For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even function.
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries, fears, anxieties).
When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds, do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back?
Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses, regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.
How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment.
The past has passed.
The future is not yet here.
All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness.
By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without judgment.
This is mindfulness.
We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness.
Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.
Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking us into the past or future).
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment.
It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~ without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and have the opportunity to start again.
We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this.
Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when worries flooded our minds.
If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental discourse).
Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that previously took us away.
Abuse is a tough topic to talk about, but it’s so important that we know signs to watch out for. While physical abuse is easy to identify, emotional abuse can be more subtle but can be just as damaging (while most everyone has mistreated their partner at times, we are talking about repeated and consistent behavior). Here are some signs of emotional abuse in marriage:
Most divorcing parents are greatly concerned about how their child will take the big change. Many expect sadness and worry but do not always feel equipped to help the child cope. Understandably, it is hard for moms and dads to offer ample emotional support to their child if they feel overburdened themselves. Parents are typically overwhelmed with grief, anger, financial concerns, residence changes, custody arrangements, and co-parenting issues, to name a few. Yet children cannot put their needs on hold until parents have fully adjusted. So in the meantime, something simple, like sharing a carefully selected book together, may offer some connection and understanding the child needs for that day. The following children’s books have been valuable in my work with child-clients, so I share them hoping they can help others too:
“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst (Ages 3+)
Children whose parents divorce typically experience repeated separations from one or both parents. This versatile book reassures children they can still feel connected even during times apart.
“People who love each other are always connected by a very special string, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love” (The Invisible String by Patrice Karst).
:Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen (Ages 8+)
When a couple divorces, all family members usually experience grief to some degree. This book tells the story of a woman who makes “tear soup” after she suffers a great loss. She shares some essential ingredients of the healing recipe: feel the pain of loss, accept that it takes time, and recognize that grief is different for everyone.
If your child experiences distress due to parental divorce, call to schedule an appointment with Melissa at Wasatch Family Therapy – 801.944.4555.
I recently took a trip and stayed in a hotel with many floors. Of course, many floors mean an elevator with many buttons! During one of my visits to the elevator stood a 4-year-old child and his mother, inside the door, discussing the “buttons,” and where they went. I entered and smiled at this toddler’s curiosity as two other individuals entered. As the door closed, the boy began pushing all of the buttons! I looked to see the responses of the other passengers: one man shrugged, while the other gave earnest looks of annoyance. The mother clearly was embarrassed, and she quickly moved the child away from the buttons.
I couldn’t help but think about how this can be a metaphor of how people “push buttons” in relationships. “Pushing buttons” means to intentionally bring up topics that will leave an emotional sting and often brings about negative emotions of the receiver. This response happens almost instantly, and the intention may be the most irritating part.
I’m sure we can all think of moments that we have experienced where someone has “pushed our buttons.” What were the feelings you felt in that instant? Anger? Embarrassment? Disgust? Perhaps you had wished the floor had opened so you could jump in? It often takes a person who knows us well to be able to push our buttons with such preciseness. There’s no one that can do it quite like family; parents, siblings, children, and spouses are the best button-pushers!
In her book “Daring Greatly,” social researcher Brené Brown suggests that the reason these close relationships pack so much power is because of the attachments we have to one another. We know each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities. This dynamic of close relationships can get buttons pushed in ways that less intimate relationships can do.
The question that is often asked in therapy is: How do I avoid it? While there are people who are button pushers, there are ways to avoid having these annoyances grow and become destructive. There will always be someone standing nearby willing to embarrass, annoy, assume power over, or just be a mean tease. The antidote is perspective (which can be hard to do when someone has just taken a concerted stance against you!). Here are 10 tools to help you gain perspective and soothe your emotions in the moment:
Chew on a piece of ice
Take a time out
Talk to your Higher Power
Imagine a place of peace
Use powerful coping thoughts: “It’s OK to feel this way.” “So what?” “This sucks, but it will pass.”
