THE ROOT OF ANGER

 

This month of September, I have been conducting group classes on childhood and parental wounds. One of the topics that we touched on in the highly interactive sessions, is ANGER.

Anger comes from a space of feeling unsafe. When you think about the fight / flight response to stress, usually it comes from not feeling okay or safe. Your system will then produce adrenalin to keep you ready for action to protect yourself from the perceived sense of danger.

When you have grown up in a home where there were chaos all the time, what happens is your system becomes accustomed to staying in crisis mode and over time you may develop anxiety.

Anxiety is the fear of the unknown and the need to have control.

When you are losing that control or have no predictability or consistency – you don’t know what is going to happen – you go into an anger stage. The people around you are going to experience your high levels of frustration, anger and even sometimes rage. Why? Because you have been accustomed to feeling unsafe. That is how you find that people develop hyper-vigilance where they are constantly watching over their shoulder and constantly feeling afraid. People also develop phobias like a fear of enclosed spaces because they don’t feel safe – ‘If there is no escape, then I am not going to feel safe over there.’

These things are often triggered by our feeling unsafe when we were growing up. Some of us, through some work and sometimes through spiritual resources, will eventually develop a feeling of safety. If you are more outgoing or more aggressive and you have anger issues, you are likely to fight and have rage and you are always ready for a fight. If you are not aggressive in that way, you become passive aggressive where you turn your anger inside. This means that you will not express it but it is going to show up. Sometimes you develop high blood pressure or depression because of all this anger that you keep inside when you do not feel free to express it.

If you often feel unsafe, you again go into self-preservation and you will experience outward anger where you are aggressive towards others or you turn that anger inside which is what we might call passive aggression. When you turn that anger inside, you can develop panic attacks because that is a lot of negative energy that you have turned inwards.

Remember that because you are constantly on alert mode, then your body is going to be unable to manage that level of adrenalin in your body. You then begin to feel dizzy and like you cannot breathe and sometimes you can faint. This is because the body has been triggered so much and it feels it is unsafe and unable to manage the high alert. That is how you end up feeling that you are not breathing very well and you pass out. That feeling of being unsafe is very terrifying.

Where anger that is rooted in a childhood where you were never allowed to speak up or you internalized a lot of anger as a child, that can over time develop into anxiety disorders like panic attacks ,PTSD and even depression. This is where you constantly feel that you are a victim of life…a victim of others…you can’t say no to people…you get so mad…you isolate yourself and don’t want to come out and speak out and if you do, you usually react so badly that you could end up in a hospital or a police station for assault.

It is very important, if you have issues with anger, to look back into your childhood and see whether your current situations are triggering unresolved issues of holding on to anger, grief or feelings of betrayal from back when you were a child.

It is very beneficial to look back to where you have been so that you can dump out what you don’t need any more and now you can unlearn some unhealthy coping mechanisms. You can then enjoy your life now and not carry all this baggage that you have carried over the years

If these are issues that you are struggling with, feel free to get in touch with me for personalized sessions where we can chart a way forward for you.

We will continue to hold the classes on childhood wounds every Saturday night this October, on Zoom. They are at an affordable cost of Ksh 375 only, and open to people from all parts of the world.

You can email us on info@gracekariuki.co.ke or Whatsapp +254797490404 for more information

As always, I encourage you to continue to live by design.

 

My Youtube video on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQj7_Hp8e0g

DADDY ISSUES

Picture this: A six year old girl who loves to act, sing, and day dream. She is casted into the role of Jesus

in a Sunday School skit on the Temptations of Jesus. She does such a great job that the whole church is

heartily clapping at her performance. This approval from the church boosts her energy and she skips all

the way home singing a song. When she gets home, her uncle calls her and says, “You have such a

beautiful voice. Can you sing that song again so I can record it?” She grins from cheek to cheek and

heartily sings her favorite song, “It’s a hard life to live without Jesus in your heart..”

As she is finishing the last verse, another male member of her family comes over and asks, “What are

you guys doing?” Proudly, Uncle says, “Oh, I was recording her singing. She has such a beautiful voice.”

