Category Archives: Emotions

It’s time to play!

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” Brian Sutton-Smith

There are millions of toys for kids to play with. Kids are kind of like cats, and even without toys, they can make something to play with. We know that animals learn how to be adults through play (there is a video of an adult lion faking injury when bitten by a kit. This is play for both the adult and the kit). We watch adults in most animals play if give the chance. For some reason though, we think that once we leave childhood we are no longer allowed to play.

What we have learned is that play is as important for adults as it is for children. It helps mental acuity, it helps with connections and intimacy, and it helps manage depression. Play is time spent with little purpose other than fun. It is part of why Pokemon-go has helped so much. It is play. Hobbies, board games, and playful teasing. It eases stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as increases bonds among friends and partnerships.

Take time each day to find time to play. Don’t ever let yourself think that you are too old to play. Don’t let others tell you that you need to grow up when you play. I will play until the day I keel over. I encourage you to do the same.

There’s No Crying in Baseball!

For those of you that don’t watch a lot of movies, that is a line from A League of Their Own that Tom Hank’s character yells as on of his female ball-players starts to cry.  It is the common sign of a man that doesn’t know how to handle the very outward display of emotion in that moment.

Why do men have such a hard time with women crying?  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that.  Think of what men are taught about crying from the time they are very young.  They are taught that crying is weak.  They are told very often to “be a man” when they are hurting, which implies they need to take all of their emotions and push them down deep.  They aren’t allowed to move through, to hold space for themselves when they are hurting.  Instead of feeling the pain, learning that it is OK to hurt, be sad, or feel guilty they are required to withhold and ignore the feelings.  Push them down, push them away, and most of all don’t cry.

So when a woman, who hasn’t been told to shove them down and has been allowed to cry is present with her feelings it makes them uncomfortable.  They don’t know how to hold space for their own discomfort, let alone for the person next to them that is struggling.  They have also been told their entire lives, by family and culture, that a blatant display of emotion is a sign of weakness.

We as women also struggle to hold space for men when they are experiencing strong emotion (other than anger), and showing it.  We also have received the message from society that a man showing emotion is a sign of weakness.  It makes us almost as uncomfortable as men are when we cry.

Holding space for an emotion means experiencing the emotion.  It means feeling it in the moment, without shoving it away. It means acknowledging that whatever is happening is unpleasant and it is OK for it to be unpleasant.  Women are allowed some grace in this as we are allowed to cry and give outward demonstrations of our feelings. Men are taught to shut that down, and then that is reinforced on a daily basis through family, media, and partners. It isn’t surprising that when women cry they struggle with the display.

It is difficult for both men and women to allow someone else that they are close to be present with painful emotions. In general women say they want a man that is more in touch with his emotions, and yet there is discomfort when he does so. If we want men to be comfortable with women crying, we have to encourage everyone to be OK being present with their emotions. It is OK to let someone cry and not need to fix it. Crying releases endorphins that are often needed in tense and difficult moments. It is part of why women are so prone to tears during angry and tense moments, as well as sad difficult moments. It gives a release and helps move through the difficult time. As a society, we all need to become better at not only holding space for someone that is struggling, but tolerating our own discomfort when someone cries.

Crying is natural and healthy. Tears mean that a person cares about what is going on in that moment. We all need to work on holding space for difficult experiences, and being OK when the water-works are turned on.  Maybe there should be crying in baseball.

 

What we can control

Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer?  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.  This prayer has been a strong part of my therapeutic approach over the years.  It has a good deal of meaning behind it, reminding us that there are things that we cannot change in this world, as well as that the things that can be changed can take a good deal of strength.  It reminds us that we don’t always see the difference between the things we can change and those we can’t. We all want to feel as though we are in control.  We want control not only of ourselves (which anyone that has ever had a cold knows isn’t always the case), but our environment (and anyone with allergies knows that isn’t realistic either).

When control is lost, we compensate often with anger toward ourselves or others.  When we don’t have the recognition that the situation cannot be controlled, we often try to create control.  These attempts to try to create control often create more misery than control.  The feelings of powerlessness we are struggling with just get stronger and stronger the more we try to manage the things that are outside of our control, and we become more irritable, anxious, and angry.  There are some things in this life we will have no control over.  We will never have control over how others think or act.  We will never have control over the weather, Facebook trolls,  or traffic.  These things are out of our control.  We easily accept our lack of control over the weather.   We have no problem changing our behavior for the weather.  We have more difficulty accepting how other people see us, our hair, Facebook trolls, or traffic.

