Tag Archives: psychotherapy

Do You Feel Like an Underdog?

Underdog

Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The Chicago Cubs.

These are a few of the underdogs many of us have rooted for. (OK, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you weren’t rooting for the Cubs, but millions of people were!) They are people who seem to have the deck stacked against them, but who persevere anyway.

Why do we love underdogs?  One idea is that we believe life should be fair, which leads us to favor the underdog. Underdogs are also perceived to work harder than their rivals. A team or entity that seems likely to lose is not, however, championed as an underdog if it has a lot of money or other resources. (retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/12/24/why-do-we-root-for-the-underdog/1699.html) That last statement might have thrown the Cubs’ underdog status in doubt, as they clearly had lots of resources at their disposal. Still, 108 years without a World Series win carried a lot of weight! [I will also say, as a side note, that it seems the statement excludes a certain presidential candidate from underdog status.]

I think another reason we root for the underdog is that we can readily identify with him or her. Of course, there are people who are used to success and expect to win, but many of us don’t. In fact, a person can easily feel like an underdog even when she isn’t one, just because she’s used to that mindset. I think experiences of being “one down,” particularly in childhood when we’re at our most impressionable, translate into a lifelong feeling of being an underdog. There is still a part of us that identifies with the powerless child we once were.

It’s no coincidence that characters like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are children fighting adults. This accentuates the seeming futility of their quests. Knowing how these stories go, we expect them to win in the end, but that doesn’t stop us from being afraid that they won’t. In cheering for them, we also cheer for ourselves and our own chances to triumph.

What are some of the challenges that you face? Do you believe that you can prevail, as you believe the novels’ protagonists (or the baseball team) can, or do you feel like you’re not good enough to rise to the challenge?

I’ve written before about Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. These ANTs tell you that you won’t come out on top. For instance, if you own a business, you question the worthiness of your product or service and wonder why anyone would want to pay you for it. If you aren’t self-employed, you feel “less than” other employees and assume someone else will always get the big project, promotion, etc.  If you’re on an online dating site, you figure that your profile will be overlooked by anyone worth dating.

The thing about ANTs is that they’re usually exaggerated or false; if there is some truth to them, there’s often something that can be done about it.

The next time you find yourself assuming you’re going to be the loser in a situation, step back and look again. Look at yourself as if you’re a friend who’s on the outside looking in. What are the chances that you’re right? Is there any truth at all to your belief? If there is, can you do something to improve your chances?

If you’re a business owner, look at your business history. Unless you’ve just started your business, I’ll assume you have succeeded in finding at least one customer or client, probably many of them. What was it that attracted them to you? Is that point of attraction still there? What can you do to make your product or service even more appealing? There’s nothing more empowering than finding specific actions that will help you to improve your chances of success.

If you’re worried that you won’t be assigned a big project or get a promotion at work, remind yourself of what has happened in the past. Have you been assigned projects or gotten promotions in the past? If so, did you rise to the challenge and do a good job? If you did, chances are good that you will continue to succeed and get noticed by your employer. Success breeds success, right? If, on the other hand, you haven’t been assigned big projects or gotten promotions (and there are projects and/or promotions to be had), or they haven’t gone well, look at what you can do to change that. Can you get more training? Can you speak up more on your own behalf? Can you take some initiative to show what you can do? If it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere in your current job, can you consider looking for another job?

And regarding online dating…as I tell my clients, there are lots of potential partners out there, and you only need to find one. What are the chances that there isn’t even one person with whom you are compatible? (Here come the ANTs again…take a moment to stomp on them. Look at this situation from the perspective of one of your friends. Would he or she say that there’s no one out there for you? Probably not!)

How will you rise to the challenge today (or maybe tomorrow)?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.

family-separated

In my last post, I wrote about the “committee” meeting inside a person’s head; the committee is composed of all of the critical voices that bring us down and make us question ourselves. The committee is at its most powerful when we don’t talk to other people about our negative thoughts. People who grew up in dysfunctional households typically have very strong committees. The committee thrives on the three main rules in a dysfunctional family, which are “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.”

First let’s look at “Don’t talk.” Members of a dysfunctional family don’t usually talk about anything important because it feels dangerous. If they talk about things below the surface, they might end up talking about Dad’s alcoholism or Mom’s verbal abuse. If they don’t talk about these things, they might be able to pretend they don’t exist.

