Jessica Baum, licensed mental health counselor and author of the book Anxiously Attached: Becoming More Secure in Life and Love, believes that developing a meaningful connection with yourself will provide you with a deeper understanding of your patterns and habits so you can better understand how you show up in your relationships.
In this week’s episode of In the Details, Baum and host Karen Allen dive into how to create awareness for your behaviors, build compassion and reaction time to emotions and how to reframe trigger moments as awakenings.
Understanding our own paths
All humans go through different levels of pain, suffering and trauma. When we experience these things when we’re young, we adapt, and keep those adaptations as we move into adulthood. Most of the time we’re not even conscious that any of this is occurring.
Grief can sometimes be an amazing path, and can act as a catalyst to an expansion. Baum dealt with anxiety and depression, and during that time became fascinated with the unseen parts of mental health. She felt like she had a broken leg but no one could see it. The more she healed herself, the more she became interested in helping others to heal, too.
Relating to ourselves and others
Relationships are also a mirror for our inner selves, and are great places to start in regards to creating awareness of our own behaviors. The way in which we show up in relationships with others is sometimes an indicator of what’s going on inside of us. So the healing and the work becomes an in-tandem initiative: when you do the inner work, the external work benefits, and vice versa.
When you start to develop compassion for yourself, your bandwidth for other people expands. Allen often finds the reverse is true: she’s able to more easily give compassion to others than she is to herself. Practicing self-compassion can be difficult if you haven’t yet connected to your own suffering. Perhaps you’ve been in survival mode and don’t want to see the childhood experiences you’ve had as hurtful or hard. But without self-compassion, you can’t begin to understand or shift those surface-level behaviors. You first have to meet yourself before you’re able to give and hold space to others.
A possible first step
Some of our trauma is intergenerational. While our parents did the best they could by us, if one or both of your parents were anxious or stressed they were probably unable to also emotionally regulate you in those moments. Self-regulation is only built through proper co-regulation. And if you didn’t get that from your parents, how are you supposed to give that type of regulation to your child?
First of all, it’s never too late to do that work—the hardwiring in brains can literally be rewired. For someone who’s wanting to do the work, seeing a therapist might be a good possible first step.
At the very least, finding warm, non-judgmental people to be there for you is a key to healing. It’s not about them telling you ways to fix things, but more about holding you in those harder moments.
Behaviors are protectors
When you act in a certain way, it’s important to ask yourself what is driving that behavior. What matters is the awareness of it. Let’s say you need a cookie, and it’s because you’re in pain—okay, no judgment. But perhaps tomorrow you can sit with the pain a little bit more. Through healing, the capacity to tolerate the pain and sit with the discomfort expands.
Replace the word ‘trigger’ with ‘awaken’
When something upsets you, instead of saying you feel triggered by it, consider it an awakening—an insight into that moment. The measure of success/healing here is building your ability to be in those uncomfortable situations, and when you are awakening parts of yourself, they don’t pull you off center as much. You’re able to provide more compassion for what is going on inside you.
But also remember those feelings exist for a reason. It shows you that there’s a wound there. With an awareness of these emotions, you can consciously choose to tap back into equanimity to find yourself in a state of clarity/composure.
Realize if it’s that big, it’s that old
Though it can be difficult to do, if you have the resources to not respond to an awakening in the moment, that can be the best path forward. Instead, try to depersonalize the person or situation that’s activating your behavior and ask yourself if you remember a time in your life when your body has felt this way before. If you feel a strong awakening, it’s likely it existed at an earlier time.
When you find your growth continuing to be tested, also realize that there are likely more issues surfacing that need to be tended to by you as an adult.
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.