Posts Tagged Self Help

Dreams and Working on Self-Compassion and Hypervigilance

Last week I had two dreams back to back that were completely opposing. The first one was a nightmare my ex-husband had broken into my home and was waiting for me there. I got home and he was strangely not mean, difficult or argumentative. I asked him to leave and he left. But, I knew something was up. I looked through the peep hole and saw he was still waiting outside the door thinking about doing something irrational. There was a little old man in the apartment with me. My ex-husband coaxed the little old man into letting him back in. Then he started berating me and belittling me, telling me I was worthless, undeserving of any love or anything. I woke up crying and shaken up.

Then I feel back asleep. This time I dreamt I was in a shop next door to a restaurant. While in the shop, three different men hit on me. It was completely the opposite. I was loveable and deserving of love and attention.

In talking about these two dreams in therapy, my therapist explained although in the dream it was my ex-husband tearing me down, in reality my own psyche is doing that day in and day out when I judge myself and am hypervigilant, always worried that the decisions I make or what I say will not be what someone else wants. That I think how can anyone love me? But, then another part of me realizes how amazing I really am and that I am deserving of being loved.

I went on to talk about how I am still really struggling in my current relationship to say what I want. My boyfriend is vey encouraging and stops to remind me that I can do what I want and have wants and feelings, and there’s no reason to be afraid to express them. Sometimes it is that I know what I want but am worried its the “wrong answer” and other times I just really don’t have an opinion or feeling around something. Therapy has explained this is because I have spent a large part of my life blocking out my feelings because it is a lot easier that way, the other person can make the decision and not be upset or disappointed in me. Except now the other person wants to know what I want and feel. I think I am working on this and it will get easier.

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Falling off a cliff in mountain snow

Finally, my life feels stable. I am extremely happy and I can do anything I want. Yet, there is always that foreboding feeling that something bad is going to happen because that’s how the past has been, even the last two months have had difficult things to deal with. But, I know, no matter what happens I will prevail because I always have. This last week I had a dream I was driving on a mountainside with two family members in the car. The mountain roads were slick and covered in snow. Like in a video game I’ve played I accidentally fell off the cliff and into a bottomless ravine. I felt so much remorse for taking my family with me. Yet, I had this feeling “we’ll be ok, we’ll get out of this somehow.” And then I woke up before I’d find out if we were dead or not.

I don’t know exactly what the dream was about. If its just me dealing with the feeling that something bad could happen again next. Or if I’m feeling like I need to protect my family. One of my closest friends expressed the opinion to me that if they were in my shoes with the person who abused me when I was a child, they would confront them now and tell them how much they hurt me. I don’t feel that’s necessary, but a large part of why I don’t want to do that is more because I want to protect that person. I truly believe they did not mean to hurt me and that they did it because of how they were treated as a child. I’m at the point where I want nothing more than to just break the cycle. I want to get better and stop thinking the ways that I do (my PTSD brain) and I think from the conversations I’ve been having and dealing with the difficult coworker, I am doing a very good job at it. Just sometimes I get worried I’m forgetting to pay attention if I’m doing negative self talk or anticipation. But, I think I have been doing that a lot less lately because my self-esteem has grown. I have surrounded myself with some loving people and have done a lot of self-acceptance. I have been recognizing when some people make me uncomfortable and recognize that it’s their insecurities they are projecting onto me and I don’t need to worry about those. I’m not saying I should stop caring about other people’s feelings altogether and not do nice and thoughtful things for other people. But, what I’m saying is their problems are their problems and I don’t have any real control over their happiness. But, I do over my own.

This whole weekend I had someone worrying about whether or not I was happy. While its nice that they cared how I was feeling, I wanted that person to concentrate more on enjoying themselves this weekend, not worry about me. One of my biggest strengths is I find a lot of positivity in everything, even an injury. Last year if I had never gotten an injury running, I would have never done a triathlon. Traveling, I hear people constantly gripe about the plane and the seats and whether the wine is crappy or the plane being late. I’m just happy to have hours to read and catch up on news and my thoughts. People constantly gripe about how hard it is to exercise and eat right. Every time I run I feel a zillion times better and I have taken up learning how to cook healthy and delicious meals. I set aside time for these things because they are important to me. I wish more people would find the joys in their life. Because at this stage in the game I am feeling truly blessed to have the amazing life that I do. A huge turn around from 3 years ago.