The male family member kind of shrugs his shoulders with a “Oh.” And walks away. The joy that had

filled up the 6 year old girl suddenly disappears like a deflating balloon. And her eyes look down while

her shoulders go “slump” with disappointment.

Why was that male family member’s reaction to her singing such a damper on her spirits? Because that

male family member was the 6 year old’s daddy.

See, I will never forget that scene. I felt rejected and disregarded by my daddy when he did not

recognize my gift and talent. His reaction to my singing communicated the message that I was not good

enough. I internalized the message that I was not that important to him. Everyone else celebrated my

gift and talent, but he didn’t. Why did I put such importance on his approval and validation of my

abilities? Why was it so important for me to receive his approval?

From then on, I found myself always working hard to find approval from others. I made sure that I acted

right so that I did not disappoint anyone in my life. I avoided mistakes as much as I could to be perfect

and acceptable. However, I would fail numerous times and those times I would feel horrible about

myself.

The experience above is what I like to call “daddy issues.” I have met many individuals, both male and

female, who struggle so much with feelings of low self-worth and esteem because they did not receive

the kind of approval and acceptance they expected from their dads. Some of them are depressed,

unhappy with life, they push hard to achieve, they feel anxious and apprehensive about life, they

struggle with anger, and wonder how they can find true joy in their lives. They also struggle in intimate

relationships and tend to be very defensive and angry. A little sign of disapproval from their partners is

met with anger and frustration.

We were created to receive our sense of worth and value from our Fathers. That is what psychologists tell us.

I have a video on my Youtube channel where you can get to learn more about ‘Daddy issues’ for both men and women – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imGlCzTuWaU

Journaling – a right to write.

Imagine having a personal therapist who is not only available 24/7, but who is also free of charge! That sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what a personal journal is.

Hi! My name is Grace Kariuki, and I am an active advocate of journaling, and for very good reasons.

There are different types of journals:

– Gratitude / Positive affirmations

-Mental Wellness Journal

-Mental Dumping

-Art / Visual Journaling (expressing through visual arts like painting and drawing)

-Unsent letter journaling

– Intuition Journaling

– Mentor Journaling (writing unsent letters to your heroes, mentors and those who inspire you

-Letters to your younger self (goal being self-forgiveness and affirmation of your younger self)

-Identifying your critical self in order to replace the negative narrative.

For personal development, journaling is a great tool for improvement of clarity and focus. When you journal, you are able to keep track of your goals and have a sense of accountability to yourself. There are times when it can feel like a chore – you may feel exhausted and the last thing you want to do is pick your pen and journal. I understand. We all have those days. Let’s think of it this way – journaling is as important to your mind as washing up is to your body. In the same way that we tend to the rest of our bodies, such as feeding them and cleaning them and giving them rest, our minds could do with some good care as well. Writing helps your creativity flow. Many great writers discovered and honed their gift in writing by journaling.

Journaling is well known to be great for our mental health. When we journal, we are ideally expressing ourselves in a safe space. We get to write down our thoughts and speak our truth. Writing by hand helps you become more present – it increases your mindfulness, as you have to slow down your thoughts and write them down. That writing also helps us develop more self-compassion. You are free to remind yourself that you are loved. You are able to solve problems, track your personal behavioral patterns and be honest with yourself about your feelings. By writing things down, you can take the edge off toxic emotions and gain clarity on steps you need to take in your future. Your personal journal is like a support system that listens to you and allows you to be yourself. Isn’t that something that we all need?

It is not unusual to get an ‘Aha!’ moment as we journal. As we write, we discover our voice. We get empowered. We own our story and reflect on it. You can look back on your entries and see how far you have come, how you have handled challenges over time. It is in that journal, that you can discover your super-powers of self-compassion and gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude, have you heard of a gratitude journal? This can be as easy as writing down 5 things that you are grateful for. And even in the toughest of times, there is always something to be grateful for. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is one way that we get to grow. We build resilience by realizing that there is something good happening in different areas of our lives. That also motivates us to be better and keep striving to achieve what we are setting out to. Recording the things we are grateful for shifts our mindset with every attempt. Being conscious of our blessings helps us achieve more.

