what is a highly sensitive person

If I had a dime for every time I labeled myself or was described as “incredibly sensitive,” I’d be rich. In fact, I spent my entire life feeling like I was viewing the world through a very different lens than others. Now I know that there is a term to describe my sensitivity, known as a highly sensitive person (HSP). Unsure of what that means? Look no further. This post delves into the characteristics of the highly sensitive person and specific forms of self-care for HSPs.

What is a highly sensitive person?

Highly sensitive person was first researched in 1991 by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron. HSP describes a personality trait that affects 15-20% of the population. Also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), this term describes those with increased central nervous system sensitivity.  This sensitivity can be physical, emotional, and social.  As a result, people with this type of personality process information very deeply and have an increased awareness to stimuli in their environment (highlysensitiverefuge.com, 2019) .

It is important to note that HSP is NOT considered a disorder or diagnosis. Sensitivity is a personality trait, and HSPs experience sensitivity more than the average person. Although Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may have overlapping symptoms with HSP, they are not interchangeable (verywellmind.com, 2020).

How do I know if I’m an HSP?

Dr. Aron came up with a self-test, “Are you highly sensitive?”  There are 27 statements, and if more than 14 of them are true, then you are likely a highly sensitive person. There is a separate test for children. This includes 23 statements, and if 13 or more of those statements are true (mostly true or was once true for a long period of time), then it is likely your child is highly sensitive. You can access both tests here.

It should be noted that with all personality tests, there is nothing that can definitively determine HSP. As with all personality tests, these are meant to give you a deeper understanding of yourself and/or your child (hsperson.com, 1996).

According to Dr. Aron, there are 4 aspects of high sensitivity, which almost every HSP will have, known as D.O.E.S. (sharonselby.com, 2020):

(1) Depth of processing

HSPs often take time to think things over. They are conscientious and thorough, reflecting on their experiences and giving detailed answers. I overanalyze situations and encounters with others. I do this when trying to figure out solutions to problems, and also when reflecting on what was said to me and what I said to others.

(2) Overstimulation

HSPs experience over arousal/ overstimulation due to some or all of their five senses. Examples of this can be feeling overwhelmed due to noises, large crowds, and/or new places. I can trace this back to when I was a child, complaining to my mother that the kids on the bus were too noisy. I would feel overwhelmed by loud noises and sounds. As an adult, I still get overwhelmed due to sensory overload, and large crowds and changes are very stressful.

(3) Emotional reactivity and empathy

HSPs are emotionally reactive to both positive and negative situations and experiences. They feel more and are deeply moved by the world around them. This can mean avoiding violence on TV, crying at commercials, and empathizing with other people’s feelings.

This aspect of HSP resonated with me the most. I feel EVERYTHING, good and bad. I appreciate every kind gesture and word, and am often moved to tears. The beauty of the world touches my heart. That sensitivity applies to negatives as well. I literally run from the room when I hear the music for ASPCA. I have cried hysterically at images of suffering. I cry at every single movie I have ever watched (this can be happy tears and/or sad tears), and I cry at too many commercials and songs to count. Although not all HSPs are empaths (which is different than having empathy, which HSPs possess greatly), I am both an HSP and an empath. This means that I can sense what others are feeling, and I feel their feelings too.

(4) Sensing the subtle

This can be subtle changes in a room such as lighting, or it can mean picking up on a person’s intricacies. HSPs are perceptive, and children like this are often considered wise beyond their years. I have an incredibly strong sense of smell and hearing, and often pick up on smells and sounds that others don’t notice. Additionally, I’ve always noticed subtleties with people, which can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the situation.

If you’d like to read more about Dr. Aron’s work on HSP, there are several books she has written (click the links below):

 

 

3- The Highly Sensitive Parent

self-care tips and strategies for the Highly Sensitive Person

Being a highly sensitive person means that you are compassionate, thoughtful, and empathetic. You feel and care deeply. Those are all wonderful things. However, it is easy for an HSP to get overwhelmed and stressed.  As a result, practicing self-care for HSPs is non-negotiable. Here are specific forms of self-care for HSPs. (willfrolicforfood, 2017):

(1) Sleep

Everyone needs sleep, but HSPs are more sensitive to the negative effects of lack of sleep. Therefore, making sure to get enough sleep is helpful for HSPs in navigating an already overstimulating world (psychologytoday.com, 2011).

(2) Setting boundaries

Again, boundaries are necessary for everyone. However, HSPs must be extra careful to set boundaries with others, as well as ourselves. We must say no to pressures that make us feel overwhelmed and understand that it is necessary to set those limits.

(3) Avoid stressors

Situations will cause us to feel overwhelmed and/or overstimulated. Therefore, we must be aware of our stressors (such as large crowds, scary movies, certain people), and do our best to avoid them. This can also mean lowering lights in the room or wearing noise canceling headphones.

self-care tips for HSPs

(4) Incorporate calmness into your routine

Set up small chunks of time during your day where you can recharge and soothe your senses. Whether that means taking a ten-minute break in your office or going into a room and locking the door, try to find a place where you feel safe. Use that time to decompress. That can mean reading a book, dimming the lights (if possible), meditating, doing breathing exercises, or laying your head on a pillow. Additionally, make sure you have a space in your home where you can go to that feel comforting. Have an area (or several, if possible) designated for you to relax.

(5) Prepare in advance

Although not all HSPs are introverts, it is very emotionally and physically draining to feel so deeply. Therefore, if you know that you are going to have a stressful or hectic day, incorporate time around those encounters for you to decompress.

(6) Open communication

We cannot expect people to be mind readers. Therefore, we must be honest with others about our sensitivities. If someone says something that hurts your feelings, be honest about it. HSPs take things to heart, so clearing the air is necessary to our emotional well-being. It’s also important to be honest with those around us about our needs, such as requiring alone time each day and staying away from loud areas.

(7) Eat small meals throughout the day

HSPs are often more prone to feeling hangry (angry plus hungry). Therefore, make sure to have well-balanced meals and snacks every few hours to maintain blood sugar levels. I am hypoglycemic, so it is crucial for me to eat small meals every few hours so that my blood sugar levels don’t drop. When I’m busy and I skip a meal, my body and mind pay the price for it.

(8) Keep a journal

I’ve spoken about my love of journaling for both kids and adults. Writing down feelings is especially helpful for HSPs. It is a great outlet for our emotions, and it provides us with a safe space to put our feelings into words and explore our thoughts. Awareness of our sensitivities is crucial, and journaling helps us to be more self-aware.

(9) Be your biggest cheerleader

HSPs are often perfectionists, and we try our best at everything we do. Failure can be extra difficult for HSPs. Therefore, we must be intentional with our thoughts and make sure to celebrate and take pride in our efforts and accomplishments, big or small.

(10) Limit phone usage

The stimulation from phone calls and screen time can be very overwhelming and draining for HSPs. Therefore, put your phone on “do not disturb” when you are doing other activities or need to decompress. Take time away from social media as needed and screen your phone calls to avoid unsolicited callers.

(11) Embrace your feelings

Yes, the world is a more intense place for HSPs. However, we see and feel beauty more deeply too. Rather than fighting our sensitivity, embrace the benefits it has to offer. Respect and validate your own feelings. Remind yourself that although others may not feel the same way, that does not make our perceptions any less valid. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling. I often feel better after a good cry (or two, or even three), so let your feelings out!

(12) Make your home a source of comfort

Whether it’s limiting background noises such as the TV in your house, playing soft music, or reducing clutter, make sure that your house is a place that promotes calm rather than another stimulant. I know that a clean house is a must-have for me, as walking around and seeing a mess makes me very flustered. I also found cleaning products that have scents that are soothing rather than over-stimulating.

(13) Be one with nature

HSPs appreciate the beauty of even the smallest things, and nature is no exception. Make sure to take time to go outside. Whether it is taking a walk or finding a spot among trees, find an outdoor area that calms your mind.

(14) Move your body

Yoga, Pilates, or any form of exercise is important to decompress and elevate your mood. Stretching is another great form of relaxation and will boost your spirits.

(15) Embrace your senses

Find out what smells bring comfort to you and incorporate them into your life. That can mean essential oils, scented candles, playing instrumental music, wearing soft fabrics, self-message, or taking baths.

