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Do emotions have a role in healing childhood trauma?

I sense that most of us are aware that our brain, especially the rational part (i.e., prefrontal cortex) does not reach full development until age 25 or so, which implies, by default that until that age, we tend to operate more from the emotional parts, such as the amygdala.  And, as our brains develop, the connections between the two (emotional and rational) centers are still developing as well.  What we may not be so aware of is the impact of childhood trauma on such connections.  We also may not be fully aware of many of the situations that are now understood to be traumatizing to children.

Let me start with the latter.  Extensive research has been ongoing since the original group of participants were recruited for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study between 1995 and 1997 in California.  Although the study ended in 1997, most states continue to collect such information through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  The information collected focuses on child abuse and neglect and other household challenges, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse and mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, and if a household member was incarcerated. This research has resulted in the inclusion of a new diagnosis of Complex posttraumatic stress disorder, also referred to as developmental PTSD, within the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition, recently officially endorsed by WHO’s World Health Assembly and set for implementation outside of the US in 2022.

This is a HUGE step forward in identifying the underlying cause of most challenging symptoms to mental health, including anxiety and depression, and how these symptoms link to most chronic physical diseases, such as heart disease and cancer!  I have been known to say we don’t need a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, we simply need The Book of Trauma.  When we all can embrace the idea that there is nothing wrong with us and instead can understand it is what happened to us when we were little that makes it so difficult to live a life full of joy and meaning today, there will no longer be any stigma to seeking support and we can begin the process of healing by shedding the shame and suffering we have been carrying.

Now to expand on the awareness of the impact such developmental PTSD has on the growing connections between the emotional and rational parts of a child’s brain.  When we are little and presented with trauma (as defined above), the emotional input to the brain is overwhelming to the point where we only ‘feel’ and are unable to ‘think’ because the developing rational part of the brain is hijacked by the emotional part, cutting off the connections that encourage a more balanced perspective.  The most familiar and natural fear responses of ‘fight or flight’ in many cases may not be an option for children.  Therefore, the ‘freeze’ response may be the most accessible, especially in young children.  The freeze response is used when the presenting danger cannot be escaped or beaten down, and if either were to be attempted, might actually increase the risk of harm.  The freeze response is a survival response that encourages stillness and silence to avoid being seen and offering a mental escape instead.  What this normal response to danger also does is narrow the range of emotional awareness to flavors of fear and shuts down the development of a more diverse range of emotions, including engagement, joy, comfort, confidence, empowerment and enthusiasm.  When the freeze response helped us to survive the traumas of our childhood, it also stunted our emotional intelligence (aka alexithymia), locking us in a world where danger lurks around every corner, even as adults.

So what can we do to unlock the door to the fear chamber and open it up to a safer, more peaceful existence?  In order to facilitate improvements in trauma-specific symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, dissociation, impulsivity, and interpersonal problems, emotions need to be welcome to express themselves.  Working with a therapist that embraces the intelligence of emotions, through perhaps using Emotionally-focused therapy, can address the emotional challenges associated with alexithymia and thus, begin to resolve issues of childhood trauma.

To read a little more of the research on how working with emotions heals childhood trauma, click on the link below:

 

 

What does your attitude about crying say about you?

Take a moment and ask yourself which of the following four statements reflects your belief about crying:

  • Crying is healthy
  • Crying is controllable
  • Crying helps one feel better
  • I hate crying

Recent research reflects that your beliefs about crying reveal your attachment style.

When I grew up, I got mixed messages from my family about crying.  My mother would cry all of the time and I would presume that she would identify with either the ‘crying is healthy’ and/or ‘crying helps one feel better’ beliefs.  Whereas, my father on the other hand would never cry and most likely would identify with ‘crying is controllable’ and/or ‘I hate crying’ beliefs.  More recently, I heard several quotes that stuck with me, one within my yoga roots by Kripalvanandji “One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice.” and the other “Crying is how your body speaks when your mouth can’t explain the pain you feel” which appears to be from an unknown author.

