“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerability is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light”
We often think the problem is how we feel about the things that happen to us. We then try to avoid, suppress or medicate our emotional pain and we tend to miss the inner wisdom held within the emotion. We end up spending so long in our addictions and avoidance of how we feel, that we become disconnected from ourselves and unknowingly cultivate a deep pervading sense of shame. Then, when we feel an emotional reaction with any intensity we also feel the familiar shame and guilt associated with feeling bad about feeling. Finally, we lose confidence in ourselves and discontinue seeing value or worth in ourselves. This is a common cycle that most women experience to one degree or another. So how does it happen and what can we do about it?
The three stages of loss of confidence and self-value
The first stage of loss of confidence and self-value for women is when we are in some sort of relationship, either in our family, an intimate relationship, with a friendship group or at work, and we believe other people who dismiss or illegitimize how we feel. If we allow it, these overt or subtle messages corrode our belief in our normal emotional responses to the world. We begin to feel edgy, unsure of ourselves and insecure. We learn that our feelings are not trust worthy and that our perspectives are not important.
In the second stage our self-doubts grow stronger and we feel increasingly anxious. If we cannot trust our emotional responses to the world, we cannot gauge what is safe and what is not. We tend to automatically think it is our fault if someone has a go at us and we lose our sense of healthy boundaries. Fear becomes disproportional because it is like we are walking around a booby-trapped room with the lights out.
The third stage is where we fall into symptoms of depression, as we become stuck in anxiety, mis-trust, disconnection and isolation. The anxiety from feeling unsure of ourselves and ashamed of our emotional selves solidifies into depression because an extremely important aspect of our adaptive self has been systematically dismantled. Depression tells us that there is something very wrong with how we are operating in the world and perhaps in the relationships that surround us.
The solution is to clearly see the mistaken belief that there is something wrong with us when we feel emotions. It is important to find a safe healthy relationship, such as a therapeutic relationship and begin to work through what our feelings are really telling us. We need to identify the psychological patterns that lead to this mistaken belief and explore our interpersonal relationships to see what is emotionally safe and what is not.
This all may sound like a journey, and it is! However, it is a journey that holds the key to rediscovering our inner confidence and self-value. Our adaptive emotions help us establish and maintain healthy boundaries and discern what is right and wrong for us. Self-confidence IS confidence in our emotional selves. It is all about trusting ourselves that we can understand our emotions and follow their inner-wisdom to create a safe and secure life.
Embracing our Inner-Woman
Join me for a fabulous weekend of learning new ways of relating to your emotional self that increases your self-confidence, acceptance, happiness and self-love.
Learn more about how to work with your emotions rather than be overwhelmed them, in my new book.
A woman’s journey of self-value
The Western world generally views emotions with negative connotations. As women, we have lost connection with our emotions that possess inner wisdom. Emotions can safely guide us through our lives when we learn how to hear them. The key to emotional wisdom is simply knowing how to listen to them. However, because we tell ourselves that unpleasant emotions are bad, we often try to supress or even medicate them rather than listen to their wisdom. Without realising it, we are not only blocking our emotional system, but also we are losing the opportunity to learn from our emotions.
Allowing ourselves to feel our emotions helps us to work out personal boundaries, likes and dislikes, values, and direction. When we suppress our emotions we lose valuable information that tells us about ourselves and the world. An example of this is when Mary felt increasingly anxious without knowing why.
Mary was afraid of trying anything new. When faced with unfamiliar situations, her heart raced and every now and then she noticed she held her breath. Her stomach was often in knots and she worried about little things constantly. Mary had been in a relationship for ten years with her husband Fred, who often put her down. While her self-esteem was stifled, she did not realise the full impact of Fred’s put downs. Instead she figured she was an anxious person and decided to go onto anti-depressants. She was using to being put down, as her father and brothers had done the same thing when she was growing up. Her mother was also unsure of herself, and often tried to reassure Mary that things would all work out if she was simply nice to other people. Mary could not figure it out, she was nice to other people but still she felt horrible about herself.
When Mary saw her doctor, he agreed that antidepressants would decease her symptoms of anxiety and hep her to better cope in life. However, in the end it reconfirmed to Fred that Mary was the one with the emotional problems, and Mary became even more disconnected from her feelings and inner truth.
It was not until one day when Mary felt deeply disillusioned and depressed, that she finally decided to push through her fears and try something different. She enrolled in higher education where she started studying languages, a field she had always been interested in but never thought she would be good at. Fred continued to dismiss and put Mary down for her attempts at doing something she wanted to, but she was too resentful and disillusioned to listen to Fred anymore. Her self-blame eased as she made new friends and began to adapt a different perspective on her life and herself. Slowly she began to realise that the problem was not her emotions but rather the put downs, both her own self-blame and Fred’s put downs. She started to consciously challenge the self-defeating thoughts with the help of her friends and counselling, until one she confronted Fred.
