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Posts tagged ‘suffering’

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”?

Ill-will, the second hindrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Buddha taught that ill-will is a cause of ongoing unhappiness.  The Dhammapada which I quoted form last week goes on to say this about ill-will:

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The Buddha was always consistent on this point, that hatred will only lead to more hatred. The way to peace is to learn to forgive and let go of the thoughts of having been wronged.

In one teaching the Buddha is speaking with a man who has just insulted him. As he walked though a village collecting food for his midday meal the young man shouted at him the equivalent of: “lazy beggar, go and get a proper job instead of expecting us to feed you”. Instead of becoming irate or indigent the Buddha stoped and replied calmly. If he were still consumed with pride and ego he might have replied with something like “do you know who I am,”, or have tried to justify himself and his lifestyle. Instead he simply asked the man a question:

“Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

In this way the Buddha illustrated his principle of non-reactivity. The anger belongs to the person who gives it, if I choose not to pick it up it is left with the other person.

As non-enlightened beings we can not always leave the unwanted gift with the one who is seeking to give it to us. Thus in meditation we may come across the second hindrance, that of ill-will. Whilst it may feel pleasant to feel indignant and right, if we really feel into the experience of ill-will as we meditate we understand why it is compared to boiling water. There is a feeling of the mind bubbling, hot, agitated. It is hard to experience any sense of peace. We are consumed with wanting to see the other suffer, or be put right.

The antidote to anger is loving kindness. Never an easy practice, when it is extended to include the difficult person it can become a real challenge, and also provide real freedom. I remember I first taught loving kindness 27 years ago at the student group I ran at Hull. A teacher who lived in Hull had somehow heard of the group and came along. She was in her 40s and taught art at a local school. When we talked of the difficult person she had plenty of students who could easily go in that category.

At first she struggled with this. It felt she was justified to be angry at their rudeness and disrespect. But she kept holding them with the wish “may you be well, may you be happy”. Simply seeing them as human beings who like her wanted to be safe and well. The first stage of the practice gave her an opportunity to hold her own pain around the experience. She was not denying that she felt upset, but she was also looking at what happened in her mind if she dwelt on such thoughts. Once another has said or done something to harm us it is over as an event. We give it energy by either dwelling on it, or suppressing it and trying to forget it.

In the loving kindness practice we look at what happens when we pick up the unwanted gift and take it in: how we allow the other to continue to cause us upset and distress even when they are not there. By then seeing them as a struggling human being with their own karma, weakness and fears we can instead feel some compassion for them. To speak with anger or hatred shows a heart that is not at peace after all.

After some months this teacher reported back to me that she had started to feel more relaxed around the pupils she had previously been reactive to. She no longer let them annoy her. Simply thinking to herself “may yo use well” when they did something annoying. As a result she noticed her teaching style changed. She became a little softer and less confrontational herself. Then, to her surprise, the pupils she had had so much difficulty with changed. They softened. They started to engage with the class. They were no longer so confrontational.

She thanked me after a little while. She said she had never realised it, but it was how she was being with the children that was part of creating the tension and confrontation she had then blamed on them. Her whole experience of teaching changed and she started to enjoy it again.

The next time you meditate and notice you mind going to anger or ill will notice how it feels. Notice the burning in your chest or belly. Notice the churning of thoughts. Ask yourself: is this a gift I really want to pick up? Reflect on how you feel as a result of picking it up and consider “do I really want to give this other person the power to make me unhappy when they are not even here?”. You may even want to explore how to connect with seeing them a a fellow human being, who just like me sometimes acts in inappropriate ways, who lashes out when frightened or lost in ignorance. Feeling this, one may then have a feeling from the heart of wishing them to be free of whatever suffering is making them act as they do.

This does not mean one denies that someone’s actions were unskilful and wrong. When I was mugged I never thought it was my fault, that I deserved it, or that the man who mugged me was somehow free of any blame. From my belief in karma, I was able to reflect that I did not know why it was that I had this experience – perhaps it was mischance and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps it was pay off for some past misdeed. What I was sure of was that he would have karma for his act. As the passage I quoted last week said:

“If you act with hatred in your heart suffering will follow you as the cart wheel follows the track of the ox that pulls it”

So, it follows that if I then allow another’s unskillful act to cause me to feel hatred, that in turn will give rise to suffering for me.

