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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Taking Breaks

Photo by AJ Wallace on Unsplash

Sometimes we can be so tired in our mind and body that only a complete break from our everyday life will reset us. This past weekend, I was able to have one of those resets.

My family and I went for four days to what is called the Missouri Breaks in Montana. It is several hours north of where we live where there are almost no people and definitely no Internet, cell, or television service of any kind. The land is high prairie with pine trees, juniper bushes, and sagebrush.

The sky is magnificently big and seems to go on forever.

The only noises are the animals and birds in the morning and evening. In the in between, there is no noise. Zero noise. It is completely quiet. The peace is immeasurable.

In the morning, you can hear everything from Western Meadowlarks to Canadian Geese along with coyotes and elk and many more starting off daybreak. In the evenings, it is much the same and the music is amazing.

In the in between time, there are walks or hikes to view wildlife, find amazing rocks and fossils, and breathe in the world around us. There is also time for coloring and naps and the occasional classic movie such as Chisum or Lonesome Dove.

In the evenings, there is peace and the campfire. The hypnotic mesmerizing flames are like a colorful dancing meditation and we sit transfixed as if we are stones. We roast the occasional marshmallow and having brought my telescope we view the heavens above in all its unpolluted by light glory.

Mars is there, along with Orion, the Big and Little Dippers, Hercules, Gemini, and many more along with super bright binary stars and red giants. It is a light show unlike any other and as far as you can see there are stars. Also satellites that go streaking by very fast and shooting stars.

There are no phone calls, no text messages, no appointment reminders and no email. There is no social media distraction and no news of the day in the rest of the world. There are no work day duties. Only peace.

I sit in the sun and watch the burning embers of the fire from the night before and I feel my body, mind, and spirit being fed. It seeps into me resetting me once again.

Taking breaks is necessary for those in the mental health profession just as it is for everyone else. It is okay to take time for yourself so that you can give care to others. It is more than okay. It is a requirement for a healthy life.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Be Your Own Valentine

Valentine’s Day can be the cause of great joy and great stress. When we have a special someone in our lives we feel we have to work extra hard to keep them and when we do not have that special someone we feel we must spend all our energy trying to find them.

On Valentine’s Day, and truly every day, we can be so invested in keeping or finding our special someone, or being very sad that we have lost them or have not found them, that we forget to love the person who needs it, deserves it, and benefits most….ourselves.

Do you love yourself? Do you make you happy? Do you practice self love?

If you answer no to these questions, perhaps it is time to start changing that, right now, this moment, today. And to build in love for yourself on every day of the year.

If you believe that you do not or can not love yourself, why is that true for you? Where did that belief start in your life? You were not born not loving yourself. It started at some point after that. Experiences, trauma, caregivers who caused you to form this belief, internalize someone else’s beliefs as your own. We do not wake up one day as an infant and decide that we, ourselves, do not love ourselves any longer. We are conditioned to believe this. How were you conditioned to answer no to the question of do you love yourself?

Are you happy with yourself? If the answer is no, what parts of yourself are you not happy with? And why did you become unhappy with those parts? Again, who informed that belief, who gave you that belief? What experiences caused that belief to become something you now accept? You were not born unhappy with yourself. How were you conditioned to believe that you make you unhappy?

If you answered no to the first two, it is highly unlikely that you practice self love. When is the last time you did something to show love to yourself? Were you taught that to think of yourself and do things for yourself was selfish? Were you taught that you had to or needed to take care of others and care about their happiness before your own? When you were born your own needs were very important to you – food, care, clothing, safety. When did that change?

“Loving yourself… does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.” —Margo Anand

Loving yourself is the most kind, respectful thing that you can do for you every single day. Repeat after me – I love myself, I am worthy of loving myself, I deserve to love myself, my love for myself makes me happy with myself.

Be your own valentine!

Until next time be well,

Deborah

What’s On Your Christmas List?

