There’s a phrase for the torment that you can’t talk about: disenfranchised grief. It was first defined by Kenneth J. Doka in 1989 as “grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned." Your heart is grieving, but you can’t talk about it to your friends because it’s considered unacceptable or tasteless or shocking. You’re sad, but the world doesn’t want to hear about it.
Examples of Disenfranchised Brief
· Religious Amanda, age 14, just lost the love of her life, her 15-yr-old boyfriend to her best friend. She feels betrayed, lost, hopeless, depressed, scared, angry, and sad. When her parents minimize her pain, telling her it was just “puppy love,” she wants to scream at them, “I gave up my virginity for this relationship!” But she doesn’t. They don’t understand the depth of her pain, so she puts on a smile and keeps it to herself.
· When my friend MaryAnn lost her soul mate to cancer, she cried nonstop for 14 days. On the 15th day, she packed away his belongings and went hiking, laughing and joking with old friends. “You’re in denial,” friends told her because they couldn’t believe that she could recover that quickly. Her grieving was different, and therefore, unacceptable to them. Two years later, she was still at peace with his passing and moving on with her life. What her friends didn’t understand that during the two years when she and her friend were fighting his cancer, she was learning to let go. Every month that he got worse, she slowly let go of him.
· When Elizabeth had her 4th miscarriage, her friends and family were used to it. But for her, the death of this fetus was also the death of hope that she would have a family. All the pain that she had been trying to dismiss for 8 years came tumbling out. Her grief was profound and prolonged. Friends couldn’t get her to “snap out of it,” as she had in the past. She became good at pretending, but spent many hours each day in bed crying.
· Everyone thought 10-yr-old Jodi was a quiet child. Sweet and shy, she kept to herself. What they didn’t know was that she couldn’t talk about her pain. When she told her alcoholic mother that her father was sexually abusing her, he was arrested and went to prison. Now she feels alone in the world because she is left with an alcoholic mother who pays little attention to her.
· Blaine was devastated when his wife of 50 years died in a car accident. Though family members extolled her virtues, they also told him that at least she had a long and productive life. “It was her time to go,” they told him. This didn’t help to ease his immense pain. He went into a deep depression and finally died two years later. His daughter says he died of a broken heart.
A Tale of Two Families
Betty and Jean, both single parents, were close friends and next-door neighbors for some 30 years. Two of their children were the same age, and Rob and James became close friends. They went to Sunday School together and helped each other to earn the badges leading up to Eagle Scout. When James received the “Hope of America” award in 6th grade, his mother Jean was proud and happy as was Betty. In fact, Betty was the first to jump to her feet in a standing ovation for him. When Betty’s son Rob received a basketball scholarship to college, Jean felt as much joy and pride for him as if it had been her own son James. They played sports together, did science projects together, and even double dated in high school.
When James was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in college, Betty spent many hours with his mother Jean in his hospital room. They prayed together, cried together, and Betty provided a good listening ear for Jean. Betty organized a charity fund through their church for her good friend’s son to get the necessary surgery to save his life. Despite valiant efforts and the best of surgeons, James died after a four-year battle with cancer. Jean was surrounded with love and sympathy from neighbors, friends, relatives, and their church community. It was one of the largest funerals that people could remember. Hundreds of flower arrangements were brought to the grave and Jean’s home. She had more casseroles than what she could eat in a month. And Betty stayed with her friend Jean to comfort her through torturous days of sorrow.
Shortly after losing his best friend, Rob learned of another, even greater loss. His father, who lived in another state, died in a motorcycle accident. He had always hoped to be able to move close to his dad so that he could get to know him better, and now that would never happen. In his grief, he turned to alcohol and drugs. When his grades fell, he lost his scholarship and his place on the basketball team. Things got worse when he was expelled from college and turned to pain killers. Rob died of an overdose two years to the day after James died. It may or may not have been accidental.
Sixteen people attended Rob’s funeral. Betty’s friend Jean came, but slipped out the back door of the church before the procession to the cemetery. No one seemed to know what to say to Betty. Unlike Jean, there was no outpouring of love from the congregation. Betty was alone in her grief and felt like she was going crazy.
That’s when she called me to talk about her son, her grief, and the craziness that she felt. I let her know that she had a right to her grief. She had a right to be comforted, affirmed, and validated. Her grief was real and raw. The lack of community support threatened to turn her grief into something bitter and ugly.
Apparently it’s all right to die of cancer. It’s not all right to die from drug abuse. At least that is what society would have us believe. But what about the person’s need to talk?
Therapists Will Listen
People turn to therapists for disenfranchised grief because no one else wants to listen. What a shame! People heal when they can talk about their pain. In fact, one of the most important factors in the resolution of grief is social support from others. Please know that you have the right to tell your story and indulge your grief—whether others want to hear about it or not.
One of the things that you may need to address eventually is that hidden reservoir of anger lurking just beneath the pain. As much as you may not be ready to do this, you will eventually need to forgive others for not being there for you when you needed them most. You’ll need to do this so that you can set yourself free from the bonds of resentment. Grieving is a process, and it wants a voice. You’ll need to do some talking or writing. In addition to that, you may want to give yourself the gift of some grieving rituals.
Although they vary by religion, culture, or region, healing rituals can help us to let go. You don’t have to spend money or be religious to have a ritual. Consider these:
Celebrate a Life. Much like a formal funeral, a private celebration can also be very powerful. Set up a time and space where you can celebrate the life of your loved one. Perhaps you’ll want to pick some special music, gather photos, write about your loved one or tell another person some special stories.
Create a Scrapbook or Video Slideshow. Several of my clients have done this and brought their scrapbook to therapy. I remember one client brought me her scrapbook each week for three months. She told me charming, lovely stories about her beloved cat who had recently died. We laughed and cried together while she told her stories.
Carry a Private Momento. It may be a photo, a ribbon, a postcard, or anything small that you can keep in a purse or briefcase. One client I knew wore a small heart necklace every day to remind her of her love. Several of my clients have gotten tattoos over their hearts.
Plant a Tree. Planting a tree in someone’s name can be public or private. It doesn’t even have to be a tree. It can be a flower, a bush, or even a potted plant.
Donate Your Time or Money to a Cause. Several people that I know have donated their time and efforts to causes that they support. It helps them to heal knowing that they are contributing something to the greater good.
Hang a Favorite Poem on the Wall. Maybe it reminds you of your loved one or what you had together. Perhaps it perfectly describes how you feel. Maybe it helps you to have hope.
Light a Candle. A client of mine says that she lights a candle every night to memorialize the past relationship that she can’t openly acknowledge. It’s enough for her to know why she is doing it.
Spread the Ashes. After a cremation, many people find solace in spreading the ashes in a treasured place—on the top of a mountain, in a body of water, or at a favorite place you both enjoyed.
If you’re grieving, talk. Grief needs an outlet. If you have no one to talk to, then write your feelings. Perhaps you’ll want to keep a private journal of your feelings.
If you know of someone who is grieving, then listen, listen, listen. You don’t have to say anything magic. Ask how the person is doing and then just listen without judgment.
Dr. Andrew Weil reports that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can help treat mild to moderate depression, and now a study from Canada suggests that these essential fatty acids might also help people suffering from major depression. Researchers at the University of Montreal and other participating medical centers in Canada recruited 432 men and women suffering from unipolar depression for a randomized, double-blind study testing omega-3 supplements against a placebo. Many of the patients had complex and difficult to treat depression, and many hadn't responded to earlier treatment with prescribed antidepressants. After eight weeks, the investigators saw a "clear benefit" in patients who suffered from depression alone, but not in those who also had anxiety disorders. The investigators noted that the improvements were comparable to those generally seen with conventional anti-depressant treatment and concluded that additional research will be needed to test omega-3s head to head against antidepressants. The daily doses used in the study were 1,050 mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 150 mg of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Further, Dr. Weil reports that a number of studies have suggested that a deficit of omega-3s may predispose to depression. He recommends two to three grams of fish oil a day, providing both EPA and DHA in a ratio of about three or four to one for mild to moderate depression along with other approaches including regular exercise, at least 30 minutes five days a week. Exercise is the most effective treatment known for mild to moderate depression. Results of the study on the effectiveness of fish oil for patients with major depression appear promising. We all look forward to future studies comparing this treatment with pharmaceutical anti-depressants!
