Red Flag Warning

People will always show you who they are. The problem is that we do not always heed the warnings.

Red flags never fail to present themselves. People may think they are able to hide who they really are, but it really is not possible. Who people are is so ingrained in their being that it will always show in some way to others.

Some warnings are subtle and are far easier to miss. Especially if we are not paying attention. Some are giant and waving right in our faces and we see them. These red flags we choose to ignore.

Why would we do that? Ignore warning signs about people? In my experience, it is almost always done through a trauma response that has left an internalized belief in our brains.

For example, someone shows you a red flag of not respecting boundaries. But due to a trauma response that makes us believe we are supposed to keep the peace or make other people happy, we allow them to cross those boundaries and every one that follows.

What if someone shows you a red flag of threatening to leave all the time if they do not get what they want. But due to a trauma response that makes us believe if they leave we will always be alone and no one else will love us, we stay in the relationship doing anything they want just so they will stay also.

If someone shows you a red flag of substance abuse ONCE. But due to a trauma response of codependence from childhood trauma with the same experiences, we stay so that we can take care of them and make sure they do not die. And they do it again and again and again and we feel we cannot leave because they might die and we would be responsible.

If someone shows you a red flag of abuse (physical, mental, verbal, sexual) ONCE. But due to a trauma response from past abuse that makes us believe we are responsible and that it is our fault, we accept that we deserve it and we do not leave or seek help and they do it again and again.

Red flags can also be more subtle such as gaslighting, manipulation, poor anger management, controlling ways, and focusing on themselves. These are sometimes harder to spot when they first start to appear, but they are still red flags and are noticeable if we are paying attention.

And herein lies the problem. Because of our trauma responses, we can start new relationships in this response space and are unable to see what is in front of us due to what is inside of us. Our internalized beliefs that are based in our own unresolved trauma can blind us to the truth. They can make it where we unable to recognize it and also unable to accept it and let go of the relationship immediately.

We can go months and years without acknowledging what is right in front of us. Even if other people see it and point it out to us over and over, we will still deny and refuse to really look at what is happening to us. Our trauma prevents it. And sometimes even when we do start processing why we stay in bad relationships, the fear of leaving still keeps us trapped.

I believe that most people sense red flags from the very beginning and they just move past them. If only we could ask ourselves questions about these sensations we might avoid a lot of hurt and trauma later.

Intentional Space

My word of the year for 2021 is intentional. According to the dictionary, intentional is an adjective meaning done on purpose; deliberate.

Being intentional is a choice. A deliberated (or thought about) choice. It is planned. Being intentional requires effort.

For most of us, our lives are a jumble of what we have to get done sprinkled liberally with the anxiety and stress of relationships, jobs, financial responsibilities and more. On many days, it can seem as we run from one thing to another trying to get everything done.

In this chaotic mess, there can be little room for intentional space. We can feel that space is something we do not have time for. And by space, I mean something that enhances our calm, relaxes our mind and bodies. The ability to have intentional space for meditation, relaxation, self-care seems lost in the frenzy of what we think HAS to be done on a daily basis. And most of that is done for others and not ourselves.

If you are like me and you thrive on calendars and planners, you probably schedule all that you have to do on a daily basis. There are reminders on your phone. Everything is laid out hour by hour and some of it scheduled well in advance – intentionally.

I intentionally fill out my planner each week. I am deliberately doing it on purpose. All my clients, meetings, notes, billing, all of it scheduled out.

I also schedule intentional space every single day. You can also schedule intentional space in your day. Of course, you have to schedule and then follow through just as you do everything else on the schedule. It cannot be pushed aside because it is for yourself and therefore deemed not as important.

Schedule intentional space for meditation, yoga, massage, walking, hobbies, self-care. Whatever helps you to relax and gain space (or margin) in your life for that moment in time on that day.

You have to make your intentional space as important as your work tasks. As important as tasks you have scheduled to do for others.

Your space matters.

Intentional space in your day allows for a recalibration of your mind and body. It allows you to have space to process through things in the day that are stressful and difficult without carrying them forward.

Intentional space gives you the ability to raise your level of calm and lower your level of anxiety. Scheduling in and following through on your intentional space for yourself helps you to create acceptance of these activities as being necessary through reinforcement and repetition.

Scheduling intentional space repeatedly allows it to become a habit. One that you can repeat every day without guilt but in true acceptance and welcoming.

How will you create intentional space today?

Failure Is Not Final

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Failure is not final. Or rather there are only two ways in which failure is final.

Choosing never to try again and being dead.

Failure is a temporary condition in a moment in time. Failure does not mean that time has ceased to move and there is no point forward after.