So maybe “falling off a cliff in mountain snow” is nothing to worry about. I know great things will come of it later because of the resiliency I have gained.

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Self-Advocacy in a Flash of Frustration

I’ve been dealing with some very frustrating things lately and today someone pushed my buttons so much I finally confronted them about it. It scared the hell out of me. I raised my voice, explained how they made me feel and said what I needed to make things work better. Afterwards I felt strangely better even though I was a little worried it might mean I lose my job. I stood up for myself, something I feel like I’ve never been able to do. And it wasn’t so bad.

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Quest: B Causes C, Cognitive Restructuring

I’ve been quiet for a while now because I’ve been so busy reacting. Weeks ago I left off in therapy and in my last post, working on memory of the last (or first, however you want to look at it) trauma of the 3 traumas I experienced that I haven’t addressed. The past 6 months have flown by faster than I’d ever want my life to go. My memory problem keeps popping up. What was 6 months ago feels like yesterday and what was yesterday feels like days ago.

We remember that a major PTSD treatment goal is to integrate dissociated trauma material with associated memories so that the fabric of our memory becomes like one continuous memory. The problem is that traumatic memory doesn’t mesh with the way we want to look at the world. The dissociated memories often contain misinterpretations and inaccurate conclusions that were formed under great duress, while strong emotions and arousal continue to interfere with processing.” – Cognitive Restructuring Chapter, The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook

Every day I am making unproductive thoughts. I still stay “I’m sorry” too often. I still make decisions within split seconds in order to “protect” myself. The Chapter on Cognitive Restructing addresses a lot of the automatic thoughts and distortions that I am dealing with day in and day out.

A —-> B —–> C

A is the Activing (or upsetting) event. B is the Belief (or automatic thoughts) that we tell ourselves about A. C is the emotional and physical Consequences (or arousal).

I can think of several situations in the past few weeks where I have done these things.

  1. Flaw Fixation – Fixation on what went wrong
  2. Dismissing the Positive – Discount positive things, as if they don’t matter
  3. Assuming – Mind reading, jumping to conclusions, and fortune-telling (or what I call anticipating what will happen and trying to prevent a negative outcome except you have no control over the situation)
  4. Catastrophizing – making things much worse than they actually are
  5. All-or-None Thinking – or Black and White Thinking
  6. Shoulds (Should Haves) – “I should have done this better…” “I must be strong”
  7. Making feelings facts – I don’t know if I have this problem since I still have a hard time even expressing my feelings in the first place though I have really made an effort to
  8. Overgeneralizing – “Things always go wrong”
  9. Abusive Labeling – “I am the only moron who didn’t do this right” which I said tonight actually
  10. Personalizing – Seeing yourself as more responsible or involved in a given situation than you really are. I do this at work ALL the time.
  11. Blaming – I don’t do this one either and think I’ve talked about it in a previous post because I have a real pet peeve with people not taking responsibility for their own mistakes. I own up to my mistakes even when I am not really responsible (see Personalizing).
  12. Regrets – “If only I hadn’t…” In therapy I still catch myself doing this in regards to my marriage and divorce on why I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship earlier and leave it much earlier, even before marriage.

So now that I torn myself down more, how do you fix this? Which I’m sure everything I’ve worked on is not to be thrown away. But, apparently I need a refresher course in this.

1. A Daily Thought Record

You know those “Things That Bother Me” posts and reflections I do? And the Babel-fish cartoons? Yes, those are good for this. But, I need to dive a little deeper. What are my thoughts? How much do I believe in them (rate them)? What have I distorted? Then be more self-compassionate. What would you say to a friend if they had said or thought these things?

The next chapter is on Confiding Concealed Wounds, which talks a great deal about Trauma and Avoidance, something I have discussed a lot. “People might find ways to avoid the topic by staying occupied with trivial distractions such as work, cleaning, or exercise.” I know I can be guilty especially of the exercise and talked a good amount about. But, this is for another day. Good night!

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Quest: Things that bug me

I have a hard time recognizing things that bug me probably because I have a history of not putting myself first and numbing my own feelings. So I have made it a Quest to jot down the things that bug me and identify how I’m going to address them or how I can handle it better in the future. Here’s some from the past week.

