Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Self Love: Evolution

Self Love: Evolution

In my more troubled youth, I was often told that to truly love anyone, I needed first to love myself. This advice, though well-intentioned, set up an unhelpful dynamic. Loving myself seemed as much like actual love as masturbation was to sexual intercourse – a solitary substitute for the real thing. Why would I want that?

In my mid 20s, while riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I had an insight: To love ourselves, we need first to experience being loved – not loved with strings attached, not intermittently loved, and not loved blindly, either, but loved for who we actually are, like Dr. Seuss loves: “You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?” Or Mr. Rogers: “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.” Without this loved-at-the-core experience, loving ourselves is difficult to manage.

About 10 years ago, I received a variation of the “love yourself” advice, but this time I was better equipped for it. I had just completed five days at a Buddhist retreat. While there, I had been liberally sprinkled with what the retreat leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, called “dharma rain,” and some of it had soaked in. As we were leaving, a newfound friend said to me, “David, next time you think you need something from someone, try giving it to yourself first.” My initial response was still to see “giving it to myself” as emotional masturbation, but I knew her to be a wise woman; what she was telling me, I realized, had to mean something else.

My receptivity to her advice was enhanced by finding a different kind of love in the temporary community Thich Nhat Hanh and his monks and nuns had helped us create. There, I’d felt warmth and affection from nearly everyone I had met, shared meals and meditations, spoken heart-to-heart with one of the monks on a hillside overlooking the dining hall. Feeling loved had become broader and more available than it had ever seemed before.

I understood, finally, that receiving unconditional love from one person was not the only way to water the seeds of self love. I felt, viscerally, that I was not alone; on the contrary, I was fully embedded in the universe. The sun, the clouds, the trees, many human beings, as well as most of the creatures of the earth, in some way expressed their love, and I was among their recipients.

As the weeks passed, I tried to heed my newfound friend’s advice. Although at first nothing much happened, after a while I noticed a tiny droplet of warmth each time I tried to give myself something I thought I needed from someone else. Then one day, in the midst of grieving the suicide of a close friend, the love from the “lover” part of me toward the part that was hurting changed from a trickle to a flood. I was overcome by a love unlike any I’d previously experienced, an instant transfusion of compassion and caring pouring from a deep, wise-seeming part of me into a part that had always felt bereft.

Later that year, my lover and beloved parts united. Driving home after a 14-hour day of internship work and counseling psychology classes, I reflected on a particularly moving session I’d had that afternoon with a young artist whose mother had just died. And it struck me that I, who was so long separated from self love, was becoming someone who could love unconditionally and help my clients learn to love themselves.

In the years since then, it has become increasingly easier to love myself. A key to self love has been consciously encouraging awareness and openness toward both the parts that can offer love and the parts that need loving. I can feel loneliness and then truly comfort the lonely boy who still lives inside me, as if I am developing, within me, an ever-present father figure who can help “Davey” feel understood, cared for, and accompanied. As I learn to love myself more fully, I also become further empowered to love, care for, and accompany others.

Although the first rush of self love can be dramatic in its intensity, the preparation is often gradual. At first, it may appear that nothing is happening. But just as water can hover at its boiling point for a long time while energy is still being applied, eventually a quantum change occurs. As the water is transformed into steam, the unloved places inside us can transform into something whole and beloved.

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Balancer: Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

 

In recent posts, I’ve talked mostly about ReBalancer, the force that kicks in when our default stabilizer, Balancer, gets thrown out of whack by the UnBalancer. ReBalancer handles out-of-the ordinary stresses, but ReBalancer alone can’t keep us on an even keel. For that, we need Balancer to be healthy and strong.

Balancer doesn’t ask us for much. Much like our immune systems, it chugs along on autopilot, making minor course corrections when needed. Only when it encounters something it can’t handle does it call on ReBalancer to provide assistance.

This Balancer/ReBalancer tag team works very well most of the time. But if Balancer is weakened through too much stress for too long, or was never very robust to begin with, we become much more vulnerable to UnBalancer. Then if Balancer gets overwhelmed by a sudden stressor (an accident, a death, a financial crisis, etc.), it may crash before ReBalancer can take over. Recovery from such crashes can take a long time, and if the crash is sufficiently severe, the damage can be permanent.

It’s always helpful to teach ReBalancer new tricks, such as Mini Self-Care, The Experiment, and other techniques described in earlier posts. But it’s equally important to deliberately strengthen Balancer itself. Just as we can help our immune systems to better handle assaults to our bodies, we can better equip Balancer for handling whatever UnBalancer throws our way.

To do that, we need to build Resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back. In a physical object, it is elasticity, the tendency of an object to return to its original shape after it’s been deformed. In an ecosystem, it is the environment’s capacity to rebuild itself. In a person, it’s the ability to recover from shocks to our systems. Without sufficient resilience, we are overcome by obstacles in our path. With it, nothing can keep us down.

Resilience in materials is intrinsic, but in people it’s a dynamic quality. Like a muscle, resilience can be damaged by too much stress or can atrophy if neglected. But it also gets stronger with exercise.

Human resilience has two aspects: physical and psychological. Both are partly determined by nature, partly by nurture. Just as some people are born with greater resistance to disease, some of us show signs of greater psychological resilience even at very early ages. But the larger share of resilience is the product of our own efforts to build and maintain it.

In the Balancer/ReBalancer/UnBalancer framework, resilience is the property of Balancer that allows it to spontaneously recover from the negative effects of UnBalancer. Rather than calling in the troops for reinforcement, a resilient Balancer takes a momentary hit, adjusts to the impact, and bounces back, carrying us along with it.

When I was young, I was fascinated by the properties of natural and man-made materials. I still remember experimenting with the bounciness – the resilience – of round objects. I studied tennis balls, rubber balls, badminton balls, golf balls, glass marbles, ball bearings, always looking for something that could bounce higher than the last thing I tried. I ended this quest when I found, in the toy section of our local pharmacy, the Super Ball.

Super Balls, invented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingly, are made from an amazingly elastic synthetic rubber called Zectron. When dropped, a Super Ball bounces nearly to the height from which it fell. When thrown down hard, it can easily bounce over a house.

In my therapy practice, I see many people whose resilience has been beaten down or in whom it was never sufficiently developed. They’re like worn-out tennis balls.

After we deal with the problems that brought them into therapy, much of our work together involves creating a more resilient approach to life, so they can transition from worn-out tennis ball to Super Ball.

These are the six main factors I’ve found that can build psychological resilience and keep Balancer on track:

  1. Creating a resilience-friendly environment
  2. Adopting a growth-oriented viewpoint
  3. Bolstering support from individuals and systems
  4. Increasing emotional adaptability
  5. Practicing balance-enhancing activities
  6. Monitoring for signs of imbalance

1. Create a Resilience-Friendly Environment.

Stress is one of the most insidious challenges to building resilience. It can be a constant strain on Balancer, gradually wearing down its efficacy and slowing its response time.

Basic ways to reduce stress often recommended by therapists include changing your emotional relationship to the stressor and practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation or coloring. But the most effective method is often to remove or change the stressor itself.

Begin resilience-building by evaluating your environment – your home, your car, your job, your relationships. Focus specifically on ways to reduce unnecessary stress. Jobs, schedules, or aspects of your home, neighborhood, relationships, or weekly routines that interfere with living a peaceful life are all candidates for stress-reducing changes.

Removable stressors can range from simple things, such as sharpening dull kitchen knives, creating a system so you don’t misplace your keys, or replacing a cell phone that keeps losing its charge, to more challenging ones like ending a toxic relationship or transitioning from the wrong job. Regardless of the source, though, the first question to ask yourself is, “Can this change?” and if the answer is “yes,” change it!

I encountered a striking example of the efficiency and effectiveness of removing the stressor several years ago. I was working with a bright, affable 12-year-old boy who, despite an obvious interest in learning, was always getting suspended from school. When I asked him about the events that led to his suspensions, I noticed that he always smiled when he talked about getting his teachers angry. I visited his home and discovered that he had an angry and imposing stepfather. Provoking his teachers was my young client’s way of dealing with his resentment toward his stepfather – he could provoke his teachers and they wouldn’t hit him, but his stepfather might.

A typical intervention in cases like this is family therapy, so with the family’s permission I returned a week later. My client lived in a house adjacent to his mother’s business, and there was a constant interchange between the two locations, affecting all members of the family in some way. During the session, I asked each family member to imagine what their lives would be like if they woke up the next day and all their problems were solved. The first thing each one said – even the five-year-old – was that they’d be living somewhere else. A month later, they moved, and very soon afterward, my 12-year-old client stopped acting out in school.

A related aspect of creating a safe, resilience-friendly environment involves “cat hairs.” When you find yourself overreacting to a comment, a tone of voice, or a situation, or you inexplicably feel sad, angry, jealous, or some other difficult emotion, you might have a problem with cat hairs.

Of course I don’t mean literal cat hairs.

The term “cat hair,” in this context, comes from an experiment with lab rats. Researchers wanted to see if rats are genetically programmed to fear cats. They placed several rat pups who had been exposed only to people and other rats – never to a cat – in a cage and monitored their playfulness for several days. The rats played together freely until the researchers took the smallest cat stimulus they could think of, a single cat hair, and dropped it into the center of the cage. Soon, the pups stopped playing and ran to the edges of the cage, trembling with fear.

After 24 hours, the researchers removed the cat hair. They continued monitoring the rat pups, but days later, the rats had not returned to their baseline playfulness. Where there had been a cat hair, the pups seemed to feel, there might still be a cat.

Fear and trauma can leave an indelible imprint on us, too. Our automatic fear-handling mechanism makes us prone to reacting to our “cat hairs” with fight/flight/freeze responses. Such triggered reactions can negatively affect our jobs, relationships, and many other aspects of our lives, cheating us out of a more full version of ourselves. Fortunately, we have more options than rats do for dealing with our “cat hairs.”

Reminders of traumatic experiences that trigger strong emotions can often be removed. Sometimes these are physical objects, but more often they are habitual actions. For example, if a certain phrase or tone spoken by a friend, relative, or romantic partner reminds you of a bad relationship or a difficult childhood, you can ask him or her to change it. Most people will comply with a request like this when it’s presented in context.

When cat hairs can’t be removed, we can learn to see them merely as hairs. If your emotional response seems stronger than the situation merits, ask yourself what triggered it. Did the triggering object, words, tone, or action really mean what you felt it did, or did it just stir something inside? Over time, triggers that we understand to be only triggers – not cats but merely cat hairs – they gradually become less threatening. Then we can use our fight/flight/freeze mechanism as designed, to protect ourselves from actual threats rather than reacting to cat hairs.

What to do:

  1. Notice what is causing increased stress or a triggered response. Simply paying attention to the feeling and looking at what caused it often provides some relief.
  2. Remove the stressor, when possible.
  3. Change your relationship to stressors that can’t be removed. For most of us, our attitudes toward stressors and the emotional responses they generate are more than half of the stress. Even triggered responses can be detoxified by changing our relationship to them.
  4. Accompany the stress or triggered response. Feelings that are pushed aside tend to stay stuck, frozen within us like an ant in amber. Feelings that are fully experienced soon become different feelings. Sadness can turn into acceptance. Anger can turn into understanding. Envy can become motivation.
  5. Develop self-soothing skills. When we are able to self-soothe, sometimes even the cat becomes just a kitten, purring on our laps. (More on self-soothing in Step 5.)

COMING NEXT: How to Adopt a Growth-Oriented Attitude
(and more!)

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“Maybe our attempt to ‘change the world’ didn’t die with the ’60s after all. Maybe it is alive, in its own form, in the generation that succeeded us. Maybe what we planted still grows and we shall all, one day, reap its harvest.”
– “Change”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Balance: How to Design an Experiment

IMPORTANT: If you’re just tuning in now, click here for Part I, Balance: The Experiment and then come back here. This is Part II of a two-parter on using Experiments to keep your life on track. 

How to Design an Experiment

Like any experimenter, when our ReBalancers design Experiments, they follow a sequence of steps. The implementation may be spontaneous or deliberate, but the steps are basically the same either way.

  1. Observe the current situation to see what needs to change. Examples: a) My motorcycle’s valves need adjustment or the engine will be damaged. b) Current ulcer treatment doesn’t really work. c) My life is a mess.
  2. Develop a hypothesis about how to implement change. Examples: a) If I use a system like my brother did, maybe I can learn from failed attempts. b) Ulcers may be caused by a pathogen that can survive in stomach acid. c) If I ask for help, I may get it.
  3. Test the hypothesis with an Experiment. Identify a small, experimental action that can test the hypothesis, where the success or failure of the action is not of major consequence, but The Experiment is still significant enough to bring all the relevant factors to bear. Examples: a) Bend a feeler gauge. b) Try infecting myself with H. pylori. c) Ask a guy at McDonalds if I can share his table.
  4. Evaluate the outcome. If things move in a desired direction, do more of what worked. If not, see what you can learn to further clarify the problem, then design a new Experiment that incorporates the new data. Examples: a) Try the valve-adjustment approach on the other valves. b) See if antibiotics that are effective on H. pylori-caused gastritis can also cure ulcers. c) Ask for help again.
  5. Repeat steps 1 – 4 on an increasingly significant scale until the new behavior is part of who you are, folded into your personal Balancer.

The best Experiments are typically ones we feel some anxiety about trying, or that we have been putting off, but which, when we do them, give us a sense of progress. They are large enough to matter, but not so daunting that they are too scary to attempt. And the very best are those that we feel good about just for doing them, regardless of the outcome.

Mistaken Beliefs and Experimental Attitudes

In the personal transformation realm, Experiments are most useful when they test Mistaken Beliefs we hold about who we are and how we are permitted to interact in the world. These beliefs are formed when we’re too young to know they may be inaccurate. They function like a hypnotic spell, often unconsciously limiting our actions as long as we remain under their influence.

Mistaken Beliefs are one of UnBalancer’s basic strategies for keeping us down. Unlike acute causes such as an accident or other misfortune, Mistaken Beliefs act continuously, artificially limiting our potential, keeping us smaller than we need to be. The young artist in the example above believed, mistakenly, that there was no point in asking for help. I believed, mistakenly, that if I couldn’t solve a motorcycle problem on the first try, it was beyond my abilities. Bill Murray’s character believed, mistakenly, that his arrogance and selfishness were appealing to women.

The Experiment is one of ReBalancer’s best tools for breaking such spells. And when repeated Experiments become part of Balancer’s everyday repertoire, the result is liberation. Life itself becomes an ongoing Experiment, and we live in the present. Instead of conforming to the limits of past patterns, we just do, see what happens, and adjust our view of reality accordingly, free from the manacles of Mistaken Beliefs. (More on Mistaken Beliefs in another post.)

The Experiment is one of the most potent tools in ReBalancer’s toolbox. Unlike techniques and strategies for handling specific difficulties UnBalancer might throw at us, The Experiment gives ReBalancer the power to craft new strategies on the fly whenever new challenges occur.

These new strategies, once created, cannot be uncreated. They are always there, ready whenever we need them. And consistently doing Experiments leads to an experimental attitude, enabling us to feel confident that we can handle whatever unknowns life (and UnBalancer) hands us with curiosity, resourcefulness, and equanimity.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“If there is one main factor that divides those of us who do not change from those who do, I think it is acceptance: of who we are, how we got to where we are, and that we – and only we – have the power to free ourselves.”
– “Acceptance”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj