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Posts tagged ‘self-care’

Panic Attacks, procrastination and fear: transforming panic into excitement.

A few weeks ago I was with a friend who showed me a video of Mel Robbins talking about how she had learnt to transform her panic attacks into an experience of excitement. In my work I am often asked what suggestions I have for applying mindfulness to panic attacks and I was keen to listen to this talk to see what she had to share and see how I might apply it in my own life.

I have never had a panic attack, but I was writing in the last email about the feeling of dread and anxiety on approaching an event where I have to meet people, and how this fear of socialising that I picked up as a teen seems to create a false narrative in my head about what I can and cannot do. Listening to her talk I could certainly see how I might apply it to these situations, and how people might use it if dealing with a panic attack.

In her talk she starts by discussing the limitations of motivativational thinking to get us to do things. She says: “we are not designed to do things that are scary, difficult or uncomfortable. Our brains are designed to protect us from those things, because our brains are trying to keep us alive. In order to change, to build a business, to be the best parent, best spouse, to do all those things that you know you want to do with your life, your work, your dreams, you’re going to have to do things that are difficult, uncertain or scary. Which sets up this problem for all of us: you are not going to feel like it….[because] our minds are designed to stop us from doing anything that might hurt us.” She goes on to say that as a result of this we all have a habit that holds us back, the habit of hesitating.

She then outlines how one technique the brain uses is the spot light effect, where the brain magnifies the risk of something in order to make us back away from doing it. She goes on to say “you can truly trace every  single problem and complaint in your life to silence and hesitation”.

Mel then talks about how the sensations in our body are the same when we feel excitement or fear, and that it is this similarity which enables us to reframe how we are interpreting these sensations. She gives an example from her own life: when she is about to go out and give a talk she can feel her heart racing, her palms a little sweaty, her breath racing. If she were to tell herself “I am anxious and frightened of talking” this would create a feeling of fear of going out on stage. Instead she focuses on the sensations as an expression of feeling excited, and this supports her as she walks out in front of the audience.

The root of this approach is based on the fact that the flow of adrenalin is the same if we are feeling excited, or scared. It is how we interpret it that then determines how we think and feel about the physical sensations adrenalin causes.

In her longer talk below Mel describes how she was at a low point in her life, waking up with feelings of dread, and how this would lead to her laying in bed, consumed by panic and anxiety, hitting the snooze button until the morning was turning into the afternoon.  One evening she saw a programme about a rocket launch, and as she watched the rocket take off she decided that was what she would do the next morning on waking, she would count down and launch herself out of bed before her brain had a chance to start thinking, working or catastrophising about the day.

As she woke up the next day she immediately started a count down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then got up. Once she was up the debilitating anxiety that would otherwise have kicked in and kept her in bed could then start to be absorbed through becoming active: she started to face the day as it was rather than as it appeared to her as a thought as she lay in bed worrying about it.

Mel then started to apply this 5,4,3,2,1, approach in her waking life. On noticing that she was caught in an addictive behaviour – perhaps prevaricating before going to bed, or moving on to an activity she needed to focus her attention on – she would then say to herself 5,4,3,2,1, and at 1 move on to the activity she had been avoiding and stop the activity that she was wanting to move away from. 

“When you count backwards, you mentally shift the gears in your mind. You interrupt your default thinking and do what psychologists call “assert control.” The counting distracts you from your excuses and focuses your mind on moving in a new direction. When you physically move instead of stopping to think, your physiology changes and your mind falls in line.

The Rule is (in the language of habit research) a “starting ritual” that activates the prefrontal cortex, helping to change your behaviour. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that you use when you focus, change, or take deliberate actions.” (Ref)

I have started to use this as I wake up, and it really works. Rather than laying in bed with the feeling of dread of the day that is to come, which could easily lead to 30 minutes or an hour of delaying getting up, when I count back as soon as I wake up and swing myself up and out of bed then this mood that might have kept me trapped in bed immediately starts to dissipate, as instead I head to the bathroom, brush my teeth, get a glass of water and move into doing some yoga and meditation. I am also starting to explore using it during the day, at times when I notice myself caught in procrastination, hesitation and avoidance.

To find out more about her method I’ve included her interview below.

Using the 5,4,3,2,1 method for a panic attack

With panic attacks Mel uses the similarity between feeling excited and feeling fear to create a different way of focusing your attention and interpreting the experience. In a panic attack we have no clear trigger for why we feel panic, so there is nothing to move away from. All we have is our body telling us we feel panic and our brain has no idea why. Given that our brains purpose is to keep us safe by helping us move away from danger, this is the most terrifying thing for our brain: the experience of danger with no clear action it can take to escape.

As one of the participants on an 8 week course I was running observed, mindfulness helped them to stop panicking about the panic attack, and that in itself stoped it from escalating. But how to transform a panic attack? Rather than riding it out, which the mindfulness helped this participant to do, is there a way to actually transform the experience. Mel suggests that there is. 

At a time when you feel calm and at ease take a few moments to connect with an anchor thought you can use when a panic attack occurs. An anchor thought is an image/thought of a situation where you feel safe, grounded and excited. The example in the video the woman connects with is of seeing her grandchildren. 

