Name It To Tame It

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Name It To Tame It

We all have many parts. We grow up and experience different things in life, leaving us with parts of ourself that create different meaning along the way. We often have our inner child part, our adult part, our playful part, our angry part, etc. When we don't acknowledge them as different parts of ourselves they often get louder and louder as voices in our head. Let me be clear, these are not actual voices, but more so persistent thoughts that effect how we feel about ourselves.

Many struggle with a few parts from the past impacting their current experience. What if we give a voice to these different parts so that they don’t have nearly as much as control? 

In working with my clients, I often notice how when they keep things bottled up inside, their secrets have that much more power over them. But once they identify them out loud, their pull is much weaker. I help my clients to name their feelings in order to gain understanding of them. 

We can take a similar approach to our parts so that they do not control the way that we think. For example, many of my clients describe a voice in their head that is negative and mean, often criticizing them and telling them they are not good enough. This is called negative self- talk. It often stems from a culmination of negative past experiences, insecurities and fears. It can have quite an impact on us if we let it. 

But rather than allowing it to dictate our beliefs, lets name it. I often suggest that my clients create a name that fits for them. Some call it curse words while others use names that they don't find particularly attractive. The most important part of this exercise is naming it something other than yourself so you can begin to identify it as something separate from you and your own voice. This way you can choose to turn the volume of this other voice up or down like a TV remote. 

Give it a try and let me know how this works for you!

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What Is Self Love?

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What Is Self Love?

Self love is accepting yourself as you are.

It is being okay with yourself in the skin you are in today. It means loving yourself now. Not when you are thinner, richer, in love, etc. But NOW!

Self love means that you are willing to work on yourself from the inside out. That you are okay with the person you are at the end of the day. That when you lie your head on your pillow at night, you are at peace within yourself.

Self love means that you will not tolerate being treated poorly. It means that you are okay being authentically you.

That you invite others to love themselves as well, by walking the walk and talking the talk. That you inspire love and ignite passion by being REAL.

Self Love is the truest love there is.

You can love yourself. TODAY. Just as you are. In this body. In this life. In this experience.

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Guest Blog- On Grief and Trauma

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Guest Blog- On Grief and Trauma

Hi Healing Tribe! I am excited to have a friend of mine and fellow therapist Alex Michaud on the blog today talking about the relationship between grief and trauma. I love how clearly he emphasizes that grief is not linear, taking the "should" out of one of the most human experiences. You can check him out on Facebook @AlexMichaudCounseling for more on grief healing. 

Hello everyone. My name is Alex Michaud and I’m here to talk to you about how grief and trauma overlap. But first, a special thanks to my good friend Marisa Hughes for letting me take over her blog for this post. Have you checked out her take-over of mine H.E.R.E. Okay, let’s start with a story:

It was a normal, quiet evening at the office. A client and I had been sitting together for 30 minutes already that evening and there was no lack of conversation happening. On this night, however, it wasn’t our exchange of words that caught my attention as being special. Rather it was his decided, momentary pause and deep sigh mid-sentence, atypical for him. He sat there for a second having a deep personal realization:

“You know”, he said. “Sometimes the grief process feels more traumatic than actually losing her”. 

It was a profound statement from a man who normally likes to keep things close to the chest. Fighting tears, he talked about the occasional anguish that he still felt over the loss of his wife and how it caught him off-guard at times — intense and sudden. It wasn’t that her passing wasn’t distressing but he had worked through the initial impact of that. Now came the hard part — learning how to rebuild a life without all of the pieces. 

More conversation followed about the transition through her death and his transition back into life and I couldn’t help but notice the overlap between Trauma and Grief throughout. It made me wonder why we don’t talk about them in the same sentence more often. Thinking back over the years of working with clients who had either experienced a traumatic event or had grieved a loss, there certainly seemed to be a shared link in their processes of healing.

To start understanding their similarities, we can being with a definition. Psychological trauma has been defined in many ways: when an overwhelming amount of stress affects an individual causing them to exceed their emotional resources; a “stuck” process in which an individual has difficulty accommodating or assimilating significant sudden information into their normal world view. Grief often can be described in a similar way — as the deep and conflicting feelings that come as the result of the end of or the change of normal patterns of being. 

