Anxiety is the number one reason people come into therapy. Are you trying to manage life with anxiety? Imagine what your life would be like if you were able to minimize your anxious thoughts? Imagine what your days will be like with more calmness. You may have thought about working with a therapist but just haven’t taken that step. When we are faced with the unknown we tend to avoid. I thought it might help if I shared with you what may happen in a therapy session with me as we work together on reducing that anxiety you’ve been living with. Follow along as if you are in session with me. Think about the questions. How would you answer them? Take notes. Go ahead and perform the coping exercise I describe.
Now imagine you just walked into my calming office. Take a seat, anywhere you’d like.
Let’s begin . . .
I’d like to get to know a bit more about your goals and history of anxiety.
What would you like to gain out of therapy and particularly this session?
Anxiety feels different for everyone so therapy with me is very personalized for your specific issues. It’s also important to realize that therapy is a partnership between you and me – the therapist. I will be here to guide you, gently push you and help you realize that with your participation you can minimize your anxious thoughts.
Have you ever been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder such as Social Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or any specific phobia?
Let’s get more specific about your goals. If you don’t have a goal in mind you won’t know when you’ve gotten there. What three goals are you looking to gain? They may be something like, decreasing your number of panic attacks, reduce your anxiety around specific relationship issues, decreasing performance anxiety at work. Share what your three goals are - the more specific, the better. Write them down.
For each goal I’d like to know how your life would be different when you reach each goal. For example, “I’ll be able to perform better at work”, “It’ll be easier to socialize with others”, “I will have more days of the week with no panic attacks”. Write down how you imagine your life will be different with minimal or no anxiety.
In order to continue to measure your improvement I will most likely have you complete a GAD-7 quick assessment often. It’s an easy 7 question rating scale. I’d like you to complete it at least once or twice a week. Completing this easy rating scale will help you track your improvement. I will provide you access to this assessment.
Let’s put some focus on your symptoms and how they manifest for you. This is very important. Here are a few more questions.
How long have you been trying to manage your anxiety?
When does your anxiety affect you the most – at home, when you first wake up, at work, socially?
When did your anxiety begin affecting you?
What treatments have you had in the past? What treatments helped and which ones didn’t?
It’s important to discuss triggers. What are your triggers that cause anxiety? For example, chronic stress, health issues, domestic violence, military duties, financial concerns, not feeling safe, etc. Write down all of your triggers.
How have you been coping with your anxiety, if you have at all? For example, do you have specific ways of distracting yourself from the anxious thoughts? Behavioral coping skills might be walking away, exercising, taking a nap, focusing on slow breathing, etc. Some cognitive coping skills could be thinking positive thoughts, saying positive affirmations, brainstorming about solutions, thinking through and making a to-do list. Write down some ways you’ve been coping with your anxiety.
You need actionable strategies and skills to overcome your anxiety.
Having a physical awareness is important. What are your physical / emotional reactions to anxiety? Headaches, butterflies in your stomach, hands are shaking, feeling nauseous, your heart feels heavy today or an overwhelming feeling of just not feeling right.
Focusing on your physical symptoms are very important. Your physical feelings work hand in hand with your thoughts. That’s the body and mind connection. We need to regulate our body first to regulate our mind. Lets focus on your body first so that you can regulate your mind. We can’t focus on one and ignore the other.
I’d like you to work through this exercise so you can enhance your body and mind connection. You’ll be scanning your body with purpose so that you can regulate your body naturally. This is called a Somatic experience which focuses on the body. You can help your body calm down naturally. And remember you can’t relax your mind if you’re physically having issues such as trembling hands, headaches, pounding heartbeats.
Dr. Peter Levine is the founder of Somatic Experiencing and introduced it in 1997. He introduced the exercise I’m going to describe below which will work through your physical symptoms. Go ahead and follow along below.
Get comfortable, sitting or laying down, at first you'll need to read through the instructions but eventually it's beneficial if you close your eyes.
Put one hand on your forehead and one hand on your heart. Think about a mildly anxious moment and notice how you are physically feeling. How is your body responding? Just let yourself feel it. Pay attention to your hand on your forehead. Just be there and focus on your hand on your forehead. Don’t rush it. Notice any response.
Now focus on your hand on your heart. Don’t do anything, just observe. Focus on any physical feelings. No need to address anything, just notice any feeling you have.
Now go inside your body by focusing on any area between your hands, notice any sensations on your forehead, face, neck, shoulders, chest. Notice any physical feelings. How do those body parts feel? Do they feel tense, soft, fidgety, or comfort. Just notice it, be curious. Be with those sensations and wait for the shift. Notice how you are breathing, stay there, notice it.
Now take your hand from your forehead and place it on your belly. Now focus on the sensations in your belly. Is it relaxed, tense, warm, cold, heavy, and/or tingling? No need to do anything, just notice the physical feelings and wait for the shift or change in your body.
