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How to Re-Wire Your Brain for Better Relationships

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

I was eight years old when my father and I somehow ended up in a heated, verbal struggle. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I remember that he was yelling at me.

I already knew by then that my father didn’t deal well with anger. It wasn’t uncommon for him to explode into fits of rage. I don’t know what I had done this time that had gotten him so upset, but I must have felt that he was being unfair. As he turned his back on me to walk away, I blurted out, “I hate you!”

It’s not an uncommon thing for a kid to say in the heat of anger, because kids haven’t yet learned how to cope with strong emotions. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.

My father didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t say anything to me at all for several days. He gave me the silent treatment. He ignored all of my attempts to get his attention or to try to reconnect with him. He acted as if I didn’t exist.

I felt alone, sad, guilty, and scared. As you can imagine, for a child of eight, it was excruciating to be shut off from him. And that wasn’t the only time my dad punished me with silence.

Obviously, my father wasn’t a good role model for helping me to deal with anger constructively. If he had been, he might have asked me what was upsetting me and would have helped me figure out my feelings. At the very least, he might have apologized for getting so angry.

Instead, he responded in a way that was anxiety-provoking, guilt-inducing, and painful. His tendency to act in this way made an indelible impression on me and my nervous system that I have struggled with for much of my life. The message I got was clear: Anger is bad and dangerous to a relationship; it brings disdain, loss of approval, and abandonment.

It’s not that my father didn’t love me. I know now that he loved me very much. But he had a really hard time managing his emotions. This came from his own early experiences in his family where he learned the very same thing that he ended up teaching me.

During our volatile exchange, I’m sure something deep in his brain had gotten triggered and had gotten the best of him. Some old unprocessed feelings came up, and caused him to withdraw and shut down.

At the time, he didn’t understand what kind of damage his reaction was causing. He was actually doing the best he knew how. Fortunately, he’s grown and changed a lot since then and so have I.

But that kind of treatment affected the way my brain got wired. I grew up feeling anxious about feelings of anger. If I felt angry with someone important to me, I worried that if I spoke up or asserted myself, they would abandon me.

In my adult relationships, any sign of conflict with a partner, friend, or authority figure made me scared that something bad would happen, that I’d be punished in some way, rejected, or abandoned. In romantic relationships, I worried that I would lose our relationship if anything challenging came up.

As soon as anger arose in some way, my nervous system would respond as though I was in danger. I’d feel anxious and panicky. I’d question my feelings and inevitably I’d rationalizing away whatever was bothering me. I avoided the discomfort of honoring my emotions and talking to the other person about how I felt.

My adult relationships followed a typical pattern: They would start out with a lot of happiness and excitement, but as they continued, I’d start to feel anxious, worried, unsure, especially whenever there was any sign of conflict. I felt conflicted about my feelings and had a hard time working with them.

Every relationship has times when partners get angry or upset, and in healthy relationships, the partners can find a way to constructively deal with their emotions and talk it out with one another. But that was not a part of my software. I’d avoid having uncomfortable conversations, I’d repress my feelings, and I’d hide how I really felt.

As a result, I would often wonder why I felt so disconnected to other people. I would keep busy with my work, school, going to the gym and other activities just so I wouldn’t have to slow down and feel my real feelings.

Of course, none of this was apparent to me at the time. It was just how I’d been wired. It took many years before I understood what was going on.

Eventually a skilled and compassionate therapist helped me see how much anxiety was affecting my experience, that I was shutting myself off from my certain feelings because they felt threatening. I had been taught that strong emotions–particularly anger—were dangerous and would result in abandonment and rejection.

Now, many years later, I have a happy twenty-two-year marriage to my husband, Tim, and I’m a therapist, writer, coach, and speaker. Though I still sometimes feel that old wiring trying to take control, I’ve developed some skills to manage the anxiety or fear that can get stirred up when something is off between us or when conflict arises.

I see many clients who struggle with similar issues in their relationships. They feel excited to start out with their new romance, but as the relationship goes on, they start to struggle, they feel disconnected, shut down, or they and their partners fight a lot, or respond in ways that don’t support the health of their relationship.

They often ask me: why is this so hard?

I’ve learned that, while our specific relationship problems may be different, the underlying issue for most of us is the same.

