Phone-Life Balance: Using Mindfulness to Reconnect with Your Real Self and Your Real Life

I am honored to share a blog post I wrote for my friend and colleague Gordon Shippey’s blog: Phone-Life Balance: Using Mindfulness to Reconnect with Your Real Self and Your Real Life (also below). Gordon is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Atlanta, GA who specializes in mental health issues surrounding the Internet and our increasingly technological world, including issues such as Internet addiction, compulsive gaming, and addiction to online pornography. Please check out his website and blog for further information about prioritizing mental health in the technology age!

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We all know it’s true, that nagging voice inside is noticing more and more: We’ve become addicted to our smart phones. First thing in the morning (even before coffee!), last thing before turning out our bedside light, waiting at traffic lights or for tables at restaurants, and even during lulls in conversation with our friends and family, we light up our phones and check Facebook, Instagram, texts, email, news and other apps. For some it goes so far as answering calls during sex, or texting while driving – a fatal hazard! We hardly have time to enjoy a beautiful moment before we’re posing and taking pictures of it to post on our media pages. Our experiences are being hijacked by the cataloging of them, and all to supposedly help us feel more connected, maybe even more alive … but is it working?

Now that social media and the smart phones that put it constantly at our fingertips have been standard items for many years, the research is rolling in on how much better off we really are from these powerful inventions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t look good. According to a study at the University of Derby, the average smart phone user spends 3.6 hours on their device a day, with 13% of research participants showing full addiction behaviors. And it’s coming with a toll of less connectedness and increased depression.

11846633_1012552652112111_4359517682162020442_nI’m all for smart phones and social media! I love that I get to know the little goings on in my friends’ and family’s lives, and even “watch” their children grow up despite the sometimes thousands of miles between us. I love that I can quickly search for the nearest taco stand from anywhere that I am. I love that I can follow up on email or pay bills while waiting at the doctor’s office.

But what is the price for these conveniences? And what can one do about balancing the scale between help and harm? Borrowing from the ever-wise world of mindfulness, you may find that disconnecting from your phone for even brief periods of time brings great riches to the present moment you are actually living.

Instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, try:

  • Doing a body scan and noticing where you need to stretch or which parts may need your special attention
  • Checking in with roommates, romantic partners, or children and asking them about their pending day

Instead of reaching for your phone last thing at night, try:

  • Engaging in progressive muscle relaxation where you tense and release the different muscles in your body
  • Checking in with yourself or your partner to share the “best” and “worst” of the day

Instead of reaching for your phone at a traffic light or while waiting in line, try:

  • Taking at least 3 deep, comfortable breaths
  • Really noticing the people and landscapes around you – the unique in the mundane, the little things you’ve passed a thousand times but never really seen

Instead of reaching for your phone while on your lunch break or eating meals alone, try:

  • Using your 5 sense to fully experience your food – what does it smell like, look like in full spectrum of color, feel like against your fingers and tongue, etc.?
  • Giving gratitude for the sun, water, minerals, plants and people who helped make it possible to eat your meal

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Instead of reaching for your phone while with people, try:

  • Listening with deep intent to what others are saying, or if they’re not talking, asking them questions and giving them time and space to fully answer
  • Sharing what’s on your mind – either your troubles or your joys – people won’t think you a complainer or a braggart – they do want to know who you really are!

If possible, push yourself to carve out moments of your day or week where you turn your phone off or at least leave it on vibrate in the other room. Delete apps that you notice are sucking up too much of your time. (I personally did this with much success in terms of improved productivity and time for, gasp, reading actual books!)

Remember, our phones may be really good at lighting up areas of our brain that our brain then interprets as a reward. They may be really good at distracting us from our boredom or anxiety. They may be really good at directions home. But they can’t replace the people in our lives. And they certainly can’t live our lives for us. A perfectly posed picture can’t replace the experience of taking in a gorgeous mountain sunset or your dog greeting you with his merrily wagging tail. And a perfectly choreographed video can’t replace the actual experience of your first wedding dance, new husband or wife warm in your arms.

When we’re plugged into our phones, we miss out on so much. We miss out on our beautifully unscripted and un-catalogued lives. These spontaneous moments are the treasures we all look back on with love and joy. Nothing could be more important.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. 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 owned by Amanda Carver.

“Inside Out”: 5 Important Take Away Messages for Navigating the World of Emotion

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I first saw a preview for the Disney/Pixar film “Inside Out” at a therapist’s training, no doubt! Immediately excited by the concept of a film that attempts to explain the function of emotions, I couldn’t wait to get to the theater. Anticipation was high, and the film delivered! Not all the metaphors are precisely accurate from a purely neuropsychological frame, but for a family film, they did an excellent job. The creative team beautifully executed the personification of brain and personality function in the mind of 11-year-old girl, Riley, as she negotiates the major life change of moving to a new city far from home. From this narrative, the main characters of her emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear take the audience on a wildly informative and entertaining ride.

There are so many things I could say about this film, and have ad nauseam to my sweet patient husband! For today’s blog post, however, I’m going to keep it simple. Here are 5 important take-away messages from “Inside Out” to help you better navigate the world of emotion.

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  1. We have all our emotions for a reason, including “negative” emotions
    A major theme of “Inside Out” is the battle between the main characters, Riley’s emotions of Joy and Sadness. As Riley traverses the huge adjustment of moving across the country, time and again Sadness bellows out in complaint and Joy attempts to contain this truth. However, by the end of the film, it becomes clear that Sadness has a critical role to play in Riley’s processing of change and ultimate self-preservation. Without Sadness, necessary grief and healing connection aren’t possible. This is true for the necessity of all our emotions, including emotions beyond the scope of this film.
  2. Emotional experiences are often complex
    We often try to squeeze our emotions into neat definitions as a way to understand what is actually a very complex experience! “Inside Out” shows us that we can actually feel many emotions, even seemingly opposing emotions, at the exact same time. Riley learns she can be sad about missing her old life while also feeling happy that her parents are offering her comfort. Acknowledgement and synthesis of complex emotional experiences creates a rich and meaningful life.
  3. Emotions can influence our interpretations, memories, and personality traits
    Emotions protect us in many ways – joy helps us continue to engage in life-affirming behaviors, fear keeps us from threats of harm, sadness can draw important comfort to us, and on and on. But emotions are not unilateral facts. They do, however, have a powerful ability to color the facts of life to their hue. This happens not just in depressing times, but in healthy times, too, with a cascade of influence from how we interpret our world, to how we code and recode memory, and even to our personalities as they develop and change over time. It’s extremely important to honor the internal experience of our emotional truths while also appreciating the limits of emotion to fully ascertain external truth.
  4. Emotional validation is not only empowering, it’s essential
    In the film, Riley’s well-meaning parents ask her to show her happy face during the stressful time of the move. Unbeknownst to them, however, their lack of empathic attunement to her understandable fear and sadness made it much more difficult for her to process her loss and adjust to her new life. As children, we largely rely on others to validate our experiences and make them real for us. As adults, we can provide some validation for ourselves, but never cease to need others in this way. Showing up for ourselves and others to say, “What I’m/you’re feeling makes sense” is an essential part of integrating and healing from our experiences.
  5. Connection with others is how we heal and thrive
    Self-validation is a good start. Additional coping tools such as mindfulness, exercise, and creative expression (to name a few) are also incredibly helpful in creating an adaptive life that doesn’t veer off track at the least little bump in the road. But even with all of this, it is through connection with others that we experience our richest meaning and our deepest healing. Reaching out in a moment of anguish or need and having someone reach back is the exact medicine the moment calls for. As social creatures we simply do not know how to heal our wounds or build vital lives without authentic connection with others.

If you are confused about your emotional experiences, wonder if emotion has created unhelpful narratives about your life, or struggle with engaging in healing connection with others, a therapist may be helpful in guiding you to a more contented and meaningful life.

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 owned by Amanda Carver.

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.

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

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.

Shining the Light on Sneaky Emotions, Part 1: Anger as a Rowdy Ruse

We’ve all been there – the experience where irritation or rage rolls over us and we’re not exactly sure where the thunder came from. “What the #$*@ were you thinking!” “I need to speak to your manager!” “Stop jumping on the couch!”

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Emotions have this way of converting quickly into a message that is more familiar or less disempowering. Emotions even have a way of converting into physical symptoms that may seem much easier to nurture than the confusion of the mind and heart. In psychology we call the former experience a shift from primary to secondary emotions and the latter experience psychosomatic symptoms.

A primary emotion is the initial feeling – primal in nature – that arises in a given situation to communicate something important to us. A secondary emotion is what comes next, either in response to the first emotion or due to the complexity of the emotional experience (i.e.: feeling several emotions at once – very common!). 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. What’s interesting about secondary emotions and psychosomatic symptoms is that they almost always happen undetected by our conscious experience. This can lead us down dangerously unhelpful paths and often perpetuate a feel-bad cycle. Sneaky, right?

For the next few posts, I’ll highlight some of the most common sneaky emotional experiences as a way to help you shine the light on what’s really going on and increase your chances of aligning with your authentic experience, solving the problem, and feeling better.

The Collateral Damage of Turing Every Emotion Into Anger

Sadness, anxiety, and shame are extremely uncomfortable and potentially disempowering emotions. As you can imagine, they easily intertwine and are difficult to tolerate, generating an innate desire to hide or retreat and lick our wounds. Due to this, many people swiftly convert these emotions into anger.

You’ve seen this before – an executive loses a promising promotion and becomes irate about a parking ticket that normally wouldn’t have phased her; a parent preoccupied by his own father’s pending heart surgery snaps at his children to stop being so silly; or a partner initiates sexual intimacy and upon being turned down, nastily retorts about the other person’s libido or physical appeal. You’ve seen this during all the squabbling over funeral arrangements, and you’ve certainly seen this in your own or others’ divorces. The sadness, anxiety, and potential shame of these situations convert to anger because anger feels more powerful. It’s as if we suck the energy of our primary emotions out of our personal awareness into a ball of anger to lob at the nearest target we think we can hit – deserved or not. “Get that emotion out of me!” we say with our angry actions.

Although there are certainly ways we consciously harness anger for meaningful change, most often the unconscious conversion to anger is ineffective. You’ve missed out on the important communication your primary emotion was attempting to share with you and are likely focused on the wrong thing, making the situation much worse. In addition to whatever triggered your primary emotion, now you’re also angry – potentially about minor things. And now you’re lashing out at others – potentially others you care about. How hard is it to get the comfort or reassurance that may ease your original concern if you’re busy pointing fingers or yelling at the very people most likely to provide that support? In addition, the ball of anger is now being passed among you and your colleagues, family, or community in a “hot potato” of continuing disconnection.

Next time you find yourself irritably taking your bluer emotions out on others:
1. STOP!
2. Take a very deep breath and a quick moment to check in about what could be really going on. Try to name it – both the trigger and your emotion(s).
3. Consider steps for problem solving or healing that are more fitting to the emotion or situation at hand.

Remember that in addition to the action steps you may take to alleviate your discomfort, sadness also demands comfort while anxiety and shame often seek reassurance. Soothing your original hurts will do wonders for your mood, not to mention how shared vulnerability with our loved ones strengthens those important bonds. Even if you still slide into or decide on anger as a way to cope, this check-in with your truer self will help you harness your anger in more beneficial ways.

Don’t expect this to come easy at first! It will take practice – but the practice is worth learning how to choose the most appropriate salve for your wounds such that you can actually heal them.

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Stay tuned for Depression as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing and I’m Not Upset, It’s Just a Stomachache in this 3-part series on sneaky emotions!

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.