Your Weekly Meditations: Emotional Sensitivity is a Strength

Emotional sensitivity is a strength.

There are so many levels of emotional sensitivity. Often, the most emotionally sensitive individuals are also introverts, but both introverted and extroverted people can be extraordinarily sensitive to the presence, depth and breadth of their own emotions, as well as to the same in others. While emotional sensitivity may initially feel like a liability, with time and practice, this same sensitivity becomes a strength. If you are emotionally sensitive, you are exactly the empathic, caring individual this hurting world needs and craves.

This week I resolve to: Recognize that my enhanced ability to feel emotion allows me to tune in to the presence of suffering and joy in others, to comfort and celebrate those around me as needed, and be a reminder to everyone I meet that we are all in this thing called “life” together.

 

Your Weekly Meditation: Feeling, Learning From and Releasing Emotions is a Skill to be Learned

Feeling, learning from and releasing emotions is a skill to be learned.

 It is quite tempting to assume that people who appear as “still waters” with vast reserves of inner calm were simply born that way. However, appropriately feeling, learning from, and releasing emotions is a skill to be learned, just like any other. When you find you are having trouble managing your emotions, this is a sign that you may need to spend some time “exercising” your emotional muscles, feeling the depth and breadth and scope of your own emotions, becoming strong and courageous in the face of those emotions which attempt to overwhelm, and maintaining perspective to see that all emotions, like waves in the ocean, have a rise, a crest, a fall, and an inevitable release. As you practice the skill of emotional management, you will find it easier and easier to feel-learn-release, feel-learn-release.

This week I resolve to: Recognize that it is worth my time to learn how to effectively feel, learn from, and release my own emotions. This builds trust and solidarity in my relationship with both myself and with others.

 

Your Weekly Meditation: Emotions, Like People, Often Need to Be Unfolded to Be Understood

Emotions, like people, often need to be unfolded to be understood.

Sometimes a person may appear quite reserved – even unfriendly – but then over time, with trust and consistency, layer by layer gets unwrapped and that person’s true personality and warmth finally shines through. In the same way, just because an emotion may initially introduce itself to you only on one level, this doesn’t mean there aren’t other, deeper emotions at work beneath it. For instance, “anger” may in time reveal itself as “fear.” “Elation” may turn into “anxiety.” “Sadness” may make way for “peace.” Just as a friend often requires time and attention before the fullness of their personality is unfolded, so too do your own emotions often require your consistent time and attention to become fully known.

This week I resolve to: Notice the presence of initial strong emotions and take the time to greet them, sit down, have a conversation, and get to know them in their entirety.  As I do this, I also more fully meet myself.

 

5 Reasons to Love Your Female Brain

There is no freedom like seeing myself as I am and not losing heart. –Elizabeth J. Canham

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. –Lao Tzu

When I was developing the Southlake Counseling website, my team asked me to share some of the quotes that kept me going when I was working on my own recovery from an eating disorder. They planned to post these quotes on the new website to encourage visitors to embrace their own potential to fulfill their recovery, health and wellness goals.

As I pondered this assignment and reflected back on my recovering years, I realized that one of the biggest recovery goals I set for myself almost right from the very first day I started trying to beat my eating disorder was this: I wanted to have an experience of actually loving myself.

LOVING MYSELF. It sounded so wonderful.

However, while marooned in the depths of my eating disorder, it also sounded like way too much to ask. Tolerate myself maybe. Throw myself a kind word every now and again, perhaps. But love myself? Hah. As if. Nevertheless, my therapist had encouraged me to add this biggest of my big recovery dreams to my goal list, and so I did.

Recently I read a book that would have helped me so much during the growing pains years as I began to practice self-love and learn the art of self-care. The book is called “The Female Brain”. Written by Louann Brizendine, M.D., “The Female Brain” took me on a fascinating genetic journey through my own female brain, allowing me to have an experience of each of the quotes I mentioned earlier in a brand new way.

You see, loving myself, which can also be rephrased as “seeing myself as I am” and “knowing who I am” requires first studying myself, learning about myself, and attempting to truly comprehend “why I am the way that I am” from both a biological and an environmental perspective.

As a therapist I may get myself into hot water with colleagues for saying this, but over the years as I have built my own practice at Southlake Counseling, I have come to believe that too often we attempt to treat ourselves through an understanding of our environment only.  We enter into therapy and immediately begin to delve into the experiences of our environmental past. What happened when we were a child, a teen, a young adult? Where did we go wrong in handling our first relationship, our first job, our first promotion?

These are important historical questions to ask, for sure.

But even the excellent present-day problem-solving data these environmentally focused answers give us will remain forever incomplete without a complementary investigation of our underlying biological origins. To truly know ourselves, to understand why we are the way that we are, why we do the things we do, and why we are so uniquely lovable exactly as-is, we must also strive to study and comprehend the aptitudes and interests embedded into our genetically unique brains.

Speaking to this point, Dr. Brizendine highlights in “The Female Brain” how, while approximately 99 percent of male and female brain genes are identical, the one percent of our respective genetic codes that is gender-different will give us more trouble than all of the other identical 99 percent combined if we don’t learn how to understand, accept, and support these DNA differences from both the female and the male perspective.

So for this first of a two-part post for this month, I give you five reasons to love your female brain.

p.s. If you are a female, you are likely already eagerly skimming down to the next section to find out all the great things your brain can offer you! If, however, you are one of my male readers, you may catch yourself thinking that you are being overlooked.  Don’t worry. Stay tuned for part two of this post and you will get your day!

5 Reasons to Love Your Female Brain:

  1. You have an exceptional ability to read and accurately interpret facial expressions and verbal and emotional cues
  2. You are naturally oriented towards collaboration and defusing or preventing conflict
  3. You have an innate ability for relationships and a natural empathy towards others
  4. You have a smart and savvy inner “partner picker” that stands at the ready to help you pick wisely when you are ready to choose a mate
  5. Your brain can take you into any career you want to focus on (yes, ladies, if you love math, science and technology, your brain will go toe-to-toe with the guys any day!)

If you found this list interesting, I also highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Dr. Brizendine’s “The Female Brain”. You will thank me later – I promise!

Be Well,

Kimberly

If you are struggling to make sense of your inner mental and emotional life and often feel like you are on ever-shifting sands, Southlake Counseling can help. There are many genetic as well as environmental factors that can affect mental and physical health and emotional and relational wellbeing. Southlake Counseling’s comprehensive individual and group services and our highly trained, empathetic professional staff can partner with you to help you troubleshoot areas of concern and make the most of your strengths, gifts, and dreams! Visit www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.

Your Weekly Meditation: Emotions Are Friendly Messengers

Emotions are friendly messengers.

In the same way that you might feel overwhelmed by the sight of a tidal wave coming toward you, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the experience of your own intense emotions welling up within you – or the strong emotions of others headed in your direction. Emotions are not the enemy. They also do not necessarily belong to you. Sometimes you may be tuning in to the elevated emotions of peers, supervisors, or loved ones. Other times the emotions may belong to you, but their intensity may relate not just to one specific situation, but to one or more unresolved experiences you have had over time. In any case, emotions are not your enemy. They are friendly messengers letting you know that your own attention is needed.

This week I resolve to: Welcome whatever emotions may come – and become willing to examine each in their turn, accepting and processing the ones that belong to me, and returning the ones that don’t, back to their rightful owners.

 

15 Ways to Say “I Love You” to Yourself

Depending on whom you ask, self-love is alternately over and underrated.

In some circles, self-love can be viewed as bordering on narcissism, where a concern for self and self-needs edges out the ability to strike that necessarily delicate balance between one’s own good and the greater good. In other circles, self-love is all too often confused with self-critical behaviors that read like an endless litany of guilt-laden motherly instructions “for your own good”.

As with anything else, extremes seldom yield anything truly useful, healing, or inspiring over the long term.

In a related note of interest, scientifically it is now known that the act of loving releases a powerful surge of feel-good endorphins throughout the lovers’ systems. Even better, for new pairs of lovers, that twin surge of endorphins can be expected to last up to 18 months before it begins to fade biochemically.

But the surge can be extended – up to forever – by making the effort to keep the romance alive. The most common advice given to achieve this extension is for couples to remember what they spent time doing together in those heady first months, and to start doing those things again.

Not rocket science…..like most wise advice.

In the same way, self-love can be cultivated through a simple application of similar principles to those that bond couples together for months, years, or a lifetime. All it takes is a few doses of pure wisdom, some willingness, and a spirit of adventure.

So in the spirit of a more self-focused love-related adventure, why would it potentially be beneficial to proactively cultivate a loving relationship towards one’s own self?

Whether the goal is to enjoy life more, cultivate more satisfying and nurturing relationships with others, experience greater self-efficacy in making desired life changes, explore new challenges with increased self-confidence, actually try some of those items from a so-called “bucket list”, and many other reasons besides, there is nothing that is not advantageous to self or others about increasing one’s own regard, care, and love for oneself.

In other words, self-love is simply a win-win for all concerned.

It also just so happens that February is the perfect month to embark upon a self-love adventure. Why is this?

Well, February, of course, is the permanent month of residence for Valentine’s Day, a holiday that is neck-and-neck with Christmas as perhaps the most over-marketed, over-hyped, and overtly stressful annually recurring holiday.

On Valentine’s Day, those who have the romance of an “other” in their lives are given a gold star and carte blanche to empty their piggy banks in true Western consumer capitalism style to display their love to the envious world. Those whom are not so lucky are encouraged to alternately display their defiance of the holiday by celebrating the anti-Valentine’s day, or to simply keep their heads down and hide out in their houses for a proscribed 24-hour period.

If neither alternative sounds particularly appealing, luckily there is another route to enjoying, celebrating, and even enhancing the experience of taking part in Valentine’s Day this year – and also making the feel-good endorphins-inspired buzz last all year long, partner or no partner!

If you are dreading the prospect of spending Valentine’s Day without a lover-other in your life, if you are one of those lucky people who doesn’t need a holiday like Valentine’s Day to remember to treat your lover nicely or even spring for a fun token of your regard, or if you are simply exhausted by the same ole, same ole and are seeking a fresh approach to a tired holiday routine, then try these 15 fun ways to say “I Love You” to yourself this February.

(p.s. If you have a lover, you might even want to try them together-but-separately and then share your experiences as a guaranteed way to spice up both your relationship with yourself and with each other! )

Regardless of your reasons for trying these 15 sweet and simple ideas, I guarantee you – you will be glad you gave them a whirl.

©   Put on your favorite love song (Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is a sure-fire winner) and get out a handheld mirror. Gaze deeply into your own eyes while the song plays. Keep tissues handy.

©   Keep a self-gratitude journal. Every day, write down five things you are grateful to yourself for. You can also write down five things you are simply grateful for. But make sure you write your self-thank you’s first!

©   Write down five of your “favorite things”. Schedule a day this month to take yourself on a date “au solo”. On that day, try to do all five things. Repeat at least one time each month.

©   Listen to your gut when it is telling you to say “no”. Then SAY IT. Remember, sometimes saying “no” to someone else is also the only way to say “yes” to you.

©   Unplug. Yes, this means you. Yes, this means the cell phone, the laptop, the iPad, the iPod, the television, the CD player. When was the last time you just sat and listened to the wonder of your own breathing as the air flows in and out and in and out and in….wow. Life IS a miracle….YOUR life is a miracle.

©   Feel your anger. Your sadness. Your irritation. Your unforgiveness. Feel it all. You have every right to feel every single thing you feel. What you do with it is step two, and there you may choose to take different paths to deal with different feelings, including scheduling some therapy sessions, meditating or practicing deep breathing, writing a letter, saying what you need to say in person, screaming into a pillow or choosing to keep quiet. But step one – and a non-negotiable step to get through the process safely and healthily – is to give yourself permission to feel EVERYTHING. They are your feelings. If you don’t feel them, who will?

©   Apologize to yourself. You have said some pretty awful things to yourself, have probably even done some pretty awful things to yourself, over the years. Maybe they are things you wouldn’t dream of saying or doing to your lover, your family, your child. But you did them to yourself, and you owe yourself an apology – a very sincere and heart-felt “I am SO sorry.”

©   Apologize to others. Carrying around unforgiveness, resentment, rage, or even simple misunderstanding can make you feel like Atlas carrying the world delicately balanced on your increasingly exhausted shoulders. You are not carrying the whole world, but trying to carry around your own personal world can have the same effect as it crashes down, taking you and everyone you love with it. Don’t wait – whatever happens, it has got to feel better than staggering under the painful weight of holding it all up inside.

©   Take 5, 10, 15 minutes each day – however long you can spare without stressing about it – to do deep breathing, to meditate, and to just listen to yourself. What are you longing for? Whom do you miss? What do you hope for more of – or less of? Write it down. These are your soul’s messages to you – and the beginning of a potentially beautiful friendship.

©   Hear your shame out. Human beings feel shame – and this is an experience that can shut us down or free us depending on what we do with it. What are you ashamed of? What can you do about it? Is your shame coming from your own words or actions or from the words and actions of another? How old is your shame – are you a little girl, a teen, a young woman, mature in years? What do you need in order to feel safe and supported to let your shame out, take appropriate action where indicated, and then let it go and move on? Whatever you need, start by hearing your shame out, and then just take it one step at a time from there.

©   Remind yourself that this world CAN and WILL go on without you. This means you – the mother, the wife, the executive, the nonprofit leader, the community organizer, the caretaker, the (fill in the blanks). Use this healthy dose of perspective to deal yourself IN to your own life on a daily basis.

©   Notice what makes you spontaneously smile, and do more of that as often as possible.

©   Make a list of the people who inspire you the most. Recognize that something that is already in you resonates with something that is already in them. Pat yourself on the back for choosing to keep such good company!

©   Make a list of people who have a knack for making you feel worse about yourself, your life, your job, your relationships with others, etc. Spend as little time with them as humanly possible (and no time at all, ideally).

©   Do the same thing with music, movies, television programs, talk radio shows, books, and other “consumables” that have a depressive, negative, or hope-sucking effect on you. Move them to your “Do Not Do” list – permanently.

So there they are. 15 beautiful, simple ways to say “I Love You” to yourself. Happy Valentine’s Day!

About the Author: Kimberly B. Krueger, MSW, LCSW is the Founder and Program Director for Southlake Counseling and Southlake Center for Self Discovery. She has dedicated her career to helping people of all ages “say yes to life” and overcome their life challenges with compassion, professional guidance, and caring support. Southlake Counseling offers the most comprehensive counseling services in the Southlake area with a focus on eating disorders, mood disorders, nutrition and fitness, wellness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, addictions, equine therapy, and a full range of one-on-one and group therapeutic services. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

 

 

 

 

Your weekly meditation: You Owe it to Yourself to Embrace All of You

You owe it to yourself to embrace all of you.

While we may not necessarily enjoy the moments when we are feeling grief, anger, irritation, unforgiveness, or other so-called “negative” emotions, the truth is that every single human being on the planet feels these things too, and often on a regular basis. So we are in good company all the time, no matter what we are feeling! Furthermore, these experiences, like everything life offers us, will be what we make of them – but only if we learn to embrace them first, and then act on them. We owe it to ourselves to hear ourselves out, no matter what the message is. We owe it to ourselves to embrace all of who we are now on the road to becoming all of who we dream of being.

This week I resolve to: Embrace all of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions as love letters from me to me – messages giving me valuable information I can use to make the most of the chance I have right now to live the life I dream of living.

DBT: Finding the Purpose…

Do things happen for a reason? Or is everything left to chance? Are there random occurrences? Does karma exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do things happen that just don’t seem fair? How am I supposed to see the silver lining when I suffer? How do I withstand what seems to be pointless pain?

I lost someone close to me last Fall. Not to death – he’s still here on earth. We just wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. I lost him from my everyday life. One morning after it occurred, I found myself overcome with grief as endless questions circled around my mind: “why should I have to endure this pain? Yes, there were so many good memories and I genuinely enjoyed all our time spent together. But were those memories – those good times – were they worth this pain? What was the point?”

Throughout my life, I’ve only allowed myself to become interested in partners with whom I could see a future. While I did see the possibility of some sort of prolonged exchange with him, what was the point of our interactions if we would end up very simply and sadly saying goodbye?

I continued to watch the thoughts swirl: “I should have never gotten involved. I should’ve turned back when I had doubts. I should’ve known.” The thoughts triggered embarrassment, which triggered more thoughts: “you were naïve again. You didn’t listen to your gut. You do this every time – when will you learn?!” The sadness and guilt deepened. I became awash in a sea of discontent, embarrassment, and frustration. All for what?! Why was I allowing these negative thoughts to consume and berate me? It was if they entered my psyche with baseball bats and crowbars and immediately went to work defacing my self-esteem.

Then, I remembered something helpful to me. It was almost as if a voice from beyond whispered into my ear, “find the purpose…” Ever since I began having intimate relationships it’s been difficult for me to let go of partners when the relationships end. It’s possibly one of the only areas in my life in which I experience a genuine repulsion to change. While I’m with someone, we develop a bond, a beautiful friendship. When the time comes for the relationship to end, I often hear myself protesting, “you mean I’m not only going to lose a partner but I’m going to lose one of my best friends too?!” So, a trick I learned along the way [of life], was to believe that everyone with whom I was in a relationship had come into my life to teach me something, to assist me in my personal growth, which would ultimately lead to a more wholesome life experience – a life experience I could then more efficiently share with a loved one down the road.

I ran through my list of past partners, noticing each of their unique purposes: to know the purest type of love, to trust more deeply, to be more adventurous, to appreciate the importance of maturity, to live a life free from substances, to be silly and laugh often, to take care of one’s mind and body. So what was his? I asked myself freely what was his purpose and the answer came almost immediately: to allow me the time and space to develop a comfort in being myself.

Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, has developed several helpful skills for cultivating the ability to tolerate distressing situations, one of which includes finding/creating a purpose. She notes that research has shown that creating a purpose for a difficult situation, even if the situation seems to be so blatantly wrong, can assist anyone in better managing the emotions associated with the event and in effectively navigating through it. Some situations we’ll encounter in life will seem outlandishly unfair, unjust, or wrong; however, we still have the power to find a purpose in it, whether it be something so concise as: developing patience, making one stronger, or giving one to the ability to connect with another in a similar situation down the road.

After realizing what I perceived to be the purpose in losing my friend, that crisp Fall morning, I felt a calm come over me. When at first I felt deep sadness in losing him, upon finding the purpose I felt as if perhaps I was still on the right path. So, next time you find yourself in a situation that sparks painful thoughts and emotions, see if you can find a purpose, a tiny light softly shimmering in a black hole of grief. Breathe deeply, be kind to yourself, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

Your Weekly Meditation: What Comes Down Eventually Goes Back Up

We don’t often consider the “coming down” parts of life from this perspective. But with thoughtful reflection and a willingness to connect to our life as it truly is, we become humble and honest enough to recognize that even when we go down, we don’t stay down. Eventually, somehow, in a miraculous or mundane way, we eventually make our way back up again. We can count on it. For those of us who seek spiritual solace, we can have faith in this as the way of things. For the rest of us, we can simply notice the truth of it.