Squeeze the handles of arm of the chair 5 times.
Count backwards from 100 by 7’s.
Write your name in cursive with your toe, while you’re seated with legs crossed. (Don’t laugh, it works!)
Count your breathes
Use your 5 senses: Notice what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.
For the mother in the elevator. . . good job taking 50 deep breathes, as the elevator stopped at each and every floor!
To schedule an appointment with Andrea, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555
Sometimes in our love relationships, we have been hurt or let down so often by our partner that we begin to develop an adversarial relationship. We are always on guard to protect ourselves from further pain. Our relationship becomes us vs. them in an attempt to wall off our heart from the one who knows us best, and therefore knows how to hurt us the most. Most of the time in these situations, our partner isn’t trying to hurt us. Our partner is hurting themselves and like us, is trying to protect from further pain.
In the book Love Sense, Dr. Sue Johnson describes what happens in these relationships:
“When emotional starvation becomes the norm, and negative patterns of outraged criticism and obstinate defensiveness take over, our perspective changes. Our lover slowly begins to feel like an enemy; our most familiar friend turns into a stranger. Trust dies, and grief begins in earnest.”
She goes on to say that the “erosion of a bond begins with the absence of emotional support”. This is key. In order to keep our most important relationships strong and healthy, we have to actively work on being an emotional support for our partner. We need to be there for them, and we need them to be there for us. Emotional supportiveness creates a teammate mentality. Instead of problems turning into us vs. them scenarios, they are approached with the couple as a team, facing the enemy (or the negative cycle) together.
One roadblock in our ability to be there emotionally with our partner is our hurt and anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion. Its purpose is to act as a shield, protecting our more vulnerable (primary) emotions. If my husband doesn’t call me when he said he would, it’s easier for me to lash out at him in my attempt to make sure he knows how hurt I am. My lashing out is likely to cause him to feel defensive and respond with anger of his own (because he is also using anger as a shield to protect himself). If I take a moment to breathe, and calm myself before commenting on his missed phone call, I might say something like, “when you don’t call me when you say you will, I feel really hurt. I worry that I’m not important to you, and you mean so much to me that it hurts in my chest to think that I don’t matter to you.”
Instead of expressing my secondary emotion, anger, I’m expressing my primary emotion. Fear. Fear that I don’t matter to my partner as much as he matters to me. I’m being vulnerable and asking my partner to reassure me and be vulnerable in return.
If my partner responds to my vulnerability with criticism, it reinforces my view that he is not a safe person to turn to, and the emotional bond is further damaged. If he responds with reassurance, the emotional bond can be strengthened. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call. I got so busy with my meetings that I forgot. I know it means a lot to you that I call when I say I will, and I’m sorry I let you down. You do mean so much to me.”
Dr. Johnson describes three questions that we can ask ourselves and our partners when we are working to strengthen or repair our emotional bonds.
1. Are you Accessible? (Will you give me your attention and be emotionally open to what I am saying?)
2. Are you Responsive? (Will you accept my needs and fears and offer comfort and caring?)
3. Are you Engaged? (Will you be emotionally present and involved with me?)
Dr. Johnson combines these into one “core attachment question”. ARE you there for me?
Sit down with your partner and talk about these questions. Do you feel like your partner is accessible, responsive, and engaged? Are you accessible, responsive, and engaged with your partner? When have you been successful at answering “ARE you there for me”? When have you struggled? Think about the last struggle and look for the primary emotions under the struggle. Try being vulnerable with each other.
The stronger our emotional bond, the easier it is to deal with the frustrations that crop up in every relationship. Sometimes the damage in our relationships has gone on for so long, or is so emotionally painful that we need help in repairing it. Couple’s therapy can help break the cycle of negative interactions and allow emotional bonds to be rebuilt stronger than ever.
