“I’m giving up drinking for a month. Sorry bad punctuation. I’m giving up. Drinking for a month.”
Ah the difference punctuation makes. It is meant to be funny. However, in terms of mental health, it couldn’t be more serious.
Details impact your mental and emotional wellness. One little thing changes how you view your life. Pay attention to them.
The big things; trauma, tragedy, loss, grief, and life transitions knock your life out of balance. You easily notice those things because they are obvious. But what about the small things? The punctuation of life we miss daily?
Being around negative people, social media, or media in general.
Not setting adequate boundaries with people.
The parent or coach you could never please.
Being told you ask too many questions or over think things.
Never reaching perfection or ideals.
Constantly comparing yourself to others.
Being afraid to fail.
Condescension from loved ones.
Allowing others to treat us badly.
Not granting things we take for granted.
Small things damage your self-esteem, self-efficacy, best self, integration, congruence, and emotional balance. The damage affects us even more than the big things that are more obvious. We are exposed to these little things daily and become conditioned to them. As a result, we rarely comprehend how they affect our mental and emotional state, as well as our relationships.
You miss them and details change how you interpret your life’s sentences. In fact, they rewrite your life’s paragraphs and chapters. It changes the very meaning of your entire life’s book.
Details seem small, but they make a big difference. Just like punctuation. Mind them. Your life depends on it.
We live in a part of the world where the topic of sex is… a bit taboo. Yet we know how much it impacts our relationships, our health, and our happiness.
So we have to talk about it folks. Gratefully, we are still safe: as it turns out, we don’t have to talk about the physical at all to talk about how to have healthier, happier, better sex.
“Say what??” You ask. Yes, you heard me: According to the research, physicality has almost nothing to do with great sex!
A study interviewing people across all demographic variables (age, education, cultural background, sexuality, gender, income, etc.) asked folks to talk about their greatest experiences in bed (..or not).
And consistently found these 8 universal components:
being present,focused, embodied – free of distractions and able to keep attention on sensation.
connection, alignment, merger and being in sync – essentially, “chemistry”- that electric feeling of being in tune with your partner.
deep sexual and erotic intimacy – sharing mutual respect, acceptance, admiration, compassion, and trust
extraordinary communication and heightened empathy – feeling free to take risks in sharing oneself mentally and emotionally; valuing taking responsibility in identifying what desires and sensitivities to convey to, and hearing the same from, your partner.
interpersonal risk-taking, exploration and fun – a spirit of adventure and laughter as you discover more about yourself and your partner.
authenticity, being genuine, uninhibited and transparency – you can say and be anything: selfish, impulsive, free of cares, emotionally uncontrolled, and unguarded. This lack of inhibition allows a partner to feel uninhibited as well.
vulnerability and surrender – putting the control in your partner’s hands, taking the leap of faith to be uninhibited, communicative, and playful with your partner.
transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation and healing – a feeling of expansiveness outside of body and mind
OK, so not about the physical.. but maybe we see why we choose to focus on that instead of what truly allows for great sex: mindset and interpersonal connection.
To create these elements, we have to feel safe, learn some other skill sets (communication, focus, relaxation) and broaden our definition of sexuality to recognize and embrace all the ways we create and experience pleasure.
So here are some wonderful resources to get on your way:
The excellent therapists at Revitalist: Jeff Cockerham specializing in couples, and Florence Paquet, specializing in sexual wellbeing and trauma.
Nonviolent Communication from Marshall Rosenberg – excellent book, but you can find this as a 5 hour audiobook for free on youtube right now!
Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel – again, you should get this book, but here are some notes to get you started:
I’ve been in the Christian church all my life, including serving several different churches in pastoral or clergy roles for some 25 years. Over the years, I’ve walked alongside countless parishioners who experienced religious trauma in various forms. To be honest, I experienced it myself. Religious trauma occurs more subtly that we realize, yet results in serious mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical, yes physical health issues.
Consequently, although my perspective comes from Christianity, religious trauma occurs within any religion.
