Adulthood Sucks… or does it?

Heather Edwards AdulthoodLast Friday I was sitting in the dentist’s chair chuckling between tooth jabbings with the hygienist, Jessica. She told me she bought a T-shirt for her friend who’s fallen on hard times. It reads, “I’m not a gynecologist but I’ll take a look.”. We laughed and I replied that I just bought a T-shirt for my sister that reads, “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t want to come.”  We relished each other’s sense of humor & noted how serious adulthood can be, if you let it. And how extra important it is to be silly & have fun, and acknowledge emotional pain and indulge your dreams.

Later that day I attended another doctor appointment and then took a long drive out of state to a dear one’s funeral. It didn’t feel like a Friday. It felt like a very heavy, fearful, solemn day.

What I didn’t realize was that it was going to be one of the toughest weekends I’ve ever had. It was also one of the most beautiful. Family and friends laughed and cried together. We supported each other in our grief and loss. And we created new bonds and memories. We brunched, hiked, went through old photos, and shared past experiences.

We explored nature and our place in it. On a hiking trail we came across a quote on a bridge rail that read, “…the universe is wider than our views of it.”- Henry David Thoreau. It was profoundly relevant and comforting considering our reason for the trip.Heather Edwards Adulthood

Adulthood sucks, right? Not so. Yes, the longer we live the more loss, tragedy, and heartbreak we will see but, we choose where to focus our attention and energy. While remaining open and aware of life’s challenges, we can choose to notice the gifts and find strength in what brings us joy.

So in the face of sadness, anger, or loss what makes you experience gratitude? What shifts your energy from low to high, negative to positive, or sad to content?

What happened to that dream you had before life got so complicated? – The one where everything was perfect and you were sitting on a beach or mountaintop basking in the glow of the warm sunshine with your lover listening to the sounds of nature without a care in the world? It’s still there, somewhere beneath the chaos.

Heather Edwards AdulthoodEven though it may seem impossible or even irrelevant now, it’s more important than ever to pursue it. You may not know how to achieve the end goal but you can identify one way to get an inch closer today. What makes you feel joy?

Embrace your fearless inner kid and stop listening to the self defeating inner monologue. Take a moment to be still. Connect to your dreams. Find the silver lining.

Reclaim your life. Mourn those who pass, take responsibility for a mature life, and go play! -even if it means buying a funny teeshirt for a friend in need of a laugh.

Turn Toward the Enemy – Mastering negative emotions

Heather Edwards Psychotherapy Coaching EmotionsYou feel stuck. Trapped. Immobilized. When in the therapy and coaching room, conversations about fear, regret, disappointment, and frustration arise and take center stage. 

It’s easy to fall prey, be guided and controlled by negative emotions, even feel consumed by them. It’s an uncomfortable place. It’s dark, heavy, constricting. It can hold you hostage. And it can intensify before it dissipates.

Recognize negative emotions not as your enemy but as your informant. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Be open to them. Question them. Break them down. Look those unsavories in the eye. Release their grip.

Identify the building blocks of negativity. Uncover the hidden messages. Initiate a plan designed for empowerment.

When you turn toward your anger, fear, and sadness you validate the experience of the pain. You soothe and comfort, rather than avoid or deny the screaming, stomping, crying, demanding, desperate attempts of that negativity to grasp your attention. Now you are responding instead of reacting.

In turning toward those negative emotions you accept them as real. In that paradoxical open space, you relieve them of their power and control, and master them. You define them, rather than allowing them to define you.

Heather Edwards Oasis CoachingBreak them down into tangible parts. Clarify. Question. Seek answers. What is this fear about? Where is this anger stemming from? What does this sadness represent? From an open, enlightened place you can develop a plan for addressing what’s underlying those feelings.

That big amorphous blob of negative emotions is overwhelming, and stifling.  Make it tangible, definable, understandable, conquerable. Get professional support, if needed.

Dig deep. Do you need more knowledge, tools, information, time, or help? Do you need to let go of tired messages? Get to the root of it. How might your life change if you break through this? Identify what you need for success and move toward it.

Heather Edwards Psychotherapy Emotions CoachingStand up to the challenge. Embrace your unique strengths and power. Know that fear, anger, resentment, regret, sadness, disappointment and anxiety will at times be your companion. But they need not stifle you.

“Yield and you need not break:

Bent you can straighten,

Emptied you can hold,

Torn you can mend”. – Lao Tzu 300 B.C.

 

Grow. Evolve. Achieve. You are not stuck.  Feelings are your allies illuminating less obvious truths. Notice them, understand them, and respond proactively. From this point, real change can begin.

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by stockimages, nenetus.

The Butterfly: In a Time of Loss, a Symbol of Transcendence

heather edwards butterfly loss coach

heather edwards butterfly coachLoss. Heartbreak. Tragedy. Despair. It’s felt by millions everyday. Today, it hits my hometown.

Confused, saddened, enraged.

I’m moved by the heartfelt Facebook posts of friends, classmates, and neighbors memorializing the life and gifts of a friend, mother, sister, and role model passing on too soon.

Yesterday, she was murdered. Domestic Violence claimed her life. It’s a senseless, tragic misuse of power and control.

According to DomesticViolenceStatistics.org:

  • Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
  • Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.

We can end the cycle of abuse. There is support for women and children in violent relationships.

Domestic violence is predictable and stoppable.

Know the signs. Know the resources available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to help a friend in need.

heather edwards cycle of abuse

 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE or www.thehotline.org  Services are available 24/7 and are completely confidential. They are provided in 170+ languages.

Calling 911 is always an option for immediate intervention. Your local domestic violence agency offers resources for counseling, shelter, and legal support. Safety, privacy, child custody, and the emotional fallout are just a few of the ways these services can help.

Stop living in fear. You have power. Safety is a phone call away. Step up. Step out. Embrace courage, hope, and belief. A better life is waiting for you.

Abuse takes many forms – emotional, physical, sexual, and financial. If you feel afraid of your partner or avoidant of certain subjects; if you believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated; if you wonder if you’re the one who’s crazy; or if you feel helpless and numb to the pain and fear – then you are in an abusive relationship. Leave now. Get help.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It happens in heterosexual and same sex relationships, all ethnicities, religions, ages, and socio-economic levels. It is a crime. Everyone deserves to be safe. That includes you.

Today, I changed my Facebook background picture to a Butterfly. She’s gentle, fragile, beautiful. She’s a symbol of vulnerability, independence and transformation.

Transcending. Metamorphosis. Soul. Love. Rebirth. Divine Feminine. Purpose. The journey of freedom from the past to our new higher self.

For all those who have passed on too soon, she soars in honor of you in peace, harmony, and hope for a better tomorrow.

The Pain of Grief: and how to live through it

Heather Edwards psychotherapy and coaching

Heather Edwards Counseling and Coaching griefSuddenly someone you love is gone. You’re faced with an irreversible new reality – a life without a loved one you thought would always be there. You feel hopeless, distraught, and life has lost its meaning.

Grief can send you spiraling into despair. A death, break up, or an illness can dramatically change your life.

Each type of loss has a profound effect on wellbeing. But when armed with awareness of the natural processes of healing, it can be easier to navigate this unwanted life transition. There is a beginning, middle, and end. And it gets better.

Grief can make you stronger, kinder, more gracious, and loving when you come out on the other side of it. But it requires a passing through. It can feel like a sunami of emotional pain in the midst of it.

It helps us realize the fragility of this moment. It prompts us to pause, be present, and nurture who and what we love. The only moment in time we can influence is this one, and it’s fleeting – so cherish it.

While Grief and loss appear varied on the outside, they follow a similar pattern of emotional process inside.

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ research there are five stages of grief…

1. Denial is our body’s way of pacing the emotional pain. It’s a state of shock and numbness that allows us the space to cope with a loss that seems unbearable. While gradually questioning the loss, you begin the healing process.

2. Anger is empowering and gives us a way to direct our emotions. We are experienced and comfortable managing anger. It keeps us distracted from the pain of loss and replaces it with actionable ideas and gestures.

3. Bargaining is how we negotiate the “what if’s”. It’s where our guilt and plea’s collide. It’s how we wish we could have done something different to change the devastating outcome and have a happier ending.

4. Depression is a natural consequence of losing something or someone dear. Your life is forever changed. The profound sadness that results from the absence of that person while painful, is normal.

5. Acceptance is how you begin to move on with your new reality. It doesn’t mean that you’re OK with the loss. You might never be OK with it. As acceptance begins to emerge, you re-create your new life.  It means engaging with people and activities that are meaningful to you, living in the present, and building a future.Heather Edwards Psychotherapy and Coaching grief

You will feel better. Don’t rush this process. This is a general guideline that is different for everyone. You will move in and out of these five stages in a way that is not always linear. You might feel OK one day, and horrible the next. Gradually the painful emotions subside and become more tolerable.

Here are a few tips that can help:

Rub your heart while saying this aloud three times, “Even though I feel completely hopeless, I deeply and completely love myself.”. Energy psychologists claim this triggers neuro-lymphatic drainage which reduces toxins & stress, and improves energy and mood.

Use a positive mantra. It can be as simple as, “I deserve to feel good again.”, “My sadness means I am loving.”, “This pain is a temporary and normal part of healing.”, or “As sad as I feel right now, I know I will be OK. “. By balancing negative thoughts with neutral or positive ones, you strengthen the neural pathways responsible for happiness and well-being.

Get support. We are social beings. There is strength in numbers. Give yourself time to be alone, but balance it with engagement with people. Don’t be afraid to allow them to see your grief. Remember they love you and support you in your time of need. You would do the same for them.

Talk to yourself in the third person. Studies show that your brain processes information differently this way. It creates emotional distance and offers the same support you would offer a friend. It helps to keep you on task when you have children to care for or a job to do.

While it seems as if the pain will never end, it will. While it seems the darkness has overshadowed your life forever, it hasn’t – there will be brilliance again. While it seems you are alone and no one really understands your pain, they do. Trust, share, speak, seek and accept support. One day you will have a full, loving, dynamic life again!

Psychology Today – Saying Goodbye to Hurt

Hurt

Lingering resentment from things that have gone wrong is hard to shake. Whether it’s the result of a bad break up or a job loss, it’s best to find some resolution.

It would be wonderful if we all got exactly what we wanted, and when we wanted it.  But, the hard truth is that good things often take a lot of time and usually a few set backs along the way.

Once you’ve made a strong commitment and things still don’t work out, how do you pick up the pieces and carry on?  To find your center again, you’ll have to muster the strength to let go of negative feelings and shift your attention to a world that is more positive.

So, how do you get that betrayal or toxic boss out of your head?

Here are seven useful steps.

Start by noticing your experience of the situation:

How does it affect you? What are your thoughts? What are your feelings?

What’s happening in your body? Instead of looking outward for a quick fix look inward. Pay attention. Care for yourself. By watching your body and internal dialogue you can become aware; and its useful. If you start spinning out, you can notice it and reach out for some help. If you are down, you can talk about it. And, if you follow your breathing and slow down, you may just start to feel more grounded.

Catch your internal monologue in action:

The way we think affects the way we feel. Are those self-statements blaming, judgmental, or critical? Practice slowing those thoughts down by saying them out loud at an awkwardly slow pace. Breathe. Notice how they lose power when stifled in speed. Choose one statement and change a word or two in it to shift its meaning to a positive or neutral one. Say that statement slowly five times. Breathe. Notice the sense of relief this creates.

Acknowledge and validate your feelings:

Are you feeling angry, betrayed, or unappreciated? Those feelings are real!  They are a natural result of the events that occurred and how you thought about the situation. Even when events take an unfortunate turn, it is possible to find a nugget of wisdom, positivity, or self-growth in that experience. First, accept how you feel. Say, “I feel hurt!” Own it. Don’t fight it. Through a process of self-acceptance, a letting-go of those difficult feelings can occur. The more you deny them and “should” yourself, the more energy you give to the self-defeating thoughts and feelings.

Drop the word “should” from your vocabulary!

It implies guilt or wrongdoing. It may be true that you made a mistake. We all do, from time to time. It’s a fact of the human condition. Nobody’s perfect. Instead of blaming yourself, ask yourself what you could have done better. Your self talk would sound like this,  “It would be better if I had…” instead of “I shouldn’t have done or said this or that!” This new self statement acknowledges the blunder and turns it into a motivating statement for improvement rather than blame.

Notice your body:

Take a few moments to be still. Take three deep grounding breaths into the bottom of your belly and exhale completely. Do a body scan, beginning at the top of your head and working down through your torso, through your arms and legs and to the tips of your fingers and toes. Is there tension or discomfort anywhere? Some people feel a tightening in their shoulders and neck, others feel a knot in their stomach, and sometimes a clenching of fists or jaw occurs. This is where we store anxiety and stress. Practice simple breathing exercises for 5 minutes each day with special attention to relaxing and releasing those tense places.

Grieve Your Loss:

If you have been hurt or rejected there will be grief going forward. You lost a job, or a good friend, or the stability that you craved. Maybe you lost hope…for now.

Grief involves denial, anger, depression and then acceptance. Sometimes it involves forgiving, either yourself or someone else. It may shift over time from one feeling state to another. It’s grief and its normal. Over time grief allows our souls to heal. When done right, grief provides us the healing to move on. You will find your strength again.

Finding a Spiritual Way Through the Hurt:

Now, back to the terrible ex or the mean boss… well, trust that Karma is real and give that resentment up to the universe. It’s not benefitting you to hold it. It may, in fact be damaging you. The more time and energy you spend on negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences, the more ingrained they become in your DNA and brain structure. Let it go, like water under the bridge.

There is something bigger than our hurt, than our grief. This insight does not come quickly. And, it may be fleeting. But, over time, the hurt will diminish and you will become yourself again.

In the words of Buddha, “The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

 

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This piece was a contribution to Psychology Today by guest blogger, Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC, who is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:

www.NewYorkPsychotherapyandLifeCoaching.com

Follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/nyctherapy

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Photo courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

Psychology Today: When Media Becomes Exploitation

 

This Olympics featured a phenomenal performance of the competitors in the men’s super-G. Many of us were riveted and delighted by the competition.

In the end, Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud won the gold medal, Andrew Weibrecht brought home the silver, and Bode Miller rounded out the podium tied for the bronze with Canadian, Jan Hudek.  It was an awe inspiring show of the world’s best athletes.

Finding Pain in Victory:

At the end of Bode Miller’s run, in the moment of victory and realizing that the sacrifice, sweat, and tears were all worthwhile, an NBC reporter, Christin Cooper saw an opportunity for raw emotion. Instead of reveling in the moment of Mr. Miller’s triumph, she greedily played on the emotions of a grieving man.

In case you missed the interview, here it is…

  • Miller: “This [medal] was a little different. I think, you know, my brother passing away—I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. So this was a little different.”
  • Reporter: “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?”
  • Miller: “A lot, obviously. Just a long struggle coming in here. Just a tough year.”
  • Reporter: “I know you wanted to be here with Chilly really experiencing these Games. How much does it mean to come with a great performance for him, or was it for him?”

Miller began to cry.

  • Miller: “It’s just a tough year. I don’t know if it’s really for him. I just wanted to come here and, I don’t know, I guess make myself proud.”
  • Reporter: “When you’re looking up in the sky at the start…it just looks like you’re talking to somebody, what’s going on there?”

Grief Overwhelms:

Most of us understand the power of grief. It sits inside taking a long time to overcome. We must greive with people that care about us. And, when triggered, grief can overwhelm, like a tsunami overwhelming a shoreline. It is to be done with loving people around.

In my mind, Cooper drew blood, as Miller broke down in tears, hiding his face from cameras. Clearly, he was overwhelmed by the reminder of his brother’s untimely death.

This great athlete’s guard was down. Fueled by the moment, Bode Miller was open for the praise and accolades of his win—not confrontation with possibly the worst loss of his life. In psychological terms, it’s calledcognitive dissonance. He experienced polar opposite feelings at the same time. It is a confusing and disconcerting experience. Typically, the most powerful feeling surfaces, trumping all others.

Grief Can Heal—Or Open Old Wounds:

A human being with the ability to empathize would have recognized the change in Mr. Millers’s tone of voice, the absence of a smile and expression of joy, and the welling up of tears in his lower lids well before this point. The moment of joy was stolen from him. Despite his medal winning run, he is a grieving man. And an honorable one. His response to the fury of tweets against the reporter were as follows –

“I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment”

“My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.”

Was this reporting or exploitation?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, empathy is the, “ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. The empathic actor or singer is one who genuinely feels the part he or she is performing. The spectator of a work of art or the reader of a piece of literature may similarly become involved in what he or she observes or contemplates.”

If this existed in this interview, why continue the questions about loss rather than gain? The moment was about victory, accomplishment, and the successful finale of a career.

Regrettably, this was missed.

 

Psychology Today – When Children Grieve

griefThis article was originally published in Psychology Today on February 3, 2014.  It is written by Heather Edwards and Dr. Mark Banschick.

The holidays are over. But, sometimes events stop us in our tracks. Death never leaves us; it’s one reason why we so urgently celebrate Hanukah, Christmas and the New Year. We have this blessed life to live. So we grab it.

Our guest blogger, Heather Edwards, tells us another tale. It is a true story about a child who lost a classmate. How are we to help children grieve? And, what do they teach us in the process?

A Child’s Sadness:

On Christmas Day this year, my 7-year-old cousin Evan began to cry in the midst of family merriment. A sudden full body sobbing experience had overcome him. He looked up at me; face soaked with tears and exclaimed, “My friend died today.  She’s in heaven now.”  He tearfully explained that his classmate lost her battle against cancer during the early morning hours of Christmas Day.

Evan had many questions, and many tears. He wanted to know if she is still in pain. He wanted to know if people in heaven can open their eyes. He wanted to know what they do up there and if she was alone and scared. He said he was sad for her family because of all the presents they had for her to open today. Now they won’t be able to share that joy. He said he missed her. He said it’s not fair and that she should’ve lived to be 100 years old, not seven. I was struck by the openness and range of concerns coming from this little guy in my arms.

Children experience grief, too. It can be painful for parents to witness. Their mourning process is similar to ours, only not as seasoned, jaded, nor familiar. What is a parent to do?

Allow the Tears & Give Lots of Hugs:

Tears are healing. Each teardrop releases the hurt and sadness. It allows the emotional process of grief and loss to flow and ultimately to release its grip on the spirit. You don’t want your child feeling that he or she has to protect you from real feelings. Children need to know that it’s okay to cry during the experience of death and loss. And that sadness only means that they care and love and empathize with others. This is a beautiful thing.

Answer Their Questions:

Children have a wild and wonderful imagination. Since they don’t have a mature vocabulary to express themselves yet, they use imagery and play to test theories and express themselves.  Their ideas and questions are fresh and curious.  Do your best as an adult upon whom they rely to encourage and satisfy those curiosities. It helps them grow, understand, and accept the many challenges life presents.

Have patience. And, listen carefully to the concerns behind their questions.

Validate the Wide Range of Feelings:

Children are expressive.  A normal grieving process involves “Five Stages of Grief”, according to renown psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. During grief it’s natural to experience a series of emotional stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Allow your child to feel sad, mad, confused, and cheated.  It’s normal and healthy to acknowledge, express, and let go of painful emotions.

Encourage Remembrance of Better Times:

Consider bringing your child back to good memories of their loved one.  Be sensitive when doing this because it may be too much at any given moment. Yet, these memories serve a purpose in balancing the good with the bad thoughts about loss. Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs about the afterlife, give them hope about their friend wanting the best for them even though they can’t be here to share life with them.

Provide Structure and Reassurance:

Keep their life as normal as possible. Stick to their regular daily routines. School attendance, mealtimes, homework, bedtime, playtime or sports participation all need to continue with the same structure as always. Children need this to feel a sense of normalcy and safety in their own life. Regularity is one way of doing this.

I know that Evan will be okay. He has a loving family that only wants the best for him.  His openness about his hurt feelings for his classmate and her family demonstrate his ability to trust, empathize, and grieve. His curiosity about heaven and whether he will see his classmate again one day is evidence of his ability to love and connect with others.

He is a little guy with big heart.

I wish children didn’t have to experience loss. Since they do, it’s our job as grownups to structure and validate their experience, and give them lots of love and hugs. One day loss will make a little more sense to them. Until then, they need us to create a safe, loving world for them to live in.