We spend a good deal of energy working to control the things that are outside of our control.  And then we are miserable.  God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.  This means that I will accept it like I accept the weather, and change how I respond in ways that work for me.  With the weather we add or take off layers, add or take away heat, we control the things we can control.  In general, what we have control over is how we respond.  We have the choice to feed in to the Facebook trolls.  We have the choice to try to force others to change their opinions.  Accepting the things we cannot change means tolerating the distress of the things we wish we could, but can’t.  It is painful when others actions, choices or beliefs go directly against out own.  It is difficult when the world seems to conspire against us and there is little we can do.  Our choice is to tolerate the distress or to engage in a futile struggle that will only cause us more pain.

The next step, believe it or not, can be even more difficult.  The next step is to change the things we can.  The thing we can change is ourselves, the things we take on, the things we do, and how we think.  When you start to think that is the easier task, look at the change you need to make to do the above.  You have control over what you attempt to control.  Letting go of the things that we have no control over is difficult, and requires great effort on your part.  If I want to lose weight I may not have control over my genetics.  I do have control over how much I exercise and the food I put in my body.   If I want to change how someone sees me, I can’t argue them in to a different view point but I can behave in the way I want to be viewed as.

The final step is understanding the difference.  What can I control, and what can’t I?  This is the part where we are asking for help to find the difference.  I don’t have a magic trick to help you know the difference.  Sometimes I struggle as well.  I hold on to the prayer.  I look to see what I can do, what I have control over, and then I decide if I am going to do it.  For example, I have no control over Syria, or people’s beliefs about the refugees.  I do have control over whether or not I donate to agencies that help refugees, or even volunteer to help refugees coming to the country. I could even volunteer my home to help.  These are three things that take varying amounts of effort.  These are things over which I have control, in a situation that I find heartbreaking, and over which I have none.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Though the situation can be distressing, admitting that there is no control over a situation can be releasing.  You only have the pressure of controlling you, the one thing you know you have control over.

Anger ain’t that bad!

With all of the talk of Anger Management, and Letting of anger, and quotes like “holding on to anger is like holding on to a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned”, anger has gotten a bad rep.  While yes, long term anger is damaging to the body in the way long term stress and long term anxiety are damaging to the body, every emotion we have has a purpose; including anger.  In dangerous situations anger fuels the protective instinct and helps provide the energy to protect ourselves and others.  In overwhelming situations anger gives the fuel to keep going when the odds seem completely against you, and helps push for change.  It is one of the emotions that lets us know that something is wrong that may need to be changed; possibly how you think of a situation, or the situation itself.

A recent study  has shown that anger can actually help people make firm decisions when they may have waffled before.  It can help people think critically about a situation in which they would have felt confusion about before.  With everything, if we let the anger get too big it can get in the way.  A candle can be beautiful and provide light, a campfire can provide warmth, a forest fire can provide incredible devastation.

Anger can be a wonderful protective agent. Feelings such as fear, shame, sadness and powerlessness are painful.  Anger helps manage those feelings from being as painful.  This can be a good thing in small doses, of course.  Anger can also be a distraction keeping us from being present with the true struggle. We need to look at what anger is able to give is in the moment we are using it. Is the anger giving us the courage to fight a fight that we need courage for? Is the anger helping keep motivation up in a situation that seems helpless? If so the anger is beneficial and helpful. If the anger is distracting from the true needs for yourself or a situation, or if it is just providing a cover-up so that you don’t have to be present with painful emotions then it is not helpful but possibly detrimental.

When we use Anger as a cover-up for painful emotions we don’t lose the emotions, we are hiding them from ourselves. Like when we were children and our parents told us to clean our rooms, and we just shoved everything under the bed. (I know very well that I am not the only kid to do that, I work with too many teens and adults.) Eventually the mess under the bed grows until there is a huge mess that will take a monumental amount of time and effort to clean. We can go on hoping that we never have to worry about it, but that day always comes. Out of sight may be out of mind, but it is still there. If there is trauma added to the mess it festers, like shoving food under our metaphorical beds. It starts to stink up the whole place. Using anger to cover this up just causes more pain and hurt that has to be shoved away and covered up, creating a cycle. Being able to let go of the anger and having the courage to face the pain and hurt that has been ignored is the first step to emotional (and sometimes physical) health.

It is important to be able to see your own true motivations behind the anger. Many motivations that lead to anger are a desire to be heard, a desire to be respected, and a desire to be seen as valuable. A feeling of lack of skill or lack of knowledge can lead to fear and anger. As discussed above, anger in these situations, in small doses can be helpful. It can help focus and add direction. In big doses it leads to rash decision making with verbal and possibly physical aggression. Learning the skills to feel comfortable in multiple situations can limit the anger as you feel confident instead of afraid.