Throughout those years, as I worked with parishioners from a pastoral care perspective, I discovered religious trauma uncomfortably common. Most often, trauma came from experiences with bad theology, rigidity, judgmentalism, religious perfectionism, guilt and shame, strict laws, codes, and traditions to follow. Underlying those issues exist conflict stemming from dogma, doctrine, and hypocrisy. More heinously, some parishioners suffered trauma from verbal, physical, or sexual abuse at the hands of clergy or other religious leadership or members.
Tragically, throughout our history, religions have used sacred texts to weaponize their theology to destroy and dehumanize other people groups that believe differently, even to the point of death. Unfortunately, it is still rampant in our world today.
As I have moved from pastoral care work into professional counseling, I have found many clients suffer from religious trauma in some form, often of which they were unaware. It breaks my heart. It angers me.
Christianity and her church are considered vehicles for parishioners to worship, train, educate, and serve for the purposes of creating peace and heaven on earth and in the after life. Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Unfortunately, they often fail to provide community as Christ intended, a place of healing and transformation into our best Christ self. Instead, for some, it undoes their best Christ self and influences guilt, shame, and inner conflict, leading to serious health issues.
As the health care community learns more about the tremendous effects religion can have on holistic health, we give it more attention. It’s referred to as Religious Trauma Syndrome. Although you won’t find this diagnosis in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which clinicians use to make their diagnoses, the term has been gaining attention with psychotherapists, counselors and others working with folk bruised and damaged by religious indoctrination.
I for one am thrilled to see it coming to the forefront. As it does, perhaps churches and her leaders can see the potential harm that can be done to people. Perhaps parishioners can understand their trauma and not feel confounded by God and God’s representatives. Perhaps they might not feel as outcasts and less than human. Perhaps guilt and shame won’t undercut their growth. Perhaps they can become their true self, best self, and fully integrated self. I’d be happy to help you on that journey.
I will speak more on specific topics concerning RTS in the future.
The holidays can bring out the best in you. Sometimes, they can bring out your worst. Take the opportunity this year to better communicate with friends and loved ones. One of the greatest gifts you can give others is the ability to care for yourself and self-soothe when your emotions are triggered by the holidays (or the people you spend time with during the holidays!).
Practice self-soothing in moments when you are not distressed so that you can draw from that skill when you become overwhelmed. Preparation is key! Try these tools this holiday season and see if it might make a difference:
ASK FOR A TIME OUT
When you are feeling flooding by emotions and need to take a break, ask to step away before you lose control. Knowing when you’re flooded and asking for time to sooth and regulate them is critical. Give yourself at least 20 minutes to calm down and allow your brain a chance to form the enzymatic changes necessary. You might even surprise the children!
TAKE 10 DEEP BREATHS
Focus on the air going in and out. Breathe in deeply for seven seconds. Use your diaphragm fully. Hold the breath for two or three seconds, which allows time for calming chemicals to reach your brain. Release the air slowly for eleven seconds while relaxing the tension muscles in your body.
DO A BODY SCAN
Do a body scan to help you notice where you feel tense in your body and breathe into those places to relax them. Being aware of the tension you keep in your brow, jaw, neck, and shoulders might be a good place to start.
IMAGINE YOUR FAVORITE PLACE
Imagine your favorite place—a place that makes you feel at ease.
What are the sounds, smells, and sensations that accompany that place? Place yourself there in your mind and allow your senses to calm you.
KNOW YOUR COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS
Typically, “the shoulds” or “catastrophizing” tend to lead the way in faulty thinking. Be aware of the common ways your thoughts are distorted. Once you recognize the faulty thought(s), restructure them into something more positive and hopeful.
Avoid ruminating on the thing/thought that led to feeling overwhelmed in the first place. Engage your mind in something that will ignite healthy chemicals in your brain, such as music, smiling, laughing, exercise, and the like.
When you can talk to others with less tension and stress weighing you down, you can have better and more productive conversation which leads to a better holiday season. Best of luck to you! Happy Holidays!!
If you struggle with anxiety and depression, emotional episodes typically heighten during the holidays. Here are just a few ways to help you regulate your emotions this year.
Know your triggers and be prepared to regulate your thoughts and emotions.
Certain people, memories, or traditions can connote negative emotions during the holidays. These emotions are ignited by triggers, which typically happen through the senses; sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Is there a Christmas song that reminds you of a beloved family member who has passed away? A smell that brings up past abuse? Driving back to a town or a home past the sight of many moments that cause grief or memories of pain? Recognize these things as potential triggers for emotional reaction and practice breathing, gratitude, smiling, laughing, and other grounding techniques to regulate them.