Pointing out my mistakes / Being told how to do my job
The one time I don’t put together a full agenda for a meeting and I get corrected on that makes me feel like a complete failure. Instead I had put my time into working on something rather than putting together an agenda. So sure, next time I can make sure I put together an agenda but I’ve been feeling there’s bigger things at stake here at work. I don’t feel appreciated and often feel belittled and over criticized. I know I’m not going to stay here forever and I know it’s not important to let this stuff get to me so then why does it? Why do I take it as an attack on my character?

Pressure
I ran a race but with someone who is an elite marathoner. It pressured me to run faster, not take any breaks. I became really cranky on the run. That’s not normal for me. Usually, I love running and I’m smiling and enjoy myself. While I want to get better at running, I am not willing to do that at the expense of ruining my most loved and prized hobby for myself. So I have to see what I want to do about this one. I don’t want to feel pressured, but at the same time I don’t want to disappoint someone. But, really, who matters here? Me. Right? If I’m not happy, then what’s the point?

The need for down time
I usually have a hard time being around people for an extensive period of time. This changed a bit living with someone, but now that I live alone, it seriously has become something I need again. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was always with someone and by Sunday I was ready to scream. For when I needed down time so desperately I still had more plans with other people. Having a night off with no social or physical (my body seriously needed some rest after the race) seems to have cured that.

People who try to control your life
There is a lot I would like to say regarding this one but it would just be too personal and give myself away. I am sure we have all dealt with people, whether its a parent or a sibling or a boss or a friend, who would really like to control your life. I have been struggling with this one for years. I can let these people control me and drain every last bit of energy I have or just let them say what they’ll say and don’t let it get to me.

What things have been bugging you? Do you take the time to think about them and act on them?

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New Work on Negative Self-Talk, Assertiveness, and How to Identify Potential Perpetrators

I had taken a few months hiatus from the workbook Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence, but have recently returned to it at a time that seems most appropriate. Over the past few months I had been dealing with a break up and recently decided to return to the dating game, whether that is a good idea or not. Work has also been more demanding lately. I noticed over the past couple weeks, that “I’m sorry” and “I should have” have been making their way back into my vocabulary. It’s as if I have put myself back into the mindset of a domestic violence victim. So I need to do something about this fast.

The remaining chapters I had in the workbook were the following with these key takeaways. Believe it or not I have been facing these things fairly frequently over the last few months from friends, family, co-workers, dates, and strangers.

1. Assertiveness, Aggressiveness, and How to Take the High Road

  • How to Respond to Verbal Aggression
  • How to Respond to Aggressive Questions
  • How to Respond to Aggressive Exhortations by People Who Mean Well – Believe it or not I’ve had a family member and a friend tell me “You should be over it by now”.
  • The Importance of Not Tolerating Disrespect – I have had to walk away from people who have talked to me in such a disrespectful way.
  • Saying No
  • How You Spend Your Time Is Up to You – I have had a lot of practice with this and saying no lately.
  • The Importance of Being Able to Say No Without Giving Reasons Why – I still need a lot of practice with this one. I got really upset last week when I felt I shouldn’t have to give a reason but was asked to give a reason. My therapist said this was a good thing that this frustrated me. It means a big deal – that I think I deserve not to have to justify myself.
  • Saying No after You Said Yes
  • Communicating Feelings – “I’m frustrated”, “I’m upset”, “I’m disappointed”, “I’m feeling sad”
  • Making Requests and Communicating Wants – I have recently had practice with this. I still feel like I get walked all over, but well, I’m trying!
  • Assertive Escalation in the Work Place – Over this past year I have had to do this.
  • Assertive Escalation in an Intimate Relationship

2. Overcoming Fear by Exposure to Harmless Reminders

This chapter has you expose yourself to reminders of the abusive person, including:

  • Looking at pictures of your ex
  • Visualizing your ex
  • Exposing yourself to smell, sound, sight, touch that you associate with your ex (e.g. cologne, liquor, music)
  • Work on Regulating Your Tension if you were to run into your ex
  • Watching Movies that Portray Domestic Violence
  • Engaging in Activities That Remind You of the Abuse – TV programs that depict violence, eating certain kinds of foods, wearing makeup, jewelry or certain kinds of clothes
  • Identifying other things you have been avoiding

My conclusion for this chapter was:

  • I am not willing to look at pictures of my ex or visualize my ex
  • I’m ok with listening to music or watching movies that I associate with my ex
  • I am not ok being at places or walking places that remind me of my ex especially the neighborhood we lived in, two areas where I had been beaten severely after walking home through, and certain bars or restaurants that I associate with my ex
  • I am ok with watching violent movies, and identify with movies where a woman succeeds in escaping their abuser
  • I really dislike eating certain foods that remind me of my ex, but have been working on that
  • I have been avoiding doing certain activities that I had shared with my ex, but am ok with not avoiding them

3. How to Identify Potential Perpetrators

You would be surprised the men that are out there in that dating pool. On one date, the guy admits to me that he and his ex-wife were abusive towards each other. I was thinking, dear god, get me out of here. In a conversation with one guy, he tells me domestic violence is compromise. Conversation ended right there.

