Ego States; Post 2

In yesterday’s post we learned what ego states are and why they are important to our understanding of the choices that we sometimes automatically make.  We learned about child ego states where we end up feeling small, and parent ego states, where we seek to feel powerful. Essentially, neither one of these ego states is where we want to stay – we may land there in default, but it is important for us to recognize how we are feeling and pull out of it.

A good gauge to assess where you tend to go involves immediate reaction – if you feel responsible for someone else’s mood or response and feel powerless to it, you know you are in child ego state. If your immediate reaction tends to be anger, and you move to seeking powerr , you know you are in parent ego state.

Where we aim to be is in an Adult Ego State – it is here that we feel most grounded and settled. It is here that we are able to use both our emotion brain and logical brain to make decisions, and we tend to be less reactive. We can move to not owning someone else’s mood or behaviour; we can move to a less automatic defensive position.

Recognizing is always the first step. Knowing where the potential triggers came from is the second. Deciding to change the way we react is the third. Remember, whatever is learned can be unlearned. 🙂

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What are Ego States and Why are they Important?

I like to say that within us there are many different parts. And when we are feeling good, confident, and strong, those parts work together like a well-oiled machine. When we are feeling vulnerable; however, some of those parts begin to work independently of each other, or can come into conflict within ourselves.

The psychological definition we use for describing these parts are ego states. Everybody has them and we all experience them. We tend to shift into an ego state when triggered by something that typically comes from our past. Some examples include:

  • an automatic reaction to someone else’s anger; including the 0 to 60 response, immediately apologizing, feeling responsible regardless of the situation.
  • automatic care taking behaviours.
  • reacting out of fear of ‘getting into trouble.’
  • overly passive or overly aggressive reactions.
  • moving to fix.
  • automatically taking ownership.

One of the ways we can become aware of being in an ego state includes asking ourselves this question: “Am I feeling small right now?” When we can recognize that we feel small, we are most likely in a Child Ego state and will move to feel and sometimes react as we did when we were children. If, however, we are feeling ‘big’ in the moment, we know that we have moved to a Parent Ego State; where we are seeking power over other with ‘rules’ or reactions that tend to feel rigid and inflexible.

Being able to recognize when we have been triggered into an ego state is the first step in creating a healthier reaction to situations that mimic childhood experiences. Tomorrow’s post will expand on our overall goal with ego states to live in Adult Ego State.

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The Word ‘Unpack’ and The Use of Imagery

In therapy, we often hear the phrase, “let’s unpack that.” Those words provide an image that we can work with to further explore.

Think about the last time you were on vacation and brought your suitcase (I know, it’s been a looong time!) When I get to my destination, I like to hang my good clothes in a closet that has all the hangers ready for me; I put my casual clothes in the dresser, and my cosmetics in the bathroom.  Doing so allows me to feel organized and hopeful as I feel ready and excited for my week ahead. I also put our valuables in the safe; that allows me to feel secure.

We can achieve the same feelings in therapy when we unpack something that has been occupying space in our baggage. By exploring things in an environment that feels safe, we can begin the process of putting those memories or experiences in places in which we don’t have to carry them anymore. When we share the secrets we have guarded for so long, we can tuck them safely away. By unpacking the event, the experience, the trauma – we eliminate the weight that they inherently carry. Imagine if we had to lug our suitcases around with us the whole time we were on vacation? We would feel irritated, tired, anxious and depressed. The same things happen when we carry the weight of unprocessed events.

Let’s lean into the process of unpacking. That might be with a therapist, but it can also occur with a trusted friend, partner or family member. We can journal, mediate, pray. In any form we choose, when we focus on what needs to be explored, we set ourselves up to feel lighter, more joyful, grounded and confident.

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The Art of a Skillful Choice; Part 2

Yesterday’s post explored the difference between an impulsive choice and a skillful one. Today’s post walks through an example; it is one that is universal and is tied to a pretty common impulsive (and therefore emotional) choice.

I am sitting in front of the TV and it is about 8 pm at night. I think to myself “Hmmm, I wonder what I could eat,” and I go to the pantry and open its doors. “I could eat some chips, make some popcorn, have a few cookies or a chocolate bar. Maybe I could go to the freezer and get some ice cream…put some maple syrup on it.”

This is where the pause needs to happen. I know inherently that I’m not hungry, so this is where I need to ask myself “How am I feeling right now?” Perhaps I am bored, feeling a bit restless. Perhaps I am feeling a bit blue, or the stress of the day is now working its way through my system as I have sat down to rest. Perhaps I am feeling a bit like self-sabotaging. Maybe there is a conditioned response happening – one that associates TV and snacking.

When I can identify how I am feeling, I can then ask myself “How is this going to benefit me right now?” The clear answer – “It isn’t.” And from there, I can follow that up with “What do I want the end result to be?”

Well, I certainly don’t want to experience the “I feel bad about myself” feeling that always happens after I have made the impulsive choice. And so I can then move to solution – if I am bored I can do some crafting while watching my show. Perhaps I can examine why I am feeling down, or what stress is lingering. Ultimately, I am making the connection between how I am feeling and the action urge that follows it.

In any case, when I choose in that moment to close the pantry doors, and return to the TV, I can feel proud of myself for having made a skillful choice. 🙂

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The Art of a Skillful Choice

We make choices every day. Sometimes those choices fall into daily living activities such as what we might eat for lunch. Sometimes our choices are emotionally tied to us, such as how we might respond to a text or a comment. Sometimes our choices line up to a bigger life decision, such as whether or not to make a career change. In any case, we can make an impulsive choice or a skillful one.

Impulsive choices are linked to emotion. They are the decisions we make on the fly, based on how we are feeling in the moment. Sometimes we need that spontaneity (“Just go, it’ll be fun!”) and other times we need to slow down before making a choice (“Do I really need the drive-thru burger?”)

How do we make a skillful choice?

  • Pause. There is so much power in the pause. It is what allows the logic to come in to the emotion.
  • In that moment, think about how you are feeling. Spending a few minutes there can give us a better idea of where our motivation to act is coming from.
  • Ask yourself “How is this going to benefit me right now?” Very often, asking ourselves that question can curb impulsivity.
  • Ask yourself “What do I want the end result to be?”

When we can slow down to examine, we put ourselves in the perfect space for making a skillful choice. Tomorrow’s post will walk through an example.

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A Little Motivation

Yesterday’s post reminds us of the importance of walking – and how even 15 minutes can create an impact on your physical and emotional well being. Although my daily walk has become a well engrained habit, it isn’t willpower that keeps me faithful to it. After all, it is often easier to convince yourself no to go.

“It is too cold.”

“I could be doing something else.”

“I need to use my lunch hour to catch up on work.”

“I’m tired. Or hungry. Or cranky. Not feeling up to it.”

Sound familiar? The reason that willpower isn’t enough to keep us motivated is because it is tied to emotion. So if we are feeling good, willpower has the ability to kick in and help out. But if we are feeling crummy or blue, willpower isn’t anywhere to be found. When we want a practice such as walking to become a habit, we often need a bit of an external motivation. I always find myself more dedicated when I have something that prompts me to stick with it. Some examples include:

  • walking a dog (right now my nephew’s dog is my walking companion.)
  • using something like a Fitbit or Apple watch. It can be a fun challenge to get your steps.
  • joining a Conqueror Challenge Virtual Event: https://www.theconqueror.events/
  • lining up a walking or exercise partner.
  • paying for an exercise class.

Sometimes the extra motivation is all we need to get moving. Practice walking enough and it soon becomes a part of your day that contributes to your overall sense of calm and groundedness; something we can all benefit from in these times of uncertainty.

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Fault-finding and Why We Need to Lessen It

Yesterday’s post touched on the importance of being able to step into our potential. Part of that process involves being able to self-reflect about the direction we are going and jotting down some tangible goals to get there. Another part of that process is our internal dialogue – what we tell ourselves. Once we set upon a goal, are we fully supporting it with our thoughts? Or do we find fault with our plans? Do we convince ourselves we don’t have the skill, stamina or self-esteem in place to achieve what we intend upon?

Fault-finding is somewhat of a natural process – after all, we are often harder on ourselves than we are on others. Sometimes it comes from perfectionist tendencies, sometimes it is a learned response. It can be inherent in pessimism and it likes to drive our sense of esteem and agency. We can also find fault with others when we fail to see something in ourselves.

In any case, it doesn’t serve much of a healthy purpose for us if we don’t keep it in check. It has the potential to lead and when that happens, it stunts our potential. Henry David Thoreau says “The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.” 

We are much better served to catch when it is happening and pivot to a healthier way of thinking. Examing the evidence, allowing the rational brain to weigh in, being our own cheerleader. We can replace fault finding with faith and take a deep breath of courage. Stepping into our potential just got a whole lot easier 🙂

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Stepping Into Our Potential

I really like this phrase. Not only does it convey that we all have potential, it also provides a nice image. Like the seas standing in front of us, all we need to do to experience its vast promise, is to step forward; to get our feet wet.

We all have potential – to be kinder, to be more knowledgeable, to be healthier, to be dedicated, to be thankful – to work towards the goals we have set out for ourselves. But what, ultimately, helps us achieve our potential? What is the one thing that will help us take that step?

Productivity. Our potential lies in our productivity; it finds itself linked to the actions we take to get to our goals. We can have written them down, figured out how we are going to proceed, but until we take action, they are just ideas and words on paper. Willpower won’t do it; it is tied too much to emotion and if we are feeling blue or unmotivated, our willpower takes a nap along side of us. Procrastination is potential’s greatest enemy, as it pushes for delay and neglect.

As the build up to a new year is in front of us, we begin to think about our own goals for 2022. In order to step into our potential, followed by productivity, first we begin by examining what our interests and goals for continued or renewed growth might be – as to allow some space on the calendar to build our time.

Step into your potential – after all, it is patiently waiting 🙂

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Hoping for Change

People come to therapy because they are wishing something would change. Sometimes it has to do with someone in their life, sometimes it has to do with themselves; in either case, there are times when we are willing to change, and other times when we have gotten stuck in hoping for change.

What is the difference?

  • when we hope for change, we tend to convince ourselves that the future will be different. For example, we may be dissatisfied with a relationship and know that things are not where they should be, but we stay the course, hoping that things will change with time (let’s face it, they usually don’t – at least not without accountability and professional help.)
  • when we hope for change, we procrastinate. We may be aware of something that we want to change or improve, but aren’t doing much about it. An example might be breaking an unhealthy habit or knowing we need more self-care in our lives.
  • when we hope for change, we spent too much time lamenting on the problem and not on the solution. If you get the sense that you are in the “poor me” cycle, then you probably are.

When we are in the process of actively changing something, we are dedicated and feel purposeful. We have faith in ourselves that we can get there, no matter how slowly or how many stepping stones it may take. We give self-doubts only a little bit of time and space before settling back into accepting that we are our own solution 🙂

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As We Get Closer to Christmas….

This is crunch time for Christmas; with a little over a week to go, it is time for last minute gift buying, wrapping, meal planning. It is the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the pressure to have it all perfect. Christmas can be an overwhelming celebration for some, and a lonely holiday for others.

As in any time in our lives when things feel a little too frenetic, we can recognize the need to pause and consciously slow things down. If we commit to doing this on a daily basis, the Christmas season takes on a softer light. We sit a little longer by the Christmas tree to enjoy the lights, we listen to Christmas music while wrapping. Perhaps we plan an outing to a Christmas tree farm or a holiday show. Maybe we take a drive in the evening to feel the wonder of a street lit up with colourful lights. We give to someone less fortunate.

As Norman Vincent Peale notes “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” 

Let us take time to enjoy it 🙂

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