How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Have Illegal Compulsions

“I’ve been arrested for exposing myself in public… more than once… and I struggle regularly with my compulsion to do it again.”

 

Humans have compulsions to engage in all kinds of behavior.  Some people compulsively eat snacks when watching TV, other people have compulsions to smoke a cigarette every hour, and some others have compulsions to expose themselves to non-consenting strangers.  There is a wide range of social, cultural, ethical, and legal acceptability among human compulsions.  Addictions are a type of compulsion.  I would argue that every one of us has one or more addictions and / or compulsions.  Even people who are substance-free and live lives above-board legally may need to decompress in front of the computer or television as a matter of habit… and compulsion.  It’s just what they feel they need to do, and they do it without really thinking about it.  

If you look deeply, you might realize you have a compulsion to overeat, to surf the internet, to spend money, or to gamble.  Maybe you have been aware of your own compulsion for some time, because you try to keep it a secret or risk potential ridicule or judgment from your romantic partner or family.  Cross-dressing, hoarding, self-injury, and consuming pornography can be such compulsions.  Some compulsions are shared by much of the US population, some are shared by few… some can cause you to lose romantic partners, others can cause you to lose your last penny- and still others can cause you to seriously harm others, become imprisoned, and prevent you from ever finding secure employment. 

Peeking Out

There is healing on the other side

Some compulsions are not especially distressing to the person who has them.  Others cause the person distress, as they do not fit into the person’s view of his or her ideal self.  These compulsions are called ego dystonic.  It’s a matter of perspective: one person’s “distressing compulsion” could be another’s “harmless habit.”  You already know you have a compulsion if it’s an illegal one, because you’ve had to make the choice of whether to pursue it and face serious consequences… or not.  Most people with illegal compulsions also find them ego dystonic.  The illegal compulsions I’m aware of include paraphilias– abnormal sexual desires- that involve partners unwilling or unable to give consent, such as strangers rubbed up against in frotteurism, or minors exploited in pedophilia.  Other illegal compulsions would be to murder people (as in: serial murderers,) addiction to scheduled substances (such as heroin or prescription medications for which you do not have a prescription,) and kleptomania (in which items are taken from non-consenting individuals or stores.)

The most negative consequences of any compulsion only comes to those who act on their compulsions- and not all people do.  In researching for this article, I read a piece written by a celibate pedophile called, “I’m a Pedophile But Not a Monster.”  The author bravely and vulnerably shares what it is like to have a compulsion that goes against his own wishes for himself, and causes him to be reviled by complete strangers… even though he has chosen to never act on his pedophilic compulsion.  Those of us who are not afflicted with illegal or self-harming compulsions often don’t and choose not to understand them nor to have compassion for those who suffer with them.  The important thing to realize is that most people who have such compulsions would rather not have them.  As a society, we push away the things we don’t want to understand… which only makes those situations worse.  The societal and individual habit-energy is the same: push away what makes us uncomfortable.  Push it into the recesses of consciousness and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Every time, those dark places decay into a major problem.  We need to shine a light on all sides of ourselves as individuals and as a society in order to understand and heal.  

If you have illegal compulsions, you can take care of yourself.  As of now, the wider culture will not support you in this and seems almost complicit in your committing a crime by ignoring you until you have committed that crime.  This is not an excuse to not care for yourself.  Some of us have a harder road than most to realizing self-care, and those of us who are likely to have experienced trauma as a child (as have most people in the “illegal compulsion” category) and who are criminalized by the wider society (all people with illegal compulsions) and who are misunderstood and villainized by most people (again: most people with illegal compulsions) have the hardest time of all.  Here are some concrete steps any of us can take- and those of us with illegal compulsions most need to take- towards self-care:

 

Take a Look

Very few of us turn our awareness onto our behaviors to look deeply and understand what compels us to do what we do, and to take responsibility for our choices.  And fewer, beyond that, make the choice to not escape uncomfortable feelings through compulsive behavior- to instead sit with discomfort and befriend our challenging thoughts and feelings and transform them into insight and compassion.  I refer to these types of skills as those of the psychological superstar.  The opposite of a psychological superstar is moving through life as if asleep, not really aware of what motivates you or even what you are actually doing.  Most of us, of course, are in the middle somewhere.  When you have illegal compulsions and are blind to your motivations and actions, you find yourself, at best, at risk of legal repercussions.  At worst, you hurt yourself, hurt others, and can lose everything dear to you.   

The first step to becoming a psychological superstar is to realize where you aren’t expressing the superstar-potential that lies inside you.  This is where recognizing your own addictions and compulsions comes in.  Recognizing is the first step to healing.  All of the illegal compulsions involve the violation of others’ rights or the consumption of substances that are known to cause physical damage to the user- barring a few substances that are scheduled due to political reasons rather than science.  If you look closely and see that you are compelled to hurt yourself or others, chances are that this is an ego-dsytonic fact- and yet, your baseline feelings are worse, because this compulsion is a kind of self-soothing action you have learned to turn towards when you are suffering.  The truth is that every compulsion- illegal or not- causes temporary relief, but does nothing to address the underlying pain that brought the behavior about in the first place.  Add the potential shame for having engaged in the compulsion, and you have a greater mass of pain in your consciousness to compel you into the behavior again.  

If you have identified your own illegally compulsive cycle, it’s time to take action to free yourself.  You are the best person to do this job; as I mentioned before, our wider culture has not prioritized helping you to get free; our wider culture only acts as a judge and executioner.  You need to be your own friend, your own counselor, so that you never see that real-life judge nor executioner.  You can identify places where you can make new choices and you can get yourself to the resources that will preserve your health, integrity, and future.  Reading this article is just the first step.

 

Own Your Isolation

All people with illegal compulsions feel isolated.  Social isolation and the anxiety it feeds worsens the compulsion, and having the socially-unacceptable compulsion pushes you further into isolation.  This cycle can be broken.  Underlying thoughts that fuel the cycle are along the lines of, “Why would the healthy/normal/beautiful people want anything to do with sick/weird/disgusting me?”  Anger at being isolated can fuel the acting-out of the compulsion… but we’ve already determined that acting out the compulsion is only going to get you into trouble and increase your self-hatred, feeding a self-destructive cycle.  You don’t need to self-destruct.  Just because you had a disturbed childhood or otherwise inexplicably violent / intrusive thoughts and feel worthless, which has led to behavior that puts you in an isolated place- which would make anyone resentful and angry- leading to further isolation… does not mean all hope is lost!  Isolation, like any emotion or experience, is impermanent.  

You need to see, name, and own your isolation.  See how it comes from the outside, but also from the inside?  Do you see how your choices reinforce it?  The choice to not make eye contact when walking down the street?  The choice to over-share inappropriate information with strangers?  The choice to not make friends, but instead go straight home after work and not reach out to anyone?  These are examples of ways that people who feel shame and isolation push others away with small but significant actions.  Your life happens to you, to a degree.  Beyond that degree- the cards you have been dealt- you have the freedom to make a choice in every moment about how to live your life.  