Alex Lickerman, M.D., wrote an interesting article called "The Good Guy Contract." He had a habit of being a pleaser and couldn't stop, even when he wanted to stop. He writes, "The Good Guy Contract was simple; I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you--and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, and excellent as a human being in every way. And, most importantly, you would like me." When he finally saw what he was doing, he stopped doing it. He's one of the lucky few who was able to stop immediately. We should all be that fortunate.
But, what's wrong about people pleasing, you say? It's nice to be nice. And we all enjoy being liked and loved. Here's the thing: people pleasers contribute to family dysfunction. They are the ones who come to therapy, confused about their teen's irresponsible behavior, depressed about their spouse's alcoholism, and anxious to fix somebody else. Their focus is always on someone else because that's the nature of their problem.
Take This Easy Test
1. Do you consider your own needs, wants, and desires in a relationship or are you more likely to put others' needs, wants, and desires first?
2. Does your self esteem suffer when you're criticized, even if the criticism is not true?
3. Do you have a habit of sacrificing your plans, desires, or needs in a caring relationship?
4. Do you often confuse pity with love?
5. Are you generally a conflict avoider?
6. When things go wrong, do you usually blame yourself?
7. Do you stay attached when most everyone else tells you that you need to detach?
8. When a relationship is dragging you down, do you still put the other person's needs or opinions first?
9. Do you have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to the point that you think it's your job to fix others?
10. Early in your life did you learn to set your own feelings aside to care for others?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you're probably a pleaser. And that's not good. You may have been the unwitting contributor to relationship dysfunction. You may be prone to depression and/or anxiety because of your pleasing pattern. Rather than set limits and follow through with consequences, you may have decided to plead, nag, cajole, beg, threaten, or send guilt trips. And how is that working for you?
Tear Up Your "Good Guy Contract"
If you're a chronic people pleaser who can't stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. As an added bonus, loved ones often get better when you stop your pleasing pattern. Boundaries and limits are more effective teaching tools. You'll learn to value yourself more as you make important changes. Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends the following:
- Assess your people-pleasing tendencies. Take the test and answer honestly. Ask a friend to give you feedback on the test.
- Practice disappointing people. Say no. Set limits. Write a script of how you're going to refuse a favor, and read it to someone else first. Try it out.
- Keep the payoff in mind. You're going to be happier in the long run. People will respect you more as you stop your pleasing pattern. And you'll be a lot more authentic.
Most pleasers do not give up their pleasing patterns easily. It often takes years to learn a new way of relating. Go to therapy and stay there until you make significant changes in your life. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries help to create healthy relationships. Think of them as a psychological fence between people: this is you, and this is me. We are separate. Our boundaries help to establish guidelines about suitable behavior and responsibilities. Boundaries build "win-win" relationships. I can be good to both you and me through healthy boundaries. If I close the door when I enter the bathroom, I am establishing a physical and psychological boundary: Closing or locking the door means I want to be alone when I’m in the bathroom.
Boundaries are essential if your loved one is an alcoholic or addict. As you claim your power with boundaries, you raise the likelihood that your loved one gets better. Boundary setting is absolutely essential when you're dealing with addiction, particularly teenage drug abuse.
Who needs boundaries?
Everyone needs to have healthy boundaries in relationships. There are three types of people who particularly need boundaries.
1. DOORMATS~Some people have been raised to believe that martyrdom, self-denial and incessant caretaking are righteous virtues to be practiced to the point of misery. When people are doormats, they allow others to take advantage of them.
