How Relationships Can Help With Anxiety and Depression

I remember how I looked with complete lack of compassion at my mother when I was a young adult in my twenties. I couldn’t understand why she felt to hopeless, helpless and unhappy because I was young and had my entire life still in front of me. In her generation, there wasn’t much to accomplish anymore once your children were grown up. All a woman without a career had to look forward to was the arrival of her grandchildren. And when her first grandchild came, her oldest daughter (me) even lived far away in a different country on a different continent. Looking back now, I realize how once she was over 60, she desperately tried to find meaning as a homemaker with grown-up kids, even though she didn’t take any pride in any of the housewifely activities. She was the happiest when she could go out, connect with people and exercise.

When interacting with her, she usually seemed needy and clingy to me because I wasn’t in touch with my own neediness. I judged her for self-medicating with alcohol and over-exercising because I didn’t understand how we all use STERBS (Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviours) to distract ourselves from our pain. She had depression and anxiety, even though it wasn’t called anxiety back then. I just perceived her as ridiculously worried about things and unnecessarily afraid. My dad, a typical male of his generation, was overidentified with the rational mind and ridiculed her emotions and fears. And my sister and I kept her at arms length when she started getting too anxious. She had nobody to turn to who made her feel a bit safer, a bit more loved. Not until many years later when I was an adult myself with two daughters did that understanding and compassion for how hard it must have been to be her slowly set in.

Today depression and anxiety have become an epidemic. Some experts, for example the Cognitive Behaviour Therapists, suggest depression and anxiety need to be managed by interventions at the level of thought; other experts suggest there is a problem with our emotions. I believe we need to address both, our thoughts and the underlying beliefs as well as our emotions. The changes we make and the techniques we can learn need to consider both. But how do our relationships play into our thoughts and emotions?

From an attachment standpoint, part of the reason for anxiety and depression is a lack of connection. We are mammals who need to bond and connect with others in their lives. My mom was reaching out to a husband who did not know what to do with emotions and to two daughters who didn’t know that she was mirroring certain traits for us that we had disowned inside ourselves. The relationships in our life either help us to manage the depression and anxiety or they trigger it even further.

Partners who are not securely attached to one another, are typically highly anxious and/or depressed. We relive our childhood fears and experiences with our partner. Our partner is a proxy for all the other relationships we have ever had, going all the way back to our first attachment figures, our mother and father.

When we want to address depression and anxiety, we need to grow resources within ourselves, but relationships themselves can also become a resource and a safe heaven to find release. According to attachment theorist John Bowlby, people who feel depressed are experiencing an inner narrative about feeling lonely and not seeing themselves as important to other people. Sue Johnson points out that in our primary relationship, this plays out as the experience of not being seen, not mattering and not being needed. The emotions triggered are those of feeling unlovable and unworthy, of not being good enough in relation to other people.

So from the view of an attachment theory based clinician like Sue Johnson or Stan Tatkin, the cure for depression and anxiety lies in healing the loss of connection that was experienced in earlier relationships, which is being mirrored in our present relationships. Tatkin points out the effectiveness of face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact between partners. That connection through the eyes is stimulating and can upregulate the partner who feels depressed or anxious. It also focuses the depressed person outwards, instead of in their own head. It is like an outside meditation, keeping the focus on the present moment instead of the painful past or the worries about the future that are playing out in a depressed or anxious mind.

The importance of the eye-to-eye connection has been studied on mothers and infants. The more the mother makes contact face to face, giving the baby reassuring facial cues and being attentive, the more secure and happy the baby feels. The still face experiments with babies (for example conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick) on the other hand have shown that a still face in the mother and a lack of connection through visual and auditory responses create a response of fear and anxiety in the child.

The same still applies to adults. We are social mammals. There is a tremendous power when two people allow themselves to be truly present in and dedicated to a relationship. All our past relationships come out through the present-day love relationship to be completed and healed. Initially, the anxiety and depression might be intensified in the interactions, but partners can learn how to help co-regulate each other’s emotional states. According to Tatkin, the partner can become the best antidepressant and anxiolytic.