Family members don’t talk to others about what’s going on, either, because it’s all a big secret. If it’s too dangerous to talk about things in the family, it’s even more dangerous to share them outside of the family. A dysfunctional family is very invested in making things look perfect on the outside, no matter what’s really going on. This brings us to the second rule.

The second rule that dysfunctional families follow is “Don’t trust.” Let’s say the father is an alcoholic. It’s likely that no one in the family trusts him because his behaviors are erratic, based upon whether he’s been drinking. He, in turn, doesn’t trust anyone else in the family, because they’re probably critical of his drinking, making him feel attacked.

Each member of the family feels some level of responsibility for what’s going wrong, which leads to a deep sense of shame. This shame contributes to the family’s isolation from the rest of the world. Who really wants to talk about something they’re ashamed of? It’s unfortunate that this leads to distrust of others, because people outside of the family can be helpful. They aren’t part of the family dysfunction, so they can offer a different perspective and resources that family members don’t have and probably can’t even imagine.

The third rule is “Don’t feel.” If you grow up in a dysfunctional family, you learn that your feelings usually don’t matter. Sure, you’re allowed to act happy, like nothing’s wrong. But it’s not likely that you’ll be encouraged to express feelings of sadness or fear. Expressing these things might seem to your parents to be indicators of what’s wrong in the family, and they can’t have that! Plus, they’re probably too wrapped up in their own worries to be concerned about yours. It’s also unlikely that you’ll be encouraged to express feelings of anger, particularly towards your parents. And don’t forget that sharing feelings can make you vulnerable to others; this is certainly not a comfortable thing in an environment where it feels like it’s every person for him- or herself.

What happens when you stop expressing your feelings? You lose track of them entirely! I start every session of my “Discovering ‘Normal’” counseling group with a feelings check. After a lifetime of ignoring feelings, it’s hard for group members to identify what they’re feeling, so I give them a chance to practice that in group. Remember that, as uncomfortable as so-called “negative”* feelings are, we need to feel them in order to be able to feel the “positive” feelings. It’s a package deal; you can’t feel one end of the spectrum without also feeling the other.

Did you learn these three rules in childhood? Are you still following them today? If so, what can you do to change that?

 

*I often tell my clients that there are no “positive” or “negative” feelings. There are only feelings that are more or less comfortable. All feelings are needed, even sadness and anger, and all feelings can be put to positive, as well as negative, uses. Think, for instance, of the women whose anger at losing their children to drunk drivers led them to form MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). They used the energy of their anger in a positive, life affirming, way.

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Your Mind Is a Dangerous Place

Committee signs

“Your mind is a dangerous place. Don’t go in there alone.”—author unknown

For several years I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment center in Crownsville, MD for women with addictions. Chrysalis House residents who spent significant amounts of time by themselves were regularly warned of the danger of “isolating.” Many of them had a problem with this, as they felt a need for time away from the other 20+ plus residents of the house. How were they to tell the difference between healthy solitude and “isolating?”

The difference, I think, lies in what is going on inside a person’s head when she’s alone. Twelve step groups speak of the “committee” meeting, meaning that a person’s unhealthy thoughts are getting the better of her. The committee causes isolation; solitude alone does not. Isolation, therefore, can happen even when a person is surrounded by other people.

What does the committee tell you? Nothing good! Here are some of the messages you may get from your committee:

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re going to fail.”

“Nobody likes you.”

“You’re unlovable.”

“You’re on your own.”

“You don’t have the right to exist.”

You’re not [thin, smart, rich…] enough.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

The committee plays a significant role in anxiety and depression. One reason that depression and anxiety tend to persist is that we use our minds to understand our world. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, your means of perceiving and interacting with the world is filtered through negative thoughts and feelings. This is the committee at work.

A great way to defy the committee is to get an outside perspective, possibly from a family member, a friend, a therapist, or a member of the clergy. He or she will be able to look at your situation more objectively and help you to see the flaws in your internal logic. If you are self-critical, talking to someone who cares about you will help to cut the committee down to size.