At the core of our struggles, underneath many layers of conflict and complaints, is a fear of being emotionally present and authentic in our relationships. We’re afraid of truly expressing our feelings in a vulnerable way. We worry that the other person won’t like us or want to be with us if we tell them what’s really going on for us.

But why are we afraid of being emotionally present in our relationships?

The short answer is that—as you saw in the story about my dad and me—our adult brains are still operating on wiring that was created in the first few years of our lives. Depending on what our caretakers taught us about how to function in close relationships, we may have learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If you struggle with painful romantic relationships (or even troubled relationships in general) as I have, you may be experiencing the effects of “faulty wiring.” You may have learned ways to cope with your emotions that don’t serve you anymore.

Luckily, there are ways to “re-wire” your brain for better relationships.

The first step is to understand what you learned about expressing your emotions when you were a child. Take some time to respond to these questions (separately for each parent or caregiver):

  • How did your parent(s) respond to your feelings?
  • Were they generally open, attentive, and responsive to your feelings?
  • Did they get uncomfortable or anxious when you expressed your feelings or certain feelings in particular (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy, and the like)?
  • Did they get distracted or seem to ignore certain feelings?
  • Were some feelings okay and others not? If so, which feelings were welcomed, and which weren’t?
  • Did they get irritated, frustrated, or angry at times when you expressed certain feelings?
  • Did they apologize when they hurt your feelings or reacted in an unhelpful way?
  • How did they respond when you were afraid or feeling vulnerable?
  • How did they respond when you were angry and asserted yourself?
  • How did they respond when you were affectionate and loving?
  • Could you rely on them to be there for you emotionally when you needed them?
  • Overall, how did it feel for you to share your vulnerable feelings with them?

Now think about whether your answers to these questions reminds you of your romantic relationships in any way. Do you ever see yourself acting in similar ways to one of your parents or caregivers when particular feelings arise in your relationship? Does your partner ever act in similar ways? If you’re in a relationship now and your partner is willing, ask them to answer these questions about their parents as well.

See if you can identify any patterns in how you both share and react to different emotions in one another.

If you’re not currently in a relationship, think about past relationships, especially particularly difficult ones.

After you get a sense of what lessons you may have learned about how to express emotions (or not) with people close to you, you’ll be in a better place to learn new ways of reacting.

Here are some tips for growing your capacity to be emotionally mindful and present when you get triggered by your feelings. .

1. Recognize and name.

When you feel a strong emotion, you may have been triggered by old wiring. You may feel out of control in your response, which is why some people say, “I don’t know what came over me!” when they get really upset.

The first step in regaining control of your emotions is to learn to identify the ones that most often trigger you. Practice observing yourself when you feel those challenging emotions. Name them as they come up. You might even want to write down the emotions that are difficult for you to cope with. This step takes a lot of practice, but it gets easier the more you do it.

2. Stop, drop, and stay.

When we feel triggered, upset, and uncomfortable, we often want to escape that emotion. We may get irritable, yell or criticize, walk away, shut ourselves in our room, or numb ourselves out.

But in order to practice being mindful of your emotions, you’ll need to learn how to stay with them and ride them out. Rather than doing what you normally do when you have those feelings, stop. Pay attention to how the emotion feels in your body. Describe it. Ask it what it’s there to teach you. You may even want to write or draw it so you can become familiar and comfortable with it.

The point is to look at it, stay with, and learn about it.

3. Pause and reflect.

When we’re in a conflict, we often feel like there’s no choice between the time we feel the strong emotion (such as anger, rage, hatred, or fear) and our response to it (yelling, becoming violent, shutting down, or running away).

But in reality, by stretching the space between the feelings arising and responding, we can create some room in which we can chose how best to respond.

So, practice feeling the challenging emotion and not responding right away. If you normally lash out with an angry statement when your partner says or does something you dislike, practice doing something else. Tell your partner you need a moment. Breathe deeply and slowly which will help to calm your nervous system. Go for a walk. Whatever you need to do to calm your distress and choose a more helpful response.

The more often you do this, the easier it will get to make better choices.

In this space that you create, reflect on what you’re feeling underneath the reactivity. If you’re feeling like lashing out, what’s underneath that? If you’re angry that your partner forgot to call you on your birthday, is there more to it? Are you feeling hurt, disappointed, or afraid of losing a sense of connection with them? Does it feel familiar? Might it be linked to feelings you had when you were a child?

Explore the emotion. Give yourself time to figure out what you’re really feeling, what you want, what you desire, and what you’d like to happen in that situation.

