The Hardest Word In Therapy

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There are lots of difficult words in therapy. Trauma, abuse, grief, change are just a few of the hard words therapy causes to surface. There is one word though that is more difficult than all the others for most of my clients.

ACCEPTANCE

On the road to change there are three words. Acknowledgment or awareness, acceptance, and change. Change cannot come without the other two being ahead of it on the road.

However, it is the word and act of acceptance that most of my clients find the hardest to see, say and do. Acceptance means that one has to accept fully that what has happened to them to this point in their life, no matter how much they would wish it could just be forgotten, wiped away, not remembered, will always be a part of them, always.

Most people with trauma spend their lives ignoring, running away from, or repeatedly responding to events and relationships from a place of their traumatic experience. And yet, all the while, they are trying to pretend that it is not the trauma. That they can forget the trauma, box it up, pretend it is not the cause of all the subsequent fears, traumas, failures, and unhealthy coping techniques they employ for all the days of their life that follows.

Most people with trauma work very hard to NOT acknowledge or be aware of their trauma and the subsequent trauma responses. They work even harder on NOT accepting that this trauma will forever be in their memories.

In order to progress towards real change, one must acknowledge their trauma. Face it, understand it, process it in relation to all that has followed, recognize it and be aware of how it causes you to make decisions, respond to events, and conduct relationships.

The second step is acceptance that your trauma is part of you. We cannot erase memories. Lobotomies are not performed in many countries any longer. Our experiences are our experiences. They happened. They shaped who we became after and what we thought and believed about ourselves after the trauma.

And this is where change comes in. We cannot change what has happened. We can however change how we feel about it. We can change how we react to it. We can change how we think about ourselves in relation to it. And in changing these things, we change everything.

It is a process. Sometimes a slow and painful process. Sometimes a quicker process. Each person’s path to change will be different. It will not happen overnight. But it can and will happen if we acknowledge, accept, and then change our thoughts, change our beliefs, change our reactions.

What has your trauma caused you to think about yourself in relation to it? I am not worthy of love, I am not good enough, my feelings do not matter, I am not valued, and any of the millions of things we can be taught to think and believe by our traumas. How have these beliefs affected your choices in life, your responses, your relationships? Do you know who you are outside of this trauma? Are you even aware of who that person is?

The path to change can be frightening. For all the horrible things trauma causes in our lives, we can become accustomed to it because we know it. We know exactly how it looks, feels, and what we can expect to happen. It is known. Change is unknown. The person on the other side of change is unknown. The life on the other side of change is unknown.

And so the only remaining question is, do you wish to be the same person with the same trauma reactions in 6 months, a year, 5 years, 10 years? Or do you wish to find your truer self, accepting the past, and growing beyond it?

Acknowledge, accept, change. One moment at a time. Sometimes you can make inches of progress and sometimes miles, but the journey always starts with the same words, hard though they may be. Change is possible.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Fear Of Change

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When clients come to see me for the first time, they always say that they want to change their lives and change who they are in their lives. However, when we start working on that change and they start to think about what that change is going to look like, their fear can sometimes keep them from making forward progress.

When we have trauma, we have developed responses to that trauma since the trauma started. With every subsequent trauma, we have more responses added. All of these responses shape how we think, how we react, and how we live.

Over years of time, regardless of how miserable we are or how bad our lives have become, we become comfortable in the knowing that this is the way things are and we know this person we have become very well. Much like an old blanket or comfortable slippers, they don’t exactly keep us warm anymore but we know them, we are comfortable in them, and we are not inclined to change them for something new.

When the little thoughts of change or the actual changes start to occur when we start to address our trauma and responses, fear becomes a constant companion. Fear of who we will be without these worn in parts of ourselves. Fear of what we will lose and who we will lose if we opt for the new person we can become. Fear of the unknown instead of the old and comfortable.

This fear can be overcome, but it is not going to be comfortable. No serious work on trauma ever is. It is not going to be easy. It is not going to be quick. It may well be the hardest work you will ever do and the scariest.

