The Fear of Emotional Quicksand

Fear…It is one of the most overwhelming of emotions. It’s one of the four basic human emotions (happy, sad, angry, and scared).  We all feel fear, it is engrained in our DNA. Our ancestors even used fear as a survival skill.  If you think you don’t feel fear, you’re kidding yourself.  If anyone tells you they don’t get scared, they are lying to you.  People get scared, that is just reality.  However, in a society that tells us we shouldn’t be, we start to judge ourselves for feeling fear.  We think we’re “weak”, “ridiculous” or “stupid”.  How many times have you told yourself, “I know I am just being stupid/ridiculous, but I am scared”? We have become a society that is afraid of feeling fear because we think it will reveal something deficient about us, about our character, about our strength or lack thereof.  Yet, if you acknowledge your fear, you are in a better position to manage it.  If you deny your fear, it can grow and manifest in other ways—usually as anger towards yourself or others…and then you’re still left with your unresolved feelings of fear!

A few days ago, I came across this quote….

IMG_26212310675874

After reading this, I felt a sadness come over me for the person who posted this. I wanted to reach out and say “It must be really hard to carry around all that hurt and to live a life afraid of trusting people”. It had me thinking about the fear of the emotional quicksand.  This is the fear of an emotion that is so strong it will overtake you, suck you in, and eventually destroy you.  Those emotions that make up emotional quicksand can be anger, sadness, or fear.  It’s usually the negative emotions that can create a debilitating fear, even though sometimes people can be afraid of positive emotions like being happy (let’s save that topic for another blog post).  Sometimes this fear can develop from surviving a traumatic event, multiple traumas, or having grown up with parents with unregulated emotions.  Other times, this fear slowly builds up over time, like a callous, because emotions can be too difficult to regulate.  Maybe you didn’t have a good role model for managing emotions (like an empathetic parental figure) or maybe no one ever taught you that it was even possible to survive extreme emotion. In our society, many people were taught at a young age to not show their emotions or that their feelings were “too much”. Unfortunately, this can be translated into “I AM too much for others” or “I AM a burden” in a child’s mind and can be a message that someone carries on into adulthood.

The only way to know that extreme emotions are manageable is to strap yourself in and ride the emotional rollercoaster.

Strong emotions come in waves, very similar to waves of emotion that come with grief and loss.  It is possible to ride them out and SURVIVE.  Even the strongest of emotions will eventually pass.  You may be left exhausted, you may be worn out, you may be physically weak from the ride, but eventually your strength will return and you will have peace. You may have to ride many roller coasters, but each time it might get easier to handle the feelings.

Like in the quote, many people have developed their own ways of dealing their emotions and fears and even shutting them out completely. Humans like to avoid unpleasant feelings, we distract ourselves, numb ourselves, and even dissociate.  Each person has their own thing that works for them.  Some are healthy, like writing or yoga, others are not. Addictions are one way of distracting ourselves or numbing ourselves from our emotions.  The trick is to know what you turn to in order to regulate your emotions.

Can you think of your go-to to deal with tough emotions?

Do you work a lot? Drink? Do drugs? Self Harm? Work out? Eat too much? Restrict your food consumption? Jump from relationship to relationship? Have sex? Obsess about a person, place or thing? Browse the web? Read? Write? Call a friend? Clean obsessively? Go to an AA meeting? Party? Go shopping? Masturbate? Look at porn? Make lists? Watch T.V.? Play video games?  Gamble? 

Some of these things are healthy coping skills and some are not. There is no right or wrong, since you have kept coping mechanisms because they work for you (or so you think).  It all boils down to the fact that everyone has a way to deal with negative emotions, but if you do something to the point that it is negatively impacting your life, your work, your school, or your relationships, you should consider that there is probably an emotion you are avoiding that should be dealt with.

If the idea of facing that emotion is too strong, don’t do it on your own.

Find someone who you trust to help you with it or even sit with you with it. It may be hard to let someone else in, especially if you have never experienced genuine empathy and acceptance before.  Therapists can also be a good resource as well, especially since we are trained to help people through this type of thing. Human beings like to experience fear in a safe setting. We like to be scared, as long as the threat is not real, like the experience of watching a scary movie or riding a roller coaster (an actual one). Therapists can help offer a safe, separate space to explore these feelings.

What is the thing that you do when you are feeling overwhelmed?  The next time you find yourself doing (or about to do) whatever that is…pause.  Check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Is there a feeling you’re wanting to run away from? If you accept my challenge, give that feeling one minute.  Can you let yourself feel it for just 60 seconds?  You can always continue to do whatever it is that you were going to do after those 60 seconds are up.  But, you are creating an experience where you “survive” that emotion for a little bit longer than you thought you could. This in itself takes the power away from the emotion, even if just for a minute and gives it to you, and doesn’t that feel good for a change?