4. Mindfully relate your feelings.

Once you know what it is you’re really feeling and what you’d like to happen, try relating that in a calm and open way to your partner. If your partner forgot to call you, rather than yell that she doesn’t really care about you at all, maybe you can say, “I’m realizing that I feel hurt that you didn’t call me. I worry that you don’t really care about me. I would like to understand what happened.”

This will help you and your partner connect with one another, open yourselves up to one another in a more authentic way, and share your true feelings and experiences. This way, you are less likely to fall into old patterns where you may trigger one another and cause each other pain.

By being vulnerable, open, and unafraid to express your true self, you’ll connect better to your romantic partner and you can develop a better understanding of what you want in your relationship.

I speak from experience. Once I learned how to better express my emotions and what they were saying to me, I decided that I wanted a partner who would be willing to do that as well. I made the painful decision to end a 5-year relationship I’d been in which was full of conflict and, on a deep level, I knew wasn’t all that I longed for.

But in doing so, in listening to and trusting my feelings, I was able to move forward and eventually meet my husband, with whom I’ve found the space disentangle myself from my old wiring and have a healthier, satisfying relationship. To love and be loved like I mean it.

Article By: Ron Frederick of Tiny Buddha

Eight Nutritional Deficiencies That Can Cause Depression & Anxiety

Depression and anxiety disorders are seemingly increasing on a global level and impacting the overall health and well-being of people’s everyday functioning.

Typically, when one goes to the doctor to alleviate these problems, a doctor will ask a few questions about your overall mental functioning, and more often than not, hand you a prescription for some expensive anti-depressant or anxiety reducer.

While medications are beneficial for short-term relief, they provide a dependency and, most importantly, are treating the symptoms and not the root of the problem. What many doctors neglect to look at is a person’s metabolic or nutritional deficiencies, which may be greatly impacting their mental health.

From a holistic vantage point, our gut is known as the “second brain,” and there are structural/anatomical reasons for this reference. The “second brain,” known scientifically as the enteric nervous system, consists of sheaths of neurons located in the walls of our gut and make up the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve runs from a person’s esophagus to their anus, roughly nine meters long. Due to the interconnectedness of our gut and enteric nervous system, once our gut bacteria is out of balance, we become susceptible to emotional disturbances most commonly manifested as depression or anxiety. The following are eight nutritional deficiencies that might be impacting your mood.

1. Health Food Deficiency?

Do you simply have an unhealthy diet? Is your diet filled with sugar? Junk foods? Sodas? Processed foods? If you answered yes, then chances are your diet is having an impact on your mood and overall health. Nowadays, people are busier than they have ever been before, and when this happens, diet and exercise are one of the first things to be neglected. Fast food restaurants, TV dinners, and general stores like 7-Eleven, make a huge profit on our busy lifestyles. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression are just a few of the harmful health impacts diets lacking in nutrients can cause.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency.

A deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids, or an imbalance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, may effect one’s mood. Omega-3s are important for brain functioning and positive mental outlook. Research has shown that a diet lacking or having an imbalance between an Omega-3 and Omega-6 can negatively impact one’s mental health in the following ways: ADHD, depression, Schizophrenia, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Omega-3s also help people who suffer from inflammation and pain problems. Foods that are rich in Omega-3s are Flax seeds, Chia seeds, hemp seeds, leafy greens, beans, and seaweed.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency.

Vitamin D helps your bones and teeth, and they are necessary for absorbing phosphorus into the blood stream, which helps your mental and physical health. Have you heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Symptoms of SAD look just like depression, expressing themselves during the winter months due to lack of sunlight. A study analyzed more than 1,200 individuals for vitamin D deficiency and associated mental disorders. The study found that deficiency in vitamin D was present in people with depression and panic disorders.  Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. Just going for a walk or spending some time outside is beneficial. Other great sources of Vitamin D are spirulina, choral, bee pollen, wild mushrooms, and fortified nut milk.

4. B-Complex Vitamin Deficiency.

The B vitamins convert food into fuel that allows us to stay energized throughout the day. While the B vitamins work in conjunction together to provide energy and cellular repair, and even can produce stress relief, each B vitamin (nine in total) have their own specific benefits, from promoting healthy skin and hair to preventing memory loss and migraines. New research is emerging in the field of Neuropsychiatry that shows a link between B vitamin deficiencies and mood disorders, including depression. Foods that are rich in B vitamins include: seeds, nuts, leafy green plants, beets, and other root vegetables.

