Alexandra Massey author and specialist in beating depression and anxiety. Anyone can beat depression given the right tools and information. I write books, blogs and programs on how to do it. I am full of gratitude to all the people who helped me beat depression.
Most of us would go to great lengths to avoid pain or any activities/experiences associated with pain.
It makes total sense. If pain is associated with harm and potential death, our instinct is to avoid it. Surely this is vital to the survival of our species?
So, why do many of us engage in behavior like self harm, that causes physical pain, in order to escape emotional pain?
However, despite the physical pain that comes from self harming, many people report that it makes them feel emotionally better[i].
In published research, it’s been reported that self harm often occurs when someone is having very strong negative emotions. This indicates that self harm might help some people cope with these negative feelings.[ii]
People have also reported that the self harm injuries reduce both the unwanted feelings and increase wanted feelings[iii] i.e. reduce emotional pain and increase more positive emotions.
These studies have confirmed these reports by showing that the pain may increase physiological indicators of good feelings and reduce physiological indicators of bad feelings[iv].
In short, self harm really can make people feel better. This doesn’t seem to fit with the idea that people should always try to avoid pain. However, it does help to explain why so many people participate in self harm.
This begs the question: why does something so painful like self harm actually makes people feel better?
Why Do People Use Self Harm To Relieve Emotional Pain?
One potential explanation for why self harm makes people feel better is called pain offset relief.
To simplify what’s already been researched[v] pain offset relief works by decreasing bad feelings and increasing good feelings.
When a knife hits the skin, it causes pain. Whilst the knife is cutting the skin, there is physical pain. Once the knife is removed or reduced it causes people to feel better. This is pain offset.
It’s important to recognize that this pain offset does not simply return people to the level of negative feelings they were having before; they actually go far beyond that point and move into a more pleasant feeling of RELIEF.
It’s something about the removal of the pain that brings a strong sense of relief in itself. It’s not that the pain in itself makes people feel better, but something about the ending of pain that does.
So, when someone inflicts self harm, and then stops, it’s more that the relief of the pain stopping. This is important because it shows that people who engage in self-injury are not “wired differently” to “enjoy pain.”
Self harm does not just simply act as a distraction from the bad feelings but, when the pain has stopped, it taps into a powerful flood of relief. All of us have access to this powerful relief mechanism.
It’s not that people who engage in self harm either do not feel pain or they like pain (because they are wired differently), it’s that people who engage in self harm tend to be able to endure more pain than others. However, they still feel pain and find the physical pain to be very unpleasant.
Finally, one of the most common reasons people have given for self harming is that it reduces emotional pain and this could be because the physical pain relief that follows self harm tricks the brain into thinking that the emotional pain has also been relieved.
Why Self Harm To Relieve Emotional Pain Doesn’t Work
Self harm is often used as a way to relieve the build up of pressure from distressing thoughts and emotions. This usually gives a relief from the emotional pain. However, this relief is only temporary; the primary reasons for the pain still remains.
After self harming, the person may feel guilt and shame which can continue the cycle.
In the beginning, as there may be a feeling of temporary relief, self harm can become a person’s default way of dealing with life’s problems. And, not unlike taking drugs to deal with difficulties, the effects are only temporary.
This means that it is important to talk to someone as early as possible to get the right support and help. Learning new coping strategies to deal with these difficulties can make it easier to break the cycle of self harm in the long term.
How To Break The Cycle Of Self Harm To Relieve Emotional Pain
Asking for help is very important if for those who are trying to stop self harming. It is important that they talk to someone who will offer support and will help take them to the next step of getting professional help.
For You, The Self Harmer:
When you feel ready to talk, it doesn’t matter whom you talk to as much as making sure it’s with someone you trust and feel comfortable with.
Talking to another person is what is important. You don’t have to deal with this on your own.
It can be hard to ask for help and, when you do, you may feel bad for a while because you’ve shared a secret that you don’t feel good about. But, this soon passes. Part of getting better is learning to trust other people.
If self harming is about relieving pain then it’s important to discover new ways to help you cope with those difficulties. Discovering what makes you happy, isolated sad, angry, vulnerable or strong can help you find new ways of dealing with feelings.
Therapy is a one way to do this and many groups therapies have also been found to be very effective.
Take a look at the upcoming Program Of Miracles to help you break old patterns and toxic emotions:
[i] Klonsky, E. D. (2007). The functions of deliberate self-injury: A review of the evidence. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(2), 226-239.
[ii] Nock, M. K., & Prinstein, M. J. (2004). A functional approach to the assessment of self-mutilative behavior. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(5), 885.
[iii] Klonsky, E. D. (2009). The functions of self-injury in young adults who cut themselves: Clarifying the evidence for affect-regulation. Psychiatry Research, 166(2), 260-268.
tion and opponent processes from a novel psychophysiological paradigm. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119(4), 850.
Franklin, J. C., Puzia, M. E., Lee, K. M., Lee, G. E., Hanna, E. K., Spring, V. L., & Prinstein, M. J. (2013). The nature of pain offset relief in nonsuicidal self-injury: A laboratory.
[v] Franklin, J. C., Puzia, M. E., Lee, K. M., Lee, G. E., Hanna, E. K., Spring, V. L., & Prinstein, M. J. (2013). The nature of pain offset relief in nonsuicidal self-injury: A laboratory study. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(2), 110–119.
Living with anxiety and trying to be like everyone else is virtually impossible.
Situations that other people don't think twice about can make our heart race and beads of sweat pour down our face! Anything more might push us into a full-blown panic attack.
Anxiety, and its symptoms – both emotional and physical - can control our life. It can dictate everything from what we do to where we go. Sadly, this also includes those of us who are hoping to find love.
The National Institute of Mental Health[i] reports that up to 18% of adults in the U.S.A. Live with an anxiety disorder. Of those 18%, up to 23% of those cases are classified as severe.
This makes it one of the most common mental health problems around. However, it's also massively misunderstood and gets given a lot of stigma.
Hopefully, this article will help you (if you suffer from anxiety) relate to some of these issues. Even though we know how anxiety affects relationships, it’s good to be reminded so that we don’t feel so alone, as if we’re the only one who suffers!
Having an anxiety problem can negatively impact many aspects of our life, including our relationships.
When we have anxiety and are trying to find or maintain a relationship - or just have an active sex life – there’s many difficulties we’ve dealt with that people who don’t suffer really don’t even know exist.
Even though it can be frustrating, and even make you feel so angry, just remember that somewhere out there, there is someone who isn't just willing to tolerate our anxiety, but also help us through it.
Remember, you’re not alone.
7 Ways How Anxiety Affects Relationships
1.Being Overly Dependent
Some of us with anxiety have an intense desire for closeness to our partners.
We constantly depend on them for support and reassurance but this can turn into over dependence.
Along with being overly dependent, we may find ourselves prone to overthinking, ruminating, planning for the worst, unable to make decisions, fear rejection and/or abandonment, and seeking out constant communication.
Anxiety can lead to inappropriate paranoia or suspiciousness. Paranoia about a partner not being faithful or thinking they don’t love or care for us as much as we do them.
Excessive anger and acting out in ways that are destructive to our relationships may happen. This is disruptive and it can weaken their ability to trust us.
2. The End Of A Relationship Makes You Believe That You're Un-Dateable
Being single isn't bad by any means, but there's a big difference in being single because we want to and feeling like nobody will ever want to touch us for the rest of our life.
Anxiety can manipulate the situations around us, which makes breakups even harder than they already are.
Even if the relationship ends amicably, anxiety can make us feel like the real reason it ended was because of how horrible we think we are.
If it was a bad breakup, or worse, if the other person simply ghosted, it will be extremely hard to enter into the next relationship.
