feelings

Are you purposefully problem-solving?

Life is HARD! It includes many problems to solve, especially when you’re living it fully and deeply and not skating around the rim, floating along on a cloud of privilege, denial or delusion (which many people are).

Everyone who is aware of the natural ups and downs of life needs a good healthy vent now and then. It’s a strategy mental health professionals advocate we all strive to practice to purposefully problem-solve daily frustrations in our lives.

Venting allows us to express the natural ebb and flow of human emotions which indicate an appropriate level of awareness and ability to deal with reality. If you aren’t riding the rocky waves of feeling, you probably aren’t really dealing with reality at all! Even Buddhist masters feel a wide range of feelings, they just have great tools to manage the highs and lows. I’ve been practicing for 20 years and only finally feel like I know what I’m doing most of the time.

So it’s ok to feel lots of feelings, I just gave you permission. But how we deal with those feelings determines how we feel on a day-to-day basis and how we impact the lives of other people.

Because there’s venting and then there’s flat-out complaining. And behavior change experts (like me) will tell you (and myself) that complaining is just disempowerment, plain and simple. Complaining rarely if ever helps us feel better whereas processing helps us purposefully problem-solve which helps us feel more confident and happy!

So how do you know when you’re venting to purposefully process or problem-solve and when you’re complaining in circles?

I’m happy to share my personal experience and perspective on this, because it’s way more relatable and fun since I’m a real person. People who meet me and know I’m a coach often get a little disillusioned by their own projections of what they think a coach is or should be. When they meet me and realize I have struggles and challenges and fears and limitations, and even (GASP!) complain from time to time, they sometimes think I can’t really help them or other people. Even though I’ve helped thousands of people in the ten years I’ve been a coach and for years before I ever became certified.

But the truth is, I’m just a normal human being who happens to know a lot about behavior change and healthy habits, but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I don’t need to be perfect to help people. I just need to know tools and encourage and support others in their process. The best way I do that is to walk my own path, make mistakes, learn from them and keep going. And share what I learn!

So here’s how I have learned to know when I am complaining and not doing healthy processing or venting.

Both feel and sound similar. Both include insights about interactions with other people. Both include sharing painful feelings or frustrations about circumstances or realizations. Both (maybe) include some snarky comments.

But complaining sounds more like, “I can’t believe this happened to me. It’s so unfair. Poor me. This is just my situation and there’s nothing I can do.”

Complaining is merely recounting the details of what happened, over and over, without any desire to transform the situation.

Processing or healthy venting for problem-solving sounds more like, “wow! That was really frustrating or disappointing. I really didn’t listen to my gut and probably should have. I didn’t realize this earlier but can see clearly now. It sure doesn’t feel good, but I learned a good lesson from it.”

OR

“I clearly expressed what I wanted and needed but we weren’t on the same page. I tried several times to make it work and finally gave up. I feel sad and disappointed but can see why it happened like that.”

OR

“I keep expecting someone to be different or have a different reaction. I’m really setting myself up to be disappointed over and over. I should probably change my approach.”

Get it? It really involves some important self-awareness and self-reflection to make it purposeful problem-solving and not ranting and complaining about how much people suck.

Complaining usually focuses on the behavior or actions of other people. It indicates where we had unrealistic expectations or projections and failed to express them clearly. Complaining lacks any statement of personal responsibility or attitude that contributed or led to the frustration.

Processing to purposefully problem-solve includes, first and foremost, what we expected or how we could have contributed to something that didn’t work out or was unsatisfying.

It’s important to remember that it’s ok to be annoyed or sad or frustrated, especially when we have worked hard to express ourselves and it falls on deaf ears. Or when people seem unwilling or unable to change to make working or living together feel easier and more fun.

So why bother focusing on healthy venting when we could just complain our guts out?

Well, I remember things really changed for me in my life when I stopped complaining because it just got exhausting. I felt like a broken record and I started hearing how I sounded to other people and started to cringe.

When I started learning new ways to express myself and think about my own behavior, I started processing more and trying to trouble-shoot solutions to change myself or a situation. It doesn’t mean that people HEARD it as processing. In fact, when I talk I often think many people think I’m complaining, because that’s what they’re used to hearing from other people in their lives. It’s hard to know the difference until you really think about it. But when you listen well, you can spot it!

I engage in healthy venting and processing because my life isn’t easy. No one has it easy, really, but some certainly have it easier than others. The more challenges I’ve taken on and chosen, the harder my life becomes. But it’s up to me to speak to how those challenges feel and how to solve them, which includes healthy processing of what feels painful, frustrating or hard. Merely complaining about something doesn’t change it, in fact it only makes what felt hard feel more horrible because it doesn’t transform or go anywhere.

Take politics. We see lots of people complaining about a person, or people, but not really processing how they keep expecting someone to change (who shows no sign of changing anytime soon). See how complaining just goes in circles whereas processing, which would include changing one’s personal perspective, actually trouble-shoots the same problem? Even if the situation doesn’t change, YOUR FEELINGS about it do change!

Or think about your own life and a problematic situation. Why are you complaining about it? What’s the story you keep telling yourself or another person over and over? Can you see where you could transform it by adding in details about your own part of what happened?

Sit on this. Think about it. Consider what you’re doing each day and if it qualifies as processing or complaining. And if I can help you sort through this or shift it, let me know.

How To Heal a Broken Heart

nZ8nNFU

Sometimes, loving means losing.

If you aren’t waking up in partnered bliss (or something close to it) this morning, here are some words to perhaps comfort you. Whether you’re single and alone by choice, chance or due to a recent death of a beloved partner, you may find yourself catching your breath a few times today—and maybe shedding a tear or two for memories or dashed hopes.

For me, the sadness of missing a certain someone hurts more than the fear of being alone without a Valentine. I don’t want a placeholder as much as I miss the heart, mind and spirit of a beloved person I held dear.

Having loved and lost more than once in my life, here is my best advice to heal a broken heart.

1)   Grieve it

Whether it happened on purpose, by accident or because a life ended, it’s an ending. It’s a loss and losses aren’t easy for us humans. Some are more welcome than others, especially if we made the choice to end the relationship. But if you find yourself not exactly leaping for joy and dancing in the streets, I recommend you spend significant time grieving the loss you’ve experienced. Many people, if not most, often jump to the next thing: the next person, the next job, the next topic of conversation. They push down or avoid the feelings about the loss or absence or the way things ended. It’s hard, painful stuff and many people find it easier to numb out and “move on” by compartmentalizing and avoiding the grieving process. But I don’t recommend this. It catches up to you, eventually. I recommend you do and do it good. Go through the pictures. Thumb through the hand-written notes. Remind yourself of what you valued and treasured about that person. And hold it alongside the truth of what hurt or didn’t feel right and good for you. A healthy grieving process will earn you years of authentic healing and solace in the long-term. You’ll be able to make real peace with what happened, whatever it was.

2)   Consider your part

If the ending or loss happened despite your best efforts, it’s really easy to blame or shame the other person. This feels good in the short-term but rarely does anything to really help us build character. Having done this myself in relationships and jobs, I know how tempting it is to nurture the victim part of us that wants to feel wronged or hurt, abandoned or rejected. We want the other side to hurt too, dammit! This is natural because we are human, but it won’t help you truly forgive and forget. It also increases the chances that we will perpetuate our contribution, whatever it was, in the next situation. Sometimes, we do this to preserve our sense of self, and we can miss seeing something that would be good to know about ourselves. If you consider and fully contemplate whatever your part was, you’re one step closer to being part of the solution and prevention of it repeating itself again in your life. Or you might get insight you never had before and you can see the other person in a totally different light. Which is a good thing-for you and other people in your life.