5.  Zinc, Folate, Chromium, and Iron Deficiencies.

Minerals originate from soil, but unlike vitamins, they cannot be made by people, animals, or other living systems. Minerals in the soil are absorbed by plants and then get passed to humans and other animals who eat such plants. Research has shown that minerals like Zinc, Folate, lithium, Iron, and chromium help those suffering from depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders, and subsets of alcoholism. Since minerals are considered trace elements, one only needs a small amount of them to benefit. Some foods that contain essential minerals include whole-grain breads, fresh fruits, and deeply colored vegetables.

Article By: Naomi Zellin of Elephant Journal

101 Positive Body Affirmations

Affirmations are statements that you repeat over and over in attempt to change your unconscious beliefs. Pick a few that you like and look in the mirror and repeat several times each day! If you can find some of these positive body affirmations that resonate for you and really allow yourself to see them, hear them and feel them, you might find some shifts in the way you think about yourself and your body.

1. My body deserves love.

2. I am perfect, whole, and complete just the way I am.

3. I feed my body healthy nourishing food and give it healthy nourishing exercise because it deserves to be taken care of.

4. I love and respect myself.

5. It’s okay to love myself now as I continue to evolve.

6. My body is a temple. I want to treat it with love and respect.

7. My body is a gift.

8. Food doesn’t have to be the enemy, it can be nurturing and healing.

9. Life is too short and too precious to waste time obsessing about my body. I am going to take care of it to the best of my ability and get out of my head and into the world.

10. I will not give in to the voices of my eating disorder that tell me I’m not okay. I will listen to the healthy voices that I do have, even if they are very quiet so that I can understand that I am fine. I am fine.

11. Food doesn’t make me feel better, it just temporarily stops me from feeling what I’m feeling.

12. I have everything inside of me that I need to take care of myself without using food.

13. A goal weight is an arbitrary number, how I feel is what’s important.

14. I am worthy of love

15. As long as I am good, kind, and hold myself with integrity, it doesn’t matter what other people think of me.

16. Other people are too busy thinking about themselves to care what my weight is

17. When I compare myself to others, I destroy myself, I don’t want to destroy myself so I’ll just continue on my journey, not worrying about other people’s journeys.

18. I am blessed to be aging. The only alternative to aging is death.

19. It’s okay for me to like myself. It’s okay for me to love myself.

20. I have to be an advocate for me. I can’t rely on anyone else to do that for me.

21. A “perfect” body is one that works, no matter what that means for you personally.

22. It’s okay for me to trust the wisdom of my body.

23. Just because someone looks perfect on the outside, doesn’t mean they have a perfect life. No one has a perfect life, we all struggle. That’s just what being human is.

24. If I spend too much time trying to be and look like someone else, I cease to pay attention to myself, my virtues, my path, and my journey.

25. When I look to others to dictate who I should be or how I should look, I reject who I am.

26. The last thing I should be doing is rejecting myself. Accepting myself as I am right now is the first step in changing, growing and evolving. When I reject myself, I cannot grow.

27. Self respect is underrated.

28. I can only go forward, so although I can learn from it, I refuse to dwell on the past.

29. ALL images in magazines are airbrushed, photoshopped, and distorted.

30. If people actively judge or insult me, it’s because they feel badly about themselves. No one who feels good about themselves has the need to put someone down to elevate themselves- they have better things to do with their time.

31. I have no need to put someone down to elevate myself.

32. I can be a good person if I choose to be.

33. It’s my life, I can choose the way I want to live it.

34. When I smile, I actually make other people happy.

35. Balance is the most important.

36. If I binge today, I can still love and accept myself, I don’t have to beat, berate and starve myself right afterwards, and I still have the very next moment to jump right back into recovery.

37. Recovery is an ongoing process that is not linear in fashion. If I slip up, I’ll take the opportunity as a learning experience and get right back to my recovery goals/program.

38. Progress is not linear. It’s normal for me to go forward and then backward, and then forward again.

39. I enjoy feeling good. It’s okay for me to feel good.

40. Having an eating disorder is not my identity.

41. Being skinny or fat is not my identity. I am identified by who I am on the inside, a loving, wonderful person.

42. I choose health and healing over diets and punishing myself.

43. My opinion of myself is the only one I truly know and it’s the only one that counts. I can choose my opinion of myself.