So what can help us overcome this fear of change? Accepting that we will be different. Accepting that our lives will be different. Accepting that not everyone will make this journey with us. Accepting that we can live happier, healthier lives and that we deserve to do so.

The first step is always the hardest. Admitting that change needs to happen.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Pick Your Battles

two white and black chess knights facing each other on chess board

Some days it can seem that all we do is fight battles. With ourselves, with our thoughts, and with others. These battles can be years long or new occurrences. Some may be worth fighting but some may be better let go.

The battles worth fighting are the ones that are going to keep us safe, mentally and physically, or those that are going to improve our lives. Battles to no longer be abused are worth fighting. Battles to change negative thoughts and behaviors we have are worth fighting. Battles to replace negative or destructive habits with positive ones are worth fighting. Battles to make our lives better are worth fighting.

These battles, even though they benefit us, are still sometimes very hard to fight. Especially if we have had years of conditioning that have made the life we currently live become normalized. Even if it is destroying us, we may still feel it is normal, for us.

There are also battles that are not worth fighting. The battles that are not winnable. The battles that cause us more harm than good. The battles that make our lives worse instead of better. These battles we should work to let go.

The battle of believing someone we love who hurts us will change someday. The battle of holding onto toxic relationships because we do not want to be alone. The battle of continuing negative thoughts or anxious worries always thinking about the next calamity or what we hate about ourselves. The battle of always needing to have control over everything and everyone, which is a false sense of security.

The battles we should let go of are those which negatively impact our lives and are not winnable. They are like whirlpools that go around and around and around but get nowhere. They are the battles where we walk the same ground over and over never moving forward. These battles are never about progress. They are only about negative repetition.

Practicing and learning to let go of these battles is also a process of repetition, but this repetition is positive. It is forward moving. It is not covering the same ground. It is not spinning around the whirlpool.

It is making change. Stopping the negative and choosing positive. It is refusing to continue doing as we have always done. It is about making our lives better, healthier, stronger.

Some battles are worth fighting. Some battles are not. Pick your battles and fight on to a better you.

Until next time,
Deborah

How To Identify An Addiction

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Whenever most people hear the word addiction, their first thought is drugs or alcohol. While drugs and alcohol can lead to addiction, they are by no means the only things people can be addicted to.

An addiction is anything in our lives that we cannot stop doing and that we feel compelled to continue doing and if we attempt to stop doing it we suffer negative reactions.

We can be addicted to almost anything. Food, exercise, shopping or spending, gambling, phones or tablets, video games, self-harm such as cutting, soda, hoarding, cleaning, and anything else we are not able to stop doing and that if we try to stop causes us negative reactions.

Addictions are built up over time of repetition and reinforcement. Similar to forming habits, but the difference in addictions is that our brain becomes convinced that we need the thing we are addicted to and that we cannot live without doing it. We are compelled to do it by what becomes a chemical need for it. The addiction releases dopamine into our brains (reward chemicals) that make us want to have that reward or in some cases release more and more.

If we try to stop these addictive behaviors, we suffer withdrawals just the same as we do if we are addicted to drugs and alcohol. In fact, the withdrawals can be exactly the same. Nervousness, shaking, feeling depressed, being irritable can all be present. I have seen many clients who are addicted to electronic devices and/or video games who stop doing them or are prevented from accessing them by parents, who then display these withdrawal symptoms.

Most all addictions have a negative effect on our lives. We may tell ourselves that our addiction doesn’t affect us negatively so that we can continue doing it, but a truthful examination will show that is not true. Addictions cost us money, time, relationship issues, health issues, emotional issues, and much more. What is your addiction costing you, honestly?

Many people with addictions do not want to give them up. Convinced that they are making their lives better or that the addictions make them feel better emotionally (which dopamine can do that) but it is a false sense of feeling better. It is avoidance of dealing with the emotions that are driving the addiction. Many times, I have clients say, I play video games all day because I enjoy it. Only minimally true, it is more likely because they are avoiding a negative emotion or situation. Constant dopamine release can make one feel that way.

