Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tune in to Your Own Needs and Feelings

One central issue hair pullers and skin pickers often possess is they aren't really sure how they feel at any given moment.  What they do know is how others feel.  You may be sitting in a room with a few people and be thinking: Jeannette seems mad (is she mad at me?); Bob seems bored, I wonder how I can get him more interested in the topic; Joan seems tired, she should probably sit down instead of helping in the kitchen; everyone must be hungry, I'll make a deli run.  You don't notice it, but you aren't aware whether you are mad or bored or tired or hungry, but rather, focused on taking care of others' needs.

The problem with this is, if you don't know how you feel, you are likely projecting your feelings onto others and taking care of the needs you believe they have, rather than your own. That's probably because fear caring for yourself means you are SELFISH or LAZY.  It's selfish to think of yourself; it's lazy to rest because you are tired. You might be surprised how many people with TTM and CSP believe these things.  That's because most of us with these disorders grew up in a home where for a variety of reasons they felt their survival depended upon taking care of others' needs.

Some examples of this include:

A client whose father was prone to rages and whose entire family was focused on not making him angry which was very hard to predict
A client who, at age 10, found out her mom was having an affair and who told her dad. The two never discussed it with her (or seemingly each other) and it was deadly quiet in the home. This woman planned things like Valentine's Day dinners for her parents, because she feared they would break-up. She was very attuned to what they were feeling, but since everyone was busy ignoring the elephant in the room, no one even asked her how she felt
A client who found out her mom had breast cancer when she was four. She learned to ignore her feelings because she did not want to share them with her mom and add to mom's burden.  Besides, anything she felt couldn't be that "big a deal" compared to what her mom was going through. This wasn't what her mom wanted, but nonetheless it happened.

If you don't tend to know how you feel or what's right for you, if you tend  to agonize over the "right" decision, no matter how big or how small, if you aren't aware of what's right for you, and instead focus on what you "should" do, if you wait to go to the bathroom till the last possible minute, if you try to make sure everyone around you is happy or at least not mad or disappointed and are aware of how most others around you feel, yet you don't know what you feel or whether you are OK, if you do know how you feel but think it would be selfish or lazy to fulfill those needs, then an important part of recovery is learning to tune in to your own needs and feelings. How many times have you had an important decision to make about your life like whether to get a divorce, whether to take or leave a job, whether to move, and you've asked every single person you know what they think you should do? Doesn't it make sense to get advice you ask? Not really. Not about something that will affect primarily you and that only you can know the answer to. Do you want to live the life the person whose advice you are asking would lead, or do you want to live your life? At the very least, you have to know what you really want. The question is not, What if you make a mistake, because you will.  It's more like, how can you start to accept that you will make mistakes and that that does not make you less worthy?

Pulling and picking behaviors may not be caused solely by not knowing yourself, but the behaviors definitely play a part in helping you numb the pain of ignoring your needs and feelings.  The more you learn to tune in to what you feel, what your opinion is, what you need, the less you need pulling or picking to numb these things.  In other words, knowing what you're feeling will help you stop pulling and picking. It isn't that you'll be able to meet every need, address every feeling of course, but that the vulnerable part of yourself, the part that does the pulling, will start of be able to relax and know that IT will be heard. It will no longer be ignored.  Those fears, that pain, can cause urges to pick and to pull to be more frequent and stronger.  The more you learn about what you feel, what you need, what you believe, the more you pay attention to what was likely ignored for a long time, the less anxiety you will have.  Chances are that in meeting others' needs you have some vague hope that they will meet your needs in return.  That rarely happens, though.  One reason is that those who would take take take from you, are takers, not givers!  And those are the folks you are probably giving to.  Another reason is that your partner, spouse, best friend, lover may not realize what you are doing.  I know you think it's obvious but it's not.

Another reason it may be scary to know how you feel is that then you will actually have to feel it. You may be afraid those feelings will last forever or that it's self-indulgent to feel them.  I've heard many people say things like, "If I allow myself to be sad, I'm afraid I'll never stop crying," or "What do you mean allow myself to grieve? That's all I've been doing for 10 years." Sometimes people believe that allowing themselves to feel grief, sadness or anger is self-indulgent or weak or unfair. They will say, "I shouldn't be sad after all this time," "How can I really be angry at my mother when she did the best she could," or "At this point I think my grief is just me being a baby."

The truth is, when it comes to feelings, whatever you resist, persists.  If you refuse to allow yourself to grief or be sad, it will be there all the time, just beneath the surface.  That's why you may cry at movies or Hallmark commercials at the drop of a hat.  In terms of whether you "should" feel how you feel, it's simply not a matter of should.  Feelings just ARE.  They exist.  If we spent 1/4 the energy allowing ourselves to feel them as we do pushing them down, they would be long gone.  And what about being angry? Anger is a feeling, not a betrayal.  And everyone has reason to feel anger at their parents.  It certainly doesn't mean you don't love them.  Even if your parents did do the best they could, it doesn't change the fact that you're affected by them, just as they were affected by their parents. Being angry at someone is different than blaming them or cutting them off.  Underneath the anger you are probably hurt.

1) Practice tuning in to what you feel and what your wants and needs are even if you don't change what you do.  Ask yourself, do I really want to go that event? Do I want to help so and so with her move? If you start to think, I should go, I should help, then you will know you aren't tuned in to what you feel.  It's OK if you go, but ask yourself what you really feel.  Find out if you are resentful.  One person might tell me, "My mom calls three times a week, and I have to talk to her because if I don't she gets really hurt." Well it seems your MOM knows how she feels!  But why does her need to talk to you or her "hurt" supersede your need to have time to yourself, to NOT talk, to rest?

2) Allow yourself to have your feelings (say, OK I'm sad right now, instead of, how can I stop being sad) and understand that you can't know how long a feeling is supposed to take.  That doesn't mean neglect your job, your kids, your partner, your friends, but it does mean that you stop saying to yourself that you "shouldn't" feel sad about X for so long or that you can't be angry at someone in your life because they did the best they could.  All that angry that you believe you aren't allowed to feel you actually are feeling, but only at yourself.  You are judging yourself, criticizing yourself, telling yourself you'r'e a failure or that you are stupid or selfish or pathetic or lazy or weak.  If you aren't allowed to feel your anger it becomes a toxic soup inside you.  You don't need to be violent, you don't need to yell, you don't need to necessarily tell others that you're angry, but you need to allow yourself to acknowledge and know it is OK to feel it.

3) Notice your judgements about all these things. Do you fear you are selfish or lazy? Do you think it's not OK to be angry? Are you unable to separate what you really want with what you think you should do?  Notice your fears of making a decision based on what you believe is right for you.  You don't have to get rid of these judgements, just be mindful of them.

Simply knowing the difference between what you really want and what you think you should do, and what you really feel and what you really should feel, will allow the part of you that has felt neglected or unloved or vulnerable to start feeling seen.  Just the very fact that you know and pay attention to that voice inside will calm the voice down. Someone is paying attention.  You.  It's the beginning of reparenting yourself and it's an important step in trich and skin picking recovery. This is something you can address no matter where you are in your recovery.  I hope you will start to investigate!