Helping Couples Feel Love: Why I’m an EFT Therapist

Most agree that romantic love has a powerful way of defining our lives for better or worse. When things are going well with our partner, the rest of life often feels manageable because of the strength of that bond. But when our couple relationship is going south, the emotional toll from that lack of connection not only feels terrible, it has a way of falling like dominoes into other life domains. I have a special passion for helping individuals and couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships. This passion led me to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, and from there has led me to become an Emotionally Focused Therapist. With all the different types of therapies out there to help people through relationship difficulties, how did I arrive at Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)? Because I profoundly believe in the healing power of this treatment! Here are a few reasons why:

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It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I don’t understand it; some people, as far as their senses are concerned, just feel like home. ~Nick Hornby

1. People aren’t ill or broken, they’re stuck in painful patterns

Since the birth of psychotherapy, the lens with which we’ve viewed people has been intrapsychic and at times even pathologizing. Freud saw people’s motivations in terms of internal drives rather than interpersonal needs, and that concept has stuck over the course of generations. I’m not saying that mental illness isn’t very real – it is. But many aspects of behavior, especially in terms of relational behavior, are better understood from an attachment frame. We are social creatures with an innate need to form secure and lasting bonds. This need is so innate we fail to thrive without it, and many experiments in the research literature highlight the significance of our need for attachment as being as important as food or water. This begins with parent and child and continues with other important figures and our potential romantic partnering with another person. Thus, much of what happens with couples that isn’t working is based on attachment fears being activated and protests against emotional disconnection. If you look way beneath all the fighting, demanding, emotionality, and withdrawing, you find that these actions are not pathological or unfixable, they are our way of saying, Do you really see me? Are you really there for me? We aren’t broken for wanting this connection. We are hurting and afraid because we don’t have it or can’t trust it.

2. Couples communication needs authenticity, not rules

So much of traditional couples therapy and the general public’s concept of couples therapy is about communication skills. I’m all for good communication! But simply learning to speak and listen and compromise isn’t enough. Not only do many of these communication methods leave couples feeling stilted or awkward when they’re trying to discuss something as profound as matters of the heart, they also fly right out the window in more heated moments when those discussions have shifted into the realms of sex, money, family, or who forgot to start the dishwasher (warning: strong language, scene from comedy clip). In EFT, couples aren’t taught specific skills for communication. Instead they are guided to experience real vulnerability and attunement with each other in ways that feel authentic and meaningful. This type of bottom-up learning not only feels more relevant, it is profoundly lasting.

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What I want most, is to know what you hear in the silence between us. ~William C. Hannan

3. It works!

Dr. Sue Johnson began developing EFT in the 1980s because she realized something was missing in our understanding of couple’s pain, conflict, and healing. This was during a time when attachment was being more fully recognized as a relevant part of the human experience thanks to the pioneering work of John Bowlby. But most were still focused on the parent-child attachment and not thinking much about how attachment needs play out in adult relationships. Over 2 decades later, Dr. Johnson’s treatment approach has been proven to work by meeting the gold standard in research. Studies have shown time and again that it’s not only the attachment frame that’s important, but EFT’s way of accessing that frame that creates truly lasting change.

4. Secure attachments are transforming

When couples create secure attachments with each other, it does more than lead to deepening love and commitment. It can change each partner’s entire experience of themselves, each other, and the world. I know this because I’ve seen it in others and I’ve experienced it personally. Since being in a securely attached relationship, I’ve felt my entire self and life shift toward the more steady and the more alive – the “roots and wings” of Earth Meets Sky. When you have a partner as a secure base, you are able to go inside yourself and gently embrace all the beautiful and scary parts of who you are as well as approach the world with far greater curiosity and confidence. Old wounds diminish and any future feels possible because you know in your deepest heart that your partner will be by your side.

In short, I’m an EFT therapist because I hope to help others create and deepen this kind of transformational love. We all need it, and we all deserve it.

If your relationship is hurting from conflict, distance, or even deeper relational traumas such as infidelity, consider turning to the guidance of an EFT therapist. EFT therapists have a unique way of helping you heal in individual therapy as well. If you live in the Atlanta area, please feel free to contact me to see how I may be of assistance in helping you and/or your partner create and deepen the powerful bonds of love.

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Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in the world. ~Emery Allen

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

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The Promise of a Lifetime

You may have noticed that my online presence has changed a bit in the past few weeks. I am now Amanda Carver! I am married and excited to announce that, yes, when you see Amanda Carver, LMFT online, it’s me!

Though a wedding or commitment ceremony is but a moment, a marriage or partnership holds the promise of a lifetime. It requires much in terms of vulnerability, tenderness, passion, humor, and forgiveness. A ceremony is a way to honor the path behind that led to this moment of profound commitment, and the path ahead undoubtedly full of both vibrant and difficult times – but better enjoyed and weathered because it’s together. In this way, my husband and I decided that having a marriage ceremony that we wrote together and witnessed by our closest family was deeply important to us.

One of our vows included: I promise to keep your trust. And to share my honest self with you, even when it may be easier to pretend or hide. I promise to make it safe to show me your true self, and to not try to change you, because the whole spectrum of who you are is who I’ve fallen in love with.

At many times in a relationship, a couple can come to this important point of making or renewing vows. In considering what means the most to you about commitments of love and marriage, what vows would you like to make to your current or future partner? Please share!

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All written content owned by Amanda Carver. Photo credit: Mike Moon Studio and Morgan Corbett Photography.

How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Honored to have contributed to mindbodygreen with this article about how to get the most out of therapy! How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Do you have ideas about what has helped make your therapy more meaningful or beneficial? Please share!

You’ve mustered up the courage to say, “Something’s off in my life right now.” You seek the assistance of a helping professional to get back on track, and feel relieved almost immediately. You’re starting to make productive choices.

Maybe you’ve realized sadness or anxiety has hijacked your life, or you’re struggling with chronic conflict or lack of connection in your most important relationships. Maybe you’ve realized that despite having everything you always thought you wanted, you’re still not fulfilled. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided you are important enough to seek assistance with creating the life you want.

Some individuals seeking therapy think that their therapist will “fix” the problem that they are facing, even if they don’t realize this dynamic is at play. But therapy is work, for both parties involved. It takes reflection, a healthy balance of self-analysis and self-acceptance, and a commitment to follow-through.

If you’re in psychotherapy or counseling treatment or are considering gaining the assistance of a mental health professional or coach, the following tips will dramatically enhance the return you can gain from this powerful investment — an investment in you. I offer these tips as both a psychotherapist and someone who has benefited from being in therapy.

1. Don’t skimp on sessions — make it a practice.

People sometimes seek therapy services with a “one foot in, one foot out” mentality. This may look like frequently canceled sessions or forgetting or not doing homework. Unless you are on vacation or experiencing a true emergency, it is essential to attend sessions weekly (or at whatever interval you and your therapist have determined is best).

Building a relationship with your therapist and the regular contact that requires is the foundation for gaining the most from your therapy experience! Even on days when you’re feeling down (especially on these days!) or when the sun is shining and you’d rather spend an afternoon at the park, remind yourself that it is a commitment not just with your therapist, but with yourself.

2. Work between sessions. (It’s like “therapy homework.”)

Some therapists assign homework. This could be as simple as thinking about a certain topic or as specific as reading chapters in a book or practicing specific relational or coping strategies. Some therapies are designed to include homework on a regular basis, such as behavioral treatments like CBT or DBT. In other types of therapy, homework is more of a periodic way to enhance your growth experience.

Even if you aren’t assigned specific homework, it’s important to bring the thoughts and questions you engage with in therapy outside the office. Try exploring and practicing techniques you have worked on with your therapist in other relationships. Journal. Talk to supportive friends or family members about the questions you’ve been thinking about. Engaging in the process will help you transform a slow-paced recovery into a life-altering experience where the change you seek gains noticeable traction.

3. Get radically honest.

Therapists are trained professionals who are likely predisposed to offering compassion and support. We’ve taken this natural inclination to be helpful and learned specific ways of interacting with you that may assist with positive outcomes in your life.

Our ability to help you is severely limited if you aren’t honest with us. This includes the big things, like history of abuse or drug and alcohol intake, and the “smaller” things, too, like not having a sincere interest in a homework assignment.

I can’t tell you how many times a case has “cracked open” into meaningful change because a client finally disclosed needed information about him/herself and problems. If you’ve found yourself lying to your therapist, don’t beat yourself up! Shame about problems is normal, as is the impulse to lie. Just take the opportunity to be brave and correct this information with your therapist.

4. Practice transparency.

Somewhat different from telling the truth, being transparent means telling the truth in incredibly subtle and internal ways. It’s having the courage to speak up and say, “No, I don’t think you got that quite right,” or, “I’m struggling with thoughts that you are judging me right now.”

It’s sharing your inner world with your therapist, especially as it relates to your therapist and your treatment. It may seem like you’ll hurt your therapist’s feelings, or that the information is not that important — but trust me, the “meat” of the process of therapy comes in these more intricate interactions where you allow yourself to be a fully authentic person.

Please note that these tips are offered under the assumption that you are working with a competent and compassionate therapist. Good therapists may sometimes point out problems or unhelpful patterns as a way to encourage healing and growth, but they know how to do so without judgment.

It is imperative that you feel safe with your therapist in terms of knowing that your therapist has your best interests at heart and will keep what you share confidential. If this is not the case, please consider speaking openly with your therapist about your concerns, or seeing if a different therapist may be a better fit for you.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Communication Problems? Create a New Language Together!

Most of the time when a couple seeks counseling with me they cite the primary problem as “communication issues.”

I just don’t get where’s she’s coming from!
He shuts down and won’t talk to me!
I feel like I don’t know her anymore!

When two people come together as a couple they each bring his/her own history and way of being in the world. This individual experience can manifest in a language or way of communicating that on the surface seems quite similar to our own, but in actuality is quite different.

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In the early stages of coupling, it’s easy to show genuine interest in another’s language, of trying to really understand what this new amazing person in your life is all about. There’s also the propensity to downplay differences for the sake of building a very new connection. But over time the earnest curiosity wanes, and all those differences once swept under the rug sneak out into your life one little crumb at a time.

An extremely powerful way for a couple to take charge of this breakdown in communication is to create an entirely new language together! Such a language starts with understanding the other person and from that deep understanding, creating new meaning that bridges the “you” and the “me” into an “us.”

4 Ways to Create the “Language of Us”

  1. Teach & Learn – Growing up in a family means instinctively knowing the unspoken rules of how to think and act with your family members. We then take these rules with us, sometimes without even realizing it or considering if the rules fit for us in our adult lives! Whenever you find yourself confused by your partner, or thinking of yourself as “normal” in comparison, it’s a red flag that it’s time to step back and learn more about each other. What are your experiences and beliefs about family, romantic partnership, emotions, and how the world works? If you’re often the one who shares easily, don’t forget to invite your partner to share, too!
  2. Love Languages – There’s a popular book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman that discusses the importance of loving your partner in the ways he/she experiences love. Not surprisingly, we tend to show love in the ways we wish to receive love rather than in the ways our partner wishes to receive love. This can cause a lot of “communication issues!” Imagine the sad frustration of giving and giving in a way that’s not interpreted as loving! And the disconnection your partner feels, as well. It can be helpful to start considering how your partner best experiences your love and to be on the look out for his/her loving gestures, too. For more information about love languages, visit Dr. Chapman’s website.IMG_2581
  3. Conflict Languages – Per Dr. Sue Johnson’s model of couples attachment as addressed in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), couples not only have love languages, they also have distinct ways of protesting emotional disconnection with each other. A protest can be nagging, shutting down, attacking, withdrawing, etc. When our partners act in these ways, we tend to put meaning to these actions such as, “She doesn’t think I can do anything right” or “He doesn’t care.” However, when you start to understand the deeper levels of your conflict, you can learn the map of your partner’s hidden wounds and protest behaviors. You learn that a nag or shut down often means “Please come closer to me” or “I feel helpless.” Please read my previous blog post “Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict” to gain a better sense of the real issues in couples conflict, as well as check out Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” for further guidance.
  4. Inside Meaning – After putting in the time to understand each other in history, affection, and disconnection, don’t forget to be playful with your shared language! Inside meaning is an extension of the concept of inside jokes, and is a hallmark of intimacy. Such a language often organically develops from shared experiences and co-created meaning of those experiences. Being able to accurately read the subtle facial expressions of your partner, recall a fond memory between the two of you, develop words and phrases as shortcuts of expression, and use pet names all communicates: “You know me more deeply than anyone else.” IMG_2573

The co-creation of your very own language as a couple with all it’s intricacies and authentic knowing will deepen the intimacy between you and your partner in powerful ways. Don’t forget this can take effort, especially if your history is colored by significant disconnection with each other. Reaching out for help when needed is key. Couples therapists are skilled at helping you and your partner interpret each other and create a new language all your own.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.

Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict

IMG_1567In working with couples and in navigating my own love life with all its heart swells and perils, I’ve found that conflicts between romantic partners are some of the most painful encounters we experience as adults. Hardly anything can derail our days or our lives more than being out of synch and in discord with our significant other.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) wisely declares, “Conflict in romantic relationships is 90% protest at emotional disconnection.” Over the past 25 years, she’s pioneered EFT as an empirically backed method of assisting couples based on adult attachment theory – the theory that the attachment needs we are all born with do not go away just because we grow old enough to “take care of ourselves.” Rather, we continue to need emotional connection and responsiveness throughout our lives, primarily from our significant other.

When I work with couples, I’ve taken to calling it the “Iceberg of Disconnection” – the ability we have as couples to hyper-focus on the tip-top jutting out of the water and then continue bumping up against each other due to failure to note the fuller berg below. No blog post could possibly summarize the complexity of EFT or how to create deeply secure attachments. However, I will share my go-to approach based on EFT principles for how to dive below and potentially reconnect with your partner when the protests of disconnection arise. IMG_1569

  1. Stop the Conflict Long Enough to Consider Your Deeper Distress – How many times have you found your day unraveling due to conflict with your sig other about something “silly”? For instance, let’s take Claudia and Jeremy (*names and story fictionalized). Just the other night they got into a bitter argument about “Game of Thrones.” Now some might say that nothing could be more serious than if Daenerys Targaryen assumes the throne or not, but Claudia was far more interested in curling up in her partner’s arms for the night than hugging a cold pillow on the couch. The first step in reconnection is to take a step back and realize you’re not arguing about what you think you’re arguing about (at least not most of the time). Claudia was not angry that Jeremy was only minimally interested in GoT, and he was not distant because he believed she was over-invested. They could have argued all night about which stance toward the show was more “normal” and driven each other crazy. Instead, at some point (about the time she was huffing her pillow and blanket into the other room), she turned around and admitted, “I’m so sad right now.”
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  2. Name Your Protests for What They Are – Claudia was sad because she experienced Jeremy’s lack of interest in GoT as disconnection. That fantasy shows were a common way of connecting with her now deceased brother only added to the depth of her yearning not just for Jeremy’s physical presence but also his emotional presence during this TV event. When she was finally able to say, “I’m sad because I wanted to share this with you and it reminds me of my brother,” it totally changed the conversation. She was able to further explain, “When you put down people engrossed by a TV show it also puts down previous ways of connection that I’ve enjoyed.” Yes, she was angry. But she was also sad, feeling small in so many ways. Claudia needed to speak from her deeper truth in order to draw Jeremy into the connection she was so hungry for.
  3. Respond in Kind – When she got more real with him, Jeremy could have used it against her and continued with distant quips. But instead he allowed her vulnerability to draw out his own. He was able to admit, “When you become so absorbed in the show I feel left out because I just don’t enjoy it the way you do.” This further changed their conversation. From the depths of vulnerability the ice melts, and there’s safety to explore “softer” emotions like sadness, shame, fear, and yearning. There’s room to create connection. IMG_0286

Often when one member of a couple is nagging or yelling it is an attempt to say, “I feel your distance, please reconnect with me!” And when the other person is cold or withdrawn, it is a way of saying, “I am also upset about our disconnection and simply don’t know what to do.” The only way to move past your original disconnect is to be brave enough to name and share your deepest emotional truths with each other.

If you lack the language to speak about your truths or are uncertain about how to respond to your partner, please read Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” and consider the additional assistance of a couples therapist to help you create a deeply sustaining connection.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.

Shining the Light on Sneaky Emotions, Part 3: I’m Not Upset, It’s Just a Stomachache

In my last posts, I’ve been sharing information about sneaky emotions as a way to help you shine the light on what’s really going on in your emotional life and increase your chances of feeling better.

We’ve discussed Anger as a Rowdy Ruse and Depression as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Today, I want to talk about psychosomatic symptoms. To recap, psychosomatic symptoms are physical symptoms that arise in response to an emotional trigger. The energy of the emotion is converted, so to speak, into headaches, stomach pains, diarrhea, or other physical ailments. The reason this happens is twofold.

First, our emotional and physical experiences are always tightly connected! We do not have a mind separate from our body. Our emotional wisdom literally courses throughout our nerves. We cry when we’re sad, clench when we’re angry, tense when we’re anxious, and have all felt the literal ache of a broken heart. More and more, researchers are learning about the wonders of the vagus nerve in your abdomen that is the biological explanation for the long held concept of the “gut instinct.” Embracing the fusion of emotion and body is essential, and this post is certainly not about trying to unnaturally separate them. 22059_100569169979883_1506761_n

“Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt”

However, another reason emotional energy gets converted into physical symptoms is because of denial of our emotional truths. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism that when used sparingly, can effectively help us cope with difficult life experiences. Consider the person who denies the extent of a terminal illness to the point of seeking profoundly helpful treatments versus the person who denies the extent of a terminal illness to the point of ignoring her/his need for basic medical care. Some denial is helpful, and all denial is human. But when we can’t accept our emotional truths to the point of repeated psychosomatic symptoms, the level of denial can be deeply ineffective, not to mention literally painful.

If you are someone who struggles with chronic pain, such as headaches or gastrointestinal issues, and a doctor has confirmed that your pain does not have a physical cause, you may consider addressing it through an emotional route. I am not suggesting to dismiss your physical symptoms! Your pain is real and deserves your attention. I’m also not suggesting that your pain is “all in your head.” As I established earlier, there’s no such thing as a complete separation of mind and body. What I am saying is that in addition to engaging in appropriate medical care, you may also consider some deep soul-searching about other causes in the emotional realm, such as disowned anxiety, anger, or sadness.

Popping medicine, or worse, avoiding the activities of your life in some way due to chronic psychosomatic pain without also addressing the underlying emotional causes is much like slapping a Band-Aid on a festering wound: your pain will only get worse. Logically, we can see how this happens. If you’re anxious, say, by social interaction or job performance issues, and begin downing Mylanta and avoiding those situations as much as possible convincing yourself the whole time the real problem is this “bad stomach,” then your anxiety will worsen as you continue to avoid the situation, and your bad stomach will worsen as you continue to avoid your anxiety. On the other hand, if you can begin to connect the dots between your emotional and physical experiences, and then honor or heal those emotions, you will likely experience physical healing as well.

If this sounds like it could be you, take the followings steps:

  1. Admit to yourself that your physical problems may also be influenced by emotional distress
  2. Remind yourself that this is human, it’s not all in your head, and you are not weak or false for having this experience
  3. Confirm through a doctor that there aren’t medical issues causing your problems
  4. Through solitary self-reflection or with the assistance of a trusted friend or helping professional, begin looking at what emotion(s) may be stuck for you
  5. Allow yourself to honestly evaluate your dissatisfactions and insecurities
  6. Validate your emotional experience and if needed, seek validation from others as well
  7. Begin to look at ways to alleviate your distress, and accept help if needed: Do you need to learn specific coping skills? Face a fear? Confront an aggressor? Set better limits? Grieve a loss or old wound? Take steps toward your values and dreams?
  8. Give yourself time to heal, and trust in the wisdom of your mind and body to guide you in this work

Remember to be gentle with yourself as you embark on emotional discoveries and change. Harshly criticizing your experience is just as damaging as the original denial. With a curious and compassionate heart, allow your emotional truths to unfurl. With time you will blossom into all heights of healing.

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All content owned by Amanda Bowers. This post is dedicated in memory of her beloved dog, Ruby.

Shining the Light on Sneaky Emotions, Part 2: Depression as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

In my last post, I began sharing information about sneaky emotions, such as secondary emotions and psychosomatic symptoms, as a way to help you shine the light on what’s really going on in your emotional life and increase your chances of feeling better.

Last time, we discussed Anger as a Rowdy Ruse. Today, I want to talk about the opposite: how disowned anger can spin you into a cocoon of depression.

IMG_2080Depression is Anger Turned Inward

As someone who has struggled with depression and a therapist who has helped others out of this boggy swamp, I can see how the idea of depression being anger turned inward makes sense. Though there are certainly chemical imbalances in the brain or profound life losses that can generate depression, sometimes depression manifests due to the repeated experiences of disowned anger.

Anger is an extremely important emotion that communicates to us that we are being threatened, disrespected, or our boundaries are being crossed. Anger is an emotion of action – it motivates us to make changes. With awareness, those changes can be meaningful and well-executed. We use anger to keep our own vitality from being stilted by the needs or demands of others. It’s a way of drawing a line in the sand and saying it cannot be crossed: this is my territory, my food, my money, my family, my tribe. It’s an emotion of survival.

In this first world country in these modern times, most of us thankfully do not have to physically fight to keep our food or territory and to protect our families. But anger is nonetheless essential to survival and actualizing a vitally abundant life. The line in the sand now says: this is my time, my energy, my self-respect, my meaning, my dreams. And at times even still: these are my resources, this is my body.

IMG_2080Some of us are raised in ways that teach us anger is bad. This is more often the experience of women, but can also be the experience of men. In both direct and indirect ways we are taught by our families and society at large that even the experience, much less the expression, of anger is wrong. To be angry means being mean, selfish, a bitch, or out of control. On a deeper level we’re taught that it means we are unworthy of love. We internalize these messages without even fully realizing we heard them to begin with, and overtime lose our ability to connect to the experience of anger.

When we can’t connect to our survival instincts through anger, deep depression can set in. We are no longer able to effectively draw those important lines in the sand that protect our authentic self and our abundant life. Instead of making thought-out and essential changes, we become more passive and withdrawn. We can have lives filled with emotionally or financially unavailable partners or domestic abuse, demanding and demeaning employers, self-involved friends and family, and even social institutions filled with racism, homophobia, or systems of poverty that keep us feeling lost or trapped. Even when our lives are filled with generally well-meaning people, we can lose touch with the inner spark of what makes us tic due to repeated experiences of not protecting our dreams and values.

If you are struggling with depression that appears to have no cause, find a trusted mentor or mental health professional to assist you with reconnecting with your inner self such that your spark for life is reignited. You may find that anger, too, rekindles. This may be scary. But it’s worth it! You can learn how to experience anger and use it effectively without being a selfish “monster.” You can learn how to set boundaries that protect your sensitive heart and vital spirit. You can take steps to cast off the sheep’s wool, and own your inner wolf that will protect your essence and help you survive. IMG_2080

Please note that Major Depressive Disorder is a serious illness. If you are struggling with depression that has not lifted for many weeks or months, has immobilized you, or has led to suicidal thoughts or plans, please seek the immediate attention of your local mental health professional. You may also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1—800-273-8255.

Stay tuned for I’m Not Upset, It’s Just a Stomachache, the last post in this 3-part series on sneaky emotions!

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.