Overcome Anxiety With Positive Thinking

When Marlene started the steps to anxiety reduction, she didn’t realize that her anxious behavior was accompanied by negative thoughts. What she learned was that these thoughts actually propel the anxious feelings and behavior. She had to do some quiet reflection to recognize those underlying thoughts, and eventually she was able to pin them down. Then, she had to challenge them. Here are the arguments she came up with for each one: “There is always an end to misery,” “I need to get calm so I can think of a solution; there is always a solution,” “Being human means you have problems.” Meanwhile, she was practicing deep breathing along with visualizations. She thought of a lovely mountain cabin she had once stayed at on vacation. She carefully filled in the picture with the plants, the furniture, the trees, everything about that cabin. When she got into it, she could smell the mountain air and hear the birds cawing. She was amazed to notice how nice and relaxed she would become when she did this. Then, one day, a check bounced and, out of habit, she retreated into her usual pattern. “Now I have an extra charge,” she moaned, “and there isn’t enough money to cover it! What will I do? What will I do? Oh, God, why does this always have to happen to me? I hate this!” She started breathing rapidly; she started to sweat. Marlene began to feel faint. She collapsed on a chair, weak at the knees, her head swimming. This is a common reaction to stress. Neurons in the brain fire in the old patterns...

How Anxiety Starts In Your Family and Why You Need to Overcome it

Marlene is a perfect example of a person who thought she had an anxious personality. She understood why she had it, but that didn’t change anything. (It usually doesn’t.) Her father abandoned the family when she was young and then her mother had to work, leaving her in charge of younger siblings. She was responsible, but that was an awfully heavy burden to place on a child. It was scary. Little kids do not have the emotional resources to tell themselves “This too shall pass” the way adults do when something bad happens for the first time in adulthood. Hers was a normal reaction to a bad situation given that she was only a child when all this started. So the world became a scary place and Marlene became anxious at many things. Any time the stability of her life was threatened, she would overeat; she would feel her blood pressure go up; she often got queasy or lightheaded. She frequently thought she was headed for a panic attack and had so many of them that she started to label herself as having a Panic Disorder. Along with this, she would think: “Oh, no, I see no end in sight,” or “I don’t have a clue how to get out of this!” or “Why did this have to happen to me?” Marlene tried the approach described in last week’s post, with a great deal of irritation. That’s common. “Why,” she complained, “Do I have to be the one to work on myself when it was not my fault that I was treated badly and became an anxious person?” She...

Overcome Anxiety With Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety is a learned behavior. Can you imagine! The brain actually learns how to become anxious. Research shows that brain development in traumatized infants is significantly different than that of normally-raised babies. It predisposes them to adult struggles with stress and emotional illness. Anxiety Research [See Allan Shore, the Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health, Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol.  22(1–2), 201–269 (2001)] The good news is that the anxious brain can also heal. Research on what happens to the brain during meditation shows that even newbies at it can start to reach for changes that Tibetan lamas have mastered in a lifetime of training. [See Daniel Goleman, Finding Happiness: Cajole Your Brain to Lean to the Left, New York Times, February 4, 2003] So if you say, “I’m an anxious person,” it sounds like, well, that’s that. But if we stand in awe of our brains and marvel at the fact that they can re-learn how to respond to similar situations that triggered the old responses, hey, we have a fighting chance of overcoming history. Anxiety Hurts Relationships What does your attitude do to your relationship? It gives you the permission to spout your anxiety all over the place and your husband (or wife) can’t do anything about it (or so he thinks, but that’s another post). Do you see where we’re going here? Your thinking is plum wrong. You do not have permission or any excuse to act up and make him scared or unhappy or nervous himself just because you are used to feeling and acting anxious....

What Are Mixed Messages?

In psychological terms mixed messages are called “double binds” and they were discussed extensively way back by Gregory Bateson (http://www.anecologyofmind.com/). Analytical people will enjoy Bateson. Let’s look at Mary Lou, who delivers mixed messages. We met her in an earlier post. She may have had an ulterior motive to doing so and she may not even be consciously aware of it. Ulterior Motives for Mixed Messages Let’s look at the ulterior motive possibility. Mary Lou knows very well that something is wrong. She asks her husband to ”be honest” with her although she actually is too frightened and fragile to handle honest feedback. If she’s unable to handle painful feedback, why does she ask for it? The answer is because when she admits—to herself—that she could be hurt by some kinds of feedback, she becomes frightened. In other words, Mary Lou can’t handle the feedback and the act of admitting she can’t handle it hurts and frightens her as much as the feedback itself. Family History of People Who Give Mixed Messages Mary Lou grew up in a family with high standards. You had to excel. Her sense of her own identity was tied up with excelling. Her parents were so disappointed when she didn’t measure up to their expectations, that she would feel crushed. Because they were kind and loving parents, she certainly wanted to please them. And I would expect that in holding such high standards, Mary Lou’s parents thought they were doing something positive for her. Maybe they thought that they were bringing out the best in her that way. Mary Lou was a person who...

