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7 Reasons Why Meditation is Difficult

What is it about something as simple as sitting still and watching our breath that evokes panic, fear, and even hostility? No matter how many reports there are proving the mental, emotional, and physical value of being quiet, there seems to be an even greater number who refuse to give it a try.

Meditation can certainly be challenging, and even more so if we are uncertain as to why we are doing it. It can seem very odd to sit there just listening to the incessant chatter in our head, and we easily get bored if we do nothing for too long, even if it’s only 10 minutes. After hearing a plethora of reasons why people find it hard to meditate, long term meditators Ed & Deb Shapiro have whittled it down to just a few:

1. I’m too busy, I don’t have the time.

Which can certainly be true if you have young children and a full-time job, and all that these entail. However, we are only talking about maybe 10 minutes a day. Most of us spend more time than that reading the newspaper or idly surfing the web. It only appears like we don’t have the time because we usually fill every moment with activity and never press the pause button.

2. I find it really uncomfortable to sit still for too long.

If you are trying to sit cross-legged on the floor then, yes, it will get uncomfortable. But you can sit upright in a firm and comfortable chair instead. Or, you can do walking meditation, or yoga, or tai chi. Moving meditation can be just as beneficial as sitting.

3. My mind won’t stop thinking: I can’t relax.

“I can’t meditate. I just can’t! My mind will not get quiet; it flies all over the place! My thoughts are driving me mad! I’m trying to get away from myself, not look inside.” Sound familiar? Surprisingly enough, trying to stop your mind from thinking is like trying to stop the wind – it’s impossible. In the Eastern teaching the mind is described as being like a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion because, just as a monkey leaps from branch to branch, so the mind leaps from one thing to another, constantly distracted and busy. So, when you come to sit still and try to quiet your mind, you find all this manic activity going on and it seems insanely noisy. It is actually nothing new, just that now you are becoming aware of it, whereas before you were immersed in it, unaware that such chatter was so constant. This experience of the mind being so busy is very normal. Someone once estimated that in any one thirty-minute session of meditation we may have upward of three hundred thoughts. Years of busy mind, years of creating and maintaining dramas, years of stresses and confusion and self-centeredness, and the mind has no idea how to be still. Rather, it craves entertainment. It’s not as if you can suddenly turn it off when you meditate, it just means you are like everyone else.

4. There are too many distractions, it’s too noisy.

Gone are the days when we could disappear into a cave and be left undisturbed until we emerged some time later fully enlightened. Instead, we all have to deal with the sounds and impositions of the world around us. But – and it’s a big but – we needn’t let it impose. Cars going by outside? Fine. Let them go by, but just don’t go with them. The quiet you are looking for is inside, not outside. The experience of stillness is accumulative: The more you sit, then slowly, slowly, the mind becomes quieter, more joyful, despite whatever distraction there may be.

5. I don’t see the benefit.

Unfortunately, this is where you have to take long term meditator’s word for it. Some people get how beneficial meditation is after just one session, but most of us take longer – you might notice a difference after a week, or maybe two of daily practice. Which means you have to trust the process enough to hang in there and keep going, even before you get the benefits. Remember, music needs to be played for hours to get the notes right, while in Japan it can take 12 years to learn how to arrange flowers. Being still happens in a moment, but it may take some time before that moment comes—hence the need for patience.

6. I’m no good at this. I never get it right.

Actually, it’s impossible to fail at meditation. Even if you sit for 20 minutes thinking non-stop meaningless thoughts, that’s fine. There is no right or wrong, and there’s no special technique. Deb’s meditation teacher told her there are as many forms of meditation as there are people who practice it. So all you need do is find the way that works for you (even if you prefer to do it standing on your head) and keep at it. The important point is that you make friends with meditation. It’ll be of no help at all if you feel you have to meditate, for instance, and then feel guilty if you miss the allotted time or only do 10 minutes when you had promised to do 30. It is much better to practice for a just a sort time and to enjoy what you are doing than to sit there, teeth gritted, because you’ve been told that only 30 or even 40 minutes will have any affect. Meditation is a companion to have throughout life, like an old friend you turn to when in need of support, inspiration, and clarity. It is to be enjoyed!

