Anxiety: Fear of Inner Punishment

Why am I so anxious? The age old question. At some point it seems like my anxiety became the sole focal point of my life. Everything I do is in an effort to avoid feeling anxious. The problem is even when your intention is to avoid something, you end up concentrating on the very thing you’re trying to avoid. Therefore you’re attracting even more of it into your life. I’ve been spiraling in that space for a while now.

Listening to my anxiety instead of trying to ignore it taught me something. When I’m running through the list of everything I have scheduled for the day, panicking that I may not have time for everything, I never really took the time to wonder, so what? I followed my panic to it’s logical conclusion and found only myself waiting there to hand out the “punishment” I so feared. Spending a few days away from my normal routine with my boyfriend really emphasized that point.

This is what happens when we lose our intention, when we stop checking in with ourselves, when we forget to take the time to find grounding. It’s almost as if I had completely given up the power I have over my own life. I have been living as if I have to do this or I have to do that, never pausing to ask why I’m doing it in the first place. I’ve been so fearful, running from myself for so long that when I finally looked back, what a relief it was to realize that I’m the only one around. I’m the only one handing out these consequences of fear and displeasure.

After doing things a certain way, living in a certain way, for so long, I nearly forgot that I don’t have to keep following this road I’ve laid out. It’s almost like following a path through the forest. I’ve gotten so used to the path that I’ve become afraid of the dense woodlands on either side. However, the path I’m on leads me in circles. I’m the only one making the rule that “I must follow the path.” I am completely free to make a new path. It seems silly, but just realizing that fills me with so much joy and excitement. I don’t know what I’ll encounter once I step into the woods, but I am so eager to find out.

When it comes down to it, most of the unpleasant feelings we try to avoid in life are completely up to us. We make so many rules for ourselves without even realizing it. If I sleep in too late, I’m going to have a bad day. If I don’t accomplish my goal, I have to feel badly about myself. If my friend can’t hangout, I’ve got to be sad all day instead. We have these unspoken rules about the things that make us feel a certain way. Then we work so hard to justify our reactions to ourselves, perpetuating moods and emotions that aren’t serving us.

It’s funny. I used the restrict myself the very same way with my anger. I felt like I didn’t have a choice other than to get angry when certain things happened. I felt that was the only logical, appropriate response. Thankfully, I finally realized that I get to decide what’s worth getting angry over. (Turns out hardly anything.) Yet I failed to apply this lesson to my other emotions. Just because something happens doesn’t mean I have to feel a certain emotion about it for a certain length of time.

If I make a mistake, there is absolutely nothing forcing me to feel badly about myself because of it. If things don’t end up going as planned, I get anxious partly because I am afraid of the emotions and feelings I feel must follow. I’d forgotten that I’m the one writing this story. I get to decide how I respond to whatever happens to me. I’m the one calling the shots. I get to choose happiness and inner peace no matter what is happening around me.

My anxiety has been a response to my own self-rejection. I’m afraid if I don’t do everything perfectly, I’m going to lose my own love and compassion toward myself. My self love has been so conditional that it could hardly be considered love at all. My anxiety is my inner child, constantly afraid of a manipulative, emotionally abusive parent. The first step toward healing that fearful child is to stop abandoning myself if I don’t live up to my own expectations. Just reassuring myself that this deep love with always be here inside of me, will always be available and freely given to myself no matter what, fills me with peace and frees me from this oppressive fear that has been looming over me for so long. Regardless of what happens, regardless of what I do or don’t do, I am going to be here, supporting and loving myself with everything I’ve got.

Self Love Tips

Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

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Forgiveness

Yesterday I mentioned that I was kinda peeved about my sister’s boyfriend drinking all my vodka. Given the hangover I have today from drinking at Christmas dinner, I’m actually glad he did. Otherwise I would have probably gotten even more drunk last night. Either way, I had decided not to hold it against him. He is a pretty cool guy overall. I even ended up supplying him with cigarettes. All of our local shops were closed for the holiday, and he couldn’t buy his own.

Now normally, this would have only soured me to him even more. But it actually felt good to let all that petty nonsense go. It was nice to just enjoy helping someone else out. It feels much better than getting salty about every little thing. So I was able to forgive him for all of his minor transgressions and enjoy sharing my family holiday with him.

However, this morning as I groggily rolled myself out of bed, I was filled with shame and regret. For probably the hundredth time I got WAY too drunk and practically blacked out while spending a holiday with my family, who by the way, don’t really drink. I genuinely don’t even remember getting home or going to bed last night. I feel like shit this morning, though. Physically and mentally. I can’t believe I made the same humiliating mistake once again.

I’ve started thinking about how good it feels to forgive other people though. I really wish it was as easy to be able to forgive myself. I’m sure yesterday wasn’t even a big deal to anyone besides me. I think I’ve always just been afraid to forgive myself. Somewhere along the line that idea of operant conditioning, of punishment and reward, really stuck in my brain. I am always trying to train other people to behave in the ways I want them to. I am always trying to train myself in this way. If I forgive myself, how will I learn?

I can remember implementing this technique far before I ever learned about it in any academic setting. It seems like common sense. If you are punished for doing something you will avoid doing it. If you are rewarded in some way you will try to repeat the behavior in the future. Yet everyday life is not often so straightforward. Real life behaviors are not isolated in a scientific setting.

My relationship with myself cannot be that black and white either. I don’t have to keep punishing myself for my mistakes. I recognize my flaws, and forgiving myself for them is not the same as encouraging them. Besides I’m not really even following the laws of operant conditioning correctly. When was the last time I gave myself a reward for doing something well? Maybe never. The only thing I’ve been “training” myself to do is to be unhappy, to never believe in myself, to think I am not good enough.

Rather than make this cold, hungover Saturday even harder by beating myself up, I am going to be kind to myself today. I deserve kindness. I deserve forgiveness, especially from myself. I don’t have to forbid myself from the happiness and comfort I may find today because of what happened yesterday. That isn’t going to make me a better person. Love and forgiveness isn’t going to make me a worse person. Today I am going to be gentle with myself. I am going to rest and make myself comfortable. I am going to forgive myself.

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