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Tag: coping mechanisms

Taming Overwhelm & Fear: Build a bridge so you can get on the right track

Last time I talked about how feeling bad can keep you from feeling good. Obvious right? But it’s also a really complex cycle. It takes some thought and action to interrupt these old patterns. A great way to start is with the acronym I’ve used below.


  • Recognize your triggers so you can begin to create and plan a different response that feels better.
  • Observe your own thoughts and behaviors. Remember, the feelings are yours, which means so are the triggers to these emotions.
  • Ask yourself: What do I want? What’s another way to get there?
  • Small, doable actions so you gain confidence.

For many people negative emotions like frustration, depression, anxiety, judgment, pride, stubbornness, self-righteousness, resentment, etc. can fill your conscious and unconscious thoughts, and these drive how you act. These negative emotions are symptoms and coping mechanisms. If what you’ve been doing isn’t getting you the results you want, it’s time to do something different. This is where so many people freeze up. Have faith and read on.

Start with a bridge. like the metaphor of getting from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other by jumping across it. This is a great big DUH, of course you can’t do this but people try jumping huge personal chasms all the time like this. I like the metaphor of building a bridge across the Grand Canyon, because sometimes the challenges in life can feel that BIG! this is much scarier than the bridge you likely need to build! When I talk about building bridges and developing skills, it’s one step (plank) at time, starting with the above steps.

Your bridge is a new starting point. Once you start with small, doable and repeatable steps, you become familiar with the feeling of confidence, safety, achievement and awareness; all really good feelings. This is where the next step is so VERY critical.

Getting on a NEW train – a radical action.

Imagine this. You get up and get ready for work or appointments or whatever project is happening that day. You have the same morning routine; then you take the same route to your destination. For the sake of this metaphor let’s imagine you take a train to your destination. You go to the same train station, same platform and the same route every day to get to your destination. It’s predictable, you need predictability so you get where you need to go. This is great when the destination (the results) is what you want.

One day, you decide this destination isn’t quite what you want anymore. So you go to the train station and look for another train. Aha! There is one. It’s a different model and color, has a different name and it stops at different places along the way. It’s near the same place you were going before, but it’s still different. You get on it and ride it. You do this every day and it even feels different because you arrive one track over from the previous train you were riding. Eventually though you realize that even though it’s one track over, you are really still in the same place. Then you say, “I don’t get it, I know it was a different train.”

After my partner Chris died, my adult daughter and I became estranged at a time when I wanted so much for us to be close. I would periodically reach out to my daughter, but to no avail. I would feel triggered and my deep open wound would hurt all the more. I would retreat and continue my grieving and healing process. It wasn’t until I neared the third year anniversary of Chris’s death that I got an epiphany. After reaching out so many times and feeling rejected so many times, I decided I needed to radically change my approach.

trainI got on a completely different train. I decided to withdraw complete contact with my daughter until I could figure out how I could change things. I stopped reaching out sometime in the latter part of the year and well before the holidays. I finally surrendered and fully accepted that I might never again reunite with my only child. This total withdrawal was truly radical for me. My own sister, who is a mother and trained therapist did not understand my behavior. All I knew was that I needed to make a radical change in my course.

After several months I received divine guidance that I could approach my daughter differently. I reached out and texted her almost every day for a couple of weeks and just said things like “Hope you have a good day, love Mom” or “It’s almost Friday, enjoy the weekend.”

I kept texting my one-liners and in between we had an spirited text conversation about what the next steps would be. Still we did not find agreement. Then one morning I got a text from her saying she was in town and could we meet. I was shocked, excited, anxious, and feeling trepidation all at the same time. We finally found a mutually workable place and time and met.

While not perfect (and nothing is) it was a blessed opening. I feared this would never have taken place had I not receded inward to do my own work of processing feelings and thus taking my radical action.

What is a radical action?

Radical actions can mean many things and although I don’t recommend ceasing all contact, in my case this was what needed to happen first. It can mean imagining the most painful thing you can think of, which in my case was totally releasing my daughter. The pain was excruciating and still is at times. Radical change is drastic and major and often profound. To reach profound you have to walk into, face and walk through the pain.

I emphasize radical change because you can be tricked into thinking and even believing you are acting differently. And…maybe you are. Remember the train? There is one sure way to know. Ask yourself: Am I getting the outcome I want? Be honest with yourself. If you are not getting the outcome you want, find a new train, build a new bridge, go to that painful place and face it. You will survive it, It will pass and you will see clearer, behave differently and most of all, the outcome will be different.

When you think of wanting a loving, compassionate relationship (no matter who it is with), what is the pain you’ve been avoiding? This is the painful place you need to visit.

Love IS the Answer – Part 2

Here are the facts:

kneejerkWhen you relapse into your negative feelings without seeking self-awareness and resolution, whether by choice or denial, the trigger and response, namely your pain, anger, resentment, the blame, etc. is ALWAYS, ALWAYS still there! Just because you sweep dirt under the rug doesn’t mean the dirt is gone. It’s just hidden from view. And so are your feelings. I call this reverting to your “knee-jerk” response. It’s your brain on by-pass.

As humans we are brilliant at being in denial and invoking our knee-jerk responses. They are survival skills, but not thriving skills. It likely feels  overwhelming and scary to think about changing this. So how do you start?

Easy peasy first step.

Pay attention. Feelings and emotions are there for a reason. They are full of information. The information in and of itself is neither good nor bad unless you place a value on it (e.g., right or wrong, good or bad), otherwise it’s simply information. When you choose to remove the value and see your feelings as information, you gain some perspective that you don’t have when you are sucked in by the knee-jerk response. When you pay attention to the feelings and take custody of them you take the first step toward identifying what triggers your response. It’s important to find the trigger, so you can develop a new response to it instead of your debilitating knee-jerk response.

Paying attention is my mantra. You do this by starting to notice your feelings and acknowledging them as yours. Acknowledgment sounds something like this: “Ok, I’m really pissed off.” You are not judging it, only observing it. Once you feel comfortable acknowledging your feelings, ask yourself the following questions:

What’s underneath the _________________?

How do I feel when I’m  ______________ or how do I act?

Here’s an example:

Acknowledging feeling angry.

Q.  What’s underneath the anger?

A.  frustration.

Q. What’s underneath the frustration?

A.  Anger?

Q.   What will you have if you have anger?

A. Frustration.

Q.  What will you have if you have frustration?

A. Lack of control.

Q. How will you feel if you have lack of control?

A.  Scared.

Q.  What’s underneath the fear?

A.  I don’t know.

Think about it and keep asking. You can ask it a slightly different way, such as:

Q.  How will you feel if you are fearful?

A.  scared.

Q. What are you scared of?

A.  Being hurt, rejected, feeling wrong, uncomfortable, in pain

Ok, you named it and acknowledged it.

Q.  What baby step can you take to feel the pain, etc. and not freak out?

A. I can do my breathing exercises, I can journal, I can discuss it in therapy, I can reflect on it. I can exhibit compassion for myself.

AHA! Keep asking yourself until your cry, shift, break down or get an epiphany. Be patient and stick with it. This is likely an  uncomfortable place. Stay there. You can do it. I know you can. The first time is the hardest. It get’s easier and the more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it because you’ll notice how light you feel.

What’s the benefit of taking custody of your triggered feelings when you can blame someone else for them? When you place the blame on someone else or emphatically state you have no choice, you eliminate all your possibilities for empowerment, movement, or healing. There is little room for love.

If you are like most humans you want to have choices. Isn’t this the very foundation of who we are and what we stand for? Blame, pride, resentment, anger and judgment are all stuck, stagnant, immovable feelings. When you take custody of your triggers and feelings you can then begin to change the way you look at something. Seeing things differently and choosing a new way to behave and respond means fewer and fewer knee-jerk responses. Better choices, fewer negative responses, more love and compassion.

Be patient with yourself and persevere. You can do it!


Love IS the answer – Part 1 of 2

HeartsWhen I was young I used to hear “love is the answer.” I heard this often, but didn’t fully understand how love could be the answer, especially when I didn’t feel so loved. Growing up I felt like I was an afterthought in my family. I have an older sister whom I felt my parents favored. My sister and I have talked about this and from her perspective she felt smothered.

Perception is a powerful shaping force in our lives.

As my life journey evolved and I had a child, I fully embodied that incredibly deep level of love for my child. As my journey continued I found a life partner who brought me a depth of unconditional love I’d never experienced before. I finally got “it”!

Yes, love is the answer. There is no better feeling. No more powerful place to live in and act from. It is the highest vibration in the universe and once you experience giving AND receiving unconditional love, you understand how it is the answer. For me it was a process and a lot of personal work to arrive at this perspective, especially when there have been so many major life challenges on my path.

For many people negative feelings like frustration, depression, anxiety, judgment, pride, stubbornness, self-righteousness, resentment, etc. can fill conscious and unconscious thoughts. They keep you from moving forward and having what you want in your life and can cause any number of ailments, distress, conditions, addictions and problems. You may want to turn away and ignore these feelings, pretend they don’t exist or blame someone else for them.

These negative feelings are coping mechanisms. They had a purpose in the past, which is likely not appropriate any longer, however, over time you’ve been conditioned to think them and you may even get unconsciously attached to them. They have now become blocks to success, acceptance, love and joy.

Regardless of how you spin it, the feelings are yours. Even if someone “triggers” you, the response is yours, and yours alone. Your responses (how you feel and act) are a product of your past experiences, emotions, behaviors, perceptions, physicality, memories, beliefs, values, judgments and attitudes (yes, you are complex!).

The good news is since the feelings are yours, what you do with them is yours as well. It’s ALL about you!

To manage and ultimately eliminate the negative feelings and experience the love, acceptance, joy, hope and the other powerful and positive feelings we were born to experience, takes some work. There is no getting around it. I’m a big supporter of energy work and clearing. I’ve practiced several different techniques myself, and what I’ve found is that no matter how much energy work you have done, you are a human and need to also do the conscious human work.

I’m a BIG believer in small, doable, “feel-the-accomplishment” steps. I know with certainty that if the step is too big or overwhelming, you won’t take it.

This first step then is about observation, awareness and noticing.

LEARN to observe, identify and acknowledge your feelings.

If you think you don’t need to do this step or if you are already doing it, then ask yourself this question: Am I getting the results I want in all the areas of my life? If you are, then keep doing what you are doing and congratulate yourself! IF NOT, THEN GET REAL WITH YOURSELF AND DO THE WORK! Work is action, that’s why it’s called work.

Start by noticing and identifying WHAT feelings are being triggered. Often identifying them is the hardest part. They are usually layered and often buried, so sometimes you have to peel back the layers to get to the heart (think of an artichoke) and if you are willing to dig in and do the work, then go deeper and you’ll get to the heart! If you are angry, ask yourself what’s underneath the anger? Here is where you must be vulnerable and willing to look at it.

This first step is for you and you alone to ponder. You don’t have to do anything else just yet. Practice observing, noticing and being aware of your feelings. Stretch yourself and go into the uncomfortable feelings. It’s only scary the first time.

Also, remember to acknowledge your successes, no matter how small they may seem!

If you are ready for the next step, then write down what you are noticing, observing and feeling. Just make it simple. It can be one sentence or even a few words. Remember, you must take action.

JUST DO IT! If you get stuck, go back and reread this piece from the beginning.

In part 2, I’ll introduce a few additional simple steps to help you keep moving toward what you’d always intended for yourself.