The Process of Therapy

Lessons in Grieving

Grief does not have a definitive ending. There is no moment in time you arrive at with a sigh of relief and a renewed bounce in your step. Instead, grief sets us upon an atelic journey through emotion, winding us along a new path of life where we have memories instead of phone calls, and pictures instead of hugs. One of the tasks of grieving is certainly to discover new ways to hold the memory of the person you have lost so as to appreciate of the continuity of your relationship with them.

I think of grieving as a dance between sorrow and longing, love and remembering. Feeling the gift of a memory and allowing the accompanying music of emotions to wash  over you – letting your heart fill with love, allowing a threshold of pain, a tear of sadness – all the while keeping your feet on the dance floor of the present moment. Do not walk backwards through time and live in the pain of loss. Step forward bravely, holding the memories in your heart, and finding a new way to honour your loved one.

There are lessons to be learned in grief, if we tune in and allow the process to unfold: that loving means we will one day experience loss, and that living means we will feel both joy and sorrow. That each bittersweet memory is like a gentle kiss, lingering and leaving you wanting another. And as each memory brings with it sadness, or anger, or regret, so too can it bring joy and laughter.  We all have the capacity to stay grounded in the present moment, to love those that are still with us, and to learn and accept our shortcomings and try differently. Grief demands that when we turn to the past to mourn, that we also remember to return to the present moment – because we are here, living this life. By living it fully and honouring memories as they arise, we honour the ones we have lost.

If one of your loved ones has died, and you are touching into the profound pain of loss, I’d like to share a strategy that can help you navigate through those strong waves of emotion. The following questions can be used for reflection in whatever means works for you (such as journaling prompts, a point to reflect, or a story to share with a trusting friend or family member). Take your time with your responses, reflect on them, and allow them to grow as you need. The inner reflection prompted by these questions aids in grieving as they are designed to spark remembering, a continuity of your relationship with the person you have lost, and a bringing of your story forward in order to transfuse it with new meaning.

Personal Reflection Questions:

  • How was my life shaped or influenced by this person?
  • What stories do I want to carry forward in my life, to keep the legacy of this person alive within me?
  • What will my practices of remembering be?
  • What stories, strengths, and attributes do you believe this person would have wanted you to carry forward from their life, in your daily life?
  • What teachings did this person bestow upon you, that will continue to live by?
  • What memory stands out for you today of this person?
  • If you could talk to this person right now, what would you say?

This article is written in honour of my Nonna, who was always wise, strong, and beautiful
Giuseppina “Nella” Di Staulo,
Oct 12 1928-Jan 28 2019

nonna_mom_zia

Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Journaling 101

journalingTo write in a journal or not to write in a journal, that is the question. Do you dread writing down your deepest thoughts for fear someone might find your journal and read it? If so, you are exactly like most people! I’d like to share a strategy that will respect your privacy while also facilitating the hugely therapeutic process of journaling. I recognize that writing isn’t for everyone, and that it’s important to find what works for you.

The Reason to Write: Emotional Coping

The bubbling up of strong emotions tends to leave people feeling out of control, over-whelmed, and flooded. During these moments, one’s immediate reaction may be to shut down the emotions causing them to feel that way. We do this in all kinds of ways – some healthy and some super unhealthy. Coping well, and healing from trauma, is about being with the emotions and the message those emotions are providing in a more conscious and titrated way. Writing those heavy thoughts down is one way to get them out of your head, see them more objectively, and process some of the emotion connected to them.

Always use Two Journals

Journal 1 – The Dumping Journal
Your dumping journal can be any notepad or piece of paper. What you write on isn’t important, because once you dump the thoughts, you will be destroying the page. A dumping journal can be used to work through strong emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and grief. When you feel the pull of strong emotions, write about it. Literally dump it from your head onto the page – write it, draw it, scribble it, paint it. Write about the situation and about what’s stirring up for you.

Tip: If you sit down to journal and no words are coming – keep writing. Put your pen to paper and just write anything that comes to you. Within a few minutes the flow of thought will start to pour out onto the page.

This journal is called a dumping journal because we dump out the nagging emotions and thoughts onto page. Once complete, feel free to review what you have written, and then destroy the page. Shred it, burn it (safely) – ensure there is no record. The therapy isn’t in keeping what you write down, it’s about getting it out of your head and onto paper so you can work through it. The dumping journal isn’t to be kept because it’s not a reflection of who you truly are – it’s the angry, sad, traumatized, frightened, disorganized, annoyed, and vulnerable parts of you that are simply finding a voice. Each page gets destroyed after it’s been created in order to maintain the privacy of your healing process.

Journal 2 – The Healing Journal
The healing journal is the one that you will keep, so take some time to find a beautiful book to use. On any given day you may want to look back through this journal for strength, motivation, and a reminder of what sustains you. The healing journal is the one that you will to use to document all the good stuff. Some examples include:

  • a technique you learned that helps you cope,
  • something about life you learned that impacted you,
  • an “aha” moment,
  • things you are grateful for,
  • positive memories and photos,
  • the best fortune cookie message you ever received,
  • anything that reminds you of your strength, perseverance, and worth.

Here is how it works:

Whenever you have finished writing in your dumping journal, turn to the healing journal and write something positive. Turn towards gratitude, acknowledge your worth, connect with your peaceful place. Perhaps what you want to do differently tomorrow, or something that sustains you, or motivates you, or all the examples from your past that have demonstrated your ability to persist.

If you have written or processed something pretty heavy in the dumping journal, you may want to do something symbolic that represents a clear division between processing hurts and daily life. Taking a shower or washing your hands can be symbolic of washing it away, have a cup of tea do 10 burpees – whatever works to better enable your brain to recognize the dumping is complete and you are now letting go and returning to the present moment.

Tip: If you journal at bedtime, and then have difficulty settling the thoughts as you try to fall asleep, gently remind yourself that you have already “done the work” for the day and that it’s now your ‘time off’. Pull your peaceful place image back in as often as needed, or use a bedtime story app such as Calm.com to settle in for sleep.

Additional Resources to Inspire Journaling

Rhonda Brynes talks about writing 10 things for which you feel grateful for each day, in her book titled “The Magic”

Kristen Neff talks about journalling to build self-compassion 

The Process of Therapy

Three Little Things: Journaling to build Self-Worth

One key way we build self-esteem is by accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves. Every accomplished goal trickles into our sense self: it feeds our personal integrity, that sense of trust we have in ourselves that we will do what we set out to do. Our proven ability, even though only proven to ourselves, contributes to feeling good about ourselves. But what happens when a negative core belief such as “I’m not good enough” has a stronghold over our thoughts?

Negative core beliefs are false self-referencing beliefs, and they pack a pretty heavy punch. When a negative belief screams out in our brain, a powerful emotional response reverberates throughout our memory network and our body responds with much the same level of activation as when the negative belief was created – even though in the present moment we are safe. Experiences from childhood may have planted the seeds of the negative belief, and then additional life experiences may have strengthened them. Because these negative beliefs have been reinforced over and over again, they feel very true. “Negative beliefs come to create a perpetual filter through which we view ourselves and our world” (Parnell, 2007).

Negative core beliefs feel true but they are not true. Because these beliefs are capable of infiltrating all of our daily activities, social interactions, and inner dialogue, we need an equally powerful method for countering them. Counselling is an excellent way to heal early wounds and develop coping strategies for the present. There are also techniques we can focus on between sessions to practice being present with new, positive belief systems.

journal for self-worthThree Little Things: 

For this journaling activity, you are going to want to use a beautiful book: one that makes you smile when you look at. You won’t be journaling in the traditional style: this will be more of a ‘healing journal’, one that you are going to want to flip through often, to remind yourself of what you have written.

Each evening before you get ready for bed, take 10 minutes to sit down and reflect on 3 things you did well that day. These are the little things that we often over-look, that there are no accolades for. When we take the time to notice, we develop compassion for our selves. We start to see the evidence that yes, we are human and we make mistakes, but also that we are also inherently good and worthwhile beings. If you find that you are having trouble getting started, try reflecting on the list of prompts below.

Writing Prompts for Reflection:

  • What did I do well today?
  • How did I cope successfully with a triggering moment today?
  • How did I care for myself with loving kindness after a triggering moment?
  • What am I grateful for today
  • How did I demonstrate gratitude today?
  • How did I implement something I’ve been learning today?
  • How did I show kindness today?
  • How did I show up with courage in my life today?
  • How did I practice self-acceptance, or self-forgiveness today?
  • What daily goal did I follow through on today?
  • How did I live with intention today?

For more strategies on journaling to build self-compassion (and a really good read…) check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: self-compassion.org.

Resources:
Parnell, L. (2007). A Therapist’s Guide to EMDR: Tools and Techniques for Successful Treatment. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company.