Joy Lessons from my 5-year-old Niece

Lessons from Linde

I recently took a road trip with my sister and her kids. While we drove and swam and hiked and visited, I got a good dose of anti-depressant wisdom from my five-year-old niece. Linde inspires me because she is full of joy and incredibly herself: no apologies, no pretense, no matter what’s in the evening news. (People in EMDR therapy spontaneously connect with more playfulness and joy, what five-year-olds have in abundance.) Here’s what I learned.

  1. If you’re mad at someone, make up a silly name for them and use it as much as possible. You polka-dotted poom poom! You noosey nooner! It disarms people in a way that also makes them want to laugh.
  2. Every day, present someone your arm or your neck and ask them to tickle you lightly with their fingertips.
  3. Revel in your own skin. Luxuriate in the feeling of your body as it touches fabric or fur or water. Enjoy the feeling of your hair grazing your shoulders. Take every opportunity to run or bounce or wiggle, especially with a glow stick or while wearing a bee costume.
  4. Keep dancing till everyone else drops. Be the first on the dance floor and the last to leave, whether you have a partner or not. Stopping to go to the bathroom is over-rated.
  5. When someone aims a camera at you, assume you’re beautiful and work it.
  6. Make up stories and recruit your friends to play characters. Give them costumes. Dance around them and sprinkle fairy dust.
  7. If you don’t have an answer to a question, just meow.
  8. Don’t give up on people. If you’ve been turned down for an arm tickle, go back in fifteen minutes and try again. Assume they want to snuggle, but carry a stuffed fox or turtle around just in case your important people are busy.
  9. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, sing your own song. It helps if you close your eyes and pretend you’re the only one there.
  10. And finally, when you’re really angry or scared or disappointed, have a good cry or maybe scream. Let it all out, as loudly as possible. Then take a nap and wake up ready to jump on the bed.

 

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Relationship Disconnect: How it affects our health.

Relationship disconnection is trauma.

Relationship Disconnection is Trauma.

Everyone I love needs to read these four books.

  1. The Birth of Pleasure, Carol Gilligan
  2. The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
  3. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
  4. How Connections Heal, Maureen Walker & Wendy Rosen (Eds.)

These books have all changed my life. But today, I want to focus on #4. How Connections Heal is written for therapist-types, but it explains the basic nitty-gritty about relationships and should be required reading for every high school senior and should be in every hotel nightstand drawer and every dentist’s lobby. I think it’s that important.

It’s about Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT), which posits that when we have mutually-affirming connections, we feel understood and valued. We thrive and get more creative and do our best work. We feel energy and excitement. We take better care of ourselves.

But when our relationships (even just one of them, if it’s important) make us feel diminished or one-down, when we lack equal power and voice……we suffer. We become depleted, depressed. We feel lost, lonely, bloated, unattractive, unstable, dull, unwanted, and out-of-touch. We eat and drink too much, shop too much, stare into our devices and stop looking forward to things. We feel unliked and unlovable. We wear gray and withdraw from social life. We doubt our sanity.

Relationship Disconnection Is Trauma. Here’s a story of non-mutuality (disconnection) in a friendship.

Sabine and Rachel’s friendship changed suddenly, and Sabine was confused. Rachel seemed distant and stopped returning calls. Sabine felt her friend pull away, but when she asked about it, Rachel waved her off and said, “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve just been super busy.” Then the distance got even worse over the course of six months and Sabine found herself excluded from gatherings of Rachel and their other friends. She felt abandoned and ashamed with no idea how to address the obvious rift in their connection. She thought, it must be my fault. She wondered, how do I feel so hurt when Rachel obviously feels nothing? Sabine got sick. First, a bronchitis that hung on for two months. Then, shingles. When she came to see me, she was having panic attacks and thoughts of suicide.

condemned isolation

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

Disconnection and non-mutuality happen in marriages and work relationships and families. If I (like Sabine) consistently share more, express more vulnerability, reach out more, make myself more available, I will probably, at some point, feel bewildered and blame myself for being needy. If my feelings or perceptions are brushed off or laughed off, I will start to lose essential energy: an emotional hemorrhage that I can feel in my body. In RCT terms, this is Condemned Isolation and it causes us to doubt our essential worth in the world.

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

If this pattern sounds familiar, you may have traumatic disconnection in your relationships. Your body responds to condemned isolation like it responds to a physical assault. Contact me if you’d like to talk more about how to bring mutuality back into a relationship – or how to recover from this type of trauma and rebuild your confidence and zest for life.

EMDR can help you Achieve: Be a better athlete, singer, or cowgirl.

Be better at what you do.

EMDR can help you do whatever you do better.

We all want to achieve something. When I was eight, I wanted to be a cowgirl. This never happened, but if it had, I imagine EMDR would help me achieve my team roping goals and stay fit for the arena.

EMDR therapy helps people recover from trauma, relationship stress, and all kinds of anxiety. But EMDR also improves performance in practically every area. Although everyone’s results are unique, something positive always emerges from the process. EMDR promotes better outcomes in areas where you want to achieve: artistic, athletic, professional, and personal.

Here’s a story about EMDR Performance Enhancement Therapy.

Jeff swam competitively, an Olympic hopeful who wanted to improve his time in the 200 Meter Fly. He came in for EMDR and we talked about how he felt when he was swimming – and when he was about to swim.

“How do you feel in the water?”

“I love it when I’m in it. But before I get there, I have to force myself into focus or I’m pulled away by thoughts.”

“What kinds of thoughts?”

“Remembering the last time and being disappointed with myself.”

“So, before you hit the water, you have to fight to keep those thoughts of disappointment away?”

“Yes, and knowing my dad and coach are thinking the same thing and worrying.”

“What does it feel like now as you think about that?”

“It feels tight, in my arms and shoulders – and heavy.”

“And when you notice that, what does it mean to you?”

“That I’m going to disappoint them again.”

If you listen between the lines, Jeff already feels like a disappointment even before he dives into the pool. His body takes on the feeling of a disappointing event and he’s distracted about what his dad and coach are (presumably) feeling. This sets Jeff up for failure.

As we look for details about this setup, Jeff admits he feels like a failure. His father had missed his own chance at the Olympic team, back in the 70s, by a few tenths of a second, so Jeff was his hope for redemption. Jeff’s dad most likely saw himself as a failure

The feeling of, “I’m a failure,” gets transmitted from parent to child, even if a parent tries to hide it.

So we EMDR the whole thing: the disappointing events where Jeff’s time didn’t improve, the thoughts about his dad and coach……and a curious insight popped out.

“My Dad probably feels empathy for me – like he wouldn’t want me to stress over this like I’ve been doing. He just wants me to get what I want, so it’s about how much he loves me.”

“Go with that,” I say, and we do some slow, calming eye-movements. Jeff relaxes – I see his shoulders drop.

“I’m still his son, even if I don’t make the team.”

“Go with that.”

“It’s all gonna be okay.” Jeff yawns, a sign that his parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and working to calm him down.

One week later, Jeff shaves six tenths of a second from his time in the 200 Fly.

We do more EMDR. He calms down even more. We do some reparative EMDR with Jeff and his dad.

“I’m a whole person,” he says.

“Go with that.”

“I have many layers to me – not just one. I’ll do my best and that’s enough.” Jeff yawns.

In two more weeks, he drops another second from his 200 Fly.

It’s not a magic bullet, but EMDR pushes people toward their goals. Whether it’s public speaking, barrel racing, exercise and weight management, or breaking through writer’s block, EMDR therapy can get things moving, so you achieve more. Contact me if you’d like to talk about getting better at what you do.

Disconnection & Depression in the Wider World

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What does it mean to be “disconnected”?

Maybe you see the title of this article and you get the spiritual meaning, before reading another line. Yes, I feel disconnected: from my kids, my partner, my neighbors. Detachments and interruptions make us lonely and depressed. They steal our natural zest for learning and experiencing. And depression closes us into our smallest and least hopeful spaces.

But depression and disconnection occur on multiple levels throughout our world – in ways you may not have considered:

  1. interpersonal (between us and other people  . . . even our dogs),
  2. intrapersonal (disconnection from our true selves – real feelings and desires and opinions, our bodies’ true cravings for nutrients, movement, and rest),
  3. environmental (between us and the earth or even our home or backyard), and
  4.  spiritual (between us and our higher power).

We create artificial separation from important people in our lives – in order to maintain our sense of safety (“If I pretend his drinking doesn’t bother me, he won’t get angry with me.”). We cut off connections with our inner selves by ignoring our gut instincts, our needs for rest and closeness. We withdraw from Mother Earth and look the other way as she is raped and pillaged by human practices. And we stop the flow of spiritual energy in and around us by working too much, resting too little, ignoring urges to help others, and allowing anxiety to command our waking moments.

All this separation leads to profound depression.

Here’s a short list of signs you may be living a disconnected life.

  • You have trouble thinking of a person who knows your deepest wounds and imperfections and loves you anyway.
  • You avoid finding out where your recyclables go when they leave your bin.
  • You have no idea where your hamburger meat was raised or how.
  • You need a few drinks or a pile of ice cream or a few cigarettes to help you unwind after a long day.
  • You can’t remember the last time you sat quietly outside and listened to the crickets and frogs.
  • You avoid spiritual traditions because they’re fraught with hypocrisy, flawed people, and general weirdness.
  • You have trouble admitting when your feelings are hurt by someone you love.
  • You have trouble putting words to your emotions. If asked, you mostly say, “I’m frustrated.”
  • You have no idea where “palm fruit oil” comes from.
  • You believe your anger is a waste of time.
  • You think it’s up to the government to monitor our use of the environment (e.g., fracking, deforestation, waste disposal).
  • You have trouble taking a deep breath.
  • You feel vaguely guilty or worried about something, but can’t specify what.
  • You back away from civic and political engagement because you have no time to help kids, educate the community, or improve the environment where you live.
  • You feel burned out and bored with your life – trapped in a job or relationship that doesn’t meet your needs for creativity, closeness, and spontaneity.

What to do about it? Just Notice.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve taken a first step toward reconnecting your life – allowing the natural links between you and your environment to show up in your consciousness. We are all connected to every other being in our surround. But we deny this out of deep societal conditioning.

Now, just notice . . .

Notice the mysteries of what goes into your body; this starts a process of inquiry, even if it’s just reading grocery labels.

Notice your relationship with your pets; this opens a new awareness of how your moods affect them and how their natural play helps you relax.

Notice how you pull away from closeness with your partner; this begins a subtle change process that could lead the two of you into deeper conversation.

Notice the similarities between an oak leaf and the palm of your hand; this starts a re-valuing process that can draw you into greater awareness of – and closeness to – all things good and beautiful.

Life-Writing: Pain Into Art

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How to Write about your Life and recover from Trauma

We all experience trauma: Big T and little t and all-points-in-between trauma. Relationships end. We fail at things. People die. We meet more people. Lessons get learned. And each life holds a unique story that could be a page-turner if mined deeply. We can write our troubles into beautiful prose if we choose.

Why bother? Some of you already love writing. It helps you take unformed thoughts and press them into beautiful sculptures of depth and meaning. Your childhood longings foreshadow your adult passions. Heartbreaks shed light on why you do what you do. Loose threads of confusing experience come together to form whole scenes with pattern and purpose.

For example, in my own Life-Writing, I discovered why the aesthetics of spirituality matter so much to me. Why I felt so drawn to the Church of England and the cathedral choir and the organ and the bells – and why I had always been such a snob about informal religious services and their repetitive songs and their rock bands and PowerPoint slides and impromptu speakers. This was not just Deborah’s shallow, judgmental side. It was me channeling my father’s complicated spirituality: both his yearning for depth and beauty – and his lifelong entrapment in fundamentalist religion.

And why not? I mean, it happened, right? The past is always going to be what it was. Not writing it serves no purpose. Not writing our lives only leaves the memories sitting in the proverbial attic gathering dust . . . when we could try on those old clothes, rifle through the trunks and scrapbooks of our earlier days and make new sense of them.

So, here’s how to start Life-Writing:

1. On notebook paper, make a list of important scenes from your life. Include the worst memories and the best. Leave space between each scene.

2. Cut your list, so that each scene is a small strip of paper.

3. Fold each scene strip several times and put all scenes together into a container with a lid. Shake the container. Set it aside. Take a nap.

4. Each morning, or each week, depending upon your writing schedule, remove a random strip from the container and write that scene as if you were writing a screenplay. Use as much sensory detail as possible.

After a few weeks, take a look at all your pages together. Do some more writing. Add scenes to your container as you think of them. Check your pages after a month.

What do you notice? Tell someone you trust – someone gentle and kind. If you have a favorite scene, allow that person to read it. Ask them to give you their honest reaction.

Set your scenes aside for a week and journal about them. Do they make you want to keep going? Do they inspire you to take a writing class, to refine your skills? Do they inspire you toward a goal? Just notice that.

And keep writing . . .