Internal Barriers to Dreams

If money, time or other commitments were no obstacle in 2014, what would you do? Describe your vision! A seemingly innocent question. If the obvious barriers were removed – money, time, obligations – what would you do? The trouble is, these external barriers are nothing compared to the internal ones. The internal barriers are the ones that really stop us.  jenny downing via Compfight What Are Internal Barriers? Internal barriers are the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves. The small voice in our heads that tell us what we want is impossible. The ready excuses that come to mind when we contemplate what we really want. The internal barriers might be a belief in a fore-shortened future or the idea that we won’t live to an old age. Or a belief that protecting ourselves from emotional pain is the only choice, closing out chances for love and connection. Internal barriers can be the chip on our shoulder, the defensiveness that protects us. It might be a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness or despair. The barriers might be the voice in our head that tells us we aren’t pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough, rich enough. Where Do Internal Barriers Come From? Internal barriers come from many places. They might be echoes of a parent’s criticism. Maybe the experience of being picked on, excluded or rejected when we we were young. Internal barriers can come from the messages of a larger society, the subtle ways that we learn who is worthy. Sometimes they are the beliefs that enabled us to survive and overcome the painful things we experienced. If we expect everyone to...

Menagerie Macabre Invites Enjoyment of Horror

Menagerie Macabre beautifully, comprehensively lives up to the title. From the first notes of the opening solo being sung by a disembodies voice the audience is sweetly put off-kilter. There is a serious conflict between the sweet, soaring soprano and the old hag on the stage – yet they are the same. I watched this performance as part of one of my favorite events in August in Indianapolis, the Fringe Festival. Fringe is a theatre lover’s dream. Running for 11 days are 64 one-act shows at venues along and around Mass Ave. Each show lasts about an hour and costs $10 admission. 100% of admission to each show goes to the performers. IndyFringe  Festival has been running since 2005, and I have gleefully binged on live theatre every August since. A conversation with my friend after the performance started me thinking about the emotional value or role of horror in our culture. This fantastic play was not high on my list of shows I wanted to see, so our attendance was more of an impulse. The play included all of the classic horror film troupes: a mad scientist, a wronged lover, dismemberment, a witch’s cauldron, spooky music and loads of fog. Unlike horror films, which I do not enjoy, this theatrical performance reminded me of my long-held love of the darkness. Neurologically, we are all wired to pay attention to what is novel or different in our environment. Menagerie Macabreprovides plenty of that! In addition to novelty, scary movies or plays increase our level of excitement, creating more intense memories of the experience. In addition, those of us who like the...

“Getting By” Means Survival Only

A child growing up in chaos becomes a survivor. The reason for the chaos doesn’t really matter. There are many possibilities: an addicted or alcoholic parent, sexual abuse, unexpected or early death of a parent or sibling, poverty, physical abuse, bullying, distant and emotionally unavailable parenting, adoption, or physical illness. This child learns the world is not safe and becomes an expert at getting by. Getting by comes with a steep and invisible price. Getting by means we leave without leaving. We avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. We avoid life itself. sharyn morrow via Compfight Getting By is Survival As mammals, we are hard-wired to experience the adrenaline response. This is often called “fight or flight.” When our basic safety is threatened, our chemical processes are set in motion. This response is a reflex, not a choice. Cortisol pumps through our body, preparing us to fight for our lives or get the hell out. Wait – we were talking about children earlier. Childhood pain, or adverse childhood experiences as researchers call it, puts this child in an impossible situation. When we are young and life is terrible, our choices are limited. Under the age of 12, exactly where can a child run? Children depend on their parents for survival, i.e. food, clothing, and shelter. As a child, how successfully can he or she fight the person or situation causing the pain? A child is stuck. A child from hard places can’t run away or fight. The only choice is to freeze. To leave without leaving. This child growing up exposed to intolerable pain learns how to check out mentally and emotionally....

Changing Our Behavior

Changing our behavior is hard. So hard, in fact, this post will barely scratch the surface. I doubt there is anyone alive who doesn’t want to change something about their life — a relationship, a job, a nagging thought, an eating habit, a sleeping habit, etc. Most of you reading this post can probably make a huge list of everything you’d like to change in your life. I know I can. Changing our Behavior Challenges The desire to change is a fantastic part of being human. If we didn’t feel compelled to change, then we would still be living in caves and eating seeds. Yet an intense dislike of change is also part of being human. We like our daily routine, if only because it is familiar. On a conscious level, we may know that not getting enough sleep isn’t working for us. But changing our behavior so we get enough sleep means losing that last hour of the night to get something done or giving up a favorite TV show (or at least remembering to record it or find it online). I may not like feeling tired all day, but at some level, it’s working for me. In technical, therapy-speak, this phenomena (an unnoticed benefit from an otherwise icky behavior) is known as “secondary gains.” I love helping clients realize their secondary gains from a behavior they want to change. In my experience, personally and professionally, identifying the secondary gains can be a major key to actually changing our behavior. Secondary Gains – An Example Sometimes secondary gains are easy to see, like drinking a beer helps us relax....

Childhood Pain, Lingering Effects: the ACE Study – Part II

Part II of II – See Childhood Pain, Lingering Effects: the ACE Study Part I My last post shared the basic research results from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Research in the past decade is starting to show that childhood pain has lasting consequences. At this point, we know that people who experience four or more types of adversity before age 18 are two, three and four times more likely to have chronic health problems or develop depression or addictions. You can calculate your own ACE score at www.acestudy.org At least half the population will have a score of at least one. One in four of us probably will have a score higher than that. When we are kids, we are powerless to stop or avoid abuse or neglect. Whether we are born into a health family is out of our control. So now what? Does childhood pain we are doomed to physical illness? Angela Marie Henriette via Compfight Childhood Pain and Survival Childhood pain often gets dismissed or minimized. We tell ourselves emotional abuse is no big deal, or our family was doing the best they could. Or maybe we had it “better” than our grandparents. One way to deal with pain we cannot avoid or are powerless to stop is to ignore it as much as possible. Over time, we get so used to ignoring it, we don’t see the negative things it’s doing in our lives. When we experience a traumatic event, an “adverse experience,” our survival part of our brain, the stress system, will get ready to fight, flee, or freeze. As kids, fighting and fleeing aren’t...

7 Differences between Shame and Guilt

Shame. How many of you want to hide under your desk just from the mention of that word? Shame is a powerfully negative, full-body, high emotion experience. Shame can be easily confused with it’s close cousin: guilt. bruckerrlb via Compfight Here are 7 Differences between shame and guilt:  1. Shame means “I am wrong.” Guilt means “I did something wrong.” Shame hurts our self-image and our belief that we can change things we don’t like about ourselves or our situation. Guilt is about feeling badly about a mistake. 2. Shame does not lead to positive change; guilt does. When we experience shame, we often will try to ignore or avoid whatever caused the sense of shame. For example, when we feel shame about being overweight, we will avoid the gym or physical activity to avoid the feeling of shame. Guilt is feeling badly about something and can inspire us to act differently in the future. 3. Shame always leads to disconnection from others. Guilt can lead to healing. Confessing our errors allows us to be vulnerable with others, so guilty feelings can prompt us to build a connection through communication or changed behavior.  Shame prevents us from feeling strong enough to confess our mistakes, making us defensive when others point them out. 4. Shame is internalized and deeply connected to our sense of who we are. Guilt is often passing. Shame-based comments appear to be accurate statements about our character or lack thereof. Those comments are easily internalized as truth about who we are, haunting us long after the comment was made. Guilt, on the other hand, fades with time or after corrective action is...