Now bring your attention to what’s going on. Notice any sensations that are going on in your entire body - your chest, back, neck, arms, fingers. Wait to notice any shift or change.
Now take both hands and place them on your thighs. What sensations are you feeling? Gently press. Be observant, no need to do anything. Let your body just happen. Notice how it feels. Your body will regulate itself inside and outside. Notice how you are breathing.
Count to three and slowly open your eyes and take a deep breath and bring your attention back to the room. Notice any shifts you may be feeling now. What specific parts were regulated? Give yourself 5 minutes to focus on your body.
What body parts were stable and relaxed?
Notice the relaxation in your body now?
If there is some tension, what got in the way?
Were you able to get out of your mind and focus on your body?
Do you feel safe in your body and your environment now?
The two key concepts in this exercise are feeling a sense of safety and a sense of present moment in your body.
This beautiful mindfulness exercise only takes 5-10 minutes. It becomes easier and you will be better able to focus the more often you do it. This will create a better relationship within yourself and enable a sense of compassion and curiosity.
I encourage you to practice this self-holding exercise at least two times a day in a neutral setting and neutral mood. Then describe how your mood is each time you complete this. Utilize a 10-point scale with 0 being neutral and 10 being very anxious. It’s important to check in with yourself. Practice this coping skill daily.
While you can do this exercise yourself, it’s much easier if I walk you through it in session. I will guide you during each step. Together we can work on what I described here, along with additional steps in reducing your anxiety. Each session we’ll review your progress. Each session will be personalized for your specific goals. You will gain a sense of your own growth.
If anxiety is something you’d like to reduce and you’re ready to begin healing, feel free to reach out to me. Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with me or go ahead and call to set up an appointment. At the moment I’m scheduling appointments about a month out, unless I get a cancellation. So don’t put this off.
At the onset of this article I asked that you “Imagine what your life would be like if you were able to minimize your anxious thoughts? Imagine what your days will be like with more calmness.” I don’t want you to have to only imagine that any longer. I want you to begin living it. I’m looking forward to hearing your story.
Liz Birch, LMFT, CHt is a Marriage & Family Therapist who holds a license with the Board of Behavioral Sciences in the State of California. She is also trained in Hypnosis and provides Hypnotherapy services. Her office is located in Tustin, Orange County, CA.
Liz Birch, LMFT, CHt ~ 238 W. Main Street, Suite 101 Tustin, CA 92780 ~ 714-584-6047 ~LizBirchMFT@gmail.com
The information provided through this website is for informational purposes only.
This information is not intended to and does not create a therapist-client relationship.
What is your inner child telling you? Do you want everyone to cater to your needs? Do you find yourself disappointed a lot? Do you have a lot of fear... anxiety?
The idea of having an inner child may be foreign to most people. But all of us have a part of us that's still us as a child. It's possible that our inner child never fully grew up or may not be fully healed from pain in the past.
Think about your current life and all the emotions and behaviors that you don't like and are continually trying to change. These emotions and behaviors come from our experiences from when we were small children.
From birth to about 6 or 7 years old, our brain functions at a relatively slow pace, which is a very "receptive" brainwave state. At this time we are profoundly affected by our life experiences. Our beliefs about ourselves and others are formed during this time based on our life's experiences.
As small children we will have been absorbing a great deal from our extended families, our caregiver(s), friends, religious institutions, etc.
Our experiences may have been filled with love and support or they may have been filled with neglect and abuse. Our subconscious takes in all this information and holds on to it for the rest of our lives.
We cannot change the script. The life we experienced happened, whether good or bad, it happened. And that script, how our brain processes our events, is designed to keep us safe. Hence, anxiety to keep us on the lookout for danger (as an example).
All of our life experiences have been "logged" into our sub-conscious minds and bodies. This all creates the pool in which we float, or sink. Inevitably, the water will be a bit dirty - or it may even be like thick mud. In this pool is our self-esteem, body-image, family trauma, shame and secrets (even if not spoken about). We sink down into this pool, or mud, whenever we are overwhelmed by our negative thoughts, emotions, self-doubt or self-loathing.
In therapy the aim is to sensitively lift out this dirt/mud, bit by bit, until we are left with just a stain of what was once there.
In therapy you can learn how to meet, rescue and “adopt” this wounded child who still lives deep inside you. This process of meeting, rescuing and adopting your wounded child is an amazing process. Any why you? Because you are the only person who you can guarantee never to leave you!
Signs that your Inner Child may be wounded:
low self-esteem, poor body-image, mood and emotional imbalances, problems with boundaries being too rigid or too weak, problems with eating, harming yourself, being a rebel/ a hoarder/ a bully/ a perennial victim or a super-achiever, intimacy problems, commitment problems, a general lack of trust in yourself and others, criminal behavior, excessive lying, just to name a few.
If you are in Orange County, California and interested in working on your Inner Child please feel free to reach out to me. We can begin with a free 15-minute consultation and go from there. Or you can reach out to any therapist in your area and ask if they do Inner Child work. I wish you all the best!
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and certified Master Hypnotist who provides psychotherapy and hypnotherapy services at her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth and ptsd. Her website address is LizBirchTherapist.com.
We've just ended another holiday season. This is a time where, instead of joy, you may have been forced to be with family members you wished you didn't have to be with. You might have been present out of a feeling of obligation.
Instead of "how are you?", "I'm so glad to see you... tell me about your successes", did you find yourself subject to criticism, as usual? Is there one person who always finds fault in what you do? Is that person your parent?
Toxic people prey on others. They dominate and control, disregard your needs and feelings. They focus on themselves and don’t seem interested in you at all. They seem to see other people as tools instead of whole, autonomous beings. They look to take energy from others because they lack their own vital energy. Toxic people drain you! They create drama and chaos but they don’t see that this is what they are doing. They are the person who walks into a room and others will leave or walk away to avoid them.
Toxic people not only are taking energy, but they are also throwing their own pain and raw emotions onto everyone they interact with. This is because they lack the capacity to deal with the severity of a trauma that may have occurred in early childhood that caused them to have a worldview that people are out to harm them. Because of this view, that others are out to harm them, they have problems connecting with others.
Toxic people don’t appreciate you, so they don’t want you to appreciate yourself, either. They need you to ignore your own needs and desires so you can devote all your time to them. They use intimidation to keep you down, which means keeping you from living your truth.
But what if this toxic person is your parent? This is the person who is meant to love you, hold you, and take the sharp edges off the world, while teaching you with love, wisdom and warmth how to do it for yourself. There is a different kind of hurt that can only come from a toxic parent – someone who is meant to love you. It’s a hurt that affects you to the core.
Nobody is perfect, including our parents, but there is a point at which imperfect becomes destructive, taking away from children the love, warmth and nurturing they deserve and require and replacing it with something awful.
When children are raised on a diet of criticism, judgment, abuse and loathing, it’s only a matter of time before they take over from those parents, delivering with full force to themselves the toxic lashings that have been delivered to them.
A toxic parent has a long list of weapons, but all come under the banner of neglect or emotional, verbal or physical abuse. Toxic parents lie, manipulate, ignore, judge, abuse, shame, humiliate and criticize. Nothing is ever good enough. You get on the Junior Varsity team but they don’t understand why you didn’t make Varsity. You get elected as your class Secretary but they don’t understand why did didn’t go for and get elected as class President. You get an A in math but they complain you should have gotten an A+. They’ll demean you then complain you’re a crybaby when you show you are hurt. The toxic parent shows no warmth, caring or security which is paramount in developing attachment in children.
Any negative behavior that causes emotional damage or contaminates the way a person sees himself or herself, is toxic. A toxic parent treats his or her children in such a way as to make those children doubt their importance, their worth, and that they are deserving of love, approval and validation. The truth is that you, like every other small person on the planet, deserved love, warmth, and to know how important you were. You’re not useless at life – you’ve bought in to the messages that were delivered by a parent too broken to realize what they were doing. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
The good news in this regard is that:
In knowing all that, don’t wait for your parents to change, because it’s not likely going to happen. You have to become a fully autonomous person, completely responsible for your own life.
But you must be aware that you can’t change lifelong patterns overnight, no matter how self-defeating they may be. Emotional work on yourself can be pretty heavy, and thus it’s easy to start looking for excuses not to do it. In such cases, slowing down isn’t a problem. Just make sure you never stop.
How to heal from a toxic parent.
1. It’s okay to free yourself from a toxic parent.
This is such a difficult decision, but it could be one of the most important. We humans are wired to connect, even with people who don’t deserve to be connected to us. Sometimes though, the only way to stop the disease spreading is to cut it off. It doesn’t matter how much you love some people, they are broken to the point that they will only keep damaging you from the inside out. You’re not responsible for them or for the state of your relationships with them, and you are under no obligation to keep yourself being abused, belittled, shamed or humiliated. Healing starts with expecting more for yourself, and you’re the only person who can make that decision.
You must absolutely let go of the responsibility for the painful events of your childhood. You were in no way responsible for your parents’ toxic behavior.
You were in no way responsible for:
The toxic behavior is completely your parents’ responsibility. Even if no harmful intent existed, it’s the final result that counts.
2. It’s also okay to stay in a relationship with your toxic parent.
Don’t be harsh on yourself if you stay in the relationship. The act of returning to an abusive relationship can trigger self-loathing. ‘Why aren’t I strong enough?’ Know that loyalty is such an admirable trait, even if it gets in the way of your capacity to protect yourself. Own where you are and give yourself full permission to be there. Accept that for now, this is where you’re at, and fully experience what that’s like for you. You’ll never love yourself enough to change your expectations if you’re flogging yourself for not being strong enough. It takes tremendous strength to keep walking into a relationship that you know is going to hurt you. When you’re ready, you’ll make the move to do something differently. For now though, wherever you are is okay.
3. Be honest about the relationship.
If you’re going to stay, know that it’s okay to put a boundary between yourself and your parent. You can act from love and kindness if you want to – but don’t stay in the relationship unless you can accept that the love you deserve will never come back to you. If it were going to, it would have reached you by now. See their behavior for what it is – evidence of their breaks, not evidence of yours. Put a bubble around yourself and let their abuse bounce off. Love yourself and respect yourself enough to fill the well that they bleed dry. They might not be capable of giving you the love and respect you deserve, but you are.
4. Be careful of repeating the patterns.
You might find yourself drawn to people who have similarities to your toxic parent. There’s a really good reason for this. All of us are driven to find an ending to things that remain unresolved. Because love, warmth and nurturing are such an important part of child development, yet so elusive for the child of a toxic parent, it’s very normal for those children to be driven to find a resolution to never feeling loved, secure or good enough. They will look to receive what they didn’t get from their parents in others and will often be drawn to people who have similarities to their toxic parent. The theory is, with similar people, the patterns will be easier to replicate, and the hope of an ending closer to the desired one – parent love – will be easier to fulfill. The pattern often does repeat, but because of the similarities to the parent, so does the unhappy ending.
The decisions aren’t conscious ones, so to move towards healing, the automatic thoughts and feelings driving the choices need to be brought more into awareness. If this is something that’s familiar for you, it’s possible that you are being drawn to the wrong people because they remind you of your toxic parent, and somewhere inside you where you wanted things to stay hidden, is the wish that you’ll get from them what you weren’t able to get from your parent. Look at the people in your life and explore the similarities they have with your own parents. What do they do that’s similar? What do you do that’s similar to the way you are in your relationship with your parents? Which needs are being met? What keeps you there? The more awareness you have, the more you can make deliberate decisions that aren’t driven by historical wants.
5. Acknowledge your right to be loved and respected.
One of the greatest acts of self-love is owning your right to love and respect from the people you allow close to you. You’re completely entitled to set the conditions for your relationships, as other people are to set the conditions for theirs. We all have to treat those we love with kindness, generosity and respect if we want the same back. If those conditions aren’t met, you’re allowed to close the door. You’re allowed to slam it closed behind them if you want to.
6. Be careful of your own toxic behavior.
You’ve been there, so you know the behaviors and you know what they do. We’re all human. We’re all going to get it wrong sometimes. Toxic behavior though, is habitual and it will damage the members of your own little tribe as surely as it damaged you. You don’t have to be a product of the cruel parenting that was shown to you, and this starts with the brave decision that the cycle stops at you. People who do this, who refuse to continue a toxic legacy, are courageous, heroic and they change the world. We’re here to build amazing humans, not to tear them down. How would your life have been different if your parent was the one who decided that enough was enough?
7. You’re allowed to make mistakes and you’re allowed to do it on your own.
You may have been lead to believe that you’re not enough – not smart enough, beautiful enough, funny enough, strong enough or capable enough. The truth is that you are enough. Open yourself up to the possibility of this and see what happens. You don’t need to depend on anyone and making mistakes doesn’t make you a loser. It never has. That’s something you’ve been lead to believe by a parent who never supported you or never gave you permission to make mistakes sometimes. Make mistakes now, it’s okay. Give yourself full permission to try and miss. There will be hits and there will be misses. You don’t even know what you’re capable of because you’ve never been encouraged to find out. You’re stronger than you think you are, braver, better and smarter than you think you are, and now is your time to prove it to yourself.
8. Document the beliefs that hold you back. (And get yourself a rubber band.)
Document the beliefs that hold you back – write them down. The ones that get in your way and stop you from doing what you want to do, saying what you want to say or being who you want to be. Were you brought up to believe your opinion doesn’t count? You were brought up to believe that parents are always right? You were most likely brought up to believe that you’re unlovable, unimportant, stupid, annoying, incapable and worthless.
Now beside each belief, write what that belief is costing you. Has it cost you relationships, happiness, freedom to be, to experiment, or to explore? Then, rewrite the script. Thoughts drive feelings, behavior, what you expect for yourself and what you expect from relationships and the world. How are you going to change those beliefs? Just choose one or two to start with and every time you catch yourself thinking the old thoughts, actively replace it with a new, more self-nurturing thought – then act as though that new thought is true. You don’t have to believe it – just pretend it is. Your head will catch up when it’s ready.
