Coping Challenges: Getting Used to a New Environment

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

My alters and I, we don’t have much to share this week. Unpacking is still a work-in-progress. The transition is easier after 1 week living in this apartment. Discovery and observation are my two best coping strategies right now.

What used to trigger me in the other apartments – noise, smells, privacy (or lack of) – are less stressful here even though they still exist. Some noises are new to me. Others are not. Same with smells and privacy. The apartment is set up in such a way that I have to get creative to balance my need for privacy with my need for natural sun and open blinds.

As for people and sounds, well that is something I continue to work on. But the safer I feel, the easier it is to step back and observe instead of react from a place of fear about these triggers. That means it’s easier to stay present and remember I am okay when the upstairs neighbors move around and make noise. Towels on the window sills help keep external smells outside. Door and window blockers keep out drafts and other smells.

Crystals keep the energy balanced and moving throughout the apartment. This time, they are in bags, small bowls, alone, or in groups on doorknobs, near plants, and so on. I am grateful for the heaters and how they work. Pipes and mechanical equipment in the floors and walls account for some of the vibrations and noise that seem to appear from nowhere.

The bath and shower help with body memories and some sensory flashbacks. It’s private and large enough for me to use as a changing room too sometimes. Using the essential oils or a scented bath will not disturb my neighbors and gives me a chance to have a “spa day” or water-focused meditation period at home.

But it wasn’t and still isn’t easy. There is a lot to learn and adapt to in a new building with new people. The neighborhood is different. The people are different. Traffic patterns and pedestrian movement keep me on my toes – especially as I get used to being here on weekends. A lot of events take place within walking distance, so weekdays are quieter – good for work :).

Processing takes time. And so does creating a home. Soon, when there are less boxes, I will take photos and share them here. Definitely of my garden. Maybe the kitchen too – it’s big and roomy with space to make smoothies – since I spend a lot of time there. Some parts of unpacking are easy for me while others trigger all kinds of messy emotions.

  • Measuring and cutting paper to line my cabinets – triggering.
  • Putting stuff on the walls – triggering
  • Deciding where to put items – neutral
  • Putting together folding shelves and adding items – neutral
  • Is any part of unpacking and setting up again fun for me? No not really.

But all parts of me are in this together. We are happy here. Feel safe here. No one is caged or trapped in this apartment – or in the building. There are security measures that keep everyone safe. And I know who to contact if I have any concerns or questions. That goes a long way to keeping the flashbacks from taking control.

Plus nothing, except an event beyond my control, is going to stop any part of me from settling in and settling down here.

So the unpacking process will be VERY slow. Priority goes to items that are necessary for every day life. Then the fun stuff that makes a home feel like home. Finally, everything else.

For now, though, it’s about recovery and re-claiming my protected, safe spaces. Maybe less about self care and more about self soothing – bringing comfort, peace, and harmony with large doses of love – to re-build my energy reserves and eliminate the sleep debt (i.e. persistent feelings of tiredness from chronic lack of sleep or rest).

What does nurturing mean to you? And how can or will you nurture yourself?

Thanks for reading

EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

Alter Post: Self Care in a triggering environment

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

You can find the latest Scent Reflections blog here. FYI, I re-posted from the Emotional Sobriety blog; a place to gain insight into other recovery strategies, challenges, and options

Background

Life is full of challenges. Some more difficult than others. Finding a sanctuary that suits emotional, physical, basic, and lifestyle needs within a specific budget is one of the difficult challenges.

For most of my life I settled for “good enough” in terms of living spaces and environmental sanctuaries. All parts of me did not believe we deserved a safe home and community that fulfilled more than the basic needs. Part of the self punish,ent and shame cycle was living in such places that were physically safe, but not emotionally or spiritually safe.

If you want to know more about my thoughts on self protection and safety, check out these posts from 2019.

If you want to read about some challenges and coping strategies for feeling safe, use the search bar with key words “self care”, “safety”, “feeling safe”, “DBT” to start. Or look the Coping Challenges and Coping Strategies categories in the archives.

“Good Enough” isn’t really good for me. What about you?

Settling for “good enough” is so much easier. Sometimes necessary, but often less scary, anxiety-provoking, triggering, etc. at the beginning. Over time, however, it’s scarier, more triggering, and extra anxiety-provoking

But for now, my alters and I will share some insights we’ve learned about triggering environments.

Growing up, people used to tell me I wouldn’t succeed in life and should settle for “good enough” since that was…maybe…the best I could achieve. Even if my work was better laid out, more creative, etc., teachers, parents, and other people told me my efforts were “ok” or “not as good as so-and-so” or “(insert name)’s work is better; work harder”.

Or they accused me of cheating, stealing someone else’s ideas, etc. Or other people (in group work) took credit for my ideas. And I let this happen instead of trying to get the acknowledgement for myself. Instead of fighting back against a community of people determined to put me in my place – beneath them.

That worked for a long time – and still does in some circumstances – to the point where I didn’t think I deserved or could achieve anything good in my life. That included an apartment that met more than my basic needs, acted like a sanctuary, and felt safe – emotionally, spiritually, environmentally, physically.