Much like my client hinted at above, the process of grieving the loss of someone you love can be intense in itself. Most people are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “Stages of Grief”: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. But when it comes time to grieve they often look to this information to inform what their process “should” look like. What most fail to be aware of is how varied the grieving process actually is and how unique it can be day to day. In fact, one of my first questions to clients is “How do you think you are SUPPOSED to do this?”. The answer often has an impact on how they would have grieved alone had they not come to see me, or how we start our work.

Similar to working through trauma, grief is no short process and it looks very different from person to person. With so much variability, how can any therapist really help either group of people? Well, fear not. There are great approaches to help people work through both. If you know Marisa, you probably know that she uses a skill set called EMDR to help guide her trauma-affected clients overcome their challenges. As for me, I use a model called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help my grief clients. Here’s a basic view of the model and a little bit about how the steps apply to grief specifically. 

Acceptance is the first principle of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The raw process itself is about learning to not avoid feelings and thoughts we judge as “bad” or “negative”. When it comes to grieving, this step can be tough. It means making room in your emotional world for the thoughts and feelings you’re having to exist. We learn to breathe into those feelings and allow them to be what they’re going to be. Often, I see clients really fight this step because they are afraid they’re going to drown under the weight of the emotions — they try many different things to hide from their thoughts and feelings (which only makes them worse in the long run). Acceptance for grief also means forgetting any “rules” you thought there were about how to grieve properly; “I SHOULD be doing this” or “I SHOULD be feeling that”.  Holding on to those rules will only slow down the process. In many ways, this is similar to the Exposure piece of EMDR.

This acceptance is somewhat predicated on being engaged with two other main areas in ACT; Mindfulness and Defusion. 

Mindfulness is being aware of and in-contact with your present moment. To deal with all the thoughts and feelings we’re having, we need to know what they are. For many people this means stopping to be present and, in grief work, to anchor ourselves. When we let our brain latch on to its stream of consciousness it can carry us away like we are being swept out to sea. Stopping to turn our attention toward our general state of being in the present tense can help us feel grounded. 

Defusion is a secondary process of Mindfulness in that it also helps us feel grounded. Defusion is the active process of putting some space between ourselves and our thoughts. Normally, we live a very “first person” life with our thoughts: we “are” the thought: we call that “Self-as-Content”. But by defusing, we can become an observer of our thoughts — i.e. I notice that my thoughts are racing, I notice that I’m having feelings of being overwhelmed. This nonjudgmental process allows us to recognize that we aren’t actually our thoughts but they happen in a larger context of life. This is called “Self-as-Context”. It serves to help us recognize that our thoughts and feelings are manageable.

Values is another key step and living in agreement with our values is the important part. As you’re working through your grief process are you honoring what’s actually important to you? If family togetherness is important to you, are you leaning into that or are you pushing away from them? Doing so will create more psychological friction. 

The Committed Action step is all about moving forward. One of the things I see that keep people stuck in grief (possibly turning it into complicated grief) is a “standing still” or a “moving backwards”. There is much to be learned about ourselves from the grieving process: our true nature, our capacity to love, our range of emotions. Using that information to move forward is extraordinarily helpful. When people shut down and don't engage in these processes or, worse, sabotage themselves it fuels the grief process more. Not only does it not help the grieving process but it means that you’re having to overcome even more during the later parts of the process. 

Much like dealing with trauma, grief work and the secondary trauma that can come requires self-compassion. It works best when we can minimize our amount of unhelpful self-judgement and can maximize our psychological flexibility. The overlap, at this point, seems obvious between the two challenges and I hope that by reading this, you now know a little bit more about how they fit together and how I approach the healing process. 

If you’re engaged in this process now or know someone that it, I would be happy to answer any questions you have. I feel blessed to have been a part of so many grief journeys and would love to be a part of yours, even in some small way. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook @AlexMichaudCounseling if you want to connect or to follow along. 

