The Power of Shadow Work for Emotional Freedom

Fall is a perfect time for the exploration of shadow work for personal growth and emotional freedom. Ushering in winter, Fall reminds us of the darker aspects of being human. It is a time of letting go and for exploring things that are unpleasant or scary. Fall begins with Halloween. 

This Halloween at 9:30 in the morning, my father made his exit from physical form.  My sister and I were present.  For some, the death of a loved one is a tragic, untimely misfortune.  For others, death comes as a timely passing to a life well lived. Halloween was dad's favorite holiday.  He loved seeing the kids in costumes, laughter, candy and excitement. Dad was always up for a joke, a spook or a prank.  My family found it fitting that he pass on Halloween.  In some ways, he almost seemed to have orchestrated it that way.

Ironically, scary and painful aspects of my dad's passing were the years leading up to his death. For years I had lived in fear of my father dying.  A bit of a histrionic, dad loved to remind us that "someday he would be dead" and we better be prepared.  This did little to calm my anxiety, instead I spent nights wondering how I would live without him, wondering what life would be like after his passing.  How would my mother, sister and I go on? 

Because of this pressure, I spent a large part of my late twenties and thirties exploring death and dying.  As a therapist I felt the study important as a way to help grieving clients heal.  This study began with Buddhist meditation practices on the idea of reality.  I spent hours in meditation contemplating whether or not I actually exist.  Buddhist meditations lead us through a series of exercises eventually leading to the idea that we inherently are not real.  I remember learning that this realization is either followed by pure joy and feelings of liberation or shear terror and panic at the thought of being a mere hologram.  Unfortunately for me, I got the later. 

After I'd had enough contemplation on my nonexistence, I rediscovered Carl Jung. Jung termed the phrase shadow self to describe both our individual and collective unconscious.  He wanted to develop a language that helped us understand the darker sides of the human condition, everything from minor resentments to the cruelty of war.  Jung argued that rather than denying the parts of ourselves that we deemed ugly or undesirable, we instead try to uncover and understand them.  

Isn't that part of what Halloween is? 

My father wasn't perfect.  In fact he was quite an anxious man.  Anxiety had a way of causing overly critical thoughts, obsessive behaviors and at times a distrust of his intuition.  Dad was also hilarious. Humor was his strength. I believe he loved Halloween because it was a time to expose and laugh at the hidden sides of his humanity. 

Having the ability to look at our imperfections, find them absurd and have a good laugh, is a path to healing from the pain of anxiety, depression and abuse. 

I had always wished for my father that he be able to add a deep sense of compassion for himself into his humor.  

Over 15 years of working with clients, I have found that those who can lovingly witness all the unwanted aspects of themselves, combined with a healthy dose of humor, find healing from whatever demons they might have. Shadow work is a great place to start. 

Some tips for beginning shadow work:

1. Make a list of the people that irritate you the most.

2. Now list the characteristics you find most upsetting in their personality and behavior. 

4. Next, list ways you do these things in your own life. 

5. If you find #4 difficult, list the ways you try to avoid doing those annoying things. 

(Here comes the hard part)

6. Try to incorporate a small amount of the annoying behavior into your life. 

Yes I said that correctly.  Do the annoying thing. 

For example, if you find your friend is being super selfish this week, take that as a cue to spend some more time devoted to yourself (your selfishness) in some way.  That might look like a splurge on self care or learning to say "no" to unnecessary engagements. 

7. Meditate on compassion for your imperfections.  Example: "I can at times be selfish and petty, but I love and accept myself anyway."

I'd love to hear how your shadow work goes!  Send me email and let me know!!!

 

Let's Talk About Visual Snow

In today's blog I want to highlight another strange and disorienting symptom that Lymies (as well as migraine sufferers) can experience - Visual Snow. Visual Snow (VS) is characterized by seeing tiny black and white dots in one's field of vision much like a television set with bad reception.  For some this is clearly brought on by an illness or trauma.  For others, the cause is unknown.  Researchers have yet to fully understand the actual workings of visual snow and as of yet there is technically no "cure," However some people do report the experience going away. 

What Is Visual Snow? 

The clinical term for VS is aeropsia which translates loosely to "seeing the air" in Greek.  There are two types of visual snow: Pulse Type (resembling rain drops on a car window) and Broadband (fuzzy like an old broken television).  It appears that visual snow is also related to some other health condition like migraines and Multiple Sclerosis.  While researchers are unaware of the exact cause, they believe it has to do with a communication error between two parts of the brain - The Thalamus and the Cortex.  

 
thalamus.jpg

http://stellarlearning.co.uk/12-neuroscience-nuggets-for-ld-9-your-well-connected-thalamus/

Common comorbid conditions to VS include:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Lyme disease
  • Auto Immune disease

Because doctors aren't exactly sure what causes visual snow,  it is both difficult to get a diagnosis and find any sort of relief. Often, the management of our reactions to experiences are far worse than the actual symptoms themselves. Much like chronic pain, chronic VS is a symptom most of us would rather not have.  And while there are those that profess to love and embrace their visual snow, that's not always so easy (or something we want).