Being Different Brings Out the Best in Me – but not always in others

I didn’t – and still don’t – think I am a good person. I have too much darkness, live too often in the gray areas, and embrace my flaws/failures/negative attributes too much to ever be good and light and positive. But I like being me.

FOR EXAMPLE

  • My temper is scary and terrible; it intimidates people
  • My facial expressions and body language don’t match my tone of voice or what I talk about
  • I don’t remember or recognize people I meet on the streets; let alone remember names.
  • I sometimes talk over people and interrupt without meaning to do so; it’s an anxiety response
  • I am messy and struggle with housekeeping.
  • I stutter and lose words in group conversations or stressful experiences.
  • I can be abrasive, blunt, rude, and annoying when I feel like it.
  • I apologize too much
  • And I offend people with my unique perspective on life and comfort sharing those opinions.
EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

And yet, these flaws are as much a part of me as the positive characteristics people attribute to me. They show my personality and allow people glimpses of who I really am.

I developed these so-called flaws into effective strategies that help me cope with life before recovery. They kept people away from me. Kept them from learning my secrets or exposing me when I wanted to be invisible.

After recovery started, they became useful communication tools that helped me as I practiced DBT on myself (internal dialogue with alter personalities, negative self-talk, flashbacks) and other triggering people in my life. It wasn’t perfect, but it taught me this:

every part of my personality – aka every part of what makes me me – has value and purpose

TJ/AlterXpressions

By embracing, learning from, and turning into strengths these flaws (aka weakness), I learn how to accept myself as I am and create effective coping strategies or techniques that also work within the laws/guidelines/terms of my residence/place of business, etc.

The Triggering Environment, Coping Strategies, Moving on My Terms

First, the triggering environment is living in an emotionally unsafe apartment. Yes, it sounds a lot like the previous apartment where I needed help from an attorney to get out of that mess.

This situation is similar and different. I am on good terms with building management. The apartment itself and my close neighbors are great. I have enjoyed living and working here for the past two years.

The apartment amenities can be challenging sometimes because the building is more than 100 years old with original electrical wiring. My job and this website are dependent on Internet and electronics. Plus the bathroom ventilation system allows smells from my apartment to get into my upstairs and downstairs neighbors’ apartments. Finally, the noise from above can be heard easily below.

The reverse is also true.

I’ve had three different groups of people living above me in the 2 years renting this apartment. My first upstairs neighbors triggered me by intentionally being noisy, smoking in a non-smoking apartment, and creating a hostile living environment through their friends and acquaintances who also lived in this building.

That got settled with help from building management (different group than now) and their permission to let me use coping strategies and techniques that worked, but were not common and did not conform to cultural norms.

They left at the end of their lease, and the environmental/emotional triggers went away for a while. I settled in and started to feel comfortable. The nightmares and flashbacks eased up too.

Then the third group of neighbors moved in. These people liked breaking the rules and did not appreciate when the rules were enforced. My current building is a non-smoking building. It has designated quiet hours too.

But these neighbors smoked pot often in their apartments. Or cigarettes. Or herbal blends with pot in them. The smoke kept getting into my apartment. I didn’t know it was them at first. A lot of people moved in and out during that time period, and many of the new neighbors smoked in their apartment.

In the beginning, I used aromatherapy to change the smell in my apartment. My favorite diffuser is strong enough to use in my whole apartment. When that stopped, I used scented candles or a combination of both.

As the smells increased, I started reporting them to management during the day and the management’s’ courtesy patrol/security team in the evenings. Had neighbors come in and verify the smells. Talked with an attorney and non-emergency police lines to get details.

In other words, I followed the rules.

When that didn’t get me anywhere and the neighbors upstairs continued to escalate their intentional negative behaviors, I informed the property management that I was going to use my own coping strategies and techniques to feel safe and comfortable in my own apartment until my lease ended. These techniques could be considered unorthodox, weird, etc., but they wouldn’t break lease terms or the law. I would also be looking for a new apartment and continuing to inform them of the disturbances by email.

From then on, I started using everything in my toolbox to cope with the upstairs neighbors. First, I used them the way I normally do. Then I started experimenting and doing research to find more resources. My family helped too. Rebuilding those connections increased my support network and made some of the worst times more bearable.

Intentions, Gratitude, Humor & Patience = Moving to a better place

Last September, I set my intention.

Work on myself until I believed I deserved a home that met ALL my requirements and needs; then prepare as much as possible to take advantage of the moving opportunity when it presented itself.

I practiced gratitude and self care. Gratitude in thought, emotion, and behavior – towards all parts of myself (internal) and every being in my life (humans, animals, plants, etc.) – to find blessings and miracles everywhere. Learn from reflection and appreciate everything happening now.

I practiced Cognitive Re-Framing (cognitive behavioral therapy) and challenging my cognitive biases techniques on my own, with help from the BARCC hotline, and my mental health therapist.