Thoughts may surface as well. They are created by memories, regrets, people who may trigger you, and the like. Develop positive scripts or one liners to use to help set boundaries when engaging volatile personalities. Work at regulating your defensiveness when they attack. Don’t take their attacks personal even if they are intentionally making it personal.
Restructure the “shoulds” and “should haves” that surface in your thinking. “She should know better!” “He should help with the decorations!” “I shouldn’t have talked to them that way last year.” You can’t control others anymore than you can undo what you did last year. So don’t should your pants!
Focus on the positive.
It can be hard in the midst of anxiety and depression. However, it is critical to look for the positive things that aren’t triggers for you during the holidays; the warmth of a hot cocoa, the smell of cinnamon, the taste of Christmas foods, the sounds of Christmas bells and music, puppies under mistletoe, and the like.
If they aren’t triggers for you, write them down or list them on your phone. Focus on how they make you feel good and warm on the inside. Positive things can exist during the holidays, even in the anxious and depressive moments. So look for them. Grant those things you take for granted.
Understand no family is perfect.
The old joke says, “If you can’t identify the crazy person in your family, it might be you!”
Inevitably, you will be forced to spend time with that person, especially if it is you. Plan ahead for how you will respond to the triggers they ignite in you. Write scripts to help you respond in a non-aggressive way. Be assertive in setting boundaries, but always be kind.
Set realistic expectations.
Idealists struggle when ideals are not met, which is always. Strive for perfection. Be satisfied with excellence! For others, imagine the worst that can happen in a situation. Now imagine the best. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Again focus on the positive and restructure “the shoulds.”
Regulate your diet, exercise, and sleep.
Watch your sugar, caffeine, and alcohol intake. Its okay to enjoy them, but too much deregulate the chemicals in your brain, intensifying emotions and triggers. Enjoy! But do so in moderation, which is hard because so much becomes available to you over a long period of time. Select days, parties, and events that you will enjoy these foods and drinks. Choose them based on what you know will be available at each. Enjoy them only on those particular times as opposed to every time.
The same concepts apply to sleep. If you have several days off, sleep well but not too much. Take a nap if you want, but not all afternoon or several times over the break. It can throw off your balance and make it more difficult to regulate your triggers.
Exercise can be a great way to provide the balance of chemicals your brain and body need to help you regulate emotions. So walk each day or get to the gym. Play with the children. Be creative! Get off the couch and move!
Focus on your reason to celebrate, most often around faith.
These days are intended to be holy and honor Holy Other. They are intended to bring glimpses of hope, joy, and peace. Likewise, they provide the impetus and inspiration for us to provide moments and acts of hope and peace to those around us.
Turning yourself outward is a gift to others and a gift to you. So take time to serve, give, and love others. Provide hope and peace to those who have none. Maybe even those mean or annoying relatives.
When we experience trauma (and we all do) a piece of ourselves stays behind to remember. A wonderful adaptation that helped us to survive in that moment. However, that piece, often disconnected from our conscious awareness, is like a puppet master: pulling the strings and causing reactionary behavior.
We often feel powerless to these reactionary and compulsive pieces of ourselves. We learn, we do the self care, and still it’s like something in us can.not. let. go.
Gratefully, more and more research is indicating lifelong plasticity in our brains, especially when we encounter nurturing.
This world is not always nurturing obviously. Despite our best efforts life will always have darkness, chaos, and ups and downs. We can’t resolve all of our toxic patterns, relationships, and environments right here and now…. maybe ever… so what do we do?
You always have the power to be more nurturing to yourself, no matter where you are, what you are doing, and with very little time.
Try it right here and now:
Place a hand to your heart.
Say to yourself: ” I’m so sorry, please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you”
It feels funny at first, but keep trying, some part of you, the part of you reading this article right now, believes in your innate deserving of love, forgiveness, and gratitude.
(this is a Hawaiian forgiveness practice called Ho’oponopono, if you’d like to know more)
BONUS: If you feel extra sweet on yourself, try noticing when any unwanted thoughts, emotions, images (memory movies, flashbacks, etc) or sensations come up.