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One thing that most of us do during the Christmas shopping season is make lists. Lists of gifts we need to buy, food we need to shop for, gatherings we need to attend, everything has a list this time of year. One thing we usually do not do or do enough of is make a list for ourselves.

Christmas is the season of giving. The old adage is often repeated, it is better to give than to receive. However Christmas can also be a very stressful time of year. This year offers even more stressors than normal with the ongoing virus. It is quite possible that we need to think about giving to ourselves as well.

As we sit down to make all of our other lists, we should think about pulling out some paper to make a list of what we can do for ourselves during this holiday season to love ourselves and to lessen our stress levels.

There are many things we can for ourselves. Some take seconds and others require a little more planning, but all are worth it to love ourselves more this holiday season. Here are just a few that you might add to your list this year.

  1. Start the day as soon as you wake up with taking time for yourself. Whether that be deep breathing, breathe in counting 5 seconds and breathe out counting 7 seconds or doing a brief guided or unguided meditation. Perhaps a few short yoga movements or some nice stretching when you get out of bed. Just to feel centered and grounded.
  2. Taking a nice warm bubble bath or shower and using some of the wonderful products out this time of year. Holiday scented scrubs and body washes. Lighting some holiday scented candles. Picking up a holiday scented moisturizer.
  3. Scheduling a massage, facial, hair or nail appointment. Doing something just for yourself. Some just you time for pampering.
  4. Get out in the sunshine. Winter can be a difficult time with lots of cloudy and darker weather. When the sun is out finding time to just go out and stand in it or to take a brief walk in it can do wonders for your mood and body.
  5. Be mindful of your commitments. Many times during the holiday season we can over commit. Agreeing to any and everything others want us to do leaving no time for ourselves. Be mindful not to over schedule yourself.
  6. Try to stay as much in your routine as possible. The holidays can often lead to staying up late, eating too much, and skipping daily habits such as exercise and taking your vitamins. Sticking as close as possible to your usual routine will keep your bod and your mind happier.
  7. Make a spending budget. Many people stress over what they spend during the holidays. If you make a budget and stick to it you can avoid the after Christmas spending blues a little easier.
  8. Give yourself time outs. If you start feeling overwhelmed or overly tired, find ways to take a time out. Spend some time doing things that make you feel recharged and rejuventated.
  9. Manage you expectations and roll with the changes. Inevitably our holiday schedules can get jumbled up or rearranged. Let go of what you cannot control and focus on enjoying what unfolds.
  10. If you feel overwhelmed or that your stress is too much for you to manage, seek out help. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Delegate tasks and do not try to do everything yourself. And if you are experiencing stronger feelings of grief or sadness, seek out professional help.

When you are making your holiday lists, make one for you and give the gift of self love to yourself.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Do One Thing

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I have a sign in my office that states, do one thing every day that makes you happy.

In a world of grief, division, blame, election chaos, and Covid finding happiness can seem a herculean task. But finding one thing, no matter how small, might seem a little more doable.

Think right now the first thing that comes to your mind that makes you happy. What is it? It does not matter what it is. It does not have to be something big or enormously meaningful. It can be tiny and to others may seem insignificant or even trivial, but to you it makes you happy. It makes you smile.

The first thing that came to my mind is coffee. A really good cup of coffee. Every time I have my coffee in the morning, it makes me smile. it makes me happy. It makes me warm and fuzzy. And this is something made of just beans.

Do one thing every day that makes you happy.

And in the great tradition of building habits, if you can do one thing for a period of time, you can also add to that one thing with another thing. And possibly another thing.

What if you added enough of one happy things that it filled most of your day? Would you think you would feel happier overall? You would need to notice and acknowledge each one. Speak gratitude for each. Enjoy the smile, the happiness, the warmth for each one.

How many one things could you have in a day? Five, ten, twenty, a hundred? Just think of the dopamine and serotonin you would get from all those one things that make you happy every day.

This week I put up the Christmas decorations in my office because Christmas lights make me happy every single time I turn them on. Every time. One thing.

What will your one thing be today?

Until next time be well,

Deborah