3) Say what you need to say

A lot of people are really bad listeners. Don’t talk to those people. They are often too self-absorbed and caught up in their own lives to pay attention to what you’re saying. Chances are, they haven’t fully grieved losses in their own lives and they won’t bear witness to your process in a way that really helps you. Find people who don’t say cliche things like, “he/she is resting in peace” or “sorry it didn’t work out” or “it wasn’t meant to be.” You have a broken heart! It hurts! Platitudes don’t honor the deeply-rooted and real feelings you’re experiencing. Talk to a professional and/or compassionate friends who make you feel heard and supported in your process, however long it takes. If it is safe or welcomed, express anything that remains for you to the other person. Or write a letter or email and delete it. Over and over again. Until it’s all out. When you can safely process all the feelings you have about the complexity of the loss and its impact on your past, present and future, you increase your chances of healing sooner and more completely.

4)   Practice forgiveness

Whatever happened, happened for a good reason. Sometimes it takes us months or years to fully understand and appreciate this, but having experienced tremendous heartbreak numerous times, I can tell you that with every fiber of my being. If the person left or died suddenly, forgive the abrupt ending. Is it harder or easier for you to forgive someone who has passed on? Or how about someone who is still alive but out of contact? Don’t try to see the meaning right away, it may not be apparent. But you can practice forgiving yourself and the other party for whatever shortcomings or shortsightedness led to the loss. People do and say things coming from their given capacity at the time, and it is unfortunate and frustrating when the needs, interests and abilities of each partner don’t match up. Consider what you did and didn’t do or say that worked or didn’t work. Give yourself a break, because you probably did what you could—or wanted to do—at the time.

5) Practice platonic love

I’m assuming you have at least one if not MANY people in your life. And I bet you love them all a lot. Spend the day calling them or emailing them or texting heart emojis. Tell your kids, tell your parents, siblings and friends about your gratitude for them. Hug them. Make Valentine’s Day cards for your plants who selflessly receive your carbon dioxide and give out oxygen day in and day out. Send love to strangers on the street or in countries far away. Within minutes of doing this, you’ll realize that time spent mourning the loss of one person, however significant that person was, is time you can also invest in other relationships in your life. You could probably spend the day making cards for everyone you’ve ever loved in your life and not finish before it’s time to go to bed.

If you do all these things, I hope you find and feel more peace than you did when you began reading this article. Perhaps it revealed something new for you and can help you reach a different stage of your healing process.

For more information, read up on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her theory about the stages of grief. You can find where you are in your process and remember how many people share your feelings around the world. Know that time, will indeed, heal your heart if you help it along just a bit.

Hiding Hinders Healing: What Helped Lift My Depression

photo-2

   

I was sitting down to write a paper for grad school about How We Determine Our Worth and I saw the news about Robin Williams. He allegedly committed suicide after years of battling depression.

I've long considered writing about my own experience with depression but since it felt more situational and wasn't a clinical diagnosis, I felt it wouldn't be as valuable.

And then I realized that was dumb.

My depression was real. I felt it so deeply I wanted to commit suicide multiple times and I expressed those feelings to friends. I wasn't kidding or joking or trying to get attention. I felt helpless and hopeless beyond belief and beyond comfort many, many times.

My depression was legitimate to me, with or without some clinician signing off on a diagnosis or prescription.

I've been able to find my way out from under the weight of the depressive bouts on each and every occasion over the years without prescription medications. I seem to be on a good upswing because the bouts have become much fewer and farther between, lately. I figured that it may be helpful to someone to read what helped my depression so I've decided to push past the thoughts about the depression other people feel and experience and write about mine.

I talked about it. Perhaps one of the toughest parts about depression is speaking about it. There may be fear or shame there because it may carry a stigma implying individual weakness. "Just pick yourself up and move on," people might say. I felt that fear and shame but I still spoke about it. I said it to my therapist. I said it to my friends. I said it to myself. "I feel depressed," I'd say. "I am depressed."

I felt it. Much like talking about it, simply feeling it helped. I allowed myself to be or feel depressed and didn't make excuses or feel like a failure because I was experiencing depression. I knew it was something people feel and I was now feeling it. It sucked and I often wished it would pass more quickly, but I never beat myself up for feeling it and that may have helped me not sink further down. On one occasion this past year, I backed myself into a closet and cried loudly until the tears stopped. I felt a little concerned while it was happening and wondered if calling 911 made sense but on the other side of it, about 30 minutes later, I felt a tremendous weight lifted.

I assessed my current situation and determined that it might be making me feel depressed. It might not be you. It might be your job, your relationship or something else that is not a good or right fit. In more than a few instances, changing my situation profoundly helped my depression.

I ate foods that seemed to improve my mood and (tried to) avoid ones that made it worse. When I ate sugar, my depression came on like gangbusters. What was mildly annoying or bothersome or frustrating one day would become utterly and profoundly hopeless within hours of ingesting too much sugar. I felt painted into a corner by paint that would never, ever dry. "This will be like this forever!" I'd say. And then, I would drink a lot of water and eat more vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens) and the sugar would pass through my bloodstream. The same situation that had me paralyzed hours earlier would feel slightly less horrible. And then, mildly horrible. And then, not so bad at all. I tried to remember this the next time I was tempted to eat a lot of sugar in one sitting but it didn't (doesn't) always work.

I made sure I got sleep, even when it was erratic. Experiencing insomnia brought on by anxiety or depression is hell. I've been through it a few times in the past few years and each time I become incredibly angry. We need sleep to function, it isn't something we can skip on and expect to really thrive. I hated that I wasn't sleeping, especially when I tried everything I could think of to remedy the insomnia. Essential oils. Baths. Not eating or drinking after 8pm. Cool temperature in the room. Blankets. No lights on. Earplugs. God, everything. But I persevered and eventually the circadian rhythms righted themselves and it dissipated. The most helpful thing may have been my tenacity with a regular bedtime, no matter how long I stayed asleep or how many times I woke up during the night.

I wrote about it. I wrote about my depression and didn't publish the blog posts. I got the words out with a pen in a paper journal. I sometimes resorted to drawing angry or sad faces with a crayon.

I listened to music that inspired me in some way. Sometimes it was African lullabies, sometimes it was Disney songs. Sometimes it was cathartic singer-songwriter stuff, in moderation of course. Listening to the suffering of others sometimes helped me gain much-needed perspective on my own situation. Often it helped me feel connected to someone, that person who wrote that song, even if that person was a total stranger who didn't even know I existed. They knew what I was feeling, though, and I felt less wrong or bad or hopeless that I would ever feel anything but those things.

I reminded myself that it might be depression. During especially difficult moments, the kind when I wasn't sure I needed to keep hanging out here on Earth, I remembered that it wasn't total and complete reality that would linger forever. It might be depression, instead, and it might pass.

I remembered my accomplishments. When I felt like I'd done all I could with my life and wanted to pass Go and collect my $200, I reminded myself of what I had accomplished. I considered all I've overcome. I reflected on the lessons I've learned and wondered what else was left for me to experience. "If my life has been this rich," I'd think, "what if there's even more ahead?"

I reached out for help from people I knew would listen. When I was depressed, hanging out or speaking with someone who didn't understand it or have compassion for it made it much worse. Calling someone who didn't judge or condemn it, and even understood it, helped me much more. Even though I don't experience ongoing depression and mine seems to come and go, I still relate to the fundamental quality of it. I remember it. While I hope that all people can find and experience relief from it, I can still hold the space for them as they find that relief. Not everyone can do this. They can't sit with their own feelings and probably can't hold the space for you. I don't spend too much time around these people, anymore.

If you feel depressed or experience ongoing depression, I encourage you to try some of what helped me, in addition to whatever you're doing that helps you wake up and put your feet on the floor each day.