Category: <span>Self-improvement</span>

20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors

20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors
Self-care practices boost trauma healing

Trauma therapies, such as Attachment-Focused EMDR, are often essential to lead to a full recovery from complex trauma. Despite being highly effective, trauma therapies’ positive results are intensified and felt long after treatment termination when combined with a diverse plan of self-care practices. Here are 20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors to help you promote and maintain mental/emotional, physical and relational wellbeing:

  1. Get enough sleep: practice good sleep hygiene and prioritise sleep to feel re-energised and less reactive.
  2. Eat healthily: choose wholefoods and avoid the ones which are rich in refined carbohydrates (white pasta, bread, etc), caffeine and smoking, and lower alcohol consumption to help reduce anxiety.
  3. Exercise or do physical activity regularly: do yoga, Pilates, start running or brisk walking, join a gym, or have dance lessons to get that endorphin kick and prevent depression.
  4. Socialise: avoid isolation – which could also make you more prone to having depression – by meeting up with friends while also trying to make new ones.
  5. Practice good personal hygiene: shower daily, keep your nails, hair and teeth clean and wash your hands after using the toilet.
  6. Get things done: commit to completing tasks you have been putting off to regain a sense of competence and self-efficacy
  7. Have fun: remind yourself to do fun things and be with people that make you feel good
  8. Spend time in nature: go for hikes, even if short ones, or for long drives in the countryside to declutter your mind and reduce arousal
  9. Do something different: practice an activity that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone to stimulate cognition (memory, attention and perception)
  10. Try out alternative medicine to treat seemingly unsolvable aches and pains: book an acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, Rolfing, craniosacral or chiropractic session
  11. Take a break from social media: read a book, listen to music, or try sitting still and connecting with your surroundings instead of dissociating from it while staring at a screen
  12. Be selective with what you watch and read: avoid watching the news or films and documentaries that trigger you. Go for content that leads to laughter, loving feelings and pleasure over fear and anger.
  13. Allow yourself to take a break: listen to your body and respect its need for relaxation. Do not keep putting off making a doctor’s appointment when needed.
  14. Reduce screen time: limit phone and computer use to certain times of the day. Do not touch your mobile phone 2 hours before bedtime if you suffer from sleep disturbances.
  15. Do grief work: take time to sit down somewhere private to cry and feel angry about what you are going through or were submitted to when growing up.
  16. Meditate and do breathing exercises: ground yourself by sitting down and focusing on your breathing.
  17. Do affirmations: practice positive brainwashing by listening to affirmations that target your insecurities and vulnerabilities daily.
  18. Listen to and believe in your feelings to honour your boundaries: choose to believe in what you feel and say no more often.
  19. Reduce dramatically or cut contact with individuals that have a negative effect on you: favour spending time with people who accept, listen and support you.
  20. Do not allow your trauma history to define you: work on changing your narrative in a way that highlights your resilience, inner strength and post-traumatic growth.

To develop a healthy and enjoyable self-care routine, make it your own. Choose practices with which you identify or feel in the mood to try out. Then, practice at least one of them daily. Show true love for yourself by creating a habit of making time for healing and personal growth – especially when you are not feeling well – to regain a sense of wholeness and connection and lead a pleasant, enjoyable life.

3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings

3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings
How easy it is to trust your own feelings?

As an Attachment-Focused EMDR therapist who specialises in relational trauma, honouring my clients’ feelings and their right to believe in their emotional wisdom make for essential tools to help them heal. Not surprisingly, relational trauma victims tend to display a complex and often neglectful relationship with their own body, feelings and emotions, which has a negative impact on their physical and/or mental health. Here are 3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings, so to clarify why that happens and help you break that habit:

1- You were raised in an environment of emotional neglect and/or abuse

When you grow up without feeling properly heard, seen and felt, you struggle to connect and honour your own self. To promote emotional wellbeing and healthy development, conscious caregivers are attentive and respectful of their children’s needs, feelings and wants. By validating their children’s experience, they help them honour their own. As a result, those who are raised by emotionally conscious and mature parents develop a good sense of identity which is guided, comfortably, by their own feelings. Conversely, those whose feelings were dismissed as unimportant or even shamed and rejected for having them learn, through those very processes, to repress or deny their own emotional wisdom.

