Mindfulness tools for everyday sanity

Amidst the stresses of daily life it’s all too easy to get caught on the hamster wheel of activities and forget to get off. We can get hijacked by stress and loose the capacity to think clearly. Here I share what I think of as 101 Being Human; basic skills in mindfulness or self-awareness that we all can forget, or perhaps are learning them for the first time.

I think of these mindfulness tools as is the basis of self-care. Stepping stonesSelf-care is not necessarily an expensive and/or time-intensive activity. Self-care is being interested and attentive to how you actually are, to what you might need, and responding to that. 

If you are parenting a young child, or are a caregiver, these things are even more essential. 

Mindfulness tools and tips

Preemptive self-care:

  1. Pause. Make pauses throughout your day even as you juggle or rush. Even now, just stop whatever you’re doing and pause.  Perhaps it feels good to take a breath, or to relax your shoulders. Jump off the hamster wheel for a moment.
  2. Check-in. Take time to check in with yourself. It can just be a few moments. Stressors can pile up in no time and if we don’t check-in and take care of ourselves we can end up unknowingly with a headache or in a bad mood. That’s the time we end up acting in ways we regret later. So here are some steps to help you sort out how you are. 

    1. Body: Ask how is my body doing right now? Areas of tightness? Areas of ease? Just notice what you’re drawn to and let it be. 
    2. Breath: Ask how is my breath right now? Shallow? Full? Jaggedy? Smooth? Again notice the quality of breath. Often just noticing it invites a fuller breath naturally. It’s easier to relax when we breath more fully. 
    3. Mind: Ask What am I thinking about right now? What mode is my mind in?Planning? Dreamy? Worrying?
    4. Feelings: Ask into the body how am I feeling right now? You may not know at first, that’s okay. Just stay with yourself, paying attention. If a “something” emerges hang out with it. Be patient, feelings often have layers, so stay with it a while.  
    5. Overall, how am I? Once you’ve checked into this various areas you’ll be in a better place to answer the question. Then you can take action.

It can be hard to remember to check in with yourself so you could make sticky notes and put them in strategic places.

For a more in depth version of the checking in process see Focusing Steps. See The story of the upside down bird for an example of a session using Focusing.

When you get overwhelmed or are starting to behave unhelpfully:

  1. Orient yourself to your body and surroundings. When we get overwhelmed our emotional brain (limbic system) has taken over. (More about the emotional brain in this article.)
    1. To get the clear thinking part of the brain back online one of the fastest ways is to feel your feet, or whatever is touching the ground or seat. Notice your weight pushing down. Feel the sensations of the contact with the seat/floor.  Put your attention there and take deeper belly-breaths.
    2. Look around – notice what’s around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Check out the 54321 exercise
  2. If you can’t calm yourself then and there, stop whatever you are doing and leave the situation to take the time you need. Try to tell whoever is there that you need time to cool off and you’ll be back. Then come back and repair. 

Be kind to yourself in all this. It takes practice to change habits. It’s hard to be human sometimes! We all struggle at times. 

Read my Chicken dance wisdom article where I describe my own flounderings with my reactivity in parenting, and try to apply a pause and some playfulness. Believe me it’s an ongoing process!

We can learn by practicing, by talking things out, by seeking help. You can also check out my article 5 unusual ways to reduce stress. 

Posted in Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Parenthood, Stress | Comments Off on Mindfulness tools for everyday sanity

The eel and the axe-man: a therapy session

A man in his mid-life came for counselling to help with anger that wells up inside him playing certain sports. He had a sense that it’s deep and old anger. After the first session he no longer experienced it in the same venue so it wasn’t so much a “make this anger go away” agenda as a “what is going on inside” query.

My sense was that this was someone who could hold his experience and not get violent. He also did not have violence in his history, so I offered a somatic approach based in Focusing and Internal Family Systems. Here is what happened in one appointment. I offer it to demonstrate how we can work in an embodied way using imagery that comes from the client, to do direct work that leads to palpable shifts in state that would not be possible by only talking about an issue, in this case the man’s anger. 

I invite my client to notice what happens in his body as he remembers some things that get him mad. He notices a tightly coiled sensation in his belly. He makes a connection between that and stomach troubles that sometimes keep him up at night. We return to the sensation.

The image that comes is of a terrifying eel, twisting and turning in his belly. His sense is it wants to devour him. He is surprised by the intensity of this and confused. He wants to know how to get rid of it. With his consent we go back to the body.

I ask what else happens in his body or experience as the eel is there? There’s a wish to destroy it. We hang out with that part that wants it gone. We get to know it a bit. The image that comes is of a younger version of himself: a feisty, scared part that wants to control the eelit since it’s not normal and shouldn’t be there. The young man is wielding an axe with which he wants to dismember the eel. I offer some empathy towards that part and it slowly calms down. It gets to express some of it’s concerns.

After a while I ask what that axe-wielding might do if he didn’t have to guard against the eel so vigilantly. He said he would go travel, and my client looked quite pleased. The young man was also concerned still about the eel and it wasn’t safe to go (we hadn’t done much work with the eel itself yet). So I asked the wiser, bigger part of my client what he sees as needed.

Something shifted quickly in my client and he looked at me bewildered: “he just put the axe down and walked away, and then… the eel swam away too.  They were co-dependent”. He is incredulous. 

He explains that what needed to happen was that this part hasn’t grown up but needed to. As soon as he thought that it did grow up started showing a bit of grey hair. The main piece for him though was that he realised it was that the young man was turned towards the light, or the good in life, and that’s what was helping, not actually holding the axe. So then it was automatic for the  part to put down the axe. My client said he then felt a shift and the Hebraic words for “Heal the world” came to him. He became very quiet inside.  

My client took himself through this last part in an organic flow it seemed. To conclude I suggested offering the young man part some thanks for his time protecting him, and for showing up and relating with him in this session.  By the end the eel had shifted form and become part of his intestines in a gentle way. The tension in his stomach was gone. 

This was clearly a very experiential session where something shifted. I don’t think either of our conscious brains knew what exactly these forces were, but we stayed present and what needed to happen happened, or at least that’s the way I see it.

In another session we could explore the eel energy a little more if indeed it’s there. Or perhaps look more at the experience of turning towards the light and how that has served him in his life and how it might continue to do so. What was significant to me about this session was that a fight between parts that was getting him stuck in anger had been released. 

Posted in Anger Management, Creativity, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy | Leave a comment

The story of the upside down bird

A bird flying upside down.
A tightly wound coil.
An open lake.
A powerful dragon getting flight and exploring the world for the first time. 

What do these have in common?

These are all inner images that clients have found during sessions in the last few weeks.

Clients often are surprised in Focusing sessions when I help them tune in, and the images come so easily. The images always hold special significance for the person, and become a way they can engage with their own experience, and help change it. 

A woman struggles with a long-standing addiction. She’s ready for change and has been clean for 3 days but is understandably scared. What is it to live without the substance? How would she manage? She has some plans but is unsettled. In Focusing the image she finds is of an upside down bird flying.

The upside down bird is struggling to fly, belly to the sky, head stretched back uncomfortably, eyes unable to see the ground or trees to rest in. Tired. Yet it can’t seem to rollover or land. It doesn’t know how.

What does it need?  It doesn’t know. 

What would you like to offer it? A parachute. 

As I imagine it this would be the bird coming down by parachute. Photo credit to Margie Carroll http://margiekcarroll.com/hummerupsidedown.html

The bird’s legs flutter in front as it’s wing tips hold the parachute strings. It comes down to land softly with the help of my client who is now able to imagine catching it and kindly stroking its wings.

The bird feels calmer and settles in her arms. My client is calmer too, and upon opening her eyes, looks truly delighted with her images.

She leaves my office saying she feels more in charge.

From my perspective she seems to have shifted her attitude towards herself, from being annoyed that this is so difficult and being submerged in the suffering, to an appreciation and a caring concern for her struggle.  The latter is much more conducive to healing. With that outlook she has more chance of building different coping strategies and making good choices, since she is now the caregiver.

…..

If you’re interested in learning Focusing, please join me this Fall in a small group I will be leading. Contact me for more info. 

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy | Leave a comment

2 kinds of loneliness: why we feel alone in a crowd

Guest post by Lisa Voth, Somatic Therapist in Vancouver.   

 

I have a theory that there are 2 kinds of loneliness.

I know this is false because any kind of binary is automatically going to have holes in it. I get it.

In the meantime this theory is brought to you by my understanding of the nervous system as well as by watching myself feel so f-ing alone in moments even though I could make a list of people that love me. In the moment I feel f-ing alone, “none of those friendships are real. They’re pretending to like me.”

I see this consistently in the people I work with as well, when they’re in a trance/funk state, I can ask them who’s got their back and they will not be able to think of a single friend. Two sessions later they end up talking about the amazing weekend they had with a bunch of close friends.

So, what the heck is going on…

FIRST KIND OF LONELINESS

It’s the “real” sense of loneliness, in the sense that it’s true in our present reality. There is less social connection than decades ago and we live independently (a fancy word for alone).

  • Your family lives in Toronto, a $500 plane ticket away.
  • Your bank teller is a machine on the corner of Commercial and 1st Ave.
  • Your city is expensive requiring you to work more and “hang out” less.
  • Your community is online or promised to you by a clothing store’s Instagram.
  • Your “hangouts” must be booked weeks in advance.
  • It is normal in your city to have one person living in a house alone over a long period of time.
  • You live in a different country than your grandparents.

This is true; this is North America. This is something that is exhausting to fight against, should we even care to try.

SECOND KIND OF LONELINESS

The second kind of loneliness is trickier, as it’s programmed into our nervous system generally before 7 years of age. It’s an old and deep kind of loneliness. It’s not indicative of our present time reality though it will affect our perspective of present time.

It’s the kind of loneliness where you feel alone even though you…

  • just hung out with your best friend. 
  • have tried various different groups/tribes/communities.
  • are in the middle of a party.

That’s because it’s IN YOUR BODY.

It’s deep. It’s old. It’s a feeling of “I’m alone in the world,” or “I don’t belong.”

And I think everybody has a piece of this, but some people have a big enormous piece of it.

If you’re one of those people you live feeling alone, gut-level alone. If you imagine a pack animal wandering alone in the forest, this is a similar thing that we feel in our nervous system, often unconsciously. It feels dangerous and even desperate at times.

This kind of loneliness started early, before you consciously remember. It started in our families who were surrounded by our communities, cities and countries.

Let’s clarify something to start. All parents love their kids.

I’m pretty sure that this is a biological imperative.

However, not all parents are able to translate that love to their kids. Not all parents get how to meet their kid’s needs which is how we FEEL love.

This is the difference between love and attunement.

Love is there, it’s a given. 

Attunement is the real deep understanding of what a kid needs, and how to nurture them, that has to make it through all the layers of defences, filters, tragedies and hurts of your life so that your kids FEEL the love.

And the way I write this it might sound like what I’m describing is going to look “bad” or “serious” from the outside. Not true. Chances are it’s going to be subtle. (check out this blog post)

If we didn’t get attunement we are going to FEEL alone. Deeply, deeply alone. And this is a terrifying feeling. As a child it’s deeply problematic, and as an adult, carrying this belief in their nervous system, it can feel huge (again, like a lost animal wandering through the forest.) 

This kind of loneliness is where talking and logical analysis fail to make us feel better.

You have friends.

No I don’t. 

No, you really do.

No, they don’t really like me.

Everybody likes you.

No they don’t.

In this state it’s impossible to see around us what our nervous systems doesn’t believe. It’s impossible to see people that love us when our nervous system believes it’s alone. See the below video for an example of this.

We have to work with this second kind of loneliness at the nervous system level. Which means we have to slow down and get conscious of the sensations in our body.

Try this. Take a moment, sit down, take a few breaths, and imagine a good friend is sitting beside you. Notice how your body responds. Does it soften? Does it want to move away? Is it uncomfortable? Does your breath change? Do you cry?

This will give us some clues about how supported and accustomed to support our nervous system is.

And it’s a cycle, the one kind of loneliness leads to more of the other kind of loneliness.

How do we break it?

  • Work with the image I mentioned above over and over and over (a few times a day even).
  • Work with a somatic therapist. I don’t say this so I get your business, but often I will write something here and you’ll need someone in the room to support you in experiencing it. This isn’t because you’re not doing it wrong but because of the nature of the work.
  • Go to places where you have to sit your butt down beside people (my friend’s bottom line praise of AA meetings).
  • Choose connection over screen time. 
  • Choose human contact when you get the option.
  • Understand that it’s not you, it’s about society and it’s about your nervous system, and both can be changed slowly over time.
  • Take a moment at the end of the day, think of a moment of connection with soeone else. Slow down to imagine it and pay attention to how the subtle sensations in your body feel. Do this over and over and over.

When you’re feeling lonely you might also try this tonglen meditation that brings awareness from the narrow view we often have in the middle of pain out to include other humans in the world feeling the same thing.

I hope you are surrounded by kind eyes.

I hope you can slow down and take in those kind eyes.

I hope you soften in their gaze.

And if you aren’t yet able to see them, I hope you learn to see the kind eyes in the world around you and move towards them.

Love,

Lisa

Posted in Loneliness, Society | Leave a comment

What do parents need? Results from my survey

In February 2018 I asked Hamilton-area parents of children aged 0-12yrs  these questions:

  • How would you describe the kind of social and emotional support you have for being a parent / caregiver? What’s going well? What’s missing?
  • If there were 3 things you could have that would make being a mother or father easier what would they be? Why are these important?

5 major themes of need: 18 people responded, all women. 17 respondents fit the description of living in/around Hamilton and having children age 0-12yrs. (I have only reported the answers from these 17 respondents). The most prevalent needs mentioned were the need for practical help and deeper interpersonal connection. The other needs mentioned by many were more time to self, better indoor options for parents and small children, and partner-related wishes including more time together. 

Practical help

Most respondents wanted more practical help. Specifically many wished for more people they could ask for help irregularly or at the last minute (e.g. to watch the kids, to take kids to activities), as opposed to regular babysitting/child care time. 

Many wanted more help with household tasks like cleaning and cooking. It seemed that this was due to different situations, such as partners being a) not present (i.e. at work a lot) b) not helpful c) not existing.

One respondent wished for affordable grocery delivery. One wished for better access to helpers skilled with newborns. One asked for better access to other adult childcare (vs teenagers). 

Some respondents referred to a difficulty asking for help and a guilt about asking for help. 

Deeper Connections / Emotional Support

Equally referred to was a need for greater connectedness with others, specifically other mothers. Respondents refer to lacking deeper connections where they can talk openly, and feel bonded to other women who are there for each other. A range of respondents mention wanting connections with those with similar interests, someone to talk to with unbiased responses, support for a slower lifestyle, social/emotional support for SAHM.

In a similar vein a respondent wished for a “potluck and play” monthly. Another wanted “more spontaneous interactions”, and more “low prep hangouts”. One suggested creating a searchable database (or app) of parenting advice based on behaviours.

Partner and wider family-related concerns

Many people said they had very helpful partners but it was the wider family that was lacking (either by distance or by lack of interest/connection). Others were very grateful for wider family help and said it made a world of difference.

Some wanted more balance of responsibility in the home, that is wanting partners to share the load rather than just “help”, for example participating in the organising and planning of social/emotional/practical/activity levels of home and family life. One woman named she’d like her husband to have an equal interest in improving their parenting

Several respondents wanted more couple time and felt they was letting the relationship go in order to focus on the kids. Several single moms wanted a decent partner

Programming/Physical amenities

Several respondents wished for more or better indoor places that they could go in bad weather. One respondent named a gap in programming for children between 12 and 24 months.  

Several moms of younger children wanted more options for things to do that were not schedule-dependent (i.e. to allow for unpredictable and changing nap schedules). One respondent mentioned that whilst she valued programming, she didn’t make deeper connections there and missed this. 

Time to self

Last but not least many respondents want more time to themselves.


Other needs mentioned:

  • better quality education in public schools
  • better quality and more spaces for after-school care
  • more options for well-paying, part-time, flexible work

The outliers: One respondent’s main point was that they didn’t think anything much would make it better or different. One respondant named that she was much older and had finished with the active parenting years and didn’t live near Hamilton.


Comments 

It was notable that so many respondents named the “small asks” kind of help. The kind of help provided by core friends you know you can rely on. The kind of friendship whereby the existence of the relationship, with offer of help close by, reduces ones stress and sense of doing this alone. 

Another theme of note was how many respondents wished for deeper relationships outside the nuclear family. And those who had satisfying family and social connections put their well-being as a parent down to this. With the prevalence of loneliness in our society this is not surprising, just alarming. 

As strong social relationships seem to be eroding more and more with the reliance on social media and the reality of busy disparate lives, I can only see this problem getting worse. So to me the need for practical support and the need for deeper connections and relationships seem to go hand in hand. 

I wonder as I read the surveys regarding the need for practical support if this a question of:

  • having the willingness to ask for help from friends?
  • actually having friends one can ask for it from?
  • the financial ability, or the willingness to prioritise paying for paid help?

Limitations of survey: The number of respondents was small (18) and very likely a narrow demographic. I didn’t ask for a “distress measure” of the pain created by these needs. That is something I could have included. 

And now?

Out of these responses, I have been reflecting what can I as a Psychotherapist provide to meet a need, either alone or in conjunction with other facilitators. If you have thoughts and requests to share, please get in touch

 

Posted in Parenthood, Society | Leave a comment

Finding peace this holiday season

Concerned about the holidays? You’re not alone. Clients are coming in thick and fast with a range of holiday concerns these days. It’s a topic I’ve written extensively on, so here’s a little overview of what I can offer: 

  • Finding Your Holiday Compass helps you plan for a sane time, whatever your situation. How do you want to feel? What do you want to create?
  • Christmas can be a difficult time is a story about a scene I witnessed at a family holiday concert.
  • Tools for challenging family visits offers some beyond-breathing-deeply tips and can easily be adapted for challenging in-law situations and really a whole bunch of stuff… aka a few of my most favourite things to share and explore with clients.

For parents Dr Laura Markham’s post on surviving the holidays is a short but good one.

“The most essential skill for parents, at the holidays and every day? Manage yourself so you can stay calm and loving with your child.” Dr Laura

Dr Laura Markham also sells a workbook for creating the December of your dreams for $9.99.

 

Refinding Peace

I like to remind myself that this time of year can indeed be a time for quiet reflection, meditation and slowing down… enjoying the dark! Here’s a poem that sends me in that direction. 

 

Photo ©ChloëRain Seattle, Washington 2014 Carkeek Park.

THE JOURNEY : IN 

by David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light
fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

Posted in Holidays, Parenthood, Stress | Leave a comment

Press release: book on motherhood available for pre-order!

I’m excited, proud and slightly nervous to announce that my first peer-reviewed article will be published soon! 

My article is called “Navigating the Waters of Early Motherhood: Somatic Awareness, Creative Expression, and Being Held”.  It is intended in part to support other new mothers. I share some of the body-centred, creative, and interpersonal practices that I found useful in my first years of being a mother. To illustrate these I offer pieces of my personal experience alongside research and clinical practice. Towards the end I also discuss how as a society we could support new parents more helpfully. 

I’ve oriented the book to mothers because the edited collection is so-defined, though I believe it could be helpful to fathers too. 

The edited collection of articles is called: Everyday World-Making: Towards an Understanding of Affect and Mothering. It is now available for preorder!  

Save 40% off the cover price if you order before October 5th using the coupon code MOTHERS. 

Demeter Press, a feminist publishing house focusing on issues pertaining to mothering, reproduction, sexuality and family, will publish the anthology.

Here is a description of the book from the editors:

This cross-disciplinary collection considers the intersection of affect and mothering, with the aim of expanding both the experiential and theoretical frameworks that guide our understanding of mothering and of theories of affect. It brings together creative, reflective, poetic, and theoretical pieces to question, challenge, and re-conceptualize motherhood through the lens of affect, and affect through the lens of motherhood.

The collection also aims to explore less examined mothering experiences such as failure, disgust, and ambivalence in order to challenge normative paradigms and narratives surrounding mothers and mothering.  The authors in this collection demonstrate the theoretical and practical possibilities opened up by a simultaneous consideration of affect and mothering, thereby broadening our understanding of the complexities and nuances of the always changing experiences of affect and mothering.

Posted in Creativity, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Parenthood, Postpartum depression, Relationships | Leave a comment

Rebuilding after an affair: resources

Lately a number of new clients have come with issues relating to affairs. Whilst I’m not an expert and certainly don’t advertise my services in this department, it is an important and common enough issue that I want to be able to offer some grounded and helpful initial support to clients.

So I’ve been learning. I write this article since I’ve come across some compelling sources and thought you might be interested!

Resources for dealing with affairs

One of my go-to’s for couples work are John and Julie Gottman. Find out more about their approach to affairs in this Q+A article on infidelity and the aftermath. I appreciate the “Atone, Attune, Attach” model they teach. 

Couples therapist Ester Perel lays her refreshing perspective out in an easy-to-absorb way in her Ted talk.  I don’t know the details of  her approach to healing, but she seems to take an affair as a symptom viewpoint, inviting couples to explore what happened in the relationship before the affair. Her book The State of Affairs seems less of a how to recover than an exploration of the  phenomenon and a look at how a range of couples have recovered, since there is no one answer. 

Another source recommended to me is After the Affair by Janis Abrahms Spring. It is a key book for supporting couples through the aftermath. 

Local and online resources

Preventing an affair 

Prevention is easier than cure holds true with affairs. How do you affair-proof your relationship? Is your relationship at risk? What can you do about it?

A Gottman certified couples therapist Robert Navarra writes this helpful blog Precursors to an Affair: Six Warning Signs, and follows it with this post about the most common track into an affair with research from the Gottman Institute.

“The worse combination of factors increasing risks for infidelity are:

  1. Negative comparisons between the partner and other, idealized people
  2. Consistent turning away from opportunities to connect with the partner
  3. Not acknowledging or talking about  feelings with the partner about the unhappiness.” Navarra

The risks are heightened when “a partner starts disclosing relationship problems to another person and not to their partner, a wall starts to develop with their own partner and a window with the new person gets constructed”. Navarra. 

Dr Shirley Glass’s research showed that the vast majority of affairs are not caused by lust but in fact by an emotional connection after this other “window” has been constructed.

In a healthy relationship “a protective wall surrounds the couple where choices are made to not share any relationship problems with anyone who is not an advocate of the relationship,  in other words, with somebody who could potentially be an alternative to the partner. The secure couple shares a window of transparency allowing them to be open with each other about their problems.” (Navarra)

For more on Gottman’s approach to preventing affairs, try John Gottman’s book What Makes Love Last.

Do leave comments if you have other resources to recommend. We’re all learning!

Posted in Relationships, Sex | Leave a comment

Announcing the launch of The Moving Child documentary

On a personal and professional level I’m delighted to tell you about this film, made by my good friend and colleague Hana Kamea Kemble.

My husband, son and I were filmed for the documentary over a number of years, beginning when I was pregnant. My son Theo appears first at 3 days old in the film and the film tracks parts of our journey until he turned 4 years old. Needless to say the film is close to my heart.

At a wider level The Moving Child film is a beautifully made and important documentary about child development.

The film shows in an accessible and engaging way how movement and child development are connected, and what we can do tangibly to support healthy development of the children around us.  

“The Moving Child shows how to nurture healthier and more compassionate people.” RAFFI

From Hana: “As most of you know, I have just completed this film, with my wonderful team of helpers, after seven long years of hard work. This film can help to shape a new generation and support parents, caregivers and educators’ knowledge of the importance of dynamic movement from the get go and throughout childhood. It also sheds light on how kids are getting “stuck” these days in their movement development and what we can all do about it. We have received super positive feedback on the film so far.

We offer best practices in this film, interviews with parents doing things differently and lots of amazing expert voices sharing their wisdom.

Feel free to share with your communities. We hope to share the film with as many families, teachers, therapists as we can find!”

To watch the trailer, or to find out more about best practices, local film screenings and workshops, as well as various options for download and purchase of the full film see The Moving Child.   

[This post is replicated from my July SoulSoil newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter see the “Let’s Get Started” box at the top right of the page.] 

Posted in Parenthood, Relationships, Society | Leave a comment

Why it’s cool to be awkward

Many people come to see me because they feel socially-awkward and don’t enjoy it. They want more connection, they want more confidence, and they want to feel at ease. Who can blame them?

As a therapist I help them see possible places they get stuck. There could be a more fully-fledge social-anxiety which has it’s own story and history. It could be that they over-react to comments from others, perceiving them as criticisms and reacting as such, thus pushing the new acquaintance away. It could be that they have strangely high expectations of what they should be, or what it is to be an interesting person. A view often overly influenced by the seemingly innocent but highly destructive source of social media. It could be they haven’t really individuated yet (to use a Jungian term) from their parents and don’t have much of a sense of themselves.  Everyone’s story is a bit different.

Often, once any stuck places are addresses and the person is functioning more easily, I want to encourage them to celebrate their awkwardness. To relax into it. To start to befriend their style and what they do have to offer, rather than hate it.  Easy to say I know but it’s possible. While it’s a step away from therapy for anxiety, the article Why it’s awesome to be awkward from my favourite Guardian Weekly newspaper caught my eye. The article reviews the new book Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro. 

The article refers to the root of the word awkward which is afgr in Old Norse, meaning “facing the wrong way”, which I find endearing.  It also explores the different kinds of perception we humans can have:

“When non-awkward people walk into a room full of people, they see the big social picture. They intuitively understand the emotional tone in the room or how formally they should act. By comparison, awkward people tend to see social situations in a fragmented way. It’s as if they view the world with a narrow spotlight that means they see some things with intense clarity.”

My understanding is that the book explores how this difference in perception can be of benefit in many situations. Nicely re-framed. 

This difference in perception styles reminds me of a mindfulness exercise from Dan Siegel’s Mindsight book exploring how we can shift our focus. Here’s my version:

  1. Find a quiet place and 5 minutes free.
  2. Sit up straight, bring your focus inside.
  3. Take some deep breaths.
  4. With your eyes open hold a soft blurry focus on the space just in front of your face. Gaze here for a few moments. 
  5. Shift your focus to the middle ground between you and the opposite wall (assuming you’re in a room). Gaze here for a few moments.
  6. Shift again to the space just in front of the wall and repeat.
  7. You can play with moving your focus back and forth.

It makes me wonder if these kind of perception experiments might help broaden the experience of someone who feels awkward socially. I certainly invite clients to try a range of grounding and embodiment practices which help shift their focus and help them feel more centred in stressful situations, so the shifting of focus (quoted above) makes a lot of sense to me.

If you experience social awkwardness and haven’t found the awesome side yet, know that you are not alone in your struggle and that help is at hand. 

Posted in Anxiety, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Society | Leave a comment