The committee uses a variety of techniques, often called cognitive distortions, to make you feel inadequate or just plain wrong. These cognitive distortions can also be called Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. There are different types of ANTs, including mind reading; fortune telling/catastrophizing; a negative mental filter; maximizing and minimizing; and all or nothing/black and white thinking. For more information on ANTs and how to “stomp” on them, sign up for my free “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” e-course by filling out the form on this page.

Are You For Real?

A Little Girl  In  Women's  High Heel  Shoes

Some of my clients feel like impostors who will be found out at any moment. They feel like they aren’t really as good as other people think they are, and it’s only a matter of time until the illusion is shattered and their lives fall apart. These people are highly competent and are by no means coasting and pretending to be someone they’re not. So why would they feel this way?

The answer comes from childhood. If a child deals with certain kinds of family dysfunction, she is forced to grow up prematurely. Possible sources of this dysfunction include parental alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic mental or physical illness, or narcissism. Having a parent who is absent physically or emotionally can create this dynamic, as well. Having a chronically physically or mentally ill sibling can produce similar results.

So if you’re a kid in a family like this, you realize you’re on your own. Your physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter may be met, but your emotional needs will not. It’s more likely that you’ll find yourself trying to meet a parent’s emotional needs, which is an impossible task.

What does this lead to? It usually leads to a kid who is very mature for her age. She is like an adult in a child’s body. As she grows up, she will probably be seen as someone who has it all together. She will be really good at taking care of problems and of other people; taking care of herself, on the other hand, will feel selfish. And heaven forbid that someone else try to take care of her!

This child grows up physically and takes on more responsibility in the world, but she’s still emotionally a child. Instead of being an adult in a child’s body, she becomes a child in an adult’s body. This is the reason for her feeling like an impostor. While she looks and acts like an adult, she feels like a little kid pretending to be an adult.

If you’re one of these people, the good news is that you’re not actually an impostor. While you are not grown up emotionally, the rest of you is grown up. You actually can do the things that others think you can. What you need to do is to reassure the part of you that is a child (your “inner child”) that you, the adult, are in charge, and she doesn’t need to worry about anything.

It may seem weird to think about a child inside of you, but everyone has an inner child. Treat this inner child like you would an actual physical child. You wouldn’t expect a child to take on adult responsibilities, would you? I hope not! That’s what happened to you when you were growing up, and it wasn’t good for you. You can treat your inner child the way you should have been treated when you were a kid, by making sure she is only responsible for what is reasonable for her. Your adult self can handle the rest.

There are many good books that can teach you more about inner child work, including John Bradshaw’s Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Charles L. Whitfield, MD’s Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, and Cathryn L. Taylor’s The Inner Child Workbook: What to Do With Your Past When It Just Won’t Go AwayMy book “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself also includes inner child work.

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Choosing Recovery

The hand rejects alcohol

Alcoholism is not a choice. Recovery is.

Alcoholics are not bad people or moral failures. They do not choose to become alcoholics, but they are responsible for their behaviors. While they do deserve empathy and compassion, it is up to them to choose abstinence and, ideally, to seek recovery.

I usually write about the effects of growing up in an alcoholic family; I don’t generally write about the alcoholic’s own struggles. The two are actually very similar. An alcoholic is almost always the product of an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. Those who become alcoholics try to cope with the stresses of their upbringing by drinking. Ironically, an alcoholic drinks to gain some control over her life, only to lose that control to alcohol.

When I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment program for alcoholic and/or drug addicted women, one of the first things a resident did as part of her therapy was to write a goodbye letter to drugs and alcohol. The letters were written as if to abusive boyfriends.

This is quite accurate. Alcohol and other drugs do become an alcoholic or addict’s primary relationship, shutting out sober friends and loved ones. Like relationships with abusive boyfriends, the relationships with alcohol and drugs start out well, but gradually deteriorate into abuse. At that point it becomes very difficult for the abused person to leave because the abuser has such a strong hold on her.

It is difficult to choose sobriety. It is hard to give up that “friend,” that coping mechanism. It’s hard to overcome the habit of drinking. But it can be done, and only the alcoholic can make the choice to do it.

If you suspect you may be an alcoholic, you have a choice of recovery possibilities. Some people just stop drinking and never drink again, although this is often ineffective, in part because it doesn’t address issues that underlie the alcoholism.

