are right for me.
Sex feels embarrassing sometimes, because it’s not something I have practiced talking/thinking about yet. The more I talk about it with myself/my partner, the easier it will get.
Sex is a normal human experience.
However much I think about or want sex is the right amount for me. Everyone has a different erotic template, and that’s okay.
All bodies deserve pleasure in life, there is no such thing as a “right kind of body”. My body is good, and I appreciate it for its real ness.
My partner can’t read my mind, so if I tell them what I enjoy sexually, we will both have a more satisfying experience.
Most of us have inherited unhelpful sexual narratives, this doesn’t mean we have to hold onto them throughout our lives. If you are feeling stuck in your sexual narratives, and need help overcoming them, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice.
Few phrases will cause such an immediate, intense, almost visceral reaction from me as, “You’re so strong!” It’s a phrase that I have heard countless times over the last few years. On the surface, it sounds like a compliment that I possess the ability to hold and manage more than you would expect, and I work to receive this message as the one the sender is trying to convey. What it feels like the person is saying is that they are unable to deal with my sadness, grief, frustration, anger, or whatever emotion, and they need me to be strong because the emotions make them uncomfortable. I’m left feeling alone and dismissed.
In the early days of grief, the feelings of being overwhelmed with the “business” of death can feel paralyzing. Often, there are seemingly endless tasks that need to be completed within a very short amount of time. Sadly, most of these tasks require the next of kin, so that leaves the people that are in the midst of intense shock, grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, or whatever mishmash of emotions to navigate yet another emotional load; it can feel like too much.
The feeling of being alone is scary. Navigating really strong emotions without support and guidance is treacherous, we might make decisions or take actions that are counter to our actual needs because of the disorientation that strong emotions can evoke. So what can we do, as the person in the midst of a seemingly never ending emotional storm and as the person watching someone we care about struggle to fight the onslaught of emotional waves? Be there, be present, and be willing to listen. You can’t take away their pain for them, you can be that safe place where they don’t have to pretend to be “ok” or “fine”.
Providing people with the chance to not be strong, to be authentic and genuine with the feelings they are experiencing, no matter what those may be, can be just the thing that we all need to do truly develop that strength. If you are struggling finding that internal strength to deal with loss or grief, or just need that safe place to discover your strength consider reaching out to a therapist. You are strong! We can help you think it, feel it, and believe it!
Brene Brown has said “Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave AND afraid at the exact same time.” (Emphasis added)
After months of living through the pandemic, homeschooling two of my four children, having a newborn and busy toddler vying for attention during homeschooling, working over Telehealth, quarantining from family and friends, kissing my husband goodbye as he goes to works with sick people, and managing my own thoughts and anxiety about the world I have learned a very important lesson. You can feel brave and afraid at the same time.
My emotional journey the last several months has been sporadic. At times, I have felt very hopeful and optimistic. Other times, I have felt sad and anxious. After experiencing an anxiety attack in April, I realized I had to change my thought process. My mantra became “cautious but not fearful.” I pushed fear away and decided to let hope reign supreme. Gone were the days of worrying about what would happen if my parents contracted the virus. Say goodbye to stressing about exposure to people, and what it would be like if/when my family got sick. My mind was aware of the hospitals and medical staff, but I would not let that transfer into fear and worry. I let myself think that if I felt any fear at all I was letting fear win. I was wrong.
What have I learned about myself during this pandemic? I have learned that I can feel brave and afraid at the same time. In reality, the worried and stressful thoughts were and are still coming at regular intervals. The difference is when the fear comes, I no longer hide from it. Pushing the fear/worry/anxiety down gives it more power. Locked in the recess of your mind fear-or whatever you would like to call it-is biding its time until you are not ready for it. Then BAM out it comes with a lethal vengeance. Covid-19 has taught me to acknowledge the fear. When those fearful thoughts come into my mind I identify them and acknowledge their existence. Instead of running from the thoughts, I put my arm around them and let my bravery take over.
I can be fearful and brave at the same time. I can worry about what is happening across the world and still have hope that it will get better. I can be worried about our healthcare workers while allowing my gratitude for them to overshadow that worry. I can stand in the face of my husband, children, parents, and loved ones contracting the virus because I know that there are people and enough love in my life that will help me get through it. I have learned to hold both of these things in my hands and heart and be alright with that. And Brene is right…it is truly an adventure.
You might be asking yourself why is a therapist writing about Movember? Isn’t that just about men’s prostate cancer and mustaches? While yes, both of those things are true, Movember is so much more. Movember is primarily to bring attention to various medical and mental health issues that men often face or go unspoken, and to promote longer healthier men’s lives. During this month of Movember, my goal is to let everyone out there, mustache or no mustache, know how they can participate and show love for the men in their lives.
One of the primary causes that is talked about during Movember is suicide. Every hour of every day we lose 60 men to suicide. In order to bring attention to this and build resources to support men’s mental health, Movember gives you the option to move for 60 miles throughout the month. If this doesn’t get you up and make you want to move, I don’t know what will. Moving can look like, biking, swimming, walking, hiking or running. Follow along with my Movember while I run 60 miles. You can find it on Instagram @natewatkinslmft. If you do not want to move or grow a mustache, here are some other ways to show your support.
How you can show support:
Move for 60 miles for the 60 men lost across the world
Grow yourself the best mustache the world has ever seen
Donate to the Movember cause
Do your own epic adventure and tag Movember
Host a gathering (via zoom or follow your local health guidelines) and highlight the importance of Movember
Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, said, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Through my clinical work over the past 10 years, I have found the body to be one of the greatest teachers in helping clients to connect with, and heal from, trauma that is stored in the body. Stored trauma often manifests itself physically, such as with anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, fear, and other “uncomfortable” emotions. Consequently, our bodies are often feared, rather than embraced as the wise teacher it is.
I have found one of the most powerful tools in helping myself, and my clients, stay in a state of curiosity, rather than fear, of these bodily sensations is the breath. When triggered by these bodily sensations mentioned above the body typically moves into the sympathetic, or fight or flight nervous system. Often, clients with trauma have learned to operate in this nervous system more often than is useful. The breath is a powerful bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous systems.
Next time you find yourself filled with anxiety, I challenge you to take four deep “box” breaths, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out of four counts, and hold for four counts. After which, maintain the deep breathing pattern and notice what is happening in your body physically, and breathe into any tension you find. Then, remain curious and ask yourself what is needed to help you feel safe and secure in the present moment. At that point you may ask, “what happens next?” Take note of what inner child wounds or beliefs may be surfacing, and allow yourself to sit with that wound to find truth. Learning to become curious about thoughts that once seemed overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable can be an empowering exercise when you start unwinding unhelpful past conditioning.
Sometimes with trauma, clients may find themselves feeling stuck at certain points of traditional talk therapy. If that has been the case, it is helpful to explore other modalities to help release trauma on a cellular level, such as EMDR. Other movement based interventions such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and dancing have also been found to be helpful in healing trauma. If you have found yourself stuck in processing past trauma, please feel free to reach out to see if we can explore some additional healing modalities. You can schedule by calling 801.944.4555.