(16) Be creative

HSPs are often creative, so take the time to explore your creative side. Whether it is drawing, painting, writing, etc.,  it’s important to express yourself. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself “good” at it, as long as it brings you contentment.

 

 

Being a highly sensitive person can be challenging. However, I have learned that my sensitivity is a strength. Caring and feeling deeply isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it is wonderful. However, HSPs need to be aware of how we are affected by our surroundings and make necessary accommodations to prioritize our mental health and self-care. Above all, we must be kind to ourselves and know how to comfort ourselves when we feel stressed. To all of the HSPs out there, I celebrate each and every one of you. The world is a kinder, more compassionate place because you are in it. 

the 4 fs of fear and stress

Fear and stress are emotions that shape our perception of the world. Whether we grew up often feeling afraid or felt only the occasional nervousness, we can all vividly recount a time in our childhood where we were truly frightened. Throughout our childhood, the circumstances that caused us to feel fear or stress resulted in responses to that exposure. Even if you didn’t grow up abused, each of us encountered situations that impacted our way of reacting. We learned to protect ourselves through our responses to those traumas (big or small). There are 4 fear and stress-based responses, known as the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress. These responses shape your reactions in adulthood.

What are the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress?

These responses are evolutionary and primitive, allowing both animals and humans to survive danger and keep us safe. Any of the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress can be used depending on the situation/threat. A person may also use more than one in a given situation:

Fight

This type of response can be physical fighting as well as using your voice to protect yourself. Examples include attacking, yelling, or attempting to frighten the source of danger. This response can also be seen when trying to control another person or arguing and/or defending yourself.

Flight

This can mean physically leaving a situation that causes fear, or it can be done by mentally checking out. Tuning out stressful situations, changing the subject, or avoiding things that cause fear or stress are other examples. It may also be shown by not getting emotionally close to others or constantly move from place to place. Any attempt to run away in an attempt to protect oneself is an example of flight. (pete-walker.com, 2018)

the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress

Freeze

Freezing may be literal in that we physically stop moving when we feel threatened. It can also be shown by an inability to speak or continue doing an activity. This can include disconnecting from your pain, prolonged sleep or daydreaming, and/or zoning out in front of the TV. This response can also cause isolation from others.

Fawn

This type of response is seeking safety from the person who is making them feel threatened. This can be seen by someone who has little or no boundaries, goes out of their way to please others, and is overly accommodating. Attempts are made to avoid conflict with the perceived threat. This type of response is often a learned response due to a caregiver who is toxic or abusive. The child learns that some form of safety is achieved by accommodating and pleasing that person (betterhelp.com, 2021).

what happens to your body during an involuntary stress response?

When you perceive a situation as stressful or fearful, the physiological stress response begins in the part of the brain that is responsible for perceiving fear, known as the amygdala. The amygdala interprets images and sounds around you, and when it gets triggered, it sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which then stimulates the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The ANS is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the freeze and fawn response. The parasympathetic nervous system also triggers the response that enables your body to go back to its normal state after the danger has passed ( health.harvard.edu, 2019).

When your ANS is stimulated, your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones are immediately released, and they may affect your heart rate, breathing, vision, hearing, blood thickening, skin temperature, and/or lowering your feeling of pain. This is done to protect you from the oncoming threat. The specific physiological reaction depends on how you respond to stress, which varies. It is also possible to shift between F responses during the same situation. These reactions are something that happen instantaneously and often without our awareness.

These physiological reactions are triggered by a psychological fear.

These psychological fears or stresses are conditioned from your childhood, and they were triggered when you were first exposed to something that you perceived as stressful and/or fearful. These triggers will vary from person to person.  Your response may be due to a similar situation or something that is associated with a negative experience from your past. When faced with these perceived threats, your brain thinks you are danger (health.harvard.edu, 2019).

The 4 Fs of Fear and Stress are responses meant to protect you. Many people will use each of them at some point based on which is most appropriate to the situation. However, some depend on only one or two of the 4 Fs of fear due to chronic anxiety and/or repeated trauma (pete-walker.com, 2018).  As a result, the autonomic nervous system gets dysregulated. Even when the danger is gone, the person often gets stuck in survival mode and is quick to use their go-to fear and stress response(s). These responses become overused, and the brain gets conditioned to respond to situations that are not threatening.

Are The 4 Fs of Fear and Stress Something We Can Control and Get Rid Of?

The 4 Fs of Fear and Stress happen faster than our conscious thoughts. It is an automatic and physiological reaction. However, it is a learned reaction, meaning that we can gain insight into the types of responses we have, how they affect our body, and whether or not those reactions are truly needed depending on the circumstances.

We can recognize that although these responses helped us in our past, they are not serving us now. We can learn ways to cope with an overactive fear and stress response. As a result, the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress can be used when they are necessary, as opposed to constantly.

How can we overcome the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress Response if it is being overused?

(1) Seek professional help

A mental health professional can help you to deal with your past trauma(s) and anxiety. They can work with you to manage your overuse of the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress.

(2) Breathing exercises

Learning how to regulate your breathing can be helpful because your breathing gets altered when you are experiencing the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress. Some breathing exercises to regulate your breathing are:

  • Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly.
  • Belly breathing- instead of breathing from your chest, let your belly rise when you inhale and lower when you exhale
  • progressive relaxation exercises- this is one of my favorites and I’ve discussed it in several of my posts. Working your way from one end of your body to the to the other, inhale while contracting/tensing the body part, hold the contraction and your breath, then exhale and let the body part relax.

(3) Exercise

This is a simple and effective way to calm the nervous system. It lowers the energy created in the body and it is a simple and quick thing to do when your heart rate goes up. Even a few minutes of jumping or running in place will get your heart rate up and help you! It also releases endorphins, which make you feel happier. An added bonus is that incorporating exercise into your routine is good for your physical well-being.

(4) Get curious about what you are experiencing

Once you have learned to calm your body down using the skills above, you can start practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique where we observe (as opposed to judging) how we feel and where we feel it in our body. It allows us to focus on the present. Mindfulness is helpful because you learn how your body experiences the 4Fs of Fear and Stress, as well as the accompanying emotions and thoughts. Your body automatically reacts, but when you recognize the physiological reactions that take place, it is easier to take a step back. With practice, you can notice the thoughts and emotions that occur with it and decide what to do (such as recognizing how you are feeling, but letting it go), as opposed to acting on auto-pilot.

We do not have to believe and act on every thought we have.

Learning to notice your automatic physiological response and not act on it is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of practice as well as understanding that change will not happen overnight (drsoph.com, 2020).

A great mindfulness exercise is known as RAIN. It comes from Judson Brewer, a psychologist who specializes in anxiety (westmichiganwoman.com, 2020):

  • Recognize/Relax- recognize what you are experiencing in your body and any thoughts or feelings
  • Accept/Allow- Hold space for what you are experiencing instead of running away from it or judging yourself for it
  • Investigate: Go deeper and explore those experiences- where am I feeling this in my body, what other thoughts am I having
  • Note/Not Attach- Understand that you are having these feelings and experiences, but they do not define you. Thoughts and feelings will come and go.

(5) Remind yourself that you are safe

When you are better equipped at recognizing how your body feels in response to the 4Fs of Fear and Stress, you can remind yourself that even though you don’t feel safe, you actually are not in any real danger.

(6) Practice these techniques when you are not feeling triggered

Incorporate these strategies into your daily routine so that you are comfortable with them. This, in turn, will allow you to better recognize your physiological reactions when you feel triggered.

(7) Grounding techniques

There are many that I discussed here, but a common one is the 5,4,3,2,1, which uses all of your senses to help you focus on the present moment. For example, you can notice 5 things you see, then 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can hear, and 1 thing you can taste. Focus on your surroundings intensely so you can pick up on sensations you may not normally realize.

(8) Social Support

It is important to have healthy social relationships. This will help you to feel more supported and secure, which makes you feel less triggered.

(9) Strategies for the overuse of each specific F of Fear Response (pete-walker.com, 2018)

Note– For any of the F responses, the above strategies, therapy, and a growth mindset are integral in managing their overuse. Below is what you can do additionally based on the overuse of one of the F responses: 

Fight– educate yourself on how this type of F response can be harmful rather than helpful (through self-help and/or professional help). If your body is constantly in fight mode, it can result in controlling behavior and frequently being defensive and angry. Try finding a healthier outlet for those tendencies such as supporting causes and defending people who you care about. Pay attention to your physiological responses and start working on taking a break when you feel the fight response.

Flight– if this is your specific F response, you are often a workaholic and/or always on the go. Perfectionism is common, as well as anxiety and over-planning. Meditation is helpful to learn how to stay in the moment.  Working on how to gradually shorten the amount of time you flee is also helpful. 

Freeze– this is the most difficult F response to treat because this type is typically reluctant to seek professional help. Additionally, they are often in denial about their tendency to disassociate. It may be helpful to use timers and calendars as reminders to get things done (oomm.live, 2019).  

Fawnboundaries are especially helpful for this type of response. It’s also necessary to start recognizing and prioritizing your own emotions and thoughts (mindbodygreen.com, 2020). Therapy is also beneficial in helping such an individual develop a sense of self and practice assertiveness.

Takeaway about the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress

These responses are our brain’s way of protecting us from fear, danger, and stress, which are controlled by our autonomic nervous system. They are automatic, often appearing before any conscious choice becomes involved. They are meant to keep us safe, and each one has its place and purpose. Even if you are stuck in a dominant or hybrid type, the most important thing is to give yourself compassion and love as you gain a deeper awareness of the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress.

 

cycle of codependency

Codependency is a huge buzzword nowadays. Everywhere you turn there are people preaching about how to break the cycle of codependency.

I agree that codependency isn’t healthy. That said, it is so easy to fall into that cycle, and it is difficult to overcome.

For many, codependency was normal for us growing up. If you had a parent that you took care of (as opposed to the other way around), you learned that your happiness and safety were dependent on the other person’s happiness. There were no boundaries, and your feelings were ignored or minimized. You were made to feel guilty for trying to prioritize your well-being. Furthermore, you learned that your well-being and sense of self were completely contingent on the well-being of someone else. When that person was happy, you felt loved and needed. By default, if the adult was upset or unavailable (emotionally or physically) to you, you felt worthless and unloved.

caught in a cycle of codependency

cycle of codependency

I grew up having the belief system that it was my job to make my mother happy. I listened to her marital and life problems, tried to cheer her up, and felt good about myself when I felt she needed me. When she had nothing to do with me, I felt like a complete failure as a daughter and as a person. I tried to do everything possible to get her love and approval. As a result, I made myself completely available to her. I was so available that I spent two hours of my honeymoon trying to calm her down due to her recent breakup. Her feelings were always prioritized over mine, and I felt it was my job to make sure she was okay.

She relied on me to comfort her and be there for her, and I relied on her positive opinion of me to feel valued and loved. We were the definition of codependency.

Based on a belief system that was engrained into many of us, we believe as adults that our partner’s well-being and happiness is our responsibility. After all, that is all we know and were taught from a young age. As a result, it was only natural that my cycle of codependency with my mother translated into a codependent relationship with my spouse.

MY SPOUSE AND I WERE MUTUALLY DEPENDENT ON ONE ANOTHER

 

When my husband started heavily drinking and then taking pills, I felt like it was my job to make him sober. I believed that it was up to me to figure out how to make him stop. When my efforts failed, I felt like a complete failure. Taking care of my husband and making him get clean was my responsibility. I believed I was a terrible wife unless he stopped using.

My value as a person was completely defined by the well-being of those I loved. I thought it was my role as a wife and mother to completely devote myself and my happiness to them. This way of thinking made it so that other people were responsible for my own feelings of security and safety. This helped to perpetuate my cycle of codependency in my relationships. When the roller coaster of my husband’s addiction took me for a ride, my feelings of self-worth plummeted or soared with it. It became my obsession to save my husband.

At a certain point I reached my own rock bottom. I saw how vicious the emotional cycle was of trying to make him better/save him. I realized that focusing all my efforts on him was a distraction so that I didn’t have to heal my own wounds and trauma. If I was focusing on someone/something that was out of my control, I didn’t have to fix what I had control over- myself.

how to break the cycle of codependency

I finally realized that my happiness was my responsibility, and I learned a lot about the codependency cycle. It was both terrifying and empowering to know that my happiness was my job, just as others are responsible for their own well-being and happiness. The book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie was extremely helpful and enlightening. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it on your path to ending codependency.

It was up to my husband to get clean, and I couldn’t make him do that. I could support him and love him, but I could not fix him. Accepting that and focusing on myself was how I would break the cycle of codependency.  

I also established clear boundaries with my daughter. I’ve instilled in her that her job is to learn from her mistakes and take responsibility for her actions. I do not want her to feel responsible for others. My daughter knows that the decisions my husband and I make are our responsibility. It is our job to take care of our child, not the other way around.

Another thing I reinforced is that it is imperative and healthy to feel and share your feelings with those you love and trust.

I remind her that I can offer support or advice, but I cannot make her feel better. I don’t discuss my adult problems with her, but I am open about my feelings and model tools that I use to feel better. 

When my daughter tries to get involved and tell me and my husband what to do, I remind her that she has control over her actions and not others. I explain that she should focus on being the best version of herself, as it is also each of our individual responsibility to do so.

being interdependent instead of codependent

interdependent instead of codependent What I now strive for is interdependency. It is empowering to not allow others to make me feel whole and valued. I can be vulnerable and supportive with my husband, but ultimately, I control and am responsible for how I feel. My relationships are still valued, but I also value myself separately from my role as a wife and a mother.

The biggest hurdle for me was giving myself the space I needed to feel whatever I was feeling. I felt that I had to justify my feelings to my husband in order for my feelings to be valid. It is a work-in-progress to accept that my feelings are valid regardless of what he or anyone else thinks.

It took a lot of trial and error for me to apply my interdependence into all aspects of my marriage. Breaking the codependency cycle means reminding myself everyday to focus on myself and to give myself the love and care that I craved so desperately from others.

self-growth and mutual support is the key to happiness

I learned the importance of each of us being responsible for our own growth, while supporting and encouraging each other. Sure, there are things that I wish my husband would do differently. It is not my job to change him or to fix him. He is not a project or a little boy. He deserves to be treated as a man who can make his own choices. I have set clear boundaries of what I cannot except. My husband is aware of my boundaries. My choices are to accept and love him as he is or walk away if any issue is a deal breaker.

I am the happiest I have been in a long time because I am now the source of my well-being. I am not a princess waiting to be rescued, nor am I a martyr trying to save everyone to the detriment of myself. Instead, I am focused on working on myself, and looking inward for love and compassion. That, in turn, allows me to be the best wife, mother, and person I can be.

how to love yourself

You can learn to love yourself. However, learning to love yourself is like learning to walk; it takes time, patience, and a lot of falling down and getting back up. The tips below are helpful in your pursuit of self-love. Give yourself a mental high five with each step, and remember that when we practice self-love, we are teaching our kids to love themselves too. 

10 Tips on how can learn to love and respect yourself 

 

(1) establish and set boundaries

I don’t know about you, but everywhere I look someone is talking about the “b” word.

I used to find the concept of boundaries very overwhelming.  In reality, boundaries aren’t as intimidating as they seem. What I now realize is that it is important to love yourself enough to set boundaries. The beauty is that there’s no one-size-fits-all boundary. They will vary from person to person because needs differ from person to person. 

Boundaries are a good thing; actually, they are a great thing.  Why? Boundaries mean determining what you need so you can feel secure in your relationships. Boundaries are necessary in all types of relationships, not just romantic ones. Whether it means letting your friend know that you won’t answer the phone after 11pm or telling your parents that certain topics are off-limits, they are meant to set clear expectations so that you can have healthy relationships with others. It is crucial to love yourself enough to set boundaries.

how to set boundaries

Making a list is often a great place to start. Write down some things that you would like to establish with the people in your life. Start with something small, and then you can work your way up towards bigger boundaries.

Share your boundaries is a loving, clear way. Remember that change takes time, and that you may have to restate your boundaries. Also understand that relationships are a two-way street, so healthy relationships mean giving boundaries as well as respecting the boundaries set by others.

At first it might feel awkward to set boundaries with others. You may not be used to expressing your feelings and needs to others. The important thing is to try to stand by the boundaries you set. Remember the importance of respecting and loving yourself enough to set boundaries. If you falter, that’s okay. You’re a work in progress, remember? The more you practice giving and sticking to your boundaries, the more comfortable you’ll feel. With time and consistency, you can learn to love yourself enough to set boundaries.

