The Hurt Locker

close up photo of woman with black and purple eye shadow

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“Motivation is crap.”

Its a real catchy three words, but wait thats just the opening line of how David Goggins introduces his new book, Can’t Hurt Me. It’s an early glimpse into the type of raw, unflinching language the former Navy SEAL uses in his combination autobiography/self-help book, as he relates the tale of how he transformed from an abused child on welfare to a guy stuck in a dead-end job as a 300-pound exterminator to the U.S.’ thirty-sixth African-American SEAL.

I mean Im dying to read it just from that paragraph while also cringing  at what must be a world of hurt, in fact a personal “hurt locker” of pain.

In what Goggins says is “no pep talk,” he describes his training, diet and mindset in excruciating and colorful detail as he becomes a two-time finisher of Navy SEAL “Hell Week” training—running through most of the third round on broken shins—and as he develops into an elite ultra-marathoner and, eventually, a wildland firefighter in Montana.

It really is impressive and I wholeheartedly recommend you read it for some refreshingly non BS straight from the hip advice from someone who not only went there did that but has the pure cotton T Shirt. ( I personally suspect he is the type of guy who  grew the cotton from hand sorted seed, tilled the soil, walked 10 kms daily to collect rain water , harvested the cotton by hand …you get the picture and just to help you here is a before and after pic of David Goggins).

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But this blog isnt about this truly jaw dropping story. Its about a comment within the book which a client dropped into session very calmly.

“We all have our personal hurt locker and NO ONE IS COMING TO GET US.”

Just let that sink in a bit and ask yourself how many times have we all secretly wished (or been expected)someone would come and get us out of our personal hurt locker?

What is a personal hurt locker?

A hurt locker is defined as a military slang that means “a bad and painful place.” A personal hurt locker is that painful place we all have where our deepest wounds are kept.

Often these originate from attachment or developmental traumas which left broken or unhealed keep interfering with our here and now lives. Inside the locker is old, gnarled deep sadness, despair, trauma and loneliness .However the outside of the locker can look very different.

Outside can look like anger, depression, anxiety, substance abuse or addictions and toxic/fuck you relationships . These dysfunctional behaviours and coping strategies in fact keep the real pain and hurt from being touched as its become to much to tolerate. We just keep stuffing more and more into the hurt locker in a repeating cycle.

While in his book David Goggins talks about some pretty impressive experiences (the running on broken shins I see as the equivalent as trying to function day to day with mental illness), I wonder if there is a different nugget for us non Navy Seal types ?

If we can radically accept that “no one is coming to get us” what does that allow us to face and open up to? Keeping in  mind that radical acceptance is not about what is fair, right or agreeing with what has happened. What happens when we no longer look for solace in the bottom of a glass, packet of chips, a toxic relationship our resentful anger but look to ourselves for the love, support or plain acceptance we’ve never fully had?

Maybe we can start to find healing from inside the hurt locker and let go of those coping strategies or repetitive cycles? Maybe we’d start to be a bit kinder, firmer and stop treating ourselves like crap. Then just maybe we could have a personal love locker?

Just a thought.

Caroline Williams MNZAC, counselor, clinical manager  and proactive

blogger against the stigma of mental illness.

 

Radical Acceptance- the key to choice

beautiful woman in glass

Captured in a bottle of suffering

Its hard sometimes this LIFE business and even harder when things happen which cause us suffering and pain.A family member dying, workplace reshuffling/redundancy, your landlord selling your home  even the kids never putting their clothes away! If only this hadn’t happened, if only I had said my goodbyes, if only I had saved some more money…if only they would listen then I wouldn’t feel so ” insert feeling here“. We rally our resources to gain control over something we in fact have no control at all and feel trapped in the bottle of our suffering.

When we try to grasp for “a false sense of control” or fight against situations/emotions that we cannot change, this often leads to suffering. While there are certainly situations or circumstances in life that are within our control, often there are times when we simply are unable to change the reality of a situation.

It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true, we get caught in the never ending argument of “if only…but if this changed then I/they  would be happy” . We get angry, frustrated, overbearing and controlling when we try to control / fix events or people that are outside of our control.

The hamster wheel of our brain whirs in overtime …

We become joyless and lost..

So what is radical acceptance?

  • Accepting that life is worth living even with suffering in it
  • Continual choice to turn towards what we can change/choices
  • Accepting reality as it is…even when it sucks!

What radical acceptance isn’t.

  • Judging situations or emotions as “good” or “bad.
  • Condoning behaviors
  • Giving up your needs.
  • Ignoring or denying a situation.
  • Never asserting your thoughts/feelings
  • Acceptance does not equal agreement.

Example.

Imagine that you find out your long term partner has been having affairs for years and you are so angry, hurt, confused and wanting to know WHY and HOW bad was it.

You believe that in having some magical answer or resolution you will stop feeling the devastation. If they apologized, explained, were miserable or came clean then the pain of the betrayal would be tolerable. You spend endless conversations ( rehashing the same pain)trying to work it out, you stop enjoying normal activities, refuse to ever love again because people are untrustworthy, devalue the person, drink more, eat more/less ,begin to have sleep issues . You get the idea.

This doesn’t stop the pain we keep recycling the hurt and doubts. Our brain goes into over drive obsessing and replaying scenarios again and again.

Retro greeting card template design

Radical Acceptance is Freedom

So how does radical acceptance help?

When we can come to terms with accepting ( remember its not excusing or condoning or agreeing,)its  happened. That it sucks, we dont want it to be true AND we can still live a life worth having.

  • We can focus on the other things in our life that are positive and we have control over
  • We can feel the pain AND learn so we grow
  • It doesn’t require the other person or our forgiveness
  • We learn to look at solutions and possibility

In the example above radical acceptance can result in addressing self esteem issues and relationship patterns, exploring goals and aspirations you’ve never contemplated. Deciding to travel, study or take up hiking! Yes the pain hurts, and yes you can still live a life worth living and loving!

Caroline Williams  the Practice Manager of The Greenhill Clinic is a MNZAC registered counselor and passionate advocate that ‘therapy can be trans formative and interesting!’

Contact her at therapycaroline@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gateau Of Catastrophe – wired for stress

 

Ever had one of those days/weeks/months when you are in a never ending cycle of drama and stress?

Nothing seems to go right and there is a never ending stream of STRESSssss. If you’re human chances are that  this is unfortunately all too familiar  and common in your life. Once a source of stress has been dealt with then magically  “poof’ another one comes along to take its place. But why do we seem to be wired to dine from this never ending buffet of problems, worry and stress? Why do we keep taking another bite from the Gateau of Catastrophe?

I coined this term from a client during a counselling session who after having worked really hard at overcoming some very tricky relationship problems began to re-pick at the resolved issues. They began to go over all the negative awful events in the past week/month/year and I suddenly commented ” Do you really want another slice of Catastrophe Gateau?”. A light bulb went off for them and they put down the gateau there and then.

 

You’re wired for stress.  

I hate to break the bad news but our brain is wired for stress, its part of our makeup.

As Ruby Wax puts it in her book  Sane New World “As soon as you even think about stress, a whole cascade of reactions happen: your thalamus (the relay station of your brain) sends out a wake-up call to your brain stem.” This is the oldest part of our brain, developed about 400 million years ago. “It prompts us to mate, kill and eat, which is perfect if you’re living in a field or working for Goldman Sachs.” Signals are then sent to all vital organs and muscle groups, getting them ready into “fight or flight” mode. Adrenal glands release cortisol, the stress hormone, which suppresses the immune system to reduce inflammation from potential injuries and stimulates the amygdala to keep you vigilant, which produces even more cortisol. “It also suppress activity in the hippocampus reducing your memory so you only think about what you did last time you had a similar emergency. This chemical also stops your digestion and the urge to have sex. Another chemical, epinephrine, increases your heartbeat so it can move more blood and dilates your pupils (to help you find your foe in the dark). All this is useful if you’re actually in danger. If you’re not actually in a life or death situation and those chemicals can’t stop pumping through you, they will wreck havoc on your body and brain”.

Negativity Bias

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).  If we miss out on something pleasant its not an imminent survival issue but if we get attacked/killed its not a great way of ensuring we pass on gene copies. Therefore the brain is biased towards negativity as a survival mechanism and not towards our happiness.

So why is this a problem now?

Because in our modern world this prehistoric brain is responding to life events as if they are in fact mortal dangers and our drive to survive and multiply is killing us. For example

  • Not enough likes on social media/relationship conflict/that big chat with your boss about being late again and the brain kicks into fear of social exclusion which back in our prehistoric mammoth times likely meant death . Or at least a nasty clubbing.
  • Our drive to forage and not starve means we are constantly striving for the next promotion, the better car,higher family expectations or reaching scholastic ideals.

Our brain is geared to be not only be on guard but also be negatively biased.

Cabbages of Calm

Now for the good news .Neuroscience has progressed so much in the recent decades that we can now take advantage of new knowledge through understanding  neuroplasticity. This suggests that it is possible “re-wire” the brain, change unhelpful habits, cultivate positive thoughts and awareness, thereby building up brain muscle in a same way we train our bodies. By learning to reduce “negative commentary”, become less obsessive about “being busy doing stuff” we can in fact have a slice of life not the entire Gateau of Catastrophe.

Mindfulness is the key.

Mindfulness is the current buzz word but its actually been around for a very long time. It is not  just about being present (as opposed to just resting or emptying your mind) and it does not require you to bend into a pretzel or become a Buddhist unless you want too.

The following 3 steps are easy to use anywhere, anytime tools. The aim is not a rapid intense halting, rather  to gently coax our brain and nervous system into a more chilled out state. Practice makes permanent and remember our brain has been fantastic at being in catastrophe for millions of years so it will take time to rewire!

  1. When you catch your brain going through endless scenarios take a moment to “switch” the focus to your breathing. Notice if its rapid ,slow or deep. You arent trying to change it just notice
  2. Take a moment to take 3 measured breaths in the nose for a count of 4 and then out the mouth for a count of 6. If you get distracted dont worry keep coming back to counting in and out until you get to 3 full  “in and outs”
  3. Describe SLOWLY AND IN DETAIL 3 things you can visibly see, 2 things you can hear and one physical sensation ( not an emotion ).

Check out my resources section or other blogs for more support and suggestions.