This week I resolve to: Allow myself to have hope even on the darkest days. I WILL survive this. I WILL thrive, live, laugh, love, feel grateful for my life-as-me again. I can count on it.

DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness: Building Mastery and Self-Respect

“Do you think it’s important to nurture genuine respect for oneself?” I would be shocked/stunned/mind-boggled if the majority of people to whom I asked this question replied with some variation of, “no, thanks, it’s been quite pleasant disrespecting myself and my beliefs and sincerely thinking that I am incompetent.” In fact, while it might be almost impossible to believe, most of the people who walk into my office voice some type of desire to feel good about who they are and at peace about the decisions they’ve made with regard to their interactions with others.

So, just how important is self-respect? Let’s look at a recent situation in my personal life that pertinently and efficiently reminded me of the vast importance of self-respect. Recently, I found myself in a situation with a friend that, over a two-week period, proved to be particularly distressing. Two weeks prior to this realization, I identified my need to express my feelings about his actions, or in this case, lack of action. However, I wanted the discussion to take place in person, not via some sort of electronic medium, and I wanted to find the appropriate time, a combination of desires that proved to be especially difficult to attain as day after day blew by.

Upon his most recent departure from an in-person interaction between us, during which I, again, could not seem to recognize this seemingly elusive perfect time, I found myself bombarded by uncomfortable thoughts/feelings. The most common thought: “You failed. Once again, he left and you did not say anything,” followed closely by the feeling of shame. Then, I watched, mindfully, as the thoughts/feelings cycled through my mind. Shame triggered the thought, “you’re weak, you’ll never find the right time. You’re using this right time notion to avoid talking to him,” followed closely by more shame, who brought with it its two acquaintances, guilt and sadness (nice to see you, again!).

And that’s when it hit me. Why wasn’t I eagerly having this seemingly necessary conversation? Well, that was a fairly easy one for me…fear. Fear that he wouldn’t like me. Fear it would ruin our relationship. Fear that he’d leave. And I didn’t want to discount, invalidate, or avoid this fear, as the fear of losing or damaging significant relationships in one’s life can be daunting, vastly uncomfortable, and even paralyzing. However, what was the cost? By avoiding the first situation of having a discussion due to potential negative consequences, I was causing other, very real, negative consequences to occur in the place of ones that had not even occurred yet, and might not even occur. Based on consequences that had a 50% chance of materializing (It might ruin our relationship, it might not. He might leave, he might not.), I was creating a second situation with a 100% chance of damaging my self-respect…and I still didn’t even know what might or might not happen in the first situation!

The founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, describes mastery as doing something that increases one’s feelings of competence, and sometimes, if you fail, doing it over and over and over again until you succeed. With regard to self-respect, Linehan notes that one builds self-respect when he/she acts in ways that support his/her personal beliefs, morals, and opinions. Mastery builds competence. Competence builds self-respect. Take the example of a newborn learning to walk. When little Joey takes his first steps and falls, what would happen if he never got back up? Would he ever learn how to walk if he never tried again? How would he feel about his walking abilities? Furthermore, would he be more or less likely to get up and try again if he were to succumb to his inundating thoughts of, “I’m a failure. I’ll never learn how to walk. All the other babies will learn how to walk and I’ll be stuck here, crawling on the floor, forever (insert sad-face emoticon here).” I’m concerned about Little Joey’s self-respect already.

It’s not easy to do things we perceive as potentially threatening, and it’s also not easy to deal with the inevitable thoughts/feelings that show-up when we don’t take action when we want to (or act when we don’t want to). And while the blow to our self-respect can be equally devastating, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn how to skillfully manage difficult situations.  So, the next time you find yourself in a particularly tough situation with another person, just remember this is probably not the last complicated situation/interaction you’ll be faced with in your lifetime… AND every difficult situation you encounter is another opportunity to build your mastery at effectively handling tough situations and to enhance and deepen your self-respect! Be kind to yourself, validate your fears, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie