Fear Never Ending

In the past two to three weeks, several of my clients have presented with a newfound COVID related fear. That their fear will never end and neither will COVID.

Most of these clients are younger and in very good health. Many of them have been fully vaccinated. Yet, their fears linger and increase with each watched news report or online article read that includes increasing warnings about variants and the efficacy of vaccines.

Here, where we live, cases have only very minimally increased with hardly any deaths and very minimal hospitalizations. About 48 percent of people are fully vaccinated here. The state is fully open with no mask mandates and very few restrictions.

There is mixed reporting on what part of the population is getting COVID now as our news outlets here only report once a week on COVID statistics at all because it is so low here. There is mixed reporting from healthcare related sources that more people who are fully vaccinated are getting COVID and that they are still older and with higher risk issues, while other sources say it is people with either one dose of vaccine or no vaccine. Regardless, few of them are going into the hospital.

These clients who are fearful spend little time on what is known and most of their thoughts are spent in the unknown where fear resides strongest. Their fears are strengthened by what might happen, who might get sick, how the vaccines might or might not work.

I try to encourage my clients to avoid the news and social media as well as falling into the rabbit hole of online speculative articles. These things do nothing to help reduce fear and in fact are like gasoline to a fire.

Much like other grounding exercises it is important to stay with what one knows for themselves and in their experiences. Are they vaccinated, how long have they been vaccinated, have they gotten sick, what about their friends and family? What is the truth of their own world? These are things that are known and repeatedly investing thoughts and words in these things can reduce fear.

Many clients wonder how long all of this will go on. How many variants will there be? Do the vaccines work well enough? It seems to go on and on with new things being reported daily.

Unfortunately, there is no answer to this question, which makes it even harder to confront. There is no known answer to this question. This then becomes a point of acceptance – that we do not know and we have to accept that truth.

One thing we can know is that no situation lasts forever. Everything changes. It will not always be this way.

Fear that doesn’t end needs fuel to keep it going. Be mindful of your fuel. Be mindful of what you say to yourself. Be mindful of your thoughts. This is what keeps the fear in check and does not allow it to run over your life”Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh

Trauma Cannot Be Fixed

Photo by Astrit Malsija on Unsplash

As a clinical counselor, I would estimate that 95% of the clients I see have experienced some kind of trauma in their lives. And that 100% of those clients would like their trauma to be “fixed”.

Trauma cannot be fixed. It can only be lived with, better.

As soon as I tell clients that there is no way to “fix” or get rid of or not be affected ever again by their trauma, they generally make one of two decisions.

They get upset and decide that I am a terrible therapist and that surely there must be one out there who can “fix” them or that therapy is bogus and they are never trying it again and they do not come back to see me again OR they decide they are willing to try to live better with their trauma.

You can remove trauma or at least obliterate it from memory. One way to do that is to have a lobotomy. Another way to do it is to undergo ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or shock therapy. Hypnosis can make you “think” you have removed trauma, but it only replaces it with another thought or reaction.

Otherwise, trauma remains part of who we are, forever. It can control our thoughts. It can control our actions and reactions. It can control our lives.

If we allow it to do so.

Or we can gain control over our trauma and learn to live BETTER with it.

Step one, acknowledging and confronting all of our traumas. Knowing them. Being able to name them, talk about them, and recognize how they started. We must truly understand what our traumas are in order to learn to better live with them.

Step two, we must learn and accept how these traumas now control our lives. What emotions do they make us feel, what beliefs have they created in our minds, how do they affect our relationships with others, how do they affect our relationship with ourselves? Recognizing that how we live with trauma is how we live our entire lives. Every aspect of our lives.

Step three, we must work to change negative beliefs, emotions, choices, actions, and reactions. We must work to replace these with positive. We must work to confront these with the truth instead of the trauma-informed lies. We must consistently, constantly with every single one apply repetition and reinforcement to live better with our trauma.

It is exhausting work.

And this is the point where those who have chosen to stay at work to live better with their trauma start to reconsider. In the world of quick fixes, instant gratification, change at blinding speed, the work required to change our trauma-informed life can seem overwhelming. And many will give up at this point feeling that it is too hard and that living the way they have always lived is easier.

But it is not easier, it is just comfortable, familiar.

Those that stay after this point come to understand that by doing this work they can live better with their trauma — despite their trauma. As survivors.

Living better means having positive beliefs about yourself. Living better means having more positive emotions than negative in relation to your trauma and your life.

Living better means making more positive choices because you want to make them not because your trauma-informed lies direct you to make them. Living better means having positive actions and reactions based on what you truly want for yourself not what your trauma-informed lies tell you that you deserve.

Trauma cannot be fixed. As a therapist, I do not have a magic wand. What has happened to all of us happened, it cannot be erased.

It can be lived with — BETTER — with work, with understanding, with love for yourself.

Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose. ~ Michele Rosenthal

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Understand and Be Understood

Habit number five in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey is Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. It sounds complicated, but it is actually fairly simple in practice and absolutely necessary to effective communication habits.

How many times have you found yourself in conversation with someone and you are only thinking about what you are going to say when they ever stop talking? Concentrated on your reply and not what they are actually saying.

Often times, we may not even hear what they are saying, especially in highly emotional conversations. The reply in our heads coupled with anger or fear or sadness blocks out every word they say to us. We wait only to pounce with our heated reply or disagreement or accusation.

Many times, we seek only to be understood first. We want people to hear us. We want to make our point. What the other person has to say takes away from our time to be understood, or so we believe.

We can listen selectively, focusing on words that make us more angry, more sad, more afraid and leaving out the context of what someone is saying entirely. We can filter everything someone else is being said through our own frame of reference and experience. Not hearing anything about the other person’s personal story in the words.

