Category Archives: Mental Health

The shedding of ourselves

We all have things that we don’t particularly like about ourselves. Things that hurt others, or hurt ourselves, or create problems that we don’t want to have to deal with. One thing we need to be aware of is that the coping skills and techniques that often create the most pain both for ourselves and others are the ones that we put there on purpose. We put them there to keep away those that were dangerous at one point, or to manage untenable situations. Those things that may cause the most pain now were often put there to keep us safe and sane. Now, as you try to shed them it is natural to feel as though you are losing yourself, losing your safety, and possibly even losing your sanity. It is akin to ripping off your skin to replace it with something better. It won’t feel good in the process.

There must be a trust that it will be better once the process is over. A belief that the world will be easier, lighter, and smoother to move through is required to endure the physical and emotional pain that shedding our unhealthy life management skills will bring. Image the first couple months of working out once you’ve decided you want to shed those extra pounds and get in better physical shape. They suck. It doesn’t feel good to work out, you are hungry for your comfort foods all the time, and you’re often sore afterwards. It isn’t a fun place to be. Then one day you can walk up stairs without feeling your heart come out of your chest. You notice your clothes fitting better, you notice you aren’t as tired in general throughout the day, and often you even notice you aren’t as irritable with friends and family and generally feel better about the world in general. Once you start seeing the results of your hard work and dedication you see that while it was miserable at first, there were great rewards.

Letting go of the sarcasm you use to keep people at a safe distance, putting down the verbal weapons of criticism and contempt,  stepping outside of the house and going to the random meetup from that sounded interesting, or redirecting your thoughts when you are focused on the bad and scary instead of the positive can have the exact same effect. It can actually even cause physical pain and distress in the form of stomach cramping, intestinal distress, and difficulty breathing. You are letting go of the security blankets that you have used for years to help you manage difficult situations. It won’t feel good. And yet when you see that people are happier to see you, even the cashiers at the grocery store are nicer to you, and you generally feel better throughout the day you will find that the hard work was worth it.

This process is often easier with a therapist or counselor. The therapist is someone that can hold you accountable. When they call you on your BS, while you will be hurt and embarrassed it is significantly better than your loved telling you that you are full of crap. A paid effective stranger giving you the spoonful of bitter medicine is always easier than a loved on that you want to see you as perfect. Where the loved on can be helpful is the honesty they can provide about the things that would make your life better if you changed. Our loved ones often know us better than we know ourselves. They know how we try to hide from hurts and pains. They know the defenses we put up. While it may be difficult, having out loved ones hold the metaphorical mirror up can give us direction for when we step in to a professionals office.

Shedding our problematic defenses and unhealthy coping skills is never easy. And yet the benefits always outweigh the difficulty of the work. It won’t be fast, and it will be messy. Things may actually get worse before they get better. Loved ones need to be aware of this, as they can get frustrated and think that you aren’t trying, even though you are actually making huge progresses. I talk to my families about the concept of successive approximations. You don’t go from using criticism and contempt to kindness in one day. And if you have a day where you manage to be kind and tender in all interactions, then the next day may exceptionally bad with the criticisms. It is still progress. You and your loved ones will need to find the patience for mistakes, bad days, and mis-steps. It will be worth it.

Yoga and you

Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space.  It is one of the tests police use to test for drunkenness.  Close your eyes and touch your nose.  Walk a straight line.  Stand on one foot.  It is one of the things we lose when intoxicated.  It is also one of the things we lose when we have trauma.  Studies are starting to show that yoga, along with therapy and medication can help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder heal more quickly.  So what in the heck does yoga do?

Yoga itself is a meditation.  Each position is called an “asana”, or focus.  Meditation changes us on a cellular level.  When used correctly, it helps the body know that it is OK and allows regular body processes, including basics such as digestion, to keep going.  When in a state of stress these process are put off in preference of dealing with the stress and what the body perceives as a threat.  When used for anger it continues the process of stress and anxiety.   When you focus on letting your body experience each pose (as imperfect as it may be), and use your breath to move between poses,  your body is allowed to begin to remove the cortisol and adrenalin that has been coursing through it to manage stress.

Yoga is also a test in accepting failure.  When first starting a yoga practice, no matter how athletic you are, you are going to fail time and time again.  Your balance will be off, you will fall out of poses, you won’t be able to transition smoothly in to poses, and you won’t be able to hold poses.  If you are attending a class you will look at the people around you and think “they can do this, I should be able to as well!”.  When you can let go of that expectation, and be OK with your body and what it is capable of, you have stepped up to the next level.  When you can be OK when you can’t hit the inversion you did yesterday, or hold the pose, or lose your balance, you’ve gone even further.  The final step is implementing this acceptance in the rest of your life.  In life we will fall.  We won’t be able to do today what we did yesterday.  We will struggle and struggle.  Failure builds muscle and helps us find solutions that success wouldn’t have let us see.

Yoga also helps us see successes.  As you continue your yoga practice you will find that all of a sudden you can do the pose that has frustrated you for years.  You will feel more confident in your balance not only psychically, but emotionally as well.  You will find that because you don’t let the little things bother you as much.

Yoga isn’t wonderful for everyone.  If it doesn’t work for you, find the thing that will do these things.  The things that let you be OK with failure, that test your body and mind in different ways and encourage your to fall and fail.  People tell me that they have running or swimming routines, and unfortunately that just doesn’t do it.  It doesn’t test where your body is in time or space, and with both swimming and running you probably already know what you are doing.  There are fewer chances for growth.  If yoga isn’t for you, that isn’t a problem.  But do find the thing that will do the above for you.

Yoga helps teach you where your body is in time and in space, and reminds you that you do have control over you.  It reconnects your mind and your body, often after life situations that make you feel helpless with both.

Riding the crazy train

I’ve discussed that meditation is focus.  I have posted several meditations that give direction and focus helping to teach control, and regulate emotions. The truth is meditation is focus, and any focus we choose can be a meditation. If we are mowing the lawn and focus on feeling the vibrations of the mower, the smell of the grass the feel of the sun on our back, we are meditating. If we take a bite of food and focus on the textures of the food, the smells, the different tastes, we are meditating. What we focus on affects us on a cellular level. When we focus on the above innocuous topics our body knows we are not under attack and releases calming hormones and works to purge stress hormones.

Sometimes, our brain decides it wants to focus on something, whether we want it to or not.   When this happens usually our brain has chosen a focus that is often unpleasant and one of our frustrations.  Our brain jumps on the train of crazy and is going to go for a ride, no matter what we want.   Some of you will have no idea what I am talking about, and some of you will be nodding you heads in silent understanding. Sometimes there is an event that triggers the train to leave the station and go in circles. We think of the event, what we wish had happened, what we wish we had said, what we would have said if we had the chance, and the chagrin of our “enemies” as they understand how wrong they are. This will run in circles around our brain again and again. Sometimes the stars align with the current hormones in our body and for no reason whatever our brain just decides to go for a ride. When our brain does jump on the crazy train our body releases cortisol and adrenaline, along with other stress hormones.

The key is to get off the train. I am very well aware that once the brain has gotten the bit in its teeth that is much easier than it sounds. The train often leaves the station when things are quiet, especially when we are trying to go to sleep. When we are lying in bed trying to settle down and our defenses are down, especially as we start to process our day, the events that trouble us start to run in circles. The last thing we want to do is get up and do something. We don’t want to get up and run the risk of not sleeping. Or we don’t want to interrupt whatever process we are working on in the moment, be it hiking, cross-stitching, chocolateering, or even doing homework.  But we need to interrupt the process.

Sometimes we are required to ride the train.  Sometimes when the horse gets the bit in its teeth you have no choice but to go where the horse takes you until it gets tired. Then the one thing you have is the knowledge that the ride will end. Sometimes though, the best thing to do is to do something, anything else. If you’re laying in bed, get up and go play a game, go for a walk, watch a TV show, anything that gives you a distraction from the crazy. I don’t recommend using food as it is easy to turn to junk or over eat and quickly gain weight. Writing down the thoughts is going to be a personal judgment call. If you write an email to someone it is too easy to click send on something that you will regret the next day. It is also easy to get stuck on the writing and keep the frustration going, instead of getting it down on paper or in data form and moving on. Stay away from your phone and social media, the risk of saying something that you will regret later is too great.