“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.” (Anna Taylor, Goodreads).

(2) sleep

A cranky, sleep-deprived person is not going to feel great about anything, let alone themselves. If your kids are keeping you up or you’re a troubled sleeper, try some of my sleep strategies.

(3) Accept your weaknesses along with your strengths 

This one is a biggie for me. I tend to focus on my weaknesses and minimize my strengths.

At some point you realize that you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by repeatedly hitting your head against a brick wall (metaphorically speaking). No matter what, I am going to make mistakes. There will be times where I am going to do things wrong. I am going to be emotional and anxious and sometimes needy.

I am flawed. Deeply. Wishing it away and hating myself for it isn’t going to make it go away. So how do you learn to love yourself? You can learn to love yourself by accepting those flaws and reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can. The key to happiness is acceptance.

It might be that I may never love those parts of myself,  but I can love myself for WHO I am. I am not defined by my anxiety and my fears. I am defined by who I am as a person. My name is Randi and I feel anxious. That’s very different than thinking, “My name is Randi and I AM anxious.”

Try to show yourself compassion. When you feel badly or angry about something, argue with those negative thoughts. Remember you are trying and give yourself space to grow without forcing it.  You can learn to love yourself and accept yourself. It simply takes time.

As strange as it might seem, try embracing your imperfections. We are the sum of all of our parts, but our parts guide us rather than define us. Imperfections are what make us unique.

“Loving yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful person in the world. Instead, when you love yourself you accept your so-called weaknesses, appreciate those shortcomings as something that makes you who you are.” (Andrea Brandt)

(4) Self-care 

Part of prioritizing your feelings is taking time to invest in your emotional well-being.

Read that book that got buried in your closet. Go for a run. Take a relaxing bubble bath. Listen to music. You can’t like or love yourself if you aren’t willing to invest time to care for yourself.

(5) daily affirmations

I’m a big believer in faking it until you make it. If you play a role long enough, you’ll can actually learn to love yourself.

Make a list of positive affirmations such as, “I am enough.” “I deserve love.” “I am worthy of happiness.” “I am proud of how hard I try.” You can make these lists with your children as well.

Write them on a piece of paper and read them aloud. Write them on a post-it and stick it on your mirror so you see it everyday. Whenever you are judging yourself or feel badly about yourself, grab that list.

(6) be your own friend

Would you speak to your friends the way you speak to yourself? I’m going to guess not. Why is it easier to be kind to others than it is to be kind to ourselves?

This is something that comes up often with my daughter, especially around bedtime. I have to remind her that she should be kind to herself about her sleep issues and comfort herself as she would a friend.

When I am harsh with myself, I try to think about how I’d feel if the circumstances belonged to someone else. Most of the time, I would be far more compassionate and supportive than what I’m telling myself.

“When you are your own best friend, you don’t endlessly seek out relationships, friendships, and validation from the wrong sources because you realize that they only approval and validation you need is your own.” (Mandy Hale).

(7) Rediscover your hobbies

We get so enmeshed with our children and our loved-ones that we often forget what brings us joy. Not your kids, not your spouse, you. What are things that you like to do? What can you do for yourself to learn to love yourself?

Commit to spending even 5 minutes a day doing something just for you. Sometimes our hobbies are a form of self-care (such as journaling, listening to music). Sometimes hobbies are different than our self-care. Hobbies are meant for fun, whereas self-care is about focusing on your emotional well-being.

(8) Prioritize your feelings and look out for yourself.

That is a frightening notion for some of us. If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of your life focused on the well-being of others. My feelings fell by the wayside because I felt responsible for taking care of everyone else’s feelings.

It was a hard pill to swallow that I had to focus on myself first and foremost. That sounded incredibly selfish to me. People depended on me. I would be okay as long as I was taking care of my responsibilities, which meant making sure others were okay.

I didn’t realize how codependent that way of thinking was, and that I could never be the kind of mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and person I wanted to be unless I took care of myself. The truth is that all my best efforts can never fix/save others, and others aren’t responsible for my happiness either.

prioritize your feelings

I want my daughter to stand up for herself, and that means I have to set the right example and do that for myself. I need to be my biggest supporter and cheerleader because if I don’t look out for myself, how can I expect others to respect my feelings?

You can’t be the best version of yourself if you are pouring from an empty cup. If you treat yourself as insignificant, it is not shocking if others treat you that way too.

Prioritizing your feelings may also mean taking time to calm down when you feel angry, stressed, or overwhelmed. Whether it’s telling your spouse, your child, or you friend that you need a moment, sometimes you need to simply walk away. If you can get outside and take a walk, great. Give yourself space to take some deep breaths and practice some relaxation exercises , even if it means putting your kids somewhere safe and locking yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes.

(9) ask for help

Learn to love yourself by reaching out to others if you feel overwhelmed and need to recharge. We put so much pressure on ourselves, and society puts so much pressure on us, that we feel like we are failures if we are struggling. Part of loving ourselves is accepting we cannot do it all, and there are times when we need the support of others.

(10) Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling

It is okay to be sad, anxious, or angry. You are not a robot, so you will experience a whole spectrum of emotions. It is part of life, and burying those feelings or judging yourself for them is only going to make you feel worse.  It is okay to not be okay .

Self-love isn’t linear. You will likely take several steps forward and then several steps back. Some days you’ll feel on top of the world, and others you’ll feel like something that is getting scraped off the bottom of your shoe. Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and new ways of thinking take time. You are going to make mistakes, but what matters is that you are trying.

“I gave myself permission to feel and experience all of my emotions. In order to do that, I had to stop being afraid to feel. In order to do that, I taught myself to believe that no matter what I felt or what happened when I felt it, I would be ok.” (Iyanla Vanzant).

 

 

The hard truth is that learning to love yourself is no easy achievement. However, the greatest achievements in life are meaningful because of the journey required to achieve it. The journey of self-love is filled with road blocks and hurdles, but it is a journey that is worth traveling.

*To help support your self-love journey, I’ve created a self-love workbook.  To print, click here: Self-Love Workbook Printables: Support and Maintain Your Self-Love Journey

living a sober life

My husband, Matt, is an addict. His addiction and his recovery are both an important part of his journey, and they are a part of our journey as a couple. Matt has been sober for five years. I am grateful that he is clean and has stayed clean, but there is so much more to sobriety than not using. I assumed that once he was sober it would be smooth sailing.

THAT IS SIMPLY  NOT THE TRUTH.

I asked my husband to share his struggle and perspective on living a sober life to provide insight for loved ones of addicts and to support others on their own sober journey.

Read his story below:

Recovering from an addiction is anything but easy. You feel alone, lost, afraid, and have no identity other than what you used to be in active addiction. A lot of your feelings are negative, and your coping strategy of using is gone. As a result, your normal way of dealing with negative emotions is no longer available. Every 24-hour period an addict is drug and/or alcohol-free is a gift. No matter what else happened that day, you can be proud of yourself that you didn’t use. It is a beginning of a long road, but it is a road worth traveling. Being in recovery and living a sober life will help reshape your life into one of confidence, health, and healing. However, staying sober is only half the battle.

LIVING A SOBER LIFE IS NOT JUST ABOUT ABSTAINING FROM SUBSTANCES

It is a misnomer that recovery is just about abstaining from the substances you used in active addiction. That is just not true. It is also recovering from behaviors and facing feeling that you used addiction to mask. In addition, there are new and emerging feelings of shame, regret, sadness, and anger that will surface, all of which were previously dealt with by burying them under the cover of drugs, pills, alcohol, etc.  You need to evaluate which people will help you to live a sober life and which will not. You also need to learn how to communicate to others that you are in recovery to avoid uncomfortable situations that might put you in a position to relapse.

The first part of living a sober life in recovery is to find a 12-step program and meetings that you enjoy. There are so many different types of meetings out there that it can be extremely overwhelming. In the beginning you need to attend as many meetings as you can. Therefore, it is a good idea to bounce around until you find one that helps you gain insight into yourself through what others share. When I was first starting out, I was told to just listen to different people share at meetings and see what resonated with me.

When you find a meeting you like, the next thing you must do is find a sponsor. At the beginning, finding a sponsor is the most important tool in living a sober life. It is impossible to stay sober on your own during the first few years of recovery. You need that guidance and support during those tough times.  A sponsor will help you work the program in a meaningful and insightful way. They have been through the 12 steps before and are a tool in helping you stay sober.

With that said, recovery is an introspective exercise.

You must be able to work on yourself and work on behaviors and habits that drove you to use in the first place. It is something that you have to do for yourself each and every day. There is no one-size-fits-all method that will work for everybody. Each person needs to do what is right for them. You can have different people give suggestions and guide you, but the end result is in the work that you put into it and what you are able to change within yourself. If you put the work in every day to work on yourself and stay sober, you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of each day and say, “I stayed sober today; I am proud of myself.”

for the 12 steps to work you must leave your ego at the door

To be honest, I had tried 12-step programs several times prior to becoming sober. Each time I would attend several meetings and then stop going. It was primarily my self-centeredness, my ego. By that, I mean selfishness, resentments, fear, the things that engulf people with drinking and addiction problems. The steps are designed to look at the world from a different point of view. There has got to be that internal surrender for sobriety to happen. That scared me, and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t have any intention of looking internally to see the root of where my addiction came from, which are my insecurities and faults.

The shame I felt was more powerful than my will to stay sober, so each time I would leave the meetings and continue my destructive behavior.

As you might have read in my initial post about how I became sober, I finally hit rock bottom and knew I had to change or else I would lose what was most important to me. I want to an outpatient rehab center 3 evenings a week for 4 months. It was a solid foundation for me to begin my journey in sobriety, and I learned a lot about myself during this program. I found a meeting that I enjoyed attending, and found a sponsor that I was able to connect with. I started working through the twelve steps with him.

The twelve steps are about spirituality. They’re not about sobriety. They’re about growing along spiritual lines, and sobriety is a by-product of that. Living by spiritual principles does not mean you have to be religious or have any religious affiliation. It means that you believe in something greater than yourself. The steps will help you look inside at yourself and the things you have done wrong that led you on that dark path of addiction. It helps flesh those things out so you can see what needs to change to be able to live a sober life.

THE PROGRAM WILL GIVE YOU TOOLS TO HELP LIVE A SOBER LIFE

After a while, I learned some helpful tools. For example, I learned how to breathe. I also learned how to check in with my body to see how I was reacting to different situations: Is my heart racing? Are my palms sweaty? I learned that I could remove myself from any situation that could affect my sobriety. My wife has been my rock throughout my sobriety journey. I know that it would have been an incredibly difficult journey for me to stay sober without her in my corner.

As time wore on, my frequency at meetings as well as my meetings with my sponsor became less and less frequent. My sponsor enabled me to blame others for my actions rather than help me hold myself accountable. I had to sever ties with him, and over the next several years I tried working with two other sponsors that I did not have success with. My meeting frequency also went from 3 times a week to once a week, then to once every two weeks. Now, I’m lucky if I go to a meeting once every 2-3 months. I stay sober by doing the inner work. I try to understand my habits and behaviors in different situations that cause me to react inappropriately. 

What I have today is a better awareness of the things I’m thinking and feeling. I’m aware of when my mind sends me a signal like, “The situation I’m in is not good for me, and it would be much easier to check out by having a quick drink or taking something I shouldn’t. Or even better ten drinks in a row.” I have a better sense of how unbearable I found most situations. Any time I was going through something that would make me the slightest bit uncomfortable, I wanted to use. These behaviors were well worn grooves in my psyche, developed over years of repetition.

What I know today is I don’t have to act on any of these self-destructive impulses.

I don’t have to drink or take drugs. In making the choice to live a sober lifestyle, I have choices. One important choice I always have in my pocket is to do absolutely nothing. If I must decide between going somewhere that might make me uncomfortable or stay home, I can decide to stay home and keep myself safe.

Breathing and meditation taught me how to sit with a feeling for a period of time, dipping my toe into uncomfortable emotional territory. I know that if a feeling becomes unbearable, it won’t stay that way. No matter how angry or sad, anxious, or happy I become, time will pass. Either I won’t feel that way or the feeling will become different, something more thoughtful and less desperate. Being open to the fact that things change helps me make it through those tough moments. Then, before I know it, it’s nighttime and I can get into bed knowing I’ve made it through another day sober. For me, that is the best part. In the morning I will wake up to possibility instead of a massive hangover.

you will need to work on yourself every day

Here’s the thing though; I make mistakes all the time. Tons of them. Sometimes tons in the same day. I will react to different situations poorly. There are days where I react out of spite and anger, doing things I will regret over time. Other days I will become distant and not want to talk to anyone. I will take things and people that I have in my life for granted, and not act in a way that I should in a given situation. There are many days where I still lie about things because I am afraid of sitting with those negative feelings and emotions. I am afraid to have conversations that deal with feelings because I still have the want and need to bury them so that it will not affect me.

These are all things that I struggle with and continue to work on to this day.

The one thing that has never wavered is that I am determined to remain sober. When I wake up every day, I make that choice. I take life in 24 hour periods. I never try to look too far ahead because that can be very scary. 

During my years of living a sober life, I have been able to live life in a healthy and more manageable way. I have found a career that I love and am proud of the accomplishments I have made every day. I have been able to have a closer relationship with my wife, which helps me to stay balanced and even keel in this topsy turvy world that we live in. 

It is very rare when I feel the need to use. There are times when I get that itch in the back of my brain.  I now have the tools to handle those temptations in a healthier way. Life is never easy, and there are times when it is a struggle to get through some days. During those times, I dive deep into doing what I love: spending time with my family, watching sports, listening to music, running, and working out.  I have learned how to cope with my disease rather than succumbing to it. I was not able to do so during those dark periods in my life.

Long-term sobriety means working on yourself every day.

A lot can and will happen to you that has the potential to derail you. Addiction is a chronic disease, not a personal failure. There is a human face behind every example, and there is real hope that addiction recovery can change your life.  No matter how many times you need to try, please know there is always someone out there that will listen. There is someone out there that can help you get through those difficult times and help you get on the path to living a sober life.

 

 

the benefits of music

Monique Bathis is a registered music therapist, and she provided the information for this article. This post describes music therapy and how you can use music on your own to benefit your overall mental and emotional health.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MUSIC THERAPY?

“Music therapy is a research based allied health profession in which music is intentionally used to actively support people as they aim to improve their health, functioning and wellbeing” (Australian Music Therapy Association, 2012).

Music therapy programs are tailored to meet each individual’s needs and goals across various domains such as cognitive functioning, speech and communication skills, social skills, physical functioning, emotional development, mental health, pain management, or to enhance quality of life.

To be a music therapist, an individual has to complete a certified university course in music therapy. They also must be registered through the professions association in each country (for example, the Australian Music Therapy Association in Australia). To maintain registration as a professional, music therapists must engage in ongoing professional development each year to keep up to date with current evidence in the field.

THE BENEFITS OF MUSIC THERAPY for the mental health of CHILDREN AND ADULTS OF ALL AGES

music therapy can help heal children of all ages

Music therapy can help support people of all ages and abilities. You do not need to have a musical background to engage in music therapy. The use of music can stimulate and activate all areas of the brain simultaneously. It has huge potential to support anyone who engages in the therapy.

Music therapy can be practices across a variety of settings such as hospitals, educational facilities, mental health facilities, nursing homes, health programs within communities, correctional facilities, and private practice.

Some specific benefits of music therapy as outlined in the research include (refer to the Australian Music Therapy Association website www.austmta.org.au for more details):

  1.        Help manage anxiety and stress 
  2.        Improves emotional regulation
  3.        Improve communication both verbally and non-verbally
  4.        Improves physical speech function 
  5.        Foster self-sufficiency
  6.        Improves relationships
  7.        Improves gross and fine motor function and control
  8.        Helps regulate heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure
  9.        Increases coordination
  10.        Improves core executive functions
  11.        Helps with memory and focusing
  12.        Increases the body’s production of endorphins 
  13.        Improves recovery speed from injuries

Music therapists use a range of music therapy interventions and techniques to support the individual to reach their goals. Interventions may include:

Singing or instrumental play

This can help work on various speech/communication, cognitive, and/ or motor goals.

Songwriting

Songwriting can help support emotional development, mental health, and/or communication goals.

Listening to music either recorded or played by the music therapists

This can help support an individual’s emotional regulation and facilitate relaxation, or alternatively to boost mood and motivation.

Movement to music

Movement helps support sensory integration or physical functioning, e.g. balance or coordination.

the benefits of music

examples of music therapy interventions for children and adults

One particular strategy music therapists use with children with developmental and speech delays is called Development Speech and Language Training through Music (DSLM). The goal is to enhance and facilitate speech development for these children. For example, if the goal was to improve the child’s articulation of specific sounds, you should use or write a song that has the target sound/s within the song. The child would sing along and practice this song to learn those sounds. This could be recorded for the parent to use outside of sessions and the long term goal would be for the child to be able to say these sounds with greater clarity. Assessments take place at the commencement of music therapy programs so that progress can be tracked.

When working with children with autism, the benefits of the strategic use of music and rhythm can improve motor functioning, such as those associated with oral-motor skills or gait. Rhythm is key when working with people who have neurodevelopmental disorders. It helps because rhythm it is not only predictable (which the brains loves), but also helps to reorganize the brain and synchronize movements.

There are some interventions that are specific to people with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s/Dementia, brain injuries and neurodevelopment disorders such as autism. To use these specific interventions (there are 22), a music therapist has had to complete their Neurological Music Therapy training.

TIPS AND STRATEGIES TO USE MUSIC ON YOUR OWN TO AID IN YOUR MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL WELLNESS 

Music can be hugely beneficial when supporting infants and families. For example, singing can connect parents with their medically fragile baby. Parents can also use music to support their baby or child who may be irritable or unsettled (for example, through the use of carefully selected recorded music or using voice/singing).

Music can be adapted and tailored to be age appropriate and suit the needs of the individual. Here are some ways that you can use music in your home to support yourself and/or your family:

(1) Create relaxation playlists to use when you or your child needs to wind down or calm 

Try practicing taking slow deep breaths along with your child to some calming music. This provides opportunities to learn self-regulation skills and helps your child to maintain regulation. For younger children, you can use visual props like placing their favorite toy on their tummy and watching it rise and fall as they practice slow belly breaths. 

(2) Create mood booster playlists and have a dance party to release any pent up energy 

Moving to music through different movements and actions like spinning, jumping, clapping, and tapping different body parts can help with motor functioning, provide sensory input that helps to regulate their nervous system, and also teaches younger kids their different body parts.

(3) Sing with or without recorded music

Singing helps to calm the nervous system and releases oxytocin (our love hormone). This helps to boost feelings of connectedness and other feel-good hormones.

(4) Play instruments or drums together while you sing along to music that has a strong beat 

This can support your children’s motor development as well as sensory development. Drumming, in particular, can be incredibly beneficial to support emotional regulation. Since it is a rhythm based instrument, it provides that much needed predictability to which the brain thrives. If you don’t have any instruments, you can make your own. Rice and plastic water bottles create great shakers, and plastic tubs and wooden spoons are a fantastic drum alternative.

(5) Use music to support routines and transitions 

Power struggles can occur during daily tasks (for example, brushing teeth or getting dressed), as well as during transitions (such as packing away toys, leaving the house, or bedtime). Singing songs that relate to the task or transition is a great strategy. It adds playfulness and connection in those moments and helps your child prepare for the upcoming task. This increases the chances of cooperation and aids in transitions.

(6) Play or sing songs to support learning opportunities 

Music activates memory centers of the brain.  Therefore, songs can help children learn various concepts such as the alphabet, numbers, colors, days of the week, seasons, timetables, etc. Songs support speech and language. It also helps it to retain and recall information with greater ease. How else would young children be able to remember 26 individual names of letters if it weren’t for the Alphabet Song?

(7) Play music to create a more positive auditory home environment 

Turning off the TV/device and other unnecessary noise and replace it with music. This can help to reduce overstimulation. It can also help to reduce meltdowns and create a more calm, relaxed household for all.

(8) write your own song to aid in anxiety

Songwriting is beneficial as a way for an adult or child to express themselves in a creative way. It also is helpful to put thoughts and feelings into song format.

 

 

Music is a great tool to use at home in various ways; however, only a board-certified music therapist provides music therapy. When seeking out a music therapist, it is crucial to find one with whom you feel a connection. 

To get more information about music therapy, or to get in touch with Monique, you can contact her via social media as well as email:

Instagram – moniquebathis.rmt

Facebook – www.facebook.com/moniquebathis.rmt

Email – evolvewithmusictherapy@gmail.com

There are many benefits of music. I hope this article inspires each of you to incorporate music into your lives in different ways!

 

Self acceptance and compassion is the key

my battle with acceptance and compassion

There are often times in life when we are just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Like I’ve written before, life is HARD. Parenting is HARD. Marriage is HARD. Even harder is understanding that the only way to find happiness is through acceptance and compassion for ourselves.

As an adult, I had the same feelings of sadness and anxiousness that I did from my childhood. I felt disgust that I felt scared about things, angry that things that came easier to others were so hard for me, and self-loathing that I couldn’t just let go of my feelings of sadness about my mother and about my childhood.

Those feelings never went away, despite trying all kinds of therapy and implemented every suggestion and tool that they gave me.  I was desperate to figure out why. With each failed attempt I asked myself, “What is wrong with me?” and, “Will I ever get better?”

One day I was asked a question by a therapist that I had never been asked before. I was explaining how badly I felt that nothing I did ever worked. She looked at me and asked, “What if there is nothing wrong with you?” Say what? I was speechless. I had a list the size of my arm of things that were wrong with me. Why in the world would she say that?

the road to healing and compassion

the road to healing and compassion

I was told by more than one therapist that happiness is acceptance of who you are. That made as much sense to me as the question I was asked. I was seeking professional help because I wanted things about me to change, so how could I accept them? This was the ultimate catch-22. I needed to accept the parts of me that I disliked to heal the parts of me that I disliked? I couldn’t wrap my mind around that.
 
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get that question I was asked out of my mind. There were so many years I tried to fix myself, that it never occurred to me that maybe giving myself permission and compassion to feel however I needed to feel would set me free. 

 

I had endless compassion during my husband’s journey of sobriety. I felt nothing but compassion for my daughter and was her number 1 supporter and advocate. Furthermore, when she felt badly about herself because of her learning issues, I told her that she might learn in a different way, but that doesn’t define who she is a person . I reminded her that who she is as a person is what defines her. I even had compassion for my mother because her own mother had been abusive to her. Why in the world could I have compassion for everyone else, but I couldn’t give myself that same support and understanding?

giving ourselves permission to embrace our emotions

Regardless of what our set of circumstances may be, we all feel sad, anxious, and badly about ourselves from time to time. We have all put pressure on ourselves, and we have all judged ourselves . Whether it is getting mad at our kid and losing our temper, feeling overwhelmed because of all that we’re juggling, or feeling badly that we didn’t do or say the right thing, we are all guilty of not giving ourselves grace, compassion, and forgiveness. We forgive the people we love, but do we forgive ourselves? What if we showed compassion for all parts of ourselves instead of judging ourselves? 

 
I finally discovered the answer to my lifelong question of how to accept myself. What if I defined myself based on who I am as a person, and had compassion for my struggles? What if I understood that it was perfectly understandable for me to feel the way I feel based on my life’s circumstances? Even crazier, what if I recognized that what I went through would affect anyone? What if instead of judging myself and feeling shame, I applauded myself for being the person I am, despite all the terrible things that happened to me?

finding happiness within yourself means acceptance and compassion

how to find happiness within yourself

It took me awhile to find my way, but I now know that the key to happiness is acceptance and compassion. Just as I told my daughter that she is defined by the person she is, I now understand that labels don’t define me. Who I am as a person is what defines me. I can show acceptance and compassion for my struggles, and by doing so, leave space for healing. I have learned that not only am I okay with who I am, I am proud of who I am, flaws and all. Accepting myself is how I found happiness.

Acceptance means understanding who you are and why you are the way you are. It means understanding your struggles and showing love for ALL parts of yourself. What if the next time we feel shame or badly about ourselves, we ask ourselves how we would feel about someone else who had the same feelings or went through the same circumstances? I’m willing to bet that if it was the same circumstances happening to someone else, most times we would feel empathy and understanding for that person. The only way we can be happy is if we show ourselves acceptance and compassion.

No matter what cards life has dealt us, we all have struggles. Everyday life, and especially life during a pandemic, is a world filled with uncertainty, hardships, and confusion. My hope is that now, more than ever, instead of beating ourselves up, we are able to lift ourselves up. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If we show ourselves compassion and acceptance, maybe, just maybe, we can be better equipped to handle whatever comes our way.

personal experiences and life

I never expected to start a blog. My personal experiences were something few knew about. What made me go from tightly lipped to my life being an open book? There is a reason why I started blogging, and it is directly linked to why I blog about my personal life and experiences.

I STARTED TO BLOG IN ORDER TO HELP PEOPLE THAT WERE STRUGGLING

Rewind to when the pandemic first began. Isolation became our way of life, and confusion and helplessness were our norm. I remember thinking about how hard it must especially be for those who live alone.

I am a child abuse survivor. Anyone who reads my blog now knows that painful fact about me. What you may not know is that this personal and traumatic life experience caused a snowball effect. I thought about others who are child abuse survivors, and how they were no longer able to seek outside support due to quarantining. My heart broke for people who were struggling alone. I decided to look up child abuse foundations and ask if there was a way I could help.

I came across foundations looking for writers to share their personal life and experiences. I have always loved writing, and I have written poetry from the time I was a child as an outlet for the pain I have felt. I decided to submit my story about the importance of awareness to two of these foundations (NAASCA.org and CPTSDfoundation.org).

SHARING MY PERSONAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCES allowed me to spread comfort and awareness

The feedback I received warmed my heart and made me feel like I was helping others to not feel alone. At the same time, I felt that by sharing my story I was taking control of my life. I cannot change what happened to me. However, if I can bring comfort to others, then something good can come from the unimaginable.

I continue to contribute regularly to these amazing organizations.  I wanted to do my part to break the stigma regarding those topics, and the only way I could do so was by example. As a result, I decided to start blogging so I could spread awareness about trauma and mental wellness. This branched into also sharing about what I’ve learned from my relationships and from parenting my daughter.

MY FIGHT AGAINST COMPLEX POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

I mentioned in prior posts that I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), and that I would discuss it more fully in another post. I now feel it is the time to do so. For most of my life I didn’t even know what C-PTSD was, or that I had it. Although it is not officially diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is recognized by the DSM-5, and it is caused by extreme fear due to a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, hypervigilance, and avoidance of things associated with the trauma. C-PTSD is also caused by trauma; however, it is caused by repeated or prolonged trauma. 

My C-PTSD was caused by my prolonged abuse due to my mother throwing me out of the house from the time I was eight years old.

My mother also vacillated between loving me and wanting nothing to do with me.  Other forms of trauma were her making me believe that it was my job to take care of her emotional needs in order to feel safe and loved. Growing up with no sense of safety, support, or love caused me to view the world as a very scary place and for me to feel frightened all the time. If you want to read more about my story of abuse, you can read about it here.

My symptoms of C-PTSD include having nightmares about what happened to me, watching something on TV or reading something that causes me to emotionally flashback to my trauma (I don’t visualize it, but I feel the sadness caused from it), and negative self-perception. Additionally, I used to have a distorted perception of my abuser, as I felt completely dependent on her. I still struggle with emotional regulation because certain things trigger me. When I get triggered, I feel completely panic stricken and helpless, just as I did when I was a child. Although I remember most of what happened to me as a child, there are some things I don’t fully remember. Having gaps in your memory or blocking things out entirely is another symptom of C-PTSD (healthline.com, 2018).

My biggest symptom is my ongoing struggle with anxiety. My autonomic nervous system is overactive due to my prolonged and intense trauma. In other words, I am hyperalert and in “flight or fight” mode, feeling continuous anxiety (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 2020). I have written numerous blog posts about the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety, the types of anxiety disorders, and two different articles filled with various strategies and tips to manage anxiety in adults and children .

WRITING ABOUT MY PERSONAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCES HELPS BRING HOPE

 

These personal experiences are not easy to write about. It is not easy to write about having C-PTSD. In fact, I have broken down after writing many of my blog posts, specifically the ones about going no contact with my mom, my relationship with my inner child, and my story of abuse. I am taking wounds that will never fully close and reopening them by pouring my emotional pain onto the computer screen. Despite what many have thought, it does not give me closure or help with my healing because I write from the heart. To do so, I must fully connect with the words I am typing.  In some ways, that means I experience it again.

So why do I write about things that cause me pain?

Three words: Awareness and hope.

I want to show the world that scars do not have to be present to be felt. In fact, the scars left by emotional and mental abuse may be invisible, but that does not mean they are not potent. They cause immeasurable damage to the minds and souls of those who experience it.  It is much harder to prove emotional and mental abuse, let alone have someone intervene. This type of abuse will continue unless there is more awareness. With every story I tell, my hope is that one person gains awareness. If one person now understands, perhaps one child won’t have to experience that trauma.

HOPE IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPONS YOU HAVE

That is where hope comes into play. Hope. It is a word that I have clung to my entire life. Hope allowed me to keep going during my childhood. I would tell myself that maybe if I was hurting, that meant somewhere out there one child wasn’t being abused.  Albeit unrealistic, it was my hope that my pain was sparing someone else. That hope brought comfort to something that no child should ever endure.

I started blogging about my personal life and experiences, and I will continue to do so, because I want to spread hope. I want people to know that no matter what you have endured, no matter how broken and alone you feel, there is always hope. There is so much that can be taken away from each of us, so much pain can be inflicted upon us, but hope is the one thing that is ours. Even in our darkest moments, even when we feel the world has turned its back on us, hold onto hope. Hope is what brings us out of the darkness and into the light.

I hope my words bring each of you some hope. Hope that things can get better. Hope that you are not alone.

Hope that you matter and your story matters. Hope that you can rise no matter how many times life has thrown you down. Hope that you can heal. Hope that you have survived and will continue to survive no matter how hard life may be. Hope that you will remember to feel hope even on the days you feel like giving up.

I never thought I would start a blog. Yet here I am blogging my life story. I appreciate every person who has reached out to me with their personal stories or to let me know that my words brought them comfort and hope. To each of you, thank you. You inspire me to keep blogging and to keep sharing.

lessons learned in life

Life is filled with obstacles, but my aspiration is that my child navigates it with courage, determination, and grace. Some life lessons she will have to learn herself, but my hope is that my words can guide her along her journey:

15 powerful LESSONS LEARNED IN LIFE everyone should know

(1) Don’t be afraid to use your voice

There will always be people who won’t agree with what you are saying, and that is okay. If you believe in something strongly, keep standing by your convictions. Don’t allow anyone to diminish your feelings or beliefs. Stay true to yourself and let you head and you heart be your north star. If you are willing to follow them, they will always lead you in the right direction.

(2) This world can be a cruel place, and people may judge or comment about how you look

It is okay to take pride in your appearance, but remember that your looks should not define you. Strive for kindness. Unlike beauty, kindness does not fade with age. There will be times that it is tempting to combat cruelty with cruelty. There is enough anger and hate in this world. Allow the light within you to lead you out of the darkness.

(3) Weight is simply a number on a scale

It is easy to fall down the rabbit’s hole if you focus on those numbers. Instead, strive to be healthy. Eat fruits and vegetables and exercise. It is okay to enjoy a snack or eat a bowl of pasta. Remember to do things in moderation. Take care of your body as opposed to trying to change your body. This is a very important life lesson.

(4) You can be anything you want to be

Really. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Reach for the stars, and do something that you feel passionate about. It is okay to have high ambitions. Don’t allow yourself to settle for anything less than what will make you happy. Always believe in yourself.

(5) It is okay to be emotional

That may make some people uncomfortable, and that’s on them. Some may tell you to “stay strong”. Expressing your emotions is what truly makes you strong. Trust your emotions. Don’t bury your feelings or let others tell you how to feel. It is normal and healthy to express your feelings. Care. Care deeply and feel deeply. If more people were like that, the world would be a much better place.

(6) There is no weakness in forgiveness

Like everything else, this needs to be applied in moderation. Forgive those who genuinely care and respect you. There will be people who will mistake your kindness for weakness. Those people will try to take advantage of you. Don’t have those types of people in your life. People will make mistakes, and you will make mistakes. That is par for the course. Forgive yourself and forgive others. Don’t allow the weight of mistakes to crush you.

(7) Have respect and compassion for others and for yourself

Accept and love all parts of yourself. Remember to always treat others the way you want to be treated. Set boundaries and hold yourself and others accountable for respecting those boundaries.

(8) It is okay to be different

Stay true to who and what you are. It is difficult to be different in this world because there is a lot of judgment and ignorance. That doesn’t mean you should allow those types of people to dictate how you live your life. There are enough sheep in this world. Be a leader, not a follower, and always march to the beat of your own drum.

respect yourself as well as others

(9) Your body, your choice. Period.

Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your body. Hug those you want to hug (if they want to be hugged). Kiss those you want to kiss (if they want to be kissed too). If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, then don’t do it. Just as it is better in life to say “no” rather than go along with what others say or do, the same applies to your body. You get to decide when, where and how you use your body.

(10) There are others in this world who may be afraid or unable to stand up for themselves

Just as you should use your own voice to stand up for yourself, remember to speak up if someone else is getting mistreated. Remember that saying nothing speaks volumes.

(11) Love is a gift and a privilege

So is trust. Both should only be given to those who earn it and treasure it. Love wisely, but don’t be afraid of loving. Love is the only answer in a world of endless questions.

(12) Try your best at everything you do

If you are only willing to put in partial effort, it isn’t worth any effort at all. Don’t confuse effort with perfection. Nobody is capable of perfection. Your best will sometimes be better than others, and sometimes others will be better than yours. Do the best you can and accept that your best is all you can strive for. Whatever the outcome might be, be proud of yourself for trying. I will always be proud of you too.

learn from lessons life teaches you

(13) Life is comprised of a series of choices

Often the right choice is the harder choice. Choose right over easy every time. It is worth the extra effort to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of who you are.

(14) Inevitably life will knock you down

The truth is that life is a series of curveballs. No matter the circumstance, always get back up and keep on going. Learn from the lessons life teaches you. Perseverance and believing in yourself are essential ingredients to navigate through the murky waters of life. It may feel like the world is turning its back on you, but determination and hope will always help you find your way.

(15) Remember to not just live life, but to experience it

Remember to see the forest through the trees. Have fun. Spend time doing things that make you smile. Enjoy your own company, but also enjoy the company of others. Life is an adventure, and it is up to you how you live it.

 

 

There are many lessons I have learned in life. My hope is that these lessons will remind my child (and yours) that life has so much wisdom in it, if we are open to learning from our experiences.

feeling responsible for other people's actions

I must have done something to make that person act that way…  He broke up with me, so I must not be good enough… My daughter is acting out; therefore, I haven’t done my job well as a parent…When the people in our lives fail to behave or act as we see fit, instead of making it about them, we often point the finger at ourselves. Not only do we judge ourselves for our own struggles and behaviors, but we make the way others behave and feel a reflection of us. Why do we feel responsible for other people’s actions towards us?

I GREW UP FEELING RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S ACTIONS

I remember first feeling I was responsible for other people’s actions when I was a child. My mother would do horrific things to me and tell me it was my fault.  She would tell me that if I did what she wanted me to do, then she wouldn’t have to do those things. It was at that point that it was engrained into me that I was to blame for how others acted.

When relationships with boyfriends ended, I would go over in my head every conversation, every interaction, everything I did. I felt that I must have done something to make that person not want to be with me.

It never occurred to me that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, and that sometimes people grow apart or Aren’t meant to be.

My longest relationship outside of my husband was for four years. We were about to get engaged, but the ongoing issue in our relationship was that some of his family members were cruel to me. I was more religious than him, and they didn’t like that. When he abruptly ended our relationship, I felt heartbroken. I never stopped to think that maybe the end of our relationship wasn’t because I was damaged or unlovable, but instead because he lacked the maturity to stand up for me.

When my husband started using pills, I again felt it was my fault. Every time he would lie and tell me he didn’t use, or tell me that it was my fault he was using (addicts are very good at blaming others for their habits), I would blame myself. His actions were because of me, his lies were because of me, his usage was because of me. If I had been a better wife, had been a better person, he wouldn’t be doing this.

false judgment based on things out of our control

I felt I failed as a mom when I couldn’t control my daughter’s hyperactivity. When she started struggling at school I immediately felt that I had somehow wronged her. My initial reaction was to feel responsible rather than look at the underlying cause of the behavior.

I spent most of my life feeling like a failure because not only was I the cause of every single person’s issues, I was also the cause of my own. I made myself responsible for everyone and everything. When I put the world’s problems on my shoulders, how could I not expect to feel like I kept playing the losing hand?

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the way we are treated is a reflection of us. To some extent that is true- we do have a say in the behaviors we accept from others. We don’t have to be around people who mistreat us or do wrong by us. Boundaries are crucial in order to protect our needs and well-being. However, the words and actions that our friends, coworkers, husbands, wives, children, parents use are their choice, and their choice alone. The only person who we should be accountable for is ourselves.

BLAMING OURSELVES FOR THE STRUGGLES OF OUR CHILDREN

Some may argue that we are accountable for our children, and to a certain extent that is true. We are supposed to teach and guide our children. We are supposed to model and teach kindness, morals, values, compassion, empathy, healthy coping mechanisms, emotional regulation, and the importance of owning up to our mistakes. However, we cannot force our children to do anything. We provide them with the map, but whether they choose to follow that path is up to them. That doesn’t mean we cannot help them when they steer off course and encourage them to stay on the right path. However, at the end of the day, we can do everything right and still they might lose their way.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the path that we think is best for our children may not be the path they feel is best. We often envision what are children will be like and who they will become as adults.

We have good intentions, but we project those visions onto our children.

For example, if you are a doctor, and your father is a doctor, and his mother was a doctor, chances are you are going to assume your child will become a doctor. What happens if your child can’t stand the sight of blood? What if your child wants to be an artist instead? 

I mentioned above how I felt I failed as a mother when my daughter struggled in school. I was able to do well in school, so why was my daughter having issues focusing? Why wasn’t she able to do what the other kids did so naturally? I felt I was to blame. When we found out she had ADHD, it shattered expectations I had. I was a straight A student, and I imagined my daughter thriving academically too. I projected who I was onto her.

That is where the answer to my lifelong question of, “Why do we feel responsible for other people’s actions, and how do we stop doing that?” comes into play. We blame ourselves for others because we set up expectations for other people. However, we cannot control how others will act. When we accept people as they are without expectations, we are able to see their choices and decisions as their own.

TAKE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS AND HOLD OTHERS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIRS

When I put aside my vision of how my daughter should be and saw her for herself, I was able to see that she is special and wonderful just the way she is. I was able to give her the support and tools she needed to thrive. My map for her changed because I hadn’t made that map for my daughter; I made it for myself.

The people in our lives are not us. Therefore, the way they act and speak will not be the same as what we would say and do. We need to see each person as they are, good and bad, and realize that their thoughts, behaviors, emotions, successes, and failures define THEM, not us. If a person does something to hurt us, that reflects them. If a person does something that is wonderful, that is about them too. For example, I can applaud my daughter for her efforts and support and help her with her challenges, but her mistakes and successes are her own. If we can let go of the expectations we have for the people we have in our life and accept them as they are, we will no longer judge ourselves.

Here is the ultimate truth. IT WAS NEVER ABOUT US.

Just as someone else isn’t to blame for our choices, we don’t get to make ourselves responsible for other people. Codependency isn’t just about relying on someone to make us feel better about ourselves. It is also knowing that each person has the freedom to make their own choices, and it is up to us to decide if we can accept those choices. It is not up to us to change people.

Therefore, I strive to be the best daughter, sister, mother, wife, and friend I can be. I will focus on my actions and behavior instead of others. People are responsible for their choices in life, and I am responsible for mine. I will accept each person as they are, not who I want them to be. If I cannot accept the way someone treats me, then I will not have that person in my life. I try to let go of any expectations of how marriage, friendship, parenthood, and any other relationships should be, and see each relationship as it is.

No good can come from blame and judgment. It does not change the current situation, but only causes feelings of shame and guilt. I cannot promise I will never judge myself again. Old habits are hard to break. What I can promise is that I now know that in acceptance of others and myself I can let go of judging myself. I see others as they are and I see myself as I am. None of us are perfect, but I am proud of who I am becoming, and I am proud of the people in my life- just as they are.