Every.  Single.  Moment. Is a chance to think and act in ways that are likely to bring greater health, happiness, and freedom into your life.  It is courageous to own your isolation and decide to make different choices moving forward.  The next two sections, Seek Care and Seek Community, describe ways to change your relationship to the world around you.        

 

Seek Care

Much compulsive behavior is cyclical.  There are uncomfortable feelings, followed by a ritualistic planning and then engaging in the compulsive behavior.  The compulsive activity leads to temporary numbing or mild relief, yet the relief is never as good as had been hoped when fantasizing about engaging in the compulsion.  Then, there are negative consequences in both the external world and the mind and heart of the person with the compulsion.  The frustration, shame, and overwhelm from these consequences feed into a repetition of the cycle.  Breaking this cycle is not easy, and having help from a mental-health professional who understands this process is a good idea.    

Addictive Cycle

While all licensed therapists have studied this cycle to some degree, there are many clinicians who specialize in addiction or even specific addictions, such as gambling or sex addiction.  Sex addiction- specialists are likely to be most prepared to treat people experiencing paraphilic compulsions.  Very few therapists would consider themselves prepared to work with a free (not in prison) murderer… and very few (if any?) serial murderers seek treatment.  The limits of confidentiality, at least in California, state that a therapist must protect his or her client’s confidentiality.  Even client reports of past murders are not reportable by the therapist.  However, a client’s statement of developing plans to harm someone in the future must be reported, to protect the potential victim and also the client.  A client who has homicidal urges- regardless of an acting-out past- who wants to heal and does not want to harm others may have to take the risk of seeing a therapist and honestly reporting homicidal urges, understanding that the clinician will use her or his best judgement to keep the client and a potential victim out of harm by involving law enforcement or a psychiatric hospital.  In the end, is it better to have legal attention or psychiatric hospitalization before a crime is committed, or after?  Most of us would agree that legal and medical intervention without having committed a crime is best. 

Whether your own compulsion is legal or not, there is help.  I am aware of resources in public mental health systems (meaning: for those with the lowest income) for substance-abuse recovery and basic group therapy, but there is not always the option for individual therapy.  This means that, if you have a paraphilia that is illegal or if you have homicidal urges, you may have a difficult time finding treatment.  If entering a public health system is your only option for treatment due to low income, a good way to frame your needs during the intake process would be, “I believe my particular symptoms would not be well received in group treatment.”  At the same time, you need to have symptoms of a specific mental illness in order to receive any treatment at all.  Chances are, you probably do have symptoms of at least depression or anxiety- so you need to express those symptoms in order to be approved for treatment, while not disclosing your specific unwanted thoughts if you do not feel comfortable disclosing them.  If you feel pushed by the intake clinician to specify the content of your thoughts, you always have the right to decline.  Speaking from experience, knowing that a client has “unwanted / intrusive thoughts” is just as good as knowing that a client “has thoughts about exposing herself in public” when it comes to the data needed for diagnosis.  Only share what you feel comfortable sharing.  Once you are working with a therapist whom you trust, you can dig deeper into your story.         

 

Seek Community, While Also Protecting Your Privacy

There is nothing quite as healing as communicating with people who share your experience.  An otherwise isolating experience can turn into a community-building experience when you look for others who know your struggle.  The more rare or socially unacceptable your situation, the harder it will be to find community.  It’s still worth trying.  The author of the previously-mentioned article writes about finding a community of pedophiles online, and finding some who shared his perspective that it is best to not act on the pedophilic compulsion.  He also made the choice to be open about his real identity, which led to him being harassed and now publicly known as a pedophile.  For the purposes of self-care, I would suggest cautiously seeking community, while being smart about what information you share online.  

For less complicated compulsions, such as substance or behavioral addiction, there are 12-step programs available- in-person in larger cities, and also by telephone and internet.  A lot of people have hang-ups about 12-step programs on account of the spiritual component.  All I can really say to that is that recovery requires humility, and letting go of what you think is the answer.  If you attend a meeting and see people who have recovery that you want to have, why not look a little deeper?  If you attend a meeting and don’t see people with the recovery you want, I suggest attending more meetings.  It’s true that 12-step meetings are not for everyone- but then, recovery is also not for everyone.  Many people are on a path to die because of their addictive and compulsive behaviors.  If you find humility and surrender to guidance from outside of your own head impossible… the prognosis is not good.  Are you more afraid of accepting that you don’t have the answers, or of living another day doggedly pursuing relief from a substance or action that will never deliver the relief you seek?

Finding others who know your struggle and sharing resources and mutual support on the path of recovery has saved many a life.  

 

Develop a New Ritual

Between the stages of emotional pain and acting out in the compulsive / addictive cycle is the preoccupation with the substance or behavior, which can be described as a kind of ritual.  The heroin addict thinks about how great it will be to get high, locates the heroin and the implements needed to use it.  This could be a 10-minute or multi-hour ritual.  The exhibitionist fantasizes about the reaction of the victims to his self-exposure, about how great the orgasm will be when he sees their expressions.  He then finds the right place to do the exposing and masturbating, and waits to find the right victim.  This could be a 1-hour or a multi-day ritual before acting out.

As mentioned earlier, every moment offers us the chance to make positive choices- and there are many moments in these sequences at which a different choice can be made.  The earlier a different choice is made, the better.  If fantasies are entertained for any significant time, the enchantment of the substance or behavior will win.  Therefore, it is important to create a new, soothing ritual to begin at the first sign of heading down the old ritual’s road.  The support of a recovery community and / or therapist is very helpful in this.  The first thought of, “I just want to get high” is the red flag waving, saying, “it’s time to pay attention to what’s happening here” and initiate, instead, a crime- and self-harm-free ritual.  Best of all would be a self-care ritual!  

Maybe you don’t have a self-care regimen at all.  This is the time to identify 2 or 3 actions you can take for yourself that you find soothing.  They can be anything from getting outside for a walk, to listening to spiritual music, to meditation, to speaking with your therapist or 12-step sponsor.  All you need is something you can do in response to the earliest signs of fantasy, in order to short-circuit the pattern you have had over the years or months, and create a new pattern.  Instead of the first moments of fantasy leading to preparation and acting out, now the first moments of fantasy can lead to making positive choices for your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  

Self-care is within reach for anyone- every moment is an opportunity for the situation to make a turn for the better.  What are you going to do to help it along?  

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Creating Community

Looking Deeply

Personal Responsibility

Seeking Care

Recovery

Share Your Experience

If you have experienced healing around compulsive behavior, please share about it in the “comments” section.  The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… A Relative Has Estranged You

“My grandfather doesn’t approve of my marriage, and has cut me out of his life.  I can’t be someone I’m not… but I also feel incomplete without my grandfather in my life.”

 

Estrangement is a very painful- and often hidden- part of many families.  Sometimes, the estranger (the one deciding to end communication with another) is explicit in his or her intentions: “I don’t want to see or hear from you again.”  Other times, the estranger simply never responds to efforts at communicating from the estranged (the one being estranged) and doesn’t reach out to the estranged.  My assumption in writing this article is that if you are identifying as an estranged person, you have tried to communicate with the estranger, and they have either not responded to your several attempts via different avenues (telephone, email, letter, stopping by) or they have explicitly said they do not wish to be in communication with you.  At this juncture, it is safe to say that you have made all the reasonable effort you can make, and that a return to communication will have to happen through future efforts of the estranger.  

When you become estranged, rejection, loss, grief, shame, unworthiness, and a host of other debilitating feelings may come to the fore.  To be estranged- especially by a relative- is one of the most triggering of the human experiences.  A family is oftentimes a symbol of security, love, and acceptance- and yet, here, you are experiencing instability, indifference, and rejection.  The most important thing for you to know is that the estrangement is often not about who you actually are.  In fact, estrangement is most often indicative of the social and emotional intelligence of the estranger.  Many people- when they have a disagreement with someone- are able to initiate a dialogue about the conflict and come to a place of healing and relationship preservation.  Not so, with the estranger.  Barring a hard “no-contact” boundary on account of abusive history perpetrated by the estranged, the estranger is often incapable of maintaining healthy relationships with people whom they find challenging- and sees no reason to develop this capacity.     

Some people deeply value family and family connections, and others don’t.  This can be one way that estrangement happens: if a relative does something you don’t like and you don’t value family, it might be easy to decide you never want to see that person- or his or her children- again.  On the other hand, some people deeply value family and family connections- so much so, that they have developed an enmeshed experience in their families, where identities blur and the choice of a relative is seen to reflect either poorly or positively on oneself.  In this case, it may be very painful to estrange a relative who has made a choice you wouldn’t make for yourself- and yet you might value your “pride” or “honor” over keeping the relationship intact.  

I put the words “pride” and “honor” in quotations because they are smokescreens hiding something not so positive in the shadow aspects of the estranger’s consciousness.  Much estrangement comes from the estranger judging something about the estranged and “disowning,” or cutting that person out of the estranger’s life- and sometimes, out of a whole nuclear family or branch of the extended family.  The example quoted at the beginning of this article is an example of such a case.  When the estranger is judging the estranged, it is very often coming from self-hatred, via the psychological process of projection.  The estranger sees something in the estranged that the estranger has been rejecting in him or herself, pushing consciousness of these traits or tendencies down so as not to think about them- though they often do manifest, anyway- simply in ways the estranger is not willing to see or address.  A dramatic example of this is the phenomenon of right-wing, openly homophobic politicians who are found to be soliciting gay sex in public bathrooms.  These politicians are projecting their fear and hatred of their own homosexuality onto others, actively oppressing an entire group of people.  At the same time, they are engaging in the action they say and believe that they hate- albeit surreptitiously and anonymously (until they are arrested, publicly shamed, and their political careers are ruined!)  While projection doesn’t often have such a dramatic consequence, the consequence of families being broken apart on account of someone’s unchecked projection is a major disturbance in the fabric of the family and in the emotional well-being of all family members involved.     

If you have been estranged by a relative or a branch of the family, the pain is real.  You may not be able to reunite your family, but there are several things you can do to take care of yourself.

           

Cultivate Your Compassion

The very first thing we need to do when we’re in pain is to acknowledge the pain and to be gentle with ourselves.  If someone asks about the relative who has estranged you, it’s okay to say you haven’t heard from that person and that it’s something you’d rather not discuss.  Take time to journal if that helps you.  This is also a great time to seek the company of friends and other relatives who will be able to support you as you navigate the waters of estrangement.  The care of a psychotherapist is a powerful tool on which to call, especially at a time like this.  In your work with a therapist you may be able to uncover your personal emotional and cognitive symptoms resulting from the estrangement and develop coping strategies for them.  You may also be able to address the healing possibilities described in the next two sections, Heal Your Relationship, and Fill Your Life With Loving People.     

Further, when we consider the deep suffering that the person who has estranged us must be experiencing, it is a little bit less painful to be estranged.  When we see that this rift is on account of someone else’s suffering and that it is out of our hands, we are able to let it go.  Take some time to consider the magnitude of confusion and pain that the estranged must endure every day to be able to cut a part of themselves off- like cutting off a hand, or a leg.  When you envision this suffering, you may begin to realize that your own suffering is not even the half of it.       

 

Heal Your Relationship

While the estranger has made it clear that they no longer wish for a relationship with you, you still have the capacity to heal your relationship- or the representation of that relationship- within yourself.  Two ways I suggest doing this are through prayer and forgiveness meditation.  Prayer means different things to different people, but in this case, it would involve sending up prayers for the estranger to find peace and healing.

Forgiveness meditation is a process where you allow your heart to rest on the ways you have hurt yourself and others, and the way others have hurt you- all out of confusion and pain- and to cultivate forgiveness towards yourself and others.  When you are able to see the pain and confusion out of which you and others have acted, you are more able to actually feel forgiveness.  People who are suffering cause others to suffer.  This meditation cuts through the illusion that the estranger is acting from a place of strength, pushing you down and hurting you.  Remember that to forgive does not mean to forget.  While forgiveness may allow you to not carry hatred any longer in your heart, you are still able to use discernment about whom you welcome into your life.  I have heard it said that forgiveness is “the abandonment of the desire for the other to suffer.”  Here is a text version of a forgiveness meditation, as well as a 10-minute video meditation, both by Jack Kornfield.      

 

Fill Your Life With Loving People

 

sparkler

The World is Filled With People Who Want To Be Near Your Light

The beauty of our highly populated and internet-connected world is that there are so many people to befriend.  What may seem like a loss of the estranger is actually an invitation to broaden your “family” to include new people.  Your tribe can be an international powerhouse of loving, supportive people- if you want it to be!  Unlike the distant days of small villages and only ever knowing the same 200 people your entire life, you can now build a family of choice.  Whether in your city or town, or with people you have met while traveling the globe- in person or virtually- you can find community.  Don’t let the grief of familial rejection hold you back from finding your tribe.  And don’t let that grief cause you to shutter your light.  Let your light shine, and find others who are sending out the same signal.  There is a community for everyone, and community is- from my personal and clinical perspective- the most important factor for mental health.  There is a tiny fraction of the human population that genuinely does not feel benefit from being in community- if you know you can benefit from building your social circle, reach out and find your people.

Even deeper than the general concept of community, we also all need people in our lives who fill certain roles.  There are numerous archetypes- or characters with specific traits and behaviors- that cross cultures and are found in all of our psyches, according to Carl Jung.  Examples could be the mother, the brother, the priest, the hermit, the father, the crone, the fool, the teacher, the judge, etc.  When we are able to embrace the elements of these archetypes within our own psyches, we are most whole.  It is also helpful and stimulating of growth to have people in our lives who play some of these roles for us.  In an intact family, you would have an actual mother who is nurturing and compassionate and patient and an actual father who is supportive and loving and encouraging.  However- whether through estrangement or not- some parents aren’t actually like this.  In that case, you can become friends with older women or men who treat you in these respectfully maternal or paternal ways.  I want to be clear that this is very different than the often-criticized “daddy issues” or “mommy issues” that some people have: a need to be taken care of by an older man or woman (often in a romantic relationship) on account of being rejected by one’s actual mother or father, or an angsty need to rebel against an older man or woman (such as a boss at work, landlord, or professor) on account of some unresolved anger towards one’s actual mother or father.  