This was completely new to both Mary and Fred. Neither one of them were accustomed to Mary standing up for herself. Unfortunately Fred simply became self-righteous and angry towards Mary which began to seal the fate of their relationship. Over time, the friction between them grew. No longer was Mary going to remain in a shutdown, depressed and anxious state, but Fred could not understand the changes in his wife.
Eventually Mary left the relationship and continued to build her self-confidence, studying languages and eventually traveling overseas. On her journey, she realised she had no need for antidepressants anymore. While she still sometimes felt anxious and scared, she learnt to distinguish between helpful fear and anxiety that held her back from growing. Eventually she met a new partner who was completely different from the men she knew in her past. Brad was far more respectful towards her and encouraged her to learn and travel.
The moral of the story
This story reflects a common experience where the wisdom behind the emotion is lost. Rather than listening to her fear and working through why she was feeling that way, Mary created a simple explanation that there was something wrong with her for feeling anxious. Unfortunately, by believing that she was the problem and further supressing her emotion, she temporarily lost the opportunity to learn self-value, interpersonal boundaries, and possibly help create a healthier relationship with either Fred or another more respectful man. Eventually she turned this pattern around and learnt to honour her feelings, however she spent over a decade of her adulthood feeling rotten about herself. So the moral of the story is to learn how to listen to the wisdom within our emotion rather than suppress or medicate it.
“Don’t Tell Me To Get Over It”
A women’s guide to navigating through emotional overwhelm
Learn how to recognise widespread emotional patterns, and how to heal them. ‘Don’t Tell Me To Get Over It’ is a self-help book that explores abandonment, people pleasing, generational grief, self-righteousness and shame. Through five women’s personal journeys, we investigate how past childhood wounds continued to impact on their lives, resulting in the formation of psychological patterns. Step by step, this book outlines how to identify the patterns, work through the emotions within the patterns and heal them. The psychological processes endorsed in this book embrace honouring our emotion and learning from our inner wisdom.
Honouring our emotions the mindful way
Mindfulness allows us to increase awareness of whatever is occurring in the present moment without thoughts such as judgement, over analysis, or self-doubt. The practice is about watching or witnessing our inner processes with our awareness. So when it comes to learning how to honour our emotions using mindfulness practice, it is all about learning to witness the raw emotion as it arises in our body, as well as witnessing the thoughts and urges attaches to those emotions.
The nature of emotion
When we witness emotion, it is important to differentiate between feelings, thought and actions. Our emotions are the actual feelings that arise in our body. They are sadness, anger, guilt, fear and happiness. There are a multitude of other emotions, however these are the core five feelings that most other emotion stems from. Emotions are not thoughts about our emotions, nor are they our behavioural reactions. This is a very important distinction, as when we practice mindfulness of our emotion, we are simply practicing witnessing the emotion itself. Yes, re-activity involves thoughts, feelings and actions, but for the purpose of getting to know emotion, it can be a great practice to witness the emotion itself, stay present with it and simply identify it.
Only when we are clear in our process of witnessing the emotions within our body and identifying the emotion, can we begin to understand what they are about. We may experience an awakening out of confusion as we gain clarity about which emotions are arising in response to different events. For example, I feel scared when I do not know what is going to happen. I feel angry when someone steals my property. I feel guilty when I hurt someone. I feel sad when I lose something important to me. I feel happy when things in my life are generally in balance. So this is a good place to start.
Adaptive versus reactive emotion
As we begin to become acquainted with our emotional processes we may come to notice that some emotions make intuitive sense and are in proportion to the events occurring around us. These are adaptive emotions. They are primary reactions to situations that give us information about ourselves in the world. Remember, this is simply the arising of the emotion itself and not our actions or thoughts about the event. The emotions are as simple as a child’s emotional response to the world. These emotions have an innate wisdom of their own.
We may also develop the awareness that some emotions are disproportional to events around us, and they may repetitively arise under similar circumstances in ways that are individual to ourselves. These are far more complex than adaptive emotions. These emotions are often telling us more about a psychological pattern which we have learnt as a child or from a trauma or a highly distressing event. As children we are generally conditioned to distort our emotional responses. These emotions are either intensified or suppressed due to messages we receive from significant people in our lives. We learn to suppress anger, or feel guilt in situations that are not our fault, or develop anxiety when we do not know why we are scared. In mindfulness when we witness our emotional reactions which result from psychological patterns, we treat them in similar ways as with adaptive emotions. We simply bring our conscious awareness into the emotion and remain present with the sensations in our body. As we do this, we may also become aware of memories, images or senses that tell us where these emotional reactions are really from and what they are about. In this way we gain valuable insight about our emotional selves and sometimes about what aspects of ourselves require healing.
So on one hand, there are adaptive emotions which directly emerge from a situation and tell us about how the situation impacts on us. On the other hand, there are emotional reactions from psychological patterns which tell us about current life events as well as our past conditioning, trauma and psychological wounding. As we practice regular mindfulness, we generally increase insight into our patterns as well as our adaptive responses to situations in the world.
The key is awareness. Our patterns may need healing, however we can do this through seeing them clearly with mindfulness and learning how to refrain from spontaneously reacting from emotional triggers. The journey of mindfulness supports our self-understanding with compassion. This results in honouring our emotional selves, as well as increases clarity and peace of mind.
“Embrace What Is” is an on-going relaxed group that will support your mindfulness practice and help you to integrate this practice into your everyday life.
Join us on Friday afternoons at 1pm for an hour of mindfulness based training and psycho-therapeutic insights.
Call Vanessa on 0424 507 101 to book your place in this exciting and innovative group
Bookings are essential, as places are limited
Emotional memories of the past can haunt our unconscious and sometimes conscious mind for a life time, if we do not heal our relationship with those memories. If the memories are traumatic such as child abuse, the loss of a parent, or a traumatic event, then the energy attached to these memories can be debilitating. How we work with the emotions that are attached to those memories is vital to overcoming the pain. The experience of distress, overwhelm and loss is captured in Julie’s story, as is her journey towards healing the emotional wound.
Julie accessed counselling because her relationship with her teenage daughter was rapidly deteriorating. She was concerned for her daughter Sarah, but felt she could not even talk to her, no matter about help her from her self-destructive behaviour. Sarah was 14 years old and had adopted a new group of friends who were drinking alcohol and partying. Julie was beside herself. Her anxiety, frustration, hurt and anger were consuming her throughout the day and night. She could not focus at work and her memory was failing her. She would walk into rooms and completely forget what she had intended to do.As we explored Julie’s situation further it became apparent that while Sarah was causing some real concern, Julie’s reaction was more intense than it needed to be. Her anxiety was severe and was stopping her from thinking straight or appropriately responding to the current situation with Sarah. So we looked a little deeper.
The distress that Julie was trying to cope with was familiar to her. I asked her to feel into her emotional distress and remember the earliest time she could remember feeling that way. She soon found a time when she was 14 years old herself, where her grandmother died. She remembered her Grandma, but she was not particularly close to her. Her mum, on the other hand was incredibly close to her own mum. Julie remembered becoming very nervous and frustrated around that time. She remembers that her thoughts and dreams became very dark and she withdrew from friends and social activities. Julie did not remember too much more about that time, but she decided she would talk to her own mum about what happened back then.
The Truth Revealed
The next session, Julie emerged appearing sombre and quiet. After a short while she began to talk. She talked about her discussion with her mother. Her mum had spoken to her for the first time about becoming deeply depressed at that time, and while her mum and dad had hidden it from her conscious mind, Julie unconsciously had picked up something was happening that was very distressing. For a period of time, her mum had suicidal thoughts and had attempted suicide several times. Because Julie did not consciously know what was happening, but she could pick it up unconsciously, she had never processed it or made sense of it. So the emotional memory simply lay hidden until her own daughter hit that age, unconsciously perpetuating a new dynamic between her and her daughter based on anxiety of self destructive behaviour.
As Julie discovered more about that time and what she was feeling, she realised that her emotional reactions were more proportional to the time when she was 14 years old herself. No longer did she feel like she was going mad! Her inner-emotional landscape had a reality that made sense of her emotional reactions. Julie began to become more conscious of what was then and what is now. She learnt how to step back from her projections onto her daughter and respond to the current situation with appropriate healthy boundaries rather than distress, angry outbursts and anxiety. Over time she felt more calm and in control over her life. Her emotions made more sense to her which eventually gave her sense of mastering her reactions to situations with her daughter.
Mastering Our EmotionsLearning to understand our emotional reactions rather than remain controlled by them opens the door to taking our power back from the emotional intensity, and make effective decisions in our life. Without seeing where her emotions really stemmed from, Julie would not have been able to respond to Sarah’s needs as well as she did. Processing the emotions rather than suppressing or avoiding them is essential to learning to work with them. This takes adopting some new practices such as mindfulness and self-awareness, however the results are definitely worth it.
“Surfing the Waves of Emotion” workshop will be held on the 7th July 2012 in Coolum Beach. Don’t miss out on learning how to distinguish between adaptive emotions and emotional memories, work with your emotions, and a whole lot more!!!
