Love found, love lost, love reclaimed and the role for self-compassion.

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Movies only tell us half of the story when couple fall in love, then lose love and finally somehow reclaim love. In the movies there is usually some obvious logical explanation for each step. In real life it’s not so simple and usually the couples themselves don’t fully understand how their “dream lover” turns out to be “worst nightmare.” Couples typically convince themselves that the cause of the problem is sex, money, work, poor communication, extended family, etc; and to be sure in some situations this maybe the case. Certainly, this is the sort of explanation that is usually given in the movies; unfortunately this is not the whole truth.

We may glimpse at the truth if we start from our childhood or babyhood, when we learn from our caretakers a sense of safety and emotional availability in time of distress. It is this crucial interaction with our caregivers that organizes the experience of our inner state and this will stay with us for the rest of our lives. With positive experience from our caregivers, the inner state gives us sense of ourselves, teaches us how much we can count on others to keep us safe, we learn to accept ourselves as we are, without pretending to be someone we are not, just so we may receive their love and security. When there is an intense feeling we respond appropriately, we know when to get anxious, when to get angry and how to deal with our emotions. We know how to receive care and later how to give care.

However, our inner state goes wrong when there are repeated separations from our caregiver, prolonged stress, or traumatic experiences in our early beginnings. The young child then uses whatever defenses are available, including denial, dissociation, projection of emotions to others, and many other defenses designed to protect him or her from being overwhelmed by dangerous emotions. The emotions are particularly frightening and painful if there is no one present to understand or to give comfort. These defense circuits get stored in our subcortical region of the brain that is hidden from our consciousness and it gets triggered automatically in certain situations. The defense mechanism may show up as anxiety or acting out with a pathological anger. They usually cover hidden core emotions that are too primitive for words. Sometimes by triggering emotional arousal from the past person or situation and mixing it with the current person or current situation it becomes extremely confusing to understand how powerful emotions can be generated by trivial events. It does not mean we are crazy or we are abnormal, it just mean we were unlucky and our circumstances lay down circuits that do not serve us; but we can change them.

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Couples generally seek therapy when they are caught in repetitive, bewildering, painful patterns of highly emotional interaction. They both have a narrative explanation of the problems between them each viewing the problem as lying within the other. Yet, as they describe their dissatisfaction and discomfort in the relationship, their account often reflects self- blame and inadequacy. When pressed to clarify, a partner may express numbness, bodily pain, or vague feeling of something wrong or may simply walk away from the interaction.

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This cycle can be broken and YES there is hope of turning from intimate enemies to intimate lovers.  There are studies indicating that with help, relationship can change from an insecure to secure attachment.  So even if we missed out in our childhood there is hope in our adulthood with proper help. Start with simple self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Remember, most of this is not under our control. It takes a millisecond for the subcortical process to merge past and the present emotional reactions, giving rise to intense feeling that influences reasoning and decision-making ability.

The goal is to contain the feelings rather than try to get rid of them or defend in ways that elicit destructive reactions. With the therapist’s help, partners can learn (1) to ask themselves if their perceptions are accurate for the present situation; (2) to take time out when emotions are overwhelming; (3) to question whether their behavior is getting them what they want; (4) to honor/ understand the meaning of what is happening in terms of terms of what happened in the past; and (5) to try out new ways of responding.

Resources:

The Healing Power of Emotion, Edited by Diana Fosha, Daniel J. Siegel and Marion F. Solomon

Listening and Guiding our Self Protecting Emotions

We looked at how the anger, anxiety and disgust act as self-protecting devices that evolution has designed to protect us. They have served many species for millions of years. But these emotions come with limited instructions and tell us very little about what to do in certain situations in our modern times.

Recently I went to return a flashlight to a home hardware store. It wasn’t working and I didn’t have a receipt. I was given one excuse after another why it couldn’t be returned; even the manager was unhelpful. They was ‘sticking to policy so rigidly that it just made my angry.

I could feel my jaws tighten, eyes narrow, the tone of voice changed to more assertive and the urge to speak/ scream/ lash out / hit something or someone can increase if we don’t listen and guide our emotions.  Luckily I walked away long before that happened. As our anger gains momentum it exerts increasing control over our mind. This control is even easier if we are tired. Our anger is designed to threaten others who are threatening or blocking us. We can shift to hyper – protective mode and slightest thing can throw us into fury, tears or anxiety; and sometimes resulting in consequences we did not intend.

This hyper protective mode served us well in the past to overcome the life threatening dangers, but in modern time it is quite often not clear what the measured response should be, over reacting can be embarrassing and no reaction at all can send a massage to others that we are push over and with time we will be just ignored.  So what are we to do?  First we have to learn not to act them out without standing back and deciding what to do.

Similarly when we are anxious we can’t always run away in today’s world. If we did that we may never learn the skills to cope with anxiety.

Other times when we need to listen and guide our emotions are when our leaders summons these emotions within us. We have to be cautious that we are not led blindly by our emotions when an inspiring leader summons them within us. Hitler was able to generate passion and pride in his audiences, and his audiences allowed these emotions to work in and through them with horrible consequences.

The threat/self- protection system was designed to protect us. These primitive little devices have served us well in the past, but in modern world they need our guidance and our modern mind to contain them.

Resources:

The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert

Accept Our Vulnerability So We Can Be Healed

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
 Brene Brown

“Take any emotion—love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions—if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. “But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment’.”
― Mitch AlbomTuesdays with Morrie

“Well, any love makes us vulnerable. Whatever we love will give the gift of pain somewhere along the road. But who would live sealed in spiritual cellophane just to keep from ever being hurt? There are a few people like that. I’m sorry for them. I think they are as good as dead.”
 Gladys Bagg TaberHarvest at Stillmeadow

Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. the new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.”
― Stephen RussellBarefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior

“Because he could not afford to fail, he could not afford to trust.”
― Joseph EllisHis Excellency: George Washington

“Real dishes break. That’s how you know they’re real.”
― Marty Rubin

“Sometimes we must yield control to others and accept our vulnerability so we can be healed.”
― Kathy MagliatoHealing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon
“The loner who looks fabulous is one of the most vulnerable loners of all.”
― Anneli RufusParty of One: The Loners’ Manifesto
There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.
M. Scott Peck
Resources:

Importance of feeling all emotions

In medical school we quite often had discussions about how we should appear to our patients, specifically  we wondered between ourselves if its was ok to show our emotions to the patients. Our mentors and teachers were not too keen on this idea of showing emotions for the good of our patients and ourselves. It would compromise the sacred patient – doctor relationship. Their fear was based on the presumption that emotional entanglement of the two parties would lead to interference of the healing dynamic that takes place in this special relationship; it may interfere , for example , with us making good decisions in timely fashion; it may affect our judgement etc. This is why it was not advisable to treat family members. We were to maintain dignity, look professionally competent, appear non judgemental  and impartial. There was no room for emotions. Certainly there is some wisdom in this approach and I as a young medical student adopted this whole heartedly without a question.

It was years later , I  realized ” showing no emotions” certainly has some major flows which causes harm to the doctor treating the patient and maybe to the patient as well. In the medical school when I was deciding on which branch of medicine to pursue I noticed some of my highly regarded teachers, who were amazing clinicians and technically  highly competent , were at there best when they were working on the wards making crucial decisions, but as soon as they left the wards they were emotionally devoid, and their conversation were not very engaging. They seemed like amateurs at the game of enjoying life and living. I wondered to myself if I wanted to end up like them  but made no definite judgements at the time. It was not until my father died at a young age of 59 that I noticed something very odd about myself. I had been graduated 2 years by then and had already learned to look at my patients objectively, what disease they had, what was their prognosis, what was their likely hood of  dying etc; in fact I would quite often remember their disease then their name. The odd observation I made about myself when my father died was that every one in my family was crying except me. I wanted to cry and intellectually I knew I should be crying but no tears came. This made me feel guilty because my father was very proud of me and I couldn’t  understand why I could not show my sadness by crying. I realize now that my sadness was at intellectual level and not from my heart. I seemed to have disconnected from my heart.

After my fathers funeral I went back to doing medicine, noticing I became more alive when I was on call for medicine, being first on the scene in the emergency to sort out what disease process was making the patient sick, and how to change it so that healing could begin. I was becoming like my teachers. Off the wards I just wanted to be by myself , rest or sleep, devoid of any emotions. This was difficult for anyone to understand, especially for those close to me wanting intimacy. It was not until I became seriously sick myself that my emotions stirred and showed interest.  I was crying for reasons I could not understand intellectually. I was sad and my friend who is also a doctor thought I was going to die if things didn’t change. I requested to see a counsellor  who got me talking about my dad, this made me cry even more. He told me that I had not grieved my father’s death and my own illness had triggered the sad feeling associated with my father’s death, which I had suppressed long ago. He told me it was good that I was crying , it meant  I was becoming in touch with my strong emotions and my heart was opening. I realized then, why my mind could not understand the crying, it was because these were matters of the heart and I had forgotten how to listen to my own heart. I had practiced since medical school not to listen, not only to my own heart, but to the hearts of my patients and my loved ones. It doesn’t have to be that way. Experiencing and expressing emotions is healthy if done appropriately and maybe even when it is expressed inappropriately. The price of not listening to your heart is too high and suppressing emotions is a time bomb waiting to be triggered.

There are many other incidents in my life when I felt strong emotions of tremendous joy, anger , sadness, grief of loss, anxiety, shame, excitement, relief and I am sure many other which I can’t recall right now. I am now learning how to listen to my heart, recognize the emotion, stay with it until it matures to its full glory and then letting it go by expressing it appropriately. Yes I get angry, sad , anxious, become grief-stricken with loss, feel shame , get excited, experience relief and some time tremendous joy. I am no longer ashamed to express my emotions appropriately, I no longer feel the need to look dignified at all times, I am not afraid of failure as long as I have made every effort with all my being, I accept that it is only human to have these strong emotions. I celebrate being human and experiencing the joy of being happy.

Resources:

The Rules of Life

By Richard Templar

Emotional Health and Well Being.

In my last post on physical health I said it was hard to seperate it from the emotional health because they both effect each her. When we are physically unwell or in discomfort it is more likely our emotions are going to be impacted negatively. People with chronic medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic back pain, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease have much high incident of depression then those that are physically healthy. Moreover,the people who are depressed tend to have worse outcome when recovering from any disease; for instance depressed people who suffered an heart attack will have worse prognosis  as compared to those that are not depressed. Although the physical and the emotional sides are intricately linked , today I will be looking at cultivating healthy emotions that are likely to make people feel happy and content.

Four Dimensions of Ourselves

Most people have experienced recurring thoughts after having an argument with someone or ended a relationship under not so pleasant circumstances. We keep brooding over the situation and  playing out different scenarios , if only I didn’t say that, if only I made more effort, if only I hugged more , or if only I was more help in the kitchen or in the garden, or if only I appreciated more what was done for me or if only I was more interesting, cleaver or witty etc; these never ending streams of possible ‘if only I’ continue for ever into the late hours of the night, you can’t sleep , then from nights it spills over into day , then weeks and months. If after  this process of deep reflection one reaches a  conclusion that there are no solutions to the problem and moves on, then there is good chance that the  low-mood  will improve. However, if the the processes continues even after one has come to the conclusion that there are no solutions then it becomes like an addiction, one just can’t stop going over the same theme over and over until all the useful , happy thoughts get crowed out of the mind , and this leads to much unhappiness, then to fear, anxiety and despair. This process actually has a name, it called “Depressive Rumination“.

Rumination is bad for you; Meditation helps

The question is how does on get themselves out of this vicious cycle? Well there are ways and they work too! The methods I have listed are based on the various schools of psychological tradition;  the positive psychology , cognitive behaviour psychology , mindfulness – based cognitive behaviour psychotherapy and eastern psychology. I will not go into details about them here but if someone asks by leaving a  comment on the blog that they would like more details, then I will write in the future post. For now, I will just list the methods for getting out of  the  depressive rumination, and move towards the road to happiness. These methods require practice and some effort to get the most benefit.

1.Write a gratitude letter to someone  who have been kind to you and then read the letter to them. This causes immediate feeling of happiness.

2. Write down three good things that are going well and the reason why for one week . This provides even longer lasting feeling of happiness.

3.Care for others. There are many studies showing that the happiest people are those who devote their lives to caring for others. Recently one volunteer at the hospital told me that she forgets about her problems when she volunteers and she feels so happy to have left her problems behind for few hours. Our society has become too self focused; such that we don’t even know our neighbours.

4.Focus on breathing. Feel the breath go in and out of your body, this will help to take your focus of unpleasant thoughts. It will relax and calm you.

5.Developing attention and concentration by focusing on the breath or by visualization; this in fact is meditation. These skill of attention and concentration is important because in those that have wondering attention tend to be sad . Instead of letting our mind wonder into the past memories and future fantasies, good attention and concentration bring the mind back to the reality of the present. This in fact is being mindful. Mindfulness helps deal with emotional problems, it can also make you more efficient,and skillful in anything you undertake, improves your relationships and allows you experience life more fully.

6. Avoid sounds that upset you and surround yourself with the sounds that make you feel good. One of my friend used to get  annoyed with me every time I visited her with my cell phone still on; I changed my ways and both of us felt the peace of not being interrupted  by the sound of my awful cell phone. Until she pointed it out to me I was used to carrying the cell phone with me all the time. I only realized how peaceful it was without it after I turned it off for the whole weekend. I was a blissful time. I have become more sensitive to the noise pollution since then, I try to avoid loud noises of the city , I turn off the tv more often , I am working on avoiding the computer but to date that has been challenging. I am sensitive not to listen to the music that makes me feel sad. This was reinforced when I went to see an opera, the music was beautiful but was very sad and I was already feeling sad before I went to the opera. When I came out I was almost suicidal …only kidding…but quite sad. I now try to surround myself with more nurturing nature sounds, bird sounds, sound of water fountain  or the sound of the wind by the river.

7.Avoid watching bad news on TV or at least limit it, I don’t like senseless violent movies or horror movies either, they just don’t make me feel good.

8. Avoid information overload. Sometimes you end up picking so much irrelevant information your brain doesn’t no what to do with it, and has to sort out what is useful and what to ignore. It is tiring and you always feel as though you are rushing to keep up. So I try to ignore useless information overload.

9. Social isolation can be a major contributor to depression because by default we tend to slip into depressive thoughts and get addicted to ruminating. Good company and social interaction support emotional well being by stopping the depressive  rumination . In the city even though there are lot of people there isn’t much social interaction because people are too focussed on themselves.

10. Cultivate spirituality by practicing your faith, by connecting with nature, by relating to your companion pets, by appreciating art and beauty, by putting others first but not to the point of your own detriment, by practicing empathy and compassion, by practicing forgiveness, by smiling and laughing, by cultivating silence, by choosing the right company and by feeling and expressing gratitude.

11. If, after trying all or most of the above suggestions, you are still feeling sad or not at peace then working with an psychologist maybe worth while. They may be able to  change your pattern of thinking so that it doesn’t give rise to negative feeling and behaviour.

Until the next time, be happy and healthy.

Resources:-

Spontaneous Happiness  ; by Andrew Weil

Mindsight -the new science of personal transformation ;  by Daniel J. Siegel

PS:  I will be posting articles either once or twice a week depending on the time availability.

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