2. ENABLERS~Then there are parents who want to make sure their children have everything they didn't get, and they protected them from every problem and emotion. It's the other side of the coin and it's just as bad. These people create a sense of over-entitlement, over-protection and inflated self esteem in their children.
3. PLEASERS~ Some people focus so much on pleasing others that they don’t focus on taking care of themselves. They avoid conflict, and have no sense of who they are, what they feel, need, want, or think. They take on the feelings of others as if they are their own. Sometimes they tolerate abuse or disrespectful treatment and can’t see the flaws or weaknesses in others.
Why have boundaries?
· Boundaries are important to help protect and care for oneself. If you’re not getting the respect that you deserve, take a look at your boundaries.
· Boundaries are also an important part of raising children. You can’t be a good parent without good boundaries. Not only do you value yourself as you establish boundaries, you're teaching your children to value themselves.
· Boundaries help you to define yourself. Without boundaries, you won’t know who you are, what you want, or how you feel.
· Boundaries help to minimize stress and conflict in a relationship. With clear boundaries, there’s nothing to argue about.
Telltale signs that you need better boundaries
· You’re constantly telling him what to do.
· You’re warning him about what will happen if he doesn’t do it.
· You’re bringing up the past of what he did wrong.
· You’re giving him solutions when he hasn’t asked for them.
· You’re preaching about what people should and shouldn’t do.
· You’re criticizing.
· You’re mind-reading.
· You’re sending guilt trips.
How Do You Set Healthy Boundaries?
Setting healthy boundaries involves taking care of yourself and knowing what you like, need, want, and don’t want. It also involves (1) going inside of yourself to figure out what you feel and then (2) clearly communicating that with the other person.
Examples of clear boundaries:
1. “Yes, I’ll be happy to drive you to the mall as soon as you’re finished with your chores.”
2. “I want to hear about your day. I’ll be free to give you my full attention in 15 minutes."
3. “You can borrow my CDs just as soon as you replace the one that you damaged.”
4. “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you.”
5. “Can I give Jessica a message? Our calling hours are from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. I’ll let her know that you called.”
6. “I’m sorry; that doesn’t work for me. I won’t be loaning you money until you have paid me what I loaned you previously.”
7. “You’re welcome to live here while you’re going to college as long as you follow our rules.”
8. “I’m not willing to argue with you.”
9. “I’ll be happy to talk with you when your voice is as calm as mine.”
10. “I love you and I’m not willing to call in sick for you when you’ve been drinking.”
Boundaries need to be clear, specific, and clearly communicated. You may need to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it before doing so. Practice with someone else who can help you. Good luck!
Parenting an addict is a stressful job. This is a guest post by Ron Grover, pictured here. Thank you, Ron, for sharing your experience.
"When you first discover that your child is addicted to drugs your heart breaks and your stomach churns. What is happening, what did we do wrong?
Our reaction is very personal. As parents we take immediate ownership of this situation. We refuse to see this problem as it is, an addiction. We make excuses, we develop stories and, of course, we make plans to immediately correct this problem; all in an effort to control the situation. We look for someone to blame. Little do we know that this is an issue unlike anything we have ever experienced.
Addiction is not an accepted illness for many in our society uneducated about this disease. For too many people addiction continues to carry the stigma of a weakness of character. As parents of an addict not exposed to addiction we carried that stigma along with the guilt of our own questionable parenting skills. We cling to the belief that if our child would only make a choice not to use again; then this nightmare would be over and everything could go back to normal.
Parenting an addict is not something that is to be done alone. It is not something that should be done alone. This is a disease that touches all of those that love an addict or even casually come in contact with an addict.
As parents we hid what was going on with our son. We wallowed in self pity. We searched the internet for solutions, we read books and articles, no matter how much we searched and tried nothing seemed to work. Our son continued to use and we experienced more stress and more shame.
Finally in desperation it is off to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It’s nearly impossible to say the word. As parents, we stumble, we hedge, we mutter, my son uses drugs. ADDICT: what makes it so hard to say, what makes it so hard to admit? As long as addiction carries a stigma of shame the healing for this disease will not begin for either the addict or the loved one of the addict.
My son is an addict. This statement is freedom but it is not free. To make this statement there is tears, there is heartache and there is a realization that my son is afflicted with a disease in which to date there is no cure.
By opening your life and admission to others you allow others to help you and your child. Something I have found to be absolutely true; those people that love you before your admission will continue to love you when you are able to open yourself up for help. In fact, by opening up I have found wonderful friends struggling with the same issue. Without their support and the support of our family I know we would not be in the position we are in today with our son.
The fact is, if we as individuals and even as a nation continue to treat addiction as our “dirty little secret” and not recognizie it as what it truly is, then we will forever struggle to provide the treatment an addict needs for his or her disease.
My name is Ron and my son is an addict."
Ron Grover, pictured here, wrote this wonderful article about boundaries:
"I am a hard-headed stubborn guy with the propensity to be a control freak. (I hope there are no other fathers out there like me who are dealing with an addicted child.) It took me a long time to learn that my anger was a result of me not being able to control my son’s addiction. Eventually I learned that, at most, I have a small measure of influence with him. And the only real control I have is over my own self.
When Mom and I first began this nightmare of addiction we heard about boundaries. In my mind that was an easy one. Rules are rules; follow the rules and there would be no trouble. But I learned the hard way — addicts have no concept of rules and how they provide structure to society. If parents of an addict rely upon a set of rules to manage their addict’s behavior, they will live in an angry and frustrating world.
My famous directive to my son — and it was usually delivered at the top of my lungs — was: “No Lying, No Stealing and No Drugs. JUST WHAT THE HELL IS SO HARD ABOUT THAT?!!”
I am finally beginning to understand, “just what the hell was so hard about that.” This has caused me more anger and frustration than just about anything else I’ve dealt with about his addiction. With me, anger and frustration nearly always dissolved into me hollering at him and anyone in the vicinity, resulting in more anger and hurt for all. In a hurting family, that is the last thing you need – hurt compounded upon hurt.
I have learned that there is a big difference between rules and boundaries. Rules are easy. Rules are set and everyone follows. Boundaries are not rules. Boundaries help direct your universe when the rules do not apply or are not relevant. My lack of clear boundaries for myself gave me permission and allowed me to justify enabling my son’s drug use. This has probably prolonged his addiction. This is a regret I live with every day.
Boundaries are healthy for you and those surrounding you. I cannot change my addict’s behavior by setting rules. Any success for me in dealing with my son’s addiction is a result of setting good boundaries for myself.
I choose where I want to go – I no longer allow my addict to take me where he wishes to go. In a simplistic form, I can make a rule directed at my son that he cannot use drugs in my home. The reality is that he is an active addict; he will use drugs in my home. I will become angry because he violated my rule. I have a right to be angry, right? Did it make anything better or change anything? No, we are still at square one. I am angry that he is using drugs in my home, and I feel out of control and helpless. He is feeding his addiction. All of this happens because I am trying to control something over which I have no control.
But I can establish a boundary – like this: I do not wish to live in a home were drugs are being used illegally. This actually puts everything on me; there is really no reason to become angry. I now have complete control of the situation and I have several options. I am not trying to control him. I get to decide on the actions in my life.
Boundaries must be set after much calm and reasoned thought. Setting boundaries with my addict in the heat of battle resulted in failure every time. Especially because those “boundaries” (really rules) I thought I was setting were being hollered at him and not being set for me. If you are setting boundaries for yourself and using a calm deliberate approach, success can be more easily achieved and you can control your own actions. That works well with the control freak in me. I set my boundaries to match my values.
To be clear, I do not see boundaries as a solid impenetrable barrier like the Berlin Wall, with heavy life-or-death consequences. I see the boundaries that we set for ourselves more like a rope line. There is a clear demarcation of where we decided we should not go and there is self-imposed security to make sure we know there are consequences for crossing the line. But there may be circumstances that necessitate crossing the line and there may be consequences that you or your loved one has to pay for that crossing.
