There’s good data that shows none of us are as good at multitasking as we think we are. Actually we’re terrible multitaskers. We do our best work when we do things one at a time.
You might disagree. I didn’t believe it when I heard it from the folks form University of Washington that taught me Dialectical Behavior Therapy. That’s a therapy that does in part a good job of operationalizing common sense. The truth is that we never really multitask meaning that we don’t really do two things at once. We do them one at a time whether we know it or not whether we believe it or not.
When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually moving our attention from one thing say the person we’re having dinner with to another say the phone on the table next to our plate.
It’s natural for our attention to jump from one thing to another. Somebody once described our minds like puppies. They’re curious, well-meaning, and easily distracted. Don’t kick your puppy.
So let’s give up on multitasking and adopt intentionality. Let’s do one thing and then shift our focus to the next thing and do that next thing. Go slower. Remind your puppy to be good. You’ll enjoy the good things more. The bad things will not be worse. Go slower as often as possible.
We don’t want people to hurt. We especially don’t want our loved ones to hurt. When we care for others and witness their pain it hurts us for them. We want to fix their pain for them. We want to fix their pain for us. If someone’s injured we can administer first aid. If someone’s choking we can apply the Heimlich Maneuver. In the right circumstance it’s vital for a responder to provide CPR. This begs the question, however, what do you do when someone you love is suffering a pain you can’t fix? This might take the form of chronic pain (think fibromyalgia or arthritis) , illness (think MS, HIV, Parkinson’s, and the like), or reactions to treatments or medications (think chemotherapy). Maybe it’s emotional pain associated with trauma, depression, anxiety, or grief. There are no Heimlich Maneuvers for emotional pain.
What can you do when your loved one is in pain that you can’t fix? Sit with them. Be present. Hold their hand. Let them know they’re not alone. Sound easy? It’s not. We’d rather fix. It’s more satisfying. Sitting with someone in pain is much harder than it sounds. To do it well we must be able to manage our own reactions and hold them as we stay in the room.
These things are easy to say or to type but they are hard to do. Here are some tips to help you stay present or “in the room” as I say when someone you love is in pain and it’s a pain that you personally can’t fix.
- Shift your focus to you. When our love hurts we can become so focused on them that we ignore ourselves. While we should never be oblivious to what’s going on with them we should likewise never be oblivious about what’s going on with us.
- Name what you’re feeling. Emotional literacy is the first step to emotional mastery. By the way emotional mastery doesn’t mean that we control what we feel. Rather it means that we know what we feel; we understand that emotional message from ourselves; and we know what to do in response to those feelings.
- Get aware of how intensely you’re feeling. Give yourself a score of 1-10. 10 is the most intense version of the feeling. For example a 10 on the 1-10 anxiety scale is panic. A 10 on the 1-10 anger scale is rage. A 10 on the 1-10 sadness scale is despair.
- Breathe deeply. Repeat as needed. I usually take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. As I breath slowly in I imagine I’m breathing that feeling in (see #2) and then breathing it out of my mouth. Do this as long as it takes for your emotional intensity to drop down to whatever your manageable level is. That might be a 6, a 3, or a 1 depending on how different emotions effect you.
- Shift your focus back to your partner. When you’re okay go back to providing reassurance. Ask them what they need from you. Hold hands. We’re all wired to receive soothing from touch so touch if it’s okay with them.
Self esteem is the confidence we have in ourselves to adapt, get along, and eventually thrive no matter what life throws at us. Here are a few keys to building your self esteem or your self confidence.
1. We’re not born with good self esteem. It’s built. We have to try new things, figure them out, and then be good at them. Repeat. The encouragement we get matters here. It takes courage and with a little or a lot of encouragement to try that new thing. Who encourages you?
2. We can’t build it on our own. We can’t see ourselves so we need mirrors. If those mirrors don’t give us an accurate view of ourselves then we don’t know what we truly are. When it comes to self esteem the people around us are our mirrors. Are they giving you an accurate view of yourself?
3. You can only build self esteem by trying and mastering new things.
4. You can take your self confidence with you.
5. Your self esteem is to you what gasoline is to your car. Self esteem can run out and you can’t go on if you don’t get more of it.
If your self esteem is low. There’s your work.
One of the best things about therapy is that a therapeutic relationship can correct years of bad mirroring and a lack of encouragement. If you’d like to do that work with me, check the link in my bio to set an appointment in person or online.
Love, – c
Nope. You wouldn’t. And I know for sure that I don’t, anymore.
Let’s back up a step. You’re talking to yourself all the time. We all are. Do you know what you’re saying? Tune in. Just notice. Notice what you’re telling yourself. Notice how you’re saying it. The tone you use is as important as what you’re thinking, maybe more.
In relationships one of the things that makes or breaks them is the atmosphere around it and within it. Is the experience of your relationship generally positive and warm like a safe haven from the outside world or does it feel negative and tense like walking on eggshells? A safe haven is good. Walking on eggshells is bad. What’s the atmosphere in your relationship with yourself?
If your self-talk is negative and the atmosphere in your head is like walking on eggshells then let’s turn that around. Imagine yourself as a little kid. I did. Yes, that’s me in this picture. Would you say the things you’re saying to yourself about yourself to 8 year-old you? Nope.
Your first job in adult life is to take care of yourself. In the airplane we always hear “put the mask on yourself before me you assist others.” Your life is your airplane. Self-care is putting the mask on yourself. Good self-talk and keep the atmosphere in your head positive are vital to self-care. If you’re not good at this, there’s your work.
Our lightning fast emotional reactions might serve us well sometimes or they might get us in big trouble.
Anyone who’s gotten a checkup at the doctor knows what their reflexes are. As soon as the doctor hits your knee with that little rubber mallet she can make your leg jump. Our emotions have reflexes too.
There are all sorts of rubber mallets out there too. Think of when a police car appears behind you with her lights and sirens flashing. That flash of dread? Your emotional reflex.
Some emotional reflexes are appropriate. If you’re under real threat that fight or flight jolt of anxiety can help you take action fast.
Usually though with the situations we face day-to-day are not life threatening. That doesn’t mean that our emotional reflexes don’t fire. It just means that we have to have them, metabolize them, and then choose what action we take.
Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us.
What are the mallets that hit your emotional reflexes? Are your responses helping you or hurting you? If your emotional reflexes are distressing you and you’re making bad (for you) choices, there’s your work.
Thank you…and about that social anxiety.
I’m so surprised and so grateful to all of you that have reached out to me over the last week. Thank you. I hope I didn’t scare anyone. I’ve been living with…fighting…coping with…accepting…depression and anxiety for so long that I assume everyone knows that’s part of my story.
In case you don’t know I first went to therapy about 20 years ago. Since then I became gradually more aware of my diagnoses, the causes and contributors to them, and what works for me. Along the way I became a therapist myself.
Almost everything thing that I work with in my therapy practice I’ve worked on in myself. It’s a totally unexpected joy in my life that I’m able to help others the way people help and helped me.
Over the last seven days my social anxiety episode has gradually lessened. It’s been happening long enough that I know my social anxiety is an emotional reflex to other stress. It’s not about “She hates me,” like anxiety says but it is about somethings. I’m working on those somethings. I’m on it. I got this.
For all of you who love and care about me, thank you. You have no idea how much you’ve helped me not just in the last week but over the last 20 years.
Y’all are awesome.
1. Medication won’t do your work but they can make your work much easier to do.
Life leaves its marks on all of us. Medicines can help you focus, stabilize your mood, or take the edge off of profound anxiety so that you can figure out how get to work, be a better friend, or get to therapy appointments. In therapy you can learn the dynamics and scripts that are driving you in ways that no longer work for you. There’s no pill for that. But there are pills that can lessen emotional intensity so that you can do your good work.
2. See a specialist. Go to a psychiatrist. I was so lucky to train with some amazing doctors that I’m proud to call colleagues and friends. I always encourage my clients to see one of them for medication management. Psychiatrists have expert knowledge about the drugs they prescribe. They know about alternative medical treatments that even the best family practice doctors simply don’t have time to learn about. Take advantage of the expertise they have.
3. Different medicines react differently in each human body.
Some medicines take a while to work in your system. Others work more quickly. It’s hard to know how a medication will effect you without trying it. Also lists of side effects are often scary. Don’t Google them. Just because somebody in a medication trial got an upset stomach on med x it doesn’t mean you will. Find a psychiatrist you like. Work with them consistently and find right meds for your body.
4. Take the least amount of medicine that gives you maximum symptom reduction and minimum side effects.
This is a balancing act for your unique body and physiology. Pick a doctor that you’re comfortable with and that you trust because it’s a process to get the right meds at the right dose. Persistence pays off here.
5. Alcohol and marijuana are drugs too.
Many of my clients start therapy with a firm personal belief that they don’t want to be on medication yet they’re drinking and/or using marijuana regularly. There’s a paradox there worth understanding and changing.
Thank you Doug Braun-Harvey for this definition and for being you. .
Doug is a rockstar in my tiny world of therapy and sex therapy. I’m so lucky to have had Doug as a teacher in my sexual health program at Michigan. Doug introduced sexual health and sexual health models to my world. We tended to think first and most about “sexual problems” and Doug is helping us shift our perspective from a problem focus to a sexual health focus..
The first time I saw Doug, however, wasn’t in class it was online with @estherperelofficial via her online training program called Sessions. Next I saw him live in NYC with Esther. I think I’ll be forever star struck by Esther. So, I wondered how much confidence do you have to have to correct Esther live in the middle of her presentation to 300+ people. That’s what Doug did. Later I found out that Doug and Esther had made a deal. She asked him to help her better refine her language. In hindsight, Doug and Esther modeled consent for all of us in a non-sexual setting. .
Check out the aspects of sexual health. Are you getting all these out of your sexual relationships? Are you giving them? If not, there’s your work.
Sexual narrative (3 of 3) – It’s humbling and wonderful to be learning so much in my sex therapy training program at Michigan. It’s great to learn frameworks and models that I can use to help clients. This framework of sexual identity is a prime example.
I look at all this material as an experienced therapist and novice sex therapist of course. I also can help but realize what an ignorant person I’ve been trying to navigate, understand and tell my own sexual narrative. I’m learning something new every week that not only applies to my clinical practice but to my life as a sexual person and citizen of my relationships.
This week’s eye opener has been intention as a full and equal part of our sexual identity along with gender identity and orientation. The latter two have been well discussed and will continue to be in my sexual health certificate program, my work with the Human Rights Campaign, and in my relationships. Intention however is something that in hindsight I’ve always been aware of in a vague sort of way but now it’s sharp.
What is my intention in my solo sex life? How about in my partner sex life? Are they the same? Different? What does that tell me about me and my motivations? Am I using sex for something like self soothing or emotional regulation when other skills might be more effective or more appropriate?
Let’s all become more aware of our intention when it comes to sex. I’ll bet we’ll be surprised what we learn.
Sexual narrative (2 of 3) – These are three parts of sexual functioning. It probably tells you something about my personality when I say that my first thought was something like, “God, look how much can go wrong.”
On the bright side, look how much can go right! These three don’t all have to happen for sex to be good. Only desire is required for this party. Arousal and orgasms, they’re bonuses, if they happen along the way.