 

It’s Not Just Your 20’s: Top 6 Questions You’ll Keep Asking Yourself Throughout Your Life (PART THREE)

How Do I Find Happiness/What is Happiness to me?

Oh happiness, the carrot that is dangled in front of us all that we endlessly chase, day in and day out. It is so engrained in our lives that it is even written into our country’s Declaration of the Independence. Our whole life is essentially a quest for
happiness, our jobs, our higher education, our creation of families, our travels, etc. It is the quintessential motivator. So how do we define happiness? More importantly, how do we experience it? Does everyone interpret happiness the same way? What do you have to get in order to be happy or is already within us? For some it is defined by what we possess, some believe it is purely chemical, some believe it can be purchased, and some believe that it is only dependent on certain conditions.

In a study by Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert, he measured the happiness of people a year after winning the lottery and people a year after losing their legs. Now, most would postulate that the person who won the lottery would be much happier than the paraplegics, when in reality their happiness levels are the same. What I am trying to say is that there is a difference between natural happiness and synthetic happiness. Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted or are pleasantly surprised by life’s moments; synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted by viewing things through a different lens. Synthetic happiness is just as real and enduring as the natural happiness that can happen throughout your life. Trying to define happiness for yourself can get you one step closer to attaining it. Happiness is something that you can create for yourself; it is the acceptance of the here and now, gratitude for the company that you keep, getting lots of sunshine, and knowing and embracing your authentic self. Happiness is not the absence of problems and challenges, it is learning the ability to cope with them. We have WITHIN US the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experiences.

How do I continue to be kind in a world that sometimes feels like it doesn’t deserve it?

Being kind and “good” in a world that can be harsh, mean, and cruel can be a downright struggle at times…and that can be an understatement. This is something that you have to consistently work on throughout your life, something you have to put in effort to preserve. To be kind and good, to offer help to those who may not deserve it, is something that, if aligned with your personal views, can be very powerful. The thing about offering help and giving out second chances is that not everyone was ready for the first one. Two of the most important things to learn is empathy (what it would be like to be in someone else’s situation) and how to set and stick to boundaries with people. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do for someone when you don’t know what to say or how to help would be to just ask them “How can I help? How can I support you right now?” Maybe it is just that I believe that good people can sometimes do bad things but it is something that keeps me rooting for the good and kind in everyone.
If you are struggling with any life transition issues, seeking a good therapist to help you work things out and sort your feelings could be instrumental in increasing your coping capabilities.

www.samanthagrimestherapy.com

It’s Not Just Your 20’s: Top 6 Questions You’ll Keep Asking Yourself Throughout Your LIfe (PART TWO)

PART TWO

What is My Purpose in Life?

It is so easy in life to think that one day our purpose for being here will be shown to us in bright colors and neon signs and all of a sudden we will know what we are supposed to do with our life and where we are supposed to go. What is more likely is that we have multiple purposes throughout our lifetime and they will come and go, and they may not be something that we are even aware of. The best we can hope for is to do things in our life that make us proud, that align with our values, that reflect who we are, and do the best we can in every aspect of our lives. Some people find their “purpose” in parenthood, some in spirituality, and some within themselves or serving others. Some people don’t need a purpose, per say to motivate them to lead happy and fulfilling lives.

One way to help get some clarity would be to try out mindfulness exercises. If you are feeling stressed and like you can’t figure things out, try sitting in a quiet space on the floor or on a soft surface. Close your eyes and focus on the rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and out for one minute. Intentionally hold your breath for 5 seconds as you inhale and then let your breath fall as you exhale. You can also try the Game of Five which focuses on your 5 senses for about 30 seconds each. While practicing your intentional breathing, notice and focus on one thing at a time: feel the clothes on your skin or your hands on your knees, pay attention to what you hear in the moment, what do you smell? What do you see in the room you are in? Remember something you ate today and try to focus on the texture and flavor. The goal for mindfulness is to reduce stress and anxiety and become more aware of ourselves in our environment. According to Alfred James, mindfulness coach and author, “By becoming mindful of who we are, where we are, what we are doing and the purpose, if any at all, and how everything else in our environment interacts with our being, we cultivate a truer awareness of being.”

Your Relationships…Everything About Them

You’ll struggle with relationships, from the families that you were born into to the families that you try to create, including friends, significant others, and in-laws. You’ll struggle with this because people are not perfect and sometimes the people who love you might hurt you and you might even hurt the ones you love. The pain of past hurts can be hard to forget or even get through, but it is through this process that we learn what we need from others and what our limits are (what we can and can’t put up with). We learn to define our relationships and define our roles within them. It is completely normal to question the relationships we have and continue to build authentic, trustworthy, and beautiful relationships through trial and error. For many, this is also a time for autonomy from their parents and a journey into navigating the world on their own. This can be both a tricky and exciting new stage of their life.

One aspect that men and women deal with throughout their lifetime is sex and relationship differences. For many, sex is a subconscious primary focus during our 20’s and 30’s but it is also something we deal with throughout our lifetime. During our 20’s, hormones are in drive, exploration is in full swing, bodies are in their prime, and body image and self-esteem are slowly recovering from the dreadful teenage years.

Yet still, in the 1997 Body Image Survey by Psychology Today, 57% of women in their 20s were dissatisfied with their bodies. Rife with anxiety and unrealistic cultural expectations for both men and women of all ages, many are struggling to find ways to embrace their sexual selves. Low body self-esteem can make you feel insecure, shy away from sex, not fully enjoy having sex, or feel like your partner couldn’t possibly like you or find you attractive therefore you focus only on your partner’s sexual pleasure (which can commonly be misconstrued as an “action of love” since women sometimes express love by being more accommodating). Sex in your 20’s is all about establishing boundaries and learning how to communicate. This can be tricky since men and women are taught to communicate in different ways. Men are taught from a young age to suppress their emotions and act strong, whereas women are encouraged to express their emotions when they are upset. Knowing the differences in someone’s love languages and how people communicate to one another can help your relationship. Every one night stand, casual sexual relationship, or long term commitment is an opportunity to practice being assertive, learn what you like and don’t like, and how to communicate your wants and personal ethics. This practice in your 20’s can set you up for excellent bed-rocking throughout the years.

If you would like more information on mindfulness exercises or would like to participate in a supportive-women centered workshop on learning to embrace your sexual self, EMAIL ME! 🙂

www.samanthagrimestherapy.com

It’s Not Just Your 20’s: Top 6 Questions You’ll Keep Asking Yourself Throughout Your Life (PART ONE)

I tried to sit down and create a blog entry that was something everyone could relate to, but once I started I couldn’t stop! There was so much information that needed to be conveyed that I decided to make this a three-part series that I will post throughout the coming week.

PART ONE:

Being a 20-something is rife with uncertainty, excitement, and an exploration of the unknown path into “adulthood”. This decade has become a theme, heck even a culture, for men and women in this age range. It is the ultimate decade of transition, life changes, and the ever confusing battle between never wanting to grow up and the exciting new world of being an adult. In a study conducted in 2012, data showed that the median age for someone’s first marriage is 27, and the median age for the birth of a first child is 25. With two of the most considerable life changes happening within the span of a few years, it makes sense why this decade is so transformative and is used to help refine “who we are”. With the attempts to establish a career path, the college years, the incurable fascination with travel, first marriages, childbirth, navigating singlehood and relationships, managing money (or lack thereof), the refinement of friendship circles, and a plethora of other important life changes, it is easy to see how your 20s may be filled with crippling anxiety yet also extremely important life lessons. When thinking about the way we experience our 20s in the modern age, I’ve noticed it can come across as the only time we deal with these kinds of questions. Yet, I have encountered 35, 45, 55, and even 65-year old men and women asking the same kind of questions, experiencing the same identity crises, and going through similar life challenges. Here are a few of important questions everyone will encounter at one point or another in their lifespan, not just in their 20s:

Am I In The Right Career?

How are we supposed to balance passion AND pay the rent on time each month? Should we have to sacrifice the things we love to do to work a profitable full time job that is completely unrelated to our passion? Should passion even factor into that equation? Is there anything wrong about working a job that is not related to your passion? So many people work years at a job that they don’t enjoy just for security and have severe anxiety about leaving to pursue something less stable, and rightfully so. It can be terrifying to go through years of schooling, rack up thousands of dollars in debt, and invest so much of your time and realize that you maybe aren’t the best fit, or that it wasn’t what you thought it would be. One of the things everyone should try to figure out is what money means to them. Is money only a means to pay the bills and survive, is it a way to fund your passion, it is something that will work for you, or are you working for it? Work constitutes one of the most important activities of our lives since we devote so much time to our careers. More adults spend more time at work than sleeping, having fun, or spending time with family. Career choices are often debated and second guessed, much like romantic partners, “is there something out there that could be a better match/make me happier?” Psychologists have used twin studies to show that vocational interests are actually more stable than personality characteristics! People are more likely to stick with a first career for many years despite decreasing satisfaction. But what job can actually make me happy? What do I even want as a career in the first place? Described in an article from NPR, Jordan Peterson, a teacher in the department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, created a writing assignment that helps students write down concrete and specific goals and strategies in order to help themselves achieve and overcome obstacles in their path. Experiments in the 1980s on therapeutic and expressive writing have shown that the process can reduce depression, increase productivity, and even help increase physical wellness. So, if you were to put pen to paper, how would you answer such heavy questions like: Why do you do what you do? What is the engine that keeps you up late at night or gets you going in the morning? Where is your happy place? What stands between you and your ultimate dream?