A popular choice is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a 12-step program that helps people to become and remain sober. AA meetings can be found anywhere, and at pretty much any time, so it’s not hard to take advantage of this option. For more information on AA and a list of meetings in your area, visit www.AA.org. For those who object to the spiritual aspects of AA, there are other programs such as SMART recovery (www.smartrecovery.org).

Some people may seek individual or group counseling, either as an adjunct to a recovery fellowship or on their own. Both kinds of counseling can help you to identify underlying issues and triggers for drinking. There are advantages to each. With individual counseling, the entire session is focused on you and your particular issues. The advantage to group therapy is that you will be validated by a group of people who have similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences to yours.

If AA and/or individual or group counseling are not enough to help you to keep sober, there are more intensive types of therapies you might explore. One is intensive outpatient treatment (IOP). In an IOP, you attend group sessions several times a week, each session lasting at least a couple of hours, either during the day or in the evening. IOP, as with the group therapy I already mentioned, can help you to see that you’re not alone in your struggles. IOP also offers education about alcoholism and addiction.

The most intensive therapy for alcoholism is inpatient treatment, which involves spending a couple of weeks to a month or more in a residential treatment setting. This, of course, requires time off from work and other daily activities. It can be extremely helpful, though, because the longer you are away from alcohol, the better it is for your recovery. During inpatient treatment, you attend groups (educational and therapeutic), AA meetings, and individual counseling. Depending upon the program, you might also receive acupuncture and/or other adjunctive treatments.

If you are an alcoholic, try not to judge yourself too harshly. Remember that you are a person with a problem, not a person who is a problem. You did not choose to become an alcoholic, but you need to take responsibility for yourself and your actions and choose sobriety.

Why not make that choice today?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist and drug and alcohol counselor in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Role Plays

Angry Woman Yelling At Husband

If you think you’ve escaped the role(s) you played growing up in your dysfunctional family, think again! Unless you’ve deliberately worked on escaping these unhealthy patterns, you are no doubt repeating them in adulthood or even taking on new ones.

A quick review from my last post: the roles in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family are the chief enabler (generally a spouse), the family hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. If you haven’t read that post, you may want to look at it so you know what these roles entail.

Many adult children of alcoholics unintentionally marry alcoholics themselves. They unconsciously see something familiar in their prospective partners. They tend not to notice red flags early in the relationship that indicate that they are involved with someone who is probably an alcoholic. They may eventually find themselves falling into the role their mother or father once played, that of the chief enabler. If you’re in this role, you may make excuses for your partner’s drinking, try to control his/her drinking, do your best to make the family look functional to the outside world, and feel resentful about everything you do because of your partner’s problem.

If, while growing up, you were the family hero, you have probably carried perfectionism and high achievement into adulthood. This gets you praise, promotions, and other kudos, but you probably still feel inadequate. It’s likely you think that if people only knew the real you, they wouldn’t admire and like you so much.

If you were the scapegoat, you may have internalized the idea that you were bad and that you were responsible for everything that went wrong. If you continue that role as an adult, you will still identify yourself as a problem. This may show up in different ways; you might be an alcoholic or drug addict, or you may even get in trouble with the law. But being a scapegoat doesn’t have to be this extreme. You may, for instance, marry someone who constantly criticizes you, triggering those familiar feelings from when you were growing up. You may also attract critical attention at work or elsewhere. This serves to reinforce the negative image you already have of yourself.

If you were the lost child, you probably continue to try to be invisible even as an adult. At work, you may not speak up even when you have good ideas. You may marry someone who is domineering, with you disappearing in his shadow. You probably go along to get along, agreeing with friends, family members, and coworkers in order to avoid making waves. You do your best to maintain peace.

If you were the mascot, you may be very outgoing, someone who is well-liked by many because of your charms. You love being the center of attention and make an excellent party host or hostess. You’re happy to share ideas at work and in personal situations, because you are confident that they will be well-received. You are not likely to be willing to acknowledge the bad or difficult aspects of life.

Which of these roles have you played in adulthood? Are they the same or different than the ones you played growing up? What do you like about your role(s), and what would you like to change?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Role Plays

Father Sits On Sofa With Children Smoking And Drinking

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family such as the ones I described in my last post, you fit one or more of the roles that are characteristic of these families. What role(s) did you play?

