Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Protecting The Kid Within

Protecting The Kid Within
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

….’Rebeccah’ was a professional woman in her late 20’s who overate when she was depressed.  As I usually do in my initial intake interview, I asked Rebeccah what she preferred to be called.  She said, “Rebeccah is fine.  My friends call me Roxy; but don’t ever call me Becky.  I hate to be called Becky.”  

A few sessions later, we were exploring the meaning of her depression.  When I asked Rebeccah to visualize the Part of her who felt depressed, she saw a young girl.  Rebeccah immediately felt disgusted by the child.  In a sharp and critical voice with a scowl on her face, she said, “That’s Becky.  I hate her.  She’s repulsive.”  A critical Bully had taken over.  I needed to protect the Kid/Outcast before the Bully did more harm than good.  In order for the Kid/Outcast to let go of her burdens, she has to feel safe.  Because we had not already worked with the Bully to calm her down, I did not expect the Bully to step aside.  Instead I decided to move the Kid/Outcast to a safe spot. 

First I needed to help Rebeccah see the child objectively (a quality of the Self).  I asked her to imagine Becky as just any child, not herself as a child.  Her face and voice softened quite a lot.  I asked her to close her eyes and visualize her apartment,  “Imagine a door in your apartment that was never there before.  When you open the door there’s a small, cozy child’s bedroom.  Everything the child needs is in the room, a bed with soft blankets and pillows, teddy bears and stuffed animals to hug, fuzzy slippers and comfortable pajamas to wear.  On a nightstand there is a telephone.”  I asked Rebeccah if child would be protected in this room until we were able to get back to her.  Rebeccah smiled, “Yes, she’ll be safe in here.”

To engage the Wisdom of her Self and the healing power of compassion, Rebeccah needed to step back from the reaction of the Bully.  When she saw the Kid/Outcast objectively, as just any child, she could compassionately comfort and protect the Kid. 

When the Kid/Outcast feels safe and protected, a relationship of trust gradually builds between her and you, your Self.  It doesn’t happen the first time you say to her, “I’m here for you, trust me.”  No, it’s not that easy.  Trust develops over time; the Kid/Outcast learns that you are not going to hurt her, you are on her side, and she can trust what you say to her.  So if you say, “I’ll be back tomorrow…” you better be back tomorrow.  Or else she’ll remember it and think, “You’re just another person who’s let me down, who doesn’t mean what she says.”

Eventually you will develop awareness of your Parts and know when a critical, judgmental Bully has taken over.  It’s very important to protect the Kid/Outcast from the Bully if she flares up again.  Over the years I know from body cues and tone of voice when a client’s Part has taken over and she is no longer in Self-energy.  If her voice gets a little sharper or her face gets a little sneer, I’ll say, “Whoa!  We’re not alone here are we?  You’re feeling angry, aren’t you?  We need to talk to that Part.  Let’s put the Kid in her safe spot and we’ll take care of this Part first.”

Even if you cannot work directly with your Kid/Outcast, if you need to keep her in a safe spot for a while, it’s important that the Kid/Outcast knows that you know she’s there.  For the longest time, the Kid/Outcast felt totally alone and desperate for help and protection.  These feelings may have initially been started in your childhood by a passive parent who did not protect you, but allowed the abusive parent to hurt you.  The first step in healing the Kid/Outcast is to tell her that you know she is there and you want to protect her. 

Here’s another analogy to illustrate the importance of this.  Imagine you are alone in an elevator that gets stuck between floors.  You can have the choice of a buzzer or a telephone.  Which would you choose?  Most people choose the telephone.  When I ask why they didn’t want the buzzer, they answer, “If I pushed the buzzer, I would be wondering if anyone heard it, if anyone knows I’m in here.  If I have the telephone, then I know someone knows I am stuck.  Someone is going to come to help me.  Even just hearing a voice would be more reassuring to me than a buzzer.”  The human contact feels reassuring to the Kid/Outcast that she is not alone. 

Until we can heal the Kid/Outcast, we need to be that voice on the telephone.  We can let her know that we are aware that she is there.  If you feel compassion for the Kid/Outcast you can imagine calling her from time to time to check in.  You may just start by saying, “Hi, it’s me.  I know you’re there.”  When she is assured of our presence, she wants what all Parts want from us – to be heard, appreciated and taken care of…. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Feel Fat! - Making Peace With Your Body

I Feel Fat! - Making Peace With Your Body
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

“It just hits me out of the blue.  I start to feel fat and then I notice how much my stomach sticks out.  I’m so disgusted with my body, and I’m sure everyone feels it too.  It’s all I can think about.”

“As young as I can remember I’ve always felt too big.  My mom used to yell at me, and I would eat and feel fat.”
It doesn’t matter what size a woman wears, what she looks like, or how much she weighs, it is very difficult in our appearance-focused society with its size 0 actresses and daily changes in diet “rules” for a woman to be satisfied with her body.  Recently when reading a professional research study, I was appalled to hear that women were eliminated from the control group if they liked their bodies because having some degree of dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is considered the “norm”.  Think about it.  When women get together, where does the conversation inevitably turn?  To body dissatisfaction and diets.  Its been called “Anorexic Bonding” of women.

In order to give up an eating disorder and become a “normal eater” again, women must give up weight loss as a goal.  But it’s hard to give up weight loss when you have negative feelings about your body.  Usually, negative feelings about our bodies were the first symptom of our eating disorders.  Think back, why did you start your first diet?  Because you felt fat or too big.  And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, it’s often the last symptom to go.

When my clients say to me “I feel fat”, I remind them that “fat” is not an emotion. Feeling fat is almost always a bodily sensation of a displaced or unidentified emotion. Often women who have eating disorders are not aware of what they are feeling, and focusing their attention on their body gives an illusion of control.

As Jane Hirschman and Carol Munter point out in their books Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, “Bad body thoughts are never, ever about your body...But the thing about a bad body thought is that it includes believing that it’s about your body. ” If you do not feel good about your body it is always about something else in your life.  If we listen to what we say about our bodies we get clues about what else needs our attention.

We’ll look at “Vanessa” for an example.  Let’s say in the middle of a particularly hectic weekday morning after she lost her keys, was late for an appointment, and just received a second notice on a bill she forgot to pay, Vanessa starts to “feel fat”. “My stomach is disgusting!  My abs are so flabby!”  So Vanessa goes to the health club and does a million sit-ups and works out on the ab-cruncher for a half hour.  Sweating and exhausted, she leaves, only to find that she has to return home because she left her briefcase in the kitchen.

The next day, Vanessa realizes that she never got around to returning those phone calls, and rather than doing the bookkeeping and billing, feeling totally out of control, she decides that her abs need another workout.
On the third day, she’s feeling flabbier than ever when she looks at the stacks of paper on her desk. She thinks to herself, “I’ll do it when I get back from the health club”. But day after day she continues to feel powerless against these “flabby feelings”.

As you can guess from this very simple example, when we focus solely on our body, the real issues which cause us to feel a certain way never get addressed.  We need to listen to the words we use to describe our body and ask ourselves, “If this isn’t about my body, what in my life feels flabby?”  In this example, Vanessa’s paperwork and bookkeeping are flabby.  Until she works on the underlying issues (in this case organizing her paperwork, and taking a mindful moment each day to make sure she has everything she needs before leaving home) Vanessa will continue to “feel flabby”.  If she makes steps to resolve the underlying issues, her life will change and she will grow, feeling more empowered with each change.

Now, I have nothing against working out. I believe in keeping our bodies healthy, and moving our bodies in enjoyable ways.  And if our bodies truly are asking for healthy movement, it is perfectly OK to heed that call. But when we go to the health club looking for something else, we are looking in the wrong place.  Linda Harper wrote about this in her book The Tao of Eating.  She advocates asking our soul what it is looking for when we want to engage in our eating disordered activities.  In the example above, maybe Vanessa’s soul was looking for a sense of control over her life and mistakenly thought that working out would give her that control. Maybe she was looking for a way to “work out” her frustrations caused by her disorganization.

Sometimes these feelings are deeply ingrained from messages we received almost all our lives, from when we were children.  Many of my clients have what I call a “zesty spunk” that I find enjoyable and very endearing.  But many of them, myself included, were given messages that in order to be loved and loveable, they needed to be different.  They were “too much, too loud, too big!”  As adults, we still translate these messages onto our bodies.  In Rebecca Wells book Divine Secrets of the YA YA Sisterhood, there’s a great example of this:

“Do I look too fat?” Vivi asked.

Sidda could not count the number of times her mother had asked her that question. Now, for the first time, she thought she heard what her mother was really asking: Is there too much of me? Do I need to trim myself back for you?

“No Mama,” Sidda said, “you don’t look fat. There is just enough of you. Not too little. Not too much. In fact, you look exactly right.”…..

….The next time you “feel fat” try asking yourself, “If this isn’t about my body what in my life feels like it needs changing. What is my soul asking for?” That is where you will find your answer.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Healing the Kid Within: "Neediness"

Healing the Kid Within: “Neediness”
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

Editor’s Note:  Amy is in the process of writing a book about recovering from eating disorders.  This is the middle of a chapter about Healing the Kids: Neediness.  You can read previous excerpts on our

Willow:  “I had a pretty quiet weekend.  I stayed home; it was kind of lonely.”
Me:  “What stops you from getting together with a friend?”  
Willow:  “Well, I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, like I was too needy.”

Did you catch the word that triggered Willow’s fear of being a burden?  It is a word so foul that every client, and myself in the past as well, will avoid it like the Bubonic Plague: “Needy”.  Most of the time, a critical Part will get activated when our Kid/Exile feels needy.  Since it is normal for humans to need, what is so wrong with feeling needy?  It feels like we are too much, too big, too empty, too deficient, just “too”.  Or maybe you identify with Willow’s dilemma, “I feel I always knew I was at once both too much and not enough.”  Usually there were people in our past who gave us the message that whatever we needed or wanted, it was too much.  I ask, “Too much for who?”  When your needs are bigger than the other person’s resources available to fill the need we feel needy.  Are you ready for yet another analogy? 

Imagine it is a very hot and sunny summer day.  You are outside, working hard, digging in a garden.  You build up quite a thirst from the heat and hard work.  You ask someone for a drink.  They walk up to you carrying a pitcher with only a teaspoon of lemonade in it.  They pour all of the lemonade in a glass and you drink it.  You are still thirsty, but there is no more lemonade.  What do you think of this?  Are you “needy”?  No, you are thirsty.  What would you do?  Many people say, “If there was no more lemonade I would drink from the hose.”  If the person couldn’t do it, you would find another way to fill your need.  But because we were talking about thirst, a physical need, usually there is no shame – we would just find resources elsewhere. 

But when we talk about emotional needs, such as comfort, patience, reassurance or love, the feelings are different.  If we ask someone who does not have the resources available to fill our need, our Kid/Exile is often overcome with shame, “I should be stronger.  I shouldn’t want comfort.  I’m too needy.”  

There are many reasons why someone would not have the resources available to fill our need – take for example a woman who is young when she has several children spaced closely together.  If she did not learn healthy ways of coping with stress, her emotional resources may be stretched very thin.  If one of the children is a sensitive soul she may need more than the young harried mother has to give.  It is easier to say, “Buck up!  Quit crying!” than it would be to muster the resources to fill the child’s needs.  

If the child’s needs are repeatedly not met, she may internalize the Core Belief that “I am too much.  I am too needy.”  When this Core Belief is reawakened in the present with a Rubber-band Reaction, the old shame of being too needy will elicit the distorted thinking of emotional reasoning.  As illustrated in Willow’s example, we need to use Self-energy and our Logical Parts to discern between the past and the present, between those people we can trust and lean on and those we cannot.

Often, the Kid/Exile is so used to being hurt that she “flinches” in advance just thinking of potential situations that may be risky.  When a child is repeatedly hurt, she becomes hyper-vigilant, always on the lookout for potential dangers.  Especially in homes where the abuse or anger was random, inconsistent, and unpredictable, the child learned to always be on guard.  Predicting the future is the child’s attempt to avoid all dangers and keep herself safe. 

Because the Kid/Exile is a child, she feels defenseless to do anything about these situations.  Like Willow, our Kid/Exile often feels so anxious she thinks, “I won’t be able to stand it if something goes wrong.  I’ll feel horrible forever.”  She gets anxious thinking she wouldn’t be able to tolerate the discomfort of the feeling.  She fears she will fall apart or go crazy, and may avoid anything that could possibly make her anxious.  While the Self is able to learn from situations and grow, the Kid forgets that you’ve already lived through these situations in the past, have been able to stand them before, and will be able to stand them again.  The fear of falling apart causes her to avoid new potential risky situations.  She dwells on old situations, thinking about them over and over, as if to remind herself of the dangers – each time confirming the fear deeper and deeper….. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Seasonal affective disorder: When winter brings the blues

Seasonal affective disorder: When winter brings the blues

The gloom of winter seems to get inside some people, with the dark affecting their moods as well as their days. Known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this form of depression affects about 1% to 2% of the population. Although it strikes all genders and ages, women are more likely to develop SAD than men, and young people are more likely to develop it than older people.
SAD seems to be triggered by decreased exposure to daylight. Typically, it arrives during the fall or winter months and subsides in the spring. Symptoms are similar to general depression and include lethargy, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, interpersonal problems, irritability, inability to concentrate, and changes in sleeping patterns, appetite, or both.
Experts don’t fully understand the cause of SAD, but leading theories place the blame on an out-of-sync body clock or on improper levels of either the hormone melatonin or the neurotransmitter serotonin.
The mainstay of SAD treatment is light therapy, also called phototherapy. Phototherapy involves daily sessions of sitting close to a special light source that is far more intense than normal indoor light. The recommendation is typically to get 30 minutes of exposure to light at an intensity of 10,000 lux each day, but optimum dosing remains a major question. Some people need more light exposure than this, others need less.
The light must enter through the eyes to be effective; skin exposure doesn’t seem to work. Some people feel better after only one light treatment, but most people require at least a few days of treatment, and some need several weeks. You do not need a prescription to purchase a light box to treat SAD; however, it’s best to work with a professional to monitor the benefits of the treatment.
Some SAD light boxes look like medical equipment, while others are more like regular table lamps. The prices vary. Although professional groups and government agencies endorse light therapy, your insurance company may balk. If you are counting on coverage, you better check first.