Kay Simmeth Counseling Group

Individual and Relational Counseling, EMDR Therapy and Consulting

EMDR Peak Performance Coaching: Living Into Your Best Self

One of the rewards of my work is seeing people break through blocks and barriers that have been holding them back for years. When my clients get that fresh opportunity for success, they can realize the goals they have set for themselves, whether it be career or personal goals.

Consider your own life goals and any barriers that might be holding you back from achieving them!

Peak Performance Coaching: Living Into Your Best Self

Back in 1875 when one of the first American-rules college football games was played, the British saw coaching as unsportsmanlike. While Harvard followed the British sporting ethos, Yale hired a coach for their college football team. In the first thirty years of play, Harvard beat Yale only four times.*

Peak Performance CoachingToday, we couldn’t imagine a high level athlete without the support of a coach, someone whose job is to make sure the athlete is playing at his or her peak ability. And watching the Olympics this last month we’ve seen the way years of personal training by renowned coaches have helped these athletes become the best in the world.

Most of us aren’t world-class athletes looking for ways to improve our game – we’re professionals and students, spouses and friends — individuals working to be successful in our work or family, church or social communities. And many of us have areas in our life where we seem to run into a mental glass ceiling, that barrier that keeps us from being our best selves.

The ability of a coach to view our performance from an outside perspective and offer suggestions for improving has value far beyond sports. Peak Performance coaching applies both coaching principals and the tools of EMDR therapy to any area of life where a person feels intimidated or encounters obstacles that make it difficult to move forward with success. The following story is an amalgamation from several of my own experiences using Peak Performance EMDR Therapy.

From most outsider perspectives Andrew was a successful family man and attorney. After five years with a small law firm, he seemed poised to become partner. But losing his mother to cancer and supporting his aging father seemed to have derailed his career. When a new partner was hired from outside the firm, he felt shut out. Rather than wait to be fired, he made a lateral job change with a less prestigious firm and found himself settling into a mediocre career. Andrew felt stuck, unable to reach the potential he knew he was capable of.

When Andrew decided to come in for EMDR therapy, we worked through the negative belief he was un-consciously holding, his fear of failure. As Andrew shifted his beliefs to those of success, he regained his energy and confidence. He was able to identify the kind of career he wanted to have and pursue it with an honest and positive belief, confident that he could reach the level of success he desired.

Recognizing the barriers
For some people, the barriers to success seem clear. A high school student with extreme test anxiety knows he needs help to get his best SAT score. A professional woman who is afraid to drive on the freeway finds her job opportunities limited. Taking the step to seek out appropriate help such as peak performance coaching or EMDR therapy is so important to creating possibilities for success. I’ve seen the results, the freedom and assurance that comes from people who have engaged in the process of shattering the barriers – students walking into an SAT test with confidence or professionals driving down the freeway to a new job.

For many of us our negative self-beliefs hide themselves in our sub-conscious. They play out in small moments, that can affect our relationships, our willingness to take important risks, our self-confidence about trying something new. Some questions you might ask yourself to recognize what might be holding you back are:

  • Do I have goals that I establish and sabotage?
  • Do I feel bored in my career?
  • Do I feel stuck at a level of performance that I can’t break through?
  • Do I limit myself in order to avoid failure?
  • Do past setbacks keep me from taking risks?
  • Do I say no to challenges that interest me because I’m unsure of the result?

How Peak Performance Coaching and EMDR Therapy works
Bringing peak performance coaching and EMDR therapy to engage these barriers to success means having someone who can help you take a long and wide perspective of your life situation. They can also help you recognize patterns, identify the root cause of those barriers, and the negative beliefs that are holding you back from success. EMDR therapy is useful in working to process those root causes, helping to change negative beliefs into positive ones. And finally, a peak performance coach can help you create the tools and systems you need for long term success.

Call me and let’s work together to help you achieve your maximum potential!

* The Harvard/Yale football story above came from a New Yorker article which portrays the value of coaching to help many professionals achieve their peak performance. You can read it here

EMDR trauma therapy after Arizona firefighter tragedy

EMDR therapy for trauma recoveryKVOA in Tuscon, AZ recently ran a broadcast highlighting the work of local EMDR therapists in helping those who were impacted by the Arizona firefighter tragedy. Julie Miller, an EMDR therapist specializing in trauma therapy in the Tuscon area, does a great job describing how EMDR works and why it is so effective in trauma recovery.

Here are a few key quotes:

“When someone has something traumatic happen there are places in the brain that literally go dark. So what seems to happen with the bilateral stimulation, left, right, left right, either eye movements or kinesthetic stimulation, that both sides of the brain will just light up. And so, they can finally work through the issue that they’ve gotten stuck with,”

She also highlights the fact that EMDR can be effective for treating not only the trauma but other secondary effects:

“Anything that was impacting them, with depression or anxiety, that’s going to be removed if it was based on the trauma. So it’s a way to put the past in that past and be able to move forward with their lives.”

Click here to view the full article and broadcast.  There is a 25 second advertisement but it’s worth the wait.

EMDR trauma therapy for trauma recovery

Make Your Worry Work for You

Worrying may have a bad rep, but worrying, if it’s done right, can actually be helpful. Effective worrying can anticipate problems, devise artful solutions and expand creative possibilities. On the other hand, ineffective worrying is what keeps us awake at night, distracts us during the day and gives our physical systems a workout they don’t need. According to Dr. Edward Hollowell of the Harvard Medical School, worry is nature’s way of helping us anticipate — and avoid — danger. Good worry leads to constructive action.

Make Worry work

When you find yourself in bed at night, tossing and turning, plowing the same field again and again, you’re in the midst of worry of the worst kind: self-perpetuating. The more you worry, the more stress chemicals feed back to the brain, telling it to worry more.

When you find yourself mired in this worry bog, there are a few things you can do. One of the best options is to imagine letting all your worries go into a container. Imagine a strong container with a lid and a latch that can hold your worries for a while so you can rest. When you’re ready, you can take them out one at a time and deal with them.

In addition to your container, a great daytime option is to get physical. Get up and move around. Action will temporarily relieve the worrying. Who knows, when you come back to the problem, you may have a better perspective on it!

Taking a walk, working out, going for a bike ride or a run can help relieve worry. Exercise increases blood flow, meaning more oxygen to the brain. Exercising regularly means you will probably worry less.

Try writing down your worries in a journal.

Simply writing your fears and concerns down takes some of the power out of them and gives you a sense of control. Writing your worries also gives you an opportunity to write possible solutions. Try this: write down the worry and — without thought to how workable or realistic the solutions are — write them down as fast as they come to mind. Don’t stop to think, just write idea after idea. Given this creative outlet, the same brain that was nagging you with worries, can offer ingenious — and often elegant — solutions.

Create a gratitude list.

It doesn’t have to be long or well thought out, just jot down ideas as they come up. They don’t have to be big deals — the way the sun falls on the roses in the morning is just fine, if that’s what you thought of.

Another way to put your worries to work for you: tell a friend. Ask for feedback, another perspective or someone to simply listen. Giving voice to your worries can take some of the wind out of their bedraggled sails.

Turn your worry into action by getting outside yourself. Whether you find community through family, work, friends, church, neighborhood projects, groups or organizations, being a part of something bigger than yourself can give you a sense of safety and connectedness. Turning the focus from inside to out means there’s no place for worry to abide.

At times the counsel, advice and listening ear of a professional is called for — don’t hesitate to ask! No worry or concern is too small.

It’s certainly not as simple as that song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” makes it sound, but somewhere underneath its whining, nagging voice, worry might have something important to tell you.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Next Steps to deal with worry

For further reading on anxiety and worrying, I recommend When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life by David D. Burns.

Tending the Fences: Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundariesClear boundaries define us. Physical, mental and emotional boundaries allow us to see the difference between our own physical space, thoughts and emotions, and those of others. Boundaries give us the freedom to live by choice, not “shoulds.” Blurred boundaries cause confusion and pain. It’s challenging and disorientating to live on the whims and conditions of others. Are you experiencing the freedom of clear boundaries?

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

So goes the old proverb from the well-loved Robert Frost poem.

Likewise, good personal boundaries make for good relationships. Boundaries are those invisible lines of protection you draw around yourself. They let people know your limits on what they can say or do around you. Healthy boundaries give you freedom in relating to others. Make them too solid and you build walls, too weak and you allow other’s actions to harm you.

It’s not always clear where our boundaries are or need to be. Recognizing and studying the signs of ignored or ineffective boundaries is a good place to start, as these “symptoms” give clues to the needed boundary. See if any of the following ring true for you.

  • Aloofness and distance. When you are unwilling or fearful of opening your space to others, or when you build walls to insure that others don’t invade your emotional or physical space, this may be a defense against cruel behavior, abuse or neglect that you allowed to happen. A person with healthy boundaries draws a line over which they will not allow anyone to cross. They recognize their right to say, “No!”
  • Chip on the shoulder. This kind of attitude declares, “I dare you to come too close!” and is often the result of anger over a past violation or ignoring of your physical or emotional space by others. Healthy boundaries mean you are able to speak up when your space has been violated, leaving you free to trust that you can assertively protect yourself to ensure you are not hurt.
  • Over-enmeshment. In this game, the rule is that everyone must do everything together, and everyone must think, feel and act in the same way, without deviation from group norms. Healthy boundaries acknowledge that you have the right to explore your own interests, hobbies and outlets.
  • Invisibility. The goal here is not to be seen or heard so that your boundaries are not violated. Healthy boundaries are in effect when you stand up for yourself — be visible, be heard — so that others can learn to respect your rights, needs and personal space.
  • Dissociation. If you “blank out” or “go away” during stressful emotional events, it results in your being out of touch with your feelings and unable to assert your limits. Healthy boundaries allow you to assertively protect yourself from further violation or hurt, and to choose to end relationships with those who will not respect them. With healthy boundaries, you can begin to feel your feelings again.
  • Smothering and lack of privacy. When another is overly concerned about your needs and interests, or when nothing you think, feel or do is your own business, it can be intrusive into your emotional and physical space, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or like you are being strangled. Healthy boundaries ask that others respect your uniqueness, your choices, your autonomy.

Applying Boundaries

Once we see where our limits need to be clarified or put into place, we can begin to install fence posts or patch holes, to keep unwanted critters out. Here are some strategies for applying limits when your boundaries are intruded upon:

  • Calm yourself and take deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself of your right to set limits.
  • In a firm and composed manner, tell the other person how you feel.
  • Communicate clearly what your limits are, especially when you are extending a new boundary.
  • Ask the other person to respect your boundaries.
  • Make decisions about the relationship according to how the other person responds to your request.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Next Steps

For further reading on setting healthy boundaries, codependency and healing the hurts that cause challenges in these areas, I suggest Facing Codependance by Pia Mellody and Boundaries, by Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

Are You Worth It? You Decide.

As comedienne Lucille Ball quipped: “You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” Part of that self-love is feeling that you’re “worth it” — that you are good enough, and that you deserve respect, kindness, and satisfaction with your life. Although this seems simple enough, unworthiness is more common in our culture than we might expect.Are you worth it
Simply put, “worthiness” is a person’s judgment of their own value, merit, or usefulness. It stems from our deep human need to be known and seen for who we really are and what we have to give. In healthy amounts, it’s the sentiment most clearly expressed in the words of author and poet Maya Angelou: “I’m not perfect, but I’m pretty good.”
In contrast, unworthiness is often a self-fulfilling downward spiral, where a person believes she isn’t helpful, useful, or good. Someone who believes that he’s worthless may also set out to prove his worthlessness through a series of poor choices.

How to Recognize Unworthiness

Many people who have issues with unworthiness tend to internalize and overly-personalize situations. If something goes wrong, they’re at fault. Of course he yelled at me, the thinking goes, I burned the chili. Or, I’ll never get that pay raise, so why would I bother even asking?

Unworthiness tends to involve repetitive, unhelpful self-talk that’s dominated by what has been called “the Judge” or one’s “inner critic.” Remember what happened last time? this voice warns. You made a fool of yourself.

But for every instance where unworthiness manifests as a habit of underachieving at work or the avoidance of healthy risk-taking in relationships, there are just as many instances where unworthiness is so embedded that a person isn’t even aware that it’s at the root of their choices.
For instance, a person may find herself in a series of emotionally or physically abusive relationships or with an addiction. Such issues often act as masks, covering up a core feeling of unworthiness. In order to successfully address the issue, the unworthiness needs to be addressed also.

The “Quest for Dignity”

It’s been said that all of life is a quest for dignity. And as you continue on your own quest, here are three starting points for developing a stronger sense of worth:

  • Look at your patterns. 

Overcoming unworthiness asks us to become more reflective and self-aware. This isn’t always easy — especially when your inner critic has a stronghold on the way you talk with yourself. It would rather you continue obeying it, rather than learn to listen to kinder and more nurturing parts of yourself. In the face of your inner critic’s resistance, be brave. Examine the choices you’ve made in the past, and notice what they share in common. If things always seem to go well, right until the moment you mess it up, there may be a deeper belief of unworthiness that’s overtaken your healthy sense of perspective. Deep down, do you believe you actually deserve success?

  • Zoom out. 

Take a moment — and a deep breath — and consider the external factors that lead you to doubt your own goodness and worth. Was a parent or other authority figure critical of you? Sometimes the loudest inner critic isn’t our voice, but one that we’ve internalized and adopted as our own.

  • Make a decision.

You have the power to choose which beliefs are in your life, and which are not welcome. Once you accept and internalize a belief, it’s harder to uproot it from your subconscious mind. So cultivate awareness of the beliefs and judgments in your life, and get in the habit of deciding whether or not each one deserves a place in your mind.

To aid you in that, try this Gatekeeper Exercise: the next time someone tells you or you tell yourself: You’re not [articulate/confident/attractive] enough or You’ll never [start your own company/find a sexy and loving relationship/lose 60 pounds], take it as an invitation to pause, take a deep breath, and decide whether to “accept, reject or reflect” upon it. With practice, you may be surprised how many beliefs and judgments come your way that you no longer automatically accept as your own…and how the simple act of gatekeeping helps to protect and build your sense of value and self-worth.

While overcoming unworthiness is a process that takes time and effort, the payoff is nothing short of life-changing.
Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Additional Resources

Challenging that inner critic is exactly where EMDR can help you uproot those hurtful negative beliefs that keep you from being your best. Contact me to discuss how we can move forward together.

I continue to recommend the Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy, by Francine Shapiro.

The Road to Forgiveness is a Journey Toward Freedom

Forgiveness isn’t something we do for someone else; it’s a process for healing ourselves.

When people get hurt, they often react with resentment, anger, rage, even hatred. While some of these feelings may be appropriate responses, holding on to them can cause emotional pain and stress. Nurturing old wounds and resentments is like tending weeds in a garden. The more care you give them, the more they take over until there’s no room for the feelings that can nourish you.

walls-sea

Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning inappropriate behavior and excusing personal violations. It doesn’t mean giving up or hiding or denying what was done. To forgive someone of something doesn’t necessarily mean turning the other cheek so that you can be hurt again. To forgive doesn’t mean you forget that you were harmed. Or that you felt the way you did as a result.

What it does mean is letting go of the feelings of anger or resentment, so that you can get on with your life. Forgiving is a process — sometimes slow — that heals wounds and returns our power to us. So long as we hold onto old feelings, we give control of our lives over to those who have hurt us. Forgiveness sets us free.

Ways to Forgive

It’s not as though you can simply decide to forgive someone and it is done. Forgiving is an active process. To get from here to there is a journey to be traveled. But you don’t have to take it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.

Acknowledge all the feelings. Though anger and resentment might be on top, beneath may lie feelings of hurt, betrayal, loss and grief. Uncovering these more tender emotions may be painful, but, like curves in the road, it is part of the journey to be traveled.

Stop blaming. So long as you hold someone else responsible for your feelings or circumstances, you don’t own your own life. You stop blaming by accepting total responsibility for your life.

Release the desire for revenge. The wish to inflict suffering or pain on the person who hurt us keeps us in a place of suffering and pain. We cannot experience the freedom of forgiveness until we are willing to move away from the need to punish.

Learn to accept. It’s virtually impossible to stop judging; however, the fewer negative judgments we make, the easier it is to accept. And, according to author Wayne Dyer, “Acceptance is forgiveness in action.” Think of how useless negative judgments are: does it affect the weather because we say it’s awful? Imagine complaining to God about the quality of a sunset. Judgments say very little about the judged, but communicate lots about the one who is doing the judging.

Decide to confront or not. Talking with the person who has harmed you may or may not be the best action to take. Professional counseling can help you in making this decision.

Let go. Only through releasing all feelings of anger, resentment, or animosity can forgiveness be unconditional. “Sweet forgiveness cannot hold any taste of bitterness,” says Brian Luke Seaward. “When feelings of anger are released, the spirit once held captive by the encumbrance of anger is free to journey again.”

Self-forgiveness

Forgiveness is not just an outward expression toward others. Turning the open hand of forgiveness inward is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. When we forgive ourselves we acknowledge our human limitations, release ourselves from our own judgments and practice self-acceptance. These actions are essential for a life of freedom and joy.

Through action or inaction, out of fear, pain or confusion, we may harm ourselves or others. But when we say, “I’ll never forgive myself,” we sentence ourselves to a life of guilt and shame.

Practice self-forgiveness through:

  • accepting yourself rather than judging yourself
  • honoring yourself rather than blaming yourself
  • nurturing yourself rather than criticizing yourself
  • releasing the past rather than holding onto it

Forgiveness, even self-forgiveness cannot be forced. And it may not come easily. Like many other skills we must learn, self-forgiveness takes practice. If you are unable to immediately release the past and move on, be forgiving of yourself and continue the practice.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications 

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more on the topic of forgiveness, refer to: Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, by Robert D. Enright.

Do You Defend or Do You Prosper?

“You are wrong!” Ouch, those words aren’t easy to hear. Criticism, correction and confrontation — how many of us like to be on the receiving end of such interactions? But, when we’re coming from a place of strength we can respond  to criticism non-defensively and can actually grow and prosper from such exchanges.Respond to criticism

In her book, Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, Sharon Ellison estimates that we use 95% of our communications energy being defensive. As soon as we feel any threat, either of not getting what we want or of being put down in some way, we are ready to protect ourselves by being defensive. Without even being aware when we are triggered we can quickly go to a place of feeling unimportant or not good enough. Imagine how much more productive our communication could be if we learned how to respond non-defensively and how to avoid provoking defensiveness in others!

Take this quiz to see how defensive you tend to be.

True or false?

  1. When a client, boss, coworker or colleague points out a flaw in my work, I am quick to show him or her how it wasn’t my fault.
  2. If I am at fault for something, it’s because of some factor outside of myself over which I had no control.
  3. When people are upset with me, I let them know with explanations and excuses why they are wrong.
  4. I’m always looking for the hidden critical message beneath another’s words.
  5. If I don’t defend myself, I’ll get run over.
  6. I can rarely admit that I am wrong.
  7. If I think someone will have something critical to say, I avoid talking to that person.

 

If you responded true more often than false to the above questions, consider some of the following alternatives to defensiveness.

  • I’m always looking to improve my work, service or product, so I welcome feedback from clients, my boss or customers on how well I am doing (or not).
  • I realize that when I’m feeling defensive, I don’t feel safe, competent or confident.
  • When someone criticizes me, I sit with it to see if there’s a kernel of truth in the criticism. If there is, I acknowledge it and work to improve in that area.
  • By my willingness to admit and correct any errors, I engender trust and confidence from employees, bosses, clients and customers.
  • When someone is leveling a complaint, I ignore the words “always” and “never” and instead focus on the rest of the message.
  • I take responsibility for what I can change.
  • I listen for the usually hidden need expressed in a person’s complaint or anger, acknowledge the need, and then see whether there is something I can do to meet it.

Responding in this manner will help you navigate the inevitable criticisms and confrontations that occur.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Befriending Anger

Anger is the unannounced visitor that keeps dropping by, again and again.

Anger Management

Some of us hide, hoping this troublesome guest will go away. Others of us let it take over, turning our home into a nightly rage-fest, one that leaves us even angrier and friendless and full of self-loathing.

There is another way. We can greet our anger like a welcome guest and try to understand what makes it tick. In doing so, we can learn a lot about ourselves and make real, lasting changes in our relationships.

Understanding Anger

Anger is one of the most powerful emotions, and one of the most difficult to deal with. It’s also probably the least understood. We get angry at our partners, our children, the man at the dry cleaner’s, the woman cutting us off on the freeway, our boss who just doesn’t understand, our dogs for barking too much. We get angry, but we rarely understand why.

There’s widespread agreement that expressing anger is much healthier than suppressing it. However, giving free rein to anger has its dangers. Recent studies on anger indicate that venting our rage doesn’t bring resolution, but can just fuel the flames. Left unchecked and unconscious, anger can destroy everything we care about — our friendships, our intimate relationships, our children, our jobs and our health.

The idea of controlling our anger has lost favor in recent years, yet there’s much to be said for stopping, taking a deep breath and waiting before blasting the world with self-righteous indignation. Sometimes it can be as simple as Thomas Jefferson’s advice: “When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.”

The newest research on anger is turning the volatile emotion upside down. Anger just might not be real, the thinking goes, but a way to cover the real issue — our pain. We react in anger because we can’t bear the pain underneath. Byron Katie, author and popular motivational speaker, takes it one step further: underneath the pain is a thought or story that is causing us to lash out in rage and frustration. If we investigate the story, the anger often just dissolves.

Taking an everyday example, Sue is angry at her son, Nick, because he constantly drops his socks on the floor. She has nagged, threatened, yelled and even cried. She’s tried tamping down her anger and soliciting “agreements” from him that don’t stick. Her friends agree with her, which leaves her more convinced her anger is justified. But underneath, she feels miserable when she yells at her son, but she can’t break the pattern.

Alternate approaches to anger management

Using new techniques, Sue could try some of the following approaches to shift her anger:

  • Look at the anger, not the issue. In Sue’s case, getting repeatedly angry over her son’s socks might be a distraction from looking at her inner dissatisfaction and negative belief about herself. Perhaps she’s ready for a change but afraid to take the first step. Or she could be upset that her son is growing up and away from her. “Follow the trail of anger inward, and there you find the small, still voice of pain,” writes psychologist Carol Travis in her book Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion.
  • Look at the belief that triggers the anger. If Sue questions her belief that Nick should pick up his socks, she might find that really, Nick’s socks are his business. All she can control are her own socks! As author Byron Katie puts it, “When you’re in someone else’s business, you’re suffering.” Sue can make a choice without anger: pick up Nick’s socks because she wants his room to be clean or leave his socks and let him sort out his own laundry. She can also use this technique to investigate similar beliefs she might have: teens should be neat, moms should do the laundry, friends should always agree with us, my son doesn’t respect me, my life would be happier if the people I lived with weren’t so messy… It’s always a good idea to stop and ask ourselves if a thought is actually a belief that we can change.
  • Transform the anger. Deep breathing, meditation, taking a long walk in nature, painting and writing are all ways to turn the anger into peace. Some suggest ways to transform anger into compassion, gratitude and love. Instead of focusing on Nick’s socks, Sue might think of the many ways her son is loving, responsible and helpful. The socks may stay on the floor but Sue will be free of her anger. (And Nick might be more likely to pick up his socks for a loving parent than an angry one.)

It’s been said that anger separates us from ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, anger can be the new friend we are curious to get to know better. And in understanding this new friend, we can come to understand ourselves even more deeply and make more lasting change in our lives.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Resources

For more thoughts on anger, I suggest The Anger Trap, by Dr. Les Carter, and The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner. Both books offer excellent insights on this topic.

I have found EMDR therapy to be particularly helpful in quickly identifying root causes of anger and helping my clients change.

Accessing the Power of Gratitude

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.

That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

There are many things to be grateful for: long summer days, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, fresh eggs, the beach, tomatoes, the ability to read, roses, our health, butterflies. What’s on your list?

Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

  • Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
  • Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
  • Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
  • Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
  • When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.
  • Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.

As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Additional Resources

365 Thank Yous is a fun, short read that was recommended to me recently. This book portrays gratitude and its impact on one man’s life as he acknowledges other people’s kindness to him. You’ll be glad you took the time to read it!

365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life by John Kralik

Healing From Trauma: Effective Trauma Therapy With EMDR

Two individuals are robbed at gunpoint. One experiences overwhelming helplessness and has a hard month. But by the end of that time, he has pretty much resolved and integrated the incident into his life. The other person experiences intense rage. Years later, she is still struggling with the negative, life-changing aftermath of the trauma.

As seen in the above example, not everyone reacts to trauma in the same way. Just as pain thresholds differ, so do trauma thresholds. But as William Shakespeare wrote in his play Othello, “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

Having studied trauma intensively over the past couple of decades, researchers now know that a traumatic event’s impact depends on the perception of it. Perception is influenced by a number of factors including age, physical characteristics, level of support, etc. Thus, emotional trauma can result from a single extreme and deeply felt experience or from a series of low-intensity events. Even everyday happenings — falls, difficult births, betrayals, medical/dental procedures — can cause the same lingering traumatic effects as extreme or violent events, such as physical abuse, combat or serious accidents.

Fortunately, even traumatic effects that linger for years can be resolved, and the result can be a new present-day reality that includes, but is not dominated by, a traumatic past.

“The same immense energies that create the symptoms of trauma, when properly engaged and mobilized, can transform the trauma and propel us into new heights of healing, mastery and even wisdom,” writes Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

The Natural Trauma Response

Levine and others contend that emotional trauma goes unhealed when the natural trauma response is interrupted and feelings unleashed by the event remain unresolved. Because of this, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, hopelessness, self-blame, shame and other feelings freeze up inside of us.

That “freeze” is not just emotional, but it is physical as well. Recent research indicates that parts of the brain become altered by traumatic events. These disruptions are actually visible on brain scans.

Just what is a natural trauma response? It’s the whole continuum of emotional and physical sensations that occur with the first inclination that something is wrong or dangerous. To understand it, Levine suggests that we look at how animals respond to danger, real or perceived.

After the animal has instinctively chosen to fight, flee or freeze, and the danger has passed, the animal twitches and trembles throughout the entire body, essentially “shedding” the tension required for alertness and quick response.

Human response to danger — real or perceived — can also involve shaking, sweating, crying, laughing or shuddering. Just like the animal, such responses are natural and part of the body’s effort to return to a state of equilibrium. They are crucial to the recovery process, and they may go on for hours, days or weeks.

Too often, however, we deny this process or don’t give it its due. We say to ourselves or hear from others, Pull yourself together. Forget about it. Get up and shake it off. It’s time to get on with your life.

And when we do that, when we ignore the emotional and physical sensations that continue after a traumatizing event, we interrupt the natural cycle, short-circuiting our natural ability to heal. This sets us up for a damaging traumatic aftermath.

“The animal’s ability to rebound from threat can serve as a model for humans,” Levine writes. “It gives us a direction that may point the way to our own innate healing abilities.”

Life After Trauma

The incidence of serious negative events that typically evoke traumatic response is surprisingly pervasive in our culture today. A 20-year study released in 2005 by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that of the 17,337 middle-class participants, a startling 64% had experienced one or more of eight categories of traumatic childhood events.

The study showed a significant connection between this childhood trauma and disease, depression, drug use and/or suicide.

Perhaps that is because unresolved trauma can undermine basic human needs. Dena Rosenbloom and Mary Beth Williams, authors of Life After Trauma: A Workbook for Healing, identify these basic needs as safety, trust, a measure of control over one’s life, self-worth and intimacy.

EMDR is a highly effective way to deal with unresolved trauma, whether that single extreme incident or a series of low intensity events. By processing upsetting experiences, those memories lose their power. When trauma is fully resolved, people find that the basic needs of safety, trust and control over one’s life are restored. Many people come away renewed and ready to live the rest of their life on their own terms.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Additional Resources for Trauma Therapy

I highly recommend a new book by Francine Shapiro, the creator of EMDR:

Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy

View the Resources page of my website for additional books on this and other topics.