The first role, the chief enabler, was probably filled by one of your parents. If, say, your father was an alcoholic, it is likely that your mother covered up for him (calling his job, for instance, and saying he was sick when he was actually hung over). She did her best to make sure everything in the family appeared normal and happy to those outside the family. She also probably nagged your father repeatedly, trying to get him to give up drinking; no doubt she complained to him and to everyone else in the family about what she had to put up with.

Kids in dysfunctional families take on one or more of the other roles: the family hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. The same child may take on more than one role depending upon the situation. Each of these roles distracts from the family dysfunction in some way.

The family hero is the family success story. She is a high achiever who does her best to make her parents proud of her. It’s likely that she not only gets good grades, but also participates in multiple extra-curricular activities. While she gains the admiration of many outside the family, she will feel like she can never be good enough for her parents.

The scapegoat is the child who gets in trouble the most, often for being disrespectful, not doing well in school, possibly skipping school and/or drinking and using drugs. This is the child who seems to be the problem in the family; she is the one whose parents may take her to therapy, asking that the therapist fix her, when the real problem is the whole family system. She will, understandably, probably feel like a disappointment to the family.

The lost child is the one who tries to blend into the woodwork. She does everything she can not to rock the boat. While she craves positive attention, she is afraid of negative attention, so she tries to stay out of the way and be as invisible as possible. The lost child can seem a bit like the family hero if being successful is the best way to avoid unwanted attention from her parents. She may feel like she’s not worthy of existence and doesn’t deserve to take up space.

The mascot is usually the youngest child, often fitting the stereotype of the baby of the family. She tries to take attention away from the family’s dysfunction by being happy and fun, generally trying to make it look as if everything is OK. Later, if her siblings talk about the things that happened to them while they were growing up, she may deny that these things happened; she may even believe that they didn’t.

Which of these roles did you and your siblings take on? How did that affect you as you were growing up? And, just as importantly, how does that affect you now?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Early Losses

Little Girl On Swing

The losses I mentioned in my last post are, of course, not the only ones. For instance, what about the loss of things or people you never actually had? Do you consciously feel a sense of loss in those cases, or maybe just a vague sense that something is not right, or do you never even think about the fact that your “normal” is not that of most people?

I’m thinking particularly of the loss of a parent’s love and attention. Some children, for instance, have parents die before they’re born, or early enough in their lives that they don’t remember them.

Death isn’t the only way to lose a parent, though. I mentioned divorce in my previous post, in the sense of losing a spouse. But divorce also affects children. If divorced parents don’t share custody of their children, one parent may essentially be lost, even if he has not died. At times one parent will desert the family and rarely, if ever, be heard from again.

These are pretty obvious losses; one or both parents is/are physically absent. What happens, though, when a parent is physically, but not emotionally, present? Some possible reasons for this are chronic mental or physical illness, alcoholism or some other addiction, and frequent absences from home (traveling for business or working late, for instance).

Let’s look at chronic mental or physical illness first. Actor Alan Alda said, “I was a child, and my mother was psychotic. She loved me, but I didn’t really feel I had a mother. And when you live with somebody who is paranoid and thinks you’re trying to kill them all the time, you tend to feel a little betrayed.” He had a mother who was physically present in his life, but she was unable to give him the positive attention he deserved. In this case, the adult, rather than the child, became the focus of attention in the family.

Your parent doesn’t have to be psychotic for this to apply, though. Many times I’ve had a client talk to me about having a mother who was so depressed that she didn’t leave her bedroom for days on end; she didn’t take care of the kids or the house, so it became their job to do so. This can also happen with a parent whose chronic physical illness renders her unable to care for her kids the way they need her to do.

And then there’s the alcoholic parent. What do you do when your father is as likely to be drunk as not, and your mother focuses all of her attention on trying to fix him? What is left for the children? Not much. What they get, instead, is unpredictability and emotional and/or physical danger.

It’s possible for none of these things to be true, but for a child to nevertheless not have her needs met. There are parents who are too self-absorbed or too busy to parent their children. Or they may suffer from anxiety or a type of low-grade depression called dysthymia. In this case, it’s not as apparent that something is wrong. The parents are not obviously mentally or physically ill, but still they are unable, or unwilling, to give their children positive attention.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios? If so, you may want to read books on the subject and/or seek counseling to work through the issues that have resulted from your loss(es).