2- Connecting with negative feelings makes you feel unsafe

Do you remember what happened when you expressed negative emotions and feelings such as anger, sadness, fear and grief as a child? How did the key people around you, namely caregivers, teachers, relatives and friends respond? If they reacted with antagonism, be it by ignoring your feelings completely, solely focusing on solving what they believed was a problem, openly shaming you for having them or making you believe they did not correspond to your true experience (also known as gaslighting or truth abuse), it is only natural that you feel vulnerable when feeling them and insecure about their veracity and purpose, even as an adult.

3- You are in denial or not ready to change

Not fully believing in how you feel – especially when times are tough and change is required to promote solid wellbeing – helps one remain motionless. If you are not ready to face reality or willing to put energy into making positive changes and dealing with their consequences, telling yourself that you cannot trust your own feelings keeps you in your comfort zone. Despite perpetuating discomfort in the long term, this dysfunctional coping strategy creates a temporary sense of safety which feeds your inertia.

In order to feel whole and, most importantly, lead an authentic and fulfilling life, I highly recommend you challenge beliefs that lead to thinking that you cannot trust what you feel proactively, every time they trigger inadequacy. Do that by practicing “feeling is believing” and tell yourself that that inadequacy is part of your conditioning and it is time you let that go. Then, focus on recreating a freer and more trusting relationship with your own true self by allowing your feelings to take the lead, unconditionally.

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary
Emotion concepts help you create a more empowering perception of reality

Emotions not only help you make sense of what is going on in your own body, but also influence your perception of what lies outside yourself, as the environment and others, in a creative and empowering way. Therefore, the more specialised your vocabulary for feelings and emotional states, the greater your understanding of your inner experience, as well as your ability to transform your perception of reality. To approach your emotional world from a more specialised, yet non-complicated perspective, here are 130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary:

Acceptance, admiration, adoration, agitation, amazement amusement, anger, anguish, annoyance, anticipation, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, awe

Betrayed, bitterness

Certainty, concern, confidence, conflicted, confusion, connectedness, contempt, curiosity

Defeat, defensiveness, defiant, denial, depressed, desire, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, dread

Eagerness, elation, emasculated, embarrassment, empathy, envy, euphoria, excitement

Fear, fearlessness, flustered, frustration

Gratitude, grief, guilt

Happiness, hatred, homesick, hopefulness, horror, humbled, humiliation, hurt, hysteria

Impatience, inadequate, indifference, insecurity, inspired, intimidated, irritation

Jealousy

Loneliness, longing, love, lust

Moody, moved

Neglected, nervousness, nostalgia

Obsessed, overwhelmed

Panic, paranoia, peacefulness, pity, pleased, powerlessness, pride

Rage, regret, relief, reluctance, remorse, resentment, resignation

Sadness, sappy, satisfaction, shadenfreude, scorn, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, scepticism smugness, somberness, stunned, surprise, suspicion, sympathy

Terror, tormented

Unappreciated, uncertainty, unease

Validated, valued, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability

Wanderlust, wariness, wistful, worry, worthlessness

To benefit from emotion concepts as the ones listed above, increase self-awareness and create a habit of monitoring and naming your emotional and feeling states. When sensing non-pleasantness and/or high arousal or stress, make a conscious effort to use as many emotion concepts as needed to explain what you are experiencing, but proactively and not – purely – reactively. When the same is applied simultaneously to pleasant feelings and emotional states, you learn how to tolerate ambiguity and connect with a more balanced self. With time, this practice also has a direct impact on negative bias, reducing its power, and what is more, enriching your perception of your own experience and validating your role as its creator. If the idea that our brains create reality and do not simply react to what lies outside ourselves appeals to you, I recommend reading the brilliant “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett.

How to process emotional pain

How to process emotional pain
Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions

Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions. When we come to understand that our trauma and emotional pain remain in the body even when we try to deny them in our minds, processing them becomes a natural course to healing. If you agree with that premise but find the whole process daunting, here are four simple steps on how to process emotional pain:

1- Connect with the body without fear

If you were raised in an environment of emotional neglect like the most of us, your tendency is to repress, deny or avoid negative emotions. In order to start feeling them, move the attention inward in a mindful way. Resist the habit of attempting to distract yourself from them and connect with the negative bodily sensations deeply.

2- Ride the wave of emotion

As you start connecting with the emotional pain, you will notice it more and feel it more intensely. That is totally OK. As emotions are fleeting, they will come and then go. Trust this truth, stay with them and allow them to ebb and flow. Feeling emotional pain is not pleasant, undoubtedly, but it is manageable. As we were all wired for feeling and processing it, remind yourself that you can stand that emotional (and at times even physical) discomfort.

3- Challenge irrational thinking

Negative emotions usually follow negative thinking. Therefore, you can feel stuck in your emotional pain or extend its life by not questioning dysfunctional thinking. Because most negative thoughts are biased and irrational, they fail to explain reality objectively. Consequently, they corrupt your perspective of yourself, the world and others, triggering fear, sadness, anger and shame. When riding that negative emotion wave, ask yourself “What was I thinking just now?”, consciously question irrational thinking and identify cognitive errors.

4- Focus on the positive

After you have allowed yourself to feel, ride the emotional wave to completion and challenge negative thinking, it is time to frame the situation differently, in a more realistic and empowering fashion. Give meaning to your suffering and allow yourself to re-organise your narrative from a personal growth angle. The very fact that you had the courage to feel your emotional pain and be yourself in an authentic way is already so remarkable, that deserves your full appreciation.

Learning how to process emotional pain, as outlined above, may not be easy, but it is certainly adaptive and rewarding. As you start building a different relationship with your body and emotions, you feel more whole and connected, not only with your own self but also with life and others. Furthermore, as your emotional maturity and autonomy develop, your relationships tend to flourish and become more fulfilling. I hope you have the courage and willingness to see beyond your pain and enjoy the benefits of embracing it and fully processing it with acceptance.

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children
By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness

The best way to influence your partner and children is through modelling self-esteem and emotional maturity. By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness. As what we see has greater impact on us than what we hear, the way you treat yourself has the potential to affect your children’s and partner’s relationships with their own selves, as well as the one they keep with you. To become a healthier archetype, here are four simple ways on how to model emotional maturity to your partner and children:

Be emotionally congruent  

Due to their emotional intolerance, emotionally immature individuals have a need to repress and deny their emotions. To give an example of wholeness and promote wellbeing to your loved ones, allow yourself to be the way you feel. Denying your sadness or forcing yourself to smile, for instance, are behaviours that perpetuate shame and emotional neglect. Contrary to popular belief, repressing our anger, sadness and fear, or pretending they do not exist does not help us feel better, but robs us from our power to process them in a healthy manner and connect with others through vulnerability. Feeling one way and behaving another sends out the wrong message, as if our true feelings were unacceptable and should be rejected.

Talk consciously about feelings

The simple exercise of naming how we feel helps us regulate emotionally. Telling your partner or children “When you ____(behaviour), I feel ____(feeling/emotions)”, allows you to express how you feel and address a problem without sounding aggressive, which may help you avoid lengthy and unproductive arguments. Noticing your partner or children’s anxiety, for instance, and asking questions such as “You look anxious, is there something bothering you?”, can help them connect with their feelings and feel comfortable sharing them with you. When initiating such conversations, remind yourself to act in a non-judgemental way, give them your full attention and listen to what they have to say.

Tolerate negative emotions

Emotional maturity is all about self-acceptance and intimacy. You cannot accept yourself and have a fulfilling, intimate relationship with anyone (even yourself), however, if you reject negative emotions. When you repress and deny them, be it in yourself or others, you neglect and alienate. All emotions are parts of who we are and deserve to be honoured. Emotions also exist without apparent meaning, they just are. Resist the temptation to rationalise them, learn how to tolerate discomfort and allow them to just be.

Give emotional support

Emotional support is not problem solving. When you focus on a solution to what you perceive as “a problem” (i.e., a negative emotion), you lose connection with the emotion. Therefore, when you notice your partner or children feeling affected by negative emotions, display a curious and accepting attitude. Resist the antagonistic urge to tell them they are OK or shame them for feeling angry or cranky, and openly validate the way they feel. To show empathy, mirror the way they feel by making simple statements with emotion and feeling words, such as “I can see you are angry” or “It is OK to feel sad”.

All the above require courage and patience and rely on your ability to tolerate emotional discomfort. To succeed reproducing in practice what you have read here, do not give up or switch back to your older self when feeling awkward and inauthentic. Trust that those feelings will change with time. Emotional freedom and tolerance are quite addictive, and once you have managed to introduce such positive habits in your own life and start feeling their benefits on your physical, emotional and relational health, you will wonder why you have not changed your attitude earlier.

Conditional wellbeing

Conditional wellbeing
Feelings of enjoyment should not only follow an act of effort or good behaviour

Do you have a habit of putting your happiness on hold until “something good” happens? Do you say to yourself, “When I buy a house/get married/have a boyfriend/girlfriend/make more money etc., then I will feel good”? If yes, you suffer from what I call conditional wellbeing. Conditional wellbeing is to make good feelings about yourself, the world and other people dependent upon external factors. This approach to life is often at the centre of much of our unhappiness, however, and general discontent. So if it is so unproductive to our emotional health, why do we do it?

I believe that our culture of delayed gratification, as well as our rigid beliefs, have great influence on how we approach our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As children, we are often made to believe that good feelings of enjoyment should only follow an act of effort or good behaviour. Parents use rewards to make us do what they want us to do, as in “You can have ice-cream after you have done your homework/tidy up your room”, etc. When such schemes are reinforced through consistent practice, our brains automatically create an association between work and fun, as if we were only entitled to the latter if we did the former.

Our beliefs about “happiness” and “being worthy of feeling good” also interfere with our ability to enjoy ourselves for no reason. What do you usually associate with pleasure and good moments?  Does it tend to involve free time, people and things, eating and drinking? Are you always engaged in some kind of (special) activity when you create this mental picture? If yes, your beliefs about personal wellbeing could be limiting the way you perceive and experience it, making it conditional.

Some people only allow themselves to feel enjoyment after a long day’s work, at the weekend or when away on holiday.  Without noticing, their lives become all about chasing that reward, as if they did not deserve to have it without sacrifice. You need to earn it to enjoy, right? “No pain no gain”, so they say. Those beliefs are, of course, cognitive traps. While they keep you running on that wheel like a deluded hamster, the true satisfaction of living that comes from true, uncompromised self-expression become even more far-fetched.

If you identify with the above, and would like to reconnect with a healthier sense of joy and wellbeing, I suggest the following:

1- Stop over identifying with negative feelings: have you lost touch with life’s little pleasures because you are so focused on the negative? When you only have time for the big fish, life becomes a tedious and unsatisfying waiting game. Try maximising the pleasure that comes from waking up in the morning and having that delicious cup of coffee, or refreshing shower. Anything that gives you a good feeling is worth your attention and can change your experience, moment by moment.

2- Master the art of feeling happy just for being alive: make a point of taking a few moments throughout the day to feel good about being you. To achieve that, show gratitude and appreciation to yourself mentally, while you connect with good feelings in your body. If they do not come up naturally, create them, consciously, and experience them mindfully for a couple of minutes.

3- Drop the perfectionism: challenge thinking that revolves around “If I…, I would…” and “When I…, I will…” and start valuing yourself for who you are and not who you “should have been” in an unfortunate past, or “could be” in an idealised future. The same applies to the people and material things you convinced yourself you should have in order to feel happy. Tell yourself you are worth happiness and joy, right at this moment. When you genuinely feel that way, you attract good things, effortlessly.