How? Like this

  • Find humor in my current living situation (and laughing about the drama going on all around me)
  • Acknowledge each incident and then putting it aside
  • Discuss my thoughts and feelings with my counselor and support network
  • Focus on achieving my financial, work, and personal goals (problem solving) as distractions from what’s happening around me
  • Reflect on the situation to understand my emotions
    • Separate my present feelings (how I feel about my neighbors and this situation) from my past feelings
    • Separate my past feelings (triggers and flashbacks) from my present feelings
    • Acknowledge both sets of feelings and express them in safe ways
    • Then let the feelings go when they end
  • React to the present and not the past
  • Use these experiences as Exposure Therapy and learn from them
  • Be honest with my loved ones about the challenges (aka sharing the truth about my mental health disorders with the hope they will still love and accept me)
  • Show gratitude to the people, plants, and other beings supporting me through this challenging time – acknowledgement of their efforts, “thank you”, giving gifts, saying “i love you”
  • Being patient – not something I am good at – in spite of the OCD pressure to react without thinking

Then, when everything falls into place, make the change with courage and faith.

REFLECTION QUESTION: How will you/do you want to cope with triggering environments?

That’s my next step: I found a new apartment and decided to break my current lease.

If you don’t see much from me here or at Scent Reflections over the next two weeks, it’s because I’m busy working, packing, and moving to a new apartment.

I promise to try my best and share posts or updates, but please understand if you don’t get a new post until 2/2/2020.

Thanks for reading

Series: Care Protection Expression Part 4 – Spiritual

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

This is a NON-PARTISAN post about FAITH and BELIEF

Let me start with this: I ACCEPT ALL RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL PRACTICES THAT EXIST. Each one is valid. Each one is similar and different to the others. No one is better than or less than the other.

Growing up, I was lucky to be exposed to multiple religious and spiritual practices at a young age. It didn’t feel lucky back then because I didn’t fit in anywhere. I didn’t belong to a congregation or publicly affiliate myself with any specific religion. I didn’t know all the songs or prayers everyone else memorized and sang in class. With a few exceptions, most of my blood family believed in something, but kept it to themselves.

In my other life, I was trained to be a good Mormon girl until my owner and his people discovered my gifts and labeled me a monster. Useful, but still a monster. They brought in people of different spiritual backgrounds and abilities to test me, train me, and dole out appropriate punishments. I learned to be wary of psychics, witches, shamans, and healers from them.

More, though, I learned to hate myself and my gifts for making me different. And I learned how to hide/deny/not use my gifts on command. Well, after they taught me how to use them on command – and only to hurt others.

That’s when the self harm started. Yet, every time I made progress to “disappear” or “sleep forever” or “leave”, beings came into my dreams and stopped me. Then guided me towards a safe person, place, or object. And sparked my curiosity to bring me back to the present.

Questions…so many questions. And Faith

So when beings started to visit me in my dreams (or when I dissociated), I had no one to talk to or ask questions. My family and peers thought I was crazy because I kept hearing voices and seeing things they couldn’t see. Nor did they accept any of that as real or valid in spite of being Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Jehovah’s witness, or Mormon. Those were the active religions in my community back then. Not sure what still exists these days.

And I honestly could not believe in a mean, vengeful, God who hated and punished women, children, animals, and other living beings He created because they were inferior.

I just couldn’t.

But I got mad at that version of God instead. And stopped listening or believing for a long time.

What about those beings from my dreams?
Yeah, they never went away. Never left me. They brought light and love, kindness and compassion, fun and laughter into my life whenever I felt lost, alone, and ready to end it all.

And they continued sparking my curiosity about faith, spirituality, religion, etc. so I kept exploring…learning about different practices through books, video, and audio documentaries.

Building Blocks of my Invisible Armor aka Spiritual Self Protection

In this section I’ll explain a little about how I learned to create my Spiritual Self Protection or Invisible Armor.

The Building Blogs of my invisible armor

In college, I found myself drawn to Daoism and Buddhism; learned as much as I could from English translations of their spiritual texts and tried putting some tenets into practice. There were temples I could visit, but that felt (and still feels) too scary. Instead, I discovered the Spirituality and Religion section of popular bookstores and spent a lot of time there.

Then I got more involved in the solitary practice aspect of Buddhism through my first mental health counselor. One of the greatest lessons she taught me (before it ended so badly) was to have faith in something or someone greater than myself since I didn’t have any faith in myself.

It could be religion or spiritual practice. But had to be a higher power of some kind. But that kind of faith will help me as I travel down the path of recovery. If I wanted to learn more about Buddhism, she would share her knowledge, experiences, and resources. I did. She did. Together, we started re-building the foundation that made me me.

Fast foward 15 years, and here I am today. Not affilated with any specific religious or spiritual practice. Buddhism did not fit any more or less than the others I tried. But definitely a spiritual person with a strong faith in higher power. A faith based on my personal code of values; values I live by and use to help me stay safe and secure in my authentic self instead of fear and hate.

I often use”universe” to describe this power, but also call it: Goddess, God, Grandmother Spider, Spirit, Guides, Guardians, Holy Spirits, Angels, Archangels, Wise Beings, Ascended Masters, or specific names of other deities from other pantheons.

It honestly depends on who visits me during meditation and dreams unless one of those “beings ” from my past appears.

Who are those mysterious beings she keeps referring to?

Those “beings” are my personal Spirit Guides or Guardian Angels who’ve been with me for as long as I can remember. I don’t see them with my regular vision; only with my “other” vision when eyes are closed. You can read more about that in the second post of this series.

The religions and spiritual practices I’ve been honored to learn about often discuss special beings who support, guide, communicate with, and connect them to their “higher power”. So I believe in angels, archangels, guardians, guides, and holy spitrits whatever form they take.

My four guardians are: Archangel Michael, Archangel Raphael, Archangel Gabriel (also known as saints in some religions) and Grandmother Spider from the Native American religious practice of certain tribes.

But I didn’t learn their names or how to actively communicate with/listen to them without the barriers of my past getting in the way until the last 3 years living in a new city on the other side of the country from where I was born. In this new city, I found a place with knowledgable practitioners. They offered workshops and private sessions – like counseling, but not – to help people on a spiritual quest. Talking with these people and interacting with others with similar interests showed me that I while I may be a monster, I wasn’t evil. And most people there didn’t consider me or anyone else with gifts monsters.

Short Stories of My spiritual Journey before working with Empathic Healing

I visited 4 people regularly for almost 2 years and still keep in touch with them today. Three people kindly gave me permission to share some of our experiences together and link to their sites if you want to learn more about them.

Spiritual Mentor

I’ve mentioned my spiritual mentor in quite a few posts since we started working together on a regular basis last year. Her name is Jo Garceau, a Spiritual Mentor & Soul Coach with a background in Shamanic Astrology and politics. Jo uses a combination of astrology, storytelling, and symbols to help me understand the “crazy-making” experiences occurring as I took big steps in my recovery.

She taught me about working with energy aka kundalini aka vital force and not to be afraid of how my mind/body/spirit experiences and moves in/around/through/with me all the time. What I remember most is sharing with her how I meditated at least 2x a day to help me sleep and wake up. During every meditation (closed eyes), I “saw” colors, shapes, symbols, figures trying to communicate with me through stories and senses. She asked me if I believe in deities, shamans, guardians, and guides. I said yes. Then Jo shared some of her experiences communicating with deities and spirits from other religious and spiritual practices during meditation. She shared knowledge about Spirit Guides and protection too.

That is how I learned about Grandmother Spider and how she blessed me with the gift of being able to communicate with spiders using sound vibrations. Plants and other non-verbal, sentient beings too sometimes. Working with Jo taught me self acceptance and how to embrace my gifts instead of feeling ashamed or afraid of them.

Healers, Mediums, and Ghosts

Jane de Forest of Jane’s Inspiration is a multi-faceted, compassionate, and kind spiritual practitioner who uses her gifts as an artist, medium, animal communicator, and author to help individuals find clarity about personal, professional, or other life experiences. I worked with her about 4x in private sessions and attended 2 of her events about intuition and gifts.

My questions had to do with work/vocation and family struggles. I shared with her the same stories I share here with you, but also with questions about how to cope with or find solutions for struggles that still bothered me on a spiritual level. Jane accepted me and my past, listened with compassion, and shared information she received through her medium and intuitive gifts as personal artwork that I have displayed on the wall above my living room altar.

Thanks to Jane, I found the courage to re-connect with my parents, visit all of them face-to-face for Christmas last year, and continue with this blog while studying aromatherapy, herbalism, and how to build a sustainable business. All this as I re-discovered the reasons why I love my day job and ways to make it interesting again by using as many of my skills as possible to align that work with my personal values.

Mentoring, Guidance, and Energy Healing

Terry McGill said he is: “In my own words: Beginner Mind; Listener; and willing to share my gifts with anyone who desires – to the extent they desire.” Thanks to him, I learned that the Tao is much more than a spiritual or religious practice. It is also a healing practice based on energy, love, integration of Self, and lifestyle medicine – those are my words. Some day I hope to feel safe and secure enough to go back to his weekly Tuesday group sessions to learn and explore the lineage and path Terry shares with his students. This one is a bit longer because I have two stories to share.

For now, I will share some of my experiences working with Terry. The first time I met Terry, I was looking for a crystal wand to help disperse clogged energy in my body – something one of the TCM interns I worked with suggested since I had an affinity with crystals and he had much more experience working with crystals. As I tested out different wands in the display case, he came up to me and asked if he could offer a suggestion.

Before this, we had never met. But something about his presence felt right. So I agreed and we discussed the merits of obsidian vs amethyst vs clear quartz wands. Terry suggested the obsidian wand (one I kept going back to, but wasn’t sure why). He said my energy aligns with the energy in the obsidian wand and then demonstrated how it could be used on his own body. I was impressed and bought that wand. To this day, I use it on certain areas of my body that feel energetically or spiritually blocked (usually around my tail bone, but sometimes my throat and belly button too).

Later on in the year (2018), I visited him once or twice for private sessions and also attended one workshop “meetup” as a guest. In between those sessions, we stayed in touch via email because I was interested ,but not able to attend sessions. Terry thought a healing practice called Tao calligraphy might help with my “energy” problems. I wasn’t ready in 2018…too worried about the big family stuff coming up later in the year. But I was ready in 2019. Specifically in March of 2019 when I had my tubal ligation procedure. For the month of March, Terry wrote daily Tao calligraphy blessings for me and transmitted the healing energy via Source or Spirit. I went into that month (usually one where all my symptoms increase) calm, present, and zero panic attacks going into the procedure. For the rest of the month, I managed to cope with everything feeling calm, present, loved, and supported no matter what happened.

Pulling It Together

In the main photo, I listed the foundational values that make up my invisible armor. Then I shared stories about my past and present to illustrate (I hope) how those values came to exist and why.

I was raised in a culture of fear, negativity, opposition to change, and scarcity in many ways. Few unique individuals showed me a different path to love, prosperity, kindness, neutrality or positivity, and acceptance. The hate, fear, and negativity won many battles for my soul. But the core of me never gave up and never gave in. It remembered, hid, and nurtured hope.

College was my first cultural shock. Then came counseling. Followed by work. And finally a place where I blended in and my values were met with acceptance instead of disgust. Where it’s okay to have guardian angels and work with energy in ways not proven by scientific literature.

It didn’t matter what they believed, approved of, or accepted about me. What mattered (and still matters) is what I believe, approve of, accept, and am willing to change about me. All parts of me. In accepting this part of myself – something I denied, rejected, and hid for more than 10 years – I was able to create invisible armor that helped me feel safe and secure interacting with all kinds of people in a variety of places.

An invisible armor that can be fine-tuned using emotional protection strategies, reinforced through physical protection strategies, and applied in any environment at any time.

My gifts are not your gifts. Your gifts are not mine. Maybe some are similar. Maybe none of this works for you. But

  • if you notice things that fall outside of our traditional 5 senses and scientific evidence
  • if maybe embracing this part of yourself instead of fearing it
  • if maybe learning how to use these gifts feels right to you

Why not learn, experiment, explore, or indulge your curiosity?

If not, think of this as a knowledge exercise to create new tools for your coping tool kit.

Thanks for reading.

Emotional Self Protection = Safe healthy ways to express our emotions to ourselves and others; emotional connections with ourselves and others

Series: Care Protection Expression Part 3 – Emotional

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

Writing This Series Scares Me – But I’m Still Doing It

Emotions scare me. They feel overwhelming most of the time. Except for the last 10 years, I was emotionally and physically numb (walled in) – disconnected from body sensations and sensory information that would help me identify and cope with feelings. Numbness felt safe. Emotions and any kind of sensation created vulnerabilites I couldn’t afford – not with my lifestyle back then. I was 27; living on my own; working at a good job; and back in counseling for anxiety/depression/anorexia – but not trauma.

Then the wall crumbled unexpectedly. Counseling can do that sometimes, and neither my counselor or I were prepared for the flood that came next. I honestly thought my mind had finally cracked. I going straight to insanity and death. The sensory information was that overwhelming.

Can you imagine 27 years worth of emotions and trauma suddenly spilling into one’s mind and body without pause? Neither could I until it happened.

It was during these months before and during my group therapy sessions at the partial inpatient program that I learned how interconnected my mind, body, and spirit truly are. More, they taught me how enmeshed with others my concept of self was – to the point where I couldn’t separate who I was/what I felt from other people in my life.

And that control is an illusion. So is separation between parts of the self – at least for me. I survived by learning, embracing, and customizing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) techniques and concepts to suit my needs.

Emotional Protection Starts with Self Awareness
(left) My interpretation of DBT concepts. (right) Marsha Linehan’s 4 Modules of DBT

I don’t know if this is true for you too, but controlling, separating, denying, and rejecting my emotions got me into that mess. Doing the opposite saved my sanity and helped me learn to love, accept, value, have patience with, and be kind to all parts of my self.

The struggle to cope with these emotions and sensations still exists. Not until the past two or three years did I finally learn how to reconnect my emotions with my body and spirit wtihout triggering pain, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, etc. Don’t get me wrong, they still occur – intense and paintful – but not as often. And not for extended periods of time like before.

Emotional Self Protection Strategy

Empathic Struggles with Emotion

In the first paragraph, I mentioned being emotionally and physically numb. Here the main topic is about being an empath. Let me explain:

  • For all of my life I could feel (and sometimes experience) emotions. As a child, I expressed emotions and was punished or hurt each time.
  • Intellectually, I could identify, mimic, and understand emotions.
  • Training taught me how to express emotions as body language and facial expressions to make others believe I actually felt them.
  • Eventually, I stopped expressing or displaying emotions for others to see because pain is an excellent teacher.

But those emotions I felt and learned to identify? They weren’t mine. They belonged to the people around me.

When I tried to identify and experience my own feelings – I came up empty. That is until the wall crumbled when I turned 27. Then I couldn’t stop experiencing my own feelings. Nor could I separate what was mine from what belonged to other people. Or stop my body from losing control of its natural functions – like vomiting, elimination, and cramping – when feeling overwhelmed.

Since then, it’s been a struggle to learn how to separate my emotions from others and keep myself from absorbing/holding on to others emotions too.

Emotions Affect Our Senses

Back then, I didn’t know I was an empath, let alone that empaths were real and existed outside of fantasy fiction novels. It wasn’t until I moved across the country that I found a teacher and mentor whose guidance and learning style resonated with my questions. I was new to the city and found a spiritual learning bookstore that offered workshops and events with empaths, spiritual mentors, astrologers, etc.

That’s how I met Dave Markowitz, author of Self Care for the Self Aware and Empathipedia: Healing for Empaths and Highly Sensitive People. I attended one of his group workshops about empathic healing and learned a different way of thinking about emotions that allowed me to experience my own emotions while staying safe from other people’s emotions. He taught me that shields don’t always work because they keep the positive and negative emotions away. Then demonstrated alternatives that worked.

Unfortunately, I was not yet ready to keep learning from Dave back then. Nor did I have the money to pay for a lot of healing sessions or lessons not covered by medical insurance. So I continued on my spiritual journey – meeting with other practitioners about how they used their gifts and exploring different paths – until early this year when I had the time and money to pay for Dave’s books and individual healing sessions.

I read some of his books before scheduling the individual healing sessions. That gave me a good idea of what to expect during our phone call. The first call was intense for me. Dave helped me let go of so much grief (mine, my mother’s, and collective) that was stored inside and struggling to get out. Before the call, I spent so much time sad, feeling like a beast of burden struggling to move one step at a time, and crying all the time. After the call, I felt so much lighter, at peace, and joyful about myself, life in general, and my ability to cope with current challenges.

Integrated Self equals Protected self. Spirit, Mind, Body
Separation blocked out pain, but also everything else

In the second call, I experienced energy healing from the Source or Spirit. Dave always refers to himself as a channel or conduit for healing energy and not a healer. He uses intuition from the Source to identify what is needed each session and follows instructions to help his clients heal.

For me, that meant channeling healing energy into all parts of me to facilitate healing on many levels. At the end of the session, I felt tired, at peace, and tingly throughout my body. The next day, I started my menstrual cycle (without cramps and with less pain than normal) after not having it for over 3 months.

But what I did not expect and am so grateful for are the additional answers Dave provided as I asked questions about being an empath, identifying gifts, and my fears about how I experienced emotions (mine and others) in our session. These days, I feel more confident and less distracted when I leave my apartment to interact with others. I feel more able to protect myself from the bombardment of emotions coming my way and the negativity people sometimes direct at me without hurting myself and others too.

How do You Experience Emotions

Emotional Self Protection Coping Strategies

Emotional self protection is both similar and different than physical self protection. You can use grounding objects, but they work best in combination with routines and rituals you can take with you. Education helps too. Self-Help books, psychology books, fiction/non-fiction, movies, audio – however you prefer to learn and wherever you like to learn – it all empowers us to make our own Self Care and Protection choices.

Routines & Rituals equal Copng Strategies
Here are some strategies I find most effective and easy to use in difficult situations

Pulling It All Together

How many times were you punished, embarrassed, or teased for talking about your emotions? How often were you told that your feelings weren’t real? How often did you feel guilt or shame for feeling something different/more/stronger than the others around you?

My answer to those questions: ALL THE TIME.

Emotions are often ignored, rejected, and disregarded in favor of logic, intellect, and rationalizing in modern culture. Emotions are considered vulernabilities and weaknesses we can’t afford to have if we want to thrive in the world. Our parents, teachers, and caregivers weren’t hurting us on purpose by teaching these lessons – they were trying to help and protect us by sharing what they learned.

That means we are not taught how to safely identify, ackowledge, express, valdiate, accept, cope with, or discharge our emotions as we grow from childhood to adulthood. Especially when those emotions are strong and overwhelm us. Curiosity, self-study, and psychology classes in college combined with mental health counseling taught me what I know about emotions.

They taught me how to “talk about” my emotions as one way of expressing them. But that’s not the only way…

How do you express emotions?

And I point this out because people often tell me “I hate talking about my feelings” or “I’m uncomfortable talking about my emotions” or something similar. That is part nurutre as I dicsussed above and also part nature. Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style blog discusses this in her new wesbite called 16 Style Types – where she and other experts discuss the “psychology of style” and how personality types directly influence self expression.

Can you understand how self-protection is part of self care and integrates all parts of our selves? Our senses interconnect mind/emotion with spirit/faith and body/physical sensations.

I hope maybe it’s starting to make sense and thank you for following me on this investigation into the different connections. Next week, I’ll share thoughts about ways my alters and I protect and care for our spiritual self too.

Thanks for reading

Physical Self Protection...How will you express it?

Series: Care Protection Expression Part 2 – Physical

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

What is considered Physical Self Protection? And why does it matter?

Physical Self Protection means more than self-defense, an alarm system, and weapons. It includes:

  • Feeling safe inside your physical body wherever you are
  • Making healthy lifestyle choices for nutrition and movement or exercise
  • Meeting essential needs of food, shelter, warmth, and clothing in ways that suit your life and budget in the present moment while also giving a sense of joy and satisfaction because you CAN take care of yourself in the most basic ways
  • Personal finance education to learn how to make good spending and investing choices

My process started about 7 or 8 years ago when I decided to break from my family. At the time, I had very little money and less interest in doing more than survive my “new independence”. Rent, medical bills, utility bills, food, and transportation ate most, if not all, of my budget back then. But I also couldn’t afford to get sick or end up in the hospital either. That put my job and independence at risk.

And I was tired of hiding behind ugly, ill-fitting clothes and a meek persona. Invisibility was safe and protected me as long as I didn’t mind observing instead of participating in life. Up until I got a full time position at work and left my family, invisibility felt inevitable for someone lacking confidence and not wanting to be noticed.

While I didn’t much like my physical self (body, face, etc.) at the time, I was learning to love, respect, value, and feel confident in the rest of my self. And I was ready to start making that change from invisible to acknowledged. Nutrition and physical health improvements were already part of my care routine, but I didn’t know anything about style and clothes. Nor did I know where to start looking for something besides fashion that focused on body types and colors. And my “friends” at the time were not exactly helpful either.

So I started a new project: positive self image through personal style. There had to be a way to make my insides and outsides match just like I was doing with nutrition and physical activity. But also within my limited budget.

Fostering a neutral/positive self image through personal style

When I feel confident and safe, I look and act confident and safe. People are less likely to target me.

But what happens if I feel confident and safe, but don’t appear confident or safe to others? People are likely to continue treating me as they always have.

If I feel good on the inside, I want to show that on the outside too.

Does that resonate with you? Because it’s how I started on the personal style journey and found Inside Out Style Blog and Imogen Lamport (creator). She discussed personal style as an expression of our authentic personality and how body/face shape, color palette, etc. are all small parts of the whole package. While primarily an image consultant for women, she has consulted with experts in men’s style and shared those tips on her site too.

I wrote about this journey in some past posts and added information about this blog to the Resources page too. You can read about the results and see some photos in “My Style Manifesto”.

However, looking and feeling stylish WAS NOT the most important lesson I learned as part of that learning group. Here are some lessons:

  • I can share who I am (sometimes how I feel) with others without talking at all through my physical appearance.
  • When I make time to put together thoughtful outfits that feel good against my skin, fit well, and express something about myself, I feel safe, secure, confident, and able to interact with others outside of my safe spaces
  • Every one of us in the 7 Steps to Style Program was on a “recovery journey” of our own to find, express, and feel confident in our authentic selves as women no matter our age, sexual orientation, race, country of origin, marital status, personal experience, or financial status.
  • As we completed the 7 Steps, many of us used our newfound skills and experiences to create new business and job opportunities in alignment with our values.
    • One of these people is Liz Klebba of Closet Play Image based in the US. She created an image consulting and personal style business to help empower women to enjoy expressing themselves through personal style while still blending in and feeling appropriate in different environments. You can learn more about this by checking out her post called “Why Trends Matter“.

How can you protect yourself with an expression of your style that fits within your budget?

Creating ways to add movement into your daily routine (physical fitness)

As I’ve mentioned before, I do not have a typical exercise routine or participate in sports these days. In fact, I have not done any of that on a regular basis since college. Not because I didn’t want to participate, but because the pain in my body combined with panic attacks and flashbacks made such activities impossible without also experiencing shame and embarrassment.

So I started by incorporating more movement into my daily routine slowly. Grocery shopping meant walking to and from the store with totes and portable shopping carts that navigated stairs. Walk to and from the public transportation stations and work. Plus house cleaning and laundry require lots of movement + energy + time.

And I move a lot when preparing food and cooking. My pantry and dishes are all in shelves under the sink or counters. My utensils hang from hooks above my head. Reusable containers live on top of the refrigerator/freezer.

What are some ways you can change your routines and environment to include more movement?

Adding sensory grounding strategies and tools (physical objects) to your every day life style (aka magic bag)

I touched on this a little in the last two sections, but there are so many ways to include physical objects or touch stones in our every day lives to help us feel grounded and safe in the present moment. Here are more details based on the examples above.

In the personal style section, I mentioned putting together outfits with clothing and accessories. Wearing clothing and accessories can be a confidence-boosting, joyful sensory experience if we allow it.

  • Clothing has a texture and evokes a tactile sensation as it rests on and moves with the skin on our bodies.
  • Accessories also have a texture and evoke sensations as they move with, enclose, or rest on our skin/hair, etc.
  • The colors and patterns or prints engage our visual senses and bring out different emotions – not always consciously.
  • And let’s be honest here, our shoes, jewelry, even clothing sometimes, make sounds as they move with us – thus engaging our auditory senses.

Why not choose fabrics and textures that feel good agains our skin? Choose prints, patterns, and colors that flatter our coloring and remind us of positive emotions? Include accessories that remind us of positive experiences and express our genuine interests?

In addition, there are other portable items we can take with us and use discreetly wherever we are.

Healthy snacks and drinks engage our sense of smell and taste. Sometimes even our visual and tactile senses too. If sustainability is a personal value, reusable containers add in another element of self care. Plus bringing your own food instead of buying take out can be budget friendly and give an excuse to get creative too.

Aromatherapy and herbs come in many portable forms these days. You can carry them in pockets, backpacks, and handbags. Take them out and use when you need a moment to yourself without disturbing others or making a mess. Then put away for use in the future.

Then there are less obvious physical grounding objects we can take with us. Some are more portable than others. Here are some examples:

What are some items you can take with you to feel safe and grounded as you navigate the outside world?

Incorporating physical protection or grounding objects throughout your living environment

Plants and sunlight are the two most important grounding objects in my apartment right now. I often feel like I’m still living in the cage when I can’t leave my apartment. Plus I worry about privacy since some of my neighbors and I can see in each others’ windows. So being able to grow plants and keep my windows unblocked bring the outside world in when I can’t go out.

After that, I’ve worked hard to save money and purchase home goods like bed linens and towels made with different fabrics and textures that feel good against my skin and help me with some of the PTSD symptoms and side effects.

Bed first, the rest comes later 🙂

Two examples here:

  1. Bed linens. I experience night sweats and intense nightmares that soak/stain my sheets, pillows, blankets to the point where I had to get up and sleep somewhere else multiple times a night. Can’t tell you how many polyester pillows and acrylic sheets I ruined with the constant washing and sweating. Or how often I ended up with unexplainable rashes and acne or contact dermatits because of the fabric rubbing against and getting into my skin.
    1. Solution: purchase pillows, bed linens, blankets, etc. in fabrics with natural antibacterial and cooling properties – i.e. linen, wool, and percale cotton (organic if possible)
    2. Problem: cost and expense of replacing everything at once
    3. Solution: prioritize self care and move 3/4 of money from “fun” to “home goods” until I replaced all of the items on my list.
    4. Reward: purchase a book, see a movie, or something equally fun, budget friendly and frivolous after I buy 3 items.
  2. Cleaning and laundry products. In college, I learned that my body and nose were extremely sensitive to conventional cleaning, bath, and body care products. The smell made me physically ill or caused breathing problems. And the chemicals gave me rashes, acne, eczema, etc. That included: cosmetics; cleaning products; bath & body; perfume; and laundry products.
    1. Solution: research how to make my own cleaning products or find non-bleach and petroleum based cleaners, detergents, and soaps. Or stop using cosmetics, etc. I did both for a while.
    2. Problem: back then, the sustainability and “green” movements were grassroots and not well known. Not many products available on the market.
    3. Solution: compromise. Use a combination of aromatherapy and recipes from diy housecleaning websites/books/blogs to keep things clean at home.
    4. Reward: fun experiments with essential oils, mixing cleaning solutions. Find a learning path that led to this blog and other job opportunities. Apply my personal finance education to be “thrifty” and meet goals.

Crystals, stuffed animals, books, and figurines on my alter spaces and walls come in second. In my living room and bedroom, I have what I call “alter space” or “sacred space” for objects of meaning and spiritual or emotional power. They are combinations of objects arranged a certain way on corner shelves and remind me of my past and present. Before, my living spaces were bare because I used them as a place for sleep and storage. Now, I have a real home that reflects who I am and how I choose to live.

Do you have certain objects at home or work that act as protection to help you cope with stress or flashbacks?

Pulling it together

I protect myself and feel confident moving through the outside world because I’ve learned how to use every day objects in creative ways as armor or shields – aka grounding objects. The learning process was and continues to be difficult with lots of mistakes and challenges from expected and unexpected sources.

For example, I used to be afraid of anything related to my senses because I thought “sensual” was another word for “sexual”.

As I learned that sensation, sensual appreciation, and sensuality DID NOT EQUAL sexuality or sexual anything, my whole world expanded.

Self Protection = Self-Care
Protection is a confident expression of our Authentic Selves
Is a vital aspect of Self-Care
Provides Techniques to be assertive in how we choose to ensure our safety
  • Sensuality and Sexuality are different.
  • A person can be sensual and indulge in sensual experiences without falling into addiction or having to engage in sexual experiences.
  • Pleasure can equal joy and peace.
  • Grounding strategies teach people how to uses their physical, emotional, and spiritual senses to feel safe in and focused on the present moment wherever and whenever they are.
  • Confidence and security in oneself are the best kinds of protection and can be expressed in physical ways. Some are visible to everyone while others are more personal and customized to individuals.

These days, sensory grounding is an essential tool in my toolbox of coping techniques and strategies. I use it all the time.

Finally, physical protection provides a strong foundation to become emotionally, spiritually, and energetically protected too.

Thanks for reading.