There are many books that may help you to better understand yourself and overcome the effects of your childhood. One is my book, Me Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself. Many other helpful books can be found in the “Resources” section at the end of the book.

If this post did resonate with you, what will you do to help yourself overcome the effects your childhood has had upon you?

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Allowing Grief

Depressed woman

Right now I’m sitting next to my 15-year-old cat, Willow, who is about to die. This is the worst part of having a pet—having to say goodbye.

You, too, may know that losing a cat or a dog means losing a beloved family member. Even if that’s not true for you, though, it’s likely that you’ve lost at least one person who was important to you. This doesn’t have to be through death. For instance, if another person who has been a regular part of your daily life moves away, it is still a loss. If you get divorced or separated, it is a loss. If your child goes away to college, it’s a loss.

At first people will probably be sympathetic, but after a while, they’ll get on with their lives. At times like this, you may feel separated from the rest of the world. Everyone else’s life has gone back to normal. How can they be so happy when you’re not?

I have had many clients ask how long it’s appropriate to grieve. There’s no easy answer to this. Grief often lasts longer than your family and friends think it should. They may ask you when you’re going to get over it. That doesn’t help—grief is not something you can just decide to get over. It can be hard to know when it’s time to let go. Allowing yourself to feel all of your feelings is one thing; getting stuck in them, unable to return to normal functioning, is another.

You will never fully get over your loss. Life will never be the same as it was before. But there are things you can do to help yourself in the grief process. In the case of a loss through death, of course, there is generally some sort of memorial service that will help you to begin to process your feelings. But other losses need to be processed in some way, as well.

You might write a letter to a person who has left. You may or may not decide to send it to that person; it can be easier to be completely honest about your feelings if you don’t send it. Journaling your feelings can be a great way to work through them. You might remind yourself of significant times you shared with the one who is gone. Even without a funeral service, you may decide to have some sort of ceremony or gathering to mark the change that has happened.

Whatever others say, don’t be afraid to take the time you need to deal with your loss. If you feel stuck in your grief, though, consider the possibility of some counseling. It can help you return to your life, even without things going back to the way they were before.

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Be Mindful!

Enjoy The Moment sign with clouds and sky background

When was the last time that you ate a meal without doing something else at the same time? Can you remember a time when you drove somewhere familiar and were actually aware of where you were at all times? Have you ever been completely focused on your work while doing a household chore?

Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on the past or the future; we are rarely fully focused on the present moment, which is the basis of the practice called mindfulness.

When you are practicing mindfulness, you are not thinking of something that happened in the past or anticipating something that might happen in the future. You are completely aware of the present moment. You are observing, but you are not judging.

A basic exercise in mindfulness is to mindfully experience a raisin, engaging all of your senses as you do so. Click here for a demonstration of this.

The key to mindfulness as I use it with my clients is to observe without judgment. If you were my client, I would encourage you to develop an observing ego (self) that essentially “steps back” from the rest of your mind and just notices what is going on. This observing ego notices your thoughts, but does not label them as good or bad. It does not label you as good or bad, either.

This is related to what I spoke of in my post on meditation. While meditating, you don’t judge a thought that comes up, nor do you judge yourself for having the thought; you just notice it. Then you let it go.

You can do a similar thing with feelings. There may be times when you experience overwhelming, powerful emotions. It’s easy to be overcome by those feelings and to identify with them completely; they become your reality and you cannot imagine not feeling them.

This is where the observing ego comes in. This part of your mind steps back and notices the emotion without judgment. It knows that the emotion is neither good nor bad and that it’s not permanent; feelings, like ocean tides, ebb and flow.

Imagine yourself on a beach, experiencing the waves. Can you stop them from coming? No. Can you hold on to them and keep them from receding? No again. This is how feelings are. They come and they go. They will always come, but they will always go again. You will never be permanently stuck in a feeling, no matter how it might seem.

What do you think would happen if you ate an entire meal mindfully, or did a chore mindfully? And, more importantly, at least from a therapist’s point of view, what would happen if you experienced your thoughts and feelings mindfully?

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.