 

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New Year, New YOU!

New Year, New YOU!

A therapist’s guide to creating New Year’s resolutions that you can actually keep…

So often, the New Year brings with it new commitments, goals, and aspirations. It is a time of reflection and clarity. A time of new hope and reevaluation. But by the second week of January, many people tend to fall of track from their newly cemented plans. This is not for lack of trying or genuine effort, but a natural occurrence due to the way that intentions were set up from the start. 

To combat this common pattern, I suggest that you take a good, hard look at your resolutions and make sure that they meet these qualities: 

  1. Set realistic, balanced goals. So many people set themselves up for failure because their goals are unrealistic and unattainable. For example losing 60lbs in one month is not healthy nor likely. Choose goals that you are able to succeed at so that you set yourself up for success.
  2. Make sure that your goals are measurable so that you can track their progress to keep the momentum going. Whether it is via journaling, online, etc. create a method of tracking your progress. This helps keep stamina up when your feeling overwhelmed and reminds you of how far you have come as well as where you are going. It is also very helpful in creating accountability. 
  3. Be clear about what you would like to achieve and list the steps that it will take to get you there. Write down the steps to get to your goal and break them down in smaller pieces so that they are easier to manage. Remember, it’s not about the time it takes so long as you get to where you want to be going! 
  4. Have a support system in place for accountability. Ask a friend to work towards a goal together. Have a scheduled weekly check in with a partner or yourself to reevaluate and make changes as needed. There is nothing wrong with modifying your goals along the way either :) Change is healthy and you may have a different perspective once you have gotten midway. Social media can be a great way to declare your goals and intention setting plans with group accountability as well. 
  5. Maintain a gentle, loving attitude towards yourself at all times. If you fall off the horse, get right back on! We all have set backs along the way. Remember to treat yourself with love and let go of the judgement and criticism. You deserve understanding and patience. Besides, its about the journey not just the destination! 

Happy intention setting :) 

Namaste, 

Marisa

A Therapist's Guide to the Holidays

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A Therapist's Guide to the Holidays

So many of my clients find the holidays to be an extra difficult time of year. Holidays have a tendency to stir the pot of family issues, emotional pain, and insecurities. Yet, in a world filled with social media and comparison, everyone else seems to be alright... only adding to the pain of feeling sub-par. 

But I have news for you, just because everyone else's situation "looks" picture perfect, does not mean that their lives really are. The truth of the matter is that everyone has "stuff." The extremity of their stuff may vary, but it is important to recognize that you are not alone in how you are experiencing the world. 

So often the struggle to face feelings head on is one of the root issues. So instead of beating around the bush, let's go straight to the source. 

1. Allow yourself to feel. Feel all the feelings. The positive ones, the negative ones, the in between. Feel them. Honor them and don't try to change them.

2. Let go of judgement. Quiet that inner critique and be gentle to yourself. You do not have to make sense of every feeling, but try not to criticize it so harshly either. 

3. Accept your feelings. And by this I mean radically accept. Let go of trying to fight it. Instead, allow it, welcome it even. Treat yourself as you would treat a child or a close friend. With loving acceptance. 

4. Honor boundaries. This may mean something different depending on the relationship. It may vary from person to person. But set limits and boundaries that feel safe and comfortable to you and honor them. Keep them clear and defined and permit yourself to need them. 

5. Validate yourself. So often we seek validation from others who are not able to validate us the way that we need or deserve. Become your own best validator. Allow yourself to be seen and heard by yourself. Make space for the belief that you matter. 

6. Focus on gratitude. Honor what you do have. Give space for being grateful. Make a list of the positives in your life and be thankful for them. 

And last but not least...

7. Stop comparing yourself to others. Let go of the comparisons. Don't try to be something or someone your not. Remember that everyone has something going on that is hard for them, whether you can see it through the lens they share with the world or not. So be gentle to others and to yourself. Allow yourself to just be this holiday season. 

Happy Holidays! Remember, happiness is a CHOICE :) 

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