Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
What if the key to feeling better, happier, more hopeful is to learn to treat yourself with compassion. Cultivating self compassion is something that anyone can do if they know how. To develop compassion for yourself is a big way to fight depression and low self esteem.
Not everyone grows up with adults modeling self love and self compassion. Not everyone grows up being praised and encouraged. Not everyone grows up to feel proud of everything they have done. We all have bad things happen. We all hurt people and make mistakes. We have all had someone yell at us or put us down. Some people internalize these things more than others. Some people take these things to define who they are. It is pretty common that people are much harder on themselves than they are on other people. We give other people more chances and we are more understanding when it comes to their mistakes.
Dr. Kristin Kneff is a professor at University of Texas in Austin who studies mindful self-compassion. She studies the effects of self-compassion through writing. Everybody has something about themselves that they don't like; something that causes them to feel shame, to feel insecure, or not “good enough.” This exercise she developed helps you write a letter to yourself about this negativity from a place of acceptance and compassion.
The exercise goes like this:
First, identify something about yourself that makes you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be something related to your personality, behavior, abilities, relationships, or any other part of your life. Once you identify something, write it down and describe how it makes you feel. Sad? Not good enough? Embarrassed? Angry? Try to be as honest as possible, keeping in mind that no one but you will see what you write.
The next step is to write a letter addressing these inadequacies, to yourself from the perspective of an imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and compassionate.
The third step is to put the letter down for a while a come back to it and read it and feel how it soothes and comforts you.
For the full exercise go to Dr. Kneffs website. You can find other mindfulness and self compassion ideas on her page as well.
Sara Cole MFT is a Therapist in Scripps Ranch. She specializes in working with women and teen girls. To learn about how she may be able to help you or a loved one, visit www.saracolemft.com.
By Sara Cole MFT, San DIego Therapist
I used to work in a drug treatment facility and one of the first questions I was always asked by addicts was “are you an addict”. No, somehow, I am not. It is everywhere in my family and somehow, I snuck through. So, at first, I would just say “no I am not an addict”. The problem with that answer is that it only told them half of my honest answer. My genuine answer is that I am not an addict, but I have a lot of experience with addiction and the destruction it causes. I have loved so many people who struggled with addiction. So, my experience is that of someone who loves an addict, like a parent, a sister or brother, a child or a partner, or even a friend or coworker. I lost a sister at 30 in a tragic accident as the result of her drinking. I feel like I am losing my other sister to addiction as well. And yes, we need to provide treatment for addicts. We desperately need more treatment available. But those who surround the addict also need help and support. I think we are sometimes forgotten.
This is a subject that I am a little uneasy writing about. I don’t want to discount the pain and struggle of being an addict. I don’t want to take away any help that is available to people struggling with addiction. I do want the addict’s friends and family to know that it is so normal to feel all those feelings you are feeling. That overwhelming anxiety, the sadness, the guilt, the anger, frustration, hurt are all normal. You are also suffering because of addiction. You also need support in healing from this disease. That is why they call addiction “a family disease”.
Over the years I felt guilty for needing help when I wasn’t the one addicted, but I got help anyway and it made all the difference. It hasn’t brought my sweet, creative, kind sister back. It hasn’t cured my other sweet sister of her addiction, but it has made me stronger, less confused and less under the complete control of their every action and choice. Talking this through with others, reading, listening, practicing has allowed me to get my life back and not have my life be all about their addictions. I don’t care about them less, but I now care for myself as much as I care about them.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” This is the first line of the Serenity Prayer. It doesn’t have to be a prayer to god. It can be to anything greater than yourself or it can be a goal you have for yourself. It sounds easy, but when you really try it, it is not. You can’t change other people. You can’t force them to do what you want. You cannot make your addict stop using. Only they can make that choice and take those actions. And even though I strive to accept this truth every day, it still makes me mad. I did a lot of grieving as I came to accept this truth. I had to give up the allusion that I could fix things. It’s interesting though, that once you really get this, you feel a huge sense of relief. The relief comes from knowing that you can stop doing all those things you do to try and change or manipulate that person. Things like throwing alcohol away, tracking their car, searching their belongings, bargaining, lying for them, giving them money, begging and pleading. It’s not your responsibility. No matter how badly you want that power, you don’t have it. That puts the responsibility back on the addict, where it belongs, because they are really the only one who can make that decision for themselves in the long run. It may even empower them to take responsibility in some cases.
“The courage to change the things I can”. This is the next part of the serenity prayer. You get to decide what you do. That includes how you are willing to live your life, what you are willing to be around, how you will react to situations, what you will spend your money on, etc. You have control over you. That’s the power you have, so use it wisely. Sounds easy right? Sometimes, sometimes not. When your son calls from jail and wants you to bail him out because he got arrested for drunk driving, you get to decide how you will respond. You can go rescue him because that’s what your parental instinct tells you to do. Or you can step back and say, “he made the choices that got him there and these are his consequences.” “Will he learn more from me bailing him out or from having to sit in jail over night?” “Do I want to spend my money to bail him out again”. “Will this help or hinder him from seeking treatment?” “Will this help or harm me?” “will I let him sleep at my house?” You get the idea. You get to chose if you want to go to your sister’s house for dinner. If there is going to be alcohol there, you get to decide if you go or not, but you don’t get to decide if there is alcohol there or who drinks it or how much. These are hard and sometimes confusing choices and that’s why we need the COURAGE to change the things we can. It can feel heartbreaking and counter intuitive at times.
“The wisdom to know the difference”. The final part of the prayer. The wisdom is not automatic for most people. It is learned and practiced and refined over time. The things that have helped me in the decision-making process are two questions. “Is this something I actually have the ability to control? And “Does this support their addiction, or does it support their recovery?” For example, when my sister calls me from a pay phone and wants me to come pick her up, my immediate response it to go get my baby sister. But then I ask myself that question about what it helps and then it’s clear to me what I am willing to do for her. I will absolutely go pick her up and take her to treatment right now. I will not go pick her up and feed her and give her money and drop her back off at a friend’s house. I think that would help her addiction and I refuse to do anything to help addiction which is a slimy, manipulative little monster that wants to take total control. She may get mad and that’s HER choice. I can’t go find her and somehow force her to go to treatment. I wish I had that power, but I don’t. So why waste my time. The other thought that helps me at this point is to remember to not take the addicts actions personally. They are sick, and they may do terrible things to get their drug and protect their drug, but it really is not about you. It has nothing to do with you. And the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be. We all get to make our own choices, even when they seem like completely terrible ones to others. For me knowing that this is not my person, it is their addiction doing these things, helps me not be crushed.
My point in all of this? I think I am trying to say a couple of things. I want to help the people that care about addicts. I want people to know that they can feel angry, hurt, scared, guilty, jealous, etc. It’s normal. You don’t have to allow someone else’s addiction to ruin your life and prevent you from finding joy, contentment and satisfaction. You can care deeply and wish for the best and be supportive AND protect yourself. You can choose love to yourself enough to not be taken down by something you have no control over.
By Sara Cole MFT, San Diego Therapist
It feels like a conspiracy to keep new parents completely in the dark. Do we think they can't handle the truth? The truth that there may be difficulties and struggles ahead. That they can't handle the tools that could help them be prepared for the hard times?
When I was pregnant, not one person mentioned postpartum depression, prematurity, sleep deprivation, overwhelming anxiety or any of the other things I got to discover on my own. They didn't talk about the strain it has on a relationship. They didn't talk about how your body isn't completely healed for as long as a year after giving birth. They talk about how exciting it will be and how beautiful the baby will be and how you will just naturally be a wonderful mother.
Well, not to toot my own horn, but I am a wonderful mom and it has been a journey. My daughter was born at 30 weeks and stayed in the NICU for 6 weeks. Her dad and I also spent every day in the NICU holding her when we could, changing diapers when we could, feeding her when we could and watching all of her monitors track her breathing, heartbeat and oxygen level. No one had ever spoken the word NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) until my daughter was being taken there. I was shocked at my level of anxiety and depression. It was a situation that would be stressful for anyone, but I was stressed to the point of being irrational. I knew nothing about prematurity. In my head I was trying to prepare myself for losing her. People wanted to bring gifts but I refused. I didn't tell them why, but it was because I thought it would be too painful to have to get rid of all the lovely baby things when my daughter died. In the hospital no one thought to mention that she would almost certainly survive. That seems like something you would want to tell a stressed out worried parent...
Why do professionals not prepare us for the possibility of something going wrong? Even when you do go to birthing classes, it's just assumed that none will have anything, but a perfect birth. It feels like sending women off into the wilderness blind. If I head out into the wilderness, I will prepare for bad weather or getting injured, because someone warned me of the possibilities and how to be prepared for them. What's that saying? "Hope for the best and plan for the worst".
You don't necessarily expect the worst but it's nice to at least have it in the back of your mind.
They could include a peek at the NICU when you tour the hospital. They could talk about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and tell you what to look for. It would even be nice if we as a society normalized the need for help with a newborn. That is not a one woman or one man job.
When I am talking with a mom to-be, I always hesitate before talking about the hard parts. I hesitate because I don't want to cause her more fear than she may already feel. But then I remember how I would have felt so much better knowing that my circumstance was one the hospital was prepared to handle. It was one many other women have had and will have.
As for the mom and dad relationship, a little heads up would also be nice. To really get into this I will have to write a seperate post. At my follow-up exam the doctor told me "be sure to pay plenty of attention to dad". That was the whole conversation. Not, dad mey feel left out because of the bond mom and baby have, and if sex is his way of feeling connected, he may feel very rejected. You will not feel like having sex for a while and that's normal and ok. In some ways the couple will need to redefine their relationship. This is all normal. It doesn't mean the relationship is over. "Give yourselves a good year before making any big relationship decisions. " It may take that long for the dust to settle and for thing to start to stabilize. That's a long time and I think it would help for people to have that expectation going in, especially dads.
Dads don't have the physical and hormonal changes. They are not breastfeeding. Their lives change but not in the same way it does for the mom. If no one tells him, there's no way for him to know. And he will be left to come to his own conclusions, which can be dangerous. Like I said, too much to get into all of it here.
Becoming a parent is the most amazing, beautiful thing that has ever happened to me and I would not trade it for anything. Having some warning, education and information about what was to come, would not have changed my decision to have a baby. It wouldn't have scared me away. It's time we give people some credit and stop keeping them in the dark. When some or all of these things do happen, you are left feeling alone and broken and sick because you don't know the same thing is happening for other people too. You don't know that it is an outcome we can prepare for and if everything does go just right, you can celebrate how very lucky they are.
Sara Cole MFT Specializes in working with new moms as they adjust to motherhood. She helps women get through Postpartum depression and anxiety. She helps new parents with their very unique relationship struggles as well. For more information visit her website at www.saracolemft.com or call (619) 316-3171
Imagine one minute you are watching your favorite show on TV, say The Office. You are happy, relaxed and enjoying this quiet downtime. But then something in a commercial reminds you of what happened to you and suddenly feel like you are back when that one terrible thing happened to you. It could be anything that triggered this response for you. You are suddenly anxious, overwhelmed and maybe scared or really sad. Now you are also frustrated because, "why can't I just get past this?". It's not like you should have to stop watching TV altogether. Maybe you think "why can't I just be normal and get over it already". Well, as you probably know, our brains work in mysterious and complicated ways.
Why does one event stick with you like this and some other thing happened and then you were over it? Why do two people who experience the same event, have totally different responses? Maybe one person ends up with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the other one doesn't really even think about it much. This is a big big question and the answer could get quite long and complicated. However the basics are what is important here. So this is my attempt to give an answer that is understandable and brief. If you want more of the details, I will give some references of where to look.
How you respond to something that happens depends on your history, your understanding of the event, your coping skills, what you did after the potentially traumatic event, your past experiences, and more. You have a response that is individual and specific to you. So when that car crashed, did you believe you were going to die or did you think something else? Did you have any control over the situation? Had you been in a bad car crash before or known someone who had been? After the crash did you get a chance to talk about it? Had you experienced other potentially traumatizing events recently or in the past? These are a just a few of the ways in which your reaction can be influenced. So, you see how there are lots of factors involved in how your brain processes and files it away.
This analogy of filing memories away is a useful one in talking about trauma. This is because we believe that PTSD or its symptoms arise when your brain doesn't finish processing a particularly terrible event. Maybe because it doesn't know how to make sense of it. When your brain does fully process an event, you have a memory sort of like looking at a snapshot from that time. When you haven't finished processing an event, you might experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiousness, anger, physical sensations of being back there at the event, or other uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms. The goal is to finish processing that memory so that it is a snapshot, like your other memories. So that it doesn't cause a physical and overwhelming reaction when you are reminded of what happened.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one very effective treatment for trauma survivors. The process of EMDR seems to trigger the brain to finish processing the memory, so that it can be just that, a memory and not a totally overwhelming experience. To provide EMDR, a therapist must undergo specialized training and certification. It is a well studied model of treatment and can be successful in a relatively short amount of time for some people. EMDR can also be a successful treatment for phobias, anxiety and other issues as well.To see a person move from completely debilitated to relaxed and functional, is so amazing. As an EMDR provider, I have seen people regain their lives after receiving EMDR treatment. That is a pretty cool thing to be a part of.
For more information about the services Sara Cole provides or how she may be able to help you reach your goals and make positive changes, visit www.saracolemft.com or call (619) 316-3171. Sara provides mental health services in San Diego CA.
Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression and anxiety. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.