Getting on the same page…

My partner and I just celebrated 20 years of dating and as happily married as we are, I assure you it has taken great effort and positive intentions to heal past wounds, un-learn negative conditioning, rewrite narratives, and resolve many, many conflicts. We have traversed serious medical issues, grieved babies, lost dreams, financial woes, and international moves.

I liken the development of our relationship as if we were from different sections in a library and met in the music section. It felt exhilarating to meet someone who liked the same music as me along with some other interests. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone anymore, like someone got me. We connected, we danced, we found our groove, then life happened, reality set in, stressors, negative events, and new experiences. Gradually, I realized that my partner likes other music that I can’t stand, and actually enjoys more of my least favorite sections in the library, on a whole other level from me. We began to disagree more, coming from totally different perspectives, not understanding the other, and slowly wandering off to our more desired sections of the library. I began to wonder who this person was, how did we ever get along, and what the heck am I doing here in this section alone and confused? Did I even have the energy or the will to enter my partner’s section? And why can’t he come to my section more?…

You can read my blog How couples can thrive through parenting…to learn what motivated me to go to my partner’s section more and it wasn’t till about the 14th year of being together that I felt we got in the same book. Now into our 21st year, we actually get on the same page and even same line on a regular basis, on many subjects. We still need and enjoy our favorite sections yet we now value and visit each other’s sections often as well created new sections together. We sing and dance as a family.

All my research in relationships, neuroscience, trauma, and attachment gave me faith that it was worth the discomfort and seemingly endless, intense discourse.  Seeing how our children relate and reflect on our relationship and family is music to my ears and daily living proof.   One comment that sticks out that my son made was, “I use to think you and Dad argued a lot, then I started to notice other families and wow, do others not get along. You two really try to understand each other and work it out.” He was moved to share this with me as his dad and I were in the middle of one our discourses, each taking space to calm down and he wanted to provide encouragement. What he noticed is my legacy that I have worked passionately to give my children and everyone I work with: Anything is possible when we feel safe and understood. Let go, fear less, love more and trust the process. Deep breaths, baby steps ❤ Debra

Click here to discover Five Steps to a Positive Reframe

You can find more information about my experience here on my Vita.

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Disclaimer

Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

 

New filters to live by…

I can handle anything.

Everything that needs to be done will get done

             …when it needs to be.

Let go, fear less, and LOVE more.

Today is a present, open it with curiosity and joy.

I am acutely aware of the toxins that run through my cells. I am hyper-sensitive to suffering and tension. I can feel pain a generation away. I can sense dissension in the most subtle expression. I use to absorb and internalize all this negative energy. It made me hate myself and everything I touched. I was terrified to share my true thoughts and feelings. I condemned myself and built a wall; silence was my defense.

Fortunately, I have found my voice. I can now speak for the voiceless. I am a weaver of love, hope, and faith. I have found a way to share the pain, stir conscience, reflect brilliance and cultivate trust that within all chaos, awaits beauty.

With all my research on brain development, I have learned that I do not have as many “filters”/templates within my brain chemistry to block out all the stimuli (i.e sounds, smells, feelings). I am constantly taking in too much stimulation at any given moment and often in a hyper-aroused state. When I was a stay-at-home mom with two young children and felt I was constantly getting triggered and reacting negatively, I came up with a few affirmation statements to filter my thoughts, behaviors, and feelings through. My son had drawn a rainbow that I had hanging on our refrigerator and I took it down to proclaim the following:

I can handle anything.

Everything that needs to be done will get done

             …when it needs to be (and not always in my control).

Let go, fear less, and LOVE more.

Today is a present, open it with curiosity and joy.

I put it back on my fridge and read it every time I got triggered which was signaled when my chest tightened, my voice raised, the negative tape overriding, or when my kids were acting out. I refuse to pass on any more negative energy onto my children. There is enough suffering in the world to endure. I made a conscious choice to give them a safe space to process all their thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that their light has the opportunity to manifest like the sun shines through and a rainbow follows a storm.

Here is what this random creation looks like which now rests in my binder as I travel. Over time, I periodically added new messages that my body, mind, and soul needed to hear when I get triggered.

I am grateful for a past therapist who gave me a safe place to process and many resources, one being a website for a highly sensitive person: http://www.hsperson.com/

Take wonderful care of yourself and the world needs you.

Debra

Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am licensed to provide Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

 

Anxiety, Sleep, and Trying Again and Again…

I have had a unique relationship with Anxiety my whole life. Anxiety had affected just about every facet of life, especially sleep. For as long as I could remember, I had trouble falling asleep. I would lie awake for hours worrying, and replays of my past experiences and decisions haunted me. In 2005, it got even worse; I would wake up in the middle of night and could not fall back to sleep no matter what I tried. I complained that it was my stressful job and my partner watching violent TV shows at bed time. I desperately needed to sleep and wanted my job and my partner to change.  Anxiety continued to sabotage me. In order to get a peaceful night of sleep, I had to do the following:

Step 1: I had to accept that my job is stressful and that I cannot control other people’s reactions/behaviors.

Step 2: I had to take responsibility for getting my own needs met.

I finally dragged myself back into therapy and my therapist recommended listening to an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing; click here to learn more) CD which plays soothing sounds that alternate playing in each ear to mimic REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Guess what I told her? … “I tried that, it didn’t work.” I did try it two times about a year before. I had put my boom box on my bed (very uncomfortable) and then the CD started skipping at song 4. She said she’d make me a new copy of the CD and I could go buy a portable CD player.

Easy solution right?

Step 3: TRUST

Well, I am a frugal person so I mulled over buying a portable CD player for weeks. My husband didn’t think it was necessary purchase. I thought of all the things he buys that seem frivolous to me and decided to trust my therapist’s suggestion to buy one. Suffering from anxiety of course, I stood in front of the CD players for 20 minutes and still couldn’t decide. I even had to call my sister for advice on which player to get (I am 30 year woman at this point).

Step 4: Put my words into action and implement plans.

I finally bought one for $30, which of course I felt guilty about. I put in the batteries and new EMDR CD to go to bed only to find out that the CD is not working properly; the music was not alternating between ears. I complained to my husband and he suggested maybe the headphones are not in stereo. So he finds me another pair from around the house. It worked!!! I had to listen to the CD twice but I did fall asleep peacefully. When I woke up in the middle of the night and listened to it, and it soothed me again but then I ran into another hurdle…because I was using batteries, the player ran out of power right as I was falling asleep. A few days later, I had no more batteries to replace with. I kept buying more and more batteries but they ran out so quickly. I was so irritated and ready to give up…

Step 5: Love myself through trial and error!!! Give myself permission to feel exasperated and any other negative feelings. Believe in success.

So I told myself: That I can work through this. I know this will work. I have to keep trying.

For a couple weeks I kept trying different power adaptors around the house. On my 4th attempt about 2 weeks later, I found a working adaptor. Eureka!!! I was able to fall asleep …except the bulkiness of the headphones limited my sleeping positions. I complained again. My husband found me a pair ear buds.

Finally, after 20 years I was able to fall asleep with no problems and sleep through the night. The progress was gradual and rocky. I needed to listen to the entire CD a couple times to fall asleep and would still awake in the middle of the night. Then I got to fall asleep after one time through the CD and didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. Eventually, it got to where I’d fall asleep during the first song. After about 3 weeks* of listening to the CD every night, I could fall asleep with out it. I changed a problematic behavior and situation in two months with no drugs. Now, I only use it once in a while. It took a heavy dose of: acceptance, taking responsibility, trust; commitment to act with perseverance, unconditional love, and support from people who genuinely care about my needs.

  • It takes on average, 21 times to repeat a specific behavior to make a secure connection in your brain and within your relationships.

So when it comes to positive, healthy, and proactive changes, please try again and again. Genuine and sustainable healing takes time. Trust the process.  ~Debra

Here is a link to a EMDR CD target for Anxiety: anxietyreleaseapp

This is not the CD used though I have read and used included CD of Mark Grant’s book: Change Your Brain, Change Your Pain success and progress

Positive Reframe on Aging and “Alive Inside”

I highly recommend watching the documentary Alive Inside. For like a year, I have seen this documentary on Netflix and it was always calling me. Yet because I felt I already knew how healing music is and about human development, I kept scrolling by. But WOW! Even though it was a lot of what I know including brain development and how vital relationships and touch are for life and death, throughout the documentary, I felt elated and when I finished watching it, I was filled with tears of joy and goosebumps.

The concept of music being healing was first validated for me when I read Deepak Chopra’s book, Timeless Body, Ageless Mind. He explained how your cells in your body will actually go back in time to feel how you actually felt during a specific time in your life dependent on the music playing at that stage. Thus, if you listen to your favorite music during your greatest times in life, then you will feel all those same feelings with the same intensity.