Instead I spent some months wishing the man well in my Loving Kindness practice. Reflecting on how his actions were his choice and no longer impact on me unless I chose to hold on to them. I considered that what I had lost was a ‘phone and wallet. What he had lost was the ability to empathise and see suffering in another. I also considered what desperate place he must be with addiction or life circumstances that all he could think to do was go out and attack people. I also felt sad as my belief is he will have all of that return to him at some point. As the popular saying goes, “those who live by the sword die by the sword”

It took some months. Over that time I also had to give myself a lot of self-care. Walking home from the station at night I would feel fear every time I heard someone’s footsteps behind me. My heart would race, I would sweat, I would feel the urge to run. For many weeks I took the bus rather than walk, then I started the slow process of making peace with this fear – I was determined the attacker was not going to still control me for weeks and months after the incident, making me change my habit of walking from the station home. I did this with a sense of caring for myself. Noticing if anger at him arose, and reminding myself I was angry at the idea of someone I did not even know. My anger might in a sense be justified, but it only burnt me. As the Buddha once said, holding onto anger is like holding a burning coal. When you see this, the natural thing to do is to open your hand at once and let it drop. Anger burns our heart, so why hold on to it any more than we would hold on to a burning coal?

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

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Anxious, avoidant and secure: the three relationship styles anyhow to work with our type.

I posed the question last week “why do I always fall for the same sort of man”, or rather, why do I always end up having a familiar experience: chasing after someone who is not interested or running from someone I feel uncertain of but who is interested in me? As I’ve read more of the book I recognise both elements of the avoidant and anxious in my romantic encounters. Secure seems to show up in how I navigate friendships and difficulties within these, unless I get triggered by the other person being unavailable to talk and I go in to anxious.

One answer the book gives to why we go for familiar types is that it enables us to perpetuate a certain view of ourselves and of life.

Avoidant’s tend to date anxious people because it confirms their belief that people are going to be more demanding than they want and that they need to remain strong and hold people away in order to maintain their independence.

Anxious people often feel an excitement on meeting an avoidant as it triggers a feeling they have come to associate with falling in love. An avoidant will give subtle signals right from the start that they are not fully available and this will trigger the heightened worry and flutter of wondering if the other person is going to want them in the anxious person. In contrast meeting a secure person there is none of this avoidance and the secure person is making it clear they are available, like you and want to go further. This can feel so unfamiliar that the lack of feelings of anxiety about being not wanted can be interpreted as there being “no spark’, or that the person is handsome but dull.

Secure people are more likely to enter into and sustain relationships whereas avoidant people are more likely to leave relationships.  This means the number of secure people in the dating pool is lower and the likelihood of an anxious person meeting an avoidant is much higher. Avoidant’s tend not to date each other.

The book gives a detailed description for each type and how to bring awareness to their pattern. The following is a brief summary.

What I found most helpful was the author’s clear belief that none of the types have to feel wrong or need to fix themselves. There is a very compassionate attitude of recognising what one’s pattern is, how it serves one and how to recognise when situations are triggering one to act in ways that do not lead to our deepest fulfilment.

Tips for the anxious attachment type

1. Acknowledge and accept your true relationship needs.
This does not mean sending 100 texts a day or trying to move in on the second date! It means recognising that as a person with an anxious attachment style if your needs are not met you cannot be truly happy in the relationship. This means not allowing people to make you feel guilty for being “needy” or “dependant” but instead recognising your need for intimacy, availability and security.

2. Recognise and rule out avoidant prospects early on
Growing out of this recognition of our own needs, rather than chasing after avoidant people and trying to adapt to be attractive to them, the author suggests we learn to spot the signs of an avoidant and then recognise that a relationship with them will very likely consist of us trying to push closer as they try to hold us away.

To help with this recognition the author gives the following ‘smoking guns’ that indicate someone is avoidant:

  • Sends mixed messages about commitment and their interest in you
  • Longs for an ideal relationship – but gives subtle hints it will not be with you
  • Desperately wants to meet “the one” – but finds fault with the person they are with
  • Disregards your emotional well-being
  • Suggests you are “too needy”, “sensitive or “overreacting” – invalidating your feelings and making you second guess yourself
  • Ignores things you say that inconvenience him/her
  • Addresses your concerns as in a “court of law” – responding to facts without taking into account your feelings.
  • Your messages don’t get across

3. A new way of dating: be your authentic self
Express your needs. In talking of the anxious type the author says it is important to recognise that an anxious person has a need for intimacy and deep connection with their partner. Recognising this means you can show your need for connection early on and do not need to try to adopt a false persona of being aloof and independent in the early stages of dating, pretending that you do not want to reach out and connect in the name of playing it cool! All that will do is give a false message to a potential partner which will then result in you developing a relationship with someone who may not be ready to respond when you eventually show your real desire for greater contact and intimacy.

4. The abundance philosophy
A classic thought of the anxious attachment type is “this is the only one for me” or “I had better accept them as no-one else will want me”. It means shifting from the belief that meeting a suitable partner is unlikely to a belief that there and many potential partners out there. Rather than focusing all of your hope on one person, which will trigger the fear of loosing them and consequently make you act out more on your anxiety the author suggests you recognise there are many people you might potentially meet and to date a number of people at any one time so you do not fixate on one person. If someone then starts to go cool, rather than this triggering your attachment system which will make you want them even if on a logical level you know they are not right for you, if you have other dates at the same time you can more easily let go of the person who is distancing themselves.

5. Give secure people a chance
As mentioned earlier, secure people can seem dull to an anxious type as they do not trigger the feelings that are associated with the early stages of falling in love that come when dating an avoidant. Rather than making an impulsive decision to ditch someone because it feels too flat, give it time, perhaps it is just that you are not getting the usual mixed messages and avoidance behaviour that usually makes you long for someone.
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Tips for the Avoidant Attachment Type

In contrast to anxious types who will activate their attachment system when faced with an avoidant to try and get closer, avoidant’s will deactivate their attachment system and keep their partner at arms length.

1. Recognise when you are turning to deactivating  strategies

  • saying “I’m not ready to commit” but staying together
  • focusing on small imperfections in your partner
  • pining after an ex (seeing them as the lost love of your life in hindsight, even though when with them you saw all of their faults)
  • flirting with others – to introduce uncertainty into the relationship
  • Not saying “I love you”
  • Pulling away when things are going well
  • Forming relationships with an impossible future – ie someone who is married
  • “Checking out mentally” when your partner is talking to you.
  • Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy – to maintain your sense of independence
  • Avoiding physical closeness – not wanting to share the same bed, have sex, walking ahead of your partner.

2. De-emphasise self-reliance and focus on mutual support
Giving your partner a secure base will make them feel more secure and thus leave you free to have the independence you want when they can rest in a sense of trust that you’re there fo them. An example of this was a man who resented his wife texting him at work. He felt too busy to respond. But his lack of response led to her feeling more anxious and sending more texts and then being angry or silent when he got home. They talked about this and recognised their patterns. The husband reassured her he did think of her often, but did not have time for a conversation by text. The agreement they reached was that he would send a standard text each time he thought of her: “thinking of you”. Receiving these reassured her and reduced the need to text him.

3. Find a secure partner
An anxious attachment type will exacerbate the avoidant’s desire to escape. Being with a secure person will reduce the behaviour that would trigger this, resulting in less defensiveness, fighting and anguish.

4. Be aware of your tendency to misinterpret behaviours
Recognise your tendency to assume a negative intention behind your partner’s behaviour and instead learn to trust that they have your best interests at heart. In the texting example, the husband was convinced his wife was trying to undermine his performance at work by stressing him with texts all day, rather than recognising it was her way of asking if he was aware of her because she loved him and wanted to matter to him.

5. Make a relationship gratitude list
Recognise if you are tending to think negatively of your partner on a daily basis. This is not to blame yourself, it is simply how the avoidant style works – to create distance from intimacy through finding fault. To work with this tendency of your mind, start to make time at the end of every day to think back over the day and recognise at least one way your partner contributed to your well-being that day, however small that might be, and reflect on why you’re grateful they’re in your life.

6. Nix the phantom ex
When you find yourself idealising that one special ex-partner stop and acknowledge that you found faults in them as well when you were together.

7. Forget about “the one”
The author distinguishes between the unattainable ideal of “the one” who meets all the criteria on our check list, and of meeting someone in their imperfections but finding that they are a match for us and become special to us.

8. Adopt the distraction strategy
As an avoidant it is easier to get close to your partner if there’s a distraction – taking a hike, going sailing, preparing a meal together etc all allows you to let your guard down and makes it easier to access your loving feelings.

The book contains a lot more detailed information on this and a chapter for secure types – but as they tend to have balanced and easy ways of relating there is lesss to say!

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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