We can jump to conclusions about what someone else means by their words before they even finish speaking. In today’s climate this is particularly true when what one person says does not line up with what another person thinks or feels, immediate judgment comes without ever taking the time to actually listen to the other person.

We respond usually in one of four ways when we are not seeking to understand. We judge what is being said and then either agree or disagree. We ask questions but only from our own frame of reference. We give advice or solutions to the problem. We analyze the other person’s motives and behaviors based on our own experiences or beliefs.

When we seek to understand we intentionally listen to the other person, even to the point of making notes if we have to in order to actually hear and see what they are saying. When they are finished speaking, we paraphrase or repeat back what we heard them say such as “I heard you say” or “I hear you saying”. And then asking them if what you say you heard is actually what they said.

Without intentional listening, repeating back, asking for correction if what we repeat back is not what they said, and then responding with I statements, we end up with reactive responses having actually heard nothing from the other person. This results in misunderstanding, blame, and repetitive arguments. Common ground is nowhere to be seen and no one understands anything about the other person.

Deep communication is intentional. It requires effort and the ability to resist being reactionary. But practiced over time this habit can transform relationships.

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Choose Happy

Mindful Montana Wellness, LLC Professional Counseling Services Blog

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Most folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be.” When I present happiness as a choice to many people, they will many times look at me as if I have lobsters coming out of my head. As if this is an absolutely false statement and that there is no way people can choose to be happy.

While they are looking at me in disbelief, they are also telling me all the reasons they cannot choose to be happy. They were sexually or physically abused, their parents divorced or their parents abandoned them in some way, their family was or is dysfunctional, they were or are being bullied, their relationships with family and others were or are bad or difficult, they believe they are bad or damaged or ugly or stupid or any number of other negative thoughts and lies they have told themselves, people have done or are doing this and it MAKES them unhappy, or any number of other things as a reason for why they cannot be happy. They go on to say how they just can’t let that go and choose to be happy.

Why not? People choose to be unhappy. They choose to let the past, events, people, their own thoughts make them sad or anxious. We aren’t born sad. We become sad because we let the things that happen to us and around us make us believe negative things about ourselves. We feel responsible and blame ourselves or we feel victimized and blame others or events. Then we become unhappy. We are made unhappy by our own thoughts about people and events.

I am not saying that traumatic events are not sad or upsetting, they are. It is natural to feel these emotions at the time of the events and even for some time after, but when they become the thing that drives every emotion, every choice, every thought after that every day of your life – you are making a choice every day when you wake up that unhappy is how you will feel. No other emotion or thought is given a chance to see the light of day.

How then do you choose happy? You come to the truth of what started you on the path of unhappiness. You process exactly what happened, who was at fault, and how to walk through it not live in it. Sometimes people need help to do this and that is where counseling comes in. Once you have made this journey, you can then begin to let those things go as rulers of your life and mind. And replace them with what is happening right now, this moment and making the choice every single day and yes every single moment to choose happy. Just as the choice was made up to this point to be unhappy over and over millions of times a day, the choice can be made to be happy over and over millions of times a day.

Today, when the negative thoughts and emotions you have return, take a few seconds and counter them with a positive. There are always, always positives if you look for them, notice them, say them, write them down. They can be big or very very small things. Today, for every negative thought, emotion, memory insert something positive. If you have hours a day to spend on negative things, you have hours a day to spend on positive. It is all in what you think, what yous say, what you do, what you let go of, what you replace.

You have the power, not events, not people, not the past, not the future, to make you happy or unhappy. Choose happy.

Until next time,
Deborah

Mindful Montana Wellness, LLC is accepting new clients in Billings Montana (and video/online clients in all of Montana) – girls and women – for professional counseling. To schedule a FREE initial consultation call 406-413-9904, email mindfulmontanawellness@gmail.com or visit our Facebook page Mindful Montana Wellness on Facebook

Don’t Take Anything Personally

In Michael Ruiz book The Four Agreements, the second agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. This may be the agreement that we as humans make with others and with ourselves and one of the most destructive to our lives.

We make agreements with others and with ourselves from the day we are born taking things personally. As a baby, someone in our lives may continually tell us that we are “such a pretty baby”, “such a smart baby”, “such a happy baby” or in some cases “such a slow learner”, “such a slow walker” “cry all the time”. We as humans make agreements with what is being said and if we believe those agreements we embody those things and they become who we are. If we believe we are pretty, smart, and happy because we agreed and took personally what someone else said – this becomes our reality. If we believe we are stupid, slow, and unhappy because we agreed and took personally what someone else said – this becomes our reality.

In the Four Agreements, Ruiz states something over and over – Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. Read that statement again. Now say it out loud. Now make an agreement with yourself that this is the truth. Nothing anyone else says or does is because of you. It is because of their own agreements, emotions, truths. Not yours. It only becomes yours after you agree with them and begin to believe it as truth.

We make agreements with ourselves in the same way. The things that we tell ourselves everyday, over and over, we choose to agree or disagree with, we choose to believe or to not believe. Almost all of these things have their root in something someone else has said or done to us and we have already agreed, so the belief is already started in our minds. We water it with repeating it, with believing it, with becoming it until it grows into a tree in our minds with deep roots that are hard to move.

How can we make changes to agreements we have made for years with others and ourselves? First, we must become aware of the things we have agreed to and confront those that need to change. Second, we must want to change more than we want to stay as we are. Third, we must have patience. Undoing trees with deep roots takes time and work, hard work. And fourth, we must repeat, repeat, repeat to ourselves as many times as it takes the replacement agreement we want to make. Such as, the old agreement – I am stupid and the new agreement – I can learn to do anything or it was my fault with I did the best I could at the time.

Remember,nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. Don’t take anything personally. The second step of freedom on the path of the Four Agreements.

Until next time,

Deborah

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