44. When I am in my head too much, I can return to my breath, just breath and be okay. There is only this moment.

45. It’s okay to let others love me, why wouldn’t they?

46. I am good stuff.

47. I am compassionate and warm. My presence is delightful to people.

48. My very existence makes the world a better place.

49. It’s okay to pay someone to rub my feet every once in a while.

50. If I am hungry, I am supposed to let myself eat. Food is what keeps me alive.

51. Getting older makes me smarter.

52. It’s okay not to be the best all the time.

53. My well-being is the most important thing to me. I am responsible for taking care of me. We are each responsible for ourselves.

54. No one has the power to make me feel bad about myself without my permission.

55. My feet are cute. Even if they’re ugly.

56. I eat for energy and nourishment.

57. Chocolate is not the enemy. It’s not my friend either. It’s just chocolate, it has no power over me.

58. I can be conscious in my choices.

59. I am stronger than the urge to binge.

60. I am healthier than the urge to purge.

61. Restricting my food doesn’t make me a better person, being kind to myself and to others makes me a better person.

62. Being skinny doesn’t make me good. Being fat doesn’t make me bad.

63. I can be healthy at any size.

64. Life doesn’t start 10 pounds from now, it’s already started. I can make the choice to include myself in it.

65. Food, drugs, and alcohol are not the solution. But they might seem like it at times, but using these things can make more problems. I have what I need inside of me as the solution.

66. There is a guide inside of me who is wise and will always be there to help me on my journey.

67. Sometimes sitting around and doing nothing is just what the doctor ordered. It’s okay to let myself relax.

68. I am a human being, not a human doing. It’s okay to just be sometimes. I don’t always have to be doing.

69. My brain is my sexiest body part.

70. Looks last about five minutes– or until someone opens their mouth.

71. My life is what I make of it. I have all the power here.

72. My body is a vessel for my awesomeness.

73. My body can do awesome things.

74. If I am healthy, I am so very blessed.

75. I won’t let magazines or the media tell me what I should look like. I look exactly the way I’m supposed to. I know because this is the way god made me!

76. What is supposedly pleasing to the eye is not always what is pleasing to the touch. Cuddly is good!

77. I can trust my intuition. It’s here to guide me.

78. Just because I am taking care of myself and being an advocate for myself doesn’t mean I’m selfish.

79. Not everyone has to like me. I just have to like me.

80. It’s not about working on myself it’s about being okay with who I already am.

81. My needs are just as important as anyone else.

82. Body, if you can love me for who I am, I promise to love you for who you are– no one is responsible for changing anyone else.

83. I will make peace with my body, it doesn’t do anything but keep me alive and all I do is insult it and hurt it. I’m sorry body, you’ve tried to be good to me and care for me, it’s time for me to try to be good back.

84. Thighs, thank you for carrying me.

85. Belly, thank you for holding in all my organs and helping me digest.

86. Skin, thank you for shielding and protecting me.

87. Other people don’t dictate my choices for me, I know what’s best for myself.

88. I feed my body life affirming foods so that I can be healthy and vital.

89. Taking care of myself feels good.

90. I can eat a variety of foods for health and wellness without bingeing.

91. There is more to life that losing weight. I’m ready to experience it.

92. If I let go of my obsession with food and my body weight, there is a whole world waiting for me to explore.

93. The numbers on the scale are irrelevant to who I am as a human.

94. Food is not good or bad. It has no moral significance. I can choose to be good or bad and it has nothing to do with the amount of calories or carbohydrates I eat.

95. I am still beautiful when I’m having a bad hair day.

96. My nose gives me the ability to breathe. Breath gives me the ability to be an amazingly grounded, solid person.

97. Being grounded and whole is what makes me beautiful. If I don’t feel grounded and whole, I can get there just by being still, breathing, listening to my intuition, and doing what I can to be kind to myself and others.

98. I am not bad and I don’t deserve to be punished, not by myself and not by others.

99. I deserve to be treated with love and respect and so do you. I choose to do and say kind things for and about myself and for and about others.

100. Even if I don’t see how pretty I am, there is someone who does. I am loved and admired. REALLY!

101. Beauty?… To me it is a word without sense because I do not know where its meaning comes from nor where it leads to. ~Pablo Picasso