Crying is a universal human attachment behavior and starts at birth.  As little ones, crying notifies our caregivers that we need something, to relay important information to our attachment figures, such as food or sleep.  As we grow up, crying is a part of emotional processing and acceptance of loss.  The act of crying tends to elicit care and comfort from others throughout our lives.  But what happens as we grow when our caregivers have different beliefs about crying and they may not respond to our needs with care and comfort as intended?

I remember times when I was crying and my father’s response was something like ‘I won’t speak to you until you stop crying’, which implied to me that he was not available to provide care and comfort and somehow I must find a way to do that for myself.  I also witnessed that same response when my mother would be crying and he would not provide her with any comfort.  I quickly learned that crying does not elicit comfort and care in my family and, instead, makes the source of comfort and care unavailable.  As you might suspect, I tried my best to ‘stuff’ my emotions, especially my fear and sadness, and tried to rely on my words to explain my responses to the world.  But what happens when words fail?

Another memory comes back to me when I was a young woman working in the corporate world and I found myself feeling unsupported at work, even bullied.  I approached Human Resources and started to use my words, until my tears starting flowing and the dam broke.  I could not stop crying and I felt ashamed.  The HR person even alluded to the fact that my tears made it difficult to navigate the circumstances.  Well the research findings now show that the beliefs we develop about crying as a result of our experiences with our attachment figures have implications for interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning throughout our lives, impacting all of our relationships.

Learning and embracing the wisdom of Kripalvanandji helps us embrace our humanness, which includes the capacity to feel and experience emotions, and release any shame around crying.  It is a normal, natural human response to loss – whether we learned to deny/avoid the pain that comes with loss or cry more and stronger when we experience loss, hoping to get the care and comfort we all deserve – that has the power to heal.

If you would like to learn more about how your beliefs about crying may reflect your attachment style in relationships, click the box below:

What type of yoga is best?

As a Hatha yoga trained teacher under the umbrella of the Raja type of yoga, I am often asked if one style of yoga is better than another.  It has always been my belief that all yoga has mind-body-soul benefits and recent research appears to support such a belief.  However, what I think is important to understand is that yoga does not just include the physical poses or shapes that most of us first think of when asked ‘What is yoga all about?’.

Sacred yogic texts offer that there are four types of – or paths to – yoga, which is often defined as the union of body, mind, soul and spirit.  Raja yoga is the type of yoga that includes techniques, such as movement, meditation, and mudras, and is what is most often practiced here in our Western world.  Bhakti yoga is the type of yoga focused on devotion, also referred to as the path of love.  Jnana yoga is the type of yoga focused on the attainment of knowledge or wisdom through study and self-inquiry.  Karma yoga is the type of yoga focused on action without attaching to the outcome of your efforts, also referred to as the path of selfless service.

With this basic understanding of the four types of yoga then, when we think of yoga practices we start to realize it is all yoga.  When we focus on the yoga most practiced here in the US, Raja yoga, then we can begin to broaden our perspective as to what is included in this particular type, beyond the physical movement we do on our mats in a yoga class.  Yoga practices or techniques can include breath (pranayama), intention setting (Sankalpa), visualization (Bhavana), mudra (body/hand positions), mantra (chanting/sound), meditation (all kinds!), and how we interact with others and ourselves.

When we do take a moment to focus on the physical movement on the yoga mat, within the Hatha yoga style of Raja yoga, multiple yoga styles have emerged, which makes this type of yoga available to everyone.  Options run the gamut from Vinyasa flow, which is a faster-paced, sweaty practice to Restorative, where bodies are supported by blankets, bolsters, and other props to find comfort and held for at least 10 minutes.  Other classes might simply focus on breath practices or sound healing through musical instruments or chanting/singing.  Even others might offer guided visualization meditations.  Yoga class descriptions might represent the offering as a Beginner’s class or a Level 1 class.  Newer trainings include Yoga of 12 Step Recovery and Trauma-informed Yoga.

Therefore, my answer to the question is ‘Whatever works for you!”.  Not all yoga is equal.  Yoga is not the vanilla flavor of union and instead has evolved into a more ‘flavor of the month’ approach to broaden its reach and appeal.  And, the more we learn about the roots of the ancient tradition, we come to realize that it was originally taught in a one-on-one format, passing the knowledge of the guru to student, most likely taking into consideration that student’s individual needs.  So, in reality, yoga (with all of its techniques or ingredients) is meant to be a personal practice, customized to what is needed in the moment.  With this understanding then, my answer might include a response such as “You are your best guru, so listen to your body and allow it to join the mind in making the decision as to what feels best in the moment”.

If you still believe just one type or style of yoga is best, I encourage you to click on the link below to read more about the research that concluded that the choice of yoga style can be based on personal preferences and availability:

Are you looking for a magic pill for anxiety, but without the pill?

As a yoga teacher, you might expect me to tell you that meditation is the answer.  And, although meditation has absolutely been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, many people who suffer from anxiety get anxious just thinking about the idea of meditation.  Instead, non-invasive brain stimulation (i.e., direct neurofeedback) might bring more immediate relief of symptoms, creating space in the mind to contemplate meditation and even begin to practice it!

As someone whose nervous system tends to lean towards anxiety, my yoga practice including but not limited to pranayama, meditation and self-inquiry has brought me much peace over years of practice.  Yet, when chaos would begin to brew as it will and I would begin to feel a sense of overwhelm, I would greet my fear all over again, like a familiar (yet not comfortable) old friend.  I wondered if all of my body-mind-spirit practices would ever be enough to soothe my root chakra to the point of simply accepting fear for what it is – an early warning system meant to guide me to safety.

It wasn’t until I experienced direct neurofeedback that I sensed that shift in my relationship with fear.  I came to understand that trying to train the mind when the brain is caught in a deeply patterned dysfunctional loop can only do so much to soothe my nervous system and create new neural connections.  Operating from the conscious mind, we quickly discover that making the unconscious conscious is really hard heart work!  Awareness brings understanding and understanding creates an opportunity for choice, yet our unconscious mind can throw so many barriers up to prevent such awareness for fear of breaking our hearts.

When we can work with the body directly – specifically the brain – we can address the root source of the problem, circumventing the barriers of the mind while supporting the body’s self-healing abilities.  For anyone that has tried acupuncture, this idea may sound familiar.  By soothing the fear centers in the brain, the mind begins to notice space where there was none before.  Space to consider our experiences (past and present) in a new light with a new perspective.  And when we venture into those places of fear, such as chaos, we have a greater capacity and ability to stand in our own power and not get swept up in that sense of overwhelm.  From this place of power, we being to experience a greater sense of connection, to our authentic self as well as to the larger collective consciousness, realizing we are not alone.

When we truly can accept that ‘we are not alone’ into our belief system and we add ‘interdependence’ and compassion to our value system, the fears of uncertainty and unpredictability that underlie anxiety can be replaced with equanimity.  With the help of direct neurofeedback, I no longer found myself plagued by the belief that independence is the source of happiness, where shame is abundant when asking for help or support, or the thoughts around needing to be perfect in order to be acceptable and loved, which drove me to exhaustion.  Direct neurofeedback appeared to create space in my mind for new beliefs and values much more quickly than psychotherapy and/or yoga alone.

Recent research on non-invasive brain stimulation such as direct neurofeedback in generalized anxiety disorder is beginning to explain such results.  If you are interested in reading more, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Creating Healthy Boundaries

What I have experienced since learning about and setting healthy boundaries is much more freedom and less stress in my life!

However, before a healthy boundary can be created, we need to understand what a boundary is and is not.  Boundaries are anything that limits something.  For example, time is a boundary, because there are only 24 hours in a day.  No matter how much we might want to negotiate for more, Mother Nature is not going to budge!

On the other hand, boundaries are not selfish.  In fact, boundaries can be quite empowering.  I was once offered a way of looking at setting boundaries as a gift that I can give another person, to help them reconnect with their own autonomy and competence, building their self-confidence.  This way of looking at boundaries does not mean that we stop helping others out when they are in need; however, it does ask us to deploy our skills in discerning what the best choice is in each moment.

When we can embrace the idea that setting boundaries is self-care (not selfish), then we can begin to take steps toward identifying the boundaries we want to create that will benefit both ourselves and others.  A mantra I was offered to assist me in shifting from the belief that it is selfish to prioritize my needs over the needs of others is “Say no, so others can grow”.  Take a moment right now and write this mantra down on a piece of paper or index card and place it somewhere that is accessible to you on a daily basis.  Now, think about it for a moment longer.

If you are still not buying it, here is an example that I think most people will be able to connect to.  Imagine a child is ready to learn how to tie their shoes.  You begin to teach the child how to do it.  Each day you teach the child, you watch them trying it on their own, showing progress and excitement as their fingers start to cooperate.  Now comes the hard part – the day you have to tell them “No, I’m not going to do it for you anymore, because I know you can do it by yourself”.  It hurts you to hear their protests and see their tears, but you stand your ground.  Now envision their face when they come back into the room and want to show you how they were able to tie their shoes by themselves.  Can you feel their joy!

Think of this example when you begin to explore setting healthy boundaries, remembering that when you say no, you are creating space for another person to figure something out for themselves because you BELIEVE in them, that they are capable of doing it without you doing it for them.  I know first hand that this sounds easier said than done, so below are some intention setting ideas to support your efforts in establishing, clarifying, expressing and reinforcing healthy boundaries:

  1. Identify Boundaries.  Many of us may have grown up in families that did not explain or demonstrate healthy boundaries, so we might need to take a moment and think about any boundaries we might have established or are aware of in our lives.  For example, the walls, windows, and doors of our houses create a boundary that we call home.  Our bodily reactions might have not allowed pets or certain foods in the house due to allergies.  Our spiritual roots might have offered rules of conduct that limit our behaviors, such as no public display of affection.  Creating time to identify some boundaries that exist in your life, starts to grease the wheels of the healthy boundary making machine because the growing awareness invites in choice.  For example, just because you might be allergic to cats, doesn’t preclude you from having a dog!
  2. Explore Emotions.  When you sense you are having an emotional response – whether positive or negative – stop and explore!  Emotions are the part of our intelligence that informs us about what is working and what is not working in our lives.  Emotions are the best guide to knowing when a healthy boundary is needed.  When an emotion arises, ask yourself ‘What is this emotion I am experiencing in this moment?’, ‘What is it telling me?’, and ‘Do I want more or less of it in my life?’.  When the powerful emotions such as anger (and all of its variations), pain and fear arise, the universal message is that your needs are not being satisfied.  Consider taking a moment to identify some recent situations where you felt one or more of these powerful emotions arise and write them down in the context of what brought them up.
  3. Clarify Your Needs/Values.   Now comes the hard part.  When we realize our emotions arise in response to our needs, whether they are being satisfied or not, it means we now need to own the fact that we have needs (AND WE ALL DO) and we have a responsibility to identify exactly what those needs are if we want to deepen the connections we have with ourselves and others.  Another way to view our needs is to consider them our core life values – what is it that we value enough to fight for in our lives.  To help you get started in this area, there are some universal human needs:  autonomy, connection, physical well-being including safety, honesty, peace, play and purpose.  If you would like to take a look at a longer list of such needs/values, Marshall Rosenberg has a Needs Inventory that I would recommend.  Reflect on this list along side of your emotional responses to help you narrow down the list to your top 4 values that will help guide your healthy boundary creations.
  4. Communicate a Healthy Boundary.  Now that you are armed with the knowledge of your needs/values and what happens when those needs are not being met or worse, being ignored or disrespected by another, the next step is to plan for an appropriate confrontation in order to express your healthy boundary.  Keep in mind that confrontation does not equal conflict and that you have a right and responsibility to ask for what it is you need.  Also keep in mind the other person might not be able to give you what it is you need; however, that must not stop you from at least asking and trying to negotiate a healthier space.  To help you craft your healthy boundary, consider using the 4-step process developed by Marshall Rosenberg which was designed to diffuse emotionally-charged situations by reducing blame and shame.
  5. Make a request.  It is not enough to tell someone that your needs are not being met and expect them to know how to respond to such a communication.  It is important to clearly ask for what it is you would like from them in order to have your need be met.  For example, if you determine that you value beauty as reflected by a neat and clean home and become distressed when when your need for beauty in your home is not being honored, the request might be “Will you help me clean our home or keep our home clean?”.  Such a request might lead you into a negotiation about the specifics (e.g., frequency, specific tasks, etc.), so consider making requests as concrete as possible (inviting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response) such as “Will you help me keep our home clean by washing your dishes in the sink?”.  One last thought – when you start to clarify and express your healthy boundaries, it may seem awkward for both you and the other person because it might be a new way of interacting.  Some suggestions to support success include:  start with setting a healthy boundary around something that feels relatively minor on your emotional scale, write out the process (including your feelings, needs/values and request) and have it in front of you when speaking to the person, and know in advance that you will most likely have to communicate your boundary more than once (often several and sometimes many times) before the person fully integrates and consistently implements the request agreed to initially!

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Tame Your Dragon with Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT)!

Do you sense that you are your own worst enemy?  Is your inner critic’s voice loud and obnoxious on most days?  Are you challenged to accept your flaws as a human being?  Do you find yourself berating yourself when you make a mistake?  Is most of your energy and time spent on trying to be perfect in order to avoid making such mistakes?  Well, you are not alone and Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) might be the prescription that the doctor orders!

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can take many forms, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Emotionally-focused Therapy (EFT), and Narrative Therapy, and Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) is one of the newer kids on the block.  However, the research is very promising and CFT is making a name for itself within the field of psychotherapy!  It evolved as an approach to healing for people experiencing high shame and self-criticism that creates mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, and addictive, impulsive behaviors.  And, having been a perfectionist in the past that suffered from anxiety growing up in an environment born from chaos, I can personally attest to the peace that comes from quieting the inner critic and accepting my imperfections as a normal, natural state as a spiritual being having a human experience.

So if you are tired of trying to be perfect (whatever that is?!?) and feeling like a failure when you make mistakes, all hope is not lost.  If you are thinking that you might need some help in challenging the shame that your inner critic brings up, then you might seek out support from someone that will work with you to expand your ability to experience compassion through CFT.  As a psychotherapist that looks through such a compassionate lens, it has been my experience that it will feel awkward at first because it is something new and different.  Yet, it is exactly that feeling that indicates there is much room for growth and healing through compassion.

Although I have not done any research of my own, I can personally attest to the shift I have experienced as well as the shifts I have seen in my clients when our hearts began to open to the idea of our common humanity through compassion.  For those of you that need a little more evidence, click on the link below to read a review that summarizes the findings of research where CFT has improved the mental health in clinical populations:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Spread Kindness

Valentine’s Day is a reminder to share the love!

This “Hallmark Holiday” doesn’t have to have the market corned on romantic love.  We can challenge the world to broaden the view of February 14th as a reminder to share the love and kindness with ourselves and others.

Below are some intention setting ideas to spread kindness and, by doing so, bring more peace and joy into our hearts and into the world:

  1. Write a note.  When was the last time you received a hand-written note expressing sentiments from the heart?  Can you remember what it felt like?  Take a moment now and bring to mind someone in your life (past or present) that meant a lot to you, perhaps because they took care of you in a time of need or maybe because they had your back during a difficult time in your life.  Consider writing them a note expressing what their kindness and thoughtfulness meant to you.  It is never too late to share the impact people have had on our lives, even if they have transitioned from this life.  Once the note is written, if possible mail it.  If not, light a candle, sit with the light of the candle visualizing the person (maybe you have a picture you can look at) and read them your note.  Trust the energy and love behind your words will reach them.  Take a moment to tune into your heart, noting any sensations present.  Often, the sensations are the human experience of love and kindness being shared!
  2. Say ‘thank you’ more.   These two simple words have a powerful effect!  Practice saying ‘thank you’ to yourself, when you make a decision that serves you well or when you remember to use one of your self-care tools in your tool box.  As you practice, again tune into your heart center and sense the response.  If you find this practice a little challenging, try saying ‘thank you’ to another, maybe your mail delivery person, the cashier at the supermarket, a co-worker or your child.  Like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.  Don’t forget to come back around and thank yourself!
  3. HUG more!  Research suggests giving and receiving hugs has a positive impact on your body and mind health.  If this gesture of care, kindness and appreciation is not currently one of the tools in your self-care tool kit, no worries.  You can simply start by hugging aspects of Mother Nature, such as trees (yes, trees!) and animals.  Children also love to receive – and give – hugs.  You can also give yourself a hug, especially when life throws you a curve ball.  As you begin to embrace (pun intended!) this practice, if you are inspired to hug someone, make sure to ask permission first no matter their age, especially if it someone that you are just getting to know better!
  4. Take a walk & pick up litter.  Speaking of Mother Nature, it is important to share our kindness and love with her as well.  The next time you plan to take a walk, whether around the block or a 10-mile hike, bring a trash bag with you and pick up any litter you might come across in your travels.  As you do so, thank Mother Earth for all that she provides us, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.  She also provides for the materials utilized to build our shelters, so she has a significant and vital part in our lives.
  5. Write a kind story about yourself.  Start by listing 3-5 aspects of yourself that you like or appreciate.  It might be good qualities that you sometimes display, such as patience or generosity, or values that are important to you, such as beauty or connection.  Now, write a story with you as the central figure, including these good qualities (and any more that might rise into awareness as you are writing).  The story can be drawn from past memories of times when you allowed these good qualities to be seen by the world or the story might be written about how you might let these qualities come forward more in the future.  Remember, if any uncomfortable feelings arise as you are writing, you can step into the role of a compassionate friend and let them finish writing it for you.

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support the Manifestation of Your Dreams for 2019 and Beyond!

New Year resolutions have all been set and rung in for two weeks now and, as some of the motivational energy behind those resolutions might be fading a bit, I thought I would dedicate this newsletter to the number one tool for manifesting our desires, intentions and dreams – visualizaton!

As the quote above by Henry David Thoreau suggested so many years ago, holding a picture in our mind is quite powerful.  Visualization helps clarify our heart’s desires, supports maintaining focus on our dreams, and expands awareness of how to co-create our manifestations as the Universe now knows what to send our way.

Visualization is the fuel that is needed to keep the fire of motivation burning brightly.  Visualization trains the mind to see and recognize the support being provided to us by the Universe.  Visualization can reduce our worry about the future, aligning our minds and hearts and plugging us into the web of life.  We gain trust – in ourselves and the world – and feel more confident when making decisions, knowing that we are making our choices from a space of clarity and intention.

Below I offer ideas you might want to try to begin visualizing for this year and beyond:

  1. Daily affirmation(s).  Last year I started a daily practice of saying to myself “How does it get better than this?” each morning upon awaking as I snuggled with my two furbabies in bed, allowing the universe to provide me with what would serve my highest self and I was not disappointed!  The key here is to repeat your affirmation at least once a day, possibly several times a day.  The more we repeat it, the more our mind starts to believe it is true.  I like to say “Believe it until you receive it” instead of “Fake it until you make it”.  Write it down, maybe on an index card and place it somewhere where you will see it each day.  Make sure it is stated in a positive way as the universe gets confused by words that carry negative energy.  For example, if I think “I want to be pain free”, the universe gets confused by the word pain.  Instead you might consider “I am healthy, strong and move with grace and ease.”  Which reminds me, use the present tense as if it is already here and true.  Consider taking a moment, right now, to find a piece of paper and write down one of your new year’s resolutions as a positive, present moment affirmation!
  2. Vision Board.  Creating a vision board is a way to identify physical representations of what inspires and motivates you, bringing more clarity to the tangible manifestations of your dreams. Once created, it reinforces your daily affirmation when placed in a location that you can see on a daily basis.  Consider joining me this weekend (Sunday, January 20th at 6 pm) to create your vision board for 2019.  If you are not able to join me, there are many resources online to explore this creative and inexpensive way to support manifesting your dreams.
  3. Meditate.  Now that you have created a daily affirmation and vision board to support your dreams, consider spending some time each day meditating on your affirmation and vision board.  It might simply be a minute each morning and a minute each evening before bed.  This time is in addition to repeating your daily affirmation and looking at your vision board throughout the day.  Simply allow yourself this opportunity to sit quietly and immerse yourself a bit longer and deeper into the experience of your dreams as already manifested.  After you do so, notice the impact this experience might have on your body and mind.
  4. Follow your intuition.  When presented with a decision, especially a big one, consider sitting a moment in the presence of your daily affirmation and vision board and ask your higher self for guidance.  Weigh your choices and sense into which one might feel lighter in the body.  If the mind is full of thoughts, again see if you can sense into the weight of those thoughts.  You might also remember the spiritual law of success that suggests when the decision feels effortless, or pieces of the puzzle fall into place with ease, it is the universe’s way of letting you know you are on the right path.  Start noticing life’s little synchronicities and allow them to be a reminder that the Universe is validating your intuition that is guiding you in the manifestation of your dreams!
  5. Take action with Gratitude.  Visualization, whether simply holding a picture in your mind or creating a daily affirmation or vision board, requires your active participation.  The reinforcement to your motivation provided by daily affirmations and vision boards supports you in taking steps forward to manifest your dreams with clarity and focus.  Even starting out with very little baby steps starts the Universal ball rolling, so to speak.  Two baby steps I suggest trying are creating a routine (thus strengthening the connection to your dreams by ensuring the use of the tools above) and creating a daily “To Do” list with ONLY 3 items on it, ensuring those 3 items are written in a way that supports your visualization of your future.  For example, to support my daily affirmation of “I am strong, healthy and move with grace and ease”, my To Do list might contain an action item to schedule my annual doctor visits.  Then at the end of the day, when you review your list and create a new one for tomorrow, plan to express gratitude to the Universe (and yourself!) for whatever steps you took toward the future you are actively visualizing for yourself!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Expand Our Capacity for Self-Compassion

Although the holidays bring visions of family coming together, these images may not always bring the joy presumed by the presentations.  Many of us struggle to create an accepting and caring environment when we ourselves did not receive such acceptance and caring as we grew up.  Add the stress of trying to plan “the perfect” meal and buy “the perfect” gifts for everyone and we are setting ourselves up for frustration, failure, and ultimately suffering.

How can we stop this vicious cycle?  We can learn to give ourselves that acceptance and caring during the holidays and all year long!  Cultivating self-compassion has been shown to be the answer for such suffering.  And, although the concept of compassion might be foreign, it is possible to develop it no matter how old we are.

Below, please find five intention-setting ideas to start you on the journey of self-compassion:

  1. Picture yourself as a child.  In fact, if it is available to you, find a picture of yourself when you were little and place it near your computer or somewhere else where you will see it every day.  If you don’t have any pictures, close your eyes and try to remember a time when you were young, maybe at school.  Visualize what it might look like to provide care and demonstrate acceptance to that version of yourself.  What did you long to hear from the adults around you at that time?  Maybe you could offer some words such as “You are perfect just the way you are.” or “I love you no matter what” or “You are so smart” or “You are so good”.  Make time each day to offer this care to yourself, perhaps when you look at your picture or when you see yourself in the mirror.
  2. Forgive yourself.  The next time you catch yourself beating yourself up for making a mistake, stop for a moment, take a breath, and imagine what it would be like to forgive yourself for being human.  Perhaps place a hand on your heart and say something like “I’m sure I’m not the first and/or only person to make this mistake”.  You might consider trying this practice with what you might consider a “small” mistake, where no one got hurt and notice the effect it might have on your body and mind.  Keep practicing it on those small mistakes for a month and see if the practice gets easier.
  3. Stop making assumptions!  When we lack information, it is a natural tendency to fill in the information based upon our past knowledge and experience.  Unfortunately, when we do this we limit ourselves, paving the road toward judgment.  If we can catch ourselves making an assumption or judgment about ourselves, we open ourselves up to the unlimited possibilities inherent in choice!  Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the only constant in life is change and we too can learn to choose to release our attachment to assumptions and judgment.  Instead, we might spend some time identifying what matters to us – our values in life – and allow them to lead us forward and guide us in our decisions.
  4. Listen to self-compassion meditations.  Our thought patterns can be deep and sometimes we need a little help in rewiring our brains.  Consider creating space for yourself (both time and room) to close your eyes and listen to a guided meditation to support the blossoming of the seed of compassion that already exists in your heart.  In fact, maybe take a compassion break right now and click this link to a free Loving Kindness meditation offered by UCLA.  If not now, set a reminder to listen to it tonight as you climb into bed!
  5. Try your hand at writing.  Dr. Kristen Neff has several writing exercises on her website self-compassion.org that utilize writing as a tool to support our efforts to invite more compassion towards ourselves.  Sometimes just writing down the critical, judgmental thoughts about ourselves that occupy our minds helps us get some perspective.  Then we can invite curiosity to the table to review what we have written down, creating space to challenge those judgments.  We can even write a response to our thoughts as if they were expressed to us by a friend and notice how we might respond differently.  Might you consider trying one of these exercises this week?!

