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Episode 142: Lessons From My Therapist

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I thought I had my shit together. 

I mean honestly... I had stopped dating assholes, I was a generally pretty happy person, I had a thriving business, and a good family. 

So why the hell did I need to see a therapist?

Because somewhere along the way I realized fear was running almost every part of my life.

Sure on the outside everything seemed fine, even to me!

But upon closer inspection (which let's face it, the pandemic kind of forced us into such reflection), I realized that I worked tirelessly at my business because I was terrified of losing it

I avoided confrontation in every single one of my relationships because I was so scared of people abandoning me if I let my shadow-self come out.

I was driven to be as perfect as possible in as many ways as possible because if I could be perfect, then I would be worthy. Worthy of success, worthy of love, worthy of admiration, worthy of friendships, worthy of rest. 

But the thing about striving for perfection is it's a losing battle. And somewhere along the way I realized if I stayed in that battle, I would destroy myself in the process. 

So I decided to go on a journey. One where I could embrace the messy parts of me, where I could not only let my shadow-self come out, but I could actually get to know and maybe even like her. One where I could feel worthy simply for existing, instead of for constantly achieving. 

And ya'll... I got more than I bargained for.

Over the past year I've felt more broken, raw, and real than I ever have in my life. I also have felt more free, more authentic, more connected, and more joyful than I have in my entire life. 

And while I know one episode and a handful of tips might not be as impactful as a year of therapy, I'm hoping these tools I've learned will help you at least begin your journey...

Lesson 1: Feeling Your Feelings.

I always thought 'processing emotions' meant thinking through them, talking through them, understanding them. But something I've learned from my therapist is processing emotions doesn't happen in the brain, it happens in the body. We can't think our feelings, we actually have to feel our feelings. Here's how she taught me to do it...

  1. You start to feel a negative emotion coming up.
  2. Pause. Sit with it instead of immediately reacting to it (reacting being blowing up, eating, venting, drinking, shopping, or blocking it out in other unhealthy ways). This moment of pause creates space for you to make new neural pathways towards more constructive responses. 
  3. Turn your attention from your thoughts about your emotions to your physical sensation of the emotion. 
  4. Breath into that feeling. Allow it to be there.
  5. Your brain will want to go into story-telling mode, giving meaning and explanation to your emotions. Remember, this is thinking your feelings. You need to feel your feelings. So return to your physical sensations. 
  6. Notice as the feeling changes, and when it eventually dissipates, acknowledge that you survived it.
  7. Once the emotion has passed, calm your central nervous system with a few rounds of box breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4). 

Lesson 2: Getting to know your inner world.

One of the most powerful things I've learned from my therapist is to think about myself in parts. It's given me a different language to relate to myself and to others when I realized the parts of me I didn't like were not all of me (just like the parts I didn't like about other people were not all of them). And when I could separate the parts, and observe them without judgement, I could begin to understand and heal the parts that were hurting.

  1. Identify the different 'parts' of yourself. For example, the perfectionist part of you. The jealous part of you. The workaholic part of you. The people-pleaser part of you.
  2. It can be helpful to give these parts names or even think of them as characters (kind of like the the different characters in Disney's Inside Out, where different characters are in control of the brain at different times depending on the situation).
  3. Spend some time getting to know them. You can do this just with thought or you can journal in the form of an interview between your Highest Self (this is the wise, self-parenting part of the brain) and the part you're trying to get to know.
    • Some questions to ask these parts of you are:
      • What triggers you to show up?
      • What are you afraid of?
      • What do you need most right now?
      • What do you need me to hear?
  4.  Picture yourself giving those parts what they've asked for (love, validation, a hug, encouragement, etc).
  5. And then lovingly release them. You can tell them to go play, you can tell them to take a rest. Let them know they are safe to relax. Imagine them going and notice the positive sensations in your body when they do.

Lesson 3: Activating your joy.

This was an activity my therapist had me do recently and it's a beautiful exercise to tap into our 'rest and digest' state.

To give you a little background, we exist in one of 2 nervous system states: rest and digest or fight/flight/freeze/faint. When we're in the former, we have a more positive outlook on life, we feel we have agency over ourselves, we feel safe, we're more creative and connected, and we're better able to heal.

In the latter state, we're stressed, it's easier to look at the world through shit-colored glasses, we feel isolate and helpless, and it's difficult for our body to heal. 

So when you're feeling stuck, depressed, unmotivated, or like you have low energy, this is a really good practice to implement for yourself. 

  1. Think about how you feel when you are most at peace, when you feel most safe, most joyful, and like your most authentic self. 
  2. Now think of who (could a person or animal) makes you feel that way. Picture being with that person, and notice the sensations you feel in your body.
  3. Now think of what makes you feel that way (it could be a cup of coffee, a pillow, a blanket, a notebook, anything). Imagine yourself holding that object, and notice the sensations you feel in your body.
  4. Now think of when you feel that way. Is it a certain hour? A certain season? A certain moment in your day? Imagine yourself during that time of day and notice the sensations you feel in your body.
  5. Now think of where you feel that way. It could be a real or imaginary place. Picture yourself in that place and notice the sensations in your body. 
  6. Next you're going to bring as many of those elements together as you can (for me it's with my friend Sammy (who), with a cup of coffee (what), at sunset (when), on the beach (where). Notice the sensations in your body and really enjoy the experience. 
  7. Now stay in that 'happy place' but think of a time when you feel triggered. Notice the physical sensation that comes to you when you think of being triggered, and see if you can put a shape and color to it (for me it was a tight black ball in the center of my chest).
  8. Now go back to focusing on your happy place, and visualize yourself releasing that shape (for me it was throwing the black ball into the ocean). Notice how you feel when you release it.
  9. Finally return to the place in your body where you felt the trigger. Rub that part of your body in small circles and imagine filling the space with all of the positive emotions you felt in your happy place. 

Did you find this helpful?? Remember to share it with your friends and family and tag me @katspanglerunleashed on social media!


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