Get closer or move away?

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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Sometimes it is hard to tell whether we should honor and stay with our difficult feelings or to distract ourselves and not focus so much on them.  Generally speaking, as a therapist, I am in support of honoring and staying with feelings, especially since most us of naturally employ avoidance tactics.  But what about when that is causing more suffering than necessary?

In the next section of the book, David Richo talks about affirmations.  Earlier in my life, my association to affirmations was that they were a way to bypass reality and ignore/avoid.  It is my understanding that David Richo suggests using affirmations in a meaningful way that supports creating a reality and state of being that is your choice, drawing from the best parts of you that already exist.  But before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit more about the question about staying with or moving away from feelings because this comes up a lot for clients and friends.

Feelings are agents of our emotional system that deliver messages to us.  They are meant to make a delivery and move on. Just like the FedEx guy comes and drops off your package (signature required, this is fancy mail!) and leaves.  He doesn’t stay and chat for the rest of the afternoon or move into your place, right?  Ok, same deal.  As soon as you sign for the package, that feeling is on its way out because it did its job.   If you don’t sign and acknowledge the feeling, the guy is going to have to come back.  The messages help us know what to do or not do, say or not say, get closer or move away.  Get good at opening the door and being there to sign when those packages come in.  It is important to honor real feelings.

Now, there are time when your tricky brain is not telling you the truth.  Your brain is actually doing something that it thinks is more important, which is protect you.  Sometimes your brain will send up the alert system, fear, in order to help you avoid experiencing pain that you have experienced before.  If there is something that has hurt you before, and it has, since we are humans living in a human world, your brain will do you the favor of trying to make sure that never happens again, without you even knowing.  Usually, the fear being activated is illogical and, what David Richo calls, “neurotic fear”.  How do you know if it is neurotic fear?  You can do a little test.  Ask yourself 1.  Is this true? (meaning: is the thought causing the fear true?)  2.  Is it helpful?  If you get “no” on either one, that is illogical fear that you don’t need to get into.  It needs to be acknowledged, but you don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on it.  Here’s an example:  Is it true that there could be a big earthquake?  Yes.  Is it helpful to walk around every day thinking about the fact that it could happen any second?  No.  You can prepare reasonably.  But obsessing about it is not going to help you.

So, what do you need to do?  You can reframe it.  For example: “I know that an earthquake is not happening right now and it is not probable” or “I know this fear is not real.  I am completely safe right now”.  And/or, you need to start thinking about or doing something else.  Literally, get into something else.  Call someone and ask about their day, listen closely and get absorbed in what they are saying.  Play a videogame.  I really don’t care what you do as long as you are super into it and it is safe.

Another situation when it is better to move away from your feelings (after acknowledging them, you can tell the FedEx guy he has the wrong address) is when you have a false belief going on that is giving you some really unpleasant feelings like fear, hopelessness, anxiety, shame.  Here’s how you know this is going on:  you have had this thought or some version of it going on for a long time.  It causes regular suffering.   You can ask your friends if your worry is a familiar theme.  They likely know.  There probably is some pain in there that comes from your past that you need to pay attention to and work out at a certain point.  However, if you have already worked on it, this thought/feeling cycle might just be a habit.  You need to stop poisoning yourself and get off that racetrack.  There’s a good chance that the thoughts and feelings around that false belief are not only unpleasant, but also reinforcing more of that theme to show up in your life.  Why do you want to reinforce negative things that are not even true?  You don’t.  So, that is another time when you need to acknowledge that thought/feeling pattern and back away, get into something else.  Catch yourself in the act and move away from it.

If you want to read more about neurotic fear and identifying it, check out Distinguishing Types of Fear.  To know more about the system for healthfully processing your feelings (i.e. opening the door, signing for and unpacking your delivery), readBuild Your Bridge.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".  

Every Way is Our Way

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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“Enlightenment is not a prize at the end of the race or search but finally being present in the world as it is.  As long as we are looking for something from the world, we never really see it as it is, as the pick pocket never sees the wizard, but only his pockets!  We reclaim the world and the moment as ours whenever we drop the desire to make things come out our way and simply let things happen, trusting that every way is our way.  We remind ourselves of what Govinda said, ‘The certainty that nothing can happen to us that does not in our innermost being belong to us is the foundation of fearlessness’” (p. 203).

This week, all I am going to write about is this small excerpt.  It says so much. 

First of all, it is important to realize that our work toward higher consciousness and higher level functioning is never done.  We are human!  There is no end of the road or “there” to get to.  We are in constant evolution. It would help us all to get super cozy with the concept of being in process.  I fully know and accept this and was kindly reminded of it today.  Yes, that’s also part of the human deal:  you get it, then you lose it, you get it, then you lose it.  The game is: how fast can you get your awareness back on track?  One merciful part of the process is that usually the more times you “get” something, the deeper you integrate it.

The issue of trying to get our way by controlling outcomes is what I want to talk about.  Let’s just put it out there right away:  when we are strategizing mentally, coercing, convincing, pressuring, nagging or getting angry to make things come out the way we want, that is called controlling.    Don’t worry, we need to be in action and control things to some extent.  Where we want to look is where we are over doing it.  When we are over doing it, it is likely that we are not accepting some part of reality and wasting our energy fighting against the flow or we are getting in our own way.  Most of the time, over controlling comes from fear.

Here are a couple of ways to address this:

  1. Realize the importance of equanimity.  My general understanding is “I do my work and allow others to do theirs”.   We need to let things around us do their work.  Cooking a steak in pan?  Leave it alone and let it char for a while.  Baking cookies?  You don’t want to keep opening the oven every two minutes.  You let the oven do the work.  Realize what is beyond your control or not yours to do.  It is that way for a reason!

  2.  You can ask yourself:  is there anything I am not willing to see and accept right now?  Usually what you are not seeing is quite simple, it fits into a 10 second truth.  It’s important to look for this because trying to over control comes from not wanting something to be true that actually is true.  There is a lot of pain and wasted energy in not being able to be with the world as it is and our circumstances as they are.  There is actually beauty and perfection, right now, all around you.  It’s a question of whether we are present to it or not. 
  3. Consider the possibility that everything is EXACTLY as it should be in this very moment.  Even if it is difficult or painful.  Human beings have an intrinsic drive toward growth (growth doesn’t always happen when things are easy) and we are imperfect, so pain is inevitable.  When we are trying to control, we are often trying to avoid pain.  Resetting back to the consideration that everything is exactly as it is means you don’t have to control any outcomes.
  4. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to whatever the feeling is in response to the reality that is in front of you that you are not liking.  Yes, it is OK to be sad or worried about your child being held back a grade in school.  And, it might be the very best thing for them.  Yes, it is OK to not want to have surgery AND it might be what your body needs to get better.  Just because it is for the best in the long run, doesn’t mean your feelings about it shouldn’t get their day in the sun. 
  5. Being connected to yourself and present to the world is really the safest way to operate.  Why?  Because all the resources and wisdom you need are inside you and everything in the world around you is exactly as it needs to be for your life’s mission.  We get ourselves into trouble when we are disconnected and avoidant of the truth around us, when we try to control the truth of what is around us.  If you can be connected, the feelings you have about a situation will do their job of giving you the message of what needs to come next.  The idea is to learn how to let those feelings be and learn what they mean.  How can you be connected?  Start tuning in to your interior world.  Write, talk, notice the sensations occurring in your body in response to what is happening.  How do you be present to the world?  Slow down, be mindful, meditate, try to see things with new eyes.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".  

Where Is Your Power?

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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We are all born with a tremendous amount of power as human beings.  A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about not allowing our power to be wasted by fear, instead to know the fear and convert it into energy that can be useful to us rather than trying to cut it off or avoid it.  This week, I want to talk about what David Richo says about being passive.  It is another way that our power is drained away from us. 

The first passive act David Richo discusses is making excuses and apologies for other people internally.  He says:  “We may perform mental surgery on experiences so that we can gain closure on them without having to feel the inner trepidation that may be associated with an assertion on our part” (p. 176).  Now, sometimes we have to reconcile things on our own because the other person is not available or they are dangerous in some way.  However, if the majority of the way you are dealing with things that disturb you is by doing mental gymnastics to make everything OK without ever communicating with people about it, your power is being compromised.  Why?  First of all, you are doing things in relationships on your own, which means that the “relating” is actually taken out to some degree.  Operating that way is too much work to ever sustain a satisfying relationship.  Second, you are not taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself means having a voice.  Third, the other person has no chance to learn about how they are impacting you and no chance to shift to relate in a way that works better for you both.

Another passive act that David Richo discusses is “smoothing over”.  We all know what this is, we have all done it.  Here’s the thing, by smoothing over a situation to prevent anger in order to keep the peace actually is “acting against the truth” (p. 180).  Yes, it is burying the truth of what is going on, which means power is being buried.  So, let’s say you notice your spouse is starting to get upset or you know there is something that will upset them, so you try to smooth things over or you hide whatever you believe will upset them.  Well, that means that anger (or preventing it) has become more powerful than the truth.  And, by smoothing things over, you are doing work that is not yours:  dealing with someone else’s anger, when it is their job to deal with their own anger responsibly.  Also, if you are the one smoothing things over, your experience/thoughts/feelings get neglected.  Again, this is really not sustainable in the long run without being resentful or disconnected. 

While there are a number of passive acts that David Richo discusses, the last one I want to talk about is “living reactively”.  It means that behavior or feelings are based on what other people do.  So, you see what someone else is doing or being, then you devise your strategy to respond.  David Richo says “strategizing is a nonassertive behavior since it attempts to prevent or control a reality rather than letting it unfold: this is acting against the truth” (p. 180).  Yes, it is acting against the truth of what authentically occurs to you; what you want/think/feel/need.  When we are living in response to others all the time, we lose touch with our true experience.  Sometimes I notice that people are really confused and out of practice with knowing their true experience because they have been in the practice of only knowing how what to do/feel/think based on others.  This is a really sneaky passive act.  The other two are much more obvious.  So, really, take a look.  Be willing to look inside at how you are really being. 