Anger is no better or worse than any other emotion. It is useful and necessary at times, and in moderation can be beneficial. As with all emotions it is important to be able to harness the anger without letting it overwhelm you and your actions. It’s OK to be mad, it’s not OK to be bad.

Even when I’m angry I can still think!

A couple of years ago I attended a training on play therapy. The trainer had years of experience and had some excellent tools in his tool-box, including a couple of stamps that I jumped on. These stamps were:

Even when I’m angry, I can still think

It’s OK to be MAD it’s not OK to be BAD

My mouth can’t say everything my brain thinks

Good Face, Good Voice, Good Words

 

These seem simple things, simple ideas that we want out children to learn. I have found that teaching kids these concepts is actually relatively simple.

Kids can understand that when they’re mad they do things they get in trouble for and regret later. When they learn that they are in control of their anger; no one has a button that someone else can push and “make them angry” and no one has the reigns to their feelings then they start to be able to understand to following two stamps.   They start to understand that being mad isn’t wrong; we all get mad, but that what we do with it is what can be bad. When they add an understanding that they still have to take a breath and think even when they’re mad, anger management starts getting easier for them.

When they learn that their relationships are compromised when they are mad and say something hurtful or inappropriate they learn they have to think about what they are going to say or do before they do it. They learn pretty quickly that being mad isn’t a pass for horrible behavior and you don’t get to shut off your brain just because you’re mad.

Kids really get it when you remind them that usually the reason they get in trouble with adults and friends is because they didn’t follow the last stamp. They made mean faces, they had ugly words, or sarcastic words with an ugly voice. Kids learn quickly that when they have the good face, good voice and good words that they are actually more likely get their wants, wishes and would likes met, even when they are angry. When the combine all of them, especially when they are mad; remembering to think before they speak, they are still accountable for their actions, they have control of their face, voice and words, they get the concept of anger management pretty quickly.

Then we get to adults. Whether we learn a sense of entitlement, a sense that anger means an all out pass to be a jerk and other people are required to step lightly to keep us from getting angry, or we see that people around them get to use the “anger” defense again and again, we forget that we really are more in control of our anger than we think. We forget that we are always accountable for our actions, and high emotion does not give the right shove your words, your fist, foot or car in to someone.

It is OK to be angry. It is a natural human emotion that we all feel in many variations. There is irritated, frustrated, bitter, contrary, exasperated, flustered, aggravated, ticked, grumpy, fuming, mad, burning, angry, boiling, enraged, incensed, infuriated, ballistic, livid etc. Little to big, we all find a place where we are angry at some point. Like any emotion, it isn’t OK to lose yourself in the emotion so far that you are no longer in control of your actions.

We need to find a place where “you made me mad” is not an excuse. I have seen an adult reply to the “why did you (insert behavior here)?” question with “Because you made me mad!”. And? When did making someone mad give us the right to treat other people or their belongings with cruelty, disrespect or violence? When did we lose all accountability for our own emotions and our response to them?

These very simple lessons are something we need to start remembering as adults.

Even when I’m angry, I can still think

It’s OK to be MAD it’s not OK to be BAD

My mouth can’t say everything my brain thinks

Good Face, Good Voice, Good Words

 

I am in control of my own emotions. I don’t have an anger switch, or a happy button that someone else can push for me. My triggers are mine and no one is required to walk on eggshells to keep from hitting them. I need to be aware of my triggers so when someone unsuspectingly comes across them I don’t explode like a land mine and destroy everything in an emotional radius around me. When I can slow down and keep the above lessons in my head, even when I’m angry, I will have a good grasp on anger management. When I remember that I can’t control other’s emotions, and that while I should be sensitive and not intentionally jump on their triggers I can’t always control when I hit them, I probably won’t be as reactive if they aren’t in control of their anger as I would like them to be. Just always remember, Good Face, Good Voice, and Good Words and you’ll do great.

 

Dance

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when
you’re perfectly free.”


Rumi

When was the last time you were broken open?  Broken open with joy, with pain, with love?  These are the moments when we are closest with the true us.  Closest with our light, the light of the universe.  These moments when we are broken open, especially with pain and hurt are the moments to revel in.  These are the moments we truly know we are alive.

Where you stop, and I begin

For the most part you know where you stop, and where the person next to you begins.  There is the physical boundary of skin that is a clear definition.  We also tend to like a little space between our skin and the skin of others, about an arm’s length.  We allow people we know and care about in to our personal space, and that invisible boundary is starting to get blurred as we place ourselves in crowded places: buses, subways and lines.  A line that has started to become even more blurred is the line between your emotions and those close to you. 

How often have you found yourself doing something you aren’t interested in, because you know it will please your friend or your partner.  How often have you found yourself doing something you didn’t want to because you didn’t want to hurt your partner?  Sometimes these actions are little.  Going to a movie that you aren’t interested in, eating dinner at a restaurant that you don’t necessarily like or just not criticizing the other’s driving when they forget to use a turn signal.  Sometimes instead of something little, we find ourselves biting our tongue instead of talking about something that truly bothers us because we know the other person would be hurt. 

When I work with kids I like to use a hula-hoop to demonstrate boundaries.  Kids that have touching or hitting problems can now understand the space that is mine, and the space that is yours.  With adults I use the same concept to explain being able to define mine and yours.  My emotions are anything within my imagined hula-hoop.  My fears, my hopes, my desires, and even my anger.  Everything I feel fits within the confines of my imaginary hula-hoop, and as much as I would like to ask others to hold some of those feelings, they are all mine.  My frustrations that my partner will not capitulate to my desires, or understand my hurts, is still mine.  I have to take care of myself and all of the feelings within the little world of my imaginary hula-hoop.  On the other hand, I get to say the same thing about you and your feelings.  Within the limits of not being an intentional jerk, I am not required to take responsibilities for your feelings, and I need be careful to not take your feelings from you, allowing you to keep them.  Or even more, I am allowed to keep from letting you force them on me.  I know I have found myself avoiding talking about subjects that were important me, just to keep from hurting my partner. I have also been in relationships where I am expected to keep from hurting or to soothe the hurts I do cause.   Where is the limit between maliciously hurting my partner, and causing pain through truth and necessity?  At times I will need to say things that will be painful for my partner to hear, and vice versa.  If I am keeping my feelings and not requiring my partner to take them for me, I enter a different world that involves self soothing and personal strength.  And when I make sure to be clear that I am not required to hold and soothe my partner’s anger, it allows me to be free to communicate clearly. 

Physically, you know where you stop and others begin.  Sometimes, that line between your emotions and those of the people around you gets a little blurred.  It is important to find a way to make a more defined boundary, knowing what emotions are yours, and what emotions are others allows you to begin to draw a boundary.   It is incredibly important to create a strong boundary with definition.  That boundary is allowed to be permeable, but you have the choice what you give to others and what you take.  I thank Dr. David Schnarch for giving me this saying: You have every right to your emotions.  You also have the right to keep them. 

Fear Sucks

For those of you who haven’t discovered Ted.com you are missing out.  I was watching the clip What I learned from climbing with Matthew Child, and something he said grabbed me.  He said “Fear means you aren’t focusing on what you are doing, it means you are focusing on failing at what you are doing.”   I thought about all the times I have been afraid, and I realized how absolutely correct that statement is.  I especially thought about my own climbing experiences, and my fears were not necessarily of failing, but of looking like an idiot when I failed.  The failure didn’t bother me, I know that the rope is going to catch me and I trust my belayer, but I am focusing so much on not looking like a fool that I forget to focus on what I am doing.  In focusing so much on my desire to not fail and look bad, I often don’t take risks or push myself to do challenges that I could complete if I could just get over myself for a few minutes. 

Think of the last time you were afraid.  What would have happened if you had been able to look past the fear; the fear of failure, of looking foolish, etc, and just focus on what you were doing at the time?  I even think about the fear one has when in an argument.  The fear of not being understood, of rejection, of loosing, what have you.  If you were able to look past that fear and focus on the communication and workout out the problem, how would that change the argument? 

I like that idea of not focusing on my failure and focusing on the task at hand.  I have talked before about the concept of getting out of your own way, and this falls easily in to that category.   Matthew Child discusses the 9 things he learned form climbing.  He talks about perseverance, focus, taking care of yourself, thinking outside of the box, and not thinking strength will solve everything.   My favorite is the last rule; knowing how to let go.  Allowing yourself the ability to fall, to fail, and know how to let go and start again.  He gives 9 rules that quickly lay out how to step past fear and find success within yourself.  I have had trouble with embeding the video’s in to the blog, so if the below video doesn’t work, it is worth it to click through to the link above to see what he has to say. 


