*originally published on Angieviets.com “Human beings have evolved multiple mechanisms for defending against threats to our survival and physical integrity. The immune system is one example; blood clotting another; the fight-or-flight mechanism embedded in our nervous system yet another. It, therefore, is intuitive to assume that similar defensive mechanisms have evolved in human beings to protect and promote the integrity of our psychological architecture—our sense of self, identity, and esteem." — Noam Shpancer We all have defense mechanisms, which develop as a response to not getting our primal needs met. There are physical needs – such as food, water, and shelter – and there are emotional needs – such as love, acceptance, and approval. In an ideal world, we’d all get all of our needs met. However, no one actually has an ideal childhood. Parents, or primary caregivers, are just humans that are limited in their own ways. As children, we adapt on an emotional, nonverbal level. We don’t yet have the rational capacity to separate out what is ours and what belongs to others emotionally. We have to believe that our caregivers can protect and guide us, because if we see that they can’t, our survival is threatened. When we don’t readily have our needs met, we find ways to either get those needs met or re-route around them. Humans are amazing in their resourcefulness and ability to adapt. We are naturally creative. We find the physical things we need or we adapt to need less. The same thing happens emotionally; we find creative ways to either get our needs met or we find another route. Often, we learn to deny or disembody our own needs – in other words, we build defenses.   As Esther Perel states: “Our defense mechanisms are survival strategies.” Why are emotional defenses something we need to be conscious of? You might think, ‘Well, I’ve adapted and it’s working out so far.’ In a way, yes. Our defenses usually develop to protect us or help us cope – they work for the environment they were built in. However, our early interactions become a blueprint for the world. We assume all relationships will follow the path of our primary relationships, so we find ourselves repeating dynamics and attracting people who have similar limitations to our early caregivers. There is a familiarity and comfort there. Subconsciously, we are hoping to get the needs met that we have compartmentalized or convinced ourselves we don’t need. We might find that our defenses arise when something reminds us of those earlier interactions, even if that’s not exactly what’s happening in the present. We pull for those emotional needs, while at the same time pushing away the opportunity to have them met, because to do so would put us in direct confrontation with what we didn’t get growing up. Our defense mechanisms can begin to get in the way of having healthy, fulfilling relationships. To admit that someone CAN meet our needs, we have to acknowledge that our primary caregivers couldn’t – that is a painful process. We have to accept and grieve what we didn’t have to truly acknowledge that we needed it in the first place (and probably still need it). Then we have to learn to receive it, despite being accustomed to not having it and/or convincing ourselves we are ok or “better off” without it. Most times, it’s not one person that meets our needs, but a network of support who can provide different things at different times. So, how do we build awareness of our emotional defenses? Pay attention:  Mindfulness is a key component to any emotional growth process. Notice: - What irks you in other people? - is there a certain type of person you always react strongly to? - is there a type of person you attract repeatedly? - do you find yourself repeating the same words and phrases or having the same feelings in relationships? Separate what is yours. Take note of when you are responding to a need that originates inside of you, versus when you are trying to take care of or fix things for others. Have compassion and curiosity for why your defense mechanisms developed– I always say: get curious, not critical. So, once we recognize our defenses – how do we shift those defenses and get our needs met? Allow yourself to grieve what you didn’t have. Have compassion for the younger parts of yourself who didn’t get what they needed. Also have compassion for your current self as you learn and continue to evolve. Give yourself credit for the ways in which you’ve adapted. Build and maintain your support network Pay attention to who in your life is helpful in what instances and use those supports as you need them. It’s ok to admit our weaknesses and rely on others who we have found to be dependable and supportive. Be there for others in the ways that you can help. You will not only benefit from helping others and feel good about utilizing your strengths, but you will build reciprocity in your relationships. Take responsibility for what is yours Once you identify your defenses, it doesn’t mean they just go away. Like most other areas of personal growth, it’s a practice to change and evolve. Especially in times of stress or vulnerability, our defenses will come forward to protect us. Communicate with others in your life when your defenses arise. Try to ask for what you need and apologize or take responsibility in the cases when those defenses cause you to act in a way that isn’t in line with your values or becomes hurtful to someone you care about. Remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself – I can’t repeat that enough! It takes courage to look at ourselves honestly and it takes work to change.