Your tribe can be comprised of not only age-peers who have your same interests, but multi-generational kindred spirits who are role models and mentors for you, and for whom you are a role model and a mentor.  You don’t have to have any actual sisters or brothers to love people as if they are your own siblings.  Let this estrangement be an invitation for you to turn around and embrace others.  

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Creating Community

Journaling

Compassion

Acceptance

Forgiveness

Prayer

Share Your Experience
If you have experience healing from estrangement, please share it in the “comments” section.  The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Feel Disappointed by Someone

“One of my close friends didn’t come to my wedding, even though I gave her months of advance notice.  I know she can afford the trip, and I even made a point of letting her know how important it was to me.  ‘Disappointed’ is an understatement for how I’m feeling about this!”

 

Disappointment is a fact of life, and unmet expectations of other people are one of the greatest sources of it.  If you look again at the sentence you just read, you may notice the phrases, “fact of life,” and “unmet expectations.”  These two terms hint at keys to unlock the prison door of disappointment- which is a prison of our own making.  Disappointment is like all of our negative emotional states- we have the power to change it.  If we don’t manage our disappointment, it will soon become resentment, and resentment is toxic.  When we learn to distance ourselves from our expectations of others and to deconstruct those expectations, we can often get some freedom.  When we allow the disappointment of this one person’s action (or inaction) to rest on a level with all the other myriad disappointments we experience in life, we distance ourselves from the behavior we perceive as being disappointing.  This also leads to freedom.  The through-line here is recognizing that there are different ways of looking at the situation you are currently reading as “disappointing.”  Let’s look more closely at how we can care for ourselves when disappointment arrives on the scene.          

    

Sit With It

The best thing to do when a strong, negative emotion is rearing its head is to take some time by yourself to sit with it- to welcome it, listen to it, see what it has to teach.  Rumi said it best, in the poem “The Guest House.”

Your initial urge will probably be very different than this suggestion.  You may be inclined to numb out with some distraction (social media, television, daydreaming) or substance (alcohol, prescription pain meds.)  On the other end of the spectrum, you may be inclined to embody the emotion and to let it loose on other people.  If you’ve ever stuck your digital foot in your mouth by firing off an inappropriately angry email, you know why this is a bad idea.  I’ve heard it said, “Don’t just do something!  Sit there!!”  This is funny, and true.

Pug Puppy

This guy is working it out.

However, sitting with difficult emotions is not easy.  This is one benefit of psychotherapy- you get the practice of sitting in the room with an empathetic person as you express challenging emotions and learn, through repeated practice, to listen to and learn from these emotions.  This helps you to later go through the process on your own.  Some people learn this skill as they mature through adolescence, and some people enter adulthood still needing help with this.  The good news is that many of us have access to therapy to work this out.

When you do sit with the disappointment, you may feel terrible.  This is a good time to take out a journal and write down your thoughts.  You might write, “my friend doesn’t really value me or our friendship, since she didn’t prioritize my wedding.”  Write down your fears, too.  They could be, “She and I are growing apart, I’m becoming less desirable as a friend, my husband will think I don’t have strong friendships, maybe I don’t have strong friendships, maybe I’m unloveable, maybe my new husband will realize this and leave me.”  It’s really important to let all the pain and fear leave your psyche, to be seen on the page.  I can guarantee that, if you dig deep, you are going to find some ridiculous and embarrassing thoughts.  This is the human condition: we are a bunch of infants running around in adult bodies.  The more you listen to the infant and take care of the infant, the less likely you are to act like the infant in front of people.  

If this kind of vulnerability is new and uncomfortable to you, do this writing part next to a shredder or a burning wood stove, so you can destroy the document as soon as you are done writing and using it.  But before destroying that evidence, sit with the child-like thoughts and fears you may have uncovered, and send well-wishes to that child.  Cultivate some compassion for the child.  I have learned that placing my hand over my heart cues a sense of both nurturing and being nurtured.  Try sitting like that for a few minutes.

 

Reframe the Disappointment

Once you have honored your own emotions and underlying thoughts and fears, it’s easier to widen your perspective.  This is the time when you can deconstruct your expectations of the person and your stories about the disappointment.  

Here are some mantras that I find helpful when I’m feeling disappointed by someone.  The first one is:

This is not about me.

Because, truly, whatever the other person is going through or whatever his or her shortcomings, the disconnect between your expectations and the other person’s choices are almost never about you.  Untangling your disappointment from the ego leads to some freedom.  Second:

This is the nature of reality: dissatisfactory.

I’ve heard it called the “inherent dissatisfactoriness of life”- many spiritual teachers talk about how dissatisfaction with the material world is just the price we pay to be in the flesh, dealing with imperfect bodies, imperfect minds, entropy, and all the other things that pose challenges.  Hence, the drive to seek meaning in spiritual practice.  Whether you believe this or not, there is no denying that the person’s behavior in question is not the only thing you were disappointed about- maybe even that day!  Recognizing this may help to accept this disappointment as just another drop in the “I don’t like it” bucket.  Third:

This is an opportunity for me to take care of myself.

What did the person fail to do, or fail to do for you?  Can you do it for yourself?  If so, do it!!  Don’t let your disappointment keep you from enjoying what you thought would be coming from the other person.  Do it for yourself, and enjoy it.

 

Acceptance

You’ve considered some new ways to look at the disappointment.  Now let’s dig deeper, to your expectation that set up the disappointment.  First, was your expectation a reasonable one?  Once you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you may find that your expectation simply wasn’t reasonable.  Maybe it was something that you would do- but was it something that the other party could reasonably be expected to want and be able to do?  For example, if you were disappointed that your friend with three jobs and two kids did not give you 24 hours advance-notice of a lunch invitation… maybe your expectation- while reasonable in most circumstances- is not reasonable here?  Expecting your partner to remember your favorite beverage when he’s at the grocery store is pretty reasonable.  Expecting your mother- who has never been expressive of her feelings- to tell you she is proud when you land a new business deal isn’t- unfortunately for you- reasonable.  

When looking at the reality of the situation, we can see the places where we haven’t been reasonable- the places where we need to accept reality- and also the places where we can ask more of our loved ones.  Maybe you have heard the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  

There is much, much freedom to be had in this sentiment.  When we can see the parts that we simply cannot change (a friend / relative / coworker who is not interested in being reliable, for example,) we can let those expectations go.  Sure, we also then adjust down our vulnerability to that person- but without any hard feelings.  This approach- acceptance- is against a lot of people’s natures.  Humans are problem-solvers, and sometimes the problem is another person!  If we could just decide how everyone else would act, the world would be great- right??  This is the dream of every dictator.  When you find yourself wishing someone were more this way and less that way, remember Stalin and instead radically accept the person for who they are.  You don’t need control of other people- managing yourself is hard enough!  

On the other hand, when we see the parts that we can have a hand in changing (a partner / coworker / friend who simply doesn’t know the best way to relate to us,) we can speak up and help change the situation.  This is where setting some boundaries- described in the next section- comes in.     

 

Set Boundaries

Now that you are much clearer in your thinking about the disappointment, and have gotten a deeper understanding of what pieces were your perception and what pieces were truly unacceptable behavior, it’s time to communicate skillfully.  It’s important to remember the things you appreciate about your coworker or loved one before you broach this conversation.  Look deeply to see the paradoxically good qualities tied to the disappointing behavior.  For example, if your college-aged daughter skipped her Sunday phone call home and didn’t answer her phone when you called, only to call the next day and say she had been backpacking that weekend, you might be disappointed that she didn’t tell you ahead of time so you could make other plans and not worry.  If you look deeply, you may also see your appreciation for her spontaneous and adventurous nature.

Next, look for times that you have made the same mistake as what you are finding disappointing right now.  There is almost always an example… for example, didn’t you miss the Sunday call by an hour last month, because your phone battery died and you weren’t somewhere you could re-charge?  Look deep for this- taking responsibility for your own regrettable actions allows you to have empathy for the other person, allows you to see how easy it is to do what they did.  When you share your regret with the other person, you also clear the air and you model taking responsibility for your mistakes.  To set your boundary, find a good time to talk with your loved one or coworker.  Share your appreciation, share your regrets for times you’ve made similar mistakes in your relationship, and then set your boundary.  For example:

“Lisa, as your mother, I so appreciate your spontaneous and adventurous nature.  I love that you are taking time to build friendships and enjoy the mountains even when you have such a demanding course load.  I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry I didn’t plan accurately last month and I wasn’t able to call you for our weekly phone call.  I know you set aside that time and I’m sorry you had to wait.  This last weekend, I was pretty worried when I didn’t hear from you on Sunday- and even more worried when I tried calling you.  I do my best to not catastrophize, but that kind of stuff keeps me awake at night.  In the future, I’d like for us to both make a better effort to keep our phone call- and to always let the other person know if we won’t be available.”  

Or, on the topic of the missed wedding:

“Sadia, I appreciate that you are such a go-getter- you’re always doing creative things, and going to new places!  I was recently thinking about the time you planned a group vacation in Mexico and I was the only one from our group of friends who didn’t make it- I’m sorry I didn’t make a better effort!  Last month, when I was looking around at all the friends and family in town for my wedding, I was very hurt to not see you there.  We can’t turn back time and put you in those memories, but I need for us to have a conversation about how that went down, so I can put it behind me.  I want to know that you value our friendship and value me… if, in fact, you do.”   

When you approach another person with well-considered thoughts and perspective, you are much more likely to see a positive outcome.  The communication style I am describing here- influenced by both Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication and the Beginning Anew conflict resolution style of Plum Village Monastery- allows both parties to feel seen, heard, appreciated, and accountable.   

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Listening

Pausing

Journaling

Compassion

Acceptance

Reframing

Gratitude

Personal Responsibility

Self-Advocacy

Communication

Setting Boundaries

 

Share Your Experience
If you have some ideas or experience with managing disappointment, please share them in the “comments” section.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Are Feeling Stressed About Money

“I don’t have enough money to do basic things I want to do, and I can’t seem to ever save.  I’m tired of stressing like this.”

 

I have heard variations on this sentiment from a few bright, accomplished people lately.  At first I was surprised.  Small-scale saving and investing- in order to be able to afford what you want and not feel stressed- is not rocket science.  With deeper looking, I realized that these people were not suffering from lack of intelligence, but from psychological barriers around money.  Accomplishing steps for creating financial security- what we call “financial hygiene”- is as important as your physical or mental hygiene.  I would say that tending to one’s own financial hygiene is an act of self-care on all of the four fronts I generally discuss: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental.  If you are not tending to your financial life, the resultant lack of funds and stress will affect you in all four of those areas.  You may want to go on a spiritual retreat, but you won’t have the funds.  Your sleep might be disturbed because of anxiety about your money situation.  You may want to see a therapist to work on some emotional and mental growth, but looming far above that would be the question of where you will get enough money for rent this month.  If you are reading this article, these downsides of money problems may be familiar to you.

While I am not the person to tell you where to find great jobs, or what funds are best for investing, I can identify some psychological barriers to a healthy relationship with money that you may be experiencing.  Most of the people I have ever spoken with who are feeling stressed about money are trapped in limiting beliefs / behaviors around money, which I believe are the primary cause of their distress.  The liberating opposites to some of those limiting beliefs and behaviors are:

 

Awareness– as opposed to Avoidance

Rationality– as opposed to Irrationality

Congruence– as opposed to Incongruence

 

Awareness

In order to be aware of your money, you need to pay attention to it.  In order to be aware about your debt, you need to pay attention to that.  In order to feel like you have a handle on your financial life, you need to pay attention to your assets and your debts- both of them.  Avoiding knowledge of your debts or assets- like anything that is uncomfortable- will not make it better.  Avoidance makes it worse.  The same is true for other forms of self-care.  If you have strange medical symptoms and ignore them, rather than researching them and making an educated decision about any necessary medical care, you could be putting yourself in unnecessary risk for serious disease or death.  If you avoid knowing about your money, you are not putting yourself in such grave risk- but you are definitely losing money.  Every day.  When you finally do pay attention, you will probably kick yourself for not looking sooner.      

How to pay attention?  I’m a big fan of online apps that track your assets and debts for you.  Two of them are mint and mvelopes.  These apps are logged into your accounts, so you can look at the whole picture, at once.  You decide some budgeting and saving goals, set them up in the program, and then watch what happens over time.  Simply paying attention tends to move the needle in a positive direction- this has been shown in a few other areas, such as exercise and eating patterns.  The reward pathways in the brain are stimulated every time we see something we enjoy- such as a documented larger than usual number of miles walked or cycled, or a list of nutritious, healthy foods we have been eating (rather than sedentary days and unhealthy foods.)  That reward experience is desirable, and we continue to make the choices that will give us the neurochemical reward.  Eventually, the longer-term rewards of healthy weight or clearing of physical illness symptoms kick in and we have even stronger motivation to continue our positive choices.  This is one way to build an enduring habit.  The same happens when we see the first $100 saved in our goal of saving $2,000 for a vacation.  The neurochemical reward can feel so good, we might actively look for other ways to budget our money (like forgoing the daily $5 coffee so that we can sock away another $150 each month) and reach our goal faster.

Regular asset- and debt-awareness will also mean that if something detrimental is happening, you will see it sooner.  Then you can deal with it and avoid the problem growing.                   

You Have Enough A

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Rationality

How often do you have anxious thoughts about the near or distant future?  Have you noticed that ruminating about the potential problems of the future is not useful?  Paying attention to your circumstances and making good decisions, like I described in the Awareness section, is useful.  If you are aware, then you don’t have anything to fear.  Let it go.  Fear in the face of doing what you reasonably can is irrational.  Try a rational approach to thinking about your financial present and future.  A rational approach involves noticing when defeating or fearful thoughts are arising, and then managing those thoughts.  Either take the actions you may have let slip so that you can rest assured- or notice that you are already reasonably on top of things, and you have nothing to fear.  

Above and beyond this is one of my favorite meditations, “I have enough.”  Allow yourself to sit and ponder or write about all the material resources you have at your fingertips: how truly, fundamentally, okay you are in this moment and for the foreseeable future.  You may only have $200 in your bank account, but if you sit and consider, “I have drinking water, I have enough food, I have shelter, I have a place to sleep,” you will immediately feel relief.  Even beyond that: “If I were to come close to losing these basic necessities, I have food stamp / cash aid / unemployment benefit options I can pursue, I have friends and family who are here for me and would move mountains to help me.”  If you are suffering with significant mental or physical illness and / or do not have the support of loved ones, there are local agencies in every small pocket of many nations that have social workers who can connect you to shelters and programs so that you will have these basic necessities.  In California, they work out of the local county health and human services and behavioral health departments.  Allow yourself to bathe in recognition of all the support from far and wide that is coming your way.  From even before your birth, conditions were developing to provide you with the caregivers that kept you alive as an infant, the food you have eaten your whole life, the teachers and housing and infinite other conditions that always seem to appear.  You have enough, and you are fundamentally okay.  When you sit with this for a long time, this meditation cuts through anxiety and the illusion of separation at the level of the heart.

 

Congruence

Congruence is when your actions and your statements are in harmony.  We can be congruent in any area of life- but on this topic, it is when we say we want financial stability, and our choices show that.  We save money instead of buying things we don’t need, choosing simplicity over materialism.  We advocate for ourselves in work, garnering the fees, the promotions, and the raises we deserve.  Noticing incongruent statements and actions in our lives is important.  Just the noticing might be enough- with the help of awareness about your finances- to change the incongruence.  However, if you see that your awareness of your incongruence is not changing your reality, you may need to work on a different level: with your subconscious mind.  If your subconscious mind is not on board with the idea of being financially secure, you will remain in a place of money stress.  Like a lot of other self-care, this situation calls for some deep listening to yourself.  What is it that your subconscious mind needs, in order to be on board with financial security?  Here is a video of Marie Forleo interviewing Dr. Cathy Collautt that breaks this concept down pretty well.  

 

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Congruence

Subconscious Mind Work

Awareness

Rationality

Financial Hygiene

 

Share Your Experience

If you have some ideas or experience in this area of addressing financial hygiene through psychology, please share them in the “comments” section.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Are Not Feeling the Love on Valentine’s Day

“I hate being alone on Valentine’s Day.  I don’t even like commercial holidays- but it still gets to me.”

 

There are several reasons why you may not “feel the love” this year on Valentine’s Day.  To name a few: being single if you would prefer to have a partner, having a partner who doesn’t express appreciation or affection as much as you would prefer, and being in a state of grief- for any kind of loss.  Even while the dominant culture seems to worship partnership and romantic love, the fact is that more than half of American adults- according to recent census measures- are single, which here means “unmarried.”  Not all, but many of us have a natural drive for romantic connection with another person.  Being single- combined with desiring a partner- during a holiday where others are enjoying time with their partners is a perfect time to take care of yourself.  In fact, any time that the wider culture is celebrating something that is not part of your current reality is a perfect time to take care of yourself.

 

Both of the categories below for taking care of yourself when not feeling the love, Make it a Self-Care Day and Let Your Light Shine, are using the same principle: watering the tiny seeds of happiness, love, and generosity that are always in us, but that- at difficult times- are hard to see.  We are not the victims of our emotions, and we are not our emotions.  Emotions come, emotions go- and we have a direct hand in helping them along in the direction we want them to go.  That is what all of the suggestions in this week’s article are meant to do.  Note: if you are suffering with major depression, it’s important to start small.  It is less likely you will be motivated to do something large to care for yourself (like the “run a marathon” possibility, below.)  Something small, like drawing a bath or reaching out with a phone call to a friend, are perfectly good and will also alter your brain chemistry for the positive.  Depression has a way of darkening our view of all kinds of things- even your self-care efforts.  I challenge anyone experiencing major depression to celebrate what you ARE able to do, rather than judging yourself for what you currently aren’t doing.  We are all on our own paths.  I’ve heard it said that we are all uniquely beautiful flowers in the garden of humanity- you, me: everyone.        

 

Make it a Self-Care Day

I’d like to note that self-care almost never requires a lot of money.  However, sometimes it is nice to pamper yourself with experiences that you don’t have every day.  Whether you spend any extra money on your day or not, the point is to give yourself some truly present care.  Especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I like to think of it as being your own awesome romantic partner; it turns out that you can do for yourself the things you would love to do for a partner or for a partner to do for or with you.  Here is a list of possibilities:

-Make a point of attending that yoga class / crossfit session / hiking club / etc. you tend to skip.

-Make a healthy and delicious meal to eat while listening to your favorite music.

-Put some candles and nice music (favorite beverage?) in the bathroom, draw yourself a hot bath, and soak for as long as you want.

-Buy yourself flowers or a new potted plant for your home or office.

-Set aside time to do your creative thing- play your instrument, paint, sculpt, write.

-Take yourself out to an amazing show you wouldn’t normally pay to see.

-Go to bed early and spend some quality time… with yourself… before falling asleep.

-Get a professional massage.

-Give yourself a massage- maybe in the bath.  Massaging your own calves, feet, belly, arms, neck, head, face, and hands is really nice.

-Spend some quality time with your Higher Power, if you believe in one: prayer, meditation, listening to a dharma talk / sermon, going to church.

-Invest in brushing up your appearance with a haircut, facial, or manicure.

-Schedule an all-day outdoor adventure, if mid-February weather where you live is comfortable for you: a bike tour, surfing, a long hike, a marathon.  Hint: this year, the LA Marathon is on Valentine’s Day…

 

lakeswimmer

You might need a wetsuit, but an outdoor adventure will change your state of mind.

 

Let Your Light Shine
Sometimes, self-care comes in the form of letting our love and care flow outward.  When we consciously choose to focus on uplifting others (rather than focusing on others as a habitual way of not paying attention to our own needs; there is a big difference!) we are liberating some of our most powerful potential: the potential to multiply positive energy, to touch many lives.  At the end of the day, those we touch and we, ourselves, are lifted up.  In order to access our loving thoughts and appreciations, it is key to pause and spend 10 minutes or so meditating on and/or writing about the people in our lives who we’d like to give some love.  What do you appreciate about them?  What really great qualities about them might be hidden much of the time?  Where have you seen them shine?

 

Once you’ve got some love flowing, here are several suggestions for sharing that love with the people in our lives on or near Valentine’s Day:

 

-Buy a dozen flowers and give one, with a small note of appreciation attached, to your nearest colleagues (in your office, for example, or on your team.)

-Invite a good friend to be your guest at that music show with which you are pampering yourself.

-Write a haiku or other short verse about someone you appreciate, describing their superhero qualities, and give it to them- by email, on a social media forum, in a card, on a note attached to something nice like a flower or chocolate.

-Take a good friend out for a special lunch.

-Make it a point of telling a handful of people (3?  8?) a few things you appreciate about them when you see them the week of Valentine’s Day.

-Depending on your goofball factor (mine is pretty high,) buy a box of those Valentines that kids give each other at school from the drugstore, and give them (with candy hearts in the envelope, of course) to your friends / neighbors / colleagues who you think can handle the goof.

-If you don’t already have a place you volunteer your time regularly, find one ahead of time and schedule to be there on Valentine’s Day, caring for the people, land, or animals the place serves.

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Appreciating

Communication

Service

Generosity

Gratitude

Compassion

Now, Share Your Experience

If you have some tips for self-care during triggering holidays, please share them in the “comments” section.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Need to Change Course

“I need to either change my work contract or find another position, but I don’t know how to go about making this change without upsetting others. Help!”

 

It is great to know what you need.  Clarity is an underrated mental state.  So, you’ve done half the work- you know how something in your life is not meeting your needs.  Your next step is getting your needs met.  The preparation for, execution of, and resolution of negotiations on this front are different depending on the nature of your relationship with the other party.  We have needs in every area of our lives, so I’d like to broaden this topic from one of making a change at work to making any kind of change that involves others.  Here are some steps for taking care of yourself in this sometimes murky area:

 

Walk Through the Potential Outcomes

Something is not working for you, and you have concluded that this thing must change- one way, or another.  For example… your hours at work need to be reduced because you are burning out.  You need your girlfriend to text or call at least once on days you don’t see each other so you know she’s alive.  You need your neighbor to stop using the leaf-blower at 7am on Saturdays so you can sleep in.  Whatever your situation, take some time to consider what the outcome of requesting your desired change might be.  

 

Consider:

-the strength of your relationship.

-whether the other party has been responsive to past requests you have made.

-whether your need may be reasonable in the other party’s eyes (which is not an indication of the validity if your need- simply an indication of the other party’s perception.)

Imagine what the best-case response could be, if you bring this topic up with the other party.  Now note the worst-case response.  For example, in the burning out on the job example, a best-case response could be your boss agreeing to reduce your hours- without reducing your pay or benefits.  A worst-case response could be a dismissive and non-accommodating reply from your boss, followed by an unprecedented- and seemingly undeserved- formal reprimand from her the following week.  Which one of the responses is more likely to happen?  

 

 

lighthouse

Let your own light guide your way

 

Decide if it is Safe to Bring your Request to the Other Party

If your mental walk-through of potential outcomes seemed pretty promising, you are close to ready to broaching the conversation with the other party.  Go ahead to the next step, “Effective Language for Getting What you Need.”  If your mental walk-through did not seem promising, you need to decide if you are willing to subject yourself to a potentially abusive / unsettling exchange in order to try to get what you need, or if you are simply ready to move on and find a situation that better meets your needs.  A large question here is: if your boss / girlfriend / neighbor is truly so unpleasant- but you still want to bring your concerns to that person- what are you trying to hold onto?

 

A self-care superstar knows that 1) no one else is responsible for our needs, if we are able-bodied-and-minded adults, but that 2) we have the daily opportunity to surround ourselves with people who are responsive to our needs.  If the boss or girlfriend has a track record of little regard for your needs, it’s time to find another job and to leave that relationship.  If the neighbor has little regard for your needs… it may be time to get a noise complaint in to the local officials, rather than wasting your time and breath with your neighbor, directly.  In an ideal world, we would be able to honestly and vulnerably share requests with people in our lives.  Unfortunately, some people are not ready for that kind of exchange, and are prone to defensiveness- anything to avoid change, or personal responsibility.  

 

I have heard it said that the only mandatory life experiences are “death and taxes.”  There are many people who don’t pay taxes, and some people are pursuing immortality, so let’s just say that nothing is mandatory.  You don’t have to stay in an unhealthy workplace or relationship.  There is always- always– an alternative.  It doesn’t matter if you are 60 years old and it’s the only job you’ve had, or you got married in a cult where you will lose your entire social circle if you divorce.  There is always another way.  However, in these circumstances, you want to take extra care to set yourself up to succeed when you make the change.  So, if you have a ton to lose when considering letting your needs be known or just walking away from what you know will not meet your needs, identify at least 3 resources to help you.  Is it 6 months of living at your cousin’s home when you leave your home?  Federal unemployment money if you lose your job (because, otherwise, you will just be applying for new jobs while still working at your current job?)  Calculated risk and covering your rear are both forms of self-care.

 

Back to broaching the conversation: even if you believe the other party is not able to respond well to your request, read the next section.  You may find a way to get through, yet.  

 

Develop and Practice Effective Language for Getting What You Need

It is possible that negotiations have not gone well with the other party in the past.  This could be due in part to the other party’s inability to have genuine conversation, and it could also be due to your inexperience in communicating your needs effectively.

 

Imagine hearing this, from your romantic partner:

“You never text or call me.  I need you to text or call, or I’m going to leave you.”

What is your immediate, gut-response?  You would probably note the 1) over-generalization of “never” or 2) the threat of being left!  These are two communication tactics that are sure to not get you what you want or need.  Unfortunately, many of us grew up in homes that modeled exactly this kind of behavior- and a lot of melodramatic media reinforce these and many other negative communication styles.  Fortunately, there are better ways to communicate, and we can train ourselves to use them.

 

Now imagine hearing this:

“Something I really appreciate about you is how full of a life you live- you work hard, you make time to spend with your friends and with me, you stay fit- and I know your days are packed, doing all of that.  I know I’m not always the best at letting you know that I’m thinking of you, but I think about you all the time.  I’ve noticed that on days when we don’t see each other, I wish I knew what you are up to- or at least that you are okay, and happy.  When I don’t hear from you on those days, I even get worried.  Are you willing to make a point of at least texting me once on days we don’t meet, so I know that everything is okay?”

What would your gut response be to this request?  Hopefully, nothing too strong- maybe just compassion for your partner, who is sharing vulnerably and respectfully what she needs.  Notice the 1) appreciation she shares first, then the 2) acknowledgement that she isn’t a perfect communicator and 3) her sincere wish for you to be happy and healthy and 4) her non-debatable feeling of worry when she doesn’t hear from you and, finally, 5) a specific, attainable, request of you.  This gal gets two gold stars for having identified all these factors- her need, what she appreciates, her own part in your dynamic, etc.- and then speaking this truth to you.  In other words, she’s a keeper.  You can be a keeper, too!

 

In order to get ready for your own conversation, develop a gold-star script like the one above.  Write it down.  It is by far best to have this conversation in person, so you aren’t going to be holding the script in front of you during the actual conversation.  You are writing this script so that you can internalize and be very clear of all the points you want to address.  You can even ask someone close to you to stand in as the other party while you rehearse delivering these lines two or three times, to get the feeling of the potentially unfamiliar words rolling off your tongue.

