When intrusive thoughts increase we may want to argue with this part of us. My field often tells us to challenge thoughts and that is incorrect for most intrusive thoughts, especially of the OCD nature. It’s not that I’m over here agreeing with my OCD messages or letting this part of me drive my inner family around. I’m in charge of my inner family with a sustainable, loving energy, BUT the OCD part of me does need me to attune to my body and give this part some air time.
Attuning to the body when the thoughts or memories are running is not anything new as you can learn more about in my little free meditation course here. We learn in the course that Buddhism has been teaching about attuning to parts of us without exiling parts of us well before we in the United States came up with parts work or Internal Family Systems.
Both clinically in my work with patients and in my own recovery, I’ve found that resisting, challenging, and debating our thoughts may provide a temporary fix, only to keep the anxiety loop going. It’s a quick fix that really doesn’t allow us to tune into what’s there, give a quick moment or some airtime with this part and then move on with driving the bus from an inner place of calm and love. Therefore, rather than try to change or fight with these intrusive thoughts, I recommend gently, with the help of a trained professional giving yourself a moment to let what’s there be. It can be hard and scary so I do recommend tuning in to what’s there instead of fighting with the OCD if you have access to therapy or guided meditations on allowing.
Thanks for being open to giving yourself some room and space with these thoughts and feelings. Thanks for being open to tuning in and giving air time to your intrusive thoughts instead of the common ways of fighting them off. Thanks for being you and being here dear Soft Hearts.
A while back I wrote a bunch on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the various types of OCD. I’m learning more and more about OCD both for my patients, but also for myself. There are so many types of OCD including pure O, relationship OCD, etc. There’s so much those of us with OCD can do to feel more like ourselves in the moment and in the future and when I say us I really mean us because I work on my OCD too. Below are two super quick and simple tips on one of the components that is often seen with folks who struggle with a part of OCD, intrusive thoughts.
I want to first talk a little bit about intrusive thoughts as this has been the place where I’ve gotten the biggest “bang for my buck” when it comes to addressing and reducing OCD symptoms with patients. I’ve seen so many people benefit from simply learning about intrusive thoughts and I hope it will help you a bit too. Often times intrusive thoughts will impact the thing that we care about most. For example, if someone really values their partner’s safety, they may have intrusive thoughts concerning safety of their partner. However, sometimes intrusive thoughts have no theme and are not linked to something the person really values like intrusive thoughts about numbers or order. Essentially intrusive thoughts are not your fault and while they don’t always make sense, they sometimes hit the main thing of importance to you.
Thoughts intrude or jump in and try to distract or take over when we’re dealing with change. Now change can be scary or negative stressors like losing a job or change can be positive adjustments like an anticipated pregnancy. There can even be changes that stress in both positive and negative ways like a break from working with a layoff, but also no health insurance. Changes can even be during menstruation or during other hormonal shifts. Folks will often notice that use of more caffeine or other changes will even impact their intrusive thoughts. Therefore, take stock of stressors in your life when you notice your intrusive thoughts flare up. If you’re feeling particularly stressed from a change in your life please gently remember that this will likely increase intrusive thoughts. This may be a hard protective part to witness, but I send gentleness to this part of you that may be trying to protect or distract overwhelmed parts of you with lots of intense thoughts.
It can be helpful to know that these thoughts often weave into something we love and that they flare up when we’re going through any sort of change, big or small. If you need support there’s nothing wrong with that and seeing a psychiatrist and therapist may help to differentiate between any other issues as well as to get treatment. There’s also supportive environments like obsessive compulsive anonymous, or meditations for this protector part who is really just trying to help. As frustrating as these intrusive thoughts may be, if they are a protective part of you I send these parts of you love. Who knows what things would’ve been like had you not had this protector part? With that being said I’ve seen an immense reduction simply by loving on this part of me, learning more about how it weaves into the things I care about most (just like other people with OCD), and how it gets big when I don’t have enough rest, drink too much coffee, don’t get enough sleep, or have any changes like a move or job change. I can be extra gentle on myself when I notice these changes are met with an active protector who shows up as OCD for me.
If you want my free course, which is more like a meditation than a course really, check it out here. For now, I’m sending all parts of you love and I’m excited to share more about these thoughts with you next week dear Soft Hearts.
When was a time I genuinely rebelled? I’ve rebelled against not living up to family’s standards as a teenager. I’ve rebelled against the path that fellow postdoctoral colleagues traveled by leaving my post-doctoral position halfway through when I couldn’t handle the lack of sun, break up, grandfather’s death, father’s rapid decline, and a racist work environment a minute longer. I’ve rebelled this morning by being creative and taking a few moments for deeper, focused writing in this blog with you. Mainly I rebel daily in the way I think and feel.
I connect deeply with a few friends and the rest I’ve noticed I just don’t shape shift and people please like I used to. I miss several close friends that knew a people pleasing version of me and loved how that part of me showed up. I now rebel frequently and often and quietly in my own little ways. When someone hopes I’ll be the same way I always was, always available and always there, I just realize that’s not sustainable for me. I am no longer a shape shifting chameleon lizard. I’m just a regular person with regular sensitivities and I have to take time in between interactions to see how I think and feel about things.
It was never about relationships that called for me to chameleon. Maybe there were a few people that wanted me to please them, but for the most part it was about a cycle I was repeating. This cycle occurred long before I burst at the seams with rebellion in adolescence. Even before I wanted to please my family, I think this thread occurred before I was even born. I believe both my mom coming from a background with siblings who died and siblings with special needs and a father who had to leave school early to support the family I just can’t say all this meeting your needs started with me. That makes me have a greater, deeper sense of compassion when I realize I’m not the only person within my lineage or person in the world in general that sometimes struggles with knowing what they genuinely want and how to say it. Hey, if we really think about it, this has been a very long time coming and I’m doing a pretty decent job of “assertiveness” when you think of me and my family bundles.
So rather than hate on the part of me that people pleases I send her gratitude. When I notice she arises I can send her love and gratitude rather than hate. Sometimes I still get angry with the people pleaser part of me if she jumps in the driver’s seat, but once I notice this I can let her know she’s not alone anymore. I’m here for all parts of me now. It’s not that my people pleaser part died or never comes up or that I shame and push her out or down. It’s simply that when I can spot that the people pleaser part of me is driving, I can send her gratitude. It always works. It always eases this part of me to know she’s not alone and that as a whole I’m here with her and she’s done her best thus far to help us get what we needed.
I send gratitude to your parts too. That’s what I tell the people I work with about their least favorite parts of themselves. If you notice jealousy, people pleasing, or rigidity leading the way for you, I get it and I send that part of you love and gratitude. Perhaps that part of you needed to show up in that way for you to make it in this world as a child. Perhaps that part of you had to people please or stay jealous or be rigid to survive in this weird world. Perhaps that part of you did what they did to get love or attention.
I also understand how frustrating it can feel to have that part try to run things now in adulthood. That’s understandable too. I think with a sustainable source of noticing what comes up for us and loving gratitude we can truly not have this part of us drive the bus. You are so worthy of this noticing what’s there and sending those parts of you gratitude. I’m grateful for those parts of you and I send those parts of you love. That’s all for this week Soft Hearts.
This week I wanted to remind you about my EMDR intensive offering. I’m offering 20% off for the rest of this month (May 2023). Check out this link to see a video on how condensing and focusing your treatment can help you get where you want to go and to just be your true self. EMDR intensives can be helpful for starting a new job, anxiety, OCD, flight trauma, medical trauma, a break up, etc.
My experience giving and participating in a quick and focused trauma or anxiety therapy, specifically eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), led me to set up this offering and I’d love for you to reach out to see if it fits for your dreams and goals.
In the meantime here’s two FREE trauma and the brain and trauma tip sheet for your healing straight from EMDRIA!
For years now I’ve heard parents claim the one thing they want for their child is “to be happy.” Emotional peace and wealth is what I often hear people refer to as their goal for themselves too. There are long stretches of time when all I did was focus on my goals and I felt pretty satisfied. Maybe lonely at times, but generally fulfilled in so many ways that I remember feeling my life was rich with fulfillment. These were times after break ups. I’d feel distraught and my inner child would feel lost, scared and alone. And then maybe a couple of years later after some weird decisions, and then some healing, I’d feel a general sense of me-ness.
I’d spend a couple of more years in this space of learning more about me and focusing on my career goals, physical and spiritual activity, and finding out what I like. There are other things besides relationships that can certainly take us away from the moment though of course. For example, work, a sad or lonely part of us, any obsession, or stuck grief and trauma. We can have backed up grief that is stuck in our body because no one said you can feel it fully or because it felt better in the moment to push it down. We can focus so intently on our jobs to pay the bills or to level up that we don’t see ourselves. Much like my unhealthy relationship patterns in the past, we have many other ways that have us doing rather than being. Have you heard of a human-doing rather than a human-being?
I now believe that we can have these periods of big introspective wealth and exploration within a relationship too. I think the co-dependent reliance on someone and then the feeling of free fall afterward doesn’t have to spark my inner tending to and exploring. I truly believe that a kind and gentle match that is interdependent can allow for people to have richness throughout the course of their relationship. A relationship is really just a reflection of our experience with ourselves anyway, right? While I don’t have all the answers to not losing yourself in the us, I am a gentle, warm and kind presence with you as you walk this journey of harmony within yourself and with others. There’s a gentleness to my approach to your codependency recovery because I get it. I literally have had these periods of up and down and obsessed with you then obsessed with me to only find a softer, more open mind and heart around these issues.
There’s also something so sweet about giving gentleness and gratitude to the parts of you that got so into someone that they forgot about you. I think this gentleness and gratitude allows these parts of us to show us why they tried to protect us in the first place. Perhaps these parts are not really codependent after all. Perhaps they began in childhood in order to help the family chaos. Perhaps these parts protected you by giving you a role in the dysfunction growing up. Wherever you learned to survive in this way, you won’t hear me telling you to stop or change! We’ll just walk gently side by side as you share love and gratitude with yourself, explore deeper, and slowly start to feel better around these things.
I’ll give you one example. Years ago, I wouldn’t have asked for help with a “division of labor” task in a relationship. Like I wouldn’t have even asked and I would’ve done it all myself until I got pissed or just had the relationship fall to pieces (I know, not my healthiest moments). Just recently, my partner and I divided up some tasks in a loving, non-critical way that we both feel good about. This is a simple, but deeply rewarding experience. It feels corrective and helpful for me now, but it also gives little me so much attention and love that I needed. Had I ignored little me, it may have come up in an unfair way to me or others and I would’ve just gone on stuffing and repressing. This is just one tiny, but mighty step toward my healing and I would love to support yours. Please reach out today to connect and work together!
Your Window of Tolerance is basically when you’re not too overwhelmed to deal with the intense stuff coming your way. You can see why we really want to understand and maybe even expand your window of tolerance if we’re doing EMDR therapy together. Dr. Dan Siegel first explained that the Window of Tolerance is the ideal place for someone to be to be able to handle emotions/triggers and still move about in their day to day life. If we don’t know someone’s window or push them too far one way or another then we may be pushing them outside of what they can reasonably tolerate and therefore they may experience more trauma. Now it can be a little tricky because of course you’re going to feel tired and metaphorically stretched or even “achy”, BUT you should still be within what you can handle as far as your arousal goes. If you’re so shut down or so activated you may not only be retraumatized, but you may not want to come back for more healing.
Sometimes people’s windows may be really tolerant meaning they may sort of rock with the wind until it becomes a storm. Sometimes people’s windows may be more sensitive and their fight/flight/freeze may be more easily activated in these states. Again, that’s perfectly okay. For example, whenever I move I’m always, literally always scared the first couple of nights in my new home. I’ll hear echoes in my apartment more loudly than I normally would and the creaks will be creakier. It’s perfectly understandable for our windows of tolerance to be smaller sometimes too and in the moving situation it’s not the worst thing safety wise to be a little more alert when I lay my head down in a new place.
Dr. Tracey Marks explains the window of tolerance in a really helpful way here. If you’re doing any EMDR, whether weekly or an adjunct/intensive EMDR I’d recommend watching the video and getting an understanding of where you’re at so you know how much to go in before overwhelming your system. It will help you have a more sustainable healing practice and not leave feeling more raw, shut down or activated than you really need to. I think there’s a lot of value in not avoiding intense stuff and really staying with what’s there in a way that’s gentle and not over doing it. Think salt is delicious, and too much salt is cringe. Or is it cringe that I’m in my late 30s saying cringe? Okay, but you know what I mean. Be expansive, but don’t push yourself past a place of gentleness.
There’s a time several years ago when I was doing some healing work and pushed past my window of tolerance and started emotionally eating. It was fine. It was what I needed at the time. I’d like to think that now, I might tune in to what I can and cannot do and stay with that these days. So all that to say, if you do stretch past your window of tolerance by accident, do you have someone in your corner to help you regulate and come back down? Do you have something to help you settle if you went a little too far by accident? There’s so much you can do to get back within your window of tolerance so it’s not about good or bad or right or wrong, just that your healing provider can notice if you’ve been pretty checked out or if you’ve been pretty anxious/irritable. In addition, this articlecan help you either come back from zoning out or bring you back from too much activation. As always, I’d love to hear how this stuff is landing for you. In the meantime, you can get started in therapy with me here!
My business allowed me to have a phone upgrade where all I have to do is pay the taxes and activation. They call it “free”, but it’s so not free in so many ways. It scares the crap out of me to have this more upgraded phone. You might be wondering why did I go for a supposedly “free” upgraded phone that’s like six versions newer than my current phone and still a few versions older than the latest phone. To be honest I’m thinking of going to a flip phone next, but first let me tell you about my ambivalence.
Did you know being on our phones (playing games, looking at the news or TikToks, etc.) give us more dopamine than alcohol or fast food? I was in a hormone workshop with a good friend of mine and found this info about being on our phones worse than I’d imagined and helpful at the same time by the way this workshop is called The Role of Hormones in Mental Health by Dr. Maureen Schwehr (on March 23, 2023). Like we all knew these little phones are addictive, sure, but more than my beloved french fries?!
Dr. Schwehr went on to explain that when we go on walks or talk with people we actually have anxiety. Our brains trip out to figure out what we’re doing without all those dopamine hits. Again, we knew this stuff, these little metal and glass phones were powerful, but this powerful, whew! I never knew it impairs us from doing everyday stuff to this degree! So you’re meaning to tell me conversations, walks, MAYBE even sex or chocolate are less interesting to people than phones?! I’m bummed, but here I am getting ready to activate this little device that connects me to my business and people, but somehow disconnects me to people at the same time.
I get it. I’m like literally ten years behind with this stuff. But am I? Or did we all become more into our phones now than we were just over three years ago? How can we not be addicted to these little glassy, metaly love bugs when that’s how we stay connected and entertained or distracted? For many people, myself included, a lecture here about getting outdoors or adding in other pleasurable activities isn’t helpful here. I’m just amazed by the fact that this is as pleasurable as some highly addictive stuff and simply knowing that can be so helpful. When they say knowledge is power, I get it.
We in psychology provide something that is called psychoeducation. We teach people about something like sleep, mood disorders, or something relevant to their concerns their bringing in. Simply learning psychoeducation can be a huge part of a person’s progress to intervene or interrupt on our day to day activities. If I never knew how much my phone is making me tired, making walks less fun, and making it harder to be attuned to and interested in engagement with people then I wouldn’t have had some more clarity on how much this effects us. I will be implementing more days away from my phone, but for now I’m going to stick with the status quo of having a smartphone for work and fun in hopes that this psychoeducation can help me notice and spot when I’m way too into it with the phone. I wonder if this will help anyone out there simply notice their phone use. I also wonder if we can invite in what we’d rather be focusing our dopamine on. I know I’d rather be getting my dopamine from connections with people (for the most part;).
That reminds me of when I tell my clients it’s okay to have ambivalence. They’ll see I’m struggling with feeling anger toward my loved one, but I want to help them so much. We use a tool of holding space for both of their feelings. We can feel both drawn to doing something AND feel anger at the same time. If you too feel you struggle with holding space for one feeling and another at the same time toward someone or something you are not alone. Most of us did not grow up with being allowed to feel much of anything, and probably not to have mixed feelings all at once. I think more times than not there are a couple of feelings and experiences going on at once.
You may have a part of you that is sad at your job and wonders, “is this it?” You may have another part of you feeling pressured to stay with it and be able to pay the bills. Or you may be so angry that your partner doesn’t help with the baby and you may see her suffering from depression and just want to help her at the same time. We can feel two things at once. You heard my little rant (no jk) about feeling like I want a phone for work and for fun to be honest and feeling scared about the power of phones at the same time. Making space for different parts of me to be heard, within, is what allows me to not have prickly stuff come out when I didn’t expect it to. I believe that you too can have space for all your parts and feelings. It’s not as hard as you might think. In this moment, just notice if you have different sensations or feelings right here and now. You can notice and give airtime to each of these parts of you. It’s not about writing a pros and cons list. It’s about creating a sustainable channel between you and all parts of you that arise. I hope that you’ll give some airtime to the different feelings within so that all parts of you can be witnessed by you. Leaning into ambivalence is something I love rocking with clients and would love to help you with too! Reach out to get started today!
Some folks are understandably curious about what comes in their customized workbook when they sign up for an EMDR Premium Package to have adjunct EMDR therapy or to take a deep dive into a specific issue. If you decide to sign up for one of these package options not only do you get a bunch of time focused on the exact thing you came in to address, plus a dream session and meditations, but you also get a workbook tailored to your needs. This workbook has several assessments to get an idea of what your anxiety, depression or trauma links back to and what you lean on to support you. The workbook includes an assessment to identify your level of dissociation and will help me help you when you zone out or seem to go somewhere else during our time together. The workbook is a cornerstone of starting the process because it uncovers who you are, where you’ve been, and what tools you use most to help you regulate or come down from stressful stuff.
The cool part is that you’ll be learning several more calming strategies to help you tend to parts of you that may come up in the time that we spend together reprocessing your old stuff. Rather than let stuff stay stuck in one part of the brain through years of talk therapy you can address a part of what’s going on for you by actually moving it through your brain and body. It doesn’t mean you forget what happened or it goes away. Ideally and simply it means that you’ll be able to observe it or witness it with less charge. Your customized workbook will also be there for you while your brain digests and reprocesses thoughts, worries and traumas. Your workbook has space for dreams that may come up in between EMDR intensive sessions. It also has plenty of advice in the workbook to help you prioritize your rest, sleep and to not use substances at session so you can get plenty of integration time and come to sessions in your best self state.
Ideally the workbook is like a program for your life during our time together. I’d also hope that folks can use resources in their workbook to help them moving forward. If you plan to continue with your current therapist you may take assessments and uncoverings from the workbook to your primary therapist. If you plan to pause on therapy or stop because you’ve addressed what you needed to in the intensive, you may find resources like meditations or codependency support useful in your next steps of healing.
Take your time filling out your workbook, but please do get it back to me a week before our time together (five business days). If you sign up for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10 hour EMDR Premium Package you want to give yourself at least a week to practice some of the resources on a daily basis like meditations or deep breathing and you’d probably want to give me plenty of time to study your assessment answers, understand your dissociation patterns, and integrate what I see as your resources and goals. As you prepare for our time together you can refer back to your tailored workbook at any time. If you’d like to learn more about the EMDR Premium Package check out this video. You can schedule you’re free consultation with me! Or reach out here!
Usually when I cross the finish line people around me think it’s when I’ll stop worrying about the next thing I’m trying to do or finish. The next certification, degree or milestone. They want me to celebrate, but I’m scared and feel small when I win or accomplish. All the striving and persistence “should” be met with celebration, but I’ve struggled with that for a long time. I let others celebrate me. I let my friend make mugs for my business when I launched. I let my partner take me to dinner when I completed certification milestones. It’s just still hard to let that settle in. It’s hard to let my body settle. It’s hard to celebrate crossing the finish line.
I’ve literally crossed the finish line of half marathons only to crash into bed with a pizza. I’ve crossed the metaphorical finish line of finishing a more than 100 page dissertation only to move on to getting licensed. With each thing is a crashing into the next. I feel happy. I just also feel scared. Like what’s my next achievement? It doesn’t make sense. I know this moment is what I have. Not the next. This moment. I like to feel curious when things like this don’t make sense.
When was the first time I crossed a finish line and what was going on? Well, I can remember not completing a bunch of things. As a child, I couldn’t keep going in martial arts because I was too physically aggressive (yikes! sorry) or I didn’t complete much of my homework or I’d do it but not know to turn it in. I remember the teacher sitting down with my mom telling her I probably can’t complete the third grade because I didn’t turn in any of my homework only to find it all in my backpack. I just didn’t know you have to bring your homework it to the front of the classroom and put it in one of those bins! I’d be so wrapped up in feeling like I failed and didn’t please people or wasn’t perfect. When I finally did cross the finish line it was met with such intensity that I wouldn’t do the next thing that I really internalized that energy. I finally started crossing finish lines when I was in middle school. I completed my junior lifeguard program and moved onto safety aide. I just moved from one thing to the next. I didn’t really think more beyond the checking off of an accomplishment. I didn’t let things settle.
Now I have several loved ones to take the moment in with me. I don’t cross finish lines alone anymore. I run past the tape at the end of metaphorical races with my friends and family who helped me battle the anxieties of “will this work out?” For example, when I crossed the finish line of completing my EMDR certification application requirements I thanked those who helped me. I thanked a colleague who let me do EMDR with her and who helped me get into EMDR in the first place and I thanked another who helped me with my weekly nervousness around how to get enough people with the amount of energy and time I had. I expressed gratitude to the people who helped me learn EMDR. I expressed gratitude to my partner who endlessly stood by me with the ups and downs of learning something new. The worst part of how grind culture shows up for me in adulthood is how I project that onto others.
One of my best friends, my partner, taught me to savor the wins. I learned a thousand little lessons on how to let a win or accomplishment settle. Now when we address something together like personal debt, I want to rush onto the next area of life like getting more movement. My partner helps me sloooooow it down and savor the amazingness we just did. It’s been an incredibly healing journey to have a few people in my life who slowly celebrate the wins with me. I believe that our parts, including one’s inner child can feel the wins too. When we slow down and let a win really be embodied then we have a chance to honor our inner child.
This is like what I tell my patients. If you were one of those kids who just really missed the picture, who was out there in lala land when you wanted so badly to please and be perfect then I get it. I literally get it. There was so much to achieve that it left you feeling you’d never win, but never stop trying. If you felt the pains of wanting to be liked, to do better and to be invisible BUT control an outcome then know I understand. If you felt alone with the internal strife of not measuring up or doing really well, but not as perfectly as you’d want, I get that too. If you, like me, let your intensity to move onto the next climb, letting it all project and spew onto others, I get that too. That was my least favorite part of this grinding onto the next thing and I want to support you in your recovery from this too. We’ll compassionately connect to your inner child and have you knowing it’s enough to be right where you are and that feeling not okay is enough too.
Many of us grew up thinking we missed the mark and then if we did cross a finish line we just plowed through because of grind culture and so many other layers of pressure. Now I want you to know we can have you sending a sustainable stream of love to that sweet little one, your inner child. Your inner child isn’t alone with this stuff anymore. I want you to know you were enough even when you were little. You’re enough now. When you cross the finish line today I want to support you in the baby steps toward truly, and deeply celebrating you. Whether that moves from crashing with a pizza to connecting through gratitude, like it did for me or whether it moves in a way that’s more authentic for you I want to hear about it. Reach out to let me know how you cross a finish line with kindness toward your inner child. If you’d like to work together to love on little you in a sustainable way then reach out today!
If you grew up in a high strung environment, around chaos or didn’t get much attention you probably need to give your nervous system some tenderness. I really recommend folks get a nervous system routine. Daily check ins with one’s inner child and daily nervous system routines can help people in between sessions and can be tremendously helpful for overall nervous system recovery. Now there’s truly no linear direction to recovery, I can testify to that, but I believe we can get more in tuned with ourselves if we give our nervous system a chance.
I didn’t make up this nervous system stuff. Dr. Stephen Porges began his career studying the autonomic response in 1969 and first published on the polyvagal theory in 1995. In Explaining Well shortcast, Dr. Porges stated that the polyvagal theory “shifts our own personal documentary from events to feelings.” Events include adverse experiences as perceived by the person experiencing the traumatic incident(s). We use “cues of safety” as Dr. Porges stated in the shortcast to help people not go into or even come out of fight/flight/freeze. Everything from music to taking some breaths together or a repaired relationship with a corrective, “I’m sorry” can help both folks regulate together or “co-regulate.” You can also check out more about Dr. Porges’ work, timeline and resources here.
If you’re in therapy or trying to give your nervous system a chance, then you may know about the the helpfulness of the vagus nerve and nervous system states. Here’s more info to help you notice and come to safety.
In fight or flight your sympathetic nervous system is handling things, whether you’d like to be fighting or fleeing or not. This is when we’re reactive and maybe even intense, even if the trigger isn’t logically scary or calling for this big fight or flight reaction. Honestly, it could be so far from what is actually scary or concerning to us, but if a part of you is triggered then the nervous system comes in to save the day by kicking into fight or flight. You may feel angry, annoyed or on edge, like you need to leave or fight and you may have racing thoughts.
Freeze is the dorsal vagal state. When you’re in freeze mode or numb you may not notice. You may beat yourself up afterward for not saying or doing what you meant to do. First of all. It wasn’t your fault. We literally adapted to have a freeze response to save our lives so if we don’t say/do much or fawn in niceties when we’re triggered then that’s a survival reaction to stress and trauma. People freeze because there is perceived danger and their nervous system comes in to save the day or rescue the person from a trigger. We freeze up in an attempt to protect and stay alive.
This is the ventral vagal state where we feel at ease. You can interact with people and are there (not like zoning out or somewhere else). You’re not frozen or intense. You’re just chilling in your safe space.
When you can notice whether you’re frozen/numb/fawning or in fight/flight you can then implement your nervous system routine and come back to the ventral vagal state. There is so much hope to return to safety through the nervous system and I believe it gives us a chance to be more in tune with our inner child.
I like to stick with a daily routine of meditation, cold, and movement and sometimes even some shaking if I had lots of freeze or lethargy that day. After you explore more below on implementing your nervous system routine, I’d love to hear what you hope to implement. There are daily activities that you can do to help get you out of freeze or fight/flight to eventually a place of safety within. A good friend of mine recently described it as a home within.
One last thing before we get to the routine; remember one baby step at a time and don’t do it with perfection! We know that overloading a routine can be tempting, but unhelpful. That means starting with 1-5 minutes daily BEFORE building in more to your nervous system routine. Some people might even say just trying a minute or two a few times a week before moving to more frequently. I typically have about 30 minutes to start my day with nervous system activities and that didn’t happen over night. It took a while to build up from 5 minutes to 30 minutes where I can implement all things I want to for my nervous system in the mornings. If you miss a day, there’s no dogmatism or righteousness here. Pick back up on your routine the next day or in a couple of days and please don’t attach your worth to how many days you did your nervous system routine. You’re just further stressing yourself and your nervous system out so try a routine here without shame. Come from a place of love and curiosity and I think your nervous system will really appreciate it in the long run ❤
Notice: First, notice what your body and mind are like when you’re in each of the states: fight/flight, numb/frozen and ventral vagal/safety. An example is that when I’m in fight/flight my mind is going a 1,000 miles per minute and I’m calculating all of the possible worries on different tracks at once and I’m irritable and my body is warm, especially my ears.
In freeze, I’m quiet and nodding along or saying nice stuff to things I may or may not even understand in the moment. I may even notice I’ve blanked out.
In ventral vagal, I feel ease in my chest, I feel love and comfortable and my listening and body are open and relaxed.
What does each state look like for you? The more detailed you can get, the more you can notice when you’re in fight/flight or freeze and bring yourself a place of calm. You can even keep ways that help you come out of dissociation or calm down in the “notes” part of your phone to help when your mind goes offline a bit.
Activated: Now let’s get a routine going for your nervous system. One of the best things people can do when they start therapy with me is starting with a daily cold compress on their chest for five minutes. The deep breathing, calming play lists for your inner child, connecting with an understanding loved one, or relaxing meditation that I later recommend can be hard for some people to access and that’s totally understandable. Things like a cold compress on the chest can be more accessible and set someone up for success with their nervous system routine. I ask patients to add on the time they keep the cold compress on their chest until they’re doing it for about ten minutes. I specifically recommend it at night before they go to bed since it can help them with nervousness in the moment, but also to tone the vagus nerve for later too.
Checked out: If someone is feeling like they’ve been zoning out or numb I like to introduce shaking. This is my favorite meditation for dissociation. I highly recommend trying this daily or not just when you’re frozen. If you think about it, it can help to shake out of a frozen state much like we see when a dog gets up. We see dogs shake it off and then they just move onto the next thing. Additionally, if you can pull up a dance video or some movement that feels okay in your body then I highly recommend it to help you move from dissociation into presence too. I love to do a three minute Zumba dance to Cuff It by Beyoncé! It really doesn’t have to be a lot or super long, but it can be helpful to move when you’re numb or when you know you tend to space out/dissociate. I think just noticing when I’m zoning out/dissociated is a win and then I can notice the feeling under what the dissociation was protecting. I’d be curious to see how movement and noticing help your nervous system too.
Soft hearts, whether you dare to put an ice pack gently on your chest tonight, dance it out or try the shaking meditation, please know I see you and I’m grateful you’re joining me here. Annnnd you can getstarted in therapy with me here!
I’m reflecting on times when I let go and it’s honestly hard to decipher between gripping tightly and a part of me saying “eff it” or “I give up, sure I’ll try it” from “I’m genuinely letting go.” I guess when I’ve let go there’s often other parts of me not on board with the letting go process. I’ve let go when I’m scared to leave a job that’s killing my soul. I’ve let go of a relationship when it wasn’t healthy or loving for either of us (and whew did they want me to let go by that point or what!). I’ve even let go of things like alcohol as my firefighter protector parts found more helpful ways to help me extinguish fires within (which was NOT an okay tool from my Muslim side of the family). It’s harder for me to think of an easy breezy, hands in the wind, big skirt flowing in the wind, you know, facing the sun type of letting go. It’s hard for me to recall a time when I willingly and without some suffering said, “yeah I can let myself see where this goes.”
I was a “I have to work hard at this or else there’s failure in giving up” type of person. I’m still a “do everything I can” type of gal. But I also deeply admire friends and loved ones who genuinely and logically let go. For example, I have a couple of people in my life who handled the peak of COVID so well. They really were as careful as they could be given their lives and people around them and then they let the rest be as it was. It blew my mind! I literally felt like doing a pilot study in my mind on their “letting go” vibes. What?! I’m not sure that suffering and letting go always have to be attached. I feel like there are people out there who genuinely and logically look at the picture as a picture, without attaching too much crap to it. Given my super thinky, feely composition you can see why I adore these logical loved ones. These logical friends of mine feel like learning a new language to me. New and fun and wow so different from this English stuff that often doesn’t make sense.
Then it dawned on me, I do let go, but in my own kind of language. I let go a thousand tiny times. It’s not that I have to punish or “other” myself for not speaking the same language as my letting go loved ones. It’s just that I let go piece by piece as things are revealed to me and as I grow a stronger sense of awareness to what I’m feeling and need. For example, I drank a lot during a particular time in my adolescence. On the outside I went from dorky to party Hannah. On the inside, I was a fire waiting to combust. And it felt like I did. I ozzed my insides out like when Men In Black shoots alien guts everywhere. Then I stopped drinking and spent some years trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted to let the pieces of things come into a beautiful mosaic.
Then, once I thought my life was all together and I was in graduate school and everyone else was doing it, I tried drinking again. It was weird and not as obvious because it wasn’t alien guts everywhere this time, but my despair was all out and about like it hadn’t been since I was a teen. This time I felt more like when Edgar in Men In Black puts on a man suit. I felt like I was inauthentic and putting on a suit of a person over my wounded heart, over something I knew didn’t really work for me. It didn’t feel right and I let go of alcohol and leaned into a different life again. There’s been a thousand letting goes since and I love everyone of them. And sure it’s easier to love letting go in retrospect, but I really do honor each time I’ve let go tiny bit by tiny bit. Each little letting go since adolescence has led me to more and more authenticity with a skin of my own.
I wish that for my teen self. I give myself and especially my teen self a skin of my own now, within, everyday. There are ways I feel a little Edgary when I people please or eat for feelings, but in general I live a life more and more in my own skin suit. There are some days when I have moments of inauthenticity, but noticing it helps a lot. I recently got to share a bit about this with a client in a way that made sense clinically. I’m not a blank slate, but I’m not a take up your therapy time and space therapist either. It felt good to be like “here’s my skin.” Or more so, “here’s a part of my story, relevant to what you’re asking for, and yeah here’s me.”
I’m curious about you and wonder when was a time you let go? When was a time you let go like all the way like my cool, logical friends or in little tiny chunks for several years like me? Also, if you’d like to work together please let me know! Seriously, I want to know! So reach out here!
Dear soft hearts, I want to tell you about a time when I walked through perfection to get to doing it imperfectly and finding my ray of sun in my work. My balm to burn out. My spark. The way I could contribute in a more sustainable manner and match what my clients needed from me.
I spent most of my training years working with marginalized populations and learning a new language and doing therapy in that new language. I saw many of my peers learning manualized treatments and specialty stuff, and I wasn’t sure I had the mental organization to stick with it or the follow through to finish a specialized training.
I went from listening to an interpreter in PhD level courses to being fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and giving whole courses in ASL. I even ended up teaching a college course in ASL. I focused my training throughout on folks with spinal cord injuries, acute stress from car accidents, cancer, amputations and other physical rehab/health psychology stuff. I focused more training on working with people with very few resources, including gender diverse adolescents and adults. I still didn’t learn a manualized treatment. I even told myself it sounded boring and that my unconditional positive regard and compassion were enough.
I’d go bedside, hear someone’s story, share in that space with them, and give them information about how what they said sounded like trauma. I’d even tell them a few types of ways trauma can show up (like acute stress v. PTSD). It was amazing to see how the being with them in that moment and telling them what I saw was understandable given all they’d been through felt relieving. It was amazing to see how much that meant over mindfulness or other things. I’d sometimes talk to their loved ones or medical team to help relay communication. It reminded me of being the big sister, pivoting from sharing that tidbit of information in that way to this info in this way. It was all very natural for me and I could see how much progress was being made. The progress of moving someone from feeling alone and misunderstood to feeling connected is still to this day my favorite work.
I saw how folks suffered these last few years and how they needed and asked for more than moving from misunderstood to connected. A friend told me that there are scholarships available for folks to learn eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. I have loved ones who raved about the impacts of EMDR, but I thought it sounded like one of my favorite movies, Men in Black. I thought they’d wave the little thingy and make your memories disappear. I was cute. There’s no Men in Black magical movey thingy to make memories disappear. We simply move stuff back and forth from the limbic system to the frontal lobe to reprocess memories leaving folks to feel unstuck. People feel unstuck AND more connected to themselves and others in a beautiful way.
I still wasn’t sure that I could do it. Guess what though. I won a 50% scholarship! I’m still forever grateful for those folks at ICM. I provided several sessions to clients through a scholarship since and I hope I can one day return to ICM to give back. The training was an LGBTQ EMDR training for 42 hours. We did chunks of hours of EMDR on each other after we’d learn new approaches.
I was terrified! I was scared my colleagues in our practice group would think I sucked or was dumb or that I’d mess up their trauma recovery somehow. I was scared for my now EMDR consultant to observe me doing it. Was I doing it wrong? Was I messing everything up? Hey, I’m on 50% scholarship, should I be doing better and taking up no space? Well I did it anyway. I spoke with two close loved ones about my fears, I took walking breaks, I breathed, and I sometimes voiced my fears with my colleagues or even authority figures (the very kind EMDR consultants and trainers). I did it wobbly like how I do when I am learning to ride a bike.
I was DAZZLED and filled with profound hope to see traumas moving quickly. I moved through a traumatic experience I couldn’t move through in talk therapy alone. I integrated parts work and EMDR with a colleague and moved through what they couldn’t move through in their EMDR alone for two years. I saw single incident trauma, complex trauma and multiple incident traumas move within hours of implementing our trainings on each other. It was one of the most life changing experiences for me.
I’ve been wanting a therapy approach in my toolbox like EMDR and told myself I couldn’t do it or there was other stuff to learn for more than a decade. I love how these fears of not doing things perfectly were acknowledged, and even loved on, but this part of me didn’t drive the bus. My best self drove the bus instead.
I became EMDR trained shortly after these EMDR training! THEN I spent several months going from EMDR trained to get ready to be EMDR certified. I am so grateful for how EMDR has helped me serve folks. I truly could have talked myself out of this joyous healing. I could’ve even stunted my healing in the process if I didn’t make room for, but not let my fear drive the bus. It wasn’t easy, but it’s been so fruitful.
And dear soft hearts, guess what?! I’m preparing my next level EMDR Certified application this week! When is a time when you did something imperfectly and it led you to your confidence?
Want to come work with me? I’d love the honor to work with you. Reach out and see if we’re a fit to get you walking through imperfection toward your best life. Thanks so much for joining and let’s meet again here next week ❤
Soft hearts, I can’t wait to share with you more about loving you. I recently co-hosted a workshop to support therapists surviving trauma. We discussed ways they can love on themselves, even through the difficult and even traumatizing times.
First, we discussed Polyvagal Theory. I taught folks how we can slow the breath down in order to get the most of our nervous system. Specifically, using what we know from polyvagal theory I recommend breathing in 40% and breathing out 60%. What that looks like is an out breath that’s a little longer than our in breath so for example if you breath in for 4 seconds or so, you’d want to breath out for about six seconds. I also show people how I’m breathing from my belly, not my heart space. We slow the heart rate down and get our parasympathetic nervous system on board to bring us down into this moment.
I also taught people about containment. We utilized imagery I learned from Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy training. I had workshop participants and healers get cozy and comfy. You can actually try this as you join me here in the blog sphere. Get cozy and comfy for a few moments here. You can take a few deep, slow breaths from the bottom of your belly, letting your exhales linger a little longer than your inhales. Imagine a container that feels pleasant. This is a holding space for you to contain anything that’s still there after a therapy session or anything you don’t have time for in this moment. This is not to stuff or push anything away, but rather to acknowledge what’s coming up, note it, and let what’s coming up be held in safe containment for you to come back to at another time. I call mine Rainbow and it’s an actual prayer box that holds everything safely for me. Yours can be something actual or fantastical.
Now that you’ve identified a safe container please imagine the specifics of your container. Imagine the qualities of your container. Picture the colors, temperature, textures, and anything you see, hear, smell, feel and taste with your safe container. Take a moment to breath in as you open your container. Imagine placing anything you have left that you’d like to come back to in your safe container. Take another deep breath and imagine closing your container. Again, your container can be actual or something in your imagination and you can name it and come back to it anytime it may be helpful for you. Some folks tell me they come back to their container for so much more than trauma recovery and people can use it to help with sleep, work stress, and a number of other issues.
Once you have some breathing and containment on board you can notice what you’re feeling and where. I had our lovely workshop participants get in touch with how they’re feeling with a general sense of compassion, talking to themselves like they’d talk to their inner child. Now this can be tough if someone feels triggered by images of themself when they were little. For example, if they were born in a body that doesn’t align with their gender, I’d recommend that they are expansive and flexible with however they picture their inner child. This can be done by looking at a picture of little you or sensing how you feel as you scan your body. Is there tightness in your forehead, racing heart, or tension in your hips? You can see what’s coming up in your body with the gentleness and ease we’d grant to a child, or our inner child.
When you scan and see what’s there, folks expressed great compassion for their feelings and inner child. Folks can again go to container or deep breathing for whatever is there or for any residual feelings or experiences that they’d like to come back to with a trained healer.
Hey, I’m so proud of you for considering more ways to love on yourself. I know it’s so cheesy, but when we are gentle with ourselves I do believe it emanates out there to others and the world. I feel it too sometimes. I’ll walk by someone who is just glowing and I simply feel their kindness, their love. Have you ever noticed someone’s inner love shining outward? You don’t have to do this healing alone and this blog certainly doesn’t replace therapy. Reach out to find your healing support today.
Soft hearts, our very last episode on Breaking The Couch is as it stands complete. We produced two seasons, more than 40 episodes. While my farewell with the podcast is a “forever goodbye” as Dr. Dowtin mentions in the episode, Dr. Dowtin may or may not go back to Breaking The Couch in the future.
There are so many types of goodbyes. Dr. Dowtin and I processed this goodbye with our beloved listeners from the beginning of season two. We intentionally let people know that while I loved contributing trauma recovery tidbits and support, I would no longer be joining as it stands once season two completed. This closing was processed and discussed, mainly transparently with you, our audience.
Thank you so much for joining if you did read our captions or join as listeners. You are what made our podcast special and we wanted to send a main theme that you’re not alone. Tune in for our last episode as the podcast stands today below and let Breaking The Couch know if you’d love to support them in coming back in the future.
So often we don’t get a chance to say farewell in an intentional way. Let us walk you through our time together with gentleness. Let’s be intentional and walk hand in hand as we close this chapter, truly leaving a collection of information out there and lots of doors to open in our next chapters. Thank you again for this opportunity.
Here are some of the amazing guests we want to thank for joining and contributing in such beautiful, impactful ways:
Dr. Jesús Barreto Abrams – Okay so here we talked a lot about the worlds of therapists and interpreters and learned amazing recommendations on how to release the stress and vicarious trauma of the day.
Dr. Margaret Li – We got an introduction to sex therapy for survivors of trauma and learned how you too can talk about sex with your therapist.
Ms. Devaney Knight – We learned amazing relationship strategies and ways to show up for yourself and in love.
Dr. Angelina Nortey – Dr. Nortey shared with us about institutional and racial traumas and share about connection as a Black millennial.
Mr. Darius Fennell – We learned about anxiety and all things mental health recovery from Mr. Fennell in this fascinating episode.
Marianela Rodousakis – Ms. Rodousakis gave us all the information about therapeutic nursery programs and healing generational trauma in the classroom (and outside of the classroom too!).
Ms. Jila Behnad – This episode and Ms. Behnad’s experience and dedication to immigration trauma was so helpful and eye opening.
I hope you’ll see so much of what you need in the above episodes either for yourself or clients you serve.
Some special quotes that honored our work include:
Dr. Chona Green from Business on a Budget and The Green Garden said “I am so sad to say goodbye to Breaking the Couch podcast! As a therapist, I found the stories and info so helpful! From talking about trauma to relationships to how to show up in the room, there guys talked about everything! My favorite episode was the one about what to say when your Auntie calls you fat over the holidays. So relatable!! Sad but happens like every time for some reason! This was definitely a great podcast to listen to just for growth and inspiration and validation.”
Check out the above video for more beautiful quotes helping Dr. Dowtin and I say goodbye and close this chapter. We had kind quotes that thanked us for helping people learn what NOT to say to trauma survivors, people thanking us for going behind the scenes with therapy to demystify therapy and trauma recovery, and even a quote from a listener encouraging their friends to listen in too!