There is always a point forward after failure if we choose to try again and if we still breathe.

Think of a time when you believed you failed at something. Did you breathe in the next moment after that? Did you continue to move forward and live the next day and the day after? Even though you believed you failed, life kept moving, you kept moving. No failure is final.

Many people give up after they fail. They believe that they will not be successful and therefore they refuse to try again. The fear of repeated failure keeps them from making another attempt.

People can also be influenced by how other people react to their failures. If someone who has traumatized us uses our failures against us, we can internalize these reactions and compound our fear of trying again.

If part of our trauma response is to believe that we cannot do anything right, then we will feel as if failure is our only outcome. We have then lost sight of the one component that can empower us to try again – hope.

Many times if we internalize our failures and increase their negative effect we can block out our actual successes. Increasing the power of our failures and the fear surrounding them makes it almost impossible to see the things we have done well or that we are good at.

If the lie we have chosen to believe is that we cannot do anything right, it will be the first thing presented by our brains whenever we try something. It will become like an automatic alarm bell going off in our heads when we think about trying again.

As long as we are alive and breathing there is another chance to try again. Failure does not stop us and it does not stop time. Only we can stop trying.

When I think of failure and trying again I am often reminded of one of my favorite movies and movie lines. In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara having been beset by multiple trials and tribulations is all but ready to give up completely. In that moment, she gathers her strength (or resilience as the case may be) and says, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Tomorrow is another day. In 60 seconds there is another minute. In one inhale and exhale there is another breath.

As long as we live, there is another opportunity to try again and again and again if necessary.

Failure is not final unless we allow it to be.

The Blame Game

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Blame is a very insidious thing. It seeps in and also comes out in a multitude of ways especially for those who have suffered trauma.

Those who have suffered trauma often blame others for the way their lives have turned out. It is very true that trauma can cause people to respond in a variety of unhealthy ways. The trauma response affects thinking and decision making.

The problem with blame is that it can also become a very comfortable thing. It is often times much easier to live in blame than it is to change in spite of it.

Many times trauma responses will include things like “Things can never be different because of what has happened to me.” People will often times deal in absolutes. The trauma they experienced has permanently altered their lives and every choice they make. There is no way to live differently.

Blame also serves another purpose when directed at those who have traumatized us. It lets us direct our anger. It gives our anger a path to travel towards those who have hurt us. It also can be used at times a weapon against those who have hurt us.

When we blame others do we think that it will cause them to drop to their knees and beg our forgiveness? Do we hope for apologies? Do you wish for changed relationships?

When we blame others do we think that it will erase what happened and take away our pain? Unfortunately this is not the case.

Blame allows space to continue living as we are. With blame there is no self examination. With blame there is no thought of what we can change about ourselves. With blame there is no recognition of our own ability to live differently.

Change is a very long and difficult process in some cases. It is surely much easier to stay in the blame space and forget about doing the hard work of processing through trauma.

When we blame others we give up our ability to change. Those who have hurt us may never change, but we can.

Blaming others stops our own ability to change. Stop blaming and start working on processing in order to become changed.

Happiness Now

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I recently heard someone say that you cannot wait for life to not be hard to be happy. A more powerful statement would be hard to find.

Life will always be difficult. It will be at points hard and complicated. It will be stressful and disappointing. There will always be something coming along to make things harder. Living is hard.

Many people think that if they wait until things get better or easier they can be happy. If they wait until life is less complicated and stressful happiness will follow. What happens if life is always hard?

If everyday we are waiting for our lives to be easier before we decide to be happy eventually we run out of time. There is not an unlimited amount of days for one to wait for things to be “perfect.”

It would be much easier to be happy right now if our first thoughts were of things that make us happy, ways to be happy, choosing joy intentionally. If that were what we think about first, we could block the way for thoughts of how difficult things are going to be that day or even replace them.

Will it keep things from being difficult later in the day? Probably not because this is how life is. But if you start out happy don’t you think that when the difficult comes later you might be more able to have resilience to handle it and power through it without retreating back to negativity?

What have you put off because life is just too hard? Jobs, education, relationships, self-care? What have you decided you would wait to do because things are just not “perfect?” Have children, retire, buy a home?

What would you choose to do or be happy about if you could let go of waiting for your life to get better?

Then choose it now. No one is promised the next day or the next breath. No one lives forever and life will always have struggles. Choose your happiness now.

Waiting is wasting time. Precious time that could be spent in happiness. The time for happiness is right now.

Free To Decide

Photo by Florian Schmetz on Unsplash

An idea that many of my clients struggle with is the ability to accept they have the ability to decide what they want and what they do not want. Many of them feel that they can only make decisions for themselves if someone else agrees or approves of that decision.