When the experience of VS gets so overwhelming that it is impacting other areas of our lives, we might need to step back and find support.  Like chronic pain, there is so much that can be done in a therapy setting to relive frustration, anxiety and overwhelm that comes with managing multiple symptoms of chronic disease.

Some ways we begin to address overwhelm and frustration associated with visual snow include reframing, narrative therapy, relationship work and mindfulness practices.

Reframing is the backbone of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches us to slow our thoughts and begin to sort the rational from the irrational.  It allows us to identify patterns of thinking and feeling that no longer serve us.  Once we have found them, we can work to change the thoughts.  Reframing is simply the practice of thinking different thoughts.

Narrative Therapy takes a look at the stories we tell ourselves.  It examines the stories that shape our personalities and experiences.  Sometimes, through life experience we relive stories we would rather not have.  Narrative helps us write a different story for our lives.  What type of story are you telling yourself about your Visual Snow?

Relationship Focused Therapies When we think of relationship we often think of our interactions with others.  But there is another way of using relationships in the therapy office.  In this context, we can take a look at our relationships with everything from physical objects to our bodies to symptoms and disease.  A large part of my healing process was healing my relationship with Lyme disease, not to view it as an enemy, but rather something that was there to teach me something about myself.  What is your relationship to your VS? 

Mindfulness Practices Mindfulness Based CBT can be of benefit when we find ourselves feeling intense anxiety and overwhelm in our current situation. By practicing breathing, stillness and focus, symptoms of anxiety diminish over time.  

These are just a few of the things you can do to relieve the stress of uncomfortable symptoms. 

Resources -

Most people with visual snow have limited impairment due to the condition and have found ways of adapting. If you are seeking resources to help cope with or manage VS, please see the resources below. 

Online Forums are great for hearing the experiences of others.  Here is one for VS. 

The AxonOptics website I used to research this article with a ton of cool tips. (I am not affiliated with them in any way)

In need of emotional support? Call me for a free phone consultation.

 

4 Keys to Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines Borderline Personality Disorder as: 

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. A person with BPD may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last from only a few hours to days.(1)

As a spouse or family member of someone with BPD, not knowing how to react or respond to the emotional pain and seemingly abusive behavior between you and your loved one can feel hopeless and unbearable. This is why I advocate for mental health treatment that includes couples and family interventions whenever possible so that everyone involved is educated and on the same page. Often loved ones are left out of the healing process which makes getting better more complex and could take longer than necessary. In fact, there is evidence of improved treatment outcomes for BPD when loved ones are included in the treatment process. Because BPD causes an array of stormy relationship patterns, researchers like Dr. Alan Fruzzetti and Dr. Perry Hoffman have developed family-focused interventions based on their research as well as their significant professional expertise in counseling people with BPD and their loved ones. This program, The Family Connections Program(TM), is a format for effectively working with BPD and their loved ones. The nature of BPD tends to put the emotions of other family members on the backburner within the relationship. In my work with loved ones of those with BPD I begin with education of the disorder as well as skills to improve support as well as remind loved ones that their emotions need cared for as well.

#1 Become Educated About BPD. Many times individuals will come into therapy explaining they want to improve their relationship.  After further discussion, it appears their partner may have an undiagnosed personality disorder.  Behaviors such as mood swings, irritability, drug abuse, suicidal threats, inconsistency and low self esteem which appear to be wrecking the relationship. I encourage loved ones to begin reading resources like Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Love Has Borderline Personality Disorder. This resource gives tons of examples of behaviors you can most likely relate to if your loved one actually has BPD.

#2 Identify BPD Behaviors. Once we have a basic understanding of BPD, it is important to begin identifying specific behaviors your partner engages in when they are not feeling well.  This is because often, loved ones feel somehow responsible for the chaos and emotional pain that is in their home.

Together, we start to take a look at how BPD partners can unreasonably blame their loved one for their emotional pain or how they can use manipulation as a way to get what they want. It is important when living with someone with BPD that we can identify unhelpful emotional outbursts that can lead to sabotaging the relationship.  During this stage, we just practice noticing, catching and identifying them either together if the partner is receiving treatment or just as a practice for loved ones.  This makes it easier for loved ones to stop taking these behaviors personally or feeling responsible for their partner's emotional instability. All sessions remind loved ones that their BPD partner's emotional instability is not their fault.  

#3 Provide Validation. Loved ones of those with BPD often describe feeling guilty for some things in the home.  They also describe feeling as though their emotional wellbeing has been dismissed, neglected or abused. The third step in my work with loved ones of BPD is to validate their experience.  This includes reminding them that (abusive behaviors aside) we are not responsible for the emotions of our loved ones. In this I mean, we have to allow all loved ones (BPD included) to have their emotional experiences.  We must stop taking responsibility for how others feel. 

You know what the airline stewardess says when we get ready to take off for a flight.  She goes through a rant about how we need to put our own oxygen on first before we help a neighbor...well that's what we need to do with the loved who has BPD- first we must support ourselves emotionally. 

The second part of validation begins after a loved one feels validated themselves, then we can begin learning to validate the emotions of our BPD partner.  BPD is by nature extremely isolating and emotionally painful.  More than anything, those with BPD want to feel connected, wanted and heard.  In sessions we can learn to appropriately and compassionately support the emotional needs of our BPD partner. 

#4 Set and Hold Boundaries. BPD is so emotionally painful that it can cause those experiencing it to fall into a pattern of sabotaging relationships through a pattern of over attachment and abandonment. This pendulum of emotional expression can be equally as painful on loved ones.  Because of this, it is important to set clear boundaries for those with BPD. An example of this is to let the BPD loved one know when a behavior is unacceptable and to set consequences that make this clear, such as refraining from letting the BPD spend money irresponsibly or refusing to allow alcohol use in the home.  Sometimes setting boundaries feel punitive, but in homes where someone has a personality disorder, maintaining strict, consistent boundaries can actually serve as a much needed support for their mental health and the health of supportive partners. 

You Can Have a Healthy Loving Relationship with BPD

The most important thing to remember is that many people live happy, healthy lives with BPD.  This included loving. supportive reciprocal relationships.  There are so many resources out there to help you and your relationship thrive! Please touch base with me if you found this article helpful or need more information: ruschellekhannalcsw@gmail.com.  

(1) National Institute of Mental Health. Borderline Personality Overview (2017) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml

The Science of Hypnotherapy for Sleep

One of the most effective things I did to regain healthy sleep habits has been hypnotherapy (It was so impactful I decided to become a hypnotherapist!). How hypnotherapy actually impacts sleep has been a bit of a mystery until recently.  Research is understanding more and more how hypnotherapy can help you improve the quality of your sleep. One study, conducted in 2014 through the University of Zurich showed that 13 minutes of hypnotherapy compared to "reading something neutral" aided in Slow Wave Sleep (SWS is a very healthy aspect of sleep which aids in memory recall and immune function and the stimulation of growth hormone).(1)

Like many of my clients, I had insomnia for most of my twenties.  Admittedly, I was living in Manhattan, working 12 hours a day and filling my recreation with high intensity exercise or alcohol.  Looking back, I can understand why my poor body might have had a bit of a tough time falling asleep.   Despite my poor sleep habits, I was certainly not in the minority.  It is estimated that 1 in 3 Americans have insomnia at any given time (sleephealthfoundation.org). In today's modern environment, stressors on sleep can come from so many places ranging from unhealthy living habits to the stress of being chronically ill, the impact of the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. Hypnotherapy is a great tool to address all of these stressors and to restore healthy sleep.

When seeking a mental health clinician to restore sleep, there are a few things to keep in mind before your session. 

1. Your hypnotherapist should still do a thorough assessment.  Insomnia is a complex issue that often needs to be addressed from multiple angles.  Often it is a combination of relearning stress management, practicing sleep hygiene (like turning off the computer at least an hour before bed), changes in diet and even testing for things like sleep apnea.  Your clinician should be prepared to take a holistic view of what's going on for best results. 

2. Anxiety may be the root cause. Even though you might be experiencing insomnia, this could be a symptom of anxiety or depression.  It may be helpful to explore this with your hypnotherapist.  If that's the case, your hypnotherapy sessions may focus more on anxiety reduction (which will naturally help you sleep). 

3. Practice makes perfect. While many people find dramatic results after one to three hypnotherapy sessions, it's going to be helpful to continue practicing either self hypnosis or listening to hypnosis recordings regularly to internalize the body's reaction to the experience. Some hypnotherapists will even record the session for you to use on your own!

Not only is hypnotherapy effective, it's a fun, playful, stress-free way to improve the quality of your life. Want to try a session in person or virtually? Contact me here! ruschellekhannalcsw@gmail.com

(1) Hypnosis Extends Restorative Slow Wave Sleep, Research Shows. (2014) University of Zurch. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602101207.htm

 

 

Improving Creativity and Concentration

As I sit writing this, I am in a funk.  I have literally stared at the screen for an hour, bouncing around from idea to idea, finding it difficult to concentrate on any one thing.  Generally I choose blog post themes from a spark of inspiration felt earlier in my week.  This week has been a combination of an abundance of sparks matched with several stressful interactions. In the ebb and flow of focus and distraction, this week has definitely ended with a bit more of the later. 

Rather then spending any more time looking for ways to tie together my jumbled thoughts, I just took a moment, paused, took a breath and asked myself, "What would you do with a client who was experiencing a creative block?"

My answer in session almost always goes something like this:

"Start where you are right now, in this moment. Start with how you are feeling. Begin to take in some of the present moment and I promise the answer will come."

Without fail, bringing ourselves into the present moment makes it more likely to take a deep, breath, settle in and relax a bit.  This magical thing starts to happen when we relax.  Play becomes more possible. Flow happens.  Ideas come. 

Let's break down why this seems to work so well. 

#1 Take A Big Breath - As babies, we breathe so well.  With age, stress and life experiences, our bodies learn and practice breathing patterns more associated with stress. This type of breathing is more shallow and less nourishing for our bodies.  As adults, most of us have to re learn and practice healthy breathing. One version of this is diaphragmatic breathing. This breathe practice provides our brain with a big, nourishing burst of oxygen, increasing it's ability to function and stay focused.

#2 Settle Into The Present Moment - If you've taken the time to take a big breath, you are already one step closer to being more present and in the moment. After the breath comes an opportunity to tune into your thoughts. As you inhale and exhale, you can start to ask yourself some questions in order to understand them better. 

How fast are my thoughts coming? Am I thinking one thing or many things? Are these thoughts helpful or stressful? 

After checking your thoughts, a second step to being in the moment is to look for better thoughts.  You might begin to ask yourself if there is something better you can be thinking or focusing on something that soothes stress or curb negative self talk. The combination of breathing and becoming aware of our thoughts is a practice in mindfulness. When we practice mindfulness, our brain can switch it's energy from the distraction of stress reduction to creative thinking. 

#3 Relax Your Body -  Improving creativity and concentration would not be complete if we left out the body and how it responds to stress. Intuitively, successful people such as Steve Jobs preferred walking to sitting in order to generate creative ideas.  One study from Stanford University noted that participants were more likely to experience divergent thinking (a primary quality in our ability to be creative), while walking, rather than sitting.  In whatever way you can, be it stretching, gentle movement or taking a walk, getting into your body is going to improve your ability to focus and create. 

One fun way to add movement into your daily life is to find movement patterns you enjoy.  With a background in dance therapy, I work with clients in the office to come up with a series of personalized movements that help relieve stress, induce happiness and increase the experience of flow.

If you continue to struggle with getting out of a funk for a month or more, it could be to more intense anxiety or depression. You might consider consulting with a therapist to help you get back into focus. 

 

Finding Relief From Persistent Post Election Panic

Due to the Trump election, many New Yorkers experienced a reaction of shock toward politics never felt in their lifetime. Today, almost 9 months later, many are still feeling the impact the election has had on their daily lives.  For some, this has resulted in an increase in depression and anxiety including feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness.  

For many, the election was a panic catalyst, a reminder that a large part of life is not in our control.  Panic manifests as insomnia, difficulty concentrating, diminished work performance, compulsions, isolation and alcohol abuse. For women, the election highlighted the pain of our inequality. It has heightened warranted anger and frustration.  For some, it has also been a reminder of family abuse and childhood trauma, ready to show up as a distraction in our day to day lives.  

Even in times of crisis, panic is not an optimal place from which to operate.  In the most desperate of times, we as individuals need stability and a sense of control. But how do we maintain this in a post election world? My answer - Let's look at the people who Are thriving despite the political climate.  I challenge clients to look around and find evidence of women who are excelling in their careers, people who have found tremendous callings and a sense of purpose, people who have been tremendous agents of change and advocacy for those that need help. When we are feeling helpless, we can always start by looking for evidence of strength. 

It's also easy to get caught up in the panic making that is the American media.  While staying current on events that matter can be empowering, indulging on junk media as a time suck is a distraction.  For many, it has been a year of embarrassment, shame and guilt. I encourage anyone experiencing panic about the political climate to consider cutting back on junk media as a form of detox.  This can also include limiting conversations about political panic. It's important to remember your time is valuable.  A media detox is a way to recommit to your worth as a person. Saying "I don't have time for that" takes back the power in your day and opens you up to more valuable experiences. When you are feeling worthless, focus on the parts of your life that are valuable to you. 

The experience of panic is something that exists when we think about the future. Anxiety disorders develop from an anticipation that something bad is going to happen.  Unless there is something directly in front of us that is a threat or danger, panic is not something we should practice or encourage.  In a sense, panic without an immediate threat is a type of indulgent thought of something that isn't real.  While I understand that Donald Trump is very real, I also understand there is little in my day to day I can do to impact our President.  What I can do is encourage individuals to shift their focus toward hope rather than panic, to build plans based on dreams rather than fear. Not only is that a sign of resilience, but it also makes for a much more enjoyable day. 

How are you finding relief from panic and anxiety today?