7. It’s all just weird New Age hype.

It’s certainly easy to get lost in the array of New Age promises of eternal happiness but meditation itself is as old as the hills. More than 2,500 years ago the Buddha was a dedicated meditator who tried and tested numerous different ways of enabling the mind to be quiet. And that’s just one example. Each religion has its own variation on the theme, and all stretch back over the centuries. So nothing new here, and nothing weird.

In other words, meditation is not about forcing the mind to be absolutely still. Rather, it’s a letting go of resistance, of whatever may arise: doubt, worry, uncertainty and feeling inadequate, the endless dramas, fear and desire. Every time you find your mind is drifting, daydreaming, remembering the past or planning ahead, just come back to now, come back to this moment. All you need do is pay attention and be with what is. Nothing else.

Online Therapy During the COVID-19 Outbreak

There comes a time in everyone’s life that they find themselves in a situation where they need someone to talk to about their issues. It feels like there has never been more of a need than in the unprecedented situation that we all now find ourselves in with the global outbreak of COVID-19 throwing us all into a state of fear and uncertainty and insecurity. Even in relatively ‘normal’ times (whatever that might be!), we can all at times need someone who is willing to actively listen to our feelings without judgement. As we all try to come to terms with what is a stressful time for most of us, reaching out for someone who is professionally trained might be a way to get through the next few weeks and months. 

Of course, as a result of the ‘Social Distancing” and more strict ‘lockdown’ measures that are being imposed worldwide, online counselling has now become the only way of accessing this professional support. There have been many studies which have shown the effectiveness of online counselling. Though it is not everyone’s preference, it has been shown to be just as effective as office based face-to-face counselling, which is what most people use.

I have been working with clients online for the last couple of years and am familiar with online counselling but have now moved all my sessions online. Although it can feel awkward at first, it is usually easy to transition to this new way of working. 

Below, are some tips  on how to make the most of online therapy offered by mental health writer based in San Francisco, Sam Dylan French.  

So how do you make the most of it? Consider these 7 tips as you make your transition to online therapy

1. Carve out a safe space and intentional time for therapy

One of the most touted benefits of online therapy is the fact that you can do it any time, anywhere. That said, I don’t necessarily recommend that approach if you can avoid it.

For one, distractions are never ideal when you’re trying to work — and therapy is rigorous, difficult work sometimes!

The emotional nature of therapy makes it even more important to have some space and time set aside to engage with this process fully.

If you’re self-isolating with another person, you could also ask them to wear headphones or take a walk outside while you do therapy. You might also get creative and create a blanket fort with string lights for a more soothing, contained environment.

No matter what you decide, make sure you’re prioritising therapy and doing it in an environment that feels safest for you.

2. Expect some awkwardness at first

No matter what platform your therapist is using and how tech-savvy they are, it’s still going to be a different experience from in-person — so don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t feel like you and your therapist are “in-sync” right away.

It can be tempting to think that some discomfort or awkwardness is a sign that online therapy isn’t working for you, but if you can keep an open line of communication with your therapist, you might be surprised by your ability to adapt!

It’s also normal to “grieve” the loss of in-person support, especially if you and your therapist have worked together offline before.

It’s understandable that there could be frustration, fear, and sadness from the loss of this type of connection. These are all things that you can mention to your therapist as well.

3. Be flexible with the format of your therapy

Some therapy platforms use a combination of messaging, audio, and video, while others are a typical session over webcam. If you have options, it’s worth exploring what combination of text, audio, and video works best for you.

For example, if you’re self-isolated with your family, you may rely on messaging more frequently as not to be overheard by someone and have as much time as you need to write it. Or if you’re burnt out from working remotely and staring at a screen, recording an audio message may feel better for you.

One of the benefits of online is that you have a lot of different tools at your disposal. Be open to experimenting!

4. Lean into the unique parts of online therapy

There are some things you can do with online therapy that you can’t necessarily do in-person.