What Do I Believe?

Faith, or lack thereof, is one of the strongest categories of identification for many. Almost everyone has a box to check when it comes to what they believe in, be it atheist, devout Catholic, agnostic or Christian. Yet, each label does not tell the personal journey that each person has gone through to reach their beliefs and faith or lack thereof. Those labels don’t describe the trials and tribulations that people have gone through that have challenged their faith, how broken down they may have felt at times, what led them to discovering their faith, and what questions they have had. It is very much part of the human experience to question what or who you believe in, whether it is a deity or not. Everyone believes in something, religious or otherwise, and we all need it to help answer the many questions we have about ourselves, where we came from, and our purpose here. How did you come about your faith? What paths have you taken that have led you to where you are? What is your higher power, and if you don’t have one, what ideals do you cherish? How important is faith in your life? No matter your path or journey to where you are, the ideals and strengths and you derive from it is what will matter most.

TO BE CONTINUED….

If you are struggling with any life transition issues, seeking a good therapist to help you work things out and sort your feelings could be instrumental in increasing your coping capabilities.

www.samanthagrimestherapy.com

The SCOTUS Decision, Caitlyn Jenner, and Orange Is the New Black: Why Talking About Sex Will Change the World

This is the age of gender and sexuality! Finally, after years and years of being silenced, hidden, and taboo, the complicated issues surrounding gender and sexuality are coming alive and rising up like never before in our history. You can turn on any television in your house and see gender identity and sexual orientation (and its many battles for acceptance in society) being discussed, fought over, and even represented in the media. This is the beginning of what could be the golden age of authenticity. Often we hear the voices from the LGBTQIA community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual) speak out about this fight for authenticity in this war for rights and acceptance. But let’s really talk about it! Sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental parts of who we are. They are members of the identity categories that we, as humans, define ourselves by and use to find like-communities in which we can feel understood.

With people like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and Ruby Rose from Orange is the New Black demonstrating a more fluid scale of gender instead of a binary black or white (or orange?) box for gender, we are seeing more and more representation of different genders and sexual orientation in popular media. Why is this representation in the media so important? Ruby Rose has been quoted “She’s not the only androgynous girl on the show, but she’s the only person who really identifies publicly as being “gender fluid.” People are talking about gender fluidity more and more now because once someone opens a door to something like that; people put their hands up and say, “That’s me! That’s my friend! That’s my sister! That’s my mom!” Another star, Miley Cyrus, recently came out as identifying as gender fluid as well. Gender fluidity is still a difficult concept for most people to understand and it definitely still has a long way before society decides to make room for something it doesn’t quite understand yet. Before, people’s concepts of sexuality included two categories (men and women, straight and homosexual), throughout the years this binary has been expanded to include more of the human sexual/identity experience. No longer is someone defined as just the gender assigned at birth or whether they were attracted to the same sex or opposite sex, people are much more complicated and unique than ever before.

Sexuality research over the last 20 years has turned these classic binary ideas on their heads. While these assumptions may be true for most people, it is not true for all. Alfred Kinsey and his controversial exploration of sexuality developed an orientation continuum, while modern revelations have posed that gender is also on a continuum and that people can move freely along them. Keep in mind that the research does not “prove” that gender and sexuality are fluid, but that it can be. This gender fluidity can be defined by feeling as though you don’t belong on either end of the spectrum which you don’t fit into society’s pre-approved boxes of gender. Ruby Rose in OITNB defines her experience with gender fluid identification as, “There’s a line in OITNB where Stella is making fun of Piper, saying like “Ugh. Women—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” Piper’s like, “What? You don’t consider yourself to be a woman?” Stella says, “I do, but that’s only because my options are limited.” Studies have shown that these feelings are not uncommon. The more we can learn to understand the spectrum of identity and orientation, the more society will have to change or adapt, and for some this might be a long and arduous road. While the studies show that gender and sexuality can be fluid, it does not mean that coming out as LGBTQIA is “a phase” or reversible. It does not mean that sexual orientations are a choice, or that you can be changed into a heterosexual if you put in “enough effort” or vice versa, it just means that many people experience a stable sexual orientation or gender identity, but also that many do not…and that is normal too.

When therapists or professionals work with clients of any sexual orientation, it is imperative that they are up to date on their knowledge of sexuality issues, that our work should not be based on outdated information, and we should be working from the paradigm that gender and sexuality can be fluid, behavior/desire/identity/orientation may not be congruent with one another, and that what used to be the concept of “normal” sexuality has changed. If you or a friend are struggling with sexuality issues, a knowledgeable therapist or professional could help you feel understood and can help you work through any issues you may be experiencing.