Have you ever experienced emotions that were disproportional to a current event only to discover the emotional reaction was really from your past?
[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]
The Aftermath of Loss & Betrayal
Trust is an essential ingredient in our lives as it lays the inner foundation for taking risks, trying new things, meeting new people and generally being open to new life experiences. Without trust we close our hearts and our minds and crawl into a hole, hoping to avoid any more pain. However trust is easily broken on many levels, and when major breaches of trust occur, we not only learn not to trust other people, but also ourselves and life. Rebuilding trust is a healing process, whether it is within an intimate relationship, a family or after a series of harrowing life experiences.
When we lose trust in life or in significant relationships, we lose trust in ourselves. In significant relationships such as couple’s relationships or family relationships, this can happen following sexual, physical and emotional abuse, personal violations, abandonment, or prolonged destructive patterns. In terms of general life events, loss of trust can follow trauma such as a plane crash, a serious car crash or natural disasters. These all lead to a loss of trust in our ability to protect ourselves and ensure safety and security. A loss of trust in ourselves and life is disorientating and feeds anxiety and depression. If the loss of trust is pervasive in life then we can start to heal by learning to trust ourselves.
Re-Building Trust in Perceptions & Emotions
The healing process to re-build trust in ourselves involves learning to reconnect to adaptive emotions, as part of the loss of trust is in our emotional guidance mechanism. Generally, after experiencing emotionally painful circumstances that rock our world and faith in life, our emotions become distorted. We can become very distressed and susceptible to depression and anxiety. Extreme circumstances lead to extreme emotions, which can mislead us if we do not understand the nature of emotions. Relearning to accurately listen to our emotions can result in re-engaging in self-trust.
When we do not trust our emotions, it is disorientating, confusing and impairs decision making. We do not believe that we will know how to cope with new situations. This is especially hard if the lack of trust of emotions resulted from childhood abuse, as there was never trust in emotions. If the abuse has been severe, it may be the case that the person also needs to learn to trust their own thoughts and perceptions as well as emotions. So learning to read emotions and distinguish between what are adaptive emotions as opposed to trauma emotions is vital to learning to trust ourselves.
Another important aspect of learning to trust ourselves is knowing how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Interpersonal boundaries are our ability to let in good, healthy experiences and keep out the destructive and painful experiences. Boundaries are about or ability to say “yes” and “no”.
When there have been interpersonal breaches of trust, abuse or personal violations, then trust can be difficult to maintain. We often question ourselves, such as “could /I have seen it in advance”, “why did they do this to me”, “what was so bad about me that they could have done this to me” etc. However, if someone has broken another person’s trust deliberately then they are responsible for their actions. Our only say in the situation is to stay or leave, and if the choice is to stay, then under what circumstances. For example, the criteria that may be put to a person who has abused the other that they seek therapy and that the relationship can only continue under safe circumstances. So establishing and maintaining safe and secure boundaries leads to increased trust in ourselves.
Trusting in Life
The final important aspect of re-building trust in ourselves that I will mention today is re-building trust in life. This can be very difficult after prolonged and severe abusive circumstances or a natural disaster. A counsellor once said to me “most of us live life under the illusion of safety” … of course, until it is devastated by traumatic experiences. The hard thing is that without trust there is a general foreshortened sense of future, disconnection with happiness and increased stress and anxiety. This is some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. So re-building trust under these circumstances is about creating new meaning of safety, security or purpose in life or even death.
It is interesting that one population that is particularly resilient to post-traumatic stress disorder is the Buddhist monks. Psychologist found that even after the atrocities that the Chinese Government inflicted on the Buddhist monk population in Tibet, which included torture and murder, most monks who survived were not traumatised.
When we look at the reasons behind the monk’s resilience, we find that their meaning of life and death is quite unique. Death is something they work towards their whole lives. A deep practice in meditation and mindfulness combined with a lifelong goal of reaching enlightenment buffers them from fearing death. Therefore they have a deep trust in life and death that many of us struggle with. Their trust is also not associated with physical safety and security. Rather they learn to detach from desire, including the desire to stay alive. In their detachment from the desire to live, they also lose their attachment to the emotions anxiety or fear that are usually associated with dying. Finally, with a loss of anxiety related to dying and powerful meanings about death that are positive, they also would not experience a loss of control in their lives or a sense of not coping. They are likely to experience some emotions, however they would not be consumed in the emotion nor would they hold on to the emotion in their bodies. So the Buddhist monks give us some interesting insights into trusting life, even in the face of trauma or adversity.