This belief and behavior comes of course from trauma and traumatic conditioning and response. No one is born believing they cannot make their own decisions. They are trained to react that way.

People are trained to question their choices by others who make them feel that those choices are wrong or bad or stupid. People are trained not to trust what they really want because others make them feel that their choices have hurt them in some way or made them unhappy.

You are able to decide what you want and what you do not want without any input from anyone else.

Making your own decisions is another form of boundary setting. If someone wants you to do something for them, be in a relationship with them, choose what they want over what you want they are pushing over your boundaries. They are pushing over your free will. They are in fact taking away your right to choose for yourself and your life.

Someone invites you to a party but you do not really want to go. However, your trauma response is that if you do not go someone will be upset or unhappy or think something about you. So you go, even though you do not want to go. You can say no. You can decide what you want to do.

It is okay to make decisions without asking if they are okay with everyone or the right thing to do. Will they always be right? No, but that is the way we learn what we do not want to do next time. Are the decisions we make to please others right? They are likely not right at all for us. They are only right for what someone else wants and feels.

Think of the decisions you have made today. Were they made based on what you really truly wanted or were they influenced by what others wanted or felt? Were they influenced by traumatic conditioning? Did you actual want to do what you did today?

I have had clients who were making decisions about significant and important things in their lives not make the decision they wanted but the decision someone else wanted or that someone had made them feel they had to make. And making those decisions had resulted in these same clients being sad and disappointed with everything that happened after the decision was made.

Many times clients will say that when I tell them they can make their own decisions they feel uncomfortable, even scared. Believing that they cannot do so, they fear taking that step. The power of fear is tremendous and all traumatic response is based in fear.

Make decisions based on what you want. What you really, really want for yourself based on how you feel. Do not let someone or some past trauma rob you of your free will.

Changing Your Relationship Patterns

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

When we examine anything in our lives, we must start at the beginning.

Our patterns of behavior, as well as our beliefs about ourselves, are formed at very early ages in our lives. Most are created from birth to age 7 by the actions and words (or inactions and lack of words) of our parents, guardians, caregivers, and teachers.

These are the years in which we learn our patterns of behavior in response to what others are teaching us about ourselves and when we form our beliefs about who we are in response to those teachings.

Our patterns in relationships are also formed during these times. Our attachments or lack thereof. Our value and seeking value in relationships. Our search to have our needs met that the people in our lives may not be meeting. Resulting in our relationships being healthy, beneficial, and supportive or unhealthy, toxic, and lacking any support.

Our beginnings direct our footsteps as we go forward. If we have been taught that the only way we can have relationships is in an unhealthy way, we will continually repeat that pattern throughout our lives. We will also constantly wonder why we keep becoming involved with the same kinds of people with the same kinds of results.

To begin to find our way to healthier relationships, we must examine what we were taught and how we responded at very early ages. We must accept that our responses now are an ongoing response for trauma (emotional, physical, sexual) that occurred when we were very young that we have never fully acknowledged and processed.

Until we do this, we cannot hope to have differences in our relationship patterns now. Our choices, our responses are directed by those encoded patterns that have now become “normal” and never questioned. We have come to believe “it is just who we are.”

In reality, it is just who we were taught to be by others.

Truly examining these patterns tracing our lives back to when the beliefs and responses started, we can then start to acknowledge, confront, and replace with a new way of being. We must learn to love ourselves. Believe that we have value and that we deserve healthy relationships, even with ourselves.

We must work to replace negative beliefs and thoughts that have been a part of our lives for years. This is not an easy task nor is it a quick one. It takes a long time to replace years of “conditioning” and begin to think and believe differently.

Most often, the first step is to learn to love ourselves. And this is also often the most difficult due to the years of being told and shown that we have no value, we are not lovable, we are the problem. We believe it and it is then presented as truth in our brains.

Where did your patterns begin? How did your beliefs start? What events or people shaped your thoughts about yourself? You were not born in these ways, they were created and taught.

Once we truly have those answers, we can begin to pursue change. And that progressive, step by step movement can fundamentally change our lives for the better.

Until you heal your past, your life patterns and relationships will continue to be the same it’s just the faces that change.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

It Is Not All In Your Head

Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

When struggling with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, and many other diagnoses, we can feel as if it is all in our head. In reality, it is, but there may also be other factors that contribute.

Many mental illness diagnoses can sometimes be a result of changes in brain chemistry. It can sometimes be the result of hereditary genetics. It can sometimes be the result of traumatic experiences leaving imprints on various portions of the brain.

