Your Weekly Meditation: This Too Shall Pass

This too shall pass.

It’s not clear whether anyone ever claimed that life would be easy, but somehow we are often tempted to believe it nonetheless. It is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be life. These are not one and the same. Part of life’s job is to produce challenges. From these challenges, we get to learn valuable things about ourselves – like how strong we really are, how caring we can really be, how much compassion we truly possess for ourselves and others. Through times when the most we can say is “this too shall pass” we are given the opportunity to fall in love with who we truly are….and pass it on.

This week I resolve to:  notice how much I learn and grow from the hard times in my life, and thank myself for being willing to endure temporary pain and hardship so I can become a better friend to myself and others.

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Good News – BPD Brains ARE Different!

This month marks the 4th anniversary of May as National Borderline Personality Awareness Month.

Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is a serious psychiatric illness which affects an estimated six percent of the population – approximately 18 million Americans. BPD is an excruciatingly painful emotional dysregulation disorder that can be both debilitating and deadly.

Affected individuals frequently first begin showing signs of the illness in early adulthood, often suffering for five years or longer before an accurate diagnosis is made. In that time period, BPD sufferers are 400 times more likely to commit suicide than non-affected peers. Affected individuals often cycle in and out of psychiatric care centers, encountering blame, shame, and stigma instead of the knowledgeable treatment BPD demands and deserves.

Symptoms of BPD include recurrent suicidal urges or attempts, chronic emotional instability, relational chaos, intense and persistent fear of abandonment (real or imagined), impulse control issues, rageful outbursts, and self-harm. While some BPD-affected individuals are able to function well in certain areas of life, others are unable to hold down a job or maintain basic relational connections.  Medical professionals estimate that as many as one in five out of every patients admitted to psychiatric care centers are suffering from undiagnosed BPD.

With these statistics, it is clear that much work remains to be done to better understand the origins and development of BPD, and what type of treatment most effectively assists affected individuals with recovery.

What is already known is that BPD is often passed from parent to child, with a nearly 70 percent likelihood that an affected person has had a parent who also suffered from the illness.

What has not been understood to date is whether or not there are true grounds for treating BPD as a brain-based illness, but recent studies at Baylor College of Medicine and The Mount Sinai Medical Center are now changing that.

In 2008, Baylor College of Medicine conducted a first-of-its-kind research study that aimed to identify whether the brains of BPD-affected individuals function differently than the brains of non-affected peers. This study paired a BPD-affected individual with a non-affected partner to play a game of trust. Researchers used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans to measure how the brains of BPD-affected individuals processed emotional and relational cues from their non-affected partners as the game progressed.

To do this, Baylor research scientists measured blood flow to the anterior insula of the brain, the region that is thought to be responsible for sending up a “red flag” that something is wrong.  As the games of trust progressed, fMRI scans showed that when trust was broken, the anterior insula in the brains of non-affected individuals would register increased blood flow. No such activity was measured in the brains of BPD-affected game players, which for scientists was a clear signal that BPD sufferers do not process relational cues with the same acuity and intensity as non-affected peers.

The outcome of the Baylor study showed that BPD-affected individuals lacked the basic ability to pick up on social cues from their non-affected partners. Scientists now believe this difference in brain function is responsible for the persistent and often pervasive relational instability which BPD sufferers exhibit.

In a second study conducted just one year later in 2009 at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, research scientists snapped into place yet another piece of the brain-based puzzle that is BPD. In the Mount Sinai study, researchers set out to discover why BPD-affected individuals experienced chronic inability to self-regulate emotions. Paired against a control group of non-affected peers, 19 BPD sufferers viewed a series of pleasant and disturbing images, and researchers used fMRI scans to measure blood flow to the amygdala, or emotion processing center of the brain. When BPD-affected participants viewed the disturbing images, blood flow to their amygdala far outpaced amygdala responses of their non-affected control group peers.

Mount Sinai researchers are using this information to better understand the origin of the extreme emotional reactions BPD sufferers often display. The hope is that in the future, this information can be used to target medications and treatments to better serve the recovery needs of BPD-affected individuals.

Both the Baylor and the Mount Sinai studies offer good news to BPD-affected individuals and their loved ones. With now conclusive evidence that brain-based differences exist between BPD sufferers and non-affected individuals, a new and hopeful horizon for better treatment options for BPD sufferers is coming into view.

To read more about the Baylor study: CLICK HERE

To read more about the Mount Sinai study: CLICK HERE

If you or someone you love is suffering from BPD, or if you have or observe in a loved one symptoms that match those outlined in this post, I urge you to contact Southlake Counseling today for assistance in recovering from this painful but very treatable disease. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well,

Kimberly

Your Weekly Meditation: Loneliness is a State of Mind

Loneliness is a state of mind.

Whether our days are full to overflowing or empty, we can always find room and time to feel lonely. Which means that we can always also find room and time to feel connected. When you begin to feel lonely, notice who is with you, experiencing that loneliness. Ask yourself if you are truly lonely, or if feeling lonely has just become a habit to escape into so you won’t have to face the fear of learning how to meet your own needs. Next, begin learning how to meet your own needs by asking yourself kindly what you need in that moment to not feel lonely. Is it a hug? A few moments in the sunshine? A phone call to a friend? Loneliness is always about what we can do to assuage it – not what others can or should or aren’t doing for us. As one wise teacher shares, “If you feel lonely, all you have to do is go outside for a few moments and stand in the breeze.”

This week I resolve to: notice when I feel lonely and kindly ask myself what I need, and then give it to myself.

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Putting Fear in its Place

Many of us have been shamed at one point or another in our lives for the simple expression of fear.

Feeling fear – it is something that animals, small children, birds, express so naturally. They feel fear, recognize it for the messenger that it is, and do the next right thing. This is because in its primal state, fear is built into our primitive limbic brain – the part of the brain that is wired to alert every sentient being to danger and give us a head start in finding safe shelter.

So how did fear evolve to the point where the simple expression of feeling fear can lead to shame, a desire to hide, or a need to camouflage fear with anger, rage, sadness, blame, or various addictions, just so we won’t be found out?

The actual definitions for fear range from an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, real or not to a reverential awe.

One interesting question I often ask those I work with is – “who told you fear was unpleasant?” Who would we be in the presence of our own fear if we weren’t so keen on labeling it as unpleasant? These are interesting questions to ask.

Another revealing question those I work with sometimes find helpful is, “since when is risk or danger ever perceived?” By this I mean that when we say these things to ourselves, we are in essence saying to ourselves, “I don’t trust you.” This is very frightening, and our fear only grows.

The truth is that when we feel fear, it is real to us – period, the end. We won’t accept others’ assessments that we really aren’t afraid when we are. We don’t have to stop and ask ourselves, “are you sure you are afraid?” We know. Questioning our fear shames us, and cuts us off from taking the necessary action to move through our fear towards resolution.

Similarly, when we spend precious moments believing that the emotion of fear is unpleasant, unwanted, unnecessary, or untrue, we resist the fear and….you guessed it….become even more afraid.  It is at this point where we may find ourselves turning to various thought or behavior patterns or addictions such as drinking, drugging, using other people’s bodies, stuffing our own bodies when we are already full or not feeling hungry, watching hours of mindless television programs, losing ourselves on the internet, or otherwise “checking out” from our own lives and the people around us.

We are afraid. We don’t want to feel afraid, we don’t know if we can trust that that feeling is fear, we judge ourselves for feeling the fear, we resist feeling the fear….and yet still we are afraid.

I’d like to propose a simpler way to put fear in its place. Let it stay where it is.

Fear is there, knocking on our awareness, for its own reasons. It has a message for us. It comes respectfully, and not without its own trepidation given the often cold reception we offer it. Yet it continues to come. Fear is kind. Fear wants us to deal with what is causing the fear and find resolution and peace.

So the next time you feel fear, before you move on auto pilot into arguing with its presence, discounting it, shaming or judging yourself for feeling it, blaming someone or something else for inducing it in you, hiding from it, or drowning yourself in addictive thought and behavior patterns to escape it, try this.

Simply stop.

Breathe.

Notice.

Ask yourself kindly, “What am I feeling afraid of?”

Write down your own answer.

If you find you are turning towards any exterior crutches or supports, like alcohol or other people, before doing a thorough self-investigation of your fear, then notice that too, and ask yourself kindly if you can wait just a few moments to do self inquiry on your fear before you have that first drink, make that phone call, or switch on the computer or television set.

And if you find that you are still too afraid to proceed without those crutches, it may be the right moment to consider reaching out for help.

Fear is a great teacher – if we will allow it. Fear can be a good friend – if we will allow it. Fear can teach us that it is okay to reach out and ask for help, and that in the very act of asking for help, we find our first taste of freedom from the fear of our own fear.

At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of expertise with guiding people just like you through the experience of their own fear towards understanding, action, and resolution. Our caring professional staff is skilled in individual and group facilitation methods which can allow fear to safely arise, deliver its message, and depart, leaving us stronger, wiser, and more confident for the experience. Contact us today to find out how we can help you say “no” to discounting, shifting or hiding from your fears, and “yes” to learning from a very wise teacher – fear itself. www.southlakecounseling.com

Be Well,

Kimberly

Weekly Meditation: Emotions Are Always a Sign That I Need My Own Attention

Emotions are always a sign that I need my own attention.

We may think we want more attention from our spouse, more recognition at work, more visibility in our community, or more attention from our families. But what we always and ultimately are craving as we project these desires outward is our own attention. When we get too far away from ourselves, our own emotions let us know when and how to find our way back. Like a flesh wound that signals a need for care, emotions like sadness, fear, rage, joy, and peace, beg us to return home to share the experience, learn, and grow with ourselves.

This week I resolve to: notice my emotions and return home to myself to experience them with myself, learn, and grow.

I Don’t Need Others to Change to Be Happy

It is a very painful place to live – on the edge of our seats, chair’s edge cutting into our legs, holding our breath as we watch those around us to see if they are going to change in the way we think we need them to change in order for us to be happy. Today, we can begin to perceive that it is not others who need to change, but we ourselves. Today, we can begin to ask ourselves, “Is it true that I need so-and-so to do such-and-such in order to experience happiness? Is that really true?”

This week I resolve to: challenge my assumptions that I need others to change in order for me to be happy, and ask myself how I can find happiness in each moment even if others stay exactly as they are.

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Emotions and Food – Friends or Enemies?

We all know what it is like to have a love-hate relationship with someone.

Or something.

One minute, this is the best thing that ever happened to us. Thank goodness for whatever-it-is. The next minute, we can’t imagine how we will survive another minute without changing everything about our situation as it relates to that someone or something.

This is what it is like trying to introduce emotions to nutrition, and nutrition to emotion. Some days, our emotions and our eating habits may feel in sync and balanced. Other days, well….we get to the end of the day and look back at our food choices and eating patterns in wonder – or shock.

We may not perceive it right from the start, but we eat for so many reasons. Some of our reasons are nutritional. We are concerned about the strength of our bones so we eat foods rich in calcium. We are concerned about our digestion so we add more fiber choices to our diet.

But then other times our reasons for eating are emotional. We are feeling victorious or overjoyed, and so we eat to celebrate with ourselves. We are feeling sad or fearful, and so we eat to commiserate with ourselves.

How do we learn to tell the difference? Why would we want to? Does it really matter why we’re eating – if we eat, we must be hungry, right?

Well, yes. If we eat, we are definitely hungry….on some level, and for something.

But the trick to consumption is to figure out what we are hungry for, and then to “eat” that, and not something else.

For instance, if our body is hungry for nutritious food, it is wise to eat that food and give our body what it needs and requires to function optimally. But if our emotions or hearts are hungry for a hug, for company, for rest, then eating food is not the wise choice, and will leave us even hungrier in a way that no amount of food can fill.

When we eat for emotional instead of nutritional reasons, this is called “emotional eating.”

While the presence of a strong emotion can trigger a feeling of “hunger,” if we pay close attention, our experience of this type of hunger is not the same as the physical empty feeling we get when our body needs fuel.

It may not be easy at first to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger, but it is a skill we can learn with time and practice. According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center website, there are several key signs to help us tell the difference between different types of hunger:

  1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, while physical hunger builds more gradually
  2. Emotional hunger tends to fixate on a ‘comfort food’ (ice cream, chips, etc), while physical hunger tends to focus on foods with distinct nutritional value
  3. Emotional hunger will not wait; physical hunger usually will
  4. Emotional hunger doesn’t respect fullness cues; physical hunger does
  5. Emotional hunger often leaves guilt in its wake; physical hunger leaves comfort and peace

Using these clues, we can start to decipher why we choose to eat, and why we make the food choices that we do. We can become students of our hunger and fullness cues, our body’s needs, and our other needs for nourishment and nurturing that food cannot fulfill.

In this way, we can begin to once again experience the kitchen, the dining room table, the coffee shop, as a safe place to be, and even feel grateful for food’s role and presence in our lives to sustain the body within which our emotional life plays out.

We can “eat” in healthy ways for our body and our mind. We can sit with ourselves in the presence of our emotions and exhibit patience to seek out the appropriate type of nurturing rather than rushing to food as a quick fix. We can move towards our physical health and fitness goals at an equal pace as we move towards our emotional health and fitness goals.

We can feel confident and comfortable in our own skin on every level of our being.

If you are struggling to relate to food in a healthy, self-nurturing way, Southlake Counseling can help. Our evidence-based, empirically-supported nutrition and eating disorders programs provide you with the skills and tools you need to feel confident both in the kitchen and in the rhythm of your daily emotional life. Our skilled and compassionate professional staff has more than two decades of experience facilitating individual transformation in the areas of recovery, health, and wellness. If you are ready to say “no” to emotional eating and “yes” to healthy, balanced, living, visit us at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more!

Be Well,

Kimberly

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Treating Yourself During the Holidays

When you think of the word “holidays,” the vision that comes to mind is of treats.

Specifically, holiday treats.

Specifically, those marshmallow chocolate sprinkled things your mother always makes….the ones with the mint centers and gooey tops.

And the peppermint ice cream with hot fudge that your family always has as a Christmas evening tradition. And the spicy-sweet popcorn mix with extra real butter for the night you watch “Twas the Night before Christmas” with all the kids. And the annual community-wide block party with the neighbor’s homemade fudge, and the home-fried doughnuts, and the…..

Your mouth is watering already. You have been SO good all year long…. for just such a season as this. While you can already see the New Year (and the New Year’s diet) looming, that dread can be put off for a month or so yet. You tell yourself that you will tackle the diet when you get to it.

To be honest, you are aware that you tend to indulge to excess during the holidays, to the point where you have an extra set of clothes waiting in the wings – all a size larger – and you dread New Year’s Day, when you have to squirm your way into something extra-tight to go to your annual family get together.

You’re just not sure what to do about it. Just the thought – not to mention the sight – of all those holiday treats, and you seem to lose all self control.

But this year, you have a new bag of tricks up your sleeve. You have been studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and your group leader has told you that using the four principles of DBT might help you.

Your goal is to maintain better self-control during the holidays, but balance that with a less restrictive, treat-aversive attitude throughout the rest of the year. Your group leader thinks that with some balance year-round, and a bit more willingness to indulge in treats here and there throughout the rest of the year, you won’t be as prone to excess when the holidays roll around.

You sure hope she is right!

You start by practicing mindfulness. As your table fills up with holiday goodies each night, you simply observe, with radical acceptance of what is, that they are maintaining a presence there. You feel that familiar craving deep in your abdomen. You witness yourself imagining how each treat will taste.

From there, you notice the frustration arising within you. You want all of the treats! Now! You feel stress – which ones should you start with? How many of each? What if you overindulge again and feel guilty like you did last year? You use your new emotion regulation technique to name each emotion as it arises – not engaging, but simply naming. Frustration. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Guilt. Shame.

As the emotions present themselves and you give them names, you are simultaneously practicing distress tolerance – the ability to stand in the presence of strong emotions without allowing them to overtake you. You accept that these are today’s events, like them or not, accept them or not. You choose to learn from (if not like) them, and to accept them by reminding yourself that you are stronger and wiser than any temporary disturbance that you may happen upon in the course of a day.

Finally, you use your newfound interpersonal regulation skills to remind yourself that food treats are not the only way you can reward and treat yourself. You can brew yourself a lovely warm cup of tea. You can invite a loved one for a brisk walk and watch the snowflakes fall while the moon shines above. You can pop in a good movie that you love to laugh at. You can draw a bath…or turn in early to get a few extra winks of sleep. You can read a favorite book or snuggle with your spouse.

In this way, you begin to relate to yourself as a whole being rather than as an emotion-driven stomach, and slowly, those cravings in your abdomen begin to unclench you and leave you in peace….turning a longstanding holiday woe into a true miraculous wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Self-Care During the Holidays

Your spouse just told you that your in-laws are coming to your house this year.

Again.

But what is different this year than before is that your cousins have decided to caravan down with them and come to your home for the holidays too.

Furthermore, since you have a large backyard, they have decided not to kennel their two dogs, one gerbil, and three cats. No need – your house has enough room for them all!

As your spouse relates all of this to you, you feel your blood pressure starting to rise.

You try to explain, but your spouse just doesn’t seem to get it. And it is little wonder that he doesn’t – you can still remember last year, when you envied him his stressful, hectic city job that allowed him to escape the bedlam and chaos that was your home this time last year.

He didn’t see how demanding his folks really are of you. He didn’t realize how worn out and exhausted you felt at the end of every day – how spent, and drained, and just ready for the whole thing to be over.

You are dreading it at a level you didn’t even think you were capable of. The holidays haven’t even started yet, and already you are ready for them to end.

Luckily, you have been taking a group therapy course in Dialectical Behavior Training (DBT) over the past several weeks, and what you are learning is giving you a fresh perspective on how to handle the family situation this year.

First things first – practicing mindfulness, you note your reactions to your spouse’s announcement. The rage. The frustration. The resentment. The air of finality to it – you are being told, not asked, if it is okay to host his extended family this year. You bring your newfound ability for “radical acceptance” to bear on the situation – calmly, you practice simply accepting the moment for what it is, rather than what your mind thinks or wishes it to be. First, accept. Next, work to change.

That accomplished, you pull out mindfulness’ trusty sidekick, emotion regulation. Using your new skills in emotion regulation, you begin to name each emotion objectively, like a witness or observer, rather than an active (and highly emotional) participant. Yup, that really is rage. Yes, there is frustration too. And resentment. Definitely resentment. Some sadness too – when will you and your spouse ever get a chance to enjoy the holidays just relaxing together? Okay, and relief is also coming up – because this year, you have a plan to use your new DBT skills to transform events in a way that includes your need for self-care and alone-time, as well as couple time and family time, into the mix.

Next up is distress tolerance. You realize you are feeling a lot of distress due to all the emotions suddenly arising and colliding within you. You take a deep breath, relax into an awareness of a bigger picture behind your momentary stress, and then let your breath out again, dropping your shoulders and softening your facial muscles as you do so. You remind yourself that you can deal with this situation, you do have it in you to find a workable solution, and you are okay, even in the midst of some significant emotional distress.

Finally, you begin to pull it all together into interpersonal effectiveness. Now is the moment when you will assert your needs – and household ground rules – with your spouse, sharing with him how you are feeling, what you need, and what you can and cannot offer to make the holidays with his family a success this year. You decide that you will initiate a calm, objective conversation with your spouse, free from excess emotion or last year’s holiday baggage, blame, or shame.

Still very calmly, you ask your spouse if he could join you at the kitchen table for a few moments to strategize. You share with him that you did not enjoy the holidays last year and have a plan for how this year’s time with loved ones can be different. You outline what you are willing and able to do to support his in-laws’ visit, and what you need from him in terms of his participation in the family holiday preparations. Then you ask him how he feels about participating in the ways you have outlined, and whether it is something he can commit to. You ask for his feedback as well, and together, you begin to open up to one another and admit that having the whole family in to stay is stressful for you both.

In other words, as you open up, mindfully, with calmness, centeredness, focus, and objectivity, sharing what you need as well as what you wish to offer to make the family holiday season a success, you give your spouse permission to do the same.

Together, using DBT as your guide, you begin to talk through creative ways to turn last year’s holiday woe into this year’s holiday wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly



Has Your Grief Taken You Over?

Grief can overstay its welcome. Grief is a normal reaction to loss. We grieve the loss of loved ones, loss of careers, loss of pets, loss of personal fortune and/or loss of physical abilities. Grief can be defined as a feeling of sadness, anguish, sorrow or regret over something or someone that is gone or lost.

Sometimes, however, grief can become lodged into one’s personality, changing how they view themselves and the world around them. It can cause feelings of bitterness, dejectedness and inadequacy. Those are signs that grief may have turned into depression.

Some questions to ask yourself to determine whether your grief has taken on an extreme role may be: “Do I tend to be cyncial about the world and others?” “Do I tend to focus on my losses and can’t get past them?” “Am I more withdrawn and not interested in the things I used to enjoy?” Do I see my future as bleak?”

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you may be struggling with depression and would benefit from talking with someone about these issues. Take the first step toward feeling whole again by scheduling an appointment with us at Southlake Counseling today.

Be well,

Shannon