Coping Strategy: Internal Family Systems explained by Psychology Today

Internal Family Systems Therapy – From Psychology Today magazine.

Recovery is cyclical.

Trauma never goes away, but the patterns and symptoms it leaves inside ebb and flow depending on context, experience, and life.

For a while, our system was stable.  We were in a good place and able to work on other coping challenges that required attention.   Challenges that interfered with living in the outside world.

Now, a lot of these challenges have changed into coping strategies, techniques or learning paths for future references – i.e. resources.  The others are tangled with issues not ready to be addressed yet, so have moved to the background for now.

And it’s time to focus back on adapting our family system.  My alters and I, we, are ready to start working on integration, self-awareness, and creating ways to live in both worlds. That means trying new coping techniques with our counselor and revisiting past ones too.

Why Internal Family Systems therapy? – it coincides nicely with the whole/parts theory of personality and is what our first trauma counselor used to help us get sorted.  Plus, it’s great for helping people learn to cope with feelings/thoughts/opinions that seem overwhelming or conflicting without shame or guilt or anxiety.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: 365 Days of writing affirmations or mantras

What is an affirmation?

An affirmation is a statement of positive intention.  It can be a phrase, a sentence, a group of sentences, or a quotation.

What is a mantra?

A mantra is a phrase, statement, slogan, or quotation that can be repeated frequently.  It can be used for comfort, inspiration, support, a renewal of faith, etc.

Why both instead of one or the other?

Both words have similar uses that can be hard to distinguish sometimes.  Affirmations can be used as mantras.  A mantra (whole or parts) can be used as an affirmation.  Since I can’t tell what category mine go into, I write out my intention and then decide if it’s a mantra or an affirmation later.

Inspiration comes from?

  • Other bloggers – So many bloggers are creating their own or sharing inspiring affirmations that I decided to be brave and try writing mine down too
  • Tara Brach – Understanding grief & loss, coping or healing through faith, meditation, and communication – I personally like her free “Tara’s Talks” videos
  • Pema Chodron – Lessons in spiritual resilience, faith (whether or not you are Buddhist), meditation, and compassion (loving kindness and mindfulness meditations)
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn – Mindfulness meditation to help with pain, stress, and other uncomfortable feelings through Harvard Medical School
  • Brene Brown – lessons in authentic living, shame, resilience, and vulnerability
  • Deirdre Fay’s classes – affirmations as part of meditation or breathing techniques to help cope with trauma
  • other self-help books – The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook was the second self-help book that helped me start making sense of the coping challenges and learn how to use affirmations even if I didn’t believe in them at the time.  My other favorite self-help and coping strategy books are on Pinterest if you want to look there too, but beware I also have some personal boards up there.  You might learn more than you care to about me…
  • Louise Hay – her affirmations helped me through some of my darkest moments; I’m grateful for the person who introduced me to her writing way back in the first years of my recovery journey

How does it help so far?

  • The affirmation or mantra sets my intention for the day
  • Makes my thoughts concrete and visible to anyone who reads it
  • Reminds me to feel gratitude and practice what I’ve learned to help cope no matter how I feel at the time
  • Gives me a place to visit and remember positive thoughts when my mind decides to go blank
  • Teaches me patience, consistency, perseverance, and follow-through on my goals and objectives
  • Let’s me practice self-kindness and self-compassion when I make mistakes by not writing down an affirmation or mantra every day

But 365 days?  Why?

Yes, 365 days or approximately 1 year.  It’s time for me to expand my boundaries and try to do this in spite of the triggers that stopped me in the past.  Plus this is an activity that all parts of me can participate in, remember, go back to, and enjoy together.  We are all involved and motivated to succeed.  This gives us all a better chance at accomplishing our goal.

Other thoughts

Some people will tell you that affirmations are crap or bs or (my personal favorite) hogwash.  You can’t change your life with positive affirmations.  And even if you can, how can you say them and have faith if you are in a negative mindset?  Or you have a negative self-image?  Or, like people in group once said, maybe these things can happen for other people, but not for me because I’m not worthy.

Maybe that’s true for some people.  It was sort of true for me back when I first started listening to people talk about the power of positive thinking, etc.  But then I tried looking at the concept from other perspectives. 

I started reading other affirmations to try to understand what made them positive or inspirational or meaningful. What was a mantra, and how did it relate to affirmations?  Because many people preferred using mantras instead, I wondered if it was language that made the difference.  Language as in how words are perceived by the dominant culture around us.  Later, I wondered if these affirmations and mantras were like prayers.  Instead of going directly to God, they were spoken as a gesture of faith in a higher power or to whatever religious deity the people believed in.

Questioning my spiritual path

That’s when I dropped the word “positive” and kept affirmations.  Also why I prefer “mantras” to “prayers” even though I do pray every night and every morning.  And if I time traveled back to the moment when I was choosing a religion, I’d probably be Jewish because that was the faith that brought me the most love and comfort in childhood.

Maybe some day I will be able to visit a Synagogue without crying – it’s been almost 30 years, and I still miss my Uncle Teddy.  And so I pray.  I practice compassion and gratitude through meditation and random acts of kindness.  I collect prayers, quotes, affirmations, and mantras that connect with my spirit.  Finally, I write my own affirmations and mantras.  Maybe someday I’ll share them here too.

Lessons Learned

And I learned that affirmations, mantras, and prayers all have a few things in common:

  • They share hope for a different outcome
  • They open people up to different possibilities and choices
  • They bring comfort during times of stress or overwhelming sensations
  • They are not always positive
  • They can be as simple as one word or as complicated as a poem
  • They work as long as the one speaking/writing them believes
  • They are the wishes and foundations for everyday miracles in life

Your Choice

*Like most tings in life, you get out of affirmations and mantras what you put into them.*

If you want to try one, why not pick a quote or phrase that is meaningful to you and repeat it once a day for a set time period.  At the end of that time period, reflect on how you feel and if anything has changed between then and now.  Then decide for yourself if you want to continue using them.

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategy: Medication for alcohol addiction too?

Extra post because April is Alcohol Awareness Month…

Article Link – Medication for Alcohol addiction?

Some Background

One of the scariest things I ever did was start networking on LinkedIn.  It meant taking pride in my professional self and celebrating success in the outside world – extremely scary considering my fears around success.

BUT…learning to use LinkedIn, and especially the different groups, connected me to resources I never imagined possible outside of a paid journal subscription.  One group I belong to now is called “Mental Health”, and professionals from all aspects of the Mental Health world along with other businesses write about how emotional health affects employees, employers, and careers.

Benefits of Medication for Addiction and Trauma?

One topic that interests me, but is hard to learn about, has to do with the benefits of medication as part of addiction treatment programs.  Many people have issues with addiction and trauma, so deserve to learn about all available resources. And maybe this information will help a guest find a successful path to her or his goals.

I read this article a few days ago, but didn’t have time to share it until now.  It’s written by the CEO of the company that manufactures one medication used to help with alcohol addiction (article’s words).  He discusses the potential benefits of adding medication by comparing statists to the opiate medication treatment programs and reflects on why this option is not as widespread or openly discussed in the recovery/treatment community.

The article DOES NOT promote its drug as a cure or something to buy.  And I DO NOT endorse or support the purchase or use of this manufacturer or other manufacturer’s medications for treatment.   However, why not explore options directly from the source?

My Reasons for Sharing now

While not something mentioned often here, I have personal experience with loved ones whose lives were changed by alcohol addiction and abuse of over-the-counter drugs.  And lots of experience watching classmates I started elementary school with drop out of high school, die, end up in jail, or commit suicide because of drug and alcohol related problems.  Besides that, April is a month of loss and grieving for me.  One I wasn’t able to mourn in the past, but can mourn now.

My memories of past drug and alcohol use are coming back, have been coming back a lot this April.  Like why I can’t stand the smell of pot smoke in my personal space, but cigarette smoke leaves a neutral impression.  Or dreams of being forced to ingest/inject/inhale/absorb through my skin whatever combinations my owner and his people gave us before training.  Then their anger and disgust when I passed out or vomited and then passed out because my body rejected the substances.

As you might guess, substance use and abuse is a sensitive topic for me.  I feel inadequate to write about the topic, so hope that you check out the article for yourself and make your own choices.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Gratitude Prayer

What is a Gratitude Prayer?

It’s a way of expressing gratitude or thankfulness to the Universe, a higher power, God, or religious deities for the blessings, miracles, good things in life.  It’s also a way to show appreciation for direction, support, help etc. while also asking for the same information. By asking the Universe for help, I am demonstrating my faith in a higher power and the value of its guidance in my life.

When do you practice?

I practice every evening before bed and every morning upon waking up to help me relax, feel safe, and be grounded in the present during that in-between time of waking and sleeping.

You can practice as often as you like.  No rules.  Just practice.

What do you say? / How do you do this?

My gratitude prayer is a silent offering of thanks to the Universe and/or a request for assistance or answers or direction about specific topics/ideas/people/places/goals.

Yours can be an offering of thanks to your religious deities, spiritual practices, nature gods, mentors, a higher being…you get the picture right?

And the thanks can be for or to anyone and anything on your mind.

Why Practice this?

Because practicing gratitude reminds me of the joy I feel in being alive; reinforces the value of being alive; shows appreciation for the blessings and positive influences in my life; and helps me be kind to myself in others no matter the situation or the experience.

By practicing gratitude I stay focused on the positive, life-affirming influences instead of the other ones.  I can forgive, feel compassion, empathize, and let go of my past easier.  Shame is also healed through gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.

Does it have to be a prayer?

  • No, you can call this whatever you like
  • Gratitude Practice
  • Gratitude Meditation
  • Compassion Meditation
  • Forgiveness Meditation
  • Substitute Practice for Meditation, Affirmation, Poem, whatever feels safe and right to YOU.

How long do I have to practice before I see any changes?

I honestly don’t know how long a practice takes before changes take place.  I can tell you that changes are not immediate.  Persistence and consistency are the key to getting the most out of this kind of strategy.

If you only practice once a week for 7 weeks, you might see changes, but not right away.  Same if you practice multiple times a day every day for a month.  Mostly success and change opened on the individual and her or his commitment to the practice.

Here is my favorite Gratitude Prayer

Dear Universe,

Thank you for my life.

Thank you for the blessings in my life

For helping me find safety and stay safe

For my independence and my internal gifts

Thank you for the amazing people who share this life with me

Thank you for your protection and guidance as I travel on this journey.

Please help me stay safe.

Please protect my apartment, the property & its caretakers, my neighbors, and my neighborhood.

Please Help my loved ones and protect all living beings, but especially the vulnerable.

Please guide me to resources so I can follow my path, make good choices, and achieve my goals.

Thank you for always bing here with unconditional love, support, and acceptance.

Coping Strategy: Letting go of negative feelings visualization

This is my first time trying to articulate a meditation practice that I created and want to share.  Please excuse any awkwardness as I try to put this into a framework that makes sense outside of my mind.  Feel free to skip the background section and go right to the visualization practice instructions at the bottom of the post.

Background

I have always struggled with expressing and letting go of negative feelings, especially anger and shame.  My parts also struggle with finding healthy, positive, safe ways to express and then let go of anger.  Shame is something all of us try to acknowledge and let go of, but sometimes requires the assistance of an objective third party.

Many people will say that exercise, journaling, crafts, punching pillows, yelling, dancing, tearing paper, drawing, etc. can help release the negative energy that comes with anger.  I agree with those people in a general sense.  Personally, every single one of the suggested activities can be or is triggering and makes my feelings worse.  Only in the past year have I been able to utilize any of these strategies without being triggered.

Lashing out is not something I ever wanted to do.  Therapy and internal reflection taught me how to identify triggers that caused the lashing out at other people/objects/beings.  Real friends and mentors helped me become aware of my words and actions so that I could change my behaviors through a combination of CBT and DBT.  These days I hardly ever lash out at others.  And when I do, I work hard to reflect on why and not feel shame about making a mistake.

The Hotline and therapy sessions along with self-help books eventually helped me stop lashing out at myself – punishment, self-harm, reckless and dangerous behaviors – except under certain conditions when I have to use last resort coping strategies.  Meditation, reflection, and grounding strategies helped me the most with this kind of lashing out.

But none of these strategies or techniques helped me safely express the negative energy that comes with feeling angry or let go of the negative feelings that come from a flashback.

I had to figure out a way to express or let go of the energy stressing out my body without physical activity that caused more instead of less pain and negativity.

That’s how this meditation or visualization practice works.  It helps me let go of the negative feelings and associated energy bursts without moving or harming anyone.  Maybe it will help you too.

The Visualization

Move into a comfortable position that supports your whole body (I prefer lying down)

Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths.  Inhale for 10 seconds.  Pause for 10 seconds.  Exhale for 10 seconds.  Repeat.

Next imagine you are sitting in a clear bubble.  You can see everything around you (a 360 degree view), but none of it can reach you inside the bubble.  You are safe inside the bubble.  You control what enters and leaves the bubble.

All around you the negative feelings are moving – sometimes they look like dark clouds, other times bright streams of light; maybe monsters, or spiders, or ghosts.  But you are safe inside your bubble.  The negative feelings can’t hurt you or take over.  The negative energy can’t hurt you or take over.

Now imagine a large recycling container with a vacuum on one side and a hose on the other side.  The vacuum sucks the negative feelings and energy into the container.  The container recycles the negative feelings and energy into neutral feelings and energy unrelated to you and any of your experiences.  Then the hose pumps the neutral feelings and energy back into the universe.  All of this is done using a remote control.

The remote control is inside your bubble.  You turn on the recycling container and adjust the speed.  As you watch, the vacuum starts sucking up the negative feelings and energy. You control the speed and sound of vacuuming and the recycler.

Slowly, but surely, the area around your bubble changes, becomes lighter, less crowded, less foggy until all of the negative feelings and energy bothering you right now is gone.  You turn off the recycling container, put it away, and observe your surroundings.

Notice any color changes, or sensory changes.  Notice your breathing – is it still slow and deep, or rapid and quick.  Observe how your body feels – are the muscles relaxed or tense?  Observe your energy levels – have they lowered or evened out or something else? Observe your feelings – do you feel more or less clearheaded, calm, relaxed?

Take two slow deep breaths.  Inhale for 10 seconds.  Pause for 10 seconds.  Exhale for 10 seconds.  Repeat.

Continue to breathe slow and deep.  Open your eyes when you feel ready.

***feel free to substitute your images for mine at any time in the visualization.  Some people prefer sitting inside an auditorium with a clear dome or laying on the grass instead.  The goal is for you to try this meditation and then adapt it to suit your specific needs if it works***

Thanks for reading this long post.