Which way round is it? Is it depression that's is hurting your relationship? Or is it your relationship that's making you depressed? This article explores it all...
3. It's Difficult To Have A Healthy Fight
When someone might have said “Hey, can you remember to turn off the kitchen light from now on if you come to bed after me?”
We probably heard “you’ve left the light on time and time again. Your incredible selfishness is going to cause our electric bill to increase and put us into debt. How useless are you?”
Anxiety attack at the ready!
What was just supposed to be a simple request and perhaps a minor argument has turned us into a sobbing wreck. Maybe our partner is trying to figure out exactly what they said to trigger it. The intensity of arguments can feel like life and death.
Knowing how to argue healthily is critical to maintaining a happy relationship. But, when we have anxiety, we can sometimes never manage to keep it together enough to allow our tricky discussions to be constructive.
4. Many Ideas For Dates Are Off-Limits
No one’s going to think badly of us if we turn down our potential partner’s suggestion of going scuba diving on the first date. There are many situations that are no big deal to most people but can cause a serious rush of adrenaline for someone with anxiety.
Trying out that interesting new Chinese restaurant in town? For some of us, putting ourselves in a situation where the waiter could laugh at us for mispronouncing the name of the food is not worth it.
Even going out to the movies on a Friday night where the claustrophobia or anxiety about meeting people we may know is too much to take on.
5. We’re Constantly Wondering When our Relationship Is Going To Crash and Burn
You know that sense of trepidation you have when you're watching a horror movie and all the main characters are happy and not being murdered? It's not great because everything seems so great.
We want it to stay being great, but we know that it's only a matter of time before everything’s starts to go horribly wrong. For those of us with anxiety, that's what it's like being in a happy relationship.
It's almost more comforting when things do start to fall apart. Our minds have spent so much time getting ready for disaster; it’s a relief to know we're not crazy and the end of our relationship has been waiting just around the corner.
Our worries can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as we allow our anxiety to affect our relationship for the worse. It’s as if there's nothing we can do to stop it.
The feeling we get when there's conflict in our relationship is a more alive, energetic anxiety that bursts into life and feels intense. However, that anxiety we get when everything appears to be just fine? It’s a slow-burn that sits in the back of our minds wreaking a very understated kind of havoc on our psyche.
6. We Believe they – Our Partner - Would Be Happier With Someone Normal
There’s always that voice of doubt that makes us question exactly when they're going to realize the mistake they’ve made by dating us.
Despite the fact that our partner has happily stayed with us so far, and tried to help us through our anxiety and it’s symptoms, we start to wonder if they're really as content in this relationship as they say they are.
Maybe they're just sticking around because they feel sorry for us or it's convenient. Maybe we’ve inadvertently manipulated them into thinking that everyone freaks out as often as we do.
The rational side of us knows that our partner is well aware of what they signed up for and has made a choice when they decide to love us and not someone else.
We must remember that we aren’t a freak of nature and almost one fifth of the population has some sort of anxiety disorder.
The relationship with a narcissist is, at best entertaining and, at worst, a juggernaut that destroys everything in its path.
7. Avoiding Intimacy
Some of us with an anxiety disorder become overly detached from others and our emotions. We may avoid negative emotions - anger, shame, and sadness - by not talking about our feelings. We may not become vulnerable for fear of the onset of anxiety symptoms.
We may then be seen as someone who’s described as being cold, emotionally unavailable, lacking empathy, or even stand-offish.
Along with being distant, we may notice how uncomfortable we are with intimacy in romantic relationships. We may be mistrustful of our partner's intentions. When problems arise in relationships, we may hold back which, in turn, stops us from recovering from anxiety.
How Anxiety Affects Relationships And How We Can Treat It
There’s two ways to treat anxiety: medication and talking therapies.
Medication can be taken as a part of a treatment for people with anxiety. While the medications prescribed for anxiety, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, are not cures, they may help soothe our anxiety.
2. Talking Therapies
Talking may help us feel better as we rework our anxious thoughts and behaviors with our therapist.
How anxiety impacts on our relationships will help our therapist tailor our treatment sessions for the best results.
For example, by exploring our emotions more deeply may be a good strategy for those of us who tend to be avoidant in relationships. This strategy is the longer road to recovery but, essentially, can help us beat anxiety for good.
Please be assured that, with proper treatment, we can develop healthy, long-lasting, romantic and fulfilling relationships with others.
PTSD, or post traumatic stress syndrome, is seen as a mental health problem. It can develop after experiencing - or witnessing - a life-threatening event like a natural disaster, a shooting, a car accident or sexual assault.
The fall out for experiencing such a stressful event may be instant but in the case of PTSD sufferers, can also be delayed for weeks, months or even years.
When symptoms of PTSD emerge well after the event, this is described as delayed-onset of PTSD. Delayed-onset PTSD has been observed among older people, who may have developed PTSD over an event that occurred when they were much younger.
Why Are The Symptoms Delayed?
It appears, from research on war veterans, that our psyche may delay the onset of PTSD in order to contain the trauma so’s to cope better in the present moment. However, if life stressors get on top of us, this can increase the likelihood of traumatic symptoms emerging. Memories of the trauma can be stored for years only developing when other stressful life events come into play.
The experience of additional life stresses can then tax our ability to cope with a previous traumatic event, increasing the probability that existing sub-threshold PTSD symptoms become more severe.
It's Not Just War Veterans Who Suffer From PTSD
My field is in helping people recover from being raised in a dysfunctional family. Although it’s not highly recognised, being raised in this type of environment can result in suffering PTSD long after we’ve grown up.
I was raised in a dysfunctional family and, as a result, suffered from some pretty horrific mental health issues for many years.
For anyone raised in a dysfunctional family, problems can include:
Feeling very isolated
Fearing people and especially authority figures
Always seeking approval from others
Frightened of angry people
Frightened of being criticised
Feeling like one of life’s victims
Feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings
Concerned more with others’ problems than our own
Feeling guilty when standing up for oneself
Confusing love with pity
"Loving" people who needed rescuing
Stuffing feelings and losing the ability to express them
Having low self-esteem
Judging ourselves viciously
Terrified of being abandoned
Doing anything to hold on to a relationship
Suffering these traits can be debilitating. One way to deal with them is to run away from them but eventually things catch up with us. This leaves us prone to poor mental health, depression and anxiety.
The Beauty Of Denial
Suffering from PTSD is a key driver in our lives, even if we’re not aware of it.
However, being unaware of it has its problems and none more so than living with feelings of deep unease and anxiety but not understanding why.
This is when denial steps in. Denial simply means we reject the notion we have a problem and need help.
Denial may seem from the outside like an ignorant state in which to live, but it is a very practical way of keeping a problem at bay. It’s is a form of survival.
People who are denying their own trauma need to be left alone until they are ready to come out of hiding on their own terms.
Many addictions are created to assist the individual to deny his/her problems. Although this may seem self-destructive, it has to be recognized that the addiction is, conversely, a form of survival.
It is about surviving the trauma by burying the painful feelings that go along with the experience.
It’s a double-edged sword: the denial helps protect us from chronic despair and associated low esteem; it also stops us from thinking there was anything wrong with us.
Unfortunately, denial only lasts so long until the trauma catches up with us.
If we’re inadvertently running away from something, eventually our life will feel like a car crash. It’s not until we’re on our knees that we look for help.
At the same time we don’t want it because that will expose our weaknesses.
Once we can’t manage our accumulated problems isolation, the denial begins to lift. It’s at this point we may begin to suffer severe PTSD symptoms.
PTSD symptoms can manifest as:
Suffering flashbacks and re-experiencing the original trauma through intrusive memories and nightmares.
Suffering emotional numbness; avoiding places and people that reminded us of past trauma.
Always feeling on edge feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
PTSD is diagnosed after we experience symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later.
When they do arrived however, there’s no way our inbuilt denial can protect us any longer. We have to do something about the PTSD symptoms because they have the power to literally kill us.
But What Can We Do To Recover From PTSD?
Recovery from PTSD is lengthy and it can seem as if we get better at a snail’s pace. We have to give ourselves breathing space and be gentle on ourselves. After all, how long did it take for the trauma to weave itself into our psyche? It’s certainly not going to leave us in a couple of days.
We need to feel safe to gradually allow the reality of what happened to come into view. Then we can reassess how we coped and the way it affects us today.
What Are PTSD Triggers?
A PTSD trigger is something that activates a memory, or flashback, transporting us back to the original event, which left us with the original trauma. Often we react to the flashback trigger with similar emotions to that at the time of the trauma.
One of the things that can take sufferers by surprise is when a trigger suddenly appears out of nowhere. When this happens it can take us right back to the moment we suffered the trauma.
How To Identify Our PTSD Triggers
PTSD triggers may be all around us and, seemingly come out of nowhere. However, even though it may sometimes feel like the symptoms come out the blue, they are rarely spontaneous.
Instead, whether we’re aware of it or not, symptoms of PTSD are often caused two ways:
Either by something internally like something that happens within our body i.e. thoughts or feelingsOr by something externally like something that happens outside your body e.g. a stressful situation
Because certain thoughts, feelings, or situations can bring up uncomfortable PTSD symptoms e.g. memories or unexplained anxiety, a way of coping with the symptoms is by increasing our awareness of the triggers.
We can lessen the effect of certain PTSD symptoms by recognizing what specific types of thoughts, feelings, and situations trigger them. Then we can take steps to limit their incidence or the impact of the triggers.
The two types of triggers fall into Internal Triggers and External Triggers.
It’s easy to identify Internal triggers because they are things that we feel or experience inside our bodies like thoughts, memories, emotions, and bodily sensations.
AngerAnxietySadnessEmotional painFeeling vulnerableThoughts of the pastFeeling aloneFeeling abandonedFrustrationFeeling out of controlRacing heartbeatMuscle tension
External Triggers are circumstances, people or places that we may encounter throughout our day or things that happen outside our body.
Seeing a car, or other vehicle, accidentHolidaysAn anniversarySeeing a news article that reminds you of your traumatic eventBeing in specific placeWatching a film or television show that reminds you of your traumatic eventSeeing an argumentSpecific smellsThe end of a relationshipSeeing someone who reminds you of a person linked with the trauma
Identifying Your Triggers
Now we’ve looked at the triggers, it helps to identify what your triggers are. This helps to manage anxiety as well as PTSD.
Make a note of as many internal and external triggers as you can and try to evaluate when your PTSD symptoms usually come up.
What is happening around you?What kind of emotions are you having?What type of situation are you in?What thoughts are you experiencing?What does your body feel like?
PTSD What To Do When You Are Triggered
Of course, the best way of coping with triggers is to avoid them.
However, this is virtually impossible to do because we can’t really avoid thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. These are, generally, out of our control.
However, we can take some steps to cope with our environment (for example, not going to certain places that we know will trigger us) so we can manage our external triggers.
We need to stay realistic because but we can’t control everything that happens to us. We might, for example, unintentionally come into contact with a news story or conversation that reminds us of our traumatic event.
I know for me, when I see a story on TV about someone who’s been reunited with their long lost parent, I fall apart.
So we often cannot avoid triggers and for this reason it’s important to find ways of coping with them.
Healthy and effective coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers include:
MindfulnessSetting firm boundaries i.e. learning to say ‘no’RelaxationSelf-soothingGroundingJournalingLeaning on social supportDeep breathing
The more coping mechanisms we have available to us, the better off we will be in managing our triggers. Plus, the more coping strategies we have, the more likely we will be able to prevent the development of unhealthy coping strategies like overeating, alcohol and drug use.
Additionally, simply being more aware of our triggers can be beneficial. As a result of this increased awareness, our emotional reactions may begin to feel more understandable, valid, predictable and less out of control. This can definitely positively impact our mood and overall well-being.
Although it is important to increase our awareness of our triggers, doing so can cause some distress. Trying to identify their triggers might actually trigger some people. Therefore, before we take steps to identify our triggers, it’s important to have a safety plan in place in case we experience distress.
An Example Safety Plan
1. Think Ahead
Before you go anywhere, think about whether or not you may encounter some triggers for your PTSD symptoms. Classify them and maybe how you can avoid them.
2. Have Some Emergency Numbers
We all need support and can be an excellent way of coping with PTSD symptoms. We need to be able to get in touch with someone when you are in need. Therefore, we can make a list of people we can call should we be in a situation where we need help.
3. Always Making Sure We Have The Right Medication With You
We must ensure we have the correct medication available so that we don't run into any risk of missing a dose. Or in a situation where we need it to manage our symptoms.
Whether or not you’ve noticed, you, like me and every other human being, move through each day leading on a constant inner conversation.
We talk to ourselves about what’s happening and what it means. We judge ourselves in how we to react to others. We notice that today’s events link to yesterday’s struggles and tomorrow’s possibilities.
Some of these thoughts are favorable but many are highly self-critical. We give meaning to emotional suffering, dreams, yearnings and discomfort. We imagine what others are thinking, especially about us.
Our inner conversation is more than the sum total of our thoughts. It defines the relationship we have with ourselves. It also demonstrates how our relationships connect us to everyone else.
How we talk to ourselves decides how we feel about others and ourselves. We see life through our own lens through which we perceive as reality. But that ‘reality’ might be a place that’s radically different from the real world.
Our inner conversations decide the quality of each moment in our life. Beyond the quality of each moment, what else is there? What else matters?
The Answers Are Never Outside
Many of us neglect our inner dialogue despite how valuable it could be to us. We look for answers to our problems outside ourselves. We think that better external circumstances will bring us happiness. How could we not? After all, this message is plastered all over the web, slotted into every movie and is the driver of most advertisements.
Mesmerized by modern-day consumerism, we live in a trance that seems to miss the obvious cracks. Do you know someone who has everything but appreciates nothing? For every imaginable hardship, we find examples of people who have blossomed from it.
One person loses their job and falls into a state of despair; another person loses their job and takes the opportunity to start up their own business.
Steve Jobs co-founded Apple at 21. He was worth millions by age 23. He enlisted an experienced Fortune 500 CEO John Sculley then 3 years later, Sculley fired him. Jobs said:
"I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired
from Apple was the best thing that could have
ever happened to me"
He started his second company, NeXT, which was ultimately acquired by Apple--and Jobs became CEO again.
The difference is a consequence of how each person translates the meaning of losing their job. It’s not intrinsic within the people or the situation. How they responded to these life events comes down to the conversation they have with themselves.
When We Tell Ourselves Unhelpful Things
“When I find the perfect one, then I will be happy.”
One of the unhelpful ideas we carry around is the idea that we need to find someone to love us.
Of course this is harmful because imagine if we believed this about other things i.e. we need another person to feed us, we actually become a dependent personality and even a disabled personality.
A relationship is not meant to make us happy, it’s our job to make us happy. To expect another person to curb their commitments in order to make us happy is insanity. Yet we do it and we’ve accepted that it’s totally fine to give the remote control of our life to another person.
If we look to relationships to fill a void, we put a kind of pressure on someone else and allow them to have a dominion over how we feel.
We long for someone to discover us and admire us but why must that be another person? Why can’t we explore our potential and get a handle on our qualities and talents.
If we are looking for a relationship before we can be happy, then we are placing happiness into someone else’s hands. By looking within ourselves, we can find the goldmines of potential to fulfill our lives and ourselves.
We don’t need to make our lives perfect to mine the gold within us. Trying to make our life perfect is putting our happiness into some future event then trying our best to reach it.
No amount of relationship romance, career success or money will bring us joy until we learn to stop talking ourselves out of living with joy.
One Of The Most Important Inner Conversations We’ll Ever Have Is Challenging That Critical Voice
The best way to heal the unhelpful conversations is to learn to have meaningful conversations with ourselves.
All of us have a small part of us inside. This part of us needs our support and compassion. It’s a vulnerable part of us that is looking for love and if we don’t give that love to ourselves, this small part of us looks outside ourselves to get those needs met.
By taking care of this part of us we have the opportunity to heal old wounds. In taking care of this part of us, we learn to live in the world with self-love.
Growing self-love is the way to reclaim our real selves. It allows us to live more authentically and relate to others in a more healthy way. It frees us from needing others or outer success to feel fulfilled. It allows us to be in the present moment. Living in the present moment touches our natural joy.
In order to support that small part of us, we need to challenge the critical voice we have inside us. We need to quieten it down and, with logic, face the messages it’s bombarding us with.
These messages are often a hangover from earlier days and are no longer valid.
They contain incorrect information and need to be updated. The only reason they have such a hold on us is because it has become a perpetual habit to listen to them.
All we have to do to get rid of them is to replace them with a new message. To break a life- long habit, we simply need to be firm with ourselves about this.
How To Tackle Those Critical Messages
Listen carefully to the ‘polluted’ message – you will know what it is because when you hear it you will feel ashamed.
Catch it and study it.
Think back to when you first heard it. Who said it to you? Think hard and you will find the answer. You will realize that you are obeying it even though it comes from someone for whom you may have no respect or love. If they were obeying you after many years, wouldn’t you think it was a little strange?
You are responsible for taking the correct course of action to remedy these old messages. No one is making you do what you don’t want to do.
Next, write down the message on a piece of paper. Then put a line through it and write the antidote next to it. Stick it on the wall where you will see it all the time. If this is not possible because others live with you, then draw a picture or write it in code.
As you read it, the new message will filter into your consciousness and you will find yourself adapting to it. All you are doing is changing a thinking habit – albeit a very ingrained one. In a few days the new message will be taking over from the old one.
Some Examples Of Messages And Their Antidotes:
Message: I am stupid
Antidote: I am not stupid, I have easily passed many life tests
Message: I am frightened I will go broke
Antidote: Take that fear and, just for this next five minutes, let it go
Message: I will never get my music deal
Antidote: You may or may not get a music deal, but whether or not you get it, you can still be happy
Just reading these through as you notice them stuck on the wall will remind you that you have an old habit that needs to be replaced by a new one, and what new thinking needs to be put into place to make a change. It really is that simple. It’s recommended you stick with replacing one old message at a time.
Remember you must have a new message to replace the old one – you don’t want to leave a vacuum. As you practice this, you will notice that when the Post-it note on the wall bores you it will mean you have registered the new message.
Now it’s time to move on to the next old message. You will find each note stays on the wall for a shorter time. It might start off as two weeks and you will move it to two days. Your assimilation will accelerate in the light of new experience. Don’t make it any more complicated; that’s as simple as it needs to be.
By reconnecting with that part of us that is aching for our love, we can establish an ongoing conversation that can - literally - alter the course of our life.
Are you fed up of suffering with emotional pain? Do you wonder why you still hurt so much and can’t control it?
Part of being human is to suffer emotional pain. After all, everyone encounters it and no one gets away with it.
Here we talk about how to transmute that pain and turn it into joy. It is possible, without doing anything else, to see pain in a new light and lift that blanket of suffering.
We Can't Control Our Pain
The first thing we have to accept is that negative emotions can’t be controlled - that you can’t do anything about them.
It's only then can we free ourselves.
The Buddha believed that all pain originated from desire or craving and that to be free of pain, we need to cut the bonds of those cravings.
Cravings happen when we look for joy or fulfilment in something outside of ourself. Of course, joy doesn’t originate from something outside of ourselves, it comes from within. Already we’re in a tricky situation because we’re craving the impossible: joy, but from the wrong place.
We’re Wired To Run
Talking about emotional pain is not encouraged; ‘get over it’, pull your socks up’ or ‘what have you got to be unhappy about?’ are all things we expect to hear if we discuss our depression or anxiety.
We live in a world where we are taught that suffering emotional pain can be avoided by running away.
Even if this means finding a way of numbing ourselves, it can be easier than dealing with on-going problems. And, why not? Staying with pain is exhausting right? We’d be stupid not to run away.
Unfortunately, the problem with running away is that it creates bigger problems like long term anxiety and depression. It’s easy to get caught up in between a rock and a hard place; it’s too painful to feel the pain and too scary to fall back into a depression.
Turn Pain Into Joy With Emotional Alchemy
Modern thinking is beckoning us to look at new ways to transform pain into joy.
There’s no better advocate of this than Paulo Coelho with his best selling book “The Alchemist”
The metaphor of alchemy is that “each thing has to transform itself into something better and acquire a new destiny” writes Coelho.
He describes our physical world as the visible part of God. He also suggests there are invisible spiritual forces that work in a way that is largely unknown to us. In his book, alchemy occurs when that spiritual plane comes into contact with our physical plane.
The story tells us that alchemists used a magical philosopher’s stone to transform lead into gold. But lead and gold are metaphors for our internal world: both psychological and spiritual transformations.
How Mindfulness Plays Its Part
The idea of alchemy and emotional pain transforming into joy seems far-fetched. However, in some world medicines, like Chinese, the word alchemy describes the process of integrating ‘mindfulness’ with emotional pain.
The point is that the transformation of alchemy enables us to accept everything in our emotional pot without trying to correct or reject it. It believes that even ‘the negative’ is part of the healing.
The emphasis is placed on the ‘process’ of transformation rather than the end result. There is no goal to reach the gold.
How Mindfulness Dissolves Pain
The essence of mindfulness is to see things as they are without trying to change them. Mindfulness teaches us to dissolve our reactions to pain rather than trying to resolve the pain itself.
If we look at the role of mindfulness in healing emotional pain, it’s like the sun dissolving the haze over a forest. By mindfully staying in the present moment, the haze dissolves and uncovers the beautiful forest below. Similarly, mindfulness uncovers the space in which the pain lives allowing us access to our inner joy.
The effect of the haze dissolving may only be a few seconds but we have the tools to dissolve the hazy fog again and again.
If we want to live a fulfilling life, connected to joy, we have to learn to face our pain. Ignoring it only makes it worse. It’s when we face it head on that we find deep joy and emotional freedom.
And mindfulness isn’t looking at a way to solve problems or map out a future. What it does do is help us be aware of the pain so we can be liberated from it. We don’t need years of therapy to transmute pain to joy - quickly.
How To Turn Pain Into Joy
Pain requires our awareness to survive. For it to survive, we have to identify with it. We have to believe we have created these feelings: I am depressed, I am stressed, I am in pain. If there is any "I" in the feelings, it means the pain has a hold on us.
The pain is not us at all. ‘We’ are the space in which the pain lives.
We don’t need to actively control or resist the pain because this gives it strength. Neither do we need to think our way out of it because our thoughts will be tainted by the painful thoughts we’re are already having.
Instead we let it be completely. Pure awareness is all that is required to break the identification of our pain. Once we break the identification, it loses power over us and it will weaken.
There is really nothing we can do except be aware of it. When we are aware of it, a gap is created between us and the pain. What used to be ‘I am depressed’ is now a temporary feeling within our awareness.
That is all there is to do.
As far as the pain goes, we don’t want to be duped into thinking that we will never be free or there must be something we have to do or resist to eliminate this pain.
If we don’t judge or resist it – we make it weaker. Judgements and resistance that arise in relation to the pain is part of the drama of the pain body itself . Judgements and resistance strengthens the pain. Allowing it to be weakens the pain.
We simply (very simply) allow it to be. We feel the power around it and how it affects our thoughts. It’s with this approach that the pain transforms into gold and we regain our own consciousness.
How Do We Do This?
be aware of your breath. Inhabit your inner body. Feel that you are the space that this pain is playing out in. Take "yourself" out of what is happening and just observe. Be quiet and just watch, feel.
All of a sudden the pain doesn’t feel insurmountable. It’s is just there and there is a background of spaciousness and peace emerging from behind it. This is all part of the the state of things as they are in the present moment - which is all life ever is.
We may even feel that we don’t mind the pain being there any more because it’s not got the power it once had. It can leave whenever it wants.
Meanwhile we remain as a peaceful observing consciousness.
Practice coming into a mindful awareness of your pain whenever you remember.
You know the saying: "You are your own worst enemy."
The internal war is a form of self-sabotage that unfortunately so many of us are prone to. On the one hand we’re trying to feel better about ourselves.
On the other we’re desperately striving to escape the shame that ties us to the fundamental belief that we’re just not good enough, defective, incompetent, worthless, hopeless and not wanted.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to do everything possible to drown out such hateful thoughts?
The ensuing war is exhausting. One day you are up, the next day you are down. It’s a battle between two sides: the inner critical voice and the inner loving voice.
The inner critical voice is an embedded pattern of destructive thoughts directed toward others and ourselves. It makes up the belittling inner dialogue, which sits at the root of our self-destructive and negative behaviour.
The critical voice isn’t an illusion; it’s experienced as a barrage of loud thoughts. This streaming of harsh thought forms an enemy against our self and this deters us from acting in our best interest.
This negative voice is an enemy and can affect self-esteem, confidence, relationships, performance and accomplishments. It undermines our positive feelings about ourselves and others and foster tons of self-criticism, distrust, denial, addictions and a retreat from the reality of who we are.
Difficult To Detect
It can take us some time to identify this. A client explained to me,
It took some time for me to identify this critical invoice that you had been talking about. I had become so comfortable with my negative thinking. It was only later I realised it was there. I couldn’t see how critical I wasn’t myself. The negative messages have played so long in my head they seem normal. Then one day, at work, something happened to make me aware of that critical voice. I’ve made a mistake at work and I immediately heard this roar inside me “you idiot. You can’t do anything right. You’re useless.”
I stopped and suddenly recognised my mother’s voice. Over the next few days I started to recognize how much yelling I was doing to myself. That critical voice became distinctive and I couldn’t believe how nearly every sentence was critical and really, really harsh.
Anyone who doubts that our parents had no influence on us only needs to listen to this inner critical voice. Often we can directly trace the statements back to our parents or even in our grandparents.
As children we pick up on the negative attitudes that parents not only have towards their children but also toward themselves. The chances are that our parents also carried their own critical voice together with shame and self-hate. They had projected their feelings onto us.
Sometimes this voice can be so subtle that it takes a long time to detect it. People have shared that the voice is very secretive and, and highly toxic, they dare not speak the words out loud.
Some Examples of Common Critical Inner Voice
Some common voices include:
You’re not attractive
You’re not like other people
You’ll never be successful
No one appreciates you
You can’t handle this job
She doesn’t really care about you
You’re better off on your own
Don’t be vulnerable; you’ll just get hurt
You can’t do anything right
Why don’t you get off your backside and do something
You should have got over this by now
Why bother, nobody cares anyway
You never get it right
Sometimes these phrases are so ingrained in us that we can’t even hear them. Remember that nothing keeps us more depressed than verbal abuse. These thoughts have as much power over us as if our friends were saying them; that’s how powerful it has.
How Can I Conquer My Critical Inner Voice?
In order to take power over this destructive thought process, we must first become aware of what our critical voice is telling us so we can stop it from ruining our life.
To identify this, we pay attention to when we suddenly become upset or slip into a bad mood . Often these negative slumps are a result of some messages from the critical inner voice.
Once we’ve identified the thought process and pinpointed the negative actions it’s urging us to take (like practice self hate) we can take control over the voice by consciously deciding not to listen. Then we can take a different action.
The Two Parental Voices
I like to think of the voices as the negative Parental voice and the soothing Parental voice. Here’s an exercise I do with clients to help them identify and challenge the negative voice with the soothing parental voice.
The Negative Parent
To start to hear the negative Parent in us, we can make this statement:
‘I want to put everything down and go out to play.’
Listen hard to the voice that follows the statement. For those of us who are depressed, the voice will usually sound critical and put up a barrier.
‘There is too much to do,’
‘This is no time to play,’
‘You’ve no right to start demanding pleasure at a time like this.’
We might find that the voice sounds exactly like that used by our parents when we were children. The more we delve into the parental voices, the clearer it becomes. In time we find that we can spot this voice in an instant. It doesn’t take long to develop this skill. Within three days of consistently listening to the internal criticism, we will have good clues to which voice is negatively parenting us.
The Loving Parent
So now we find the loving Parent inside us. We want to mobilize the loving Parent for our good. We can identify this loving Parent when we hear the soothing voice or the ‘pat on the back’ voice. It may seem hard to grasp this to begin with and if we struggle with this part of ourselves, we can actually ‘borrow’ someone else’s loving Parent for a moment.
To do this, we do something for someone else and wait for his or her response. If we help a short person by reaching for an item off the top shelf, let a harassed parent go first in the queue, or help an older person along the road, we will (usually) get a positive response. Then we can feel what it’s like to experience a warm glow in our stomach – the Child part of us.
Keep At It
With persistence we can start to separate the loving Parent away from the negative Parent and use the loving influence to put pressure on the nagging, critical voice that can dominate us.
This is called re-parenting ourselves. Re-parenting is simply about finding a new way to talk to ourselves which is supportive, constructive, gentle and firm.
We look for integration. Integration is the bringing together of all parts of us so that we may feel ‘whole’ or ‘complete’. Integration is about tempering the negative Parent, soothing the hurting part of us and sourcing the wisdom on how to do this from our loving parent.
Ending The Internal War With Our Inner Selves
Of course this blog is only a tiny pinch of the work we need to do to fully recover from years of self-abuse through listening to the inner critic.
However, it’s a start and it’s a good start.
Recovery from long term anxiety and depression can feel overwhelming because it’s so hard to identify where to start. By getting a handle on these inner voices, we can bring down the negative effects of the internal war that corrodes our life. Then we can begin on the road to happiness.
We live in world where what we have, who we know and how others perceive us is supposed to bring us great success.
Consequently cultural messages are if we don’t have those in place, then we can’t be truly happy.
The problem with that memo is that, no matter how much money or success we have, there is always something better.
Even after we purchase a new house, car or wardrobe, the appeal of these new acquisitions lose their charm because the truth is that happiness doesn’t come from the outside.
Fulfilment comes from witnessing our own growth, success comes when we can truly be ourselves and joy appears when we authentically live in the present moment.
By hitting the pause button, and reflecting on our life balance sheet, we have an opportunity to take stock.
Can we make substantial changes so we feel a sense of purpose and meaning? Isn’t it time to start being happier and fulfilled?
Here’s 4 ways to do this.
Get A Perspective
Have you ever immersed yourself in pictures of earth taken from the space station?
Looking at our world from above makes us realize how meaningless our complaints are. It’s easy to notice how we give too much power to our problems and make them bigger than they need to be.
Back on earth, we get that same sense of awe when we submerge ourselves in the vastness of the ocean or look upwards to a mountain range.
On a smaller scale, being in nature can make us feel more connected to life.
When we stare into space or feel the stillness of nature, the resulting sensation of calm can help us to reassess our life problems and get perspective.
Put Problems Back In Their Place
If success, joy and fulfillment are what make our lives worthwhile, then we need to put problems back in their proper place.
If we understand that suffering is part of the human condition, it makes it easier for us to stop looking for happiness outside of ourselves. People are happier when they better accept life’s downs as well as the ups.
It’s very easy to get excited about problems. Being steeped in problems is a way of distracting ourselves from inner turmoil.
Problems can give us the feeling of being alive when the reality is that they are, as far from feeling joyful, as is possible. Pending financial doom, failing health, gossip or creating drama don’t help us feel connected to reality.
When one problem is solved we simply find another one. If we find excitement in our problems, then all the problems become equal.
Problems create pain. And in the words of Theodore Rubin:
"The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem."
Just because having problems seems to be normal in most people’s lives, it doesn’t mean that we need to rule our lives by problems. If it's not finances, relationships, work, family, it's something else.
Perhaps we need to accept that we are here to be challenged. Each problem is an opportunity to dig deep and find clarification. Perhaps having “stuff” is not our purpose in life. Maybe we are here to awaken and evolve as part of a lifelong journey.
Problems can be approached by hand wringing. But how about seeing a problem as a ‘situation that needs addressing’; solutions then come more easily.
If we approach problems with a peace in our heart, we feel calmer and more calm brings more joy.
Stop Expecting And Start Appreciating
Many of us feel like we should have certain things happen, got that promotion or been appreciated for what we’ve done for others.
The reality is that we build a tight space in which we're imprisoned. When we set expectations for what we think should happen, we add to feelings of frustration, anxiety and depression.
High expectations are a killjoy. If we stop thinking about what SHOULD be and start being grateful for what is, we cultivate a sense of appreciation.
Appreciation is being thankful and ready to return kindness. It’s the joy felt on seeing the best in someone or something. It's a state of mind that conveys happiness and motivates us to act.
But it’s not “touchy feely”.
Science demonstrates that appreciation dramatically improves our well-being.
It opens the doors to better relationships, improves both our physical and mental health and reduces our stress. All of these things lead to better sleep and increase self-esteem.
Life doesn’t owe us anything and appreciating what we have helps us stop taking everything for granted.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough” — Oprah Winfrey
Live In The Present Moment
Letting go of our never-ending mind racing, is not easy because it’s become a part of us.
But like an old computer with too many programs running in parallel, it slows down. The more that we can connect to the present moment, the lower our anxiety and frustration. As a result, our focus, productivity and happiness will skyrocket.
If there’s no joy in what we’re doing right now, we’ve allowed ourselves to be taken over by the insanity of our spinning mind.
Science has determined that when we obsess over and over the same old problems, it’s often the same three problems that we’re obsessed with. Yes we spend at least half our time are immersed in the mind racing.
This mind racing is a burden and it covers up the joy of being in the present moment. The mind will have asked think we have a lot of problems to fix. But this is distorted because if we have a problem we can find a solution. If we can’t find a solution then we accept the situation we find ourselves in. No amount of obsession will fix the problem.
By accepting whatever the present moment presents we give up the futility of trying to change it. Trying to change the unchangeable is simply trying to resist the reality of how it is.
As soon as we accept the present moment, with all its struggles, a flow begins. It’s as if the dam that had been stopping our life flow has now been unblocked. Life was never meant to be perfect. We will always have struggles and by accepting this as a life mantra, we allow an awareness and joy to enter our lives.
Many people, on their deathbed, talk about their regrets. It’s interesting how many regrets include having waited to something to make them happy. But happiness comes from within; we don’t want to be one of those people who die with regret of waiting for happiness, right?
A Program Of Miracles
Learn To Be Happy Again
50 Powerful lessons . Simple to follow . Inclusive group coaching
How do we get in our own way of achieving what matters to us the most?
Many of us are familiar with the pattern of taking one step forward, two steps back when it comes to our own happiness.
**We want to lose weight but we find that after having lost a few pounds and start feeling happy, we put the pounds back on again.
**Or we begin a brilliant yoga class only to find months later that we haven’t made any time to go.
**Maybe we fall in love then find reasons to pull away.
**Or, we make some new friends then don’t follow through on meeting up with them and nurturing the relationships.
It’s easy to blame bad luck or our current circumstances on why we don’t follow through on things that make us happy. But what really we have to ask ourselves is: are we sabotaging our own happiness?
If we assess our goals, we see that they are generally about trying to be happy. But somewhere in our efforts to ‘get there’, we simply keep digging a bigger hole of self-sabotage.
Here’s several ways we can look at some of the ways we sabotage our happiness along with a few pointers to free ourselves from those old beliefs.
We Believe Control Is The Answer
Many of us have a deep need for control. We use it to keep us safe. However, it also keeps us stuck.
Doing what needs to be done and surrendering the outcome teaches us that letting go of what we think we want (whether that be a job or relationships) creates a space for bigger and better things to flow into our lives.
When we try to control the results of our actions we actually block growth and acceptance. If we change what we can, and surrender what we can’t, we allow an unfolding of our future to happen which may be a much better outcome than we’d ever hoped for.
We Practice Self-Hatred
All of us practice self-hatred at some time.
The spectrum of self-hatred ranges from listening to our critical voice all the way through to full blown narcissism.
There is a part of all of us, which is on our team and rooting for success.
But there’s also that critical voice - the internal enemy living in our head. It maybe an annoying, niggle of a voice. On the other hand, it may speak to us as if it hates us and says anything to hurt us.
Either way, it’s called the inner critic and its job is to play the sabotage game.
Shaped by our childhood experiences, this voice is ingrained into our belief system and embedded in our psyche.
If we were neglected, unhappy and lonely as a child, we now believe we are unworthy. If there was a lot of drama as a child, we find that as adults we crave unhealthy excitement. If we were told we were a problem child, we may still feel like, and act out as, a problem adult.
Of course the memos we were given, as children, we believed to be true because that’s what children do. Unless we challenge those old messages, with the help of people who know how to guide us through this process, as adults we still believe them to be true. But they are not.
Self-sabotage happens when our inner critic is dialled up too high. At one point it was there to help us feel safe but it no longer serves us.
Instead of dismissing our inner critic, we could become curious and listen to what it’s really trying to tell us.
What irrational fear is it projecting onto the situation?
Can we find the part of view that has a more positive response?
No decision is all on one side, so if we go from monologue to dialogue, we can allow each voice in our head to have a turn to speak: the inner-critic, the positive voice and everything in between.
We’re Afraid Of Failure
The fear of failure, the unknown, is that our critical inner voice will overpower us, that we will have too much to lose or that we will have to face the pain of rejection.
Fear of failure is nothing more than a desire to feel safe. But, it also keeps us stuck. Making a mistake doesn’t make us a “failure”. It’s actually nothing more than a helpful, albeit unpleasant, learning experience.
We are much more resilient than we think. The inner critic that tells us we can’t handle obstacles which feeds our fear. But the reality is that, life is both joyful and painful. The more fully alive we are, the more sadness we are bound to experience.
Our inner critic likes to shield us from feeling normal pain and joy. It keeps us in a chronic state of numbness and dissatisfaction.
To face our fears, we must consciously identify and actively ignore this voice by developing a more realistic and compassionate view toward ourselves.
We can ask ourselves: What did I learn? What worked? How can I do things different next time?
We Can’t Forgive Our Past Mistakes
Yep, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. Everyone does. But if we’re still holding onto the pain and guilt instead of surrendering and forgiving ourselves, it’s time to develop self-compassion.
It’s like acting the same way towards ourselves as we would a child. If we saw a child having a difficult time, our hearts melt and we do what we could to help them. We would feel protective and compassionate. This is the same approach we should have for ourselves.
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing ourselves for various inadequacies, self-compassion means we’re kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said we were meant to be perfect?
Thoughts like: “this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” will go a long way in stopping stop the self-sabotage.
We weren’t born co-dependent and we can’t beat ourselves up for being co-dependent. Something happened to us in our early years that resulted in us managing relationships co-dependently.
Co-dependency is used to describe someone who is preoccupied with another person’s happiness more than their own whilst at the same time, looking to others to make them happy.
If we rely on others for happiness, or put other people’s happiness before our own, we’re blocking our ability to make ourselves happy. Our relationships with others should mirror the happiness and love we have for ourselves. Prioritizing ourselves isn’t selfish; it’s healthy.
When we put others first we always ending up resenting them and that leads to unhealthy relationships. Putting other people’s happiness before our own plays a big part in self-sabotage.
So the best way to stop waiting for another person to make us happy is to focus on saving ourselves. If we look ahead to one year from today and ask ourselves: What did I need to put in place to make me happy, a year ago, it’s surprising how little steps can make a big difference.
How To Completely Free Yourself From Self-Sabotage
We watch videos, read books and blogs or ask people what they think. We know we want to feel better about ourselves but sometimes it can be really hard to do it alone.
To completely free ourselves from self-sabotage we need help. Why is this?
When we’re trying to make changes we are working on old and familiar patterns.
What we need is a more functional and healthy point of view to help us change our thinking from what we’re used to.
It’s like someone asking us to bake a croquembouche: a French wedding cake. It’s a cake made out of éclairs, chocolate sauce and spun sugar. If we’ve never seen a croquembouche, we’ll never understand exactly what we’re trying to achieve. We need someone to guide us and assist us in the recipe, ingredients and method of cooking it.
It’s the same story when we try to change our self-sabotage but we don’t know what we should be aiming for. A good counselor, group therapist or life coaching program are ways to get help and guidance towards breaking free of self-sabotage.
It’s easy to get caught in the “I wish things were different” cycle, but all that does is keep us stuck. By taking responsibility but for what we want to create we can fundamentally change our Life Path.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is mental health problem that develops after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event.
This could be war, a violent act, a natural disaster, a serious accident or sexual assault. It's normal - after the event - to have distressing memories, feel anxious or have trouble sleeping.
If symptoms last for more than a few months, it’s probably PTSD.
Although PTSD is often associated with war veterans or survivors of an event that was traumatic, it’s now acknowledged that children raised in severely dysfunctional families can also suffer from PTSD. This can continue well into adulthood
PTSD events can produce a high ‘state of threat’ which can change the body chemistry. Consequently, many of us who were raised in a dysfunctional family continue to act out the PTSD well into adulthood.
This reveals itself when we become hyper vigilant of other people and our environment as a result of being ‘on guard’ throughout much of our childhood. We’d learnt to incessantly study everything around us and watch out for situations that might have led us to either feel shame or fear criticism.
As adults, although it’s long after the threat had passed, we are still on alert.
What Are The Main Symptoms Of PTSD?
There are three main types of symptoms that make up PTSD:
Re-experiencing the trauma through invasive distressing memories of the event, flashbacks, and bad dreams.
This may happen on an anniversary of the traumatic event and survivors may have an increase in distress. However, they can also occur randomly. These reactions can range from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction with severe mental health or medical symptoms.
It’s interesting to note that people who have been through a trauma may be more likely, than those who don’t suffer PTSD, to be affected by new traumatic events.
Disassociation is an emotional numbness or escape tactic to avoid places, people, and activities that remind us of the trauma.
Disassociation is a way to cope with too much stress and usually describes an experience where we feel in some way disconnected from the world around us, or, from our self.
Disassociation is the perfect mind tool to distort or deny a painful reality. It works by rationalizing or denying the effect the trauma has had on us. We do this by using substances or behavior to keep painful feelings away like alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling etc.
3. Increasing arousal or drama
Increased arousal or drama includes things like high anxiety or insomnia or concentration; feeling jittery, being easily irritated or getting angry.
We keep our adrenaline flowing by focusing our attention on negative outcomes or become obsessed or phobic. This enables our bodies to stay in the fight or flight mode which prevents us from feeling the pain of the original trauma.
How PTSD and Anxiety Symptoms Overlap
It stands to reason that if we suffer from PTSD then we will also have a lot of anxiety.
Here’s three ways how anxiety manifests alongside PTSD:
1. The effects of re-experiencing trauma
One of the consequences of experiencing a trauma, and then suffering on-going PTSD, is having invasive and distressing memories of the event. Flashbacks are particularly frightening. We can relive the event as if we are actually still in the past. It can feel as if we’re being confronted with the very realness of the event that can trigger the same feelings that we originally experienced: shock, fear and distress.
Even more frightening, these flashbacks can take place even if we don’t recall the original event. In my case, I had flashbacks about my mother and other people in bed together. When I think rationally, I can’t recall the event that this might refer to. I might have even made up the event but the flashbacks can be so vivid that they seem frighteningly real.
It’s almost more disruptive to have flashbacks that come out of the blue because they seem out of context. In spite of racking my brains, I couldn’t link them to any memory. I became anxious in case I was going crazy. My hyper vigilance stepped up as I anticipated more random and unexpected flashbacks.
Research has shown that if we’ve experienced trauma, and suffered PTSD, we're more likely to be traumatised by new traumatic events even more than people who’ve never experienced trauma. It stands to reason that our alertness, and the consequent anxiety, is going to be a key driver especially if we’ve never healed the on-going PTSD.
If we experience flashbacks, we can suffer unprecedented anxiety for two reasons: one, we become highly anxious due to the randomness of the flashbacks and two, we still feel the damage of the original trauma.
2. How disassociation creates anxiety
We can experience an emotional numbness after a trauma. This is when we’re mentally escaping places, people and activities that remind us of the trauma by disassociating ourselves from them. This is the mechanism by which our mind keeps us safe from painful memories or feelings.
Disassociation, in it’s own way, is our mind trying to look after us. It’s often associated with a way to cope when there’s too much stress. It describes an experience where we feel disconnected from the world around us. Or, indeed, from our self.
Disassociating is the perfect mind tool to distort or deny a painful reality by rationalizing or denying the effect the trauma has had on us.
We can do this by using substances or behavior to keep painful feelings away like compulsively cleaning, exercising or reading; fantasizing about romance and/or sex, indulging in pornography, sex or compulsive masturbation; risk taking as in excessive driving or thrill seeking; spending money, hoarding, cleaning or other such obsessions.
Whilst these behaviours keep us busy and distracted from our PTSD, they also create anxiety by never allowing us to connect with our inner self. When we don’t connect to our inner and real self, we live in our minds. That creates ‘mind racing’ which is when our mind becomes the source of anxiety.
‘Mind racing’ is a tool we use to keep us anxious. This is when we have a compulsion to do nothing but think, think, think. Apparently, we tend to think about the same few things over and over again. It makes no sense because compulsively thinking does nothing but wind up our stress hormones, which then make us extremely anxious. I’ve even found myself feeling guilty even considering not thinking. It’s become an epidemic of our time.
Because of the mind/body connection, we can gauge how anxious we are by how much compulsive mind racing we’re doing. We may find that we’re so stressed we can’t go for more than a few minutes without letting the mind take over and become a bombardment of thoughts.
Going on a shopping trip, preparing for a holiday or throwing a party, increases arousal in a pleasant way for most people. But for those of us who’ve suffered PTSD, we need to continually create excitement or drama to keep us feeling alive.
Of course we’re not talking about sexual arousal (although that can be part of it) but about a high energy focus on other people, places and things around us. This helps us feel as if life’s worth living.
However, as with disassociation, this creates a lot of anxiety and is often played out negatively in relationships because constantly look for drama or excitement does not bode well in relationships.
“When you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.” ~Eckhart Tolle
It’s easy to focus on the past or the future and condemn them as the reasons for being unhappy. Blaming other people for the way we feel puts us into a state of excitement and drama.
By looking outside of ourselves and wanting other people to make us feel good, or wishing we could be magically transported to another country where all our worries would be forgotten, is fantasy. But it makes us feel good for a few minutes by propelling us into an aroused state where we are stimulated and our senses are heightened. Nevertheless, it’s not reality and, at some point, we need to come back to it.
Disassociation is different to arousal. Disassociation is when we try to disconnect from our feelings. Arousal is when we try to intensifying our feelings.
How PTSD And Anxiety Work Together To Make Life Almost Impossible
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is actually an anxiety disorder in itself. It comes as no surprise because it’s the result of something so traumatic happening that it rocks you to the core and makes you think the world isn’t a safe place. Indeed, it’s where bad things can, and do, happen.
Not only does PTSD increase anxiety, it also feeds into the notion that we can’t cope unless we numb ourselves or create excitement to cover up our fear. If we also experience flashbacks, it can feel as if we’re trapped in a nightmare.
The good news is that recovery is possible. I’ve personally recovered from my PTSD and I’m no longer afraid of life. It took time, lots of talking and good people to help me get through the old trauma and put it to bed. With the right help, it is possible and I’m proof of that.
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is generally diagnosed after we experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However the symptoms may not surface until several months, or even years, later.
Who Suffers From PTSD?
Although PTSD is often associated with combat veterans or survivors of a traumatic event, children raised in severely dysfunctional families can also be affected by PTSD well into adulthood.
PTSD events produce such a high ‘state of threat’ that some experts believe can change the body chemistry. Many of us who were raised in a dysfunctional family often express PTSD in our hyper-vigilance of our environments or through our severe monitoring of comments or actions of others.
This is a result of being ‘on guard’ much of our childhood because we learned to constantly survey our environment whilst looking for situations that might lead us to feel shame or fear some type of criticism.
As adults, although it’s long after the threat had passed, we may still be on alert to ward off future events that might re-trigger the fear of the original fearful event.
In my case, it took me 20 years to stop flinching whenever someone raised their arm. This was because I was suffering PTSD from being raised in a violent family where I was hit on a regular basis.
What Are The Most Common Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms?
There are three main types of symptoms that characterize PTSD:
Re-experiencing the trauma through invasive distressing memories of the event, flashbacks, and bad dreams.Emotional numbness and escaping places, people, and activities that remind us of the trauma.Increased arousal such as high anxiety, insomnia and concentration, feeling jittery, and easily irritated and getting angry.
This criteria applies to anyone over 6 years old:
Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.Directly experiencing, or witnessing in person, the traumatic events.Understanding that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend.In cases of actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to details of the traumatic events. For example: a police officer who is repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse.
We may suffer from PTSD if we experience one or more of the following:
Having memories of the traumatic event which are spontaneous, recurrent, involuntary, intrusive and distressing.Having recurrent distressing dreams in which the subject or the way the dream affects us is related to the events. Having flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which we feel or act as if the trauma is recurring.Having intense or prolonged psychological distress when exposed to internal or external cues represent an aspect of the traumatic eventsHaving physiological responses to reminders of the traumatic event.Having persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts or feelings closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders i.e. people, places, conversations, activities, objects or situations.We may suffer on-going problems with two or more of the following:Failure to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events when it’s not because of head injury, alcohol, or drugs.
Having developed persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself, others or the world: “I’m bad”, “I can’t trust anyone”, and “there’s danger everywhere”, “No one can be trusted,” "The world is completely dangerous".
Having persistent and/or distorted self-blame, and blaming others, about the cause or magnitude of the trauma.Having dogged fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame.Having markedly less interest, or participation, in previously significant activitiesFeeling detached or estranged from othersPersistently unable to experience positive emotions
We also may have two or more of the following obvious changes in how we react:
Aggressive or irritable behaviorSelf-destructive or reckless behaviorHyper vigilanceOverstressed startle responseDifficulty concentratingHaving difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep or experiencing restless sleepExperiencing significant distress or not being able to function when it’s not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, alcohol or other medical conditions such as traumatic brain injury.
What Will The Doctor Ask Me When I Go For Help With These Symptoms?
There are several screening measures that help a doctor determine whether we might have PTSD that needs professional attention.
This screening tool is an example of the type of question your doctor will ask you in order to help him or her make a diagnosis of PTSD. It’s not to be used as a proper diagnoses; it’s just a guide.
Referenced from the American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Answer the following questions either Yes or No.
Does the following trouble you?
You have experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event.
Do you have intrusions about the event in at least one of the following ways?
Repeated, distressing memories, or dreams.Acting or feeling as if the event were happening again (flashbacks or a sense of reliving it)Intense physical and/or emotional distress when you are exposed to things that remind you of the event
Do you avoid things that remind you of the event in at least one of the following ways?
Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations about it.Avoiding activities and places or people who remind you of it.
Since the event/s, do you have negative thoughts and mood associated with the event in at least 2 of the following ways?
Blanking out important parts of it.Have negative beliefs about oneself, others and the world and about the cause or consequences of the event.Feeling detached from other people.Inability to feel positive emotions.Persistent negative emotional state.
Are you troubled by at least two of the following?
Problems sleeping.Irritability or outbursts of anger.Reckless or self-destructive behavior.Problems concentrating.Feeling constantly "on guard".
What Are The Most Common Treatments For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the organisation in the UK that produces guidelines on best practice in health care.
It recommends two types of treatment for PTSD: talking treatment and medication.
1. Talking treatments for PTSD
Talking treatments are types of treatments that involve talking to a therapist about our thoughts and feelings. A therapist is a person trained in one or more types of talking treatment. Talking treatments may help us manage and cope with PTSD, though it’s not a guarantee.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT). This is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) specifically adapted for PTSD. NICE recommends that we be offered 8–12 regular sessions of around 60–90 minutes, seeing the same therapist at least once a week.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). This is a fairly new treatment that can apparently reduce PTSD symptoms such as being easily startled. It involves making rhythmic eye movements while recalling the traumatic event. The rapid eye movements are intended to create a similar effect to the way your brain processes memories and experiences while you’re sleeping.
2. Medication for PTSD
If we’re experiencing PTSD, in the first instance, we may not be prescribed medication. However, we might be offered medication if:
We also have depression.We have sleep problems caused by PTSD.We are unable or unwilling to try talking treatments.
If we’re offered medication for PTSD, this will usually be an antidepressant. While PTSD is not the same as depression, this type of medication has been found to help. NICE recommends four antidepressants in particular:
Paroxetine – can be prescribed by a general doctor.
Mirtazapine – can be prescribed by a general doctor.
Amitriptyline – must be prescribed by a specialist.
Phenelzine – must be prescribed by a specialist.
**Please remember I am not a doctor. THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING MEDICAL ADVICE. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.**