I have found that journaling also helps recovering drug & alcohol addicts, and it is something that I highly recommend when doing therapy sessions with them.

How do we journal in the evening?

Take a notebook (journal) and write using this format:

  • What happened today? These are the events that you deem important or those that impacted you emotionally.
  • How did you feel about what happened?
  • What thoughts did you have about what happened, and what are you thinking now about what happened?
  • What did you do to react / respond to what happened?
  • What would you like to change about how you reacted / responded to the situation?
  • Lessons learned: you can identify anything that the situation helped you gain insight into who you are and how you deal with life, people and situations. For instance, you have already identified that you tend to choose peace with others at the expense of your inner peace (an example of self-abandonment).

There is also the concept of ‘Mental Dumping’. This is where you set aside 10-20 minutes of ‘dumping on paper’ whatever is in your mind. It has no method – you just write whatever comes to mind. Afterwards, you can arrange the thoughts in several categories like: Action needed, lesson learnt, general thought and need to trash.

Let’s use the idea of decluttering a closet, for instance. You sort through what needs to be kept (actionable thoughts, learning thoughts, just thoughts). Then throw away whatever else needs to go.

A gratitude journal can also be a prayer journal. You can combine all by doing the decluttering, then ending with the gratitude and prayers that you write to God about what happened.

Morning journaling:

How did you sleep? Did you have any dreams that are worth exploring? What are you feeling this morning? If you listen to nay devotions or inspirational messages, what stood out to you? What are your plans for the day?

Here’s another way you can journal, as recommended on meraki lane.

  • If you could achieve anything in life, what would it be, and why?
  • What are three things that scare you most, and why?
  • What are three things you can do to enhance your mental wellbeing?
  • Write about a difficult time in your life, and how you overcame it.
  • Write a letter to your biggest supporter (you don’t have to give them, if you do not want to)
  • What are three things that made you happy today?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  • Describe a time in your life when you failed – what did you learn from it?
  • What are 3 of the biggest lessons you have learnt from having depression / anxiety?
  • If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be and why?
  • What does your ideal life look like?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years?
  • How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
  • What are your top 5 values in life?
  • What is something that nobody knows about you? Why have you kept it a secret?

So…is journaling something that you do, or would consider doing? Do share your thoughts on it!

 

I want my JOY back!

How to silence the negative thoughts that are robbing you of  joy

 

Did you know that each time you feel a mood change there is a negative thought that has intruded into your mind? Our feelings are so strong that they affect our actions, our interactions with others, and how we go about our daily activities. Trouble begins the moment we allow negative mental chatter to take over. The good news, however, is that you have the power to control your thoughts instead of letting them control you.

 

Anytime you hear that inner voice whispering negativity, be very keen to take action as soon as possible. Here are a  couple of ways to reduce that negative mental chatter that robs you of peace and joy.

 

Practice Daily Gratitude and Appreciation

 

Most people are always complaining about what they don’t have until they forget about what they already have.Instead of focusing and obsessing on what you don’t have, can’t fix, can’t change, can’t can’t, start to look at what you have and be grateful.

 

Once you get into the habit of daily gratitude and appreciation, you will discover that your life is not as messy as you might have thought. In fact, you realize how privileged you are and the small and big things you have been taking for granted. You could even get a gratitude journal where you list all the things you are grateful about every morning or before you get to bed.

 

Learn to empathize with yourself and others

 

Nobody is perfect – neither you, nor your friends, your family, kids, colleagues or spouse. Replace the negative evaluation of your mistakes and misdeeds with tangible reasons as to why it happened. This is different from giving excuses. Take a mental walk back to how this happened from the beginning and cut yourself some slack. Be compassionate and gracious to yourself and others. If there is anything you can do to avoid a repeat of the mishap, focus on that instead of crying over spilled milk. Take the lessons the situation in the past presents.  Fight the shame that keeps you from doing a “post-mortem” of that which you regret.  It will be more helpful to your current and future as it gives you a way to change the self-condemning narrative.  It will also help you to offer compassion to yourself.

