How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Are Being Bullied

Something I have heard from more than one client: “I spent so many years being told I was worthless… even though the abuser is finally out of my life, his voice is still in my head every day, cutting me down.”

 

You are enough

I wish I could face every child, teenager, and adult who has ever been verbally abused or bullied and say, “You are enough, just the way you are.  Whoever told you you were less than that is the one who is lacking.”

 

It might not be about you

The way a person makes other people feel is mostly a reflection on that person, not the people they are affecting.  If you are a relatively sensitive / observant person, try this sometime: pay attention to how you feel when you are around someone.  Later, in a quiet moment, reflect on whether that person is someone you would describe as how you felt with them. Very often, an anxious person can trigger anxiety in others.  A depressed person can lower the mood of those around them. A jovial person can make you smile. And a self-loathing person can make you feel bad about yourself.

 

Hurt people hurt people

In addition to the energy and tone of a person, there is how they treat us- the things they say to and about us.  Anyone who goes out of their way to hurt another person is a miserable person. That miserable person may appear to be the most popular girl in school or your boss who keeps getting promotions, but the fact is that they are miserable.  You see, a person who tries to hurt another is consumed with their own insecurity. They may even hate themselves. On the other hand, a happy person lifts up other people. A content, confident person walks into a room and makes everyone in the room feel seen and appreciated.  A worthwhile associate is someone who is generous in their perspective and looks for the best in others.

It’s sad: anyone who needs to pull others down was probably verbally or otherwise abused at some point, and that cruel voice of their abuser is constantly in their heads, giving them low self-esteem.  Don’t let that person who is stuck in their suffering pull you into the same boat. See them for the broken person they are, offer them healing, and then keep your distance. Hopefully, they’ll find a way to be happy and stop hurting other people.  In the meantime, surround yourself with a tribe that will see your wonderful qualities and appreciate them.

In the practice of forgiveness, there is an adage: “hurt people hurt people.” In other words, in order for someone to intentionally hurt another person, he must be in pain.  Happy people don’t hurt other people. When it comes to cultivating compassion and forgiveness for those who have hurt us, it is helpful to remember this. It is easier to forgive someone when we can see them not just as the person who hurt us, but as the person who has been hurt and carries that hurt around.

 

Take your distance

Whether someone you just met has attempted to bring you down once or you have lived for years with a verbally abusive person, it’s your right to set a boundary and not let that person speak to you like that.  For a lot more about setting boundaries, this past article of mine addresses things to consider when setting a boundary and ways to speak to make your expectations clear.

josh-boot-177342-unsplash

Heal

It’s possible you are living with the voice of the long-term abuser in your mind, holding you back with insults every day.  Another article I wrote on this exact topic explores daily practices you can incorporate as a response to that voice.

Remember: you are enough, just the way you are.  If any past or current voices are telling you otherwise, it’s up to you to refuse their narrative and make your own.

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Healing

Looking deeply

Reframing

Assertiveness

Setting boundaries

Self-advocacy

Awareness

Clarity

Congruence

Compassion

Communication

How to Take Care of Yourself When… Your Own Mind is Your Worst Enemy

In the words of a former client: “When I finally looked into all of my most painful moments, I saw that it was my own thinking about the situations that made them so bad.”

Some people seem to be born with a positive disposition, with optimism at their core.  It doesn’t matter if they had saint-like parents nurturing them in all the right ways or came from the most challenging of childhoods, marked by poverty or abuse- they see the silver lining, and their joy is contagious!  Others of us struggle with negative, defeating thinking- even if things have always worked out reasonably well for us.  The mind is a powerful indicator of our ability to enjoy our time on this planet and to make a positive impact while we’re at it.  Have you found that your biggest obstacle to happiness or reaching your potential is your own mind?  Count yourself among the majority of humanity!  We all have struggled with the fact that our own thoughts in reaction to difficult situations can make the situations much worse.

The good news is that we can work with our own minds.  We can leverage our thinking mind in ways that- over time- develop a positivity bias in our brains.  As Rick Hanson says in his book Hardwiring Happiness, “All mental activity—sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes—is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on its channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/ neural activity—especially if it is conscious— will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like a surging current reshaping a riverbed. As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.”  

We can use this powerful information in two directions- limiting the negative and cultivating the positive, both discussed below.             

 

Respectfully Set Boundaries With the Negative Mind

Negative thoughts come and go, just like positive thoughts.  Negative and positive experiences come and go, alike.  It has been said that our minds evolved to take special note of negative experiences, in order to protect us from future negative experiences.  For other species, and for our pre-homo sapiens ancestors, a “negative” experience would be something like encountering a predator and narrowly escaping alive, or experimenting with eating an unfamiliar plant and becoming violently ill.  

We no longer have close calls with such life-threatening experiences in the mainstream modern lifestyle, yet most of us still have the same strong internal reactions to common, but unpleasant experiences.  A supervisor at work gives us a less-than-glowing yearly review or a friend neglects to include us in group plans, and it can fill our minds as if it were a life-threatening encounter.  We might have anxiety around encountering the supervisor or the friend the next day, or we might ruminate over what imminent problems the event portends, such as being fired or being told your friends no longer find you interesting.  Nevermind that 80% of the work review was positive, or that the event you weren’t invited to was a musical jam and you’re not a musician… our minds have a way of running away with shreds of negative experience and drawing a picture much worse than it actually is.  

Along the same lines, we may find ourselves repeating difficult conversations / conflicts in our minds, practicing the statements we wished we had made in order to maintain our dignity / demonstrate the inferiority of the other party.  

When we step back from these thought patterns, we can see that they are useless.  In the vast majority of cases, it is useless to fret over whether something more drastic is coming down the line after we’ve had an unpleasant experience.  It is useless to repeatedly play back challenging interactions and to build up our own sense of superiority or righteous indignation.  In fact, it’s not only useless: it’s harmful!  If there is anything to be worried about in this area, it is our own negative thought process.  As Dr. Hanson says, the repeated thought patterns we follow develop and strengthen neural pathways- whether the thought patterns are damning, angry thoughts or are loving, joyful thoughts.  I would posit that the pathways we develop in our brains lead to not only further thoughts along the same lines, but further actions, and, hence experiences.  This is the degree to which I can get behind “The Secret”- type thinking.  Yes, our thoughts create our reality: they manipulate our physical brain and sway our future thoughts and actions.  The future starts with the thoughts you are thinking right now.  Is it going to be a limiting, afflicted reality… or an expansive, liberated reality?  The choice is ours!

Luckily, we are not the victims of our thoughts.  Maybe your thoughts are way more negative than you would prefer.  The most important thing is that you see this, and determine to work with your mind.  The only way to make change is with respect and compassion.  When you see the negativity, take note, pause, and gently embrace your fighting, negative mind.  You can journal or even say a silent mantra to yourself, “Everything is okay.”  “I don’t need to fight.”  “I’m here for myself,” “I love and respect myself.”  Just like a meditation practice, you can decide to drop the negative line of thinking and pick up a positive line of thinking.  For example, dropping the argument re-hash and deciding to pay attention to the beautiful flowers on the path you are walking.  Or thinking about someone you love and appreciate.  You may have to re-direct your mind a dozen times in as many minutes, but this boundary-setting around negative thought processes is making a difference.  You are employing your pre-frontal cortex in the enterprise of minimizing negative thought-pathways in your brain stemming from the amygdala.  Your brain has its reasons for being focused on the negative, yet you have the ability to guide it towards patterns that serve you best.

 

Cultivate the Positive

Going a step further, you can choose to turn your attention towards the positive at any time.  

Flower Garden

We are responsible for growing the flowers of compassion and joy in our own hearts.

It can be a part of your meditation practice, it can be something you do once an hour with a bell chime you set up on your cell phone, it can be something you do, as mentioned above, in response to a negative thought-stream you’ve just found yourself following.  Here are just a small sample of countless potential practices to try:

A quick and calming practice is to contemplate a source of support you’ve known in your life- a person, a pet, an organization, a tree.  Allow your mind to rest on that source of support and how the feeling of being supported feels in your body.  Stay with that awareness for a full minute or two, relaxing into the soft feeling of being cared for.  

Another example is gratitude-listing.  Take 3 minutes to get out a pen and paper and write, stream-of-consciousness-style, everything that comes to mind for which you are grateful.  Some people do this every day.  I do it many mornings.

An alternative is to write down one thing for which you are grateful and the several (positive) ways you feel because of it.  For example, I am grateful for the internet because it allows me to feel more connected when others can see what I have written and respond to it.  The internet helps me feel abundant because it allows part of my livelihood to exist.  The internet helps me feel more efficient when I can use it quickly to find information as I’m making plans or writing.  The internet brings me a sense of being in community when I see that others around the world share my political and spiritual perspectives.   

The loving-kindness meditation practice is powerful, and also requires more time than the other practices just listed.  It is a heart-opening concentration practice of developing genuine goodwill for yourself and all others.  Here is a description of loving-kindness meditation by teacher Jack Kornfield, and a 40 minute talk / guided loving-kindness meditation by teacher Tara Brach.  One of the most powerful meditation retreats I have attended was a week-long silent retreat on the topic of loving-kindness.  Out of that came a commitment to practice in this way on one specific day of the week (at the least.)  I am grateful to have the regular opportunity to make a little more space in my heart.  Similar to forgiveness meditation, loving-kindness can be triggering when we bring to mind those who have presented challenges in our lives.  I believe this confrontation with our mental formations around challenging people is a direct line to freedom.  When we work with our minds, we can break ourselves free of hatred by growing forgiveness and free of judgement by growing compassion.

Another heart-opening (and more lengthy) practice I enjoy is sympathetic joy.  This is an excellent antidote to envy.  In the meditation, you contemplate the blessings and good fortune of others, and grow your sense of joy for them that things are going so well.  Here is an article describing the practice, by teacher Sharon Salzberg.  Here is also a 1-hour talk and guided meditation of the practice, by teacher Joseph Goldstein.          

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Awareness

Loving-kindness

Sympathetic Joy

Gratitude

Goodwill

Compassion

 

Share Your Experience
What have you learned about nurturing your own positive mental states?  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… 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.