On first noting the sensations of a panic attack count back: 5,4,3,2,1. Then connect with your anchor thought and say to yourself “I am so excited to….”what ever you anchor thought is. In the case of the woman in the video she would think “I am so excited to see my grandchildren tomorrow”. The effect of this is that it tells the brain the reason for the sensations in the body are not an unexplained terror, but a feeling of excitement at the idea of the thing you are about to do.

Perhaps you like going on a roller coaster, or bouldering, or feel exhilaration on going dancing or are excited to take your dog for a walk. Connect with one thing that gives you a feeling of excitement and that you enjoy which you can then focus on when the panic attack starts. This gives your mind an explanation to then enable it to calm your body down.

Think of the brain as a guard on watch at the city gate – suddenly the dogs start barking, the guard looks up with concern, ready to sound the alarm in case the city is under attack. If the guard sees no reason for the dogs barking he will become more agitated and alert, looking for any sign of danger. In the same way in a panic attack the brain is alerted by the body to danger, but there is no clear danger. All the brain can do is look for danger and attempt to remove you from an unseen harm which gives rise to increased alarm as there is no obvious escape route from an unseen danger. If the guard were then to see a cat sitting on a wall, he would suddenly know that the dogs were only excited by the cat, and there was no need for concern. In the same way, give your mind an image of being excited by your anchor thought and the brain can settle, telling the body it is ok, stand down the alarm signals, it’s only excitement at seeing a cat! 

If you experience panic attacks and use this method please let me know how it works for you. As I have not been able to apply it to myself I would like to hear if it does help you interrupt a panic attack, as I will then be more confident to share it more as I teach. 

We are meeting again this Monday. Looking forward to seeing you there.

For details of the next 8 mindfulness week course starting on Thursday 3rd May click here

Autopilot behaviour – what keeps you trapped in old patterns?

We all know the feeling – we are on our way home from work, following a familiar route, as we get near we suddenly realise the thing we had intended doing on the way:  the place we meant to stop off at or even the person we were supposed to meet! Autopilot can be as extreme as this or simply be the automatic routines we have created in our days: our morning routine, our route to work. It can also show up in our patterns of thinking and responding to situations.

Some autopilots serve us, but others can be based on old messages and scripts that have become our distorted truth. Perhaps we have a limiting belief about ourselves or our abilities. Perhaps we hold back from certain things thinking it is not for us. We limit the flow of our spontaneity.

Learning to notice these autopilot behaviours and thoughts is the first stage in letting them go. As we meditate we become better able to be present to our thoughts and feelings, and there’s a natural process of recognising these. As you sit in meditation, simply notice the unedited flow of thoughts and responses to thoughts. Notice if any of these seem to fall into patterns of belief about yourself. It can be really helpful to then discuss this with people who are open to exploring deeper self-awareness – with a therapist if you have one, or close friends, or in a group.

The first week of the 8 week mindfulness course explores autopilots in more detail, and it then forms the basis of the whole course, bringing awareness to our patterns of thought and behaviour. Seeing how we can let go of those that do not serve us. If you are interested in exploring this more, there are still places available eon the Spring course.


 

“This course was very powerful and has been life changing. It has really helped me to focus on the ‘Here and now’ rather than getting caught up in ruminative thinking. I have a tendency to worry about the future and about events that have not yet occurred and this was making me feel very stressed. Applying the techniques and mindfulness strategies I learnt on the course I feel better able to cope and although I still feel anxious this tends to diminish more quickly.”

Kensington Council 8 week course participant, 2016


 

Thursday evenings

May: 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st

June: 7th, 14th, 21st

Silent practice day. Date to be confirmed.

Time: 7.00 – 9.40 pm

Venue:

Chadswell Healthy Living Centre

Lower Ground Floor, Chadswell
Harrison Street
London
WC1H 8JE

MAP

Nearst tube: Kings Cross

£295 (£200 concessions for unwaged, students and those in need)

Booking confirmed on receipt of full payment.

To book email: nick@evolvingminds.org.uk

Call: 07910 224 560

For more details of the course click here

The Fear of Inadequacy

Going from a belief “I am not good enough”….to “I am enough”

Yesterday I went a networking event at Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall. As I approached the building I noticed a sense of fear and an urge to run away. It is a familiar feeling, one that comes up whenever I approach a social situation. I remember as a teenager going to eat lunch on my first day at sixth form. I bought soup and bread and found a table, sitting down alone. As I sat surrounded by people chatting to each other the trembling started. I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. Try as I did to get the soup to my mouth it just fell back into the bowl, my arm was shaking so much. The more this happened the more anxious I became that people would see and laugh. That was my last lunch in the canteen. I told myself that I wanted to study and it would make more sense to eat at my desk in the library. A Mars Bar became my lunch. For the following two years I hid in the library every lunch time.

I thought that was just an unhappy memory. But today I woke feeling sad with a sense of panic sweeping over me. As the day progressed this feeling hung over me like a fog. I started to be curious about why I was feeling this way and let my attention turn towards it.  As I did this I suddenly thought of how scared I felt as a teenager of going to school, how I feared being laughed at as inadequate by the other boys, how the days with sport would be preceded by a night crying myself to sleep at the thought of having to play football – not so much playing football, but the pain of once more going through the ignominy of being the last boy to be chosen for the team, seen as a hindrance and unwanted.

