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Don’t Hide Your Feelings

Fake it till you make it. We’ve all heard this advice at some point in our lives. While there’s a time and a place for putting on a positive outlook to muscle through a situation – or until you genuinely feel better – it’s not healthy to do all the time.

I advocate being honest in your relationships and with yourself about how you’re feeling. Acknowledging your emotional state is the first step to improving it, and accepting yourself where you are does your mental health a world of good. While feigning positivity until you begin to stabilize your emotional state can be a useful tool, living your life while constantly denying your feelings is emotionally harmful.

If you’ve been masquerading as content, or pretending that you feel wonderful to hide feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, or resentment for too long – you have the potential to truly do yourself a disservice.

Being honest with yourself when you’re experiencing depression, grief, anxiety, anger, or resentment isn’t easy. Any unpleasant emotion can be difficult to face, especially if you’re doing it on your own. It may feel easier to hide, or to pretend that you’re happy. But you deserve true happiness – whatever that looks like for you. Acknowledging what you’re going through and how you’re feeling can help you move past those unpleasant feelings or to find ways of managing them.

That’s not to say that you’ll never experience unpleasant emotions. Our emotional changes are a part of our life, and that’s okay. They’re nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re feeling unpleasant emotions for any length of time, it’s best to be honest with yourself and others about them. If you experience these intense and unpleasant emotions for an extended period it’s even more critical that you reach out to somebody. A loved one or a trusted professional can assist you in seeking help. You are not alone, and you deserve to feel true contentedness.

 


Finding Light After Loss

The blog this week deals with devastation, loss, and ways to cope and recover.  After the horrific damage caused by this year’s hurricane season, many find their homes ravaged or completely destroyed, pets lost or knee deep in wreckage that may take years to repair. How do we cope with such loss?  How do we go on?   

Grief is inevitable with loss of any kind and it comes in hundreds of colors, shapes and sizes and looks different on everyone. One thing that may help is the concept of impermanence.  In Buddhism, (you don’t have to be Buddhist to embrace this), everything both happy and sad are malleable.  As a good friend of mine has said to me, “one thing we can count on is change.”  When going through bereavement, knowing that you won’t always feel this horrible, or helpless, does help…eventually.  It takes time to heal and it is important to your recovery to acknowledge your feelings.

Allow yourself time to collect your thoughts, try not to make any hasty decisions until after the fog has lifted.  When you are in the throes of emotions, you may feel like running away or starting over somewhere far away, unfortunately your feelings will follow you.  Wait to make life-changing decisions until you feel stronger and clear to exam the pros and cons. Give yourself permission to put things on the back burner and focus on what is essential in the moment.

Start slow and chunk out tasks.  If you have to start over from a natural disaster, you may begin to feel the light poking through as soon as essentials are dealt with. Don’t take on everything at once.  Prioritize, what you need first and foremost, then work from there.  In other words, don’t put all of your worries and concerns in the same basket, it will be way too heavy a burden.  Take care of your basic needs for shelter, food, safety first. Everything else can wait. Take help when it is offered, people often want to contribute in some way, be it bringing meals or watching your children.  Let them.

Know when you are incapable of dealing with the loss and ask for help.  If you find yourself unable to function or to get out of bed, reach out to a professional.  There is a huge difference between profound depression and grief.  The latter is temporary and may simply need time to fade the other requires treatment.  If you are prone to depression, a significant loss may trigger symptoms, reach out to those around you, tell them your true feelings and get help.

Understand though that in reality, you need to give grief time and space to dissipate. You may begin to notice less sadness in three months, but don’t be surprised if you’re still glum, at least some of the time, months after your loss. For most of us, it takes about a year before we have consistent grief free days.  

Let the light of laughter in when it shows up.  Although there may be a string of dismal days allow the curtains to open and set aside your worries.  Perhaps a laugh with friends over funny memories or a dinner you’ve been invited to.  It is okay to give your grief a time out, to find joy again.


Speaking Truth in Our Relationships

When I work with couples, I always advocate for one thing consistently – always stay honest with one another. Regardless of the problem you’re experiencing in your relationship, it can likely be traced back to a moment when you weren’t entirely truthful either with yourself or your partner. It’s easy to want to hide our truth sometimes. We may be afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of hurting our partner. We may be afraid that our truth is selfish, or negative in some way.

But the honest truth is that hiding how you feel or what you think from your partner does far more harm than good. If you hide your truth, you may experience feelings of resentment. And from their perspective, they may experience resentment, as well.

I believe that honesty is the best policy – whether that’s in your romantic relationship, with family, with friends, or with colleagues. Expressing how you feel and what you think helps to open up a productive dialogue. You may be surprised to find the listening party is incredibly receptive – maybe they’ve been feeling the same way or having similar thoughts. You may be equally surprised to find that they disagree with you – but are willing to openly discuss the disagreement.

The more open you are about your experience and your truth, the less likely negative interactions are. Your openness draws in openness. Your energy attracts similar energy. If you are open and honest and someone disagrees with you, there may be a moment of tension. But by accepting their honesty in kind, you move forward in productivity and understanding rather than in negativity and bitterness.

Of course, there are ways to ineffectively communicate your truth. You may be feeling negative emotions – like anger or sadness. These may lead to you lashing out and being brutally honest in a way that’s intended to hurt or offend your partner. It’s important to understand that speaking your truth comes from a place of self-respect and of respecting others – not from a place of anger, fear, or desire to be hurtful. If your words are rooted in good intentions, they will likely be received as such.

Communicating honestly and openly by speaking your truth can lead to great things within your relationship. You will find yourself being more open to hearing the truth of your partner. You will find that your partner truly hears you and empathizes with your experience. Most importantly, you will no longer feel a masked bitterness within your relationship that results from you (and your partner) not being honest with one another (or yourselves) when resolving conflict.


Speaking Truth in Our Relationships

When I work with couples, I always advocate for one thing consistently – always stay honest with one another. Regardless of the problem you’re experiencing in your relationship, it can likely be traced back to a moment when you weren’t entirely truthful either with yourself or your partner. It’s easy to want to hide our truth sometimes. We may be afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of hurting our partner. We may be afraid that our truth is selfish, or negative in some way.

But the honest truth is that hiding how you feel or what you think from your partner does far more harm than good. If you hide your truth, you may experience feelings of resentment. And from their perspective, they may experience resentment, as well.

I believe that honesty is the best policy – whether that’s in your romantic relationship, with family, with friends, or with colleagues. Expressing how you feel and what you think helps to open up a productive dialogue. You may be surprised to find the listening party is incredibly receptive – maybe they’ve been feeling the same way or having similar thoughts. You may be equally surprised to find that they disagree with you – but are willing to openly discuss the disagreement.

The more open you are about your experience and your truth, the less likely negative interactions are. Your openness draws in openness. Your energy attracts similar energy. If you are open and honest and someone disagrees with you, there may be a moment of tension. But by accepting their honesty in kind, you move forward in productivity and understanding rather than in negativity and bitterness.

Of course, there are ways to ineffectively communicate your truth. You may be feeling negative emotions – like anger or sadness. These may lead to you lashing out and being brutally honest in a way that’s intended to hurt or offend your partner. It’s important to understand that speaking your truth comes from a place of self-respect and of respecting others – not from a place of anger, fear, or desire to be hurtful. If your words are rooted in good intentions, they will likely be received as such.

Communicating honestly and openly by speaking your truth can lead to great things within your relationship. You will find yourself being more open to hearing the truth of your partner. You will find that your partner truly hears you and empathizes with your experience. Most importantly, you will no longer feel a masked bitterness within your relationship that results from you (and your partner) not being honest with one another (or yourselves) when resolving conflict.

Speaking Truth in Our Relationships was originally published on Bridge of Life


The Danger of Social Media Comparison

Social media is a part of our lives in today’s day and age, for better or worse. There are many parts of social media that are very good. It’s wonderful to connect with new friends and reconnect with old friends. It’s fantastic to be able to stay in touch with loved ones from across states, countries, and continents – all by logging in to our Facebook or Twitter. There’s a plethora of information available to us as a result of social media, as well. It’s easier to stay informed – not just about personal things, but about world events and breaking news. More than that, though, the driving need to post positive aspects of our lives on social media forces us to notice and capture what is good about our lives. As a result, we might push ourselves to be better, or we might feel more consistently content.

However, social media also has a dangerous side – the side of comparison. Being able to see all of the happy, shining moments of our friends’, families’, and colleagues’ lives can make us doubt the positivity of our own life. This is dangerous because, of course, it puts us in an unhealthy cycle of self doubt. It’s also dangerous because the “moments” we see that other people post about aren’t their whole reality. Everyone has ups and downs, and just as many moments of mundane day-to-day activity. But when we believe that everyone around us is only experiencing the utmost joy and happiness, it’s easy to wonder why we aren’t experiencing those things, too?

These thoughts can be dangerous – we end up spending too much time comparing. We spend too much of our time taking careful notice of the negative emotions in life. We are lacking balance.

This is unhealthy. And it leads to profound anxiety, and an inability to be mindful or to live in the moment. That is why it’s very important for people to be aware of social media’s negative impact on our lives. When we catch ourselves falling into the trap of comparison. When we find that the addiction to this comparison is becoming overwhelming, it’s critical that we unplug. This is so much more than turning off our phones, or leaving them in the other room (although that’s a start!).

It’s healthy to take social media sabbaticals from time to time. It’s also healthy to schedule meetings with our loved ones outside of social media – meeting for a cup of coffee, for example. When we take a trip, it’s healthy to wait until we return to post our photos or gush over our experiences with friends. Taking more time to focus on what we experience in the moment, and fully immersing ourselves in those connections, sometimes means turning away from being “connected” on social media. It’s okay to not constantly be accessible, or constantly be connected. Taking care of ourselves and our emotional, social, and mental well-being is always more important than being accessible and connected.


Dealing with Loss

Well, everyone can master a grief, but he who has one. – William Shakespeare

We have all been there, a loss of one kind or another; the death of a friend or family member, the passing of a beloved pet, an unexpected tragedy such as a flood or hurricane  that alters our journey forever.  You may be experiencing a divorce or the end of a long term relationship.   Whatever the loss, it can be downright torturous to get on with living.  Most of us veer towards the familiar and when you experience a demise, change crashes in on your life uninvited.  But there are tools that can help you navigate through the painful terrain of grieving and dealing with loss.

First and foremost, don’t deny your feelings, otherwise they will end up somewhere in your body and wreak havoc.  It is normal to feel a profound sadness, to cry or wail, and to experience a sense of hopelessness. You don’t have to make excuses for your emotions, they are uniquely yours and everyone copes with loss differently.  You may feel utterly overwhelmed, angry or unequivocally fearful. When a person or family pet or companion passes it can flood you with memories and the void can feel physical.  Or the ending of a marriage or partnership can produce tremendous grief.  Acknowledge the surge of emotions with the same empathy you would give others who have experienced loss.  This is not the time to be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip.

When you are ready, share your feelings, talk to friends and other family members who are good at listening.  What you don’t need is a list of things you ‘should’ do.  Open up to people who can actively listen, that means they’re not the ones talking. Stave off those who try to cram unwanted advice down your throat, although they may have your best interest at heart, they are not you, they have not walked your path.  Now is the time to be present with what you are experiencing.  Facing your feelings helps you to come to terms with them, to put them in perspective, to shake hands with them and realize they are part of the process and part of you.      

If we bottle up our feelings they fester and eventually, like bad wine, turn sour and are that much harder to swallow.  Open the door to your heart, let the contents spill out to those you feel emotionally safe confiding in. Get out of your thinking mind and into your feelings.  The mind tries to rationalize or distract you or even judge you, which will not help your progress towards wholeness.  Perhaps write how you’re feeling down or pen a letter to the deceased or journal your experience without censoring your words.  Let the paper absorb your sadness or resentment then either keep it or burn it, depending on what will honor your emotional well-being.

If there is no one that can help you unburden your emotions, seek out a support group or a counselor.  In fact, there is an array of bereavement groups that could help you with your specific loss and even those with a plethora of family and friends can benefit from the solidarity of those who have suffered similar experiences (although let me be clear every situation is different and don’t compare your grief response to another).  Find the right one for you, one you can feel comfortable in expressing yourself honestly and without judgement.

Keep some semblance of a routine. If you like to walk in the morning or evening, perhaps try to keep that healthy habit up.  Or maybe you love to water your flowers every morning or make coffee and read a book or listen to the news or watch the squirrels dart in the trees.  Whatever it is, by sticking to a few simple constants, you will create a sense of stability that not everything is lost, not everything has changed.

Try to eat as healthy as you can and stay rested.  If you have lost your appetite try eating smaller meals more frequently, foods that are easily digested.  Get a little exercise to help you sleep, ask a friend to walk with you or perhaps cycling helps clear your mind. If you have a yoga practice, this can be very soothing during times of duress.  Taking little measures to maintain your health, will help you cope with the loss. It is okay to step away from the sadness for a bit and indulge yourself in an activity that quiets the pain, if even temporarily. This is not the same as ignoring or escaping your feelings, it is rather an attempt to bring your life back to balance. Throughout the day we experience a gamut of emotions, allow yourself a reprieve from the painful ones.

Breathe, and give yourself time to grieve, be kind to yourself.  Try to not self-impose deadlines for when you should feel better.  Know that it is a process, just like learning how to be a parent or how to keep your relationship healthy, grieving a loss takes time. Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”  Allow the wounds of loss their proper healing time and eventually the pain will subside.


The Paradox of Pursuing Happiness

Many people spend a large portion of their lives actively pursuing happiness. Thousands of books have been written on the subject. Movies have been made. Countless articles and blog posts address thousands of different ways that you can be happy. But what these documents don’t account for is that happiness is a fleeting emotion – and so the pursuit of it will always feel equally fleeting and not very satisfying.

The thought propelling the pursuit of happiness is actually very positive. We all deserve to find moments of happiness in our lives – and those moments are wonderful to enjoy fully. However, if we focus our energy on always pursuing the euphoric feeling of happiness, we’ll often be left feeling quite the opposite – unhappy with the results. We run the risk of setting ourselves up for emotional negativity and let down.

Instead, it’s often more productive to focus ourselves on the practice of contentment. Feeling generally positive about our lives – or even feeling centered and calm – leaves us feeling much “happier” overall. Focusing on contentment means that we’re staying mindful and fully present in our day-to-day lives. If we focus on the pursuit of happiness instead, we’re often not in the moment: we’re focusing on a constant chase of an emotional state. By embracing contentedness, we’re developing a sense of peace and calm within ourselves.

Today, I suggest that you release the notion of actively pursuing happiness. Instead, focus yourself on staying content. Focus on staying in the moment. Focus on being mindful and remaining centered despite the ups and downs that will inevitably happen within our days. This is much more likely to lead to many more happy moments.


Approaching Situations that Cause You Anxiety

Many of us have situations that cause us anxiety. It may be speaking in public, or it may be facing a conflict in your relationship. Recognize that many people have similar reactions. Whatever situation you’re facing that causes you anxiety – I know that it can feel overwhelming. You may feel as though you’re unable to control how you’re feeling, or that you can’t possibly face these situations.

I suggest you take these steps to overcome your anxiety so that you’ll be able to manage the negative impacts.

Accept How You’re Feeling

Any anxiety that you’re feeling is usually a response to a deeper fear or source of upset. The first step to approaching situations that cause you anxiety is to embrace how you’re feeling. Accept the fact that the situation you’re about to encounter causes you anxiety. Feel it deeply, and allow for your reaction.

Create Space for Yourself to React

It’s important to give yourself emotional and mental space to react to the situation that causes you anxiety. If you’re afraid of public speaking and you throw yourself into a public speaking event without preparation or time to accept your anxiety your negative feelings are likely to escalate. Instead, create space for your reaction to the situation. Give yourself time to react. Likewise, after the situation is over, give yourself time to decompress. You will want to have plenty of space during these situations to accept and move past your anxious reaction.

Practice a Moment of Meditation

When the anxiety you experience is situational, meditation can help. Some people prefer to meditate before they approach the situation that causes them anxiety. If we follow the public speaking example, you could take time before the event to meditate calmly. Focus on being fully present. You can also meditate during the situation that’s causing you anxiety. Meditation doesn’t need to be a quiet act where you’re alone. It can be repeating a mantra to yourself in your head, or it can be focusing on your breath instead of any negative emotional reaction. Again, using the public speaking example, you can take a few seconds between sentences to repeat to yourself, “I am strong.” Or you can take slow, metered breaths between each phrase. After you exit the situation that’s causing you anxiety, you can still practice meditation to soothe yourself and bring yourself back to the present moment.


Validate, Empathize and Acknowledge Your Partner’s Experience

It’s not uncommon to have a disagreement in your relationship. It’s to be expected. Any time two unique people with differing backgrounds, priorities, and emotional attachments come together to try and make a decision or work to improve their relationship they’re bound to clash every once in awhile. That being said, there are ways that you can disagree – even when emotions are running high – that keep communication lines open and maintain your relationship as a safe space for one another. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for solving relationship arguments or disagreements, but there is one step that you can take to help ease tensions and improve communication to reach an effective resolution to you and your partner’s problem.

Acknowledge, Validate and Empathize with your partner.

It simple yet many couples don’t do this. When you’re arguing with your partner or with anyone in general, you may feel defensive. You may feel angry or hurt. Maybe you feel that your feelings aren’t being heard. You are completely entitled to these feelings. You’re always entitled to your feelings and I encourage all of my clients to fully acknowledge and accept what they’re feeling – whether it’s positive or negative – before choosing to focus on the moment and what is best for that situation. However, while you are entitled to these unpleasant feelings that are a result of an argument, your partner is likely experiencing many of those same feelings. They, like you, are entitled to their feelings, as well.

When you’re trying to work through a problem as a unit, it can help to acknowledge and validate your partner. Acknowledge and validate their experience. You may not agree, and I’m not implying that in order to make up agreement is necessary – it often isn’t, and it’s unreasonable to force any parties to agree to something they inherently disagree with. Acknowledging and agreeing with your partner without validation and empathy will not make the problem go away.

An Exercise in Validation and Empathy

Validating and empathizing with them is sometimes as simple as saying, “I see and understand what you’re feeling, it makes sense to me and if I were in your shoes I might feel the same way.”

It may be saying, “I hear what you are saying, it makes sense to me and I imagine that if I were in your shoes I would feel hurt.”

This relates to a process I encourage – the mirroring exercise. The mirroring exercise works like this:

Sender: Speak slowly about a given topic, using short sentences.

Receiver: Repeats back to sender everything that is being said, word-for-word.

Maintain eye contact at all times.

Receiver: May hold up a hand to signal to the sender that they’re moving too fast.

When the sender is finished speaking…

Receiver validates and empathizes by saying: I hear what you are saying and it makes sense to me. If I were in your shoes I might feel the same way (list the emotions they’ve expressed to you). Did I get that correct? Did I miss anything?

During this exercise, partners aren’t permitted to ask each other questions about their feelings or distract from what their partner is sending. Partners will likely feel uncomfortable. That’s normal! The point of this is to practice daily, for about 20 minutes (10 minutes each) to regularly validate and empathize with your partner.

By acknowledging your partner’s experience – their emotions, thoughts, and reactions – you open the door to allowing your relationship to remain a source of comfort despite the disagreement you’re having. Empathizing with your partner by saying “ If I were in your shoes I also might be feeling the way you are feeling” will help you and your partner to connect. Opening that connection can help you move forward in a safe space with love.


Saying Yes, Saying No: Assertiveness in your Relationship

The word “assertive” is often confused with aggressive and therefore considered a negative trait. Nobody wants to be viewed as aggressive, rude, or pushy. But I’m challenging you to look at an assertive personality trait as something that’s incredibly positive. In fact, I encourage clients to use the Assertiveness Method to attract their best life and act with self-confidence. Being assertive can help you make the best decisions for you and to respond to others in a balanced way. Learning the Assertiveness Method is simple – say “no” three times a day. It’s very possible that you find yourself saying “yes,” even to requests that you’re not wild about. Choose three small things a day that you don’t want to do, and instead of saying, “yes,” say, “no.”

You can say, “no,” to something big – maybe a relative wants you to pet sit for them while they’re out of town and you have other plans. You can also say, “no,” to something small – maybe your significant other asks you to grab them a cup of coffee while you’re reading your book, and you don’t want to.

Saying, “No, I have plans that weekend so I can’t watch your pets,” or, “No, I’m reading, would you get the cup of coffee yourself?” may sound impossible. You may have to force yourself to do it at first, and it will be uncomfortable for everyone involved. But over time, about 3-6 months, you’ll start to feel more capable and balanced. You’ll say yes when you’re invested and want to do something and no when you don’t. You’ll feel more connected to yourself, like you’re taking better care of yourself, and that you’re setting yourself up for your best life.

The Assertiveness Method can also work positively in your relationship. When you’re committed to your significant other, there’s a willingness to sacrifice for them. You may want to say, “yes,” to help them, make their life easier, go to events with them, etc. This is a positive thing! However, when you start saying, “yes,” to requests even when you don’t want to, a level of resentment starts to build. To keep your relationship happy and healthy, practice saying, “no,” to requests you don’t want to fulfill. Though you may both be surprised at first, you will both appreciate the honesty and openness in the long run. And, of course, you’ll each individually appreciate the fact that you’re caring for yourself – and therefore bringing your best self to the relationship.

For more about the Assertiveness Method, watch my video here.