Is self-compassion the answer to happiness?

If we are lucky, our parents actively taught us the concept of compassion towards others.  If we were very lucky, our parents actively taught us self-compassion.  Unfortunately, it is only recently that such concepts have come forward in the research as tools to support our body, mind and spiritual health, so most of us may not feel lucky.  Fortunately, compassion – and self-compassion – can be cultivated and integrated into our experiences, both with others and with ourselves, no matter how old we are currently.

So what is self-compassion?  Many of us might think it includes self-pity, which will tend to keep us from cultivating the belief that we deserve comfort and care when we are experiencing pain and suffering.  Dr. Kristen Neff defines self-compassion as having three elements: 1) self—kindness versus self-judgment; 2) common humanity versus isolation; 3) mindfulness versus over-identification.  The three elements build upon the need to accept that we are human and, as such, are perfectly imperfect.  This means we will all fail at something in our lives, we will all subjected to loss at some point and we will all trip up and make mistakes on our journeys – these are all facts of life.  When we think we can bypass these inevitable experiences or ignore the pain that such experiences cause us, we open ourselves up to a deeper level of suffering.  It is when we encounter such challenges in our lives that we need to offer ourselves the same kindness and care as we would offer to someone we love, instead of offering judgment or criticism.  That’s self-compassion.

There is so much judgment and criticism in the world, which comes from a place of fear and creates darkness, separateness, and negativity.  When we can invite understanding of the shared human condition into our awareness, remembering we are not alone in our pain, then we can open our hearts from a place of love and invite in light, connection, and positivity.  When we experience the pain of failure or loss, we must allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain and not ignore it, yet be mindful at the same time that the powerful emotions that arise with the pain do not define us and, if honored, will move through us.  If we try to ignore the pain, either by stuffing it down or distracting ourselves from it, our body and mind will begin to express the effects through illness. We must embrace that pain, along with such powerful emotions as disappointment, rejection, judgment, fear, anger and sadness, are part of the common human phenomenon.  We are all going to experience these situations and emotions – no one can escape them for long!

I grew up in a family where one of my parents wore their emotions on their sleeve for everyone to see, while the other one learned to compartmentalize their emotions for no one to see.  So when I experienced powerful emotions, I hadn’t learned how to work with them in a way to bring a balanced state of being, until I learned about self-compassion as an adult with the help of kind and patient psychotherapist.  Prior to that point, I bought into the saying that “We are our own worst critic”, judging myself harshly, feeling very alone in my pain, and doing my best to deny or distract myself from my emotions.  It was until I embraced my humanness and those powerful emotions that humans experience and must express that I was able to create space in my heart for compassion.  From that point, I had to learn how to offer myself kindness and care when disappointment, rejection, or grief greeted me.  With practice and patience, I have come to experience offering compassion to myself in painful times as one of the most powerful tools in my self-care tool kit for health, peace, and well-being.

Now the research is validating that self-compassion is a powerful practice for inner peace and health!  If you are interesting in reading more, click on this link below: