When we think of trauma, we often think of extreme experiences of life or death. War, combat, sexual assault, physical abuse are the examples that come easily to mind. This definition of trauma is reflected in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the book that mental health providers refer to when identifying and diagnosing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD is direct or indirect exposure to "death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence." In this blog post, I want to expand the definition of trauma to include experiences of childhood emotional neglect, which are often invisible, difficult to identify and describe, and overlooked. Many of us may have grown up with these experiences and yet never know anything was wrong in our childhood or that these experiences continue to negatively impact our lives now. We may never call these experiences "traumatic" and therefore never work toward healing.
I remembered the first time I tried meditation. I attended an introduction to meditation where the facilitator provided guided meditation for the first 15 minutes and then we sat in silence for the next 30 minutes. At first, I struggled with keeping my focus on my breath and allowing my thoughts to drift in and out. I started thinking about my to-do list and the conflict that I had with my partner. A few minutes into the meditation, I was fighting my desire to curl up on the floor for a nap. I learned that meditation is not easy. But with regular practice, I can see the power of meditation in my life to reduce stress, improve sleep, manage anxiety, and increase focus. I introduce it regularly to my clients because of how effective meditation can be in treating depression and anxiety. Science has shown that meditation can quickly change the function of our brains and, with regular practice, it can create lasting change in our brain structures. In this blog post, I want to share with you the mechanisms behind how meditation can alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety for good.
One of the topics that has been gaining more wide-spread attention lately is loneliness. Studies have found that loneliness can have detrimental effects on our health by impacting our healthy behaviors, cardiovascular system, stress hormones, and sleep patterns. Loneliness can impact our immune system, experience of pain, and ultimately, how long we live. Loneliness is an all too common experience in the U.S. and it is on the rise. The former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called loneliness an epidemic. A study conducted by The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in 2018 found that 22% of Americans "always or often feel lonely, or lack companionship, or else feel left out or isolated." Given how many of us feel lonely and how damaging loneliness can be, I want to offer some strategies to combat loneliness and create deeper connections.
Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I know there has been so many controversies about her method. I highly recommend this article in the Huffington Post that dispels some of the misconceptions about the KonMari method and reveals the hidden xenophobia and racism within criticisms of Kondo. That topic can be a blog post in and of itself. What I want to focus on in this blog post is Kondo's philosophy of "spark joy." When deciding whether to keep or let go of an item, Kondo recommends holding the item in your hands and listening to how you body responds to the item. Does every cell of your body feel like they are uplifted by holding this item or do they feel heavy and weighed down by it? I've included a video of her explaining this process below. I think this philosophy can be widely applied to letting go of possessions, relationships, jobs, roles, goals, emotions, attitudes, and everything in our lives that no longer serve us.
I have struggled with procrastination for most of my adolescent and adult life. One time during my senior year of college, I waited until the midnight before a paper was due to sit down on the couch to finally begin writing. Before I knew it, it was morning and my laptop had fallen to the floor because I had passed out. I wrote furiously for the next two hours before submitting the assignment and prayed for a miracle. This kind of procrastination behavior followed me to grad school, where it really wrecked havoc on my life and mental health. I learned quickly in grad school that I cannot wait until the midnight before an assignment is due to start working on it because I had five other deadlines to meet and the standard of performance was much, much higher. I learned in grad school to nip procrastination in the bud after seeking help and support from therapists, mentors, coaches, and consultants. However, I developed another equally destructive habit: workaholism. The two habits are not as dissimilar as they may seem. In this blog post I will offer some tips on how to overcome both types of habits and cultivate self-discipline.
I have recently been immersed in the topic of childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Unlike the experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, emotional neglect is harder to identify and acknowledge because it is about what didn't happen to you rather than what did happen to you. If you were abused, you were also emotionally neglected. If you were not abused, you could still have been emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect occurs when parents and caregivers were consistently not present, available, understanding, or supportive when you needed them.
Do you constantly feel like something is missing in your life? Do you feel a deep sense of emptiness, loneliness, sadness, or discontent even though your life looks wonderful from the outside? Do you long for something from the past or wish for something more in the future? This sense of incompleteness can be so painful and yet invisible or mystifying to other people who do not struggle with it. I have often struggled with this sense of emptiness in my life. This nagging feeling of something-is-missing is really confusing because I have all the trimmings of a privileged life. I used to think that this emptiness can be filled by accomplishments, friends, family, money, hobbies, career, or pets. But the more "stuff" I accumulated to fill this hole, the more empty and incomplete I felt. I came to realize that the hole cannot be paved over by anything from the outside.
Recently I listened to a podcast episode called Trust Your Body on one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Sugars. In the episode, the hosts, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed, and guests, Hilary Kinavey, M.S., L.P.C., and Dana Sturtevant, M.S., R.D., discussed the never-ending cycles of dieting that affect so many women. One of the women who wrote to the Sugars talked about how tired she feels about "being on the roller coaster" of weight loss and self-esteem. I can relate to her struggles as I have been on the roller coaster myself for most of my adolescent and adult life. The struggle with our bodies is so pervasive, oppressive, and multi-generational, as Cheryl Strayed asked, is it possible to ever be free of it? How can we dismantle the connection between morality, worthiness, and femininity with women's body image? The hosts discuss how women's appetite and desire are controlled by a male-dominated society. They talk about Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth that links women's appetite for love, sex, money, food, care, etc. to women's rights and equality in the home, in bed, in the work place, and in the world. Women are hungry for so much more.
In the last blog post, I talked about awareness and understanding of self-sabotaging behaviors in romantic relationships. In this blog post, I will focus on some things that you can do to begin to heal and repair this pattern of self-sabotage. The first step, as I mentioned in the last blog post, is to identify why you might be engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. Understanding the why can help you recognize that this coping strategy is no longer needed or helpful in the present and therefore, it might make it easier to let it go. Here are a few more practices to consider on your healing journey to create satisfying, nourishing and long-lasting relationships:
I recently read this amazing piece in The New Yorker by Pulitzer Price winning author Junot Díaz titled "The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma." In this autobiographical article, Díaz described how his early experiences of sexual abuse followed him throughout his life and contributed to the destruction of many meaningful romantic relationships. He reflected on his self-sabotaging behaviors and recognized that deep down, he was afraid of facing his trauma, afraid that he was broken and unlovable, and afraid to hope for something better. I felt both deeply empathetic for his pain and validated by his experiences. The root of self-sabotaging behaviors in romantic relationships is often fear and insecurities as a result of past traumas, difficult family dynamics, and experiences of abandonment, enmeshment, or neglect. The topic of self-sabotage is so broad and complex that I am going to divide it up into several blog posts. In this blog post, I will focus on how to identify self-sabotaging behaviors in ourselves.
"Super ironic that I write and talk about intimacy all day long; it’s something I’ve always dreamed of and never had much luck achieving. After all, it’s hard to have love when you absolutely refuse to show yourself, when you’re locked behind a mask."
- Junot Díaz
I created this blog to share information about living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. I am constantly learning new things and making mistakes along the way. This blog is my way of chronicling my discoveries, musing, and lessons learned as a person and a professional. I invite you to come along on my journey of self reflection, discovery, and thriving with challenges. I also hope to exchange wisdom and enlightenment from you, my readers.
The information provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.