So whether rebuilding trust is following natural disaster or inflicted by other people, learning to trust ourselves again is vital to embracing life again. This could be done through reconnecting with ourselves and learning to trust our own thoughts, feelings and actions, or it may be through learning to establish healthy boundaries in interpersonal relationships. Finally, the meanings we make of life and death and the practice of mindfulness and meditation all contribute to establishing trust in life.
When has your trust been tested?
How did you overcome the challenge and re-build trust again?
Self-confidence is that sense of being acceptable, safe, self-assured and capable. It is the ability to feel good about oneself and not buy into those annoying self-talk messages in our heads that tell us we are too fat, ugly or stupid! Unfortunately, self-confidence is often sort after and illusive. This is especially so in situations that increases anxiety such as a new date, public speaking or a job interview.
How many times have you rocked up to that wanted job interview only to lose all your sense of self-worth, even though yesterday you were beaming with confidence when you caught up with your best friend for coffee in the park? We all lose a sense of confidence when placed in circumstances that challenge us or test us to get something we want. The question is… “what can we do to increase self-confidence when we find ourselves in stressful situations?”
Anxiety and Self-Confidence
Some things that tend to happen in stressful situations are that we become a prisoner of our anxiety which leads to disconnection from ourselves and becoming less aware of how we are presenting ourselves. Anxiety can lead us to talk louder and faster, make more mistakes, and become overly conscious of what we say or do. We tend to remember these times and cringe! To make matters worse, our inner critic judges our every attribute and move and we remember things that we might want to forget.
Mindfulness and Self-Confidence
The practice of mindfulness can show us another way! I remember reading the Delia Lama’s words in the book “The Art of Happiness at Work” where he said that when he speaks publically he is not nervous or self-conscious because he practices being present in the moment for the people listening to him. His focus or concern is on others and not on himself… while he is simultaneously aware of himself. This gives us two clues to increase self-confidence and come out of self-loathing or at least self-persecution. Firstly is to have more concern for those you are there for or are giving to. And the second is to witness and be aware of the self without judging about the self.
Mindfulness teaches us how to witness the self without being caught in the thoughts and emotions of the “ego self”. We can witness thoughts without believing them or the emotional landscape attached to them. This is a great way of facing those situations that seem to strip us of self-confidence as we can practice the art of mindfulness rather than floundering around in anxiety.
The Practice of Mindfulness to Build Self-Confidence
To practice mindfulness simply watch your breath without needing to change it. Allow your chest to expand and contract in its own time and its own way. As you breathe, allow yourself to witness your thoughts come in and out of your mind, knowing that they are only thoughts. Remain open and curious as emotions arise and physical sensations in your body emerge and fade. Notice if your thoughts try to convince you of some future unpleasant fate or that you are flawed in anyway. Watch them rise and then disappear without being caught “the story” of anxiety provoking thoughts. Know this response rising is simply a habit… a pattern of thought, feeling and actions. Irrespective of the outcome, know deep in the pit of your being that you are safe… you are good enough…. and either way, you can succeed at your goal.
When we put ourselves in situations that challenge us and practice mindfulness, we can build our confidence. We can increase confidence to some extent through visualising success in difficult situations, but the actual practice of mindfulness and perceived success, is what really builds self-confidence. Remember that success includes decreased anxiety in the stressful situation rather than the outcome of gaining the job or relationship. Mindfulness shows us how to succeed by helping us to centre our conscious awareness, calm our mind, and observe ourselves rather than remain self-conscious and fearful.
Has there ever been a situation where you “faked it until you made it”?
Now close your eyes and imagine adding the practice of mindfulness to your experience…..
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Anxiety is a tricky condition because it feeds itself. It is like a snow ball that rolls down a hill, collecting more snow and growing bigger as it rolls down. Peace of mind and relaxation are the opposite of anxiety. When we are relaxed we can be open hearted and open minded, and things seem to flow easily and freely. A peaceful mind can make it easier to respond to events in the world, rather than emotionally react.
When we are stressed and anxious on the other hand, we are more likely to make mistakes, things seem hard and we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. That is why it is said that love is the opposite to fear! Fear, stress and anxiety close our hearts, feed our defensiveness and put us into a state of fight/flight. So to decrease anxiety, the key is to starve the anxiety of the thoughts, feelings and actions that feed it.
Mindfulness helps us in this pursuit by teaching us how to witness the thoughts, feelings and actions that feed anxiety. It helps us do “dis-identify” from the roller-coaster of anxiety and its food.
