Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Against the Grain

So I’ve had blogging on the brain for these past few days.  I’ll be doing something benign like vacuuming or taking a shower and some idea for a blog will pop into my head.  This morning, for example, I got up with my husband, Tim, at 6:30 and made him lunch and sent him off to work, then I usually stay up and do some yoga, meditation, or writing.  But today, I crawled right back into bed to sneak in another hour of sleep.  I didn’t sleep well last night, so I was craving a bit more, if possible.  But I couldn’t fall back asleep.  My mind kept racing about all the things I should be doing instead.  Simply put, I felt guilty about being lazy and indulgent — a chronic trigger for me for self blame and inadequacy.  So, today’s blog is about going against your natural grain for a greater good.  Yes, I’m fully aware that sometimes it’s NOT a good thing to go against a gut reaction or impulse, but I think it’s worth talking about those times when it actually is.
In 2003, I had a total hip replacement.  Apparently, I was born with hip dysplasia and it was  the reason for lots of knee problems during my childhood and then excruciating hip degeneration after having both my children, in the late 90’s.  Anyway, I was quite young and fairly active back then, but nothing prepared me for the physical therapy that I had to endure to strengthen my new, bionic hip.  My therapist, Joe, made me do exercises that were sometimes awful and almost always painful.  I was purposely hurting myself in order to build muscles and then strengthen them.  He taught me how to breathe into and then release the pain, but I absolutely hated it.  Fortunately, once I’d developed a layer of muscle around the hip, the process became easier.  Eventually, I learned to lift my leg all on its own and put full weight on it, allowing it to do its thing.  I got better and faster at walking, climbing stairs, squatting down to pick things up — you know, all the daily activities necessary when you have young children!
I think we all have some form of behavioral and/or emotional “dysplasia” in our lives, where a natural or learned tendency is unhealthy and actually causing pain.  As a therapist, I gently challenge clients, like Joe challenged me, to breathe into the initial discomfort of developing and strengthening new beliefs and behaviors, until eventually they can do it on their own.  
Once the client and I have identified their weak “joint”, so to speak, they’re often taken aback, with the proverbial light bulb going off in recognition of the source of their pain.  That’s huge right there!  But then the real work begins.  I have a client who came in with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  She has always looked at life from the “glass half empty” perspective, which has caused tremendous fear around the belief that she’s never in the driver’s seat of her life — that she’s constantly in the passenger’s seat, at the mercy of outside influences.  She’s the Debbie Downer character on SNL, seeing the negative or dangerous side in all situations.  I asked her to look at her perspectives as muscles.  I explained that her Negative Muscle was waaaaay overdeveloped, and that she really needed to work exclusively on building up her Positive Muscle.  I assigned her the traditional homework of listing at least 5 positive things that she noticed each day, and asked her to bring the lists in to me each week.  This was very hard for her, as it went against her natural grain.  In fact, it was almost like she was a cat having to tolerate being petted in the opposite direction!  For every positive thing she listed, she felt compelled to add the “but” or “even though” at the end (“I had lunch with a friend today….but the food really wasn’t that good”  “I helped my sister put up curtains today…even though I had to take Ibuprofen for my back pain”).  I’ve tried to be comical about this, teasing her about her knee-jerk response to cling to that Negative Muscle workout, and she laughs at herself in recognition of it now.  But I praise the hell out of her when she’s able to state something positive and leave it alone.  This praise has been reinforcing and is slowly empowering her to shift from the dark to the rose-colored lenses she needs to feel better about and safer in her world.  I anticipate she’ll be in the driver’s seat before too long.
As for my own weak joint of feeling too guilty to rest, I try to make a conscious effort to relax into it, being kind and compassionate with myself, rationalizing that I do need some “down time” in order to fuel my otherwise busy life.  It’s a work in progress, of course, but the grain is slowly morphing into a different direction.
Until next time!


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