This fear of school, the desire to retreat to the safety of home, to be with mum where I could chat and talk at ease, this was the back drop to my teenage years. Today as I walked into my bedroom after doing a work out in the sitting room, returning to the computer to start some work, it struck me that as an adult I have made all my choices based on being able to live self-contained or to retreat from the world and to stay in a safe familiar place: home or the monastery, or a commune. Even as a teenager at school I used to hang out with a few friends in the school green house. It was our base, and meant I never had to go into the school canteen, or mix with the other boys during break times.

Now I’ve chosen to work as a mindfulness teacher, going out to organisations and venues, and this has certain challenges. Each time I approach a place to teach I notice the fear of being with people again and the desire to run away. The root of it is a fear that I will be inadequate in some way, that I will fail. I know from experience now that once I am in and teaching this limiting belief that I will fail falls away. In it’s place is a feeling of joy, ease and competence. But I have to walk through this invisible barrier to get to that experience.

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When I think of going out to teach what I feel is not a confidence that I will be competent and at ease, but a fear of failure. This is important, for as one of the speakers at yesterdays event said, the brain’s job is to keep us safe and out of danger. If there is a belief that going out into the world is dangerous, that I risk failure and ridicule then what is the brain going to do? It is not going to engage with imaginative ways to promote my services and put me in front of audiences, instead it will procrastinate, delay and practice avoidance strategies to ensure I get no effective work done. As one teacher put it, the brain is a “don’t get killed mechanism”, that’s its job. It is not a face your fear and learn from it mechanism. If there was knowledge that a sabre tooth tiger lived in a certain area the ancient human’s brain did not think “it will help me in my personal growth to face this fear and go to where the tiger is”. Instead the brain would find all means of taking you away from where the tiger was.

Now we live with psychological fears as much as real threats. But the brain works in the same way. Going to a networking event = danger. Socialising = fear. Appropriate action = withdraw from these interactions. Even after 12 years of going to the Friday 5 Rhythms dance group, I have to make myself go. The thought of going fills me with dread. But I know once I am there and start moving I will feel amazing. | have to tell my self it will be OK, and remind myself how good I’ve felt after other sessions. Mainly I just have to put on my coat and go out, telling myself to go rather than listen to the urge to stay safely withdrawn at home.

Earlier today I chatted about this with a friend, and it was very revealing that he has the same pattern. I wonder how many of us who grew up as gay boys and teenagers perhaps share some of this sense of fear, shame, feeling of inadequacy? And the compensating behaviour of thinking I have to be perfect to be liked or of value, as I feel I am of no value myself. With both of us we see how we hold ourselves back from succeeding in work due to a belief that we are not OK. We procrastinate, the brain holding us back from going out into work that we fear will show our inadequacy. But this procrastination feeds our sense of inadequacy as we see others thriving and succeeding.

I first thought to work as a corporate mindfulness coach in 2012. I might have been in the early phase of bringing mindfulness into organisations. But I sat in my room, dreaming of finding ways to teach in banks, law firms, corporates, offices. But taking no real action to make this happen. In the meantime others started to see the opportunity of mindfulness, acted on the experience they had and took action. I felt like the boy sitting at the side wanting to dance but fearing everyone would laugh. Then feeling frustrated as some got all the applause for their dancing!  I did set up the Monday group, but that took a friend three years of challenging and an intensive immersion in a self development programme to finally take the first step.

Talking with my friend today made me wonder how many of us there are who show our social face, saying we are fine, when behind our mask we are feeling inadequate, feeling fear, doubting our ability to succeed?

Today has not given me any solutions, so I am not able not offer that in this email. But it has shone a light on a habit pattern of thought that keeps me from acting on my intention to find new clients and be effective as a mindfulness teacher, or go out and socialise and meet people. Perhaps the simple phrase “I am enough” is one to ponder as I meditate. How would it feel to really believe that and act from a place of feeling ‘good enough’, rather than fearing “I am not perfect”?

Effective Communication

The last three essays have been a summary of the information about attachment models in adult relationships from the book Attached. In this essay I’ll continue to explore this dynamic.

To summarise the three types of attachment:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

Effective Communication

A few weeks ago I was with a friend having dinner. We were talking about relationships and the dynamics of attachment. My friend made a comment about how he would seek to talk with someone if something seemed amiss in the communication or their behaviour. It seemed quite clear to him that the way to deal with a conflict was to talk and arrive at an understanding of what was going on rather than withdraw  and blame the other or take the blame and fear being abandoned. Not surpassingly, when he took the test latter he came out as securely attached!

What about those of us who do not have as a first recourse the belief that we deserve to be heard, that our needs matter or that conversation will clarify the position? What if we either go in to protest behaviour of being silent, ignoring our partner due to a perceived slight or withdrawing from what we see as their demanding and needy attempts to talk to us? The hardest dynamic of any relationship is the avoidant/anxious, as they will cause each other to go into their coping mechanism: the distance of the avoidant partner will cause the anxious partner to become more eager to get reassurance that they matter – texts, calls, attempts to meet or talk. In contrast the avoidant partner will want space and solitude, and will withdraw from their anxious partners attempts to create intimacy.

The final chapter of the book Attached is devoted to Effective Communication. This is a summary of what is discussed there.

What is effective communication? It is a way of speaking that communicates our needs, rather than leaving our partner to guess what is bothering us. It is an important tool in dating as it will help us to choose a compatible partner. An anxious person will often feel they need to be other than how they are. Relationship advice may tell an anxious person “play it cool, don’t be needy, appear confident and strong to attract a mate”. Whilst it may be true that a self confident secure type who does not need another’s reassurance in order to feel valid is an attractive quality in a partner, if it is not who we are then we will risk attracting someone who is not then able to hold us when we finally reveal our true vulnerability and need.

In contrast, if we are ready to show our vulnerability when we date and name our needs those who withdraw from this would never have been able to give us the support we need, and thus leaves us free to focus our dating attention on those who can. The same applies in friendships.

An example given in the book is of turning a perceived weakness into a strength. If you know you need to be reassured a lot that your partner loves you and is attracted to you, instead of trying to conceal this out of a fear of appearing needy you state it as a given. This will paradoxically make you appear self-confident and assertive, rather than relying on covert means of trying to get this reassurance without being direct about your need for it – sending texts asking how your partner is when really you just want them to reply and ask how things are with you. In using effective communication from the start you also set the tone for the relationship as one where you can both be honest and share responsibility to look out for each other’s well being.

The difficulty of expressing one’s needs as an anxious person is that we often don’t know what they are! Instead we tend to get overwhelmed by emotion and lash out. Ask my ex, I had very un-Buddhist moments with him! Followed by shame for having got angry. In contrast people with a secure attachment style don’t react so strongly, don’t get overwhelmed as easily, and can thus calmly and effectively communicate their own feelings and needs. Secure people also believe they are worthy of love and affection and expect thier partner to be responsive and caring. With these self beliefs they find it easier not to let negative thoughts take over.

What to do then if you are anxious?

Unlike a secure person you’ll be easily flooded by emotions, will fear that the relationship is fragile and easily broken and don’t expect your partner to to respond positively. Fearing the fragility of the relationship you’ll find it harder to express your needs effectively. When you do try to talk, if you have an avoidant partner, rather than giving you the reassurance you seek they may well withdraw. This is  one reason why effective communication in dating is important. As an anxious attachment person one will quickly decide that the person we have met is the one we have to have. It will feel that we stand no chance with anyone else and we will do all we can to make it work with this person, even ignoring the red flags that might make another question a person’s suitability. When we do communicate our needs, if it results in the person backing of or loosing interest it will be easy to feel that we have ruined things, “if only I had played it more cool, I’ve lost the only one who could have made me happy”. In truth it has just saved us from a relationship in which we would have always been trying to be right for our partner, or fearing their loss of love.

The author suggests the following for anxious and avoidant types:

Anxious: turn to effective communication when you  feel you are starting to resort to protest behaviour (needing to text, going silent on your partner in the hope of drawing them in, not answering calls, threatening to leave etc – these were covered in last weeks email). Instead of this, feel into what your needs are right now that are not being met. Once you have calmed down, find a way to effective communicate your needs to your partner.

Avoidant: whenever you feel the need to run this is a sure sign you need to use effective comunication. Explain to your partner that you need some space and that you would like to find a way of doing so that is acceptable to them. Suggest a few alternatives, making sure the other person’s needs are taken care of.

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The Five Principles of Effective Communication

1. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Be genuine and honest about your feelings.

2. Focus on your needs. This includes your need to take your partner’s well being into account as well – comunicating in a way that hurts them will hurt you. When expressing your needs, it’s helpful to use verbs such as need, feel and want, rather than talking about your partners short comings.

Another book called Non-Violent Communication explores this in much more detail. The author, Marshal Rosenberg, describes a model of  communication based on expressing objective facts, feelings, needs and a request:

“When I sent you a text yesterday morning and you did not reply until today at lunch time I felt upset, because I need to be confident that you can make time for me. In future I would really like it if you reply when you see my message, even if its a few words to say you will reply fully later if you do not have time to text right then, would you be willing to do that?”

This is very different to saying something which blames the other or makes them wrong. Rosenberg’s central premise is that when others hear a feeling and a need they will hear what you are asking for. I used this when I was mugged 10 years ago. Luckily I remembered it all in the moment after a single punch to my face had sent me to the ground. As the man straddled me with his fist in the air time slowed down. I knew he was going to hit me more – he was so pumped with adrenalin his aim was to immobilise me without any concern for how much I might get hurt. I didn’t have time to formulate a perfect feeling/needs want statement! Bur I remember as I looked him in the eyes I said “I’m feeling scared, please don’t hurt me”. I think I forgot to express a clear need “I want to feel safe” but it worked nonetheless. In a moment his fist went down and it was the strangest experience: he spoke to me as if he were talking to a frightened child. His voice was almost reassuring as he said “It’s ok, I won’t hurt you, all I want  is your money”. He then went though my pockets and took all he could and left me laying on the pavement. I had lost a wallet and mobile phone, but I do believe it could have been worse if I had not internalised the importance of using effective communication, so that it came naturally in the moment of extreme need.

3. Be specific. This relates to Rosenberg’s encouragement to state an objective fact rather than emotive statements. Rather than “You are so inconsiderate for keeping me waiting for half an hour” which may just trigger the other person to defend themselves, rather than feel the upset you feel. Rosenberg  suggests instead we express this in a factual way: “When we arranged to meet at 1pm and you arrived at 1.30pm I felt really annoyed as I need to know I can trust people to value my time. In future please arrive at the time we agree or text me so I know you are late and I can decide what to do” You may find other ways to do this, but the principle is to keep to simple facts rather than language that suggests blame.

4. Don’t blame. Never make your partner feel selfish, incompetent, or inadequate. Effective comunication is not about finding a way to communicate your partner’s short comings or making accusations. Make sure you feel calm before trying to discuss something that has upset you.

5. Be assertive and non apologetic. As the author of Attached says: “your relationship ends are valid – period”. People with different attachment styles may not see your needs as legitimate, but they are essential for your happiness and expressing them authentically is crucial to effective communication. The author makes the point that this is especially important for people with an anxious attachment style as our culture encourages us to believe that many of these needs are illegitimate. Instead if a person feels the importance of close contact, emotional availability, loving reassurance when feeling anxious about not being wanted or valued – then these are authentic needs. Better to be honest about this and have the 99 people withdraw who cannot meet them and meet the 1 person who can, than hide them and settle with one of the 99 and have an ongoing struggle to have them meet your needs as you start to reveal them once the dating phase is over.

(The above is a summary of p.235-241 Attached)

I know from experience that knowing all of this does not make it easy to apply it! But as we practice mindfulness and being more open to our emotions and non judgemental about our thoughts and feelings it does become possible to tune in to what is going on for us and to start to take the risk to express this with honesty. The Loving Kindness practice helps us to cultivate a feeling in our heart that “I’m ok and you’re ok” so we no longer come from a place of judging ourself or the other, or of feeling we need to fix our self or the other. Instead we enter into an honest connection with how we are and how the other is. This may mean recognising that how the other is is incompatible with what we need, and rather than making it our mission to mould them into our perfect partner we leave them to find someone who loves them as they are, as we stay open to finding someone who will love us as we are.

For a detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

Anxious, avoidant and secure: common thoughts, emotions and reactions

The last two essays have been a summary of the information about attachment models in adult relationships from the book Attached. In this essay I’ll continue to explore this dynamic.

To summarise the three types of attachment:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

A few people are anxious/avoidant, but this is more rare.

As I’ve read this book it has been like a map of my inner world laid out. Theories which might be abstract resonate so much with my experience of intimacy and I have recognised patterns of behaviour that feel so personal but from the perspective of this theory are simply how a person with anxious attachment will respond to intimacy. In Buddhism a central reflection is that the sense of being a unique and fixed individual is a misconception. Our sense of self arises from the interaction we have with stimuli from the world around us and from how we interact with our thoughts, which creates our perception of the world.

Recognising that the patterns of mental activity that feel so personal are in fact a pattern shared with many others helps to lessen the belief that this is somehow uniquely my experience. Certainly it is what I am experiencing, but it is not unique to me. Seeing this helps to lessen the emotional charge that makes it feel so much like a personal failure to have these ways of responding to a situation.

One area that particularly struck me was the description of typical thoughts, emotions and reactions for each type. See if you recognise yourself here!

Common thoughts, emotions and reactions for the anxious type

Thoughts:

  • Mind reading “that’s it, I just know they’ve had enough of me and will never want to see me again”
  • I’ll never find anyone else.
  • I knew this was too good to last.
  • All or nothing thinking: I’ve ruined it all, there’s nothing I can do to mend this.
  • I knew something would go wrong: nothing ever works out right for me.
  • I have to see him/her right now.
  • S/he’d better come crawling back asking for forgiveness or they can forget about me forever.
  • Perhaps if I look really gorgeous or act seductive things will work out.
  • S/he is so amazing why would s/he want to be with me anyway?
  • Remembering all the good things your partner has ever done or said after a fight
  • Recalling only the bad things your partner has ever done or said during a fight.

Emotions: sad and/or fearful, resentful, frustrated, depressed, hopeless, jealous, despairing guilty, self-loathing, rejected, uncertain, misunderstood.

Actions:

When an anxious type fears a loss of intimacy they will seek closeness and this may well manifest as acting out to try and get the reassurance or attention they long for. These are protest behaviours, similar to a child having a tantrum to get its parent’s attention. These behaviours are automatic and are not considered actions but a knee jerk response to the fear of abandonment. They occur when your anxious attachment has been triggered by your partner’s real or perceived withdrawal of affection or availability:

  • Excessive attempts to re-establish contact: Calling, texting or emailing many times, waiting for a call or text
  • Withdrawing: sitting silently “engrossed” in the paper or some other activity, turning your back on your partner
  • Keeping score: noting how long it took for them to reply to a text and leaving it exactly the same amount of time.
  • Acting hostile: Rolling your eyes as they speak, getting up and walking away while they are talking.
  • Threatening to leave: “we’re not getting along, I don’t think I can do this any more”. Rather than being a true expression of a wish to separate this comes from a place of wanting your partner to say how much they love you and will never leave. You’ll be devastated if they actually agree with you!
  • Manipulations: acting busy or unapproachable, ignoring phone calls, saying you have plans when you don’t.

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Common thoughts, emotions and reactions for the avoidant type

Thoughts:

  • All or nothing thinking: I knew s/he wasn’t right for me, this proves it!
  • Overgeneralising: I knew I wasn’t made to be in a close relationship!
  • S/he’s taking over my life, I can’t take it!
  • Now I have to do everything his/her way; the price is too high.
  • I need to get out of here, I feel suffocated.
  • If s/he were “the one” this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.
  • When I was with (the idealised ex) this wouldn’t have happened.
  • Malicious intent: s/he’s really out to annoy me, it’s so obvious…
  • S/he just wants to tie me down, this isn’t true love.
  • Fantasising about having sex with other people.
  • I’ll be better off on my own.
  • Ugh s/he’s so needy! It’s pathetic.

Emotions: withdrawn, frustrated, angry, pressured, unappreciated, misunderstood, resentful, hostile, aloof, empty, tense, contemptuous, scornful, distrustful.

Actions:

When an avoidant type feels their partner is too demanding of their attention they will seek distance. They require solitude and a sense of their own autonomy in order to feel comfortable. If they are dating an anxious person this need for space will often be pressed in on by the anxious type’s need for reassurance: wanting to text, to hold hands, to cuddle up. In response to this perceived neediness of the partner and to re-establish their own space avoidants will use deactivating strategies to keep their partner at a distance or to disengage from them. One thing the author says is that avoidants do want intimacy, but they find it hard to admit as for them intimacy means being overwhelmed by the other so their actions are intended to allow for just as much connection as they feel comfortable with, whilst maintaining a feeling of distance and independence. For this reason avoidants rarely date each other as there is nothing to bring them together.

  • Saying (or thinking) “I’m not ready to commit” – but staying together nonetheless, sometimes for years.
  • Focusing on small imperfections in your partner: the way s/he talks, dresses, eats or…..and allowing it to get in the way of your romantic feelings.
  • Pining after an ex-girlfriend-boyfriednd, thinking that they were the one you should have stayed with and comparing your present partner unfavourable to them – (the phantom ex)
  • Flirting with others – a hurtful way to introduce insecurity into the relationship.
  • Not saying “I love you” – while implying that you do have feelings toward the other person.
  • Pulling away when things are going well (e.g. not calling for several days after an intimate date).
  • Forming relationships with an impossible future, such as with someone who is married.
  • “Checking out mentally” when your partner is talking to you.
  • Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy – to maintain your feeling of independence.
  • Avoiding closeness – e.g. not wanting to share the same bed, not wanting to have sex, walking several strides ahead of your partner.

The emotional advantages of dating a secure partner

For the sake of brevity I am not listing the traits of the secure type. Basically they will not take on the blame for what happens and stay open to the other rather than becoming critical or acting out. I was talking to a friend who took the test and come out as secure. As we talked about the different dynamics of the anxious type he said that if someone comes across as needing contact to reassure them after a few dates: holding hands, texting etc, then his response is to find it endearing and sweet. Very different to the avoidant who will see it as an imposition and will disengage. This short conversation with my friend confirmed the author’s assertion that an ideal partner for an anxious type is a secure:

As an anxious type you:

  • want closeness and intimacy  and a secure person is comfortable with this and will not push you away.
  • are very sensitive to any signs of rejection and a secure person is very consistent and reliable.
  • find it hard to tell your partner directly what you need and what’s bothering you whilst a secure person sees your well being as a top priority and do their best to read your verbal and non verbal cues.
  • need to be reassured and feel loved and a secure person feels comfortable telling you how they feel, very early on, in a consistent manner.
  • need to know exactly where you stand in the relationship and a secure person is very stable, they also feel comfortable with commitment.

Anxious and avoidants find it difficult to create a relationship that nourishes them both as there is a conflict between what they are both looking for. As an anxious person you:

  • want closeness and intimacy whilst avoidants want to maintain some distance (emotional or physical)
  • are very sensitive to any signs of rejection whilst an avoidant sends mixed signals that often come across as rejecting.
  • find it hard to tell them directly what you need and what’s bothering you whilst the avoidant is bad at reading your verbal and non verbal cues and don’t think it’s their responsibility to do so.
  • need to be reassured and feel loved whilst an avoidant tends to put you down to create distance.
  • need to know exactly where you stand in the relationship whilst an avoidant prefers to keep things fuzzy.

Last week’s essay looked at actions avoidants and anxious people could take to work with their tendencies. The main one for an avoidant is to find a secure partner, as a secure person will be comfortable with exploring the dynamic and talking things through rather than going into protest behaviour as the anxious type would do. Alternatively, if an avoidant and anxious person are dating, for it to work both the avoidant and anxious partner need to become very self aware and recognise their dynamic and how that impacts on the relationship, and to then reach a compromise that works for both partners.

Working with the challenges of being in an anxious-avoidant relationship

The final chapter in the book covers how people can work with being in an anxious-avoidant relationship. It may be you have identified that your current relationship is this type of dynamic and want to work with it. The key points the author suggests are:

1. Clarity: write out a list recurrent patterns in your relationship and the situations that trigger them. Write down your reactions and thoughts. Identify if your actions and those of your partner are secure, anxious or avoidant and reflect on how you loose out by going along with your habitual strategies (if you are not secure). Use effective communication with your partner to resolve any conflicting desires you both have in the relationship.

2. Using effective communication to choose the right partner or to communicate with your current partner. As this is a chapel in itself, I’ll leave it to be the topic of next week’s essay.

If you have not yet taken the test it is below, or for a more detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

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Why do I always fall for the same type of man….

In 2015 and 2016 I went to Loving Men in Wales. I loved it as an event, and the feeling of community, friendship and ease. It gives a feeling of what it can be like to live in a world where we are connected, and as gay men can enjoy a playful sense of ease and company. I also left each weekend with a deep pang of unrequited love, having on both occasions met a man who for various reasons was unavailable, but for whom I built up hopes that he might be.

The result was then spending the first months of the New Year struggling with a visceral feeling of loss, of pining for what never was but I had hoped might be and shame at feeling I was being weak to be so preoccupied with a man who it seemed showed little interest in thinking of me or having any wish to have any further connection. In fact with each man we did meet in the weeks after returning from Loving Men, and with each I felt them retreat from the eagerness of my desire to have more connection.

Once again, I then blamed myself for being too keen, for not playing it cool, for wearing my heart on my sleeve and being needy, invasive of their boundaries. So this year I decided that I would avoid Loving Men and go away to a space that was just for me, a 10 day silent retreat. On my way there I saw a man on the train who looked as if he was on his way to the retreat. As we got off I asked him if he was going to the meditation retreat and he was. We struck up a conversation and shared a taxi to the venue. In the remaining time left before going into silence we had a great time chatting. He’s straight so I was not worried about any unrequited love….or so I thought!

As we went into silence I noticed a curious dynamic in relation to this man and another. Someone had arrived just as we went into silence who I did find attractive, and as fate would have it he was placed to sit immediately behind me in the meditation hall, so I saw him each time I went in to meditate. The centre divides men and women into separate rooms and men and women are seated on separate sides in the dining room. This is great if you are straight, as it reduces the impact of seeing someone you are attracted to. Doesn’t really work if you are gay!

So over the time I sat meditating and in the stillness of the silent time between meditations I was present to a familiar dynamic. With the man I had met on the train, once we were in silence I became so anxious that I would be too much in some way – that I would be making eye contact when he just wanted to be in his own space or that I would impinge on him in some way (I noticed that I am at ease looking and smiling at people I know, but once on retreat this can feel awkward as we all withdraw into a more personal space. Also I noticed a fear of not being wanted once it was no longer possible to find out through a few words that someone was feeling friendly). With the man sitting behind me, I saw how my mind wove a story of desire and hope – that at the end of the retreat we would talk, he would turn out to be gay, we would meet and realise we were destined for each other. Exactly the story that fuelled my hopes with the two men at Loving Men, a belief we were meant to be together that in the end turned out to be not an intuition but an empty dream.

The end of the retreat brought two lessons. The man behind me, who I had anticipated talking with once we came out of silence, left immediately the silence was lifted and I never saw him! The man I had met on the train and had worried I was going to be too much for, had chosen me as his meditation buddy! I had noticed we tended to be at the same table after a while and had our drinks together in the breaks. This had helped me to relax around him and feel at ease. He then told me at the end that he is a diver and when diving you have one person as your buddy who you stay close to. He chose me.

Apart from showing how my mind got distracted during the retreat, how is this relevant? It actually was a perfect example of the dynamic I had just been reading about in a book about relationships and the dynamics that can happen between people. The book is called Attached, and it describes how people fall into three broad groups when entering relationship:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

A few people are anxious/avoidant, but this is more rare.

The following list of traits for each type are from pages 65-66 of ‘Attached’

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And a few suggestions about how to work with your type:

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The book describes the different dynamics that can arise as these three types form relationships. It talks of how anxious types will often enter a relationship worrying that the other person will lose interest, that they will do something wrong to scare the other person away and take the blame if things do not work out. Avoidant’s will be concerned that the other person will become interested too quickly and so will give mixed messages – seeming to show interest whilst at the same time not replying to messages quickly and being ambivalent about committing. Secure people will not play games but be straight forward, showing if they like you, being open to commitment and ready to talk about anything that concerns them in the relationship rather than using it as a reason to pull away or play games.

What can happen is that anxious people create a template of what it feels like to fall in love – the worry, the heightened sense of uncertainty, the fear of rejection leading to the delight when the other seems to want you, but followed by fretting about why they have not replied to a text. The result of this template is that when an anxious person meets an avoidant it feels like love, because it feels like a familiar experience of what falling in love is like. Whereas meeting a secure person can feel flat – there’s no edge or drama, and so an anxious person can overlook the people who would be best able to give them a feeling of security as they chase after all the avoidant people they are drawn to.

Avoidant’s are drawn to anxious people as it fits with their script that people will become too demanding, needy and that they risk loosing their independence so in the end they need to drop this person in the hope of meeting the right person at some point in the future. It is not that avoidant’s do not want a relationship, but they can have an overly romantic idea of what their ideal partner should be like and so tend to be critical of the people they meet.

What I like about the book is that it does not make any type wrong and does not seek to fix anyone. It encourages you to be aware of your patterns and see how these interact with others, and to recognise that certain parings will be more likely to provide a feeling of security and being held by one’s partner than others. It does not say the neediness of the anxious type is wrong, just something that easily gets triggered when the partner is withdrawing or giving mixed messages, whereas with a partner who is ready to be fully present this dynamic occurs but is pacified by their willingness to hold. This can literally be the willingness of your  partner to take your hand when you want to hold there’s, rather than the avoidant’s response of shaking it off.

Avoidant’s are also looking for love, but have learnt to feel frightened of being overwhelmed. So for them if they recognise that always being attracted to anxious types will not be very likely to lead to a relationship they can relax in they can instead look to meet secure types – but they need to be ready for the challenge a secure person will offer of calling them out on their tendency to pull away. The secure person will not take the blame on themselves as the anxious person does when the avoidant pulls away, instead they will name what is happening and start a dialogue around it.

This is a brief synopsis of the points covered in the book, but if it has interested you or you recognise your type already I recommend reading it. “Know thyself” and you no longer have to live out unconscious dramas and stories. The self test form is below if you would like to find out your type. Or for a more detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

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Balanced Effort

This Christmas and New Year I wanted to get away for a break and to refresh my meditation. A student at the group I run at UCL told me of the International Meditation Centre near Bath and I booked myself on to their  10 day retreat. I have been in London 12 years now since leaving the monastery and have not been on any long retreats in that time, so this was a very welcome return to a structure that was very like my life in the monastery. The morning bell went at 4am and we were mediating at 4.30 for the first of many 1 hour sessions during the day.

Apart from the first and last day we were in silence throughout. There were about 80 of us on the retreat, evenly split between men and women, yet the silence made it feel very spacious and took away the need to try and connect and talk, instead giving a feeling of a lot of personal space.  

The meditation itself was intense. We were sitting between 7 – 8 hours each day. With plenty of gaps! You can see the schedule below. This really gave the chance to drop much more deeply into the practice. Following a more intensive meditation schedule thinking can really recede to the periphery and there is a tremendous sense of spacious awareness, a feeling of light and open attentiveness, the mind being calm and bright, honed to a single point of attention in the moment.

When the mind stops jumping into the past and future, there really is just this spacious present moment, that is not a fixed point in time, but an aliveness in the vibration of this energetic field of being. 

The retreat really helped me to drink deeply from the joy of a calm mind. My body feeling alive and vital, mind calm and heart happy. 

Leaving the retreat felt the hardest part of the whole experience! Retreats are what they are: a leaving behind of our usual life. They are not a way of living. Even in the monastery we did not live with this intensity all the time, we had to maintain the infrastructure of the monastery, which meant working as well as mediating. The skill of meditation is learning how to bring the lessons from these deeper immersions into the practice back into one’s daily life.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few experiences from the retreat. 

 

Balanced effort

The first experience is the story told in one of the sessions which illustrates right effort. It was a Buddhist retreat so they were quoting from the Buddhist scriptures, which contain a plethora of stories from the time of the Buddha. This story concerned a monk called Sona. As a young man he lived a very luxurious life, so much so that he had fine down on the soles of his feet from never exerting himself. A king once asked to see this and marvel at his fine feet! Shortly after this the young man met the Buddha and became a monk.

Suddenly he left his life of privilege, wealth and ease and concentrated on the training of a monk. He was determined to gain insight. He was living in a hut in the forest, and used a track outside to do walking meditation. Reflecting on his meditation subject as he walked. His delicate feet were used to walking on silk, not the forest floor, and his walking track was soon covered with blood from his lacerated feet – but determined to see the profundity of the Buddha’s teaching for himself he kept walking. In his sitting meditation he strained for insight, but it did not come. Eventually he thought it was to no avail and he decided to leave and return to lay life. 

The Buddha saw this and came to Sona, concerned for his well fair, knowing that if he pushed himself too hard his mind would not be able to soften and be receptive to the intuitive knowledge that was there like a bud waiting to open, but which could also wither in the intensity of his wilful effort. 

The Buddha spoke to him in the following dialogue:

“Sona,” he said, “I have heard that you are not getting good results from your practice of mindfulness and want to return to the lay life. Suppose I explain why you did not get good results, would you stay on as a monk and try again?”

“Yes I would, Lord,” replied Sona.

“Sona, you were a musician and you used to play the lute. Tell me, Sona, did you produce good music when the lute string was well tuned, neither too tight nor too loose?”

“I was able to produce good music, Lord,” replied Sona.

“What happened when the strings were too tightly wound up?”

“I could not produce any music, Lord,” said Sona.

“What happened when the strings were too slack?”

“I could not produce any music at all, Lord,” replied Sona

“Sona, do you now see why you did not experience the happiness of renouncing worldly craving? You have been straining too hard in your meditation. Do it in a relaxed way, but without being slack. Try it again and you will experience the good result.”

Sona understood and stayed on in the monastery as a monk and soon attained awakening.

As you sit in meditation remembering this story can be a really great way to check in with the quality of your own effort: is it too wilful, or too unfocused, or is it in the middle – balanced and just enough?

This was a living part of how the retreat centre worked. In the first few days the retreat leader told us to notice the quality of our intention as we sat. Were we sitting with forced determination not to move? Were our knees hurting but from pride we would not move as we wanted to be seen to sit for the whole hour? He said that we are here to train our mind, not our body. If we find we reach a point where sitting is done with gritted teeth – then it is time to stand and move, he even invited us to go to the kitchen, make a cup of tea and have some cake!

This was a very different approach from what I have come across in other retreat centres, and it encouraged a softness that made it easier to rest into a deeply calm and focused attention. The teacher said that when effort was too much from sitting with gritted teeth, then there would be a lot of ego in the sitting, which would mean a lot of thinking. So this approach only makes for more thinking and distraction.

It did help! Giving myself permission to move, shift posture, make myself comfortable, allowed for a relaxing into the practice that then made it easier to sit in a stillness that arose from being present rather than as an effort of will. 

If you would like to have a more in depth experience of meditation I recommend the centre. They run 10 day retreats at the end of very month. Their next starts on the 19th January. For details click here

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