Originally published on the Inspired Recovery Blog RESOLVE to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine (to do something): to deal with (a question, a matter of uncertainty, etc.) conclusively; settle; solve: INTEND to have in mind as something to be done or brought about; plan: to have a purpose or design. The act of setting resolutions has become synonymous with the New Year. This practice is based on having a fresh start, a burst of energy and motivation to better ourselves as the calendar changes. But we all know what tends to happen with resolutions. They fade, they get forgotten and they fail. It’s true – as one year ends and a new one begins, it’s a great time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re headed, in a physical, mental and spiritual way. Taking inventory should not be self-critical and setting forward on our course doesn’t need to be pressured either. So, I suggest a shift in practice from creating resolutions to setting intentions. The above are definitions from dictionary.com. It’s important to see the subtle difference in language here. Resolve is about results while to intend is about the plan. Plans can change. Intentions are flexible, whereas resolutions tend to be more rigid. When we create a resolution it usually has a black and white result attached – “I will do X thing by Y date.” This is a set up for self-criticism and a feeling of failure when that thing doesn’t happen by that date. Self-criticism decreases motivation and energy. This is the antithesis of bettering ourselves. Intentions can be more general and allow us to remain non-attached to outcomes. It’s process oriented and tends to be based more on areas of personal growth that we are already invested in, as opposed to external results that can be expected of us. For example: “I intend to see more of my friends.” “I intend to be less graspy in my relationships.” “I intend to be more present and focused with daily tasks.” These kinds of statements leave room for life to happen – we don’t have to predict when or how they will occur, but we get our energy aligned with the desire for these things to come to fruition. Whether they do or don’t, we can then look back on the process from an observant standpoint and ask why, rather than criticizing what didn’t get accomplished and view it as a reflection of our worth. We then can choose to shift, revise or recommit to our intention, keeping a sense of motivation and perspective. I’ve been doing this practice for several years and it’s made the New Year more exciting and rich for me. I suggest writing down intentions so you can come back in a few months, a year or several years and see how things tend to manifest in ways you couldn’t have predicted or expected. It’s a process that can be inquisitive, curious and lots of fun rather than stressful and fraught. What are your intentions for 2018?


*Originally published on angieviets.com   The grass is always greener on the other side. Right?   No. The way I look at it, you can stare at the neighbor’s lawn longingly or you can tend to your own damn lawn. Unfortunately, many of us have a brain that is conditioned to think negatively. We do this by comparing to others and focusing on what is missing or what we are doing wrong. This then extends into a negative self-belief that something is inherently wrong with us. All of this does not, and CANNOT equate to happiness. So, why do we think like this? Simply put, there is an evolutionary reason for our negativity: “To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.” – Rick Hanson, Just One Thing   Our brain is wired for survival, not necessarily for feeling good. But our brains are still evolving and it’s up to us to decide that happiness is a dominant trait that we’d like to keep passing along. This survival mind is actually a mindset of lack. What is missing? What do I need? Where is there not enough and how can I find more? The idea is that this will keep us motivated to search for resources and opportunities. It’s important to understand that this system was built for physical survival needs – mainly food, shelter, and reproductive options. Today’s world looks much different, but this system still gets applied to our everyday thoughts, emotions, and behaviors around daily things that are less dire than physical survival. Always feeling that we are not enough or don’t have enough actually leaves us feeling drained and unmotivated in our current modern environments.   Is there a different way? You actually have more control over how you see things than you think and a choice about which lenses you are looking through. Enter our rational brain - or neocortex. This is actually the youngest part of our brain, evolutionarily speaking. But we can use it to combat those lower brain alarms about survival. Assuming that you are living a fairly average life and have your basic survival needs met – i.e. You have access to food and shelter and feel relatively safe – chances are you don’t need this negative thinking system. At this point, once we are surviving, we can move into thriving – which involves feeling good and content. We can change the mindset and turn up the volume on the positive voice that ensures us that not only do we have enough to survive, we are allowed to enjoy it.   