Tatkin points out the importance of “landing together at night and launching together in the morning”. Ideally, we start the day with our partner and we end it again in the evening by sharing about the day and connecting. He states that co-sleeping creates an important connection, even though that requires that issues like intense snoring, sleep apnea and restless-leg syndrome are being treated successfully.

In order to hold each other and down-regulate together, it is useful to have a tool to rate and communicate the emotion(s) that come up. Jayson Gaddis’ NESTR ritual would be one such tool. The N stands for the Number of activation. 1 is not triggered at all and 10 would be extremely activated, for example feeling high anxiety. The E is to pinpoint the Emotion that we are experiencing. The S calls to find the sensation in the body which comes with this emotion. And T is for becoming aware of the Thoughts or the inner narrative that goes hand in hand with the emotion. R is a reminder for Resources that the individual can connect with to either regulate themselves or regulate together with the partner.

There is a lot of advice out there on the internet on how to love someone with depression and how to love someone with anxiety. There are of course many different degrees of depression and anxiety disorder, and differing responses are required. Often both issues come hand in hand. The numbness of depression can be a protective mechanism so that we do not need to feel more frightening emotions.

A few things you can do for your partner or another person close to you to deal with mild anxiety or mild depression are to truly listen, acknowledge, empathize and normalize. Your partner needs to know that you care and that what they are experiencing is understandable and normal. Do your best to be patient. Fears may be illogical but they are still very real to the person. Encourage your partner and lift them up. Tell them why they matter to you. Whatever you say or do, keep in mind that your only goal is to make them feel safer and more loved. Arguing about right or wrong makes no sense when fears are involved.

When your partner finds the courage to express an emotion, validate it with your words, your tone of voice and with simple actions. You can ask if they want a hug or if they want to be held. If something you do makes them feel anxious, adapt. If you are, for example, triggering an anxious response in your partner because you drive faster than they do, respond by saying, “I am sorry, honey” and slow down. This is not about you and if you are a good driver, this is about an irrational fear that your partner is experiencing. You can either choose to get defensive and be right or you can be a partner they feel safe with.

Or if your partner has a hard time getting out of bed and finding meaning in life, don’t judge or ridicule, don’t preach about how good their life is or become a fixer or pusher. Gently encourage. Small steps of doing something different are huge leaps forward when dealing with depression. Imagine your partner just had surgery. You wouldn’t push them to leave the hospital and be fully recovered the day after. Just slowly walking down the hallway on your arm would be a huge accomplishment for them. It is the same when recovering from depression. Small changes every day are progress. Provide companionship as your partner establishes healthy habits and rituals of movement.

For both anxiety as well as depression, be present and be in your heart. If you feel judgment like I used to feel for my mother, it’s because your own shadows are triggered and that is where the work needs to be done.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other, so you can be a relief to each other when anxiety or depression show up.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Walk a Mile in My Moccasins

Carol has been married for over seven years; she is the mother of two little girls. But each time she used to see her own mother, she instantly felt like a little child again.

By that, she didn’t mean she had a wonderful fuzzy feeling of safety, security and love. On the contrary! She felt like her own two year old who wanted to stamp her foot and yell at her mother “I hate you!”

Carol was triggered by her mother in different ways. For example, Carol and her husband made the choice to be vegetarians, yet, the mother kept pushing meat onto her daughter and her grandchildren. She was telling everybody how unhealthy it is to be vegetarian and how irresponsible it is to raise your children this way.

Carol’s husband is French-Canadian and they had decided to send their older daughter to a French school. Carol’s mother was doing everything to find fault with this choice as well.

Carol felt herself triggered into angry comments directed at her mother, which then resulted in her mother being hurt and insulted, calling her daughter cruel and heartless. Carol tried to ignore her mother, tried to explain and rationalize with her. Nothing helped. “She just will not stop!” Carol told me in exasperation.

Carol felt disrespected, criticized and angry. Her own children had been asking to see their grandparents more, but Carol always had excuses to call other babysitters and felt more comfortable avoiding family get-togethers. One day, when Carol had a fight with her husband, he exclaimed in frustration “You are just like your mother!” Carol was offended and shocked. She came to see me.

As Carol and I started working together, Carol discovered—to her surprise—her mother’s desperation for attention and love. She realized that her mother felt scared and out of control through the different life choices Carol and her husband had made for themselves and their children.

Carol has found a way to set clear respectful boundaries with her mother while giving her the love and assurance the mother was looking for. In order to do that, Carol had to work with the mirrors which showed up for her and integrate her own shadows inside herself. She had to embrace the energy of being loud and pushy, and the part in her which is controlling. Her mother mirrored neediness to Carol as well. All three were traits Carol had learned to dislike and had disowned in herself. She judged herself harshly for her own controlling energy and when she herself felt needy and fearful. Carol also chose to do a relationship alignment with somebody standing in for her mother. That’s a process which balances the chakras in relationship to each other, and can greatly shift the energy from judgments to acceptance.

When Carol healed her own wounds and cleared out her triggers, she became really able to step into her mother’s shoes and feel her mother’s experience with compassion.

Moccasins & quoteWhen we walk a mile in somebody else’s moccasins, we realize that nothing is what it seems. Our shoe might pinch in one spot, somebody else’s shoe in another.

Ever since Carol has removed her own triggers and has been able to feel and radiate true unconditional love towards her mother, her mother has also slowly started to put herself into Carol’s place. The mother has realized that her daughter’s choices in life are not right or wrong, they are not a threat to her own beliefs or a criticism of how she raised Carol; they are just different from hers.

“The other day, I heard her defend our French school to somebody! Can you believe that?” laughs Carol. Yes, I can! Carol has done the work and is seeing the results.

Is it time to move beyond right and wrong for you as well? Do you want to have more peaceful and harmonic experiences with others? Are you ready to create better relationships? By finding the parts of your personality that you have pushed away, recognizing their value and then embracing them, you are opening up to unconditionally loving yourself and enhancing your relationships. You gain the freedom to truly walk in another person’s moccasins.

Contact

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

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The See-Saw Effect – What You Suppress Your Partner Will Express

Have you ever felt surprised by your mood unexpectedly shifting and an emotion suddenly boiling up?

Maybe you felt a bit annoyed about something that happened during the day and when your partner comes home, you share with him or her, and suddenly you feel really angry?

Or you felt a bit concerned about your mother’s health and you talk to your father who is apparently not worried but quite calm. Yet, you suddenly feel really scared and worried about her?

What has happened in those two situations? You felt a bit annoyed respectively a bit worried and suddenly the emotions boiled over into anger and fear. Why? Who pushed the button for that eruption?

John Gray cartoon fear

John Gray: What You Feel You Can Heal

Your partner and your father pushed the button without knowing they did. Both of them where disconnected to their own emotions and had suppressed their anger and their fear. We disown certain energies because we have learned it is “bad” to feel or be a certain way. However, whenever one person is trying to bury an emotion, somebody else will express it for them. The more closely connected these two people are, the more they are able to feel and experience each other’s emotions.

In our example, you were feeling and expressing the anger and fear for both of you, yourself and the partner in your interaction. This happens unconsciously and automatically. Suppressed energy has to go somewhere. A vacuum of energy draws that energy in from somewhere else. John Gray illustrates with great humour how our emotional “tank” work when we are in a relationship:

John Gray cartoon anger

John Gray: What You Feel You Can Heal

Wilma is starting to feel anger but pushes it down because she has learned that nice girls don’t get angry. The more she pushes it down, the more Fred feels it and the anger rises in his side of the tank. All of a sudden, Fred starts to feel irritable and angry. Wilma might try to also repress his feeling of anger by attempting to calm him down. This continues until Fred explodes. If this happens on a regular basis, Fred might even be labelled as an angry person. Both remain clueless why the anger explodes.