 

Try to stay away from black and white thinking

This is the kind of thinking where you view things as being on extreme ends, “the either or” way of thinking. It denies you the chance to accommodate anything in between and what this kind of rigid thinking does is steal your joy and peace of mind. For instance, you do something, and only expect perfect results. When this doesn’t happen, you start beating yourself too hard over it and thinking that you are such a failure.

 

While you should always aim for excellence in life, learn to be flexible in your thinking. If something doesn’t meet your expectations, think of it as a lesson and not a failure. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim of circumstances whereas you can make the choice to be a survivor, a student of life. And about choices, always remember that even though the first emotion you feel is automatic, you have all the power to control how that thought and emotion progress. Be incharge!

 

Positive affirmations

 

Whenever negative thoughts crawl into your mind whispering to you that you are not good enough, show them that you are the boss and not them. If a voice says “You are not good enough” say out loud and affirm that you are none of that. You could say “I am amazing. I am handsome/beautiful, I am a hardworker and I am doing everything possible to get where I want to be.” “Just because I made a mistake does not mean I won’t accomplish my goals.”  See the negative thinking as a reminder to “celebrate yourself” and do what I call a “personal pep-talk.”  Once you muster the habit of chanting positive affirmations, you will find that there’s little or no space in your mind to accommodate negative mind chatter.

 

Live for a purpose greater than yourself

 

With all the chatter about self love and choosing yourself, we have to find balance and not become hedonistic. We have to realize that it’s not always about us. That in as much as we choose to self-protect, we have to do so with caution lest we step on other people’s toes. Watch your ego so that you don’t move from one extreme to the other.

 

Self love is about self acceptance, self confidence as well as treating others with grace and compassion. This includes telling them when they cross your boundaries, and setting consistent and clear boundaries with those who continue to “walk into your yard” without much thought to your feelings or well-being.

 

The most  important thing you must always remember is that you have the power and authority to control negative mental chatter. Never forget that.

Our thoughts

Cognitive restructuring: Your ideal guide to reframing your thought patterns.

Your brain is not always right! In fact, you should not always believe what it tells you for that matter. Mhm, a bitter pill to swallow? I know, but that’s the fact. Even though the brain is such a powerful organ that alerts us of dangers and helps us get solutions, sometimes it can be misleading or rather lie to us.

Over time, the brain develops some faulty connections which lead to thoughts that are not necessarily true. When something happens, the brain quickly makes connections to alert you why the situation at hand has happened the way it has. This is where the brain tends to lose it since the connections it makes can be unhelpful, sometimes. What am I driving at? When these unhelpful connections happen, they trigger negative emotions making us experience feelings of anger, sadness, stress, and anxiety for the wrong reason.

Cognitive restructuring

Take an instance whereby your spouse is late to come home and they are not picking up the phone. Different people will react to this scenario in diverse ways depending on what their brain tells them. One person may think that their spouse is late because they are out there cheating. Another person might freak out and think that something terrible might have happened to their spouse hence the reason they are not responding to phone calls.

Both of these people could be wrong, yet, they might already be feeling angry, fearful or anxious. This happens when we are not able to take charge and capture the first automatic thoughts we have before they can proceed to mess up with our emotions hence affecting our mental health. At this juncture, allow me to introduce to you, cognitive restructuring, which is the solution to negative thinking patterns or what is popularly known as cognitive distortions.

In very simple terms, cognitive restructuring is reframing your thought patterns so that you are able to identify negative thoughts and change them as soon as possible. To break it down even further, it is ‘changing your thoughts.’ This in return helps to curb negative emotions and behaviors that might result from the said emotions.

Do I need cognitive restructuring?

We could all use some guidance, to be honest. Cognitive restructuring is an important element of therapy, because a healthy way of thinking is vital for good mental health. This means that identifying our negative thoughts and consciously changing them could very well help us better handle stress, anxiety and depression. As a therapist who not only handles marriage and family therapy but also mental wellness, cognitive restructuring is a term that pops up in nearly all my sessions.

