Trying to outrun your symptoms WILL make them worse.

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You can’t manage symptoms you’re running away from. 

In order to manage symptoms, we have to accept that we’re experiencing them, be able to describe them, and investigate what triggers or exacerbates them. 

We have to look at them, in other words— even if we’re afraid. 

We have to look at our symptoms even if we’re disgusted. 

We have to look at our symptoms even if we’re worried about becoming overwhelmed— or feeling overwhelmed. 

That doesn’t mean we have to like our symptoms, though. 

It doesn’t mean we have to pretend we’re not afraid of them or frustrated by them. 

Make no mistake: I get why so many people run away from their symptoms as fast as they can. 

I get why people effortfully deny and disown their symptoms. 

It’s because symptoms suck. 

They’re painful. 

They  make us feel weak and inadequate. 

Usually the very LAST thing ANY of us want to do is hang out with our symptoms for any length of time— let alone get curious enough about them to keep track of when they’re occurring, how they’re occurring, and what triggers are sparking them or feeding them. 

It’s completely normal to WANT to run away from our symptoms. 

But, if we want to get better, we don’t have that option. 

Trying to outrun our symptoms may, in the short term, produce a decrease in anxiety. 

Many of our symptoms, especially when we’re talking about post traumatic symptoms, trigger what’s called the fight/flight/freeze response, in which our sympathetic nervous system takes over our decision making and does what it thinks it needs to do to survive. 

Thus doing whatever we can do to just get away from our immediate experience of our symptoms makes a lot of sense— to our revved up sympathetic nervous system, that is. 

The thing is, when we run away from our symptoms, we are GUARANTEEING that those symptoms will stick around. 

We can’t change anything about those symptoms in a positive way if we’re constantly trying to avoid thinking about, let alone experiencing, them. 

The only change that will happen as a result of avoiding our symptoms is, they WILL get worse. 

Why? Because the temporary decrease in anxiety we experience by running has negatively reinforced that behavior. 

(Negative reinforcement happens when a painful stimulus is removed— such as what happens when anxiety decreases. Whatever happened to cause that removal of pain becomes “reinforced,” meaning it’s more likely to happen again— and we say it’s been “negatively” reinforced because the reinforcement was accomplished by removing something.) 

We don’t need to run from our symptoms. 

We do need to figure out what skills and tools are necessary to tolerate our symptoms long enough so we can stay present and actually deal with them. 

Fear and disgust have a way of convincing us that we can’t handle situations that we actually CAN handle. 

You’re capable of handing a lot more than you think you are. 

We really do have to make a choice: retreat from our symptoms, or stand our ground and actually try to deal with them? 

Only one of those options has a long term benefit. 

 

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You are more than your feelings. You are more than your experiences.

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We have a tendency to become over identified with what we’re feeling. 

In the moment when we’re feeling sometime intense, it’s as if we BECOME that feeling. 

We forget that we are a person, EXPERIENCING a feeling— and that feelings pass. 

Feeling something doesn’t make you a “(fill in the blank) person.” 

Feeing anger doesn’t make you a fundamentally “angry person.” 

Feeling hate doesn’t make you a fundamentally “hateful person.” 

Feeling sad doesn’t make you a fundamentally “sad person.” 

We feel lots of things in the course of a day, let alone over the course of a lifetime. 

We even feel lots of things that are at complete odds with other things we’re feeling. 

I remember, when I was a kid, I was absolutely AGHAST that people were LAUGHING at my grandmother’s funeral. 

How can they LAUGH?, I wondered. This is a time for grief. We are grieving people right now. 

Fast forward to the funeral of my father— where I found myself simultaneously enormously sad…and also laughing at the memories and stories that people who knew my dad were taking the time to share with me. 

We feel LOTS of things. 

And none of those feelings fundamentally define us. 

We can develop the skill of stepping away from whatever we’re feeling at the moment, and remembering that we are a person— whole, complete, autonomous— outside of that feeling. 

Even if we experience a particular feeling regularly, more more often than other feelings, we are STILL more than we’re feeling at any given time. 

A big part of healing is remembering— or even discovering— who we are, independently of what we feel. 

Who we are independent of our pain. Independent of the losses we’ve experienced. Independent of the trauma we’ve endured. 

We don’t have to compartmentalize our inner experiences. 

We can feel multiple things simultaneously. 

We can even “be” multiple versions of ourselves, simultaneously. 

I just did a video where I was talking about psychology— and my cat interrupted it. So what was I in that moment, a psychologist or a cat dad? 

Both. 

After I came back to work following the death of my dad, who was I— a grieving son, or a therapist whose function it was to contain and validate and teach others how to handle their grief? 

Both. 

You don’t have to choose between being a victim of trauma, and a strong, autonomous, together human being. 

You are both. 

You don’t have to choose between being sad and being grateful. It is very common to be both. 

You are both someone who has mastered certain tools and skills— and someone who struggles with other tools and skills. 

You are not defined by either what you’ve mastered or what you have yet to master. 

You are not defined by your failures— or your successes. 

And you are not defined by what you feel at any given moment. 

Remember to nurture, honor, and see— really see— who you are. 

Don’t be fooled by all the things you’re feeing or all the things you’ve experienced into thinking you’re just the sum of those feelings and experiences. 

You. Are. More. 

 

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Don’t make it complicated, and don’t make it hard.

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If you want a change to stick, make it as simple as possible and make it as easy as possible. 

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? 

You’d be surprised at how often we overcomplicate these things— then make them as hard as possible to follow through on. 

I say “we,” because I do it too!

It doesn’t matter how smart we are, how committed we are, or how much we really WANT the change to stick. 

Human beings just have a track record of making things more complicated and more difficult than they need to be. 

The way we do this most often is, we try to pull off too much at once. 

We take a look at a change we want to make, and we decide that the ENTIRE change needs to happen at once. 

We don’t stop to think that most changes we want to make include steps or preparation. 

For example, many people begin the new year wanting to make changes in how they eat. 

No more crap, they’ll decide. I eat healthy things and healthy amounts, now. 

Do you realize how complicated a thing this seemingly “simple” statement is? 

There are multiple steps that “eating healthy foods and amounts” entails. 

One step is looking up recipes. 

Another step is getting rid of the unhealthy stuff in your kitchen and house. 

Another step is meal planning and scheduling. 

And all of that doesn’t even touch the REAL work involved in that project: identifying and developing the coping skills you’re going to need for when you WANT to eat unhealthy things in unhealthy amounts— as you’ve been programmed and conditioned to do over the years. 

We do this ALL THE TIME. 

Instead of tackling one step of a change, we blithely declare the we’re just going to, you know, make the change…and thus we take on a bunch of complexity that we didn’t even realize was there (overcomplicating it) without taking steps to make it less painful (making it harder than it needs to be). 

We humans really can change our behavior. 

But we need to do it in a way that makes sense. 

We need to do it in a way that doesn’t set us up to fail. 

And we need to do it in a way that is straightforward— and is as easy as is practical. 

Sometimes, people are reluctant to make a plan that IS straightforward and relatively easier, specifically because it seems TOO straightforward and easy. 

They think, if change was that easy, I would have made it by now, right? So this straightforward plan CAN’T be the way. 

I’m here to tell you: most change that happens in the real world happens as the result of plans that are simple, straightforward, and don’t require you to move heaven and earth. 

Most changes that do NOT happen, get stalled out because the plan’s too convoluted, tries to deal with too many steps at once, and includes the experience of a lot of pain up front. 

Is it any wonder why those plans don’t work? 

Don’t try to be a hero. 

Make your plan as realistic as possible. 

Only deal with one step at a time. 

Don’t ask yourself to leap tall buildings in a single bound. 

Change can, and does, happen….but it usually happens in nudges. 

 

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Baby steps aren’t always easy. But they work.

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By far, the hardest part of this whole “recovery” and “personal growth” thing for most people is taking baby steps. 

It’s enormously frustrating to have to take baby steps. 

We want to take bigger steps. 

We want to get this process over with. 

We’re impatient. 

Or at least I am. 

A lot of the time it’s hard to be motivated by baby steps. 

Why should we get fired up, excited, enthusiastic about taking one teeny, tiny step? 

After all, advancing by one little step doesn’t seem to be much improvement over where we are right now. 

Why bother? 

We take baby steps because baby steps are not overwhelming. 

Baby steps are doable. 

We can realistically see ourselves taking baby steps. We can wrap our brains around those teeny, tiny steps. 

We do things that we think we can do, and we avoid things we don’t think we can do. 

By thinking of our journeys not as these huge leaps, but rather as a collection of one baby step, then another, then another…we can start to really believe that we can, and will, make significant progress. 

But a lot of people struggle with the very idea of baby steps. 

They want to recover now. 

They take a baby step, and they think, hey, that wasn’t so hard! How about I try to take, I don’t know, fifty more of those steps, RIGHT NOW? 

And then they get overwhelmed. 

Holding ourselves back and taking our recovery or our growth slowly is not as easy as it seems. 

It requires patience. 

It requires faith in the process. 

It requires a great dal of maturity. 

You do not want your life to change all at once. 

If your life changes all at once, you’re likely to freak out and do everything you can to change it back— even if the way it was before was painful. 

For change to happen and “stick” in the real world, it needs to happen in stages. 

Change needs to be given time to breathe. 

We need time to get used to the change. 

It sounds counterintuitive, but many people stick with what is familiar rather than tolerate a sudden, drastic change…even if the familiar is painful. 

We solve that problem with any steps. 

Small changes, day by day. 

Little changes change everything, over time. 

But in the meantime, we have to calm down, take the long view, and learn to wait as we adjust and adapt to the changes we’re making. 

It’s not easy. 

It’s often not interesting or fun. 

But it’s how change happens in the real world. 

 

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“Part” of you is not “all” of you.

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You have different parts of you— and they experience and need different things. 

One of the biggest problems we run into in life, is thinking that we are, or should be, always of one mind. 

That just isn’t reality. 

We have parts of us that think, feel, experience, want, and need different things than other parts. 

Sometimes our parts are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to other parts. 

For years, I’ve worked with people who struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the psychiatric condition formerly (and popularly) known as “Multiple Personality Disorder.” 

One of the main things I’ve learned doing this work is that EVERYBODY has “parts.” 

What distinguishes people who have DID from people who don’t have DID is not that DID people have parts, and non-DID people don’t have parts. 

Rather, the real difference is that the parts of people who have DID have been cut off, isolated, alienated, from all the other parts. 

Their parts have trouble communicating with each other and with a person’s “core” self. 

Thus the have trouble cooperating. They have trouble compromising. They have trouble working together. Very often, they’re working against each other— because they don’t realize they’re all part of a whole (and why would they, since they rarely hear from or positively interact with the other “parts” in their system?). 

This may all sound convoluted to someone who doesn’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder…but I’m here to tell you that this is a process we all experience. 

EVERYBODY has to learn how to get the “parts” of themselves to constructively communicate and interact. 

EVERYBODY has to figure out how to talk to the different “parts” of themselves without issuing threats or becoming defensive. 

EVERYBODY has to figure out how to meet the needs of their various “parts,” without sacrificing their overall values and goals. 

HOW we talk to ourselves is crucial. 

How OFTEN we communicate with ourselves is crucial. 

How open, honest, and compassionate we are with ourselves is crucial. 

We need, first and foremost, to be on our own side. 

We simply will not make progress in life if we are constantly fighting a war with ourselves. 

There is a part of you that wants peace and calm— and there’s a part of you that kind of likes drama. 

There is a part of you that wants to be autonomous, and a part of you that wants to join with other people. 

There is a part of you that wants intimacy, and there’s a part of you that fears intimacy. 

The ONLY way you’re going to be able to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behavior in any kind of coherent way is if you start talking— and listening— to yourself…even the parts of you that you wish didn’t exist. 

The good news is, internal communication is a learnable skill. 

Listening to and honoring the various parts of yourself, without letting them take over and drive the entire bus, is a learnable skill. 

Dealing with ALL of the parts of yourself with compassion and patience is a learnable skill. 

We have to put the time in to learn and practice those skills…but they DO come with time. 

And it is so, so worth it to NOT live in an adversarial relationship with yourself. 

 

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No source of wisdom is infallible. Stay sharp.

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Remember: even sources of genuine wisdom are not infallible. 

I WISH there was such a thing as an infallible source of wisdom. 

But there isn’t. 

I believe there is wisdom in many spiritual traditions and religions. 

But spiritual traditions and religions have historically been very wrong at times— in fact, they’ve behaved unconscionably at times. 

I believe there is wisdom in our gut instincts. 

But our guts are often susceptible to fear, posttrauamtic reactions, and misinformation— just like our brains. They may have wisdom— but they are not always right. 

I believe there is wisdom in what many self-help and personal development teachers teach. 

But there are too many examples to list of self-help figures behaving selfishly or destructively, or teaching things that have been debunked by research. 

No teacher is always right. 

No therapist always knows what you need. 

No institution is immune from making mistakes. 

The reason I’m writing about this is because we ALL need this reminder from time to time. 

It doesn’t matter how smart we are, it doesn’t matter how experienced we are, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated we are: we NEED to be reminded that, no matter how much good stuff we get from any given source, that doesn’t make them always right. 

I’m certainly not always right. 

I make a good faith effort to only say things I think or have evidence to be true— but that just speaks to my intention. It doesn’t necessarily speak to the result. 

A very important question we need to ask of ANY source of wisdom we consume is: does that source— be it a person, an organization, a group, or an institution— acknowledge that they might not always be right? 

How do they react or respond when it’s pointed out that they MIGHT be mistaken? 

Do they acknowledge that, especially when it comes to personal growth, that a one-size-fits-all approach almost never applies equally to everyone? 

As a rule, the more narcissistic an individual or organization is, the less they might have to teach you about creating a life that is meaningful and interesting…specifically, creating a life in which you can handle it when things don’t go your way. 

Narcissistic individuals and organizations don’t handle it well when things don’t go their way. 

They tend to get angry. Because defeats and setbacks aren’t “supposed” to happen to them. 

Remembering that no person or organization has a perfect track record is important when it comes to choosing which personal development products and services you’re going to invest in. 

The truth is, we have to make choices when it comes to where and how to invest our resources. 

Not every product, service, or person is worth our investment. 

We need to be smart and conservative with our resources. We need to protect them, and invest them strategically. 

All I’m saying is: stay sharp. 

You’re worth critically evaluating what you consume and invest in. 

Your progress is important enough to tolerate the inconvenience of doing your homework. 

 

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Victim mindset and personal responsibility.

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There are always going to be people who love to blame other people for creating, in whole or in part, the circumstances with which they struggle. 

We’re told that the “victim mindset” is rampant in the world today. 

We’re told that people refuse to “take responsibility” for their problems. 

We’re told that there is an attitude of “entitlement” that pervades the culture today. 

Every time I hear things like this, I truly wonder who these people are talking about. Because those statements do not describe the vast majority of people I’ve encountered who are trying to heal or improve their lives. 

In fact, it’s my observation that many people— especially those who have been abused or neglected growing up— assume way too much responsibility for the things with which they struggle. 

There is a HUGE subset of people who think it’s THEIR fault that they were abused. 

There is a HUGE subset of people who think the primary reason they struggle is because they are “weak” or they’re “losers.” 

There is a HUGE subset of people who think that the solution to their problems is to just “suck it up.” 

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there are people out there who have difficult accepting their role in their struggles. And, if you’ve ever been in a relationship of any kind with such a person, you know how maddening that can be. 

Here’s the thing, though: “refusal to take responsibility” or “victim mindset” usually does not describe those people who are actively working to solve their problems and improve their lives. 

And, in an ironic twist: it’s usually those very people who refuse to take responsibility for their problems that most often accuse OTHERS of having a “victim mindset.” 

Don’t let anyone tell you you have a “victim mindset.” 

First of all, they don’t know what goes on in your mind. 

They don’t know how you struggle. They don’t know what you’re doing to improve your situation. 

They don’t know what your obstacles have been, or are. 

They might know part of your story— but not enough to justify trying to guilt or shame you into accepting that you’re not “sucking it up”e nough. 

One of the hardest things we need to do in order to make progress is to find ways to deal with the things other people say about us— whether or not they are justified, whether or not they are accurate, whether or not they are helpful. 

Often, when other people have strong opinions about whether we’re doing “enough” do solve our own problems, they’re projecting their own insecurities onto us. 

But we end up taking it personally anyway, because some people can’t help but offer their opinions. 

When you’re out there, trying to make progress, trying to improve your life, you’re going to hear a lot of opinions and judgments— about you, about mental illness, about victimhood, about personal responsibility. 

Don’t let it freak you out. 

Remember you are on your own journey. You are responsible for the steps you need to take. 

You do not need to please anybody else in how you’re managing your recovery. 

You need to stay focused on you. 

And it’s OKAY to stay focused on you. 

Remember to breathe. Refocus as you need to. 

And above all: remember to treat yourself and talk to yourself with compassion, fairness, and respect. 

One day at a time. 

 

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