At one point or another every single one of us will board the crazy train. Thoughts of being wronged, the love we can’t have, the hurt we can’t soothe, the food we can’t eat, any of these can invade our thoughts and just run in circles. The first thing to do is know that this is normal and will end. If you can, find a way to distract the thoughts and derail the train. Don’t let yourself do things you will regret, meaning stay away from email, social media, and your phone. The crazy train will stop but emails, texts and posts can’t be undone. Above all, have space for yourself to be a little crazy every once-in-a-while.


There was a movie when I was a kid, made from a book about a little girl named Pollyanna.  In this movie a young Haley Mills is orphaned and moves in with her dour Aunt and Uncle, in a dour little town.  Believing that anything can be over-come with a positive attitude and pragmatism she proceeds to win over the town.  Until the end when she falls out of a tree and is paralyzed from the waist down.  Then the dour little town comes in to remind her that a positive attitude can save all resulting in a happy ending.

I will be the first one to tell you that a poor attitude results in a poor ending.  If you go in to an adventure in your life believing you, or it is going to fail you create a self fulfilling prophesy.  Consciously or sub-consciously you will undermine yourself leading to almost certain failure.  Walking toward life with a belief that you are enough to move through the fires and pains that can be thrown at you give you an edge over those that have a “Half-empty” point of view.  Pollyannaism is more than a glass half full view of life though.  It is a tendency to ignore the problems in life believing that ignoring the problems will make them go away. Those I watch struggle with this often fall in to traps of failure and difficulties that they could have seen coming if they hadn’t been lost in a constant state of Pollyannaism.

Pollyannaism includes ignoring the pit-falls and red flags that life is putting in your way, as well as sweeping the lessons of past difficulties under the rug in an effort to feel safe, ignore feelings of shame or worthlessness, or in an effort to avoid pain.  It is a tendency to paint a pretty picture on life when it isn’t always that pretty. It is standing in the rain telling yourself and everyone else that the sun is shining.

One of the most common places we do this is in relationships.  You are dating someone that you have come to care about.  For the first 6-9 months it was bliss, though with a few red flags.  Maybe the other person had a quick trigger, or put others down, or was mean to animals or people less fortunate to them.  And in the haze of love that clouds judgement for the first several months these behaviors were ignored or dismissed.  Then after the haze starts to wear off, you notice these behaviors occurring more frequently, or even occurring toward you.  This has become someone you are emotionally, and possibly financially invested in.  You are used to having companionship, and know exactly what the dating scene looks like now.  So as your partner starts showing more and more red-flags they are swept under the rug.

In the above example, which I have watched several times, the person often becomes anxious, despondent, or resentful.  Sometimes all three.  The relationship is spiraling the drain but slowly swirls around and around, never getting better and only causing misery, but a pretty little package is wrapped around it to keep it looking pretty on the outside.  Pollyanna.

Calling poop fertilizer doesn’t make it smell any better.  Sometimes life stinks, saying differently doesn’t make it any better, and it doesn’t give you the opportunity to make changes to make it better.  Optimism is being able to see that the sun will shine again.  It is not ignoring the fact that it is raining.  It keeps you from using an umbrella to avoid getting soaked.

Word Shift

Today I had one of my teenage clients ask me “What is a sociopath?”. As I discussed what it is, I asked why she was asking. One of her friends had said to her “I think I’m a sociopath”. We had a discussion of how words are used in ways they aren’t really meant for, people taking small bits of information about something and using it in a way that works for them. Linguists call this word shift. It happens in languages throughout the years. A word means something at one point, and it is used and used and used and eventually shifts to a different meaning. One word that has shifted that drives people crazy is “literally”. “My head will literally explode if you pop your gum one more time.” My head is figuratively exploding at the way you used that word.