Acknowledge these elements as a part of yourself and ask this part of yourself – “what are you feeling? what do you need?”
(check out Nonviolent Communication’s list of feelings and/or needs to become more familiar)
Take a moment to imagine, feel free to fantasize wildly, meeting that need in the most wonderful way, and take a breath.
Let us know what comes up for you and what shifted as you tried these practices!
3-Minute Body Scan Meditation to Cultivate Mindfulness
A brief mindfulness meditation practice will relax your body and focus your mind. Along with breathing, it is one of the best tools to manage anxiety and stress. Here is one way you can learn how:
10-45 minutes, three to six days per week for four weeks. Research suggests that people who practice the body scan for longer reap more benefits from this practice.
How to do it
The body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in other postures. The steps below are a guided meditation designed to be done while sitting. You can listen to audio from a google search or on youtube.
Begin by bringing your attention into your body.
You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you.
You can notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the weight of your body on the chair, on the floor.
Take a few deep breaths.
And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen enlivening the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply.
You can notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat.
You can notice your legs against the chair, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness.
Notice your back against the chair.
Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath.
Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight? See if you can allow them to soften.
Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft.
Notice your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax.
Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft.
Then notice your whole body present. Take one more breath.
Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.
I’ve had the privilege of providing Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) over 600 times for clients at Revitalist in the last year. Over 70 percent of people suffering from treatment resistant depression responded positively to the low dose, slow infusions. The results are even higher with a counselor. However, at Revitalist, we noticed that more was necessary for our clients’ continued success post treatment.
We discovered what Dr. Raquel Bennett, a psychologist and founder of the KRIYA Institute, and Ketamine infusion psychiatrist Dr. Steven Levine had been noticing and researching, as well. Clients often struggled assimilating into their new depression free life.
Often isolated from family and friends while suffering from depression, they may find their social support system diminished. Furthermore, with clarity and improved insight to their condition, they may discover what they had been missing in life with struggling with the effects of depression. Upon these realizations, they sort through a list of regrets and how much time and money spent with doctors, medications, and therapists.
This phenomenon was coined by Jessica Katzman as “Therapeutic Bends” or “the effects that can occur when we ascend rapidly from great depths.” For more, read her article here:
All of this makes sense. Joel Robertson in Peak Performance Living, writes that it requires 3-6 weeks of consistent action using mental health tools and techniques before behavioral results are noticeable. Ketamine boosts the process and provides insight and energy to begin these tasks.
However, even with the benefits of KAP, the brain may seek to return to the old baseline for about 3-6 months, should a client discontinue compliance to new learned behavior. So when the Therapeutic Bends and discontinued behavior happen, the brain attempts to gravitate back to the original unbalanced baseline. The client’s brain longs for the familiar friend, depression.
At Revitalist, we knew something must be done to support our clients. Thus Community Care was developed to provide groups to help with social interaction, learn new coping skills, and practice living into their new self with the support of therapists and peers.
Social support, identity formation, coping skills, accountability to compliance, and psycho-education provide what a client needs to avoid the Therapeutic Bends phenomenon,. A mixture of Ketamine, Psychotherapy, and Community Care is how we found a way forward for folks recovering from treatment resistant depression.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
In today’s culture, vulnerability is viewed as weakness. In counseling, vulnerability provides a springboard for growth and self-awareness.
It actually takes incredible strength and assurance in self-worth to offer love with arms wide open, waiting for love to either be returned or rejected. In rejection, strength is found in knowing who you are, what you offer to the world, and not needing others to return your offering to find value in yourself. When love is returned…well…it feels pretty good. However, without risking rejection, you may never find relationship. Vulnerability carves the pathway forward.
Likewise, vulnerability removes violence and vengeance from the relationship. Resentment and feelings of vengeance often come with rejection for those who turn their pain outward. Vulnerability is having the confidence in yourself enough to know you are good with or without the other person’s acceptance. Knowing you are good enough, just as you are, reveals power that doesn’t need to be expressed through vengeance or violence.
Ultimately, vulnerability leads to peace within, which is a sign of true strength. It is hard and full of risk, but it is worth the risk.