Vulnerability and tears


I have previously discussed the concept of vulnerability.  In our society today vulnerability is seen as weakness, exposing your soft underbelly to the world to be ripped out and disemboweled.  These are rather harsh words, but when I watch people’s attitudes, and at times even my own, this appears to be an accurate perception of vulnerability.  Because we don’t want to be seen as weak, and often because we don’t want to suffer the pain of loss, we keep a distance from others and from our vulnerabilities.  Even as I work with clients to overcome their cultural training to avoid vulnerability I have a difficult time showing even those closest to me my hurt or broken heart.  When feeling strong emotion I struggle to avoid tears, as I don’t want to make those around me uncomfortable and primarily because I don’t want to be seen without my cool calm exterior.  Though I have been told this cool, calm exterior sometimes makes me seem cold and distant.  The underlying belief is that if I am seen crying I will be marked as emotionally unstable, needy and weak.  And ultimately I will be abandoned.  As the herd leaves the weak for the wolves to create a stronger stock, I will be left crying, broken-hearted and alone if I display even that I have feelings, let alone painful ones.  I also have no wish to “burden” others with my feelings.  These are all beliefs that have been trained and reinforced throughout my childhood and at times my adult life. 

In addition to avoiding displaying our own vulnerability we are made uncomfortable by that of others.  It is fairly natural in women that when they are experiencing strong emotion, including joy and anger, we cry.  So in fights with my ex husband I would frequently become tearful.  His lack of comfort with my tears was palpable.  It was obvious that part of him viewed my tears as a manipulation to “make him feel bad” and end the argument.  And while crying on command may be a useful skill, it is one I do not posses.  My tears were an outward display of my emotion, of a vulnerability which blatantly made him uncomfortable.  And god forbid a man were to cry.  While we enlightened women say we want a sensitive man, what we really mean is we want him to be fine with our sensitivity.  We struggle with watching a man show true and genuine emotion, and frequently punish it even more harshly than women’s tears are punished.  Young boys are told to “man up!”, and the words used to older boys and men who display vulnerability and tears are not all that nice, and not words I would put in this blog. 

Tears though are honest.  The inspiration for today’s blog was the following quote:  Crying doesn’t indicate that you’re weak:  Since birth it is an indication that you are alive. Tears are an indication that we haven’t closed off our hearts completely.  That we are able to connect to others on a basic, loving, human level.  In Brenee Brown ‘s talk that I referenced in the previous post, she discusses her research that the happiest people are those who are able to be vulnerable.  Those that can open their loving and their broken heart to those closest around them.  So while shedding a tear or two seems at times to be weakness, to be showing that I am not in control and I am unstable, what it really means is that I am connected.  I have not hardened my heart to the world around me, to those who are special to me.  Recently I have had the joy of a relationship that has truly shown me how to open my heart to someone.  And through this opening I have found at times that my heart is and can be broken as well.  But through both my open loving and my broken heart I have found a stronger connection to those closest around me.  Found love I didn’t know existed, and found strength in my tears and my vulnerability.

Jealousy

We tend to think of jealousy as a single emotion, but actually it is a
whole bundle of feelings that tend to get lumped together.   Can you identify the things that make you jealous?  Does it bother you when your boyfriend looks at another girl?  Does it drive you crazy that your neighbor doesn’t ever seem to work but always has the newest toys because the Bank of Dad seems to always be open?  How about the woman at the other table that can eat anything she wants and never seems to gain a pound?  Right now people who seem to be able to train effortlessly are the target of my jealousy.  These four very different scenarios don’t elicit the same type of jealousy.  The boyfriend looking at someone else tends to bring up fear, hurt,  betrayal, depression, anxiety and anger.  The neighbor would probably bring up coveting, envy and powerlesness. My feelings when I watch people be able to go from the couch to a 5K run while it feels like I struggle and struggle are inadequacy, envy, and hurt. 

Additional feelings that relate to jealousy include lonliness, agitation, betrayal and exclusion.  Often what jealousy comes down to though is a low self esteem.  Someone who is strong in their sense of self doesn’t’ worry when their boyfriend or partner looks at someone else, because they know that while he is looking, he isn’t going anywhere.  If you are  confident in your looks you don’t need to worry about the person next to you who you feel may look better.  If I know I am doing my best, I don’t need to worry that I am not making as much progress as I would like. 

The first step to overcoming jealousy is to break down the true feelings.  If your partner is looking at someone else and you are fearful that they will leave you, can you work to soothe that fear without forcing your partner to make you feel better and creating chaos in your relationship? Are you able to soothe your feelings of inadequacy by reminding yourself that while you aren’t as good in some things you are strong in others.

The common theme is being able to soothe yourself once you identify the underlying feelings behind the jealousy.  Being able to stop firing the arrows at yourself that lead to your jealousy.  Jealousy comes down to our own voices telling us that we aren’t good enough for some reason.  Our own ego getting in our way and making us miserable.  Once you are able to get your ego in check and keep it from attacking you the jealousy becomes less and less.   Does it eventually go away completely?  I’ll let you know if I ever get there.