The benefits of Mindfulness to reduce anxiety are twofold. Beside the process of witnessing, it also teaches us to breathe! The fight/flight response which is associated with anxiety is a physiological reaction that involves shortness of breath, increased heart rate, sweaty palms and nausea or an upset stomach. These physiological reactions occur because anxiety is a fear response where if we were faced with an immediate real threat, we would need to survive. So all the blood rushes to our hands and feet and away from our internal organs. We can help turn this physical anxiety response around however, we would be hard pushed to change our blood flow! So we focus on our breath! This is a physiological symptom of anxiety that we do have some control over. So mindfulness can help us to slow down our breath while witnessing our thoughts, feelings and actions.
There are several different forms of anxiety. There is generalised anxiety which is not consciously attached to any one cause or trigger. There is panic disorder and phobias, which is anxiety associated with a specific trigger. There is post traumatic stress disorder which results from experiencing a traumatic event. There is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder that results in unusual ritual behaviour to avoid the anxiety and unusual believes. There is social phobia, which is a fear of social relating, and there is agoraphobia which is a fear of leaving the house. All of these conditions can be incredibly debilitating however, therapy can help make sense of the thoughts and feelings behind anxiety, and by using regular mindfulness practice, people can overcome these conditions.
Angie tended to feel sick in the stomach with anxiety every time she had to meet with her boss at work. Richard, her boss, was older than Angie and while he was a fair man, he had a self-confident and direct demeanour. After attending a meditation morning with her friend, Angie decided to begin a mindfulness practice to increase her awareness of her thoughts, emotions and physiological reactions, to reduce her stress. Most of the time throughout the day she gauged her anxiety and stress to be relatively calm. However, when she knew she had to speak to Richard, she noticed feeling sick in the stomach, her throat tighten, her palms were sweaty and her breathe was shallow. She also felt her heart quicken, her hands were slightly shaky and her mind became foggy. Before practicing mindfulness, Angie knew she was stressed when she had to see Richard, but she did not know how anxious she really felt.
As Angie allowed herself to witness her mind and body’s reactions to seeing Richard, she realised her own unique anxiety reaction. To turn it around and feel more confident, she slowed down her breathing and wriggled her fingers. She then challenged some of the thoughts that were entering her mind. She witnessed thoughts that told her she was inadequate and left her feeling like a small child. She knew she was a good worker and that she had nothing to hide and yet she felt like a “naughty girl”. As she watched her thoughts and emotions, she realised that she felt the same way when she was younger and got in trouble for things she did not do. So bit by bit she comforted her inner child within and learnt how to stay in her adult self while speaking to Richard.
The power of mindfulness is that in practicing it, we can increase our self-awareness if we allow ourselves to simply listen! Angie’s story is a great example of how over time we can benefit from increasing self-awareness and practicing mindfulness.
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My original interest in psychology at 12 years old was in parapsychology, or ‘ghost busting’. So it is of no surprise that my passion for transcendental psychology emerged when I first discovered this area soon after completing my degree in psychology and the philosophy of consciousness in the 1990s. What attracted me to transcendental psychology was the systematic psychological exploration of spiritual practice throughout cultures across our planet.
What is Transcendental Psychology?
Transcendental psychology looks at the psychology behind spiritual practice without being influenced by religious dogma. This study enquires into what is happening for the person mentally, emotionally, physiologically and spiritually, in religious and spiritual practices. This includes the psychology of altered states of consciousness, the unconscious and states of meditation.
There was a surge of interest in transcendental psychology and investigations of altered states of consciousness in the 1960s, which included some of my favourite thinkers and writers in this area, such as Stan and Christina Grof (psychiatrists), Ken Wilber (psychologist) and John Welwood (clinical psychologist and psychotherapist). Each of these people contributed a wealth of knowledge through scientific investigation and their own psycho-spiritual practice, to Western science about Eastern and other non-Western spiritual practices and altered states of consciousness.
Therapeutic Implications of Transcendental Psychology
One aspect of transcendental psychology that is important beyond enquiry and research is the therapeutic implications of the non-Western approach of spiritual emergence, and Western concepts of mental illness. We can learn a lot about alternative ways to understand and approach mental illness from other cultures and non-Western spiritual practices. The Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) was founded in 1980, which aimed to increase awareness about spiritual emergence and promote alternative treatment approaches to mental illness, apart from Western psychological and psychiatric practices (Stanislav & Christina Grof, Spiritual Emergence, 1989).
An interesting finding from transcendental psychological research is that spiritual emergence and a psychotic episode have very similar symptoms, however Western and a lot of non-Western outlooks are completely different in their approach. People in some non-Western cultures who are seen to be transitioning through a spiritual emergency are thought to be on a shamanic journey or “a dark night of the soul”. They are not perceived as sick, mentally ill or deficient in their community and they are supported until they emerge from ‘facing inner or outer demons’. The whole process is simply allowed to run its course without community condemnation. Ironically, it is found that there is a higher rate of people who emerge from “psychosis/spiritual emergence” in non-Western cultures than from Western mental health wards and from using psychiatric medication (Stanislav & Christina Grof, Spiritual Emergence, 1989).
So while transcendental psychology is often seen as a fringe area of psychology, its clinical implications could be profound!
Apart from psychosis, transcendental psychology could also have implications for treating depression and anxiety. Alternative therapies that are based on Eastern practices and world-views, such as acupuncture, kinesiology and chiropractic practice, all embrace an understanding of energy flow, chakras, meridian systems, pressure points and multidimensional sources of memory that affect current psychological patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. These sources of memory include unconscious archetypal memories and past life memories. So based on Eastern medicine and world views, depression and anxiety can stem from deeply held unconscious memories that are outside the sight of the conscious mind. Again, these types of approaches could have a far reaching and revolutionary impact on contemporary psychological theories and therapies.
The Approach Taken at Conscious Solutions
At Conscious Solutions, when working with the human mind, I recognise unconscious sources of information that could affect people’s patterns of thought, emotion and action that repeat themselves throughout people’s lives. When I work with people to decrease depression and anxiety, I help them to increase awareness of sources of memory that underlie their patterns of behaviour, so they can break free from them. Simply by holding an open mind and liberal philosophy as to sources of these patterns from contemporary psychology, allows my work with many people to flourish.
This is also why I often highly recommend that clients access alternative therapies as well as psychotherapy, to help shift stubborn and pervasive patterns. I have also seen the opposite take place, where no psychotherapeutic work was accessed, only energy work. Likewise, from what I have witnessed, the outcomes were not as successful. In my experience, the best outcomes often come from combining psychotherapy and alternative therapies when it comes to depression and anxiety.
“Western psychology has neglected the spiritual domain, to its detriment, while the contemplative paths have lacked an adequate understanding of psychological dynamics, which inevitably play a major part in the process of spiritual development. As long as these dynamics are not recognised, they affect the spiritual practitioner and the spiritual path in covert ways that can exert a distorting influence on the whole understanding. So, in certain ways, [spiritual] awakening needs psychology as much as psychology needs awakening.”(John Welwood, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, 2002, Page xvi)
Want to read more about the psychospiritual?
Here are some more interesting links….
- Misunderstanding the Law of Attraction
- The conscious, the unconscious and choice in the Law of Attraction
- When the Law of Attraction leads to destructive belief systems
- The Consequences of separating Spirit from Matter
- Balancing Spirit and Matter
- Spiritual Emergency
- Unconscious Attraction Patterns
- What is the Ego and what should we do with it?
- Avoiding emotional pain through spiritual practice
- Spiritual Egotism
- Unconscious Family Patterns
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Fear, like all other emotions, has both an adaptive and non-adaptive form. In its adaptive form, fear is our friend. It is there to tell us something important. It tells us that there is danger ahead and becomes the fight/flight response. Fear is fantastic if we are standing at the edge of a steep cliff. It will tell us to back off so we do not fall over and die. Fear is also great if there is an immediate dangerous threat such as a vicious bear that is about to attack. Fear will increase our adrenals, pump our blood out to our hands and feet (where we need them) and it will increase the rate of our thoughts to try to get us out of danger. This type of fear response is perfectly normal and adaptive!
When Fear Becomes Distorted: Anxiety
When fear becomes non-adaptive or distorted, then we begin to have problems. Anxiety is what occurs when fear becomes distorted. Anxiety is like losing the off button. The fear response stays on all the time. Some reasons why anxiety is unhealthy include:
- Physiologically, our bodies are not designed to withstand prolonged stress and anxiety without developing physical conditions
- It is a great deal more difficult to distinguish between real threats and perceived threats
- It leads to impaired memory, decision-making and concentration
Anxiety is felt in epidemic proportions in Western culture and can result in a great deal of harm to ourselves and others. One of many examples is when the US Navy accidentally blew up a civilian aircraft over the Middle East in the 90’s. This accident was partly due to technological inadequacies but when the investigation occurred, it was found that the major cause was miscalculation on behalf of Navy personnel due to fear -based expectations.
Anxiety harms our bodies, our minds, our interpersonal relationships, our communities, and our souls. Anxiety holds us back from being all we can be and reaching our potential. Anxiety smothers and destroys love and connection. When we react out of distorted fear, we are far more likely to mis-judge situations and destroy what is most dear to our hearts. So while on one hand, fear can save us, it can have the opposite effect when it becomes distorted.