The Pixar movie Inside Out goes into the head of a little girl, Riley, who experiences her world through the lens of her emotions, each represented by a unique character, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy and Sadness. Joy is the leader of this group of individual emotions/characters, and works throughout the movie to protect Riley from sad emotions. Finally at the end of the movie, Joy learns that sadness is was pulls people in, and allows Riley to make the connection with her parents that comforts her and helps her begin to manage all the other emotions that are swirling around in her growing brain. That connection with her parents can also be called secure attachment.
Sadness is a primary emotion, and primary emotions are our vulnerable emotions. Sometimes we don’t feel safe being vulnerable, so we mask our primary emotions with secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are the reactions to our primary emotions that are designed to protect our vulnerabilities, so we sometimes use them to put up walls or push others away. This serves an important purpose in situations where we don’t feel safe, but can cause problems when something happens that causes us to feel unsafe with a romantic partner, a family member, or close friend.
If someone we care about does something that hurts us, we might feel sadness, or rejection, or fear, when we are hurting we work to protect ourselves and mask our sadness, rejection, or fear with anger, disgust, or frustration. We lash out to prevent the other person from hurting us more. This behavior starts us on a cycle of pain and protection.
If we can figure out a way to break the cycle, we can rebuild trust and emotional bonds, and regain that sense of comfort and attachment to important people in our life. Just like in the movie, the key to breaking the cycle is to become vulnerable, to express our feelings of sadness or fear. This can begin to change our interactions, and as our loved ones are able to respond to our primary emotions, we are able to be comforted.
The next time your partner expresses anger or frustration or disgust, try to imagine what primary emotion they are experiencing that is being masked, then respond with empathy to that primary emotion. You may be surprised what creating a safe space for them to be vulnerable does for your relationship!
[dropcap]Q: [/dropcap]I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a little more than a year ago, (although I have been feeling this way for a really long time.) I feel like I’m angry all the time. I want to be happy, but sometimes I feel like the anger is just always there. I have a wonderful husband and family and am happy with them, but I just cannot seem to shake this feeling. The littlest things bother me to where I can hold a grudge. I feel like I’m irritable a lot of the time, and sometimes, I feel as though I could just scream at any moment. Other times, I just feel like crying. I would really appreciate some feedback about this and maybe some type of mental exercises that I can do to start controlling all this built-up anger before it gets any worse.
[dropcap]A: [/dropcap]Thank you for writing in. You said you were diagnosed with depression and anxiety but I’m curious if you’re being treated for it currently? If you are on any type of medication, I suggest that you talk with your health care provider and make sure that the dosage and medication is actually helping. Please watch the video for the complete answer.
It’s a common saying that we should forgive and forget when someone offends us, but the truth is that there’s a little more to forgiveness than that. Throughout my years as a therapist, I’ve worked with many clients who struggled with the concept of forgiveness (what it means, how to do it, etc.). Whether it’s with minor offenses or severe abuse, we don’t always quite get the whole idea of forgiveness. I define forgiveness as ceasing to feel resentment toward someone who’s wronged us. Forgiveness is beautiful and can heal hearts and relationships, but I think we still may misunderstand it at times. Here are some common myths about forgiveness:
I recently spoke with Ethan Millard and Alex Kirry of KSL’s NewsRadio Nightside Project about what parents can do if they discover that their child is viewing porn.
Pornography is a loaded topic: the easy accessibility of it combined with a curiosity about and interest in bodies and sexuality that children naturally have can lead to problems and questions. We’ve all heard the horror stories of how porn addiction can lead to broken families and destroyed lives. It’s quite a task to speak to your children about these issues and can be even more emotionally daunting if they’re already involved in it in some way. Here are some strategies for how to handle a situation in which your son or daughter is viewing pornography:
We can pretend our painful feelings don’t exist. We can ignore them. And so many of us do, because we think that this will soften the blow. This will help us bypass the discomfort of our hurt, sorrow, agony, anger, anxiety. We assume the feelings will just go away (and they might, but only temporarily).
Click the link below to read what Monette Cash, LCSW has to say about handling painful emotions.