I like to think of our neural networks as highways in the brain. The brain loves repetition and reinforcement. Therefore, this takes practice! Our brains didn’t evolve like this overnight, and our lawn is not going to magically grow and stay neatly trimmed without some maintenance.   Back to those highways – have you ever had the experience of taking the same route to work every day and then unconsciously, on a day you’re not supposed to go to work, you get off at that exit before realizing, “Wait I don’t need to go this way today!” Our brains like routine – and the routines that are practiced more, happen more automatically. Neural networks that get used a lot fire quicker and more automatically, while the neural highways that don’t get used actually die off.   If that negative thinking highway is a well-used neural network, your brain is going to automatically go in that direction. It takes some effort and practice to stop and reroute it. Using our rational brains, we can create awareness over when we’re riding the negative thinking highway and CHOOSE a different direction. But we have to build the positive highways in our brains and do routine maintenance work.   Here are some tips and strategies for doing just that:   Notice. Just start to pay attention to yourself and see when you are thinking negatively or acting from a mindset of lacking.   State your emotions without judgement. Just state the emotion: “I am afraid.” “I feel overwhelmed.” Refrain from judging, just state the emotion. This is important, because when we’ve activated our awareness in step 1, but our negative mindset is still strong, we may be negative and judgmental about the negativity we are experiencing. This only causes us to spiral further into bad feeling. Consider this difference: “I am afraid.” versus “I am afraid and I am stupid for feeling afraid and I’ll never get over it.”   Become aware of your language. The things you struggle with are not a burden that you have no control or power over. Watch for black and white statements like, "I can't" or "forever, always, etc." and change them to "I am working on XYZ."Instead of using statements like, "it's hard" or “it’s impossible”, try: "I am learning..." "It's new, unfamiliar, different, etc."Believe change is possible and speak that way.   Practice gratitude. This may seem cliché but it works. Take time to notice what you DO have and what IS going right. This can be done in a gratitude journal - writing 3 things you are grateful for each day. Or a gratitude box or jar where you write a post it note of one good thing that happened each day. At the end of the year, you can you open it up and remember all the fabulous moments in that year.Remember, gratitude can be found in even the smallest moments. Maybe you’re having a tough day at work but the sun is shining, or someone smiled at you or your coffee was comforting that morning. OR you’re just glad to be home and to have made it through such a tough day. Find the tiniest bit of light, it may feel insignificant at the time but this is about training your brain to not only see the negative.   Take in positive feedback.  If someone gives you any type of compliment, look them in the eye and say. “Thank you” and try to take it in without deflecting or negating it. This is simple, but it will be challenging and uncomfortable at first - it's also a practice!   Surround yourself with positive messaging.  I suggest finding mantras or statements that work for you and writing them down to read or say out loud reapeatedly. You can place post-it notes in places you will see them each morning or set a reminder in your phone so the message pops up throughout the day.One of my favorites (that I’ve kept propped on my bathroom sink for years) is: “I choose happiness.”Other suggestions: “I am capable.” “I am learning.” "I feel good.” “Life is good.” “I am loved.” Create your own and experiment with them! Again, language is important here. These should be present and affirmative statements. “I want to be loved.” Or “I hope to learn” are NOT positive statements because they imply that something is still lacking or you are not there yet.   Even if you are not there yet, and you don't believe any of the positive things to be true, that’s ok! There is still value in taking in these messages. You’ve all heard the phrase, “fake it ‘til you make it”, right? Well, what this is really about is “fake it ‘til your brain makes a new highway.” The more you practice feeling good, the more that good feeling state becomes your automatic way of thinking.