You have many “parts”…and you need to take care of them.

photo-1509402102439-7900f517ec6f

You don’t need to “decide” how you feel in any given circumstance. 

Many people put pressure on themselves to “make up their minds” about how they feel. 

They’ve been convinced that they only get to feel one way or another about a person or a situation. 

That if they’re angry, that means they can’t also feel sad. 

Or if they’re sad, they can’t also feel grateful. 

Or if they’re grateful, they can’t also feel annoyed. 

So they try really hard to figure out how they “should” feel about something or in a given situation, and then they do everything they can to deny, disown, or limit their awareness of any other feelings they might have. 

The thing is: emotions don’t like to be denied or disowned. 

They exist for a reason: to be felt, and sometimes expressed. 

And if we’re consciously trying to deny them the opportunity to be felt or expressed, because we’ve decided we “shouldn’t” be feeling them…they WILL find a way to make themselves “heard.” 

People who have Dissociative Identity Disorder know firsthand how this works. They’ve unconsciously sequestered certain feelings and memories into different “parts” of themselves, which they then go out of their way to not acknowledge. 

(They don’t do this on purpose; it’s a process that happens instinctively, because certain feelings and memories are too overwhelming for their conscious minds to deal with.) 

The way people with DID get better is by learning what they’ve unconsciously sequestered away in their “parts,” and developing the coping tools and skills necessary to handle those feelings and memories (i.e., without having to hide them away in their “parts”). 

People with DID get better to the extent that they accept that denying and disowning their feelings and memories is no longer an option— that if they truly want to function without their “parts” screaming for attention from the inside, they need to acknowledge and communicate with the “parts” of themselves that may feel, remember, and “hold” a variety of intense, perhaps painful things.

This same process— of acknowledging and accepting everything we’re feeling and experiencing, regardless of whether it’s the “right” thing to feel at a given moment— is something we all need to get good at. 

Different parts of us are going to feel different things. 

It doesn’t mean we’re crazy. 

We can’t treat our mixed feelings as if they are crazy. 

We need to acknowledge and accept everything we’re experiencing and feeling with compassion and care— even if we don’t quite understand it, or even if we’re not thrilled with it.

Denying and disowning feelings and experiences is a surefire way to make sure they will not leave us alone. 

It’s important for everybody reading this to realize that there is no rule that says you HAVE to feel only ONE thing about a situation or a person. 

Human beings are complex. Situations are complex. You are complex. 

Your past is complex, and your future likely will be as well. 

We need to get used to the idea that we’re going to be of different minds about many things…and that we can accept and get curious about those different minds, without the pressure to “decide” what we feel. 

All the “parts” of you have something valuable and important to say. 

They all need your attention. 

They all need your care. 

They need your time, and they need your patience. 

To the extent that you can manage the anxiety that comes with not feeling one “correct” feeling about every situation or person, and instead listen to what ALL of your parts have to say, you’re not going to have to worry about the “parts” of you clawing their way into your awareness. 

Your “parts” will come to trust you and wait their turn…if you give them reason to trust you. 

Listen to them, respect them, and communicate with them. 

They want to help. 

But they’re really hard to manage if they feel neglected or ignored. 

 

Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter, and never miss a blog or social media post!

You don’t have to like it. You just have to DO it.

photo-1518398046578-8cca57782e17

You don’t have to LIKE doing the things you need to do in therapy or recovery. 

You don’t need to find them EASY. 

You don’t need to find them interesting, exciting, or fun. 

You just need to do them- and do them consistently. 

The fact is, therapy and recovery (recovery from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or anything else) will probably ask you to do some things that don’t come naturally to you. 

If you’re recovering from depression, therapy will ask you to put the brakes on your self-downing internal dialogue and reality test your distorted cognitions. 

People who are suffering from depression usually don’t WANT to do these things. 

Not only do they take effort— and depressed people very often don’t have physical or emotional energy to spare— but they also ask a depressed person to consider the idea that what they’re thinking and telling themselves isn’t accurate. 

No one likes to swim upstream against the current of their own thinking, even if it IS distorted and contributing to depression in the moment. 

But that’s the thing: if you’re depressed, you don’t have to LIKE talking back to your self-downing and distorted thoughts. 

You just have to DO it. 

If you’re recovering from trauma, therapy will ask you to take a step back from the overwhelming things you’re feeling, and use certain skills and tools to make sure you’re fully present instead of dissociating. 

People who have been traumatized often don’t WANT to be present— and who can blame them? MOST people would choose to float away via dissociation rather than stay present with painful memories and wounded parts of themselves. 

But, again, that’s the thing: if you’ve been traumatized, you don’t have to LIKE using tools and skills to stay grounded and manage the various parts of yourself who hold those painful memories. 

You just have to DO it. 

Understand: when I say that people who are depressed or traumatized don’t WANT to do the things that will ultimately help them feel better, I’m not at all saying they’re just being oppositional or “difficult.” 

I think people don’t WANT to do the things therapy and recovery ask of them because those things can be scary. 

They can seem like HUGE, exhausting, intimidating tasks. 

If the tasks of therapy and recovery were EASY, most people would be doing them already. They wouldn’t need a therapist or a support network or recovery system. 

That is to say: I don’t blame anyone for not WANTING to do the things recovery asks. 

But I can also assure you: unless you’re willing to risk doing things in therapy and recovery that don’t come natural, that seem intimidating, or that feel tiring…you’re going to have a hard time making progress. 

The good news is: once you START doing these things? They actually get easier. 

You get better at them. 

And, as the tools and skills start to work, you begin to feel better— which, in turn, makes it easier and easier to use those tools and skills. 

It can be a slow process, and a process that is awkward, tiring, and uncomfortable, especially at first. 

But the pain involved with doing therapy and recovery tasks, in the long run, is nothing compared to the pain of continuing to let trauma, depression, addiction, or anxiety beat you up. 

Take the risk of doing things you don’t want to do. Things that don’t come naturally. 

Risk it a little at a time.

Nudge forward. 

You don’t have to enjoy it. 

You just have to DO it. 

 

Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter, and never miss a blog or social media post!

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know…

Vgu1RUfKT3WN1ZYxSWaR_14672519443_13d8873062_k

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that it’s going to show up in a lot of symptoms that don’t seem to have anything to do with your trauma. 

You might feel depressed. You might feel anxious. You might think awful thoughts about yourself. You might have urges to hurt yourself. 

And you might not realize that any of that is related to what happened to you. You might be going through life, just assuming you feel these things because you feel these things. 

Or because you’re a loser. Or because you’re somehow fundamentally different from the other human beings. Or because you’re “weak.” 

You need to know that a lot of people who have survived abuse and trauma feel those things. 

You need to know that you are not alone. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that you will not feel those things forever. 

I know. It FEELS like you will. 

It FEELS like there’s no way out. 

It FEELS like there couldn’t possibly be any way to feel or function normally. 

But you need to know that, just as your brain was changed as the result of trauma…your brain can change in response to therapy, safety, and positive attachment as well. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that your past does not need to be your future. 

You need to know that it IS possible to attach to and conduct relationships with people that are not toxic. 

You need to know that you CAN develop skills and tools that will help you attach to and conduct relationships with people in constructive, healthy ways— relationships that have boundaries, that are reciprocal, that offer the opportunity for growth. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that your life is still valuable. 

Nothing that is done TO you can EVER decrease your worth as a human being. 

You are not “damaged goods,” no matter how you may feel. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that nobody’s opinion about your abuse or trauma matters. 

THEY were not the ones who were there. 

THEY were not the ones who endured what you endured 

THEY are not the ones living inside your skin, trying to deal with the aftermath. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that you truly CAN make progress in healing…IF you’re willing to take the “escape hatch” of suicide off of the table for awhile. 

I know. That’s a big ask. 

But it’s hard to make real progress in healing, when you’re trying to do therapy at metaphorical gunpoint. 

There are parts of you that are suffering, and who need your care and attention…and they don’t get that if the main focus of your treatment is whether you’re going to kill yourself or not. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that no one is expecting miracles from you. 

No one is expecting your recovery to be easy. 

No one is expecting you to be able to function as if you HAVEN’T been abused or traumatized. 

If you’ve been abused or traumatized, you need to know that recovery is real. 

It happens. Brains change. Behavior changes. Feelings change. 

It doesn’t happen overnight, and it does require sacrifices and personal honesty that are challenging for many human beings. 

But if you’re reading this: you can recover. 

It’s not too late. 

And you are worth it. 

 

Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter, and never miss a blog or social media post!

The truth about “tools” and “skills.”

photo-1519520104014-df63821cb6f9

Spoiler alert: most skills and tools WON’T solve every problem you have. 

For that matter, many skills and tools may not work perfectly when you try them— especially if you’re still developing them, or if you’re particularly overwhelmed at the moment by feelings or urges. 

Keep working on acquiring and practicing them anyway.

Skills and tools designed to help you manage your emotions and direct your behavior often work only partially, especially at first. It’s rarely a matter of, you engage a skill or a tool, and suddenly your emotions or behavior is perfectly or permanently managed. 

Engaging a skill or tool isn’t like flipping a light switch. It’s rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. 

This DOESN’T, however, mean that developing and using skills and tools is pointless. 

Some people insist that because a skill or a tool doesn’t immediately and permanently take away their bad feelings or their problematic behavior urges, then those skills or tools “don’t work” and shouldn’t be developed or used. 

It always mystifies and frustrates me when I hear this. Because it’s simply not true. 

Believe me when I tell you: you SHOULD develop tools and skills, even if they don’t work perfectly or permanently. 

An imperfect skill or tool is better than NO skills or tools…and it’s a lot better than just letting painful emotions or self-sabotaging behavior have their way with you. 

What usually happens in the real world is, if an emotion or impulse is overwhelming you, using a skill or a tool takes the intensity of that emotion or impulse down a certain percentage. 

When you’re first developing a skill or tool, that intensity may only go down from 100% to 98%. 

And, yes. The difference between 100% and 98% isn’t all THAT much. 

But when the emotion we’re talking about is sadness that is so crippling you can’t get out of bed to go to work, then that 2% difference might make the difference between losing your job or not. 

When that impulse is the impulse to harm yourself or end your own life, that 2% might make the difference between inflicting permanent injury or not waking up the next morning. 

The thing about tools and skills is, the tend to work better the more they’re developed (i.e., the more thought you put into them, the more you adapt them to your specific needs, etc.) and the more they’re practiced (i.e., the more you use them out in the real world…regardless of whether they work perfectly or not). 

A subset of people tend to be supremely unimpressed when they get into the nuts and bolts of emotional management. 

It’s as if they expected a combination of magic words and secret techniques to solve their problem of feeling bad or being drawn to problematic behavior. 

When they figure out that there really are no magic words, they get disillusioned. 

I have no problem admitting, I have no magic words that will guarantee perfect emotional or behavioral management. 

I have what every behavior change specialist in the history of the world has had: a combination of self-talk, practiced visualization, breathing exercises, and distraction and grounding techniques that heavily engage the senses. 

None of it is new. 

None of it is particularly esoteric. 

And none of it will work perfectly, every time, to 100% change how you feel or what you’re inclined to do. 

But will the tools and skills that I (and every other therapist, mentor, guru, or guide whose teachings have value) teach help you chip away at your painful emotions and self sabotaging behavior? 

Absolutely. 

Don’t insist or shoot for that 100% effectiveness rate when you’re developing tools and skills. 

Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good enough. 

Don’t expect magic. 

Have realistic expectations, have patience, and be prepared to work hard. 

Because this stuff DOES work. 

I promise you. 

 

Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter and never miss a blog or social media post!

I didn’t realize you could be addicted to…

 

photo-1570042707390-2e011141ab78

A lot of us assume we are immune to addiction because we do not use illegal drugs. 

“Addicts” are “those people”…not “normal” people like you and me. Right? 

We see shows about interventions on TV, and we look at each other and say, “Whew…I’m so glad I’m not one of those screwed up people.” 

If only it was that simple. 

“Addiction” is far more widespread phenomenon than most people appreciate. 

Just like most people assume they can never be “brainwashed” or manipulated, most people assume they are not vulnerable to addiction. 

That is an unwise assumption. 

At its most fundamental level, “addiction” refers not to substance use or abuse…but to self-defeating behaviors that we engage in over and over again, because those behaviors offer us either a “high” or some type of soothing that we desperately want. 

Does substance use fit this description? Yup. People use substances because they like the way those substances make them feel, and their desire for those feelings lead them to indulge in self-defeating behaviors over and over again. 

But what else fits that description? 

Self harm behavior very often fits that description. 

Most people who self-harm— who cut themselves, burn themselves, or otherwise physically hurt themselves— do so because self-harm either offers them a feeling they like (such as a high or an endorphin rush), or helps decrease feelings they dislike (most often anxiety). So they do it again and again and again, because they want those feelings. 

Trying to quit self-harm is very much like trying to quit a drug. Ask anybody who has ever tried. 

What else fits the definition of an addiction? 

For many people, looking at pornography often fits that definition. 

Pornography exerts a powerful tug on many peoples’ brains. It facilities a rush of feel-good hormones and neruotransmitters that people will effortfully, tirelessly chase…often to the detriment of their productivity, their relationships, their real world sexual functioning, and even their safety. 

Addiction really isn’t just about alcohol or drugs. 

It’s about the irrational, compulsive behavior that results when our brains decide that certain feelings MUST be chased, regardless of the consequences. 

We are all vulnerable to addiction, because we are all wired to want to feel good and avoid feeling bad. 

To think that we’re NOT vulnerable to addiction actually makes us MORE vulnerable to addiction…because, as any addict will tell you, the best way to overcome an addictive behavior is to simply not start in the first place. 

The good news is, we know an awful lot about addiction from a behavioral science standpoint these days. 

We know things about how the brain works when it’s chasing pleasure. 

We know things about how human behavior works when it becomes compulsive and self-defeating. 

And one of the things we know is that it usually takes a great deal of support and honesty in order to overcome addiction. 

It rarely works when we try to “kick” a habit on our own. 

Take a good look at your life…and be honest with yourself. 

What are the behaviors that tend to sabotage you? 

What are the feelings you’re chasing with certain behaviors? 

What are the consequences of NOT realizing how dependent you are on certain behaviors? 

We really can inoculate ourselves against the danger of addiction…but we have to be very, very real with ourselves first. 

 

Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter, and never miss a blog or social media post!

We are all mysteries, seeking a sleuth.

photo-1565018968331-61145555526b

We— and most of the people around us— have entire worlds, entire universes, hidden inside of ourselves that very few other people know about. 

I think about this every time I hear somebody confidently say that a person they know “would never do (fill in the blank).” 

Many of the people I work with every day begin sessions with a variation on the theme, “if other people ONLY KNEW (fill in the blank) about me…” 

It’s not that we’re necessarily hiding things from the world because we’re ashamed…although that’s sometimes the case. 

It’s more often just the fact that there’s no possible way the people around us could POSSIBLY comprehend the overwhelming array of fears, desires, ideas, feelings, urges, needs, fears, and other experiences that make us, us. 

In fact, we OURSELVES have difficulty appreciating, let alone managing, all that goes on inside our heads and hearts. So, we do what we can to limit our awareness of the complexity and chaos within us— for no other reason than to avoid being overwhelmed. 

All of which means that, when we’re dealing with OTHER people out there in the world…they often get the very edited, very abridged version of us. 

We give other people the version of “us” that we think they can handle. 

We give other people the version of “us” that we think they can accept. 

We give other people the version of “us” we think is safest to give them. 

And make no mistake, it’s normal and understandable that we do this…but in the long term it also leads many people to feel lonely and unseen. 

It’s hard to feel connected to the world when you feel essentially unseen and unknown. 

It’s hard to feel truly liked and appreciated, let alone loved, when you feel essentially unseen and unknown. 

Why is any of this important to understand and talk about? Because it very directly impacts our ability and inclination to accept, respect, and love ourselves. 

It’s hard to love yourself when you’re constantly thinking that the world only knows— and thus only accepts— an incomplete, heavy edited version of you. 

It’s hard to love yourself when you truly believe that there are people in your life who would dislike and reject you IF THEY ONLY KNEW thus-and-such about you. 

It’s hard to love yourself when you’re aware that there are parts of you that you’re actively ignoring, neglecting, denying or disowning. 

A skill every one of us needs to develop is the ongoing skill of not making it harder to love ourselves. 

The world makes it hard enough already. 

We need to understand something important about both ourselves and the other people in our lives: not one of us is perfect. 

Not one of us likes every single part of ourselves, our behaviors, or or pasts. 

Not one of us DOESN’T have things they’d prefer to do over in their lives, or aspects of themselves they wish looked, felt, or functioned differently. 

There are ways every single one of us is a mess— or thinks we’re a mess, anyway. 

So we both limit our own awareness of ourselves, and we definitely limit the ways in which we expose ourselves to and interact with the world. 

But here’s the thing: as broken, as wounded, as much of a mess as you think you are? 

I guarantee you that the most confident, together person you’ve ever met feels something similar (provided, of course, they have a baseline level of self awareness). 

We are all hiding ourselves from the world— and, to a certain extent, from our own awareness. 

It’s a testament to how much we desperately need love. 

And not just love. Acceptance, respect, kindness. 

Yes, from the world— but also, more immediately, from ourselves. 

 

Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter, and never miss a blog or social media post!

No, you don’t need to be an addict to relapse.

photo-1551086188-51852b2e719d

You don’t have to be an addict to relapse. 

We all relapse sometimes. 

When I say “relapse,” I don’t just mean using a substance or engaging in a behavior identified as potentially addictive or compulsive. 

I use “relapse” to mean any time our coping mechanisms were temporarily overwhelmed, and we engaged in a self-defeating behavior we had previously decided not to. 

Does using drugs or alcohol when you’re in recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism qualify? Yes. 

But so does being cruel to yourself in your self-talk when you’re trying to recover from depression. 

So does engaging in prolonged avoidance behavior (as opposed to temporary “time outs” in order to catch your breath or regroup) when you’re trying to recover from anxiety. 

So does binging, restricting, or purging when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. 

So does procrastination. 

So does crashing your diet or eating plan in an unplanned, non-purposeful way. 

Every time we take a self-sabotaging, self-defeating step backwards, it’s a form of relapse— and we need to understand exactly what that means. 

It means our coping skills were sufficiently overwhelmed that we got dragged away from our long-term recovery goals. 

Relapse is not our fault— but it IS our problem. 

Relapse has a way of putting unhelpful thoughts in our heads. 

Thoughts to the tune of, “I obviously can’t do this.” 

Thoughts like, “Great, now I have to start all over again.” 

Thoughts like, “Well, I already relapsed; I might as well go whole hog, as long as I’m not in recovery tonight.” 

The thing about those thoughts is: they do not come from a voice that is helpful to or concerned about you. 

That’s the voice of your addiction talking. 

Or your depression, or your anxiety, or your eating disorder. 

It does not care about you. 

It just wants you to do what it tells you to do. 

And it will lie to you to get you to do it. 

If you’ve had a relapse— if you’ve taken some self-defeating, self-sabotaging steps backward, and temporary compromised your recovery goals— the voice of your addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorder, or other life challenge is going to pipe up pretty loudly…because it knows you’re at a crossroads. 

When we’ve relapsed, we are faced with the very valid question of what comes next. 

That choice is real, and important. 

Think about it this way: in a year, you’re going to be telling one of two stories about your relapse tonight. 

You could be telling the story about how you were doing okay…but then you had a stumble. And that stumble was what led you down the rabbit hole, causing you to sink deeper and deeper into your life challenge. 

That could be the story you tell about this in a year. 

Or, in a year, you could be telling a different story about this relapse. 

You could be telling a story about how you relapsed…but then you realized that didn’t have to be the trigger to an avalanche of prolonged self-defeating behavior. 

It could just be a blip on the radar. 

It could be what woke you up and turned you around. 

This relapse could be what defeats you…or what saves and strengthens you. 

You get to decide which story you’re going to tell in a year. 

Only you. 

 

Subscribe  to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter, and never miss a blog or social media post!