You do need cognitive restructuring, to be able to look at the positive side of a situation. This way, you learn to view problems as challenges, meaning they can be addressed with the possibility of a positive outcome.

Let’s look at Bob’s story. A year ago, Bob set out to start his own business, one that he had been considering for a while. He worked hard at it, and channeled his energy and resources into what he considered the venture that would turn his life around for good. Unfortunately, Bob’s business did not flourish as he had expected, and he suffered great losses that led him to shut down the business. When it got to that point, Bob thought of himself as a failure. He was distraught! For many of us, that would be our initial thought if we were to go through such an experience. However, the process of changing our thoughts in such a case, would teach us to look at our failures as learning opportunities. This way, we are able to be objective as we review what went wrong, and what lessons we can pick and carry with us on our next attempt at pursuing our dreams. We look at ourselves not as victims of circumstances, but as courageous survivors who now have another chance armed with more knowledge and resilience!

To be better able to change our thoughts, we also need to dispute the thoughts using facts. Remember, our mind can lie to us! Whatever we think is not always necessarily the truth. We could also use alternative explanations that are not as distressful. We are then better placed to think rationally about the situation, without being overwhelmed by emotion.

Do you have a best friend? I would like to imagine that our best friends would be those who speak to us with empathy and honesty. How do you speak to yourself? Are you hard on yourself? When making an effort to reframe your thoughts, how about you try to speak to yourself as a best friend would?

Focus on what you CAN change. Have you heard of the Serenity Prayer? We may not always be in control, but we can choose to focus on what we can take control of – like our thoughts. We can gather the courage to change what we can, and be hopeful that the decision to do so helps us feel calmer and more confident.

I would like to challenge you to develop distress-tolerant thoughts. As living beings, we are bound to have times when life gets tough. Look back and think of all the times that you have weathered a storm – the many times that you have gone through really tough times, and survived. Let such times serve as an inspiration for you to believe that whatever you go through, you can make it through.

May your mind be stronger, and your thoughts better. Cognitive restructuring is an exercise that takes time, but it is one that has the potential to change your life in a very positive way. At the end of the day, we all desire to have a clearer mind and a better approach to every day challenges. If this is a process that you really feel you need, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

The Green Ribbon

Happy new month! This month of May, the world sheds more light on matters pertaining to mental health. In the recent past, owing to the worrying spread of the Corona Virus pandemic, mental health has become a great concern that is not only being addressed by the medical profession but by governments as well.

The green ribbon is used as a symbol for mental health worldwide.

So, what is mental health?

It is the emotional, psychological and mental well-being of an individual. If someone is experiencing stress due to changes in their environment, their mental health will be adversely affected and they will experience feelings of fear, anxiety or low moods.

And…..why is it so important?

Well…because it impacts a person’s thought processes which impart their emotions and their behavior. Good mental health results in positive feelings while bad mental health results in negative feelings and behaviours.

It is quite easy to identify when there is a problem. Symptoms of intense fear, sadness, lack of interest in things they used to do, low motivation, low energy levels, feelings of anger and frustrations over things that didn’t bother them before, fear of the unknown, feeling like they do not matter (“No one cares about me…”), too many problems they feel they have no solutions for, low sense of self confidence, esteem, worth or value, regrets, guilt, shame are all pointers that all is not well.

Behaviors to cope would include isolating from social situations, change in appetite and sleep patterns, avoiding taking care of responsibilities, anger outbursts, giving silent treatment to close people, consuming alcohol excessively, overspending, not taking care of themselves or their environment (showering, cleaning the house), mindlessly watching TV or excessively engaging in social media, etc.

Treatment with medication for depression (low mood) and for anxiety (high levels of fear) is an option for some. One would need an evaluation by a psychiatrist to get the needed medications. For depression, the need for medication comes in especially if the individual is constantly feeling suicidal and has a plan to execute it. The anti-depressants help to up their mood and clear the mind to identify options and solutions to their situations that have triggered the hopelessness. The use of medication usually goes hand in hand with therapy, so that the individual is equipped with knowledge and skills on how to cope with the challenges they are facing. These skills are useful not just for the period of treatment with medication, but for life.