Why People Give Mixed Messages

By the good fortune of technology, we can enjoy Abbot and Costello’s famous routine, “Who’s on first. What’s on second, and I-Don’t-Know is on third.” Those guys are still funny today. It’s just not so funny when you’re married to someone who is sending mixed messages. In fact, it’s downright frustrating. But that may be exactly the point. Let me explain with a story. “Be honest with me,” Mary Lou pleaded with Lou. “Did I do something wrong?” “Oh, no,” Lloyd answered, trying to sound reassuring. Inside, however, he felt as though he were walking on a tightrope. Past experience told him that he was now being carefully placed in a lose-lose situation. His guard was up, but he didn’t know what to do. The bombshell fell right away and although it was expected, it still jarred him as it always did. His stomach muscles tightened, his breath quickened, his palms perspired. “See, that’s why I don’t trust you,” Mary Lou, his wife of 20 years, said. “I don’t believe you are being honest. And you’ve done this before. I can’t ever get into a real conversation with you. You run away from it so fast. You hide. You won’t talk about what’s really happening. You are just not in reality!” Mary Lou said and then continued on for a few minutes more until Lloyd felt almost faint. Not only was he confused as to how to respond, but he was clearly being attacked. He wanted to lash out. “I am not hiding!” Lloyd said, making his first mistake. “Yes, you are,” insisted Mary Lou. “When Marjorie came to...

Anger: Abuse That Shoots Yourself In the Foot

You’re angry. Boy, are you angry. She didn’t do things the way YOU wanted them. A lot of good that anger’s going to do you. I mean, did you think that because you’re angry, she’s going to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Did you think she will turn to you with eyes full of love and affection and stroke your back? Were you expecting your anger to turn a hostile environment—that YOU created—into the warm, loving one that you long for? Who are you kidding? Oh, did I say these things before in an earlier post? Well, I guess I have to do that again. For all of you who are tired of hearing me remind you that anger is one of the most worthless emotions and we could all do well to leave it at the door, just skip this post. But there was someone out there who needed to hear this again. I just know it. And by the way, repeated anger is abuse. No two ways about it. “Worthless emotion?” you’re saying. “Why? Isn’t it a natural expression of feelings?” Anger may be natural. So is poison ivy. It’s certainly not helpful. It’s decidedly unhelpful. The angrier you get, the more you push away those you love, the more you muddy up the waters as to what, exactly, you want, and the more hostile an environment you create. Everything you want gets pushed that much further away. Is that what you want to do? I don’t think so. Instead, learn to see the world from your partner’s place. How about trying one simple exercise the next...

Is It Escapism or Self Care?

Patricia was so sad. “I just sit in the chair and cry,” she told me. “I don’t get my work done and I can’t get past it.” “It” could be anything. For some people, it’s a bad fight; for others, a blunder they made that they regret so much it gets in the way of moving on. For still other people, what keeps them stuck are the harsh words their spouse threw at them or the secret they found on his computer. For others, “it” is a fight or the lack of words at all; stony silence where there once was laughter. The logical next step is to tell a person to start some self-nurturing activities: go to the gym, read a book, take a walk in the park. “Oh, I do that,” Patricia assured me. “I’m just wondering whether I haven’t turned it into escapism,” she said, adding that she could end up taking an all-afternoon walk in the park or getting so engrossed in a book that she doesn’t do the dishes. It’s Escapism If You Answer These Questions the Wrong Way What an excellent question she posed: Just where does self care end and escapism begin? And how do you tell which one you’re engaged in? The answer can be found by asking the following three questions: 1. What proportion of your time do you spend in goal-oriented activities versus the self-nurturing (or escapist) activity? 2. Do you often feel a compulsion (or a strong pull) toward the escapist activity? 3. How do you feel when you have completed the escapist or self care activity? We...

Compassion Training For Abusers

“Boy, your last post must have been about me,” someone said. “For me, as soon as we’re in an argument, it’s all about winning at any cost. I can be sarcastic, do the put-downs, yell, whatever it takes to win. And you know what? I don’t want to be an abuser any more. What can I do?” I assured this individual that I’ve met so many, many people with this same complaint that I could not possibly have had just one of them in mind. Why We Have To Win The problem is that when the argument begins, people with this issue slide back in time to the fights with their father or their mother, the arguments that escalated into intense power struggles. The only way out of being humiliated, injured (physically, emotionally, sexually or verbally) and lost was to strike back, and if the strike was really powerful and the parent was devastated, then all the pain would be over for the moment, until it would start again. Those original fights were struggles for survival. At least, that’s how they felt. Losing would mean not losing the argument over the topic at hand; it would mean losing their sense of self, their identity, their ability to hold their head up and live one more day. That’s the reason they take over so quickly when people are starting to argue with their partner: Since it’s all about survival, their fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in and the thinking brain disconnects. How can this sudden takeover of the brain be stopped? How We Teach Children To Be Compassionate The answer is compassion....
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