So, if you have an addiction, how do you break it? One step at a time. One choice at a time. One moment at a time. And working to gain understanding of what the addiction is helping you to avoid? Emotions, trauma, relationships? It can take quite some time to break an addiction and there will be negative responses by both your body and brain during this time. This is why many people start trying to break an addiction and when the negative responses come they find it too hard and give up or relapse.

Even if that happens, we can always start again and again and again. As long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to begin again. We do not fail because we do not succeed on the first attempt or the 50th, we fail because we do not try again.

One step at a time. One day at a time. One hour at a time. One second at a time. One choice at a time. Repeat as often as necessary. Fail. Try again. And then keep trying.

Do or Do Not

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Every day, even every moment of the day we are confronted with choices. So many of them we don’t even consider choices but choices they are. It truly is do or do not at the core, emotions are what makes it grey.

When the alarm clock goes off, we can choose to get right out of bed or we can hit the snooze button. The clothes we wear we choose what to put on. Do we eat breakfast or do we not? And what do we eat if we do? Choices all.

As we go throughout our day the choices are nonstop, every second there seems to be a choice that we are making whether we realize it or not. So automatic some of these choices become that it can seem as if we have no control of them as if we have no choice.

That, however, is the emotion of the choice speaking. Making us sometimes feel that we have no choices about what we do or how we live. If we are struggling financially and cannot see a way out, we can think that we have no choices about what we do in that situation. However, there are still choices.

Choices can be easy, mindless, automatic or they can be agonizing, painful, and traumatic. Many times we will avoid the ones that hurt and keep choosing the ones where we are comfortable – emotionally. But that is still a choice complete with its own consequences.

If we change nothing about our choices then nothing changes about our lives. There is no magic choice and change fairy to come and change things for us. Nothing changes without choices. But are we emotionally able and emotionally strong enough to make those choices?

Many times we have past trauma that causes us to be unable to make these choices. Other times we have become so conditioned to choose what we have always chosen that we cannot see a different choice.

One of the main reasons to seek out therapy is to have an objective, not emotionally involved person who can help us see these choices we may not be able to see on our own. To offer alternatives and paths for us to choose differently.

In choices, there is do or do not two options. The middle ground exists as a result of emotional turmoil, it is a creation of the mind built on past traumas and automatic negative thinking. We can believe with all our hearts and minds that the middle ground exists and use it to justify our choices. It is a false narrative.

Examining the why of our choices in an objective, unemotional light is the only way to see clearly outside of the grey.

Until next time,
Deborah

How Fear Keeps You Stuck

fear

Every decision that people make is made because of fear. Read that again please.

Every decision, even NO decision, is made based on fear. The fear changes based on what you are trying to decide. But the fear questions we ask ourselves are pretty much the same regardless of the decision.

Changing jobs is a major fear decision for most people. They can be afraid of the change, afraid they do not know enough, afraid they may fail. Afraid that the job change will be the wrong choice.

Changing relationships is an even bigger fear for most people. They can be afraid of being alone, afraid of what the other person will do, afraid of letting go of their own codependence.

Changing one self is possibly the biggest fear of all. People can be afraid of who they will become if they change, what relationships they might lose, the unfamiliar of the unknown.

These fears can paralyze us into making no decision. They keep us stuck where we are unable to move, even if that move means something better for us. A better job, a better relationship, a better life. The fear keeps us bound to where we are like fear glue.

The decisions we make will change our lives. There will be a new normal to adjust to. A new way of living, of being. Each decision we make has a consequence, some are good and some are not. But one thing is certain, a decision will bring change if you stick with it.

Is there something in your life you want to change – a job, a relationship, your thoughts, your way of living? What is the fear that keeps you from making that decision? How will it affect your life if you do not make the decision? What will you continue to tolerate, endure, live with, ignore? Will you allow fear to keep you stuck?

There are two choices – make the decision or stay where you are. Sometimes we need someone to talk to about our fears and help us find the path to make a decision. Often, our past traumas can influence our fears if they remain unprocessed. This is where counseling can sometimes help to have an objective person to listen and provide the tools and skills for overcoming fear and making the decisions we need to make. But we first need to overcome our fear about going to counseling. One decision at a time.

Until next time,
Deborah

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