How do we maintain good mental health? 

-Take care of your physical body by eating a well-balanced diet.

-Get enough sleep and rest.

-Engage in physical exercise.

-Get regular medical check-up and treatment.

-Keep your body hydrated by drinking at least 8 glasses of water daily.

-Take care of your physical appearance (showering, clean clothes, brushing teeth, keeping a neat hair do, basic physical self-care).

-Keep your environment clear and decluttered.

-Take care of your emotional, psychological and mental well-being through connecting with others (socializing with friends, family, colleagues, chamas, church, etc).

-Journaling (decluttering your mind).

-Meditation.

-Talking to a therapist/coach to learn skills in problem solving, managing stress, decision making, setting boundaries with others, assertiveness training, financial management, parenting skills, relational skills. All these skills helps one to learn how to manage their lives so that they can manage the normal stress of living.

On emotional health, working on self awareness (personality & temperaments) is key to increasing feelings of self worth and esteem which is a big cause of mental and emotional disturbance and challenges.

If one has had any kind of traumatic experience, it is important to seek mental health counseling to address the past experiences that have caused the negative emotions.

On the spiritual part, it is important to practice spiritual self-care through rituals like religious activities, having a strong belief in a higher power, having a sense of purpose in life, and joining others in the faith community for communal worship and scripture reading and exposition. These practices help a lot in feeling connected to the goodness of life and the hope of living.

Mental health issues are very real and not to be taken lightly. Let’s talk about our youth.

Many of us, especially those in their 20’s are at risk for mental and emotional challenges, the inability to rise above the stresses of life. Those mostly at risk are those who have little or no social and family support. It makes it harder to manage these thoughts and feelings without the help of community. Experiences of rejection and abandonment as well as abuse of all manner put you at risk of mental and emotional and psychological disturbances. In addition, loss of parents at an early age can also trigger the onset of mood disorders once a person hits teenage-hood into young adulthood.

Other risk factors are when individuals grow up in very sheltered homes. You will find them unable to transition effectively into young adulthood especially how to navigate through the new world of freedom to get into romantic relationships. The joy of romance can lead to the most painful experiences when love goes sour or consequences like unplanned pregnancy or contracting sexually transmitted infections hit. These are realities our young people are experiencing now more than ever. We really need to do our best to offer support and information to our young generation rather than judging and shaming them.

Another risk factor is use and abuse of psychoactive drugs and alcohol. Once young people are exposed to the substances, they can begin the process of developing addiction to them. Most are introduced to them during social gatherings and peer pressure can be the motivator to continue ingesting these substances. Before they know it, they are hooked and it becomes an effective way to escape the normal emotional ups and downs of teenage and young adult living. The use of alcohol makes depression worse. Many tell me they use it as a sleep aid while others find that alcohol helps them numb their feelings. Then use of stimulants like weed, cocaine and others, gives them a quick high and feeling of confidence as well as a burst of energy (alertness). These substances are however detrimental to mental and physical health over time.

It may come as a surprise, but there are sexual behaviours that put many at risk for depression and anxiety. These include masturbation, attraction to same sex, pornography and other sexuality issues. We also factor in sexual violence, which is very common in this age-group. Sexual violence is the general term used to describe any kind of unwanted sexual acts, such as sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse. In the case of masturbation, there’s a sense of shame and guilt that increases feelings of low self-worth and esteem. There’s a lot of insecurity associated with this as well. When I work with such individuals, I treat it as an addiction. Reconstruction of thought patterns seems to provide opportunities for healing from the behaviour, especially when they understand the ‘why’ of it.

Mental healthcare is an integral part of our general health, and being mentally healthy boosts our productivity, relationships and ability to adapt to the changes in our lives.

How is YOUR mental health? Feel free to reach out to me if this article has raised some concern about your wellbeing or that of a loved one.

I am here, if you need someone to walk with you.

Grace.