All of these things can be true. Our struggle with mental illness can sometimes be in our brains. But other factors may also affect how our mental illness diagnoses are affected.

Vitamin, mineral, supplement deficiencies can also have an effect on how we process things emotionally. There have been many studies relating to the connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Vitamin B12 and other B vitamin deficiencies have a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions.

Several other deficiencies can also affect brain function, and mood responses including Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, folate, and iron are among those. These deficiencies can be caused by unbalanced nutrition, genetics, age, and other physical illnesses.

Those who suffer from disordered eating diagnoses may be at greater risk of these body/brain/mood deficiencies. As well as those with poor nutrition as a result of their environmental factors.

Other factors that can complicate mental illness diagnoses especially for women are hormonal imbalances that can also contribute to fluctuations and possibly contribute to mental health issues. Hormones that are unbalanced have been shown to contribute specifically to depression and anxiety in women.

Many times those who are diagnosed with mental illnesses tend to be treated only with medications to manage those illnesses with chemical brain changes. However, it may be just as important to get a complete workup of vitamin, mineral, amino acid, and hormone levels. The addition of vitamins and supplements and possible hormone adjustments may help manage many of the symptoms and fluctuations in several mental illness diagnoses.

Proper nutrition and sleep are also directly related to fluctuations in many mental illness symptoms and diagnoses. Managing what you eat and how well you sleep can directly correlate to how you feel. Much of our vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and supplements come directly from what we eat. If we eat poorly or are restricting what we eat, we may not be receiving much-needed nutrition vital to brain balance and health.

Sleeping well is a much-needed item for brain health as well as physical health. Disrupted or poor sleep hygiene can have a direct impact on many mental health diagnoses including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. If not managed in a healthier way, disordered sleep can directly impact how our mental illness diagnoses affect us and can increase those symptoms and responses.

Mental illness diagnoses do very often reside in our brains and our brain function. However, there are several other factors that can directly impact the effects and even possibly the development of or increase in symptoms.

Mental illness is not just a disorder of our minds but a brain/body connection that involves many parts and pieces.

If we want to truly improve our mental health we must embrace all the parts and pieces that contribute to it and work to have all of them at the best functioning possible.

We are not a single diagnosis, we are a complex construction requiring attention to the whole being, not just what’s in our heads.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

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

A Mind Full Of Calm

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

These are uncertain times and our minds can be full of worry and fear. Uncertainty breeds fear. The unknown can be a very scary thing.

Even in times like these, we can find ways to have a mind full of calm. With all of our social-distancing and quarantine, many of us find ourselves with time we need to fill. We can fill it with worry and fear or we can fill it with calm.

Many people still view meditation as some foreign concept that they believe they cannot do. They see it as getting rid of all thoughts, which they feel is an impossible task. It is something very much different than that, however.

Meditation is about the recognition of thought, the acknowledgement of thought, and the releasing of thought. In much the same way as imagining thoughts on clouds and those clouds being allowed to go on their way.

Meditation is about knowing the thoughts we have, confronting them, but not allowing them to take root and take over our minds.

Meditation offers a place of calm in a sea of turmoil.

Many of my younger clients, who are accustomed to constant input and digital interaction, think meditation is boring. It can be difficult to get started, but like any other habit, it can be done just a little at a time and increased slowly becoming a habit over time.

There are several apps that we can use for meditation and these seem to really work well for our digitally oriented minds. Perhaps if you give one of these a genuine try, you might find a mind full of calm for yourself.

I am not in any way affiliated with any of these apps. All of these apps are free to download and use and offer other in app purchases to expand their use.

1 — Headspace. Possibly one of the most well known of the meditation apps offering guided meditations of varying time to get you started on your journey. Meditations of as little as 1 minute can get you started on your way to a mind full of calm.

2 — Calm. Another well-known meditation app. It also offers guided meditations as well as seven and 21-day programs for beginners.

3 — Insight Timer. This app offers both guided and unguided meditations. You can set a timer and sit without guidance or choose guided meditations with mindfulness teachers.

4 — Aura. This app features daily meditations, mood tracking, and nature sounds. You can also set timers to take breaks and do breathing throughout the day.

5 — Smiling Mind. This app offers simple, 10-minute meditations that are broken down by age group. It covers age seven to adults with these meditations. So this app is a great starter for younger kids and teens.

Starting with just a single minute a day, you can find ways to manage your fears and worries and calm your mind.

Navigating the uncertainty and managing social-distancing and quarantine can be made easier if you have a mind full of calm.

It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos. ~ Donna Karan

Until next time be well,

Deborah