When we push down a feeling, it comes up in our partner. John Grey calls this the see-saw effect. One example John Grey gives for the see-saw effect is the emotion of “need”. Fred falls in love with Wilma. He starts to feel his need for her but that feeling frightens him because he might lose her. So he pushes that feeling down, telling himself he does not want to get too committed. The feeling of need goes over to Wilma’s side of the “tank” adding to her own feelings of need. Wilma becomes insecure and desperate, and starts to feel what is commonly called “needy”. Some people go from one partner to another, wondering why their partners all become so “needy” around them. Who is the common denominator? The person who is out of touch with his feelings of need and fear.

A friend of mine who is generally seen as a peaceful and calm person always seems to end up in relationships with angry women. When he first meets them, they are quite pleasant. Yet, the longer their relationship lasts, the more annoyed and angry the women seem to all become. They yell at him more and more frequently, more and more loudly, while he shuts down more and more, unable to feel his own emotions. Eventually, he leaves them because he can’t stand being yelled at anymore. Until he embraces his own anger and learns to acknowledge and express it appropriately, he will always attract somebody who expresses this deeply buried emotion for him.

Are you tired of having all these invisible buttons on your chest that others can just push?

Would you like to stop triggering others and stop being triggered yourself?

Would you like to learn more about how we disown certain energies because we have learned it is “bad” to feel or be a certain way and how we can live more conscious relationships as whole human beings who love themselves and others?

I offer individual coaching sessions and workshops.

Angelika wide picture for blogs

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Upcoming Workshop:

“Shadow Energetics” training with Darryl Gurney, June 18-21, 2015

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How Children Carry Our Disowned Shadow Parts

Children are wonderful mirrors for us. How do your children annoy you? How do they get you to lose your composure?

One of my daughters could make me raving mad by doing things last-minute. That took all sorts of forms over the years and for the longest time, I claimed to be the exact opposite, always planning way ahead in advance, never running around like a headless chicken last minute. One day, as I was procrastinating preparing a lecture, a new friend made a remark. He said, “Ah, you are one of those last-minute people able to just wing it! I wish I could do that!” My first impulse was to deny this trait vehemently until I realized he was right. What annoyed me most in my daughter was a character trait I had myself but was never allowed to show as a child. The moment I embraced that trait, my daughter was not able to trigger me as much anymore. Interestingly enough she also seemed to be doing these last minute things less. She did not need to mirror it for me any longer.

Chris, one of my clients, was very concerned about his son, who seemed to be unusually shy and inhibited. Chris himself felt he was a shy boy, but forced himself to become an extrovert adult—a go-getter who is outgoing and always the centre of attention. He could not see anything positive about this shyness that his son mirrored for him until I guided him through an exercise to meet this shy sub-personality.

The shy part, appearing as a pale timid little boy with glasses in the visualization exercise, reminded him of several occasions in his life where the shy part within had protected him from getting into trouble. His shyness allowed him to think first and then act, to reflect rather than to make a rash decision. After embracing this part of himself, he was able to let his son live his life as an introvert. The son is now able to find his own way of integrating both sides of his personality.

One of my sisters has a son who is very straight-forward and outspoken. If he does not want to do something, he will say it. My sister likes that. She also has a daughter who according to my sister is “sneaky.” My niece, so claims my sister, will say “yes” when told not to do something and then do it anyways secretly. My sister at times is absolutely furious about this.

As much as I love and admire my sister I have to say that she is not the most direct person. She doesn’t like conflict. If she disagrees people who know her can read it on her face but she will usually not say it. Instead she will find a different way to achieve what she thinks is best. My niece mirrors for my sister a trait she is unaware to have herself. How often has my sister told me things “after the fact”.

The moment my sister could admit to avoiding direct confrontations and perhaps being “sneaky” at times as well, her daughter might feel less judged. It would probably make my niece feel as accepted as her straight-forward brother and thus help her to have more open conversations with other about what she wants and needs.

What do your children mirror for you? How could you improve your relationship by embracing exactly those character traits in yourself?

Contact me if you are interested to work on your relationships or take the Shadow Energetics Workshop in May 2013.

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466