Since discovering, whenever someone is sick or sad, I ask them what their favorite music is and play it every time they are around me. When my father-in-law had lost his singing voice after a stroke and came to visit me, unbeknownst to him, I played his favorite music throughout his week-long visit and his voice strengthened. When my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and I was living overseas, I created a YouTube station for him and sent him songs on a regular basis. Although he did die, his wife said he loved the songs and I know that I was able to give him pockets of joy in last months.

What I also love about this documentary is it highlights how sick and depriving our systems are. Synchronously, I opened up Leo Buscaglia’s book Living, Loving, & Learning and this passage jumped at me:

“Every human being requires conversation and friendship. Why do we assume that the needs of older people stop there? The body may creak a little but there is no arteriosclerosis of emotions. Older people literally hunger for caring and affection and physical touching just like anybody.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have focused my profession on children, parenting, and relationships as I want to help rewrite the blueprints we have when the brain is most sensitive and receptive, conception to age 7, in order to best to  cultivate a culture whose natural response is to nurture throughout all our stages, especially at times of grief, dis-ease, and stress. Here’s a quote that relates to this and has inspired me immensely:

“[Yet] our babies are starving. Oh they have plenty of food. Our children are starving for touch; they are starving for us. Our children are starving for human interaction and human relationships…We have become advanced in some ways but, at present, our culture is developmentally ignorant. We are a child illiterate culture. We think somehow that it is better for a child to learn letters and words from television than from a parent talking with their baby. We have lost our core child-rearing truths… And there is nothing more essential to a developing child than human touch, infants rarely touched can actually become ill and die.” -Dr Bruce Perry, excerpt from the preface of Move Baby Move by Sofie Foster and Jerome Hartigan

Here’s a description of Music Alive:

“… a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity… chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music… reveals the uniquely human connection we find in music and how its healing power can triumph where prescription medication falls short.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HLEr-zP3fc

http://www.aliveinside.us/#alive-inside-theater

Every day is a gift to open with joy and curiosity.

Please be a present to everyone you meet!

Let go, fear less, love more ~Debra

 

Video

Negative thoughts and the gift of rising again

One day, my son was feeling badly about not living up to his potential. He expressed negative beliefs of “not being a good enough, being lazy, stupid, feeling guilty/shame about his choices and behaviors.” It hurts me tremendously to hear him share these deep negative beliefs as they are the same ones I have battled through much of my life and often triggers me into a dismissive reaction. Thus, no matter how much my partner and I told him how much we loved him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted our attempts. As a therapist, I know too well that our reactions and attempts to minimize his emotional pain were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being a parent, feeling so responsible and sad for hearing your magnificent child feel so bad is hard to accept and cope with, especially on top of all of life’s other stresses.

After becoming conscious of my own insecurities and triggers, I then chose to respond by cuddling with him and remaining silent as he cried and vented. I agreed how painful this must feel. I apologized for the times my actions have led him to feel this way and that I will keep working on improving myself. I then shared a story of how I woke up early yesterday and caught a glimpse of the intense orange from the sunrise.  I was reminded how blessed we are that *God gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are really just symbols of the gifts God gives us everyday. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again to be more kind, helpful and align our beliefs with our actions.

My son immediately said “Thank You,” gave me a kiss and popped up exuberantly. He began to hug and say “thank you” to all the many items on his bed: his books; his new big, blue, soft  blanket; his giant stuffed elephant, his fan, his light, etc.  I then read him some stories, the last one was being I Believe In Me. Listening, holding a safe place, using respectful touch, and acknowledging feelings allows negativity to process which naturally leads to calming down and making new connections. The next morning, I was awoken early by my son meditating “Ohmmm, Ohmmm, Ohmmm.” He was inspired to start his day on a positive note.  I wish every one to see the beauty and miracles given everyday and when you don’t, forgive yourself and others, and rise again.

Deep breaths and baby steps,

~Debra

*I believe God is universal and defined by what feels best for you and your family’s belief system.

lessons from my son

I wrote this poem about my parenting journey with my son which has been published in the book, Poetry of Yoga  by HawaH

I thought I knew it all

                                          Then you were born.

You touched my soul to no end:

          Your cries burrowed a well

                     Stirred my consciousness

                                   Awakened humility

A collaboration of love and labor in its purest form.

I see my reflection in your brilliance and turbulence;

                 Shadows of the past to heal

                                 Vital needs to nurture

                                              Dreams to actualize

You have much to teach me

                                                        I am ready to learn.

 ev smilesmeditation

TEACHing RESPONSE-ability

When my son was three, he had a small snow globe with Pluto the dog in it. Every time he’d touch it, I would say, “Be careful, it is glass so if it falls it will break.” One night, he played with it intensely, not heeding my warnings.  It shattered. My initial response was one of exasperation and quickly removed him from the area. I fought back the impulse to say, “I told you so… you didn’t listen.” but I am sure he still felt that negative energy as he broke down in tears and was inconsolable.  My husband and I both hugged him, and I stated, “It is my fault because I should have taken it away from you. I knew better.” I calmly suggested he go play with his miniature sandbox and he agreed that would make him feel better.

I think many would be taken back that I took responsibility in this situation (and I do this in most parenting situations). I frequently get comments about how will he learn responsibility? How will he learn if there are no consequences? I was first exposed to this response in a training for regulatory parenting (see link http://alvaradoconsultinggroup.com/key-services/trauma-informed-care/). The presenter, Juli Alvarado, gave numerous examples of “taking responsibility” topping with a story about her standing before a judge for a foster child and stating that she will take responsibility for his actions. These stories surprised me because they were counterintuitive to what I was raised to think, but her reasoning, and better yet the progress, sold me.

So I will apply the reasoning to the situation with my son. First off, there were consequences. They were natural and inherent in that specific situation like sadness and grief for broken cherished toy which we never replaced; instant feelings of guilt for knowing he broke toy; added negative feelings from disappointing his mother; time away from his mother whilst cleaning up.  Also, I did not take responsibility for him; I took responsibility for my behaviors. In the end, the parent is ideally the one with more knowledge, more experience, more skills, more resources and is responsible for meeting a child’s needs.

By me taking responsibility, I decreased the negative energy (i.e. blame, disappointment, shame) being absorbed by my son as well as calmed myself down. All negative behavior comes from a state of stress (see Stress Model by Dr. Bryan Post http://www.postinstitute.com/resources/the-stress-model.html ). When we are stressed, we usually react negatively and inappropriately. Scolding, raising my voice, or punishing would only add more stress, which a child (and most humans) can’t handle as well as escalate the situation. It also causes the child to focus on and retain negative feelings about the parent as well as lessen their ability to internalize the actual event and subsequent lesson. When we are calm, we are able to respond gently by becoming aware of as many variables as possible and problem solve effectively.

I was also role-modeling for my son how to take responsibility. There are complaints that there is not enough discipline and kids have no respect anymore. I think we need more positive and respectful role models.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear a parent or adult say “Don’t you raise your voice to me!” in an elevated and harsh tone, and the countless other times that same parent raises their voice to that same child or to another person or to their partner and so on. Another common parenting contradiction is  “Don’t hit her sister!”…”I’ll spank you if…” later child witnesses or experiences domentic violence. Dr. Bruce Perry commented once that if you speak English, you learn English; if speak rudeness, violence, anger, etc., then you learn rudeness, violence, anger, etc. How is one able to learn respect and empathy when they are rarely given any? Or only given when certain conditions are met depending on someone else’s mood?

I really wish adults could notice all the things they complain about or demand of their child or partner. Then really think about how many times you have committed a similar offense. I continue to do this experiment and I have yet to find a time I have NOT behaved or reacted in a similar way. I then choose to hold my complaint until I have successfully worked on changing my own behavior.  By then, I have gained enough insight and empathy for the person that the original complaint seems a bit unreasonable and even petty.

A child will learn more positive skills and values from a vulnerable and calm adult who changes their behavior to reflect their requests, than a defensive and angry person who threatens consequences. I know threats and punishments seem to work, but they work for the wrong reasons and promote more destruction than you can imagine, at so many levels.

So back to my son and the broken snow globe…after about 15 minutes, my son called to me. He said he felt better now and asked if I would help put his sandbox away to keep it safe. I did and we went to his room for story time. He immediately went to the spot where he broke the globe and calmly said, “I am sorry mommy for breaking it.” I accepted his sincere apology and we got back to our bedtime ritual.

Teaching Responsibility = Role-Modeling the Ability to Respond appropriately to get needs met

I believe we all deserve kindness and compassion so “appropriately” means with “kindness and compassion.” Neuroscience is even proving that kindness and compassion help integrate the brain and create positive connections for all. My son is now Nine years old and he amazes me daily with his level of empathy and responsiveness. He consistently teaches responsibility to his younger sister and genuinely apologizes on his own.

*The training I went to was by Juli Alvarado from http://www.coaching-forlife.com/

*Link to Dr. Bryan Post’s Website http://postinstitute.com/hope.php?p=DW1&w=home

*Dr. Bruce Perry’s website http://childtrauma.org/

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