For example, I can’t bring my cats to an in-person therapy session — but it’s been special to introduce my therapist to my furry companions over webcam.

Because online therapy is accessible in a different way, there are unique things you can do to integrate it into your daily life.

I like to send my therapist articles that have resonated with me for us to talk about later, set up small daily check-ins instead of just once weekly, and I’ve shared written gratitude lists over text during especially stressful times.

Getting creative with how you use the tools available to you can make online therapy feel a lot more engaging.

 

5. In the absence of bodily cues, practice naming your emotions more explicitly

If you’ve been in in-person therapy for a while, you may be used to your therapist observing your bodily cues and facial expressions, and sort of “intuiting” your emotional state.

Our therapists’ ability to read us is something we might take for granted as we pivot to online therapy.

This is why it can be really beneficial to practice naming our emotions and reactions more explicitly.

For instance, if your therapist says something that strikes a nerve, it can be powerful to pause and say, “When you shared that with me, I found myself feeling frustrated.”

Similarly, learning to be more descriptive around our emotions can give our therapists useful information in the work that we do.

Rather than saying “I’m tired,” we might say “I’m drained/burnt out.” Instead of saying “I’m feeling down,” we might say, “I’m feeling a mix of anxiety and helplessness.”

These are useful skills in self-awareness regardless, but online therapy is a great excuse to start flexing those muscles in a safe environment.

 

6. Be willing to name what you need — even if it seems ‘silly’

With COVID-19 in particular, an active pandemic means that many of us — if not all — are struggling with getting some of our most fundamental human needs met.

Whether that’s remembering to eat and drink water consistently, grappling with loneliness, or being fearful for yourself or loved ones, this is a difficult time to be a “grownup.”

Taking care of ourselves is going to be a challenge at times.

It can be tempting to invalidate our responses to COVID-19 as being an “overreaction,” which can make us reluctant to disclose or ask for help.

However, your therapist is working with clients every day who undoubtedly share your feelings and struggles. You aren’t alone.

What should I say?

Some things that might be helpful to bring to your therapist during this time:

  • Can we brainstorm some ways to help me stay connected to other people?
  • I keep forgetting to eat. Can I send a message at the beginning of the day with my meal plan for the day?
  • I think I just had my first panic attack. Could you share some resources for how to cope?
  • I can’t stop thinking about the coronavirus. What can I do to redirect my thoughts?
  • Do you think my anxiety around this makes sense, or does it feel disproportionate?
  • The person I’m quarantined with is impacting my mental health. How can I stay safe?
  • Remember that there’s no issue too big or too small to bring to your therapist. Anything that’s impacting you is worth talking about, even if it might seem trivial to someone else.

 

7. Don’t be afraid to give your therapist feedback

A lot of therapists who are making the shift to online therapy are relatively new to it, which means there will almost certainly be hiccups along the way.

Online therapy itself is a more recent development in the field, and not all clinicians have proper training on how to translate their in-person work to a digital platform.

I don’t say this to undermine your faith in them — but rather, to remind and encourage you to be your own best advocate in this process.

So if a platform is cumbersome to use? Let them know! If you’re finding that their written messages aren’t helpful or that they feel too generic? Tell them that, too.

As you both experiment with online therapy, feedback is essential to figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you.

So if you can, keep communication open and transparent. You might even set aside dedicated time each session to discuss the transition, and what has and hasn’t felt supportive for you.

Online therapy can be a powerful tool for your mental health, especially during such an isolating, stressful time.

Don’t be afraid to try something different, vocalise what you need and expect, and be willing to meet your therapist halfway as you do this work together.

Now more than ever, we need to protect our mental health. 

If you would like to book a free initial consultation with me, please get in touch. 

I am offering sessions according to what is affordable to each person during what is for many, a time of financial insecurity.  This can be discussed during the initial consultation

 

The paralyzing combination of shame and ADD/ADHD

ADHD and ADD are controversial diagnoses. Some believe that they are not distinctive conditions in themselves and others believe strongly in the opposite – that they lie underneath many other personality disorders (BPD, NPD) and mental health issues (Anxiety, OCD, Depression).

The article below, written by US psychotherapist Rebecca Olmsted looks at how the misdiagnosis and misunderstanding of ADHD and ADD can lead to feelings of shame in a person who struggles with many issues typically associated with the conditions such as impulse control, the ability to focus or hyper-focus, procrastination, and other so-called “Executive Skills”. It can means that they strongly feel that there is something wrong with them, that they don’t fit in.  I will look at ADD/ADHD in further posts and also other ‘neuro-atypical’ conditions such as Aspergers and Autism. In the meantime, I am sharing Rebecca’s article which I feel highlights some of the issues surrounding these diagnoses.

 

It is a common experience for people with ADHD and ADD to feel misunderstood like something unexplainable is wrong with them. And the feeling that goes with that – which is often barely recognised – is shame.

“I don’t fit in”

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. What a mouthful! Over the last ten years, our understanding of ADHD has changed quite a bit, and if it were to be named today, it might not even be called a deficit or a disorder. Previously considered a childhood problem, it is now recognized that ADHD continues into adulthood. Like shame, ADHD has many faces, but they all seem to stem from one constant – an impairment of executive function.

Executive function is the ability to track and manage sensory and mental input, making moment by moment decisions. It relies on short term memory– you can think of executive function as the air traffic controller of the mind. When it is impaired, the person has trouble getting things done, that “normal” people seem to accomplish without great effort. Shame can arise from feeling “I should be able to do this”. The person feels something is wrong with them. They feel different from others and often frustrated with themselves. Not knowing how to address the problem can also lead to a feeling of powerlessness.

What is shame? At its core, shame is the sense that something is fundamentally wrong with me (contrasted with the belief that I have problems to work on but that I am fundamentally okay). Shame is an emotion that blends with other emotions, such as sadness and anger, and almost any behaviour. Shame is a real chameleon – and to complicate the picture, not all shame is bad. But the shame we are talking about here is painful and debilitating.

Factors that may further complicate the picture (keeping in mind that ADHD is both under and over diagnosed and that many people feel “everyone has ADHD”):

  • The ADHD person may not be diagnosed. Without a diagnosis, it is difficult to address the practical and relational issues. Remember, in a shame state, the person thinks it’s their fundamental identity that’s flawed, not what they do.
  • The ADHD person may be diagnosed, but may feel stigmatized, or may feel that it is an “excuse” diagnosis. This indicates that in the past they have not gotten proper treatment and support. This can happen when people are medicated as children but haven’t received therapy, coaching or social support to deal with the negative self-image that can result from ADHD.
  • ADHD often co-occurs with other conditions, such as trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, learning differences and sensory processing disorders.

All of the above can lead to feeling – and being – misunderstood.

While hyperactivity is part of the name of ADHD, there is also an inattentive type. Because they tend not to attract attention to themselves, people with the inattentive type often do not get help. In school, these students are often told that they do not perform up to their abilities. (Noticing that others are disappointed in you leads to shame). Both types hate being bored, and you could interpret both the daydreaming and the hyperactivity as avoidance of boredom. People with the inattentive type may be shamed by labels such as “bad at following instructions”, unmotivated, disrespectful, or even rebellious.

People with ADHD receive repeated negative messages about their ability or willingness to perform according to expectations, as Dr William Dodson explains. This usually starts in school and often continues into the workplace. Many people with ADHD have job dissatisfaction. This, despite the fact that many of them are hard-working and enthusiastic – some of the most inventive and intelligent people you meet. Difficulties at school or the workplace can be the source of a great deal of shame.

ADHD is an invisible disability with social implications. Most people with ADHD have been told many times that they should just try harder, without any recognition of how hard they are already trying. What appears to others as problematic behaviours, such as ” being disorganized”, frequently late, not listening, etc, may be perceived internally by the person with ADHD as just more reasons why they really are fundamentally flawed. The person with ADHD may be upset with themselves over their inability to “keep it together”. The process of explaining this difficulty to someone, a boss or even an acquaintance, who sees “disorganization” as an excuse for laziness or incompetence could easily be a shaming experience.

What to do about it? Find your tribe, get some therapy and or coaching

ADHD is not a lifelong sentence to disappointment! It is a very treatable condition and can be the source of great joy.

Personality traits that often go with ADHD are enthusiasm, creativity and resilience.   People with ADHD are often very hard workers. A strength-based approach is like a breath of fresh air to a person who’s been shamed.

In therapy, we work on counter-shaming, going back to the root experiences that somehow got turned into a negative self-image. Building on strengths and coming up with strategies to deal with communication problems, organization. We are so fortunate today to have a plenitude of resources for dealing with ADHD. Here are a few:

Magazine              ADDitude magazine

Podcast:                 ADHD Rewired with Eric Tivers, Distraction with Dr Ned Hallowell.

Website:                Totally ADD

Youtube:                How To ADHD

Books:                    The Disorganized Mind, by Nancy Ratey,  You Mean I’m not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?, by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo

 

 

The Inner Critic

The Inner Critic is actually not a single part of you; there can be a number of critical parts that judge you in different ways for different reasons. Below are seven most common types of Inner Critics that people are troubled by.

  • Perfectionist
  • Molder
  • Guilt-Tripper
  • Underminer
  • Taskmaster
  • Controller
  • Destroyer

Descriptions of the Different Types of Inner Critics

Perfectionist:

The Perfectionist Inner Critic believes that if it can always make you do the perfect, best, and right thing you will avoid criticism, judgement, and rejection from others.  

It is constant messages of “That’s not good enough. You have be perfect and make it look easy.”

We don’t often know what the perfect or what the best thing is to do. Those with a history of early childhood attachment trauma can feel like they don’t even know what normal is, let alone perfect!

So, this Perfectionist Inner Critic often results in paralysis and/or procrastination in life. While initially it causes anxiety as a person is driven to perfectionism, this constant sense of failure becomes exhausting, and it can lead to general fatigue, depression, and a case of the I-don’t-care-anymore syndrome.

The Perfectionist Inner Critic can also be the internalized voice of a parent who had perfectionist tendencies. Parents with perfectionist tendencies cause the child to feel like they always have to look good for others.

In its defense, the perfectionist inner critic cares about you and is just trying to protect you from the criticism of others!  

Molder (People Pleaser)

The Molder Inner Critic is similar to the Perfectionist Inner Critic, because it also believes that if you can just appear, think, and do things in the correct or normal way, people will accept and love you.

The Molder Inner Critic wants to mold you into what it thinks other people want and would like.

It is constantly assessing the people around you and trying to figure out who they are and what they want so that it will know how to mold you into something the people will approve of and like.

The end result of the Molder Inner Critic is to have no sense of who you are and what you like. Your Molder Inner Critic has turned you into everybody else. So much so, that you are disconnected from your own feelings, wants and desires, just so that you can be seen as normal and be loved.  

In its defense, the Molder Inner Critic really cares about you and thinks it’s setting you up so that you will belong and be safe with other people.  

Guilt-Tripper:

A Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic is almost always present after experiencing early childhood attachment trauma. It becomes the voice of what you heard from the world (aka your primary caregiver) during your early life.

The messages of the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic are ones that will tell you, “You are bad. You don’t deserve good things.”

This is exactly the message that’s internalized by an infant and a young child when their parent/primary caregiver is not able to emotionally attune and regulate them.  

Regardless of whether this message was expressed verbally later on in life by a parent (or another person) or earlier in a child’s life, this message is internalized at one’s core as truth when there is inadequate healthy emotional connection between a parent and their infant in the first 12 months of life.  

In its defense, the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic is trying to protect you from rejection. It believes that if it can keep you from expecting good things out of life and from other people, you will not feel hurt or rejected when good things don’t happen.

Controller:

The Controller Inner Critic is similar to the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic, because of it makes you feel bad about who you are and your small, everyday choices.

However, the Controller Inner Critic responds to your body and what you eat and drink. It often gives you the message, “You’re disgusting.”

The Controller Inner Critic doesn’t stop there though, it also takes the smallest things you do and tries to control everything in your life. For example: How you answer the phone, how you shake someone’s hand when you first meet, even how much time you spend in a store. Simple things to more complicated areas in your life are being deeply influenced by this critic.  

The Controller Inner Critic can be the internalized voice of a parent who had controlling tendencies. Parents with controlling tendencies cause the child to always be on guard and become very self-conscious about everything they do. Often the child will try to catch things they need to change before their parents notice it.

In its defense, the Controller Inner Critic is also doing what it thinks will help you to be accepted and loved by other people.  

Underminer:

An Underminer Inner Critic is also similar in its message and attempts to protect you as the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic.  The Underminer Inner Critic specifically tries to keep you from trying new things, advancing in life, and following your dreams. The Underminer Inner Critic gives messages of “You can’t do that.” Yes, it prevents success, but it also avoids failure and rejection.

In its defense, the Underminer Inner Critic attempts to keep you from taking risks, which might result in failure and could bring criticism, judgement, and rejection from other people. It tells you, “You can’t” in order to protect you, because it knows how awful it feels when you’re already hurting inner child feels rejected.

Taskmaster: (Pusher)

The Taskmaster Inner Critic is one that pushes you to always work harder. It doesn’t want you to rest or take time for yourself!

The Taskmaster Inner Critic can drive us to become workaholics, excessive exercisers, or take on any project in an addictive manner. No matter how hard you work at something, it feels like it’s never enough.

The Taskmaster Inner Critic can be the internalized voice of a parent who had Type A personalities and constantly pushed their children to do and accomplish more. Parents with these tendencies cause their child to always need to be “on,” never feeling like they can just relax or just play.

In its defense, the Taskmaster Inner Critic thinks that if it didn’t continually push you to work that you would always play and wouldn’t be able get anything done. It’s doing what it thinks is best to help you succeed in life and relationships.

Destroyer:

The Destroyer Inner Critic is the harshest of all the types of inner critics. It’s especially prominent in children with more severe Attachment Disorder.

The Destroyer Inner Critic is one that tells you, “You don’t have a right to even exist.”  

The Destroyer Inner Critic tries to crush your life force. This can result in suicidal ideation, but often times, it results in a self-hatred that leads to punishment and self-harm.  

The message that “You don’t have a right to exist” is internalized by an infant when there is emotional or physical neglect from a parent. This is perhaps why neglect leads to more severe Attachment Disorder than abuse, because the internalized message from abuse is, “You don’t deserve to be treated well,” whereas the internalized message from neglect is, “You don’t have a right to exist.”

In its defense, Destroyer Inner Critic is also a protective part. It believes that it will be less painful if it destroys you and you inner “weak” child, so that you don’t experience the rejection and abandonment from others that it believes is inevitable.

Summary

Whether you experienced early childhood attachment trauma or not, we all have parts of ourselves.  

Early childhood attachment trauma will cause certain protective parts to over-develop, giving messages of our self-worth throughout our childhood and adulthood life.  

In fact, the amount and the strength of the protective parts, as well as the content of their messages can give us clues into early childhood of which we won’t have any explicit memory of.

Healing from trauma is the process of getting to know ourselves and our parts, especially these strong protective parts who can be very reactive and self-sabotaging.  

Just as with our hurt child parts, in order to heal ourselves it’s imperative that we come to understand and have compassion for our inner protective critics, because their motivations are to keep us safe and protect us. Hatred and judgement for any parts of ourselves will only lead us further down the toxic path of shame and disconnection from ourselves and others.

 

Self-Reflection Questions:

Do you have an active inner critic in your brain?

Which types of inner critics do you identify as parts of yourself?

What have been their messages?

Can you understand and appreciate them for how they have tried to protect you?  

Are you ready to work with them and allow them to relax?

Are you also ready to start to introduce other parts – the inner teacher, inner champion, inner guide, inner cheerleader?

Are you willing to try and understand, embrace and unburden all of your parts from some of the roles they have taken on that they may not want/need any longer?