There are several words in the mental health word that are used figuratively in ways that can be more damaging than people think. One that shifted about the time that I was a kid was “retarded”. Retard means slow. In music there is a symbol for retard, or to slow down. When one is mentally retarded it means they are mentally slower than average. It has shifted to mean stupid and dumb. Less than. It is now thrown around in the vernacular without thought to what it means to those that actually fall under the true heading, slower than others. Gay initially meant happy. Then it shifted to mean homosexual. Now it has shifted again to mean lame or pathetic.

Many words in mental health have started to shift. Today phobia is anything that someone has anxiety over, not the paralyzing fear that it actually is. Bipolar now means mood swings, not the debilitating shifts in functioning from mania to depression. Antisocial now means wanting alone time instead of someone that doesn’t respect the rights feelings of others, and sociopath is someone that doesn’t feel emotions the same way. Stupid and Idiot used to have clinical implications, idiot feel at an IQ under 30, someone that didn’t have the ability to even take care of their own daily functions including bowel movements.  And yet we throw the word around as though don’t have weight or substance.

We throw these things around, saying them about ourselves and others without really thinking about their meaning.   When was the last time you called yourself an idiot? Have you heard someone say recently “dude, that’s retarded”? Or “Why are you acting so bipolar?”

Words have meaning, saying them to ourselves and to others. Labels have meaning. The vernacular of words has shifted, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have power. There are stigmas attached with the words that we use. Bipolar is a debilitating disorder that comes with significant stigma, and yet we throw the word around like nothing. The people it hits doesn’t feel it as nothing. It means that their feelings and emotions aren’t legitimate, that they are over reacting or that not acting 100% happy 100% of the time isn’t acceptable. It encourages repression of emotions, not management of reactions.

I can’t control the entire society in which these words are shifting, but I can spread an awareness of what the effect is. I can help you learn to stop using this language toward yourself, and let you know that while your conscious may not take it seriously, your subconscious absolutely does take it seriously. So does the subconscious of the person that you may have thrown these words at. I myself am guilty of using the word retarded in a way that it was not intended for. I have called myself stupid and an idiot. As I have moved through life and my experience I have learned to be aware of the words I use and what the real meaning is. I have learned to let go of the language that tears down, even when I think it is meaningless.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue  is when the caregiver is struggling.  When most people think of compassion fatigue (if they have heard of it before) they think of the caregivers for those with terminal or prolonged illness. They don’t think of those that care for family and friends with depression and anxiety. It can manifest in several ways, though the first one to be displayed is often irritability and criticism toward the person to whom they are giving care to. Followed by anger, depression and hopelessness.

The best way I’ve ever heard depression described is it is like wearing a 100lb backpack, with 20lb weights attached to each wrist and ankle. Even brushing teeth is a struggle with you are carrying so much weight, let alone exercise, working, cleaning, and spending time with friends. By the time a person with depression makes it through their day they are exhausted, and rarely have energy even for niceties at home. They often ask for help and prayers from friends when feeling overwhelmed or helpless.

In the beginning being the friend or partner that is sponsoring and supporting someone with depression actually feels empowering. It feels good to provide care and support to someone, to feel as though you actually matter. When the depression keeps going though, it starts to take its toll on both the person with the depression and the caregiver.   When the caregiver hasn’t experienced depression themselves they don’t have a good frame of reference, and often feel frustrated when it appears like their partner isn’t even trying. They offer advice and support, only to have it turned away and the depression continues. The caregiver starts feeling as though their love isn’t enough, that they aren’t enough, creating their own feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Then the irritation starts. Instead of feeling compassionate a supportive the caregiver starts to feel irritable and resentful. It starts to feel as though nothing they do is ever enough and they start to give up hope.

Anxiety is very similar. Instead of feeling weighed down with every movement it feels as each task requires jumping through fire. In every moment there is some anxiety and fear. Sometimes, moving through the anxiety or fear is easy, until hitting a wall. After pushing through their anxiety throughout the day, but at moments a terror hits and makes taking another step forward the scariest thing they have ever done. People who do not suffer from anxiety struggle to understand. The times they have been hit with anxiety they have “dug deep” and just kept going. They don’t quite understand constantly living in a state of fear, and they think that the person with anxiety can do the same thing. There is confusion when the person with anxiety hit walls that the sponsor can’t see, and from the outside it looks like the person with anxiety just isn’t trying.