If it’s difficult to break out of the old thought, try this: wear a rubber band (or a hair band) around your wrist. Every time you catch yourself thinking the old thought, give the band a little flick. This will start to train your mind to let go of the old thoughts that have no place in your life anymore. You just need a little flick, no need for pain, your old thoughts have been doing that long enough already. There is no right or wrong on this. All the answers, strength and courage you need to do what’s right for you is in you. You just need to give yourself the opportunity and the reason to hear it.
9. The dreaded “shoulds” - get rid of them.
“Shoulds” are the messages we take in whole (introject) from childhood, school, relationships, and society. They guide behavior automatically and this can be a good thing (“I should be around people who respect me”) or a not so good thing (“I should always be nice”). Take a close look at your “shoulds” and see if they’ve been swallowed with a spoonful of poison. Our “shoulds” come from many years of cultivating and careful pruning, so that when that “should” is fully formed, it automatically directs you without any thought.
It’s likely that the “should” that’s keeping you stuck has come from the person who wanted to keep you that way. Were you brought up feeling indebted to your parents? Did they make you feel you owe them? Did they make you feel like you’ll never cope if you separate properly from them? Did they deliver you messages to keep you small, quiet, or hidden? Believing the messages may have worked when you were younger, but it doesn’t have to be that way now. Don’t pick up from where they left off. You’re older now, with different circumstances, and in a different environment. Bring your “shoulds” out in the open so your actions can be more deliberate. If your “shoulds” are working for you, love them up and keep them, otherwise let them go.
10. Nobody is all good or all bad. Let that guilt go.
One of the things that make ending any relationship so difficult is that there will be traces of exactly what you want. Even toxic parents can sometimes be loving, warm or nurturing, though it’s mostly, if not always, done to further their own agenda. In the same way that being ‘a little bit bad’ probably isn’t enough to sever an important relationship, being ‘a little bit good’ isn’t enough reason to keep one. Step back and take a look at the big picture. If you feel miserable in the relationship more than you feel good, question your reasons for staying. If it’s because your toxic parent is old, frail, sad or lonely, that might be all the reason you need to stay, and that’s okay. If it is, own the decision in strength and put limits on contact or how much you will give to the relationship. You’re entitled to take or give as much to the relationship as you decide. Just whatever you do, do it deliberately, in strength and clarity, not because you’re being manipulated or disempowered. The shift in mindset seems small, but it’s so important.
11. Work on building yourself up.
Toxic environments are toxic to the brain – we know that with absolute certainty. The human brain is incredibly adaptive, and in response to a toxic environment it will shut down so as to protect itself as much as it can from the toxicity. When this happens, as it does during prolonged periods of emotional stress, the rate at which the brain produces new neurons (neurogenesis) slows right down, ultimately making people vulnerable to anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, memory loss, reduced immunity, loss of vitality, reduced resilience to stress, and illness (research has shown that migraine and other pain conditions are more prevalent in people who were brought up in abusive environments, though the exact reason for the relationship is unclear).
We also know, without a doubt, that the damage can be turned around. Diet (omega 3, green tea extract, blueberry extract, reduced intake processed sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates), exercise (anything that increases heart rate), and meditation (such as a regular mindfulness practice) will all help to rebuild the brain and heal the damage done by a toxic environment. Increasing neurogenesis will help to build resilience, cognitive function, vitality and protect against stress, anxiety and depression.
Healing from a toxic parent starts with deciding that the lifetime of messages that have left you hollow or scarred are wrong. It means opening a heart that’s probably been closed for way too long, and receiving the love, approval and validation that has always been yours to own. Sometimes, it means realizing that parents break too, sometimes irreparably, sometimes to the point of never being able to show love to the people in their life who deserve it the most. Sometimes it means making the brave decision, in strength and with the greatest self-love and self-respect, to let go of the relationship that’s been hurting you.
Breaking free of a toxic parent is hard, but hard has never meant impossible. With the deliberate decision to move forward, there are endless turns your story can take. You are a whole and valuable person deserving of respect and love. Be open to the possibilities of what that respect and love can bring.
If you need help with leaving a toxic relationship, whether it be a parent or any one else, please reach out to a Marriage & Family Therapist in your area. They can help guide you through the process and work with you helping you see what a truly amazing person you are.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth, and ptsd (civilian and military). She can be reached via email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-584-6047. Her website address is LizBirchTherapist.com
Many of us have great intentions of reaching our goals. We may tell ourselves; "I'm going to work out more, I'm going to increase my sales this month, I'm going to work on home improvements this week, or I'm going to begin drinking less alcohol". All of those are great goals, however, it's too easy to not reach any of those goals if we phrase them as I wrote them.
In order to be more successful in your goals you must get much more specific than the examples I listed above. A great system to use is the SMART goal setting system. SMART goal setting brings structure and traceability into your goals and objectives. SMART goals create clear milestones and an estimation of the goal's attainability.
What does S.M.A.R.T. goal setting stand for?
S = Specific
Being a therapist, I use this SMART system with many of my clients. I help them get very specific on what they want to accomplish in therapy. This may take a few sessions to figure out but it's important to clarify the goal.
To have someone say, "I want to feel better about myself" is good, but it will be too difficult to know when my client will be there. So I dig a little deeper and ask my client, "What does that look like to you?" After some exploring my client may say, "Instead of crying 4 days a week, I want to work on only crying 2 days a week". That's very specific and attainable. We work on that goal and after a month or so we revisit the goal. Is the client crying less? How many days a week are they crying now?" Once they've reached crying only 2 days a week we set our next goal. How about crying only 2 times a month? Again a specific goal.
This system works well when working on communication issues in relationships. A couple may argue every single day. So our measurable goal may be that they argue only 4 days a week. Of course, we don't want arguing at all, but is that realistic? Attainable? We set goals that we can be successful with. Once that goal is reached of only arguing 4 days a week we set a new goal of only arguing two days a week, and so forth.
During the sessions, while working on goals, the therapist is exploring with the client what got them in their predicament. What changes need to be made and how can some of their problems be resolved. It's all a work in progress all striving for those specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals.
Why don't you think about a goal or two you'd like to reach? Then apply the SMART goal setting approach and see if that makes reaching your goals a bit more successful. I bet you'll be pleased with your results.
If you are in my area and need help reaching your goals, please feel free to reach out to me and together we can work this system. It may take just a few sessions to get you set up and going. You can then check back a month or so later and we can explore how you are doing. My hope is for everyone to be successful in their goals, no matter how small or large.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth, and ptsd (civilian and military). She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com.
One of the most common struggles that people come in to see me for is learning the art of letting go of the past. Many are stuck thinking about the wrongs that have been done to them and they are angry, frustrated, hurt, and sad. The unfortunate part about hanging on to those feelings is they continue to hurt and harm those that we love. That could mean hurting others that weren’t involved in the past misfortunes.
So let’s take a look at those past feelings. Those feelings aren’t really the past, they are the present. You are presently feeling angry, frustrated, hurt and/or sad. And it’s those feelings that are keeping the past alive.
What I first like to do with clients is to fester out all that the person is feeling, such as, anger, frustration, hurt, sadness – or any other feelings that they are experiencing.
Client: “I am angry that my parents worked all day and I was left alone to fend for myself”. Therapist: “You are angry that you were left alone?” Client: “Yes!” Therapist: “Tell me more about that anger.” Client: “They should have been there for me!” Therapist: “Tell me what it was like to be alone.” Client: “I had no one to talk to, I was bored, at times I got scared.” Therapist: “So you were scared to?” Client: “Of course I was scared, I was just a kid!” Therapist: “Let’s talk about you feeling scared.” Client: “I was scared because what if someone tried to come into my home when I was alone?” What if I got injured and no one was there?” “Why didn’t they care enough about me to be home with me?” Therapist: “What I heard you say in the beginning was you were angry because you were left alone but I’m also hearing you were frightened and you felt your parents didn’t care about you.” Client: “Yes, I guess, I feel they must have not cared about me so they left me alone at home.”
So we move from just being angry to actually carrying around a feeling that the client’s parents’ “didn’t care”. The above is just a short snippet of working through feelings and there’s more involved. It’s a process of several sessions to fester everything out. It’s like peeling an onion and working through all the layers by identifying all the feelings that were experiences. As we identify all that had happened, it’s validated.
I hope this gives you an idea of how to pull out all the feelings. I don’t want anything ignored or left out. I want to hear about the experiences that are causing so much pain. But what do we do about them now?
Experiences of the past need to be validated and never brushed off. Events happened and the feelings of the past are real. I spend time with clients letting them “feel” all that they have identified. That could mean they sit in sadness, anger or grief – but just for a limited time. We then move on.
Now we get to the part where we let it all go! Memories are just thoughts and thoughts have no power – unless the person chooses to give it power. Some thoughts stick with us, we react to them, and we keep thinking about them. Ugh! To keep thinking about them serves no purpose.
Some things you shouldn’t do:
• Make yourself forget about the past (you can not forget it)
• Stuff or ignore your feelings
• Wait for an apology or acknowledgment (if you never get an apology you will always sit in pain)
• Wait for time to heal all wounds
• Change the past (you can’t change what happened but you absolutely can change your reaction to what happened)
As a Cognitive Behavior Therapist I talk to my clients about how our feelings control our behavior. If you stay with anger, hurt and sadness, then they will become your reality. As an alternative, be open to moving forward. Prepare yourself to feel differently. Contemplate not defining yourself by thoughts about the past. Keep in mind, what you focus on, will become your present.
Many have been telling themselves their unfortunate life circumstances so many times that they aren’t allowing positive thoughts to come in. These negative thoughts keep you distracted from moving forward.
Some stuck thoughts that people hold on to:
• “I want to stay stuck because I was wronged.”
• “It is someone else’s responsibility to make this better for me.”
• “If I let go, I’m somehow approving another person’s bad behavior.”
• “I need an apology.”
• “Life is unfair.”
Holding on to those thoughts, the constant reminder, will only keep your unfortunate experiences in the present. How you feel is your responsibility, no one else’s. Once you realize all the power that you have, you can begin the process of letting go.
Holding on to the past is like wearing a pair of shoes that are a bit too small for you. You can get your feet into them but they hurt like heck. It’s time to take them off and begin to enjoy comfort again.
Remember, you are in control of how you feel. Begin by thinking more positively. But it might not be so easy at first. You have to reinforce those positive thoughts and behaviors so they will stick. As with any sort of training, the more you practice, the better you get—and, yes, you can practice being positive.
Live for today. Live for and look for the positive in others. Embrace the positive aspects of your parents, spouse, children and friends.
When you start feeling like the idea of being a positive person is daunting, remind yourself that all it takes is one small step in the right direction to move yourself toward a more positive attitude.
Believe in yourself and remember the most important lesson of all: A positive outlook is a choice that you can always make.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Tustin, CA. She is also trained in Hypnosis and utilizes Hypnotherapy as a complementary treatment for many issues Her areas of expertise are with anxiety, depression, traumas, ptsd (military and civilian), relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, and personal growth. She can be reached at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-584-6047.
I feel blessed and grateful with the many clients I work with. I cherish the moment when they begin to feel a sense of safety and trust and their most personal life begins to emerge. But for most, it doesn’t begin at the first meeting or two. As they sit across from me I hear the basics of their family, their childhood, and their friends. I then hear about their co-workers, peers and neighbors. I see the dance happen as they talk about everything except what they really want and need to share. I can feel their pain much before they realize it.
Many of my clients share they feel comfortable with me quickly but the more difficult part is getting the guts to bring it all up - the real story. Most fear if they dredge it all up it’ll never end. They fear they will cry and never be able to stop. They fear the ugly past will rear its head more vicious then before when all they want to do is forget about it. There are so many fears when one considers the choice to open up the past. I understand that and I give my clients as much space as they need – to a point.
At the beginning of therapy with me I hone in on goals. What is it that you, the client, want to accomplish? Some say, “I’m tired of feeling sad all the time”, “I want my out-of-control anger to end”, “I just don’t feel right and not sure why”. The reasons vary why people come to see me. But they walk in my door because they know they need to make a change. They know they have a story to tell. As I tell many of my clients, we all have a story. Every single person we encounter has a story. Please tell me yours.
The stories that many of us live with are often deeply ingrained in our unconscious. We carry that unconscious past around daily, which creates anxiety, depression, resentment, prejudice, anger, hurt and much more. Our stories dictate how we view ourselves, how we view others, and how we perceive life in general. Even though life may seemingly be going well now, our life stories can weigh us down, keep us angry or sad, and prevent us from feeling joy, happiness, or even content.
It isn’t until we open up the past, talk about it, purge it, dig in deep and explore it that we begin to feel some freedom. Living with our past stuck in our unconscious can be life draining. Remaining in that place affects our daily decisions, how we judge others, why we hold on to resentment or jealousy.
In therapy, as you sit across from me, we can discuss your life story, the ugly past. I want you to share it all with me. It’s when we bring the unconscious to the conscious the freedom and change begins. Trust me when I say, you won’t cry forever and you won’t be stuck there by dredging it all up again. Rather, it’s the dredging it all up again that can be freeing.
By default our brain likes to go to the negativity. So together we work on re-writing your story to shift that focus. What statements are you telling yourself? “My parents always told me I was a loser, therefore that must be true and I will never amount to much so why try?” “My uncle abused me so I will never be happy and will always feel depressed.” “I was blindsided at that business meeting, others judged me just as I’ve always been judged in the past.” “My spouse left me for another person therefore I should never trust anyone again.” Statements such as these all relate to your past and present. Using small steady steps we can begin the process of change.
It might be time for you to make a change, make a move, confront the past and search ever so deep for some good that may have come out of it. Change is difficult. And re-writing or retelling your story toward better mental health is more complex than looking for the bright side of our past situations. That’s why we work on this together and recast “I’ll never forgive” or “I’m stuck with who I am,” into a new mold.
It’s probably difficult for you to imagine finding anything positive out of your past but it’s there. Look at your options. You can stay with what you have, and you know how that makes you feel, or you can be open to looking at your life from a different lens. Maybe you can find many benefits from your experiences or maybe only a couple. But what’s important is that you grab any benefit there is from your life experiences and focus on it. When you look at life from a different perspective you will be surprised how much better and empowered you can feel. So, are you ready to tell your story?
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Orange, CA but also has options for home-based psychotherapy. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth, and ptsd (civilian and military). She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-614-0612.
I enjoy music. Music finds its way into my day when I'm working on reports, driving in the car, and at times at the end of my day when I want to slow things down a bit. I think everyone will find music sneaking into their lives. Maybe you have the car radio on, you might hear it via the television or you might be in the grocery store and hear it in the background.
How does music affect your moods? Do you turn to music when you need to calm down or reduce anxiety? Do you put on faster music when you feel like partying or being more active? It's amazing how it controls how we feel.
Music, to many, is a reward. A certain song may trigger a certain memory. That memory may remind us of someone important in our life or a special past event. Just today I was watching a documentary when I heard a song I hadn't heard in years and immediately an image of my mother popped into my head. She used to sing this to me when I was very young. I recall her trying to teach it to me. The connection was “immediate” and then a long flow of memories came back. So you're wondering what the song was? Here's a youtube of it. I think you'll enjoy it.
At times we all get songs stuck in our head. We hear the same song over and over. We makes jokes about it happening. But it also can be very distracting in our lives. The music that gets stuck in our heads is generally just simple verses of a song. Research indicates that these loops of music play over and over when neural circuits get stuck. Sometimes if we just listen to a different song it will break that neural circuit from getting stuck. But sometimes it just creates another loop with a new song.
I found this handy image on Bing images.
See the “Memory of Sound”? That is the area of the brain that works with sound... and music. So when we listen to music our brains begin to change. When the music we are listening too brings us pleasure we begin to release dopamine. Actually the dopamine is released seconds before we experience the peak of pleasure. The brain actually knows what’s coming next. It can predict the pleasure. We like that!
When you are feeling tense, anxious, angry, rushed and you want to slow down try listening to some relaxing music. Something slow and easy. You will notice how it affects you. Turn off the news, hard rock, etc or whatever you feel speeds you up. Sit comfortably or lay down. Listen to some relaxing music. Take the music in, enjoy the notes, control your breathing to a slower pace and when thoughts or words come in just gently push them out and before you know it you'll feel the tension leaving. For that moment in time you should feel some peace and relaxation.
If you need some assistance in slowing down I do progressive relaxation for my clients. Sometimes we just need a session to wind down and relax. We deserve it. In the end, we can take on the next day with a renewed vitality.
Youtube, Chris Pikal, Jan 10, 2009 The Lawrence Welk Show: Mairzy Doats
CNN Health Elizabeth Landau, May 28, 2012 http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/26/health/mental-health/music-brain-science/
Home-Based Psychotherapy: a Fantastic Convenience
How many times have you thought about seeking out the services of a therapist but just can’t seem to fit it in the schedule, or want to keep it more private, thus avoiding going to a “therapist’s office”. Maybe you are feeling too depressed or anxious to even think about getting in the car and making the drive. You’re home with the kids and one of them needs therapy services. You dread getting all the kids in the car for the one who needs the appointment. How would you feel if you had a therapist come to you? You think…. Really? That can happen?
I enjoy being a Home Based Therapist. I feel like I connect with my clients on a very different level... on equal ground. I enjoy the process that takes place outside of the clinical office. I feel privileged entering my clients home, sitting on their sofa or at the kitchen table. I listen as they describe the change(s) they are looking for. With some clients we sit for coffee at a local coffee venue, others it may be a park bench. For teens, home based therapy works very well because we can meet on their turf. For businesses, I provide staff with some relaxation techniques or assistant with relationship issues such as conflict resolution.
Benefits? Nerves seem to dissipate quicker. My clients seem to open up sooner. Less cancellations thus leading to better outcomes. Convenience for my clients.
Home-based therapy has been happening for many years and while it may not be heard of very often, and it may be hard to find, it is available.
The fees for home-based therapists are not that much different from traditional in office therapy. It may be slightly higher to account for the cost of the drive.
Feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed? Seeking out a home-based therapist may be what you need.
Let me know what you think and if you've ever worked with a home based therapist. Comments are welcome.
*photo found on google image search
Therapy in Orange County, California ~
I'm a licensed Psychotherapist and certified Master Hypnotist who works with adults looking to reduce anxiety, depression and stress as a result of every day life and traumas. Work can also be done on breaking specific habits.
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Liz Birch, LMFT, CHt
238 W. Main Street, Suite 101
Tustin, CA 92780
(in Stevens Square)
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This information is not intended to and does not create a therapist-client relationship.
@2019 Liz Birch, LMFT, CHt Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist CA Lic.#40999 Orange County, CA