Danielle’s Story: Overcoming Anxiety
Danielle discovered just how unhealthy her anxiety was when she found herself in hospital. She had what she thought was a heart attack. Her heart was racing, she became dizzy and disoriented, and could hardly breathe. She thought she was going to die. But after a few hours in the emergency ward the doctor said it was a panic attack and she was being released to go home. Dazed, stressed and worried, Danielle was not sure what to make of the news.
After visiting her general doctor, she got a referral to see a psychologist. She did not want to take mediation so she opted for therapy. In therapy, she explored her family background and what may have contributed to her anxiety. She always thought she just had a nervous personality and was not particularly intelligent. In therapy she learnt that anxiety decreases cognitive skills and could have affected her academic performance as a child. She further learnt that people can learn anxiety. There were no traumas in her childhood and her relationship with her parents was loving. But as she explored her family, it became obvious that her mum was a survivor of World War II in London and had high anxiety herself. Her mum’s anxiety was not treated, and even though her mum was a small child in the war, the effects of war trauma were still playing out in Daniele’s life.
Bit by bit, Danielle learnt how to reduce her anxiety by reality checking her catastrophising thoughts, and through practicing mediation and mindfulness. Systematically, her inner demons dissolved and she was able to do things that she never previously thought she could.
Danielle’s story shows us how we can overcome anxiety and learn to empower ourselves.
What experiences have you had where you overcame your fears and succeeded at things you did not think were possible?
[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]
Have you ever been confused about how you feel? I have! At first I thought it was just me, but over the years of being blessed with hearing client’s life stories, I realized how wide spread this problem is. Depression and anxiety conditions are at epidemic proportions in Western society and a large causal factor is our disconnection with and our lack of understanding of emotion. As a culture we have lost the fine art of honoring our emotion and working with our inner guidance.
The Downward Cycle of Misunderstood Emotions
Emotions are one of the most misunderstood and poorly represented phenomena in Western society. We are often given destructive messages about our emotions such as “get over it” or “stop over reacting” or “you’re too emotional” and expected to cope. Unfortunately these messages only leave us feeling ashamed and empty inside. We often begin to believe there is something wrong with us and do our best to hide our true selves. This then leaves us feeling even more “emotional” and misunderstood. If we see a doctor about how we feel, our emotions are then often medicated which further leads to suppression and disconnection.
This process of inner disconnection is a downward vicious cycle that leads to aggression, low self-esteem, withdrawal and isolation. The hard thing is, if you start on this cycle it is difficult to turn it around. Many people develop addictive coping mechanisms such as self-medicating on drugs and alcohol. If the emotions are particularly intense such as when someone has experienced trauma or abuse, then the drug and alcohol cycle can be incredibly challenging to heal from. Underneath addiction is misunderstood emotion and real emotional meeds that were never met. Of course, the addiction simply further shames a person and therefore further disconnects them from the core issues and a balanced relationship with their emotional self.
Empowering Ourselves Through Honoring Emotion
Western culture has generally lost the art of being present with our emotions. The consequence of this is disconnection from ourselves, in our relationships and culture, and with our environment. The art of becoming aware of emotions and learning how to honor and listen to them and ultimately work with them, is an empowering journey back to personal re-connection, self-love and self-acceptance. This does eventually lead to personal freedom, but to embark on this journey we have to allow ourselves to feel. Becoming aware of our emotional selves is incredibly powerful. When we learn to become present with our emotions with compassion and wisdom, we step away from compulsion and addiction. This practice is what I call “self-responsibility”. Simply put, it is the “ability to respond”, rather than react out of unconscious childhood conditioning and emotional wounds. Self-responsibility is freedom. When we practice it we begin to make real choices that honour ourselves and others. We begin to act out of self-awareness rather than unconscious drives.
As a rule of thumb, the more aware of ourselves and others, the more conscious our choices become. Also, the more we authentically feel our emotions, the more naturally we want to act in the best interest of ourselves and others.
Over the course of the following blogs, I am going to explain how to distinguish between old emotional wounds that are the result of supressed emotional pain, and “adaptive emotion” which is our natural emotional response to current world events. I am going to discuss the process of honouring our emotions and responding rather than reacting. I am going to outline some processes of working with specific emotion. And finally, I am also going to talk about emotional safety and real emotional needs that require us to meet as an act of self-love.
Surfing the Waves of Emotion Workshops for Men and Women
If you are interested in learning how to apply these processes in your life, I am facilitating workshops in 2012 called “Surfing the Waves of Emotion”. Due to gender differences in how we approach our emotions, both socially and biologically, I am presenting this group to men and women separately. On the 17th March, Surfing the Waves of Emotion” will be held for women, while on the 21st April, this group will be for men.
Learning to honor and work with your emotions leads to self-responsibility, self-empowerment and person freedom. You can be your best friend, and break out of addictive cycles and emotional wounding for good.