For example, Mom and I have set a boundary about not visiting in jail because jail is punishment. But, our son is in jail and we went to visit him. Why would we go visit and violate our own boundary? Actually, we went for Mom. Mom had been having bad dreams about Alex and in all of her bad dreams Alex was with all of her dead friends and relatives. She was troubled by this. I’m not sure if she puts much stock in that sort of thing as a premonition or something but she was worried. I just look at it as a dream, but it troubled mom so that troubled me. We visited Alex in jail and the visit calmed her worries and she could once again sleep peacefully. If there are consequences to stepping over our boundary we shall deal with them when and if they arise.
Setting good boundaries for yourself allows you, the loved one of an addict, to bring a measure of control and sanity into a truly insane situation."
There are so many reasons why you should try meditation! You'll find that you have less anxiety, less depression, better health, and better relationships. How many practices can claim that? Would you rather take a pill for anxiety or learn to calm your mind and body in a more natural way? There may be many unwanted side effects from medication (such as feeling "hung over" for hours, not being able to function with normal activities, and developing a dependency on the medication.) Meditation gives you calm and peaceful feelings without the side effects. And having a peaceful mind is a form of stress protection that can help you to clear your mind of worries.
This is not to say that you won’t worry about things ever, but you'll find that worry decreases in both intensity and duration. In addition, you will develop a more effective way of dealing with the stressful situations in your daily life; you'll become more resilient. You will be able to understand situations in a different light and be able to see the situations for what they really are. When your mind is not at peace, it is hard to be happy even under the most pleasant circumstances. In some forms of meditation, you can analyze the thought processes that pass through your mind. When you concentrate deeply on the thoughts and situations of your life, you can reach the point at which you find your own answers to your problems.
Today many types of meditation are recommended by health care professionals as a way of cleansing the mind and emotions of negative thoughts. By meditating, you can benefit from improved concentration and memory. It also helps to help you develop a greater understanding of stressful situations in your daily life so that you can have a greater understanding of the real cause of the problem. Anxiety is reduced dramatically. This helps you approach your problems with less stress because you do not impulsively react with fear, panic, depression, or anger. This, in turn, helps you get along with others much better.
Your body also benefits from meditation. When your mind is clear, you are better able to bring healing to the parts of your body that are ill. Meditating helps to improve the overall functioning of your immune system so that your body can fight off disease. As your body becomes more relaxed, your blood pressure lowers and your heart can pump the blood to the organs of the body.
The aim of meditation is to give you a sense of inner peace that you will use throughout your day in all your dealings. This is why it is recommended that you meditate in the morning as soon as you wake. The positive feelings that you bring into your mind and body will then help you cope with your day. I highly recommend meditation for all of the above reasons.
Start with a few minutes of silence each morning. It doesn't have to be long. In order to start a new habit, researchers tell us that you're better off doing your new habit a minute or two a day consistently for three weeks than an hour every once in a while. Once the habit is established, you'll want to keep this new habit because your physical and emotional health improve so much. Like anything else worth learning, you'll improve with practice. Let me know how it goes for you!
My client's husband was leaving her. And she was very worried. In fact, she worried all day long (and most of the night). There were some very real concerns. She had a lot of problem-solving to do in a very short period of time, and needed to make a lot of life-changing decisions. She was not doing well. This was probably the worst time in her life to be making decisions.
When we're in a stressful situation, it's difficult to sort things out and to make good decisions. Yet, all of us must do this at one time or another. Let's talk about some of the things that can make this process a little easier.
My client was forecasting a dismal future for herself. None of us know what the future will bring. But awfulizing about what might happen doesn't help. And worrying is like spinning your wheels when you're in hub-cap deep in mud; it gets you nowhere. It makes things worse, in fact. Accept the fact that you're making some changes, and those changes aren't necessarily negative in the long run. Here are some steps that can help:
WRITE DOWN YOUR WORRIES
Rather than have all those random worries floating around in your head, write them down. Keep coming back to the list until you have most of your worries on paper. Here are three of the worries that my client wrote:
1. I'm afraid that I won't have enough money.
2. I'm afraid that I won't be able to afford the house payment.
3. I'm afraid that I won't be able to find a good job.
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
The next step is to take those worries and write them differently--stating what you need. So, here is what she wrote:
1. I need to have enough money.
2. I need to be able to afford the house payment.
3. I need to find a good job.
LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS
Brainstorming is the next step. Take your list of needs and think of possible solutions. Not all of the solutions will work for you, but write them anyway. You can ask for help from friends, neighbors, your therapist in helping you to think of possible solutions. When you're brainstorming, write down every idea, even if you doubt that it will work out for you.
1. I need to have enough money. I guess I either need to make more money or reduce my needs. I can always work more than one job. People have offered to pay me for my knitted sweaters. I could knit sweaters. I could ask my old boss to take me back. I could move in with my parents.
2. I need to be able to afford the house payment. I guess I could sell the house. I could give the house back to the bank and walk away. I could take in a roommate. I could offer the house to my husband. I could camp outdoors all summer. I could look for a small apartment to rent.
3. I need to find a good job. I have many talents. Perhaps I can create my own job. I can always clean for others. I could take care of an elderly person in exchange for room and board.
PREPARE TO MAKE SACRIFICES
This, of course, is the difficult part. Sometimes we need to sacrifice some comforts as life steers us in a different path. Rather than kicking and screaming against change, sometimes it just feels better to accept the change, let go of the past, and move on. Here's what my client finally decided:
1. I am staying in my low-stress, low-paying job. I can even knit while answering the phone at my job. Since knitting is fun for me, I will experiment selling sweaters and scarves on a website as well. Maybe it will work out; maybe it won't.
2. I am putting the house up for sale. If it hasn't sold in three months, I will rent it out or take in a roommate.
3. I may look for another job when I'm feeling less stressed and more confident. Now is not the time to be looking for a better job.
PRACTICE RELAXATION SKILLS
Relaxation skills are important, especially when you're stressed. Now is the time to practice yoga, breathwork, hypnosis, guided imagery, and other proven techniques to help you to relax.
Research has proven that aerobic exercise will help diminish anxiety and depression. Try it!
Good luck, and call a therapist if you need an appointment.
“Fear is like fire. If you can master it, it can heat your house, cook your food. But if it gets the best of you, it can burn you. You control it or it controls you.” –Alex in the HBO series, “In Treatment.”
The gift of fear
Several years ago I read Gavin deBecker’s book, “The Gift of Fear." The title refers to the intuitive ability of human beings that allows them to detect danger quickly, without conscious, logical thought. The evolutionary purpose of this fear, he explains, is to energize and motivate us to repel or flee an imminent attack by a predator. Fight or flight. The book encourages us to develop and listen to our intuition. Fear can be a friend, an important signal that something is wrong.
The broken fear barometer
That’s all well and good. But what about the person who’s fear barometer is broken? I’m referring to those unfortunate individuals who have unrelenting anxiety. Anxiety is fear, after all. For them, the fear is excessive and operates inappropriately. Their anxiety sounds an alarm in the absence of danger. It’s a false alarm, a trick of the brain. For people with anxiety, the alarm comes to be treated as the danger itself, rather than as a signal of danger.
The worst part of anxiety...
The worst part of having an anxiety disorder is not the anxiety. It’s trying NOT to be anxious. This anxiety comes to be seen as a threat. It motivates excessive self-protection. People with anxiety learn to avoid situations that may cause more anxiety.
How do you treat an anxiety disorder?
· Not be protecting yourself from unrealistic threats. You'll need to learn to stop reacting to unrealistic threats.
· Not by avoiding the anxiety. Anxiety, you see, won't really hurt you. When you learn to accept it and face it, it tends to diminish in intensity and power.
· By learning to do the exact opposite of what you have been doing.