Notice that in each one of these acts, there is an element of leaving yourself behind or not taking care of yourself AND there is a theme of the truth not being present.  So, think about this:  being passive means that you are not getting to actually embody your full self and the truth is buried.  What more powerful entities do we have in this world beside ourselves (this is the single place where we actually have control) and the truth?  Really, none.  So, living passively is foreclosing on the opportunity to live powerfully.  It is like trying to be an elite athlete without using the most powerful muscles in your body…sure to be a frustrating journey.  So, it seems to me like it is worth it to live through the moments of discomfort to be assertive.  Don’t you think so?

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".  

Build Your Bridge

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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I’ve talked in lots of different posts about David Richo’s program for handling fear: admit it, feel it and act as if it weren’t there.  That’s what there is to do with fear.  And, by this time, you know that fear is simply part of being human.  Let’s go ahead and accept that, we can go so much further if we can go with the givens of human nature.  So, today, I want to tell you a little bit more about why David Richo’s program for handling fear works. 

The whole idea is to override the neurotic fear (of closeness, abandonment, rejection, success, failure, others’ perceptions) that inevitability shows up in our lives.  Let’s look at little closer about why it is important to admit the fear.  First of all, we know that the kind of fear David Richo is talking about is the kind of fear that is hard to detect.  Given that, the author suggests we need to be generous and admit that it is probably a little bit more present than we estimate.  Wasting our energy on minimizing or rationalizing is exactly that: a waste.  If you are committed to moving forward and growing in your life (why else would you read something like this?), you don’t want to be wasting energy staying stuck.  David Richo actually recommends admitting it out loud to someone when you are afraid.  You might be resistant to this if you tend to be more private and reserved, so let me share this with you:  “Each admission whittles away at the ego and deflates its pretense of being in control” (p. 148).  See Evolution of the Ego for why it is important for the ego to know it is not in control.  The ego is the one that has all the limiting, neurotic fears.  While we need the ego, we want to have it do its healthy, functioning work, not hold us back from love.

Ok, let’s check out the second step: feel it.  Look, I am a therapist.  I spend a lot of time outside my office working on this kind of stuff because I love it so much and believe it is so valuable.  AND, this is the hardest step for me.  All of the sudden, fear is present and I am trying to avoid the discomfort and find relief.  What actually needs to happen is to stop avoiding it.  But it is like the avoiding starts happening before I even know the fear is there sometimes.  So, sometimes I have to just notice that I am engaging in avoidant behaviors (I have some favorites, you probably do too!) and that is how I realize I am afraid.  From there, I can back up and employ the program. 

What’s in it for you to feel it?  Consider this:  “Feelings are always flowing in through us and we do not see them—as waves are flowing now but we are not watching them.  When something happens, we are dragged to the beach and notice the waves!” (p. 149).  That means the energy of feelings is something that is always occurring.  To be cut off from that is to be cut off from power that is naturally inside you, it would mean that you would not be aware of or able to utilize a large percentage of your power.  It’s like you have a million dollars in the bank and you can’t access it and are not doing anything with it except having it sit there earning .00001%.  The other reason why it benefits you to be able to feel it is that the better you get at this, the less you need your vices (avoidant behaviors/addictions) and the less you are dependent on your partner for your well-being.  The less you are pulling on them.  When I see couples, the more they are able to land on what they are contributing to the “problem” in the relationship and work on themselves rather than blaming their partner, the more successful they are (meaning the stronger their relationship, the more fulfilled they are, the more love they feel).  So feel it.  Let the sadness be there.  Don’t fix it.  Let the fear be there, go on with your day anyway.  If you have a spare moment, don’t distract yourself.  Just experience the discomfort.  I promise it will pass by.  It is as impermanent as a rainbow.  Clearly there, but just light and will disappear in a moment.  I like how David Richo says this:  “Fear is the porcupine you see on the trail as you hike; interesting to you but not stopping you and not to be eliminated since it belongs to the ecology of the psychic path” (p. 150).

Finally, the third step: act as if the fear weren’t there.  Consider that acting despite your fear sends a message to your body that you are safe and it generates fearlessness.  For example, when someone is having a panic attack, slow and deep breathing works to physiologically send a message to the body that they are safe because they would not be able to breathe like that if there were actual danger.  Every time you do that, David Richo says you build a bridge of fearlessness.  As was discussed earlier in the book, fear gets encoded physiologically.  David Richo says:  “Every time you act as if you were not afraid, you instruct your cells to let go of fear.  Every time you rationalize it away and do not act, the fear is instructed to leave everything as it is” (p. 149).  So why not build that bridge of fearlessness?  The thing is that we can.  The capacity is fully there.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".