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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Navigating Your Feelings

Darlene Kirtley, MS LPC

Avoidance of feelings is one of the biggest causes of struggle for people. That feeling may be boredom, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, or any number of other unpleasant feelings. Of course we don’t like having those feelings but listen carefully to this: Attempting to avoid feeling them is harmful. People do all kinds of self-destructive, unproductive things in order to avoid experiencing feelings they don’t like. They may turn to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, affairs, materialism, excessive worry, or excessive busy-ness. Another avoidance strategy is to flee a situation or try to manipulate people or events so that they are more to our liking. All of these attempts usually make the problem worse. Unfortunately, some feel so trapped in painful feelings or circumstances and want so desperately to avoid them that they take their own lives.

By learning effective coping skills, including mindfulness and distress tolerance, people can learn to accept an unpleasant feeling for what it is–a temporary experience that is not preferable, but which does not need to be eliminated immediately at any cost. Although strong emotions of fear, anger or sadness can feel like emergencies that require swift action to make them go away, most of the time, there is no emergency about it, no action required to “fix” it.

In addition to mindfulness, another helpful strategy that I like to teach people is the Event-Thought-Feeling sequence developed by psychologist Albert Ellis. 999 out of 1000 people truly believe that events cause feelings. For the most part, it is our thoughts that cause our feelings. The same event can happen to 10 people and it’s possible they could have 10 different feelings about it. For the sake of example, let’s take two people who both got a a bad grade on a test. The Event is the bad grade. Person A thinks “Oh well, I’ll try harder next time. The teacher will probably grade on a curve since the whole class bombed this test.” His feeling is one of calm and/or slight disappointment. Person B thinks “This is a disaster! There goes my GPA. I’ll never get into college. My future is ruined!” And his feeling is one of despair. The way we talk to ourselves has a ton to do with how we feel at any given moment. The mental commentary is always running, and it is from that self-talk that our feelings originate, not from the event itself.

Try keeping a log of Event-Thought-Feeling. If you see some feelings on there that you don’t like, go back to your thoughts and see if there is anything there that may not be true, may be an exaggeration, or the result of another thinking error. One clue is “Would you say that to a friend in a similar situation?” If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, you probably shouldn’t be talking to yourself that way either! In the example above, would you say to your friend “Well, you’re screwed. You’ll never get into college now!” Of course you wouldn’t! Can you replace that thought with a different, more reasonable or positive thought? If you do, I think you will probably experience a change in your feeling as well.

We can’t escape difficult feelings or difficult circumstances but we can develop healthy coping and thinking skills to help us face them. By accepting and learning to tolerate some distress, things have a way of becoming less distressing!

Welcome to The Matrix

Darlene Kirtley, MS LPC

Many of my clients have heard me reference the movie The Matrix because I find it so rich with therapeutic metaphor.  It is a story of self-actualization, breaking through the most persistent of defenses, overcoming obstacles, fighting tirelessly to become something amazing, and achieving a state of mindfulness few realize. It is the modern day Hero’s Journey.


Who are you in this journey?  You, of course, are Neo—the hero at the center of it all. The word neo means “new.”  Through your own hard work and growth, you become a transformed version of yourself.


Who am I?  In my role as counselor, I am Morpheous. I find you on The Matrix and pull you from it. In order to find you, I have to have good diagnostic and analytical skills. I have to be somewhat of a psychological detective. Once I have found you, you then have a very important choice—red pill or blue pill? If you choose the blue pill you keep your illusions and defenses and go back to what is familiar. It is the path of least resistance, but there is no authentic life in that path.  The red pill takes you on the path of self-discovery. Once you make that choice, life may never be the same again.  At first what you see may frighten, or even disgust you, but soon you will have tapped into strength you never knew you had.  Don’t worry, you will not be alone on the journey.  All heroes have allies.


I am Morpheous– the one who hopes, the one who believes in you. Notice that the name contains the root word morph which means “change.” With my guidance and support, you will battle and eventually defeat the Mr.Smiths in your life. The Mr.Smiths may be anxiety, depression, indecision, self-defeating patterns, relationship problems, or take any number of forms in life.  They can be quite formidable and persistent…but, so can you!  With my help, you are going to become one incredible ninja! Not by running faster or punching harder. You will achieve your victory with your most powerful tool of all—your mind.


How will we get there? Just like in the movie, with discussion, training, exercises, lots of practice, and of course, a visit to The Oracle.


Who is The Oracle?  You may be surprised to hear this, but The Oracle is a part of you. It is your inner wisdom and guidance. In the movie, her motto, which is posted above her doorway, is “Know Thyself.” Self-knowledge is key in this journey of self-discovery and change.  She can’t tell Neo he is The One until he believes it himself.  There are many ways to visit The Oracle and tap into her wisdom.  One of my favorite ways is to utilize the method of sandtray therapy.  Using the symbols represented by the miniatures, wisdom from your subconscious is revealed to help you along your journey.  The information you receive from using sandtray, your dreams, guided imagery, or sudden insights and intuition is the very information you need to help you at that point in your life.


Besides allies, all good stories have a nemesis. In this movie, there is a traitor—Cipher.  He represents that part of ourselves that resists change and growth. Sometimes, like Cipher, we want to go running back into The Matrix of our old habits and familiar reality.  We betray that part of ourselves that wants to grow. There is some comfort for us in The Matrix, but it’s all an illusion covering up a not-so-pretty reality. This is not the hero’s way. The hero chooses the path of authenticity and hard work and reaps the rewards.


My favorite scene in the movie, and the one I refer to the most, is the subway scene. Neo has fought tirelessly. He has run, punched, kicked, flipped, and even come back from death. He has temporarily defeated his foe multiple times, but no matter how hard he fights, the agents relentlessly return to continue the battle.  At one point Neo finds himself opposite three agents who are firing at him.  At this moment, Neo transcends the fight completely.  In an incredible moment of lucidity, he detaches and disengages from the battle by rejecting the reality of it.  This is the most powerful scene in the movie. It is at this point Neo achieves ultimate mindfulness. As the bullets come at him, he calmly states “No” and observes them drop to the ground. Seeing that the bullets are now powerless against Neo, an agent then exerts a passionate hand-to-hand combat attack, which is equally ineffective. Neo, still remaining detached, is able to resist the attack with ridiculous ease and skill! Not only has he won the battle with the agents, but he has achieved a monumental victory within himself.  This is mindfulness!


The story of The Matrix is fiction but the meaning and wisdom contained within it are very real.  We all have illusions, defenses and “agents” in our lives. We also have many resources available to use in our own growth. So which do you choose?  The red pill or the blue pill?


“I know you’re out there…”


©2012 Darlene Kirtley  All rights reserved.