 

Have the Conversation

At a predetermined time, or at a time that the other party appears available, bring up your appreciations for the other person, acknowledge the time you know you were remiss.  Be cool- easy-breezy.  Chat a little bit, then ask for what you need.  Make sure you say the emotional and physical consequences to you, when you don’t get what you need (the burn-out, the fear, the lack of sleep.) You are confident because you put the time in to understand your position and the likely position of the other party.  You know your request is legit- and that you are free to go elsewhere, take an alternate route to getting your needs met, if this conversation doesn’t bear fruit.  More often than not, people respond well to someone who has thoughtfully prepared a request, and who speaks with humility and integrity.  Appreciating the other and acknowledging your occasional shortcomings, vulnerably stating the consequences to you of the status quo… these are undebatable, blameless ways to speak.  They inspire collaboration and goodwill.  Good luck!

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Communication

Personal responsibility

Boundary-setting

Self-advocacy

 

Now, Share Your Experience

If this article has inspired you to ask for what you need, please share how you asked and what outcome you saw in the “comments” section below.  

 

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You are Feeling Carried Away

“I’m in an early relationship that seems to be moving fast.  I’m not sure if this is right for me.  How can I know?”

 

winterroad

“Am I going the right way here?”

 

We all have had the feeling that we are being pulled along by a force outside ourselves.  This could be in any area- career, intimate relationship, a single conversation.  Maybe we wake up one day and realize that we are only climbing the corporate ladder for larger paychecks- that we may have been happiest at work in our entry-level position from years ago.  Or, as in this question, we are carried away by new relationship energy, making an “insta-relationship,” without giving the adequate time to get to know the other person’s personality, in all kinds of circumstances.  Or we keep having the same kind of banter with someone that leaves us feeling… icky.  

In some instances, this action without even having to think much can feel like divine purpose- like we are in contact with some power greater than ourselves, and consciously choosing to go with the flow of that power is sublime.  While lovely, this is not the type of “being pulled along” to which I am referring here.  The feeling I am referring to is a product of being out of touch with that greater power- out of touch with our higher purpose.  It feels over-powering, not just energizing.  Neutral, negative, blind or frantic.  Not joyful and inspired- though it can be hard to really distinguish between these sensations, if we do not give ourselves the space and time to discern, for ourselves.

If you find yourself in a moment- or several years- of following a path that doesn’t feel right, it’s time to take care of yourself.  Here are some steps to take to look into this apparent dissonance between your actions and your heart.

 

Pause

Take some time and space away from the activity.  For a career question, maybe it’s clearing a weekend or even tacking on an extra mental-health day to the weekend so you have time to look into your own heart.  In an intimate relationship, let your partner know that you need to take a span of time for yourself (this looks different, depending on the nature of the relationship- casual dating means just not going on a date for a week, a spouse that you live with might mean taking a weekend vacation by yourself.)  In a conversation, it would mean ending the conversation, “Anyway- it has been good to catch up with you, and I need to stop now and take care of some other things.”  

Have you ever seen the 1980’s TV show “Out of This World?”  I’ve always wished I had the same superpower as Evie, to freeze time so I can do all the things I want to do in the course of an already busy day.  We may not be able to freeze time, but we can clearly set aside time for the things we want- need– to do.  If gaining clarity for yourself is important to you, set the boundary with the people and tasks in your life around this exercise.  Take the time and space you need, where nothing else can intrude.

 

Set the Stage for Inquiry

Maybe this means finding a chair for yourself and your journal in a quiet corner and letting others in the house know that you will be unavailable for anything but medical emergencies for the next half-hour.  Maybe it means spending several hours in a day or over a weekend in a room of your home with candles and incense burning.  You don’t need to book a cabin in nearby mountains, or a spot on a weekend meditation retreat that allows space for personal practice.  However, if you have the means and wish to, please do that!  Do whatever it is that you believe is going to be most conducive to this self-inquiry.  

 

Look Deeply and Embrace

Now that you have paused the activity in question, and have set the stage for your inquiry, it’s time to check in with yourself and embrace what you see.  Go slow.  Before you begin your inquiry, give thanks to yourself for seeking clarity and alignment in your life.  Give thanks to all of the teachers, ancestors, and conditions that have allowed you to be in this exact position in your life, able to take stock and grow.  If you pray and/or believe in a higher power, ask for guidance.  This can be silent or out loud.  

 

Next, sit quietly and gradually scan your body- head (including mind,) neck, shoulders, torso (including heart and gut,) arms, hands, hips and reproductive organs, legs, feet.  Notice the qualities of energy, weight, and heat you feel in these parts of your body.  If you are completely new to the idea of a body-scan meditation, here is a short (5 minutes) video online to get the idea: Body-scan meditation.  

 

Now that you have settled and have a sense of what’s happening in your body, bring to mind the activity in question- your career path, the relationship, the uncomfortable conversation you were having earlier.  Rest your mind and heart gently on this topic- not tearing into it with intellect, but allowing its essence to seep into your body.  It may not take long (a few seconds?) before you begin to feel what is changing in your physical sensations, when exposed to the activity in question.  Once you feel you have settled enough into your physical inquiry, allow the physical sensations to speak to you.  

 

Is the constriction in the chest saying things are going too fast for you?  Is the fog in the mind saying that there is confusion about the topic?  Are the sweaty palms spelling out anxiety?  Let the flavor define itself- note that we are not using intellect here.  This is a corporal way of knowing, different from what most of us do every day.  Many of us have spent lifetimes building our intellect, and we obsessively ruminate about everything under the sun.  In this investigation, we are setting rumination aside and listening to other sources of information- this is an aspect of intuition.  

 

When the mind naturally returns to thinking, we re-direct our attention back to the physical sensations that are arising, and the feeling-words that may appear with them.  Do this for as long as you need.  Take breaks for tea or stretching, if your inquiry is taking a lot of time and you need to break it up.  If you are approaching the limit of the time you have for this exercise, and no insight has occurred, this is okay.  Move to the next step.

 

Write it Down

Whether you have gotten some guidance just yet or not, it is time to journal.  Record your question (“Am I on the right career path?”  “Is this relationship building me up, or bringing me down?” “Are these conversations good for me?”) and what your body told you.  If there is not a clear answer from your corporal knowing, write your intention to receive clarity- from the passage of time, or from a higher power.  Setting the intention for clarity, now that you are aware of this prominent question, may be all the progress you will make at this time.   

Now is also when- if you are giving yourself plenty of time for a larger life-question- you can allow the intellect to look at facts about your area of question and to evaluate them.  This is much better done in writing, as thinking tends to be repetitive and is slower to insight than writing.   This could be simple journaling (writing whatever comes to mind,) or a “pro” and “con” list in response to the question of keeping the status quo or changing things up.  It could be an “evidence for” and “evidence against” list in response to some belief you may be circling back onto, but which feels a bit sticky, maybe skewed.

 

Closure

If you have established that your activity in question must change, you can continue with making a plan to initiate change- see next week’s post about that.  Whether you are making a plan for change right now or not, make sure you close your self-inquiry with a few moments of repeated gratitude: to yourself, your teachers, ancestors, and other conditions that have led to your existence, on the path you are walking.  Finally, make a commitment to yourself to continue to listen to and care for your own deepest truths. 

     

Important skills you are strengthening:

Pausing

Setting boundaries

Gratitude

Listening

Journaling

Meditating

Intuition