Though this chapter has all of the standard characteristics of an abusive person which I have become very familiar with since being in an abusive relationship, it also has some advice I did not know about and would like to consider. It advises you to identify the potential abuser early on. You need to identify if the person is inable to or lacks the desire to resolve conflict in a mutually respectful way. They actually advise you to piss your boyfriend off early on. Well, invoke conflict. Considering that’s the last thing I want to do as a domestic violence survivor, I’m glad they explain how to provoke conflict:

  • Disagree and Be “Selfish” – They advise you to disagree about anything, politics, TV, sports, anything where you opinion differs. To make a fuss about anything small, like what you’d prefer to do on a date. I am so very terrible at arguing. But, ok. I’ll give this a try.
  • Do Not Be Rushed into a Relationship – I am feeling this one right now. They advise you to go slow, don’t allow him to make you feel rushed or pressured to spend more time together than you are willing. I’m just feeling very cautious about getting into a serious relationship right now.
  • Tell Him You Are Going to Continue Dating Other People 
  • Insist on Reliability
  • Program in an Unexplained Refusal to Get Together
  • Find Out About His Prior Relationships
  • Check Out His Background – Ok these last 2 may sound crazy to you, but I don’t think so after being in an abusive relationship. My ex was very clear about how poorly he treated his ex. And knowing that now and knowing that I was in an abusive relationship, if I ever hear that again, I am running away from that.

I realize I must continue practicing assertiveness, continue having self-compassion and the negative self-talk will dissipate. I am having a hard time adjusting to this new life again, but it’s not so bad. I am really proud of myself and how far I’ve come. When do I ever say that? Well, I just did. I’m proud of me. Hooray!!!

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Major Breakthrough: Understanding What It Is I’m Afraid Of

I wasn’t going to write about this because it is all too personal, but it is too important to pass up. Today in therapy, I had a major breakthrough on understanding why I was so afraid of “being alone.” Yesterday I was talking to someone about all the things I have planned and the time I’ve spent with my friends and they said to me, “You’re afraid of being alone, aren’t you?” This stuck with me. I couldn’t quite agree that it was being afraid of being alone that causes me to keep so busy and to be very social. But, yes, I have been wondering for some time, why is it my whole life I always keep busy? If I am not doing something, I feel like it is a waste of time. My therapist kept asking questions to help me get at exactly what it all meant. He asked me to clarify what “waste of time” means to me. I could clearly identify, to me, it means not enjoying life and not doing something that matters to me or applies to my goals.

He asked how does it make you feel if you “waste time.” I said, “aggravated.” “Unhappy.” He asked me to think about the times when I felt the most despair and on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the most despair and 10 being the least, what it was. I could quickly identify 3 of the worst times in my life where I felt the most despair. And this should be no surprise.

1. When I realized my ex-husband was abusive, I felt like I could not do anything to get out of it, that I was fully responsible for putting myself in it, and that I had lost all of my personhood

2. When I was raped in college and I was told a) to shut up b) that I wasn’t really raped and c) to get over it by the people I cared most about in life. This too removed my own sense of self.

3. An incident with my caregiver growing up that also removed my sense of self and having needs and wants

All of these times I felt so much despair, what I categorized as a 1 (the worst) that I wanted to not be alive to just escape the pain of them.

I came to the understanding that I’m not afraid of being alone. I’m afraid of feeling so much despair that I keep busy to avoid that feeling. In these past two weeks I have found I am quite content being alone. I never get bored. I never hate being with myself. I actually love myself and have a lot of compassion for myself. But, now I fully understand what it is I’m afraid of. And thinking about it, is enough to make me cry. But, I also know I am incredible for getting through all that I have gotten through. I am a strong woman who has regained my personhood. I am me. And no one can ever take that away again. Ever.

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