The anger and resentment builds with the impression that the person with anxiety or depression is just dragging them down. The person that is trying to be sponsoring and supportive starts to be feel contempt and starts making critical statements, which just exacerbates the problem. The person that started out as a sponsor is now one of the problems. They are struggling with compassion fatigue. This is when the works begins for the caregiver.

The first step is to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy and exercising regularly. It is easy to get lost in your partner’s or friends problems and forget basic self-care. The caregiver is then often quick to become resentful, believing that they are giving and giving without getting anything back. Make sure that you are working toward your own goals and doing your own hobbies. Make sure you are doing the things that you usually do to pamper yourself, following your usual exercise and work routine. Make sure you are spending time with your friends. If you aren’t taking care of yourself then there is no one to blame but you.

One of the worst struggles of a partner struggling with depression is the lack of support for you. Make sure you aren’t just bitching to your friends, but some kind of professional support for yourself. There is a good deal of emphasis on finding outside support for the person struggling with depression, we don’t think of outside support for the supporter. This can include support groups found through NAMI or finding your own therapist. These resources can provide education and the knowledge that you aren’t alone in feeling the way you feel. They can help remind you to take care of yourself, and give you tips on how to move through their struggles and remain supportive. As much as your partner and friend need help and validation while they move through their struggles, you need some as well.

In the process of supporting a friend or partner that is struggling with depression it starts to feel like you don’t know where you stop and they begin. You feel guilty when you are happy or enjoying yourself while they are obviously miserable or terrified. You don’t feel as though you are able to tell them where they are pushing you too far, or tell them when you need to take care of yourself. There is a fear that if you do, you will be struck down by the universe for being a bad person. After walking on eggshells for a while you the irritation spikes until blow up on the person you are trying to support. The eggshells aren’t as necessary as you think they are. The person with depression or anxiety doesn’t think you have to lose yourself for them, or that you should never have your needs, wants, wishes or would-likes met. It is your responsibility to figure out what your needs are. It is your responsibility to know what your wants, wishes and would-likes are. It is also your responsibility to ask for them. Nicely. If someone is struggling with depression or anxiety they have enough difficulty taking care of themselves without trying to read your mind. There is no need to snap at them because they didn’t figure out what you needed and give it to you.

Living with depression and anxiety is a struggle. Both for the person struggling and their sponsors and supporters. It is easy to get dragged in to the struggle and start to experience frustration, anger and hopelessness, even depression and anxiety of your own. It is easy to see your partner or friend as not trying and feel resentment. If you take steps to take care of yourself; find your own support, take charge of your own needs, set personal boundaries, and find support of your own you will find a much smoother path for yourself, and even possibly for your partner or friend.


A Can Do Attitude

When running a marathon there is an event called “hitting the wall”. It is a place in the race when you’ve run about 18 of the 26 miles and you’re exhausted. You hurt. You’ve run so far, and yet you still have another 8 miles to go. You start to wonder if you can keep running. While many of you have not run a marathon, you have had a difficult task that took physical or emotional effort to complete. You have had something that you made it ¾ of the way through and you’ve hit the wall I speak of. The place where the physical or emotional strain of the goal made finishing seem huge, and almost impossible. The words “I can’t” went through your mind.

It happens to all of us. Every single person out there has hit this wall, some have bounced off, some have broken through, some went around, and some went home. What is different about the people that bust through or find a way to continue when the going gets rough, and the people that stop or run away?

A willingness to be uncomfortable.

People that go further than the first couple of belts in Martial Arts have a strong understanding of this concept. There comes a point in the process where stuff just hurts. Your knees, your hips, your nose after someone kicked you in the face, something just hurts. There are days when there are bruises on your bruises. Your ego especially is bruised, over and over again. Any physical sport has this. This concept is easy to explain to people in sports, in construction, in any physical hobby or employment. It is easy to understand the concept of pushing through physical discomfort.

You actually know very well how to deal with being uncomfortable. You’ve gone to work when you were sick and pushed through. Being able to push through discomfort comes from knowing you can make it through to the other side and it will get better. You will finish the race. You won’t stay sick forever. You won’t hurt forever, and there will be some kind of reward or relief on the other side. It comes from knowing that even though it hurts right now, it will be better.

It also comes from knowing there is no other choice. In 2010 I did a 60 mile trek to Mt. Everest Base camp. It took 14 days, 9 days there and 5 days back. There would be days where I was tired, hurting, sick, and wanted to stop. My choices were: stop and sit on the side of the mountain; or keep going until I hit the Tea-House we were staying at. Can you guess what I picked? You’ve also had these moments, that didn’t feel as though they were moments. The place where your choice was to power through or to stop, and you think “but I had no choice”. You did. You had a choice to give up and stop, and you didn’t.

When we think of a “can do” attitude we think of chipper and annoying. We don’t think of just moving through an experience that is miserable and horrible, knowing that you can make it through to the other side. A “can do” attitude is hitting the most difficult moment, and thinking “I can do this”. It’s easy to say “I’ve got this” when the experience is easy or moderate. When you’re in the crucible and fire is all around you, “I’ve got this” is more difficult. At the same time, you have successfully moved through every single experience in your life up to date.

I can do this. There are moments in everyone’s life when they are thinking the exact opposite. There will be those that push through the fear through to the other side. It may take a moment or it may take a year. There are those that fear the wall so much that they don’t even start. There will be a moment when you are faced with a choice. Do I give up, or keep going. A can do attitude is knowing that you can do it. No matter how scary, difficult, or hard it is.



The comparison trap

We compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel

We all get stuck in the comparison trap. We either pat ourselves on the back, knowing we are doing slightly better than a person or a group of people, or we start beating ourselves up because we don’t meet the standard we believe someone else has set. Either way we have set up life that we are either better or worse than the person next to us. We have set life up with winners and losers. This is a losing game.

We know clearly what is going on in our own heads. We see our intentions, the thoughts and neurosis behind the outcomes. We then judge all the information we have about ourselves and how we got to our outcomes as good or bad. We then look at what we know about the person next to us and their outcomes. Because we don’t know for sure what their thoughts are, we judge by their outside presentation and make assumptions about their confidence and thought process, then finally deciding how we measure up against them.

We generally assume the best about other people’s motivations and thoughts when we see their outcomes. We see their successes, and from there extrapolate how they got to that point, and assume it is with the grace we want for ourselves. We know our own struggles, and then we decide that we are “lesser” even when we have the same outcome.

We all have our inner demons. They taunt us as we move through life, causing doubt, distraction and insecurity. We generally only share this insecurity with the people closest to us, and sometimes not even them. The people outside of our inner circle see only the successes, not the work and the inner struggle that goes on behind them, just as you see for everyone else.

When we compare our path to someone else’s we are stuck in a trap, stuck in a game in which we cannot win. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. We all slip, fall and stumble on that path, and comparing ourselves to others when we see them reach the top without knowing how they got there is a good way to drive ourselves crazy.

Learning to know what you want

What do I want to have happen?

This question is about outcomes. When I move through this situation, what to I want to have happen for me and those around me? When this situation is finished how do I want to feel? This question is about not only what I want now, but the bigger purpose and bigger goals you want to accomplish.

We often get lost in the immediate goal of feeling better in the moment. That doesn’t always move us toward success in the long term, or feeling better overall. In fact, if we aren’t looking at the bigger picture trying to just feel better in the moment can actually set us back.

Think of a situation you are struggling with right now. In the long term, what do you want to have happen? What do you want the long-term outcome to be, how do you want to feel about yourself, and how do you want to feel about the situation when it is finished? Are your short-term goals moving you toward your long-term goals?

I’ll use a common example of wanting to lose weight and decreased depression.   The long-term actions to meet the goal are to eat healthy foods and exercise on a regular basis. Foods are related to mood, and if we eat mostly junk our bodies will struggle to run, like putting bad gas in your car. Eating healthy will be like putting premium gas in your car with fuel boost. It will give you more energy and more fuel to run on. Exercising will help burn calories and help with weight, as well as release endorphins and improve serotonin and dopamine production to help with mood overall. The long-term goal of losing weight and being healthy sometimes call for sacrifices in the short term. After a long day though, a cheeseburger and a beer can sound really good.

Kids that I worked with who were on probation would often sacrifice long term goals of finishing probation (and sometimes getting out of treatment) for the short term goal of not feeling powerless. Sometimes they either didn’t know what they wanted to have happen overall, or they didn’t believe they could accomplish the bigger goal. They would use aggression, theft, self harming and drugs to try to feel less hopeless, helpless and powerless. These can distract or hide the pain in the short-term, and long-term make more problems.

What do I want to have happen? When I start to believe that it is possible, and I start to identify what the overall goal is, I can start to work toward making it happen.   Identification of our larger wants isn’t always as easy and we make it sound. The short-term wants are often siren calls distracting us. The larger goals often seem too big and too scary, making them elusive. Being able to recognize our strengths instead of just our limitations will help make those larger goals seem less impossible, and make them less elusive.

We aren’t as lost as we feel. We all just want to find peace, happiness and meaning in our lives and relationships. Being able to figure out what that means for you individually and believe that you are worth it means you can start finding the bigger goals and start taking the steps to reaching those goals. Understanding that taking power from others, hurting ourselves or others, and distracting from pain will not move us closer to our goal helps begin to identify what we can do to start the journey to peace happiness and meaning.

I want to feel more connected to my partner. I want to feel loved. I want to feel useful. I want to feel at peace. I want to feel happy.  I want to enjoy the work I do.  These wants are often masked by surface wants.  I want my husband to do the dishes. I want my boss to stop being a jerk.  I want

Recovering from betrayal

Each of us has been betrayed. We have all trusted someone or something or some company and that trust has been misplaced. We learn quickly that some betrayals are bigger than others, and some betrayals are harder to recover from. Learning to recover from betrayal requires learning to trust again. Sometimes that learning to trust just takes time to put distance between you and the betrayal. We see this in regular break-ups, when we are left reeling but within a year or two life moves on again, we trust ourselves and start to branch out and trust others again. Sometimes learning to trust takes a bit more work.

As said above, betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. What happens when these betrayals are bigger, and it takes more than 6 months of pizza, beer and Hagen Daaz? How do we learn to trust that the world can be safe, that there is good in the world?

Believe it or not, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising is key to recovering from any kind of life difficulty.  Our body is our temple, and if we aren’t treating our body with respect our mind will have difficulty working toward recovery.

We need to find someone we can be safe with or even someplace anonymous, and tell our story. There is power in telling our story when we are heard without judgment. This can be a counselor, a friend, a parent or even just a letter than gets thrown away. It is important to use very careful judgment about with whom you disclose to. Sometimes parents and friends can be the most judgmental, and sometimes they are even more invested than you may have been in keeping the betrayal secret. They can be harsh and cruel in if this is the case. Words like “liar” can be just as traumatizing as the initial betrayal. Counselors are often a safe place to disclose because they have no emotional attachment to the betrayal or the betrayer, or even to you.

We have to learn to trust ourselves.   The first instinct when we have been betrayed is to believe that we are at fault for the betrayal, that we should have known. This is tricky, because even if we did know, there are times that knowing would have been dangerous or we would have lost more than we gained by seeing the betrayal, so being able to forgive yourself for not seeing or not doing anything about the betrayal is important. We have to begin to pay attention to when we have made good judgments about people and situations (usually this is more often than not) and start to trust in our own ability to judge something or someone.

In addition to trusting yourself learning to care for your own heart is crucial. Other may people have taken your heart and played badminton with it. You may have had people that expected you to manage the pain in their hearts. The truth is the only person that can manage the pain in your heart is you. Learning to look at the hurt you feel without judgment and give it the care and comfort that you wish you could get from others will be a big step. Knowing that you can recover your own heart when it is broke makes it easier to trust others.

Start to learn your own trigger levels. Begin to understand where you are at in general, and work to bring your level down to a consistent green. It is more difficult to trust others when you are consistently activated, as we are always ready to be attacked. The levels of distress are:

Subjective Levels of Distress (Melissa Bradley-Ball, MS)

Green: 0-3

Neutral or low activation

At this point you feel calm, centered and grounded with diaphragmatic breathing. Even if slightly annoyed or anxious things are good.

Yellow: 4-6


You’re “on alert”. Either through anxiety or frustration your more focused on what’s going on around you and your breathing has gotten shallower.

Red: 6-10

High Intensity

You’re running on adrenalin. You’re in fight, flight, freeze or fold and your breath is shallow and fast. You have scattered or impaired concentration and are more prone to paranoia.


When you are yellow or red you are less likely to trust because you are more alert for threats around you. This means you may start to see threats that don’t exist, start to feel betrayals that didn’t happen, and stop trusting your own judgment. Knowing when you are triggered is the first step to being able to soothe. If you can’t even recognize when triggered you aren’t able to put your coping skills in to practice to begin with.  When we don’t know we are triggered we often try to get other people to soothe us instead of doing it for ourselves, and become hurt, feel betrayed, and ultimately feel more miserable when they ultimately can’t.

The final step is to trust someone else again. There is a level of vulnerability in trusting someone. It leaves us open to being hurt.  Fides tamen quin – Trust but Verify.   Begin to see what characteristics generally mean people are safe, and take time to get to know them. Allow yourself to move slowly in to relationships and friendships to allow yourself to know that while no one is perfect, there are safe people out there. They won’t always be able to keep from stepping on our emotional (and sometimes physical, believe me) toes.

When we are betrayed as young children or teens, repeatedly betrayed, and betrayed by our supposed rescuers this has a strong effect on how we build trust. It can also affect how we process and understand other people’s actions, at times causing us to feel as though we have been betrayed when there has been no betrayal. Examples of this are:

  • Parents setting limits
  • Friends setting limits
  • Friends not liking pictures / posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Parents / friends / partners giving painful feedback
  • Partners saying hi to friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners spending time with co-workers / friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners / friends having their own hobbies that exclude you
  • Partners / friends not being interested or invested in an event in your life
  • Partners / friends not understanding triggers
  • Therapists giving painful feedback / setting limits
  • Situations in which you have to set limits with parents, friends or partners (If they loved you they should just know what your limits / triggers are, right?)

These situations often feel just like the betrayals of the past, and we often react to them in a similar fashion. This often confuses our parents, partner or friends and creates cracks in relationships. There are often fights in which both you and the other party go back and forth, probably neither knowing what the true problem is.

To be clear, these are not betrayals. They feel invalidating and attack the parts of us that hold our deepest fears. This often includes fears of worthlessness, being un-loveable, having done something wrong, and not being enough.

Being able to understand the difference between a true betrayal and what feels strongly of betrayal is an integral part of developing trust and intimacy.

Being able to tell the difference between traumatic betrayal, self-care betrayal, and non betrayal will increase your own self esteem, you own feelings of worth, and your ability to open yourself to vulnerability in healthy relationships.

Self-care betrayal is when our parents, friends and partners ignore our needs to take care of their own. This is not selfishness, this is self-care. At times this is going to make us feel abandoned, hurt, invalidated and unloved. We have to learn to do this ourselves. Not make our partners feel hurt, abandoned, invalidated and unloved of course, but to be able to see ourselves as valuable enough to put other’s needs, wants wishes and would-likes to the side to take care of our own.

Trust is an integral part to building intimacy. We have to be able to not only be able to keep someone else’s heart safe when they let us in, we have to let people in to our hearts. This means finding people that are safe to be let in, knowing how to manage our own stress and distress levels by understanding your triggers, and most importantly trusting your own judgment. Recovering from betrayal trauma is a series of steps, some of which are life long. The results are worth it.