What do you fear?
· Panic Disorder—you fear a breakdown in functioning, a permanent loss of control brought on by your inability to cope.
· Generalized Anxiety Disorder—you fear that unlikely events could actually happen! (And you worry about endless possibilities.)
· Phobias—The feared object or situation will do something to you or you will panic in response to that object.
· Social Phobia—you fear you will disgrace yourself in front of other, never have their respect or trust, and be less able to interact.
· Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder—you fear that some error, omission, or awful act of yours will lead to incalculable harm.
· Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—you fear that you’ll be overcome by horrific memories of terrible events.
But, it’s a trick!
All of these anxiety disorders have something in common: they all trick you by giving you false signals. The fears do not provide accurate signals of danger. It's more like a scary movie. You experience discomfort, even though you know it's not real. I used to run out of scary movies as a child because I believed that I was actually in danger. As an adult, I know that I'm not in danger. It's just a movie. Still, I may not like the discomfort of a scary movie. I can either walk out or "talk myself down." The anxiety disorders fail their evolutionary purpose of preparing you for real danger. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you’ll start to get better.
And the trick makes you think it’s real.
To complicate the matter further, your creative brain provides you with a false explanation. You either think that you are weak and defective, incapable of solving your problem OR you think that the problem just can’t be solved. Others are just taking a lot of foolish risks. Both of these views are obstacles to recovery. When you're tricked into reacting inappropriately, your anxiety gains power. You have less and less control.
Give therapy a chance.
Do yourself a favor. Get into therapy and learn to eliminate anxiety. Learn to talk yourself down from anxiety. Anxiety is very treatable. Won't it be nice to not have to experience this trick ever again?
All of us have the ability to create our own negative moods. We often feel that it's a negative event, something that happens outside of our control usually, that causes depression or anxiety. But it's what we tell ourselves about that event that leads to feeling bad. Negative thoughts lead to anxiety and depression. But the good news is that you can learn techniques to free yourself of these patterns and feel better. Here are some examples of distorted thinking.
- Catastrophizing--taking an event you are concerned about and blowing it out of proportion to the point of becoming fearful. Example: believing that if you fail a quiz then the teacher will completely lose respect for you, that you will not graduate from college, that you will therefore never get a well-paying job, and will ultimately end up unhappy and dissatisfied with life.
- Jumping to Conclusions: making a judgment with no supporting information. Example: believing that someone does not like you without any actual information to support that belief.
- Personalization: when a person attributes an external event to himself when there is actually no causal relationship. Example: If a checkout clerk is rude to you and you believe that you must have done something to cause it, when you may not have done anything at all.
- Filter: when a person makes a judgment based on some information but disregards other information. Example: Someone attends a party and afterward focuses on the one awkward look directed her way and ignores the hours of smiles.
- Overgeneralization: making a broad rule based on a few limited occurrences. Example: believing that if one public speaking event went badly that all of them will.
- Black and White Thinking: categorizing things into one of two extremes. Example: Believing that people are either excellent in social situations or terrible, without recognizing the large gray area in-between.
- Labeling: attaching a label to yourself after a negative experience Example: Feeling awkward at a party leads to the conclusion: “I’m an awkward person."
- Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.
- Should Statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
- Disqualifying the positive: You dismiss positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
So, what do you do?
- Know the patterns. Familiarize yourself with the these distorted thinking patterns. Look at them often. Memorize them.
- Recognize distorted thought patterns. Once you know the patterns, you can start to recognize thought patterns that may not be serving you well. Whenever you are feeling depressed or anxious, examine how you got yourself there.
- Challenge your own thinking. After you have learned to recognize your thought patterns that aren't serving you well, learn to challenge those ways of thinking. Ask yourself if you could look at a situation differently. This is even more effective if you have a loved one help you to identify and challenge your distorted thinking patterns.
Beck, J.S. (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. Guilford Press.
Burns, M.D. David (1980, 2000). Feeling Good
Burns, M.D., David (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook