AVOIDANT TO SECURE ROADMAP: BEHAVIOUR STRATEGIES I

TAKE CONTROL

To start changing our behaviour, our biggest step is to reconnect with what we want and how to get it. This will gradually shift our operating model to allow our choices to come out of desire more than fear.

  1. RECONNECT WITH YOUR EMOTIONS

 

It all comes down to emotions.

"If you've been told your feelings don't matter, been told you shouldn't have them, or been asked to get over them,

it's a brave act to give yourself permission to fully allow them"

Why?

 

Emotions are part of our genetic heritage. Fish swim, birds fly, and people feel. But many people have been educated out of knowing what their feelings are. When they hated, they were told it was only dislike. When they were afraid, they were told there was nothing to be afraid of. When they felt pain, they were advised to be brave and smile. Many of our popular songs tell us ‘Pretend you are happy when you are not.’ 

If we struggle to access our feelings this is not our fault. We learned to associate emotions with pain from early on so repression becomes instinctive. But understanding how we really feel is everything. Your emotions are protective mechanisms, serving important psychological and physiological purposes. Your emotions provide you with information about yourself and the things going on around you. They communicate and motivate actionshow you what you need and so protect you from mistreatment. For example, fear tells you that you may be in danger; sadness tells you that you may need some time to take care of yourself or seek help from others. If we're not confident what our feelings are in real-time we can be disconnected from our needs and boundaries – until they become overwhelming, which can be very frightening for us as well as make our relationships unstable. We can also turn emotions inward on ourselves and they become self-loathing.

 

Decisions are emotional more than logical, so figuring out our emotions is first key and will help with decision-making. And while this was an early defence mechanism against pain, our ability to experience distressing emotions is equal to our ability to experience pleasurable emotions - connecting to them finally opens us up to the full gamut of exciting experiences the world has to offer. Even sadness and pain are just inherent parts of the human condition - they enable us to understand our experiences and to work out what we want, and they will pass. So getting in touch with our emotions speeds up our self-awareness, path of self-development and ultimately our life satisfaction. Even if confronting them is very hard, the longer we try to repress the longer we are in fact (through no fault of our own) delaying our self-development. Finally, when you suppress and hold onto things, emotional stress often manifests as illness and disease.

While emotional avoidance temporarily suppresses difficult emotions, the emotions you're trying to avoid may grow harder to ignore over time. Your emotions may “fight back” in an attempt to serve their functions. If someone is determined to avoid feeling their emotions, they may eventually turn to more drastic and unhealthy ways to avoid them, such as substance use.​ Avoiding your emotions takes considerable effort, and as the emotions you are avoiding grow stronger, more and more effort is needed to keep them at bay. As a result, little energy may be left for the important things in your life such as connecting fully to family and friends. While we are not willing to accept our own emotions we will not be able to connect with those of others in a way to healthily sustain a relationship. Being afraid of our own emotions can make us afraid to experience someone else's. In addition, using all your energy to avoid certain emotions may make it difficult to manage other experiences, such as frustration and irritation, making you more likely to be “on edge” and angry. It's very important to learn to tolerate even negative emotions - ultimately they will pass, but they will tell us more about what we want and need.

 

How?

Emotions are actually somatic sensations in your body that are reflections of your thinking, so the key is to get back in touch with your body. First practise daily noticing sensations in your body and reconnecting with them. Then practise awareness of where in your body you feel different emotions. This may feel strange, but gradually you will start reassociating with your feelings. Relax all judgement when you experience emotions and allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling, however ugly you might have been conditioned to believe it is. Most importantly, resist your instinctive urge to repress. Practise sitting with your difficult emotions, experiencing them, working through them and not trying to push them away. We do not need to fear the emotions of ourselves and others - at worst we will feel uncomfortable, but this will pass. We get into trouble when we shame ourselves for feeling them and try to resist them - so the best thing we can do is always remind ourselves it is ok to feel whatever we are feeling. Emotions are there for a reason - to tell us something about what we need - and inviting them in directly, without shame, Emotions are there for a reason - to tell us something about what we need - and facing them directly and exploring what is going on ultimately helps us. When we get used to engaging with them directly we discover they are not dangerous and we do not need to push them, or others who give rise to them, away.

One of the greatest struggles avoidants have is a difficulty recognizing their own emotions, let alone talking about them. Alexathymia is the inability to describe emotions in words, a skill which comes from an internal dialogue or stream of consciousness. Many avoidants can’t be consciously aware of their emotions which are instead manifested as somatic symptoms. This then interferes with psychological intimacy and capacity for interpersonal sensitivity.

 

However, research shows that simply practising naming our feelings is key in diffusing and managing them. This is because cannot so easily be inside something while also witnessing it. And finding the right words is the first step in expressing them. Once we are aware of and able to name and accept our emotions, the next step will be to verbalise them, and no more to deny yourself the right to speak about your experience. So it is important to practise expressing your feelings to others and seeking help in dealing with them, even if this instinctively makes you very uncomfortable.

Read this and this about learning to feel

 

  • Examine the physicality of your emotions and name them regularly

Ask yourself - what am I feeling right now? What does it feel like? Whereabouts is it located in my body? What does it look and taste like? Set an alarm every hour and ask yourself what you are feeling. Try to find the nuance in naming these feelings and where they might come from - this Feelings & Needs List (courtesy of the Personal Development School) may help. Doing this may seem repetitive and uncomfortable, but it is the way you will heal from deep trauma.

 

  • Embrace emotional discomfort, accept and invite in your feelings

When you feel the onset of a feeling, particularly a sad one, do not try to repress it and disassociate. Choose not to distract yourself. Remind yourself it is ok to feel it, allow it to come, name the feeling, and examine it within you as a form of meditation. Commit to notice when you are triggered what emotions you are experiencing. Get close to your emotions and you will discover they are just sensations, you can own them, do not need to fear them, and most importantly they will pass. Feelings change like clouds that move across the sky. Once you have got very used to doing this start trying to head towards rather than away from emotional difficulty in conversations too.

  • Somatic Experiencing Therapy

Ideally our body should be able to regulate itself from a triggered state into a relaxed one, but sometimes we override these natural ways of regulating the nervous system with feelings of shame and pervasive thoughts, judgments, and fears. Used for PTSD, Somatic Experiencing Therapy aims to help people move past the place where they might become “stuck” in processing a triggering event by guiding them in between these states. This helps people connect with their bodies and work safely away from their triggered states. The book "Why Can’t I Change?" by Dr Shirley Impellizzeri covers this - she herself had an avoidant attachment style which she changed using somatic experiencing therapy. Also check out Diane Poole Heller

 

  • Journalling

Get in touch with your emotions by writing down how you feel every day. Again, try to explore the nuance of these feelings.

An avoidant on journaling tips:

 

"Having avoidant traits simply means you have also avoided your own feelings. Sometimes when it’s really really hard to put it to words try writing to yourself first, pretend you are talking to journal therapist. Once you find the words for your feelings, you can start to find answers to why you are feeling this way.​

 

Ask yourself “what words can I use to describe my feelings?” to find out “what am I feeling?”

ask “What do I actually want from this?” "what specific need are my emotions expressing to me?" You want to try to get as specific as possible so the problem doesn't feel overwhelming

ask “why is it I want to leave?” or “why is it I want to go back” or “why do I want to stay?”

ask “what am I looking for?” (or what feeling am I looking for)

ask “what am I afraid of?”

 

In terms of style of writing, I personally did it in chat log style, thinking I am talking to someone and back to myself. You can even make up a character for this and make it a fun experience! When you are confused about whether you want something, someone or not, ask yourself how much percentage is your Yes on this, is it 30% yes? 50% yes? or 70–90% yes? Anything below 50% Yes is a full “No.” I have to use this to realize what I am actually feeling. Don’t overthink, write as it comes out, it’s more accurate. It’s okay to hate your feelings, but accept they are there."

  • Talk

As you become more confident identifying your emotions and verbalising them in writing, the next step is to find trusted people to practise self-expressing more deeply with. Recalibrate the relationships around you so they can become positive models of fresh, new ways of interacting where, even if it is difficult, you are regularly open about your feelings and invite others to be open with theirs. Train yourself to start taking a deliberate interest in asking in-depth questions of people to gain a greater understanding of their internal experiences and feelings. Look for people who have the capacity to do this too, although you may also be surprised when you start opening up how much it can encourage others to do the same. This will be uncomfortable, but regular practice is very important to normalise your own self-expression and reduce the anxiety around it - it needs to happen consistently over time to take effect. Bit by bit you will discover that your feelings are valid and safe to express: others truly care, will not judge you and want to hear, and you will gain confidence that rather than your openness being judged or punished, it will be rewarded.

  • Recognise your distraction techniques

We all distract ourselves from difficult feelings at times. But while we are distracting, we are only suppressing rather than dealing with them, which means they stick around. Used too often, these are unhealthy coping mechanisms that suppress our feelings and only serve to distract us from learning through our emotions about the parts of our life and ourselves that may really need to change. It's important to become conscious of the techniques you use (drinking, drugs, shopping, food, tv binges, social, dating & sex etc) and how often you are using them. If you sense yourself reaching for these to block something out, accept that your emotions are valid to address and consider heading through the pain, feeling, discovering, talking, accepting it and trying to understand it instead. And better still, seek support about your emotions directly and talk to someone about how you are feeling, embracing 'better out than in'. Even if it feels painful at the time, this will all ultimately set you on a more positive path to understanding how you are feeling and why, that your feelings are valid, working out what to do about it and moving past it healthily.

2. COME INTO THE PRESENT

Often our minds are taking us to the past and the future, filling us with anxieties and preventing us from just being present in the moments that matter most. In doing this we miss out on the beauty of everything right in front of us. Remember: if you are anxious about the future, or worried about the past, the only thing that is real is NOW. The now is the only thing that matters. Anything else really is just thinking.

 

Avoidant people can feel trapped in their head, analysing, disassociated from their body and unable to connect to the present - a reaction to escaping the physicality of emotions to avoid a painful present in childhood. This, and instinctively anticipating their equilibrium being disrupted by the appearance of unsafe, demanding attachment figures, can leave avoidants in a constant state of low level tension. Relationships, they ultimately learned, are not reciprocal, and so rather than being mutually enjoyed are governed by a constant state of fear - between either fear of losing themselves or the other.

To combat this experience physically, practise returning from the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze - survival mode) into your parasympathetic nervous system (relaxing and calming) through anything that encourages your mind to slow down and become more present with what you're doing, such as:

A Guided Meditation Exercise

 

One of the purposes of meditations is to interact with images that may bring us joy, calm our senses, and give us insight. There is the potential for tremendous healing while working with images, for there are no bounds of past, present, and future, and we can essentially create whatever reality we desire. This new perception created in a meditative state is able to soften the context of our memory and give us relief. The negative self-beliefs, traumas, and fears that we experienced as children may now be dispelled by our older, more seasoned selves. We simply have to go back and visit that younger self. We must reacquaint ourselves with the wounded child within. Here is a guided meditation to help you:

Find a comfortable spot in your home or office. Somewhere that has no loud traffic noise. Turn off your cell phone. Take off your shoes and socks. Sit down on the floor. Reach down and grab your feet; give them a gentle rub. Sit up with your spine straight and head level.

Now close your eyes. Begin to breathe deeply. Inhale though your nose. Imagine that all of the air you pull in is full of love and compassion. As you exhale through your mouth, imagine that all of the stress and worry are leaving your body. In with kindness. Out with judgment. In with joy. Out with concern.

Imagine that you’re sitting outside. The grass feels soft against your skin. You’re looking at the beautiful purples, oranges, and blues that surround you and sway in the breeze. The air is warm and full of light, and you watch as birds move above your head.

You notice that a small child is walking toward you across the open field. You recognize the way the child walks. You get up to meet the child. Looking down into their eyes, you realize that you are looking into the eyes of your younger self. You reach out and take the hand of your younger self and guide him/her to sit down next to you. This is the kid who was not able to express themselves when they felt neglected and alone. This is the part of you that felt scared and unwanted. You bring this young child onto your lap and hug them tight. You tell them that everything is going to be okay. You hold them tight for several minutes consoling and reassuring them. You tell them that you will always be there to take care of them.

Do this exercise each morning. As you soothe the wounded child inside of you, the grown-up that you have become will begin to feel different—more secure, less anxious, and more confident about your relationships.

 

3. IDENTIFY & COMMUNICATE NEEDS,
& MAINTAIN BOUNDARIES

Until we can fully recognise and communicate our needs we cannot protect ourselves, so as soon as a partner starts inadvertently infringing on them we will inexplicably get the feeling they are irritating or wrong for us. In order to be happy in a relationship, we need to find a way to express our needs clearly without resorting to defensiveness. Relationships aren't supposed to work perfectly by magic and we are supposed to get help from each other and work together to make the relationship meet those needs - it's very much ok to ask for things from your partner, even if you think they may find it difficult. Even if it takes a bit of time to work out what it is you need, that's ok, and it is fine to loop back to a conversation once you have worked it out. Because for both you and your partner, unexpressed needs won't go anywhere - they will just come out in other ways.

1. Identify needs

Reconnecting with our emotions is the vital step that should help us learn to recognise our needs in real time. Listen to and name how you are feeling, then take time to think about why that might be and what you could potentially need from your partner to alleviate it. However, while identifying our emotions we don't necessarily need to immediately react from them. Remember that if we are act from a place from a triggered or emotional state we are probably not always making healthy decisions in alignment with who we want to be and what we want our life to look like, because our response will be reactive - an attempt to reduce that emotion. So identify what your emotions are trying to tell you about what you need, but allow your rational mind to work with your needs to identify best way to move forward with that information. That way emotion is integrated in the decision but it is not running you, so you can take positive healthy action.

2. Communicate needs unapologetically

 

As much as we can prefer to go with the flow and not create any conflict, every relationship will have frustrations and things that are not being provided. If we do not learn a way to effectively communicate these things to each other and work on them together without defensiveness, then no relationship can survive.

You may have limiting beliefs that you don't provide enough in a relationship and you're not good enough - when in fact when you ask your partner you will find they are getting or can voice what they need. And partners may be more comfortable handling avoidant behaviours than you realise, once they fully understand your needs, that the behaviours are not personal and not a threat to the relationship, and when they see you are trying and that you appreciate their presence in your life. When they live in fear it means you could constantly exit is when things become unstable. One way you can prevent that is by making sure you express your needs to them so you both feel safe they are meeting them for you.

Advice from someone who has worked through their avoidant attachment:

“Look for signs when you feel pressured, make effort to speak up and not run away. This one is hard because our tendency is wanting to run away, whether to shut down, be cold or literally run away. Do the opposite: stay, and each time a little longer, come back a little faster, make sure your partner/loved ones know you are coming back so you don’t break their hearts. Sometimes even giving that heads up is hard. (I have gotten used to giving heads up - achievement!)

When something is asked of us, as avoidants our knee-jerk response is usually to say yes. Even for small things it can take time to work out what it is we actually want. If you are not sure, then rather than just agreeing to something to keep the peace - even if it is small, an activity for example - instead buy time by saying "let me think about that and get back to you" until you are sure of what you want to do. Try to get out of the habit of saying yes for the sake of it. Remember, even if it feels hard in the moment (and it will get easier), the more we claim our needs openly, the less likely we may feel the need to indulge in behaviours that could create guilt for us later. Remind yourself always that your needs deserve to be met.

By instinct, people with this type of attachment style often set boundaries, mostly invisible ones, to help us feel safe in emotional situations, even if we don’t always know where they are or why they happen - for example, walking away from emotionally difficult situations. It can be helpful to others in your life for you to try to vocalise those boundaries. Tell them what makes you feel fear and what triggers your anxiety. This can help you avoid them together as a team, instead of them becoming a potential instrument of hurt.

Never forget to not be shamed by your needs - it’s your right to meet them, and will be healthier for you and the people around you. Everybody's needs are different and it's ok to need different things from your partner, and even to feel drained by connection - if you are able to explain (and remind them) then they'll have the opportunity to understand that it doesn't mean you don't want them. Ultimately, while it can be good to work on ourselves to make ourselves happier and our relationships more fulfilling, we and our partners should also accept ourselves as we are and what we can each give.

Once you are able to vocalise your needs, such as for space, and you see that your that your partner is happy to give it to you, you may find you do not in fact need it so much after all! Often it is simply a fear of overwhelm manifesting - and if we are able to get confirmation this fear won't come true, the fear dissipates.

3. Assert boundaries

 

"When we learn how to keep our boundaries healthy enough so that only that which is true about us can get in, we cannot be victimised. Confident in what we know to be the truth about ourselves, we stop blaming others for 'making' us feel the way we do."

- Pia Mellody, Facing Codependence

If we feel overly worried about someone depending on us then we probably have a boundary problem. This means we don't feel confident that we could turn down requests to meet others' needs without either it jeopardising the relationship or making us feel unbearably guilty. We fear we will take on too much responsibility for the emotions and actions of others, perhaps because we only experienced love when we were providing a use to someone. Read this article on different boundary problem styles - in particular, Invisible, Distant and Enmeshed, and what to do to combat them. For example:

"When you use The Invisible Boundary Problem Style you put aside what is important to you. You might tell yourself “it’s not that big a deal” or “it’s not worth arguing about”. But you don’t realize, each time you choose to use invisible, you make yourself less and less significant. And, you are creating a of false portrait of you. Because of this, over time, you are eroding what could have been a good relationship. You build up resentments as you passively allow other people to shape your choices and design your life. You act as if it is someone else’s fault that you do not get what you want and are unhappy.

Sooner or later, you might explode. You use one final incident as the tipping point to finally share all your pent up resentments. Your reaction is out of proportion for the current situation. This leaves those around you feeling hurt, surprised and confused. They might try to listen to you more carefully for a while, but since you don’t address issues as they come up, they don’t know how important things are to you in the long run. At some point you might leave the relationship by saying they were controlling, invasive or self-centered. And maybe they were. On the other hand, if you have been using The Invisible Boundary Problem Style, and did not reinforce what you wanted by backing it up with consistent, congruent, impactful behavior you created a large part of the problem. Ouch!"

It is time to put aside your short term goal of avoiding conflict or making everyone else happy and focus on your long term goal of a healthy, respectful relationship." 

 

Sometimes of course you make sacrifices for the people you love.The catch is that if you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing it. So if your partner wants you to call every day which you do but hate it and feel like they're impeding on your independence and you resent them and you’re terrified of how angry they'll be if you don’t, then you have a boundary problem. If you do it because you love them and don’t mind, then do it.

It can be difficult for people to recognise whether they’re doing something out of perceived obligation or out of voluntary sacrifice. As a litmus test, ask yourself, “If I stopped doing this, how would the relationship change?” If you’re really afraid of the changes, that’s a bad sign. If the consequences are unpleasant but you feel like you could stop performing the action without feeling much different yourself, then that’s a good sign. 

 

A person with strong boundaries understands that it’s unreasonable to expect two people to accommodate each other 100% and fulfil every need the other has. A person with strong boundaries understands that they may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can’t determine how other people feel. A person with strong boundaries understands that a healthy relationship is not controlling one another’s emotions, but rather each partner supporting each other in their growth and path to self-actualization. Practising strong personal boundaries is a way to build self-esteem and self-identity.

So once you're aware of what it is you think you need in a relationship, set pro-relationship boundaries and limits: acknowledge your boundaries, such as your need for emotional and physical space and explain to your partner that you need some time alone when you feel things getting too mushy, and that it’s not a problem with them but your own need in ANY relationship. They are then less likely to intensify their efforts to draw closer to you. Be unashamed in sticking to them. Giving voice to our feelings and setting loving limits will mean we are less likely to feel imposed upon or controlled, and both partners can feel safe.

Bear in mind that a lot of the guilt and anxiety you feel over responsibility towards people, and the frustration you may project onto them as a result, is likely unnecessary. Everyone likes connecting, but when required, most of us are also a lot more able to act independently than you might think. When people understand your needs and boundaries clearly and appreciate it's not personal, they can surprise you. Though being needed can also be a rewarding thing.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or smothered by someone, consider are they are objectively enacting this, in a self-involved way that disregards people's value or boundaries? If so this is a person to step back from unapologetically. If not, this potentially comes from your need to be able to effectively express your needs and be freely yourself, self-confidence in your capacity to meet someone else's, and healthy separation from too much guilt around responsibility for those needs - an understanding of your boundaries. If we take responsibility for addressing these, there are strategies to solve all of these things within a relationship. For example, we are not responsible for fixing or changing someone else, but there are lots of things we can do to positively transform the dynamic of our relationship.

​N.B. If you have boundary issues in your relationships, then it’s very likely you have them in your family as well, and potentially friendships too. Boundary issues are the most difficult to deal with at the family level, as you can't dump your family if they're overstepping! But your mental health and self-esteem will improve if you can start unapologetically identifying and asserting your boundaries in all areas of your life, unapologetically asserting own identity rather than conforming to the expectations of others, and learning to say no. Confront people by speaking up immediately if you can (not days later). It can feel safer not to rock the boat, but ultimately doing this constantly does you and everyone a disservice. So don’t ever change yourself for the sake of pleasing another person. Stick to your views and preferences whether they be religious, political, philosophical, culinary, activity or fashion-related. Tell people what you like and don’t like. You'll be surprised by the reaction, and to find out you don't need to bend to others as much as you might have thought.

4. Explaining needs vs. being an asshole

When we self-abandon (to cope with feelings of being unlovable) we look outside to make someone else responsible for our feelings and sense of self-worth, expecting them to behave in a certain way and magically understand exactly what it is we need. Then we look to control others to get these needs out of them (we may resist being told what to do, people-please, criticise, act in passive-aggressive ways, stonewall etc), ultimately turning to self-destructive behaviours that push our loved ones away. But no one is responsible for intuiting our needs​ (although kind people try!) - we are responsible for explaining them. However, doing this does not mean riding roughshod over others' feelings. There is always a way to do this sensitively and with reassurance, keeping the needs of others in mind and couching it in positive, nourishing language. Claiming our needs is never an excuse for being an asshole. Examples might include:

"I love spending time with you so much, but I'm feeling the need for a little alone time right now so I can be on great form with you again soon. It's just a need I'd have in any relationship and nothing personal. Is that ok with you?"

"I feel strongly for you. I find it naturally hard to talk about my feelings, but please know it doesn't mean I don't have them for you. I want to talk more about it with you at some stage, but I'm not quite ready yet and I'd rather not say the wrong thing. Know that I care about you a lot" (NB then commit to doing this!)

"Is it ok if we don't talk about the future for a bit? Talking about it is just stressful for me naturally, but rest assured the possibility of you in my future is still exciting for me. I respect that it's important to you to feel safe so I'll do my best to talk about it before too long."

"I need to take some time out right now, but please know that I'm still here for you and it doesn't mean I'm trying to punish you or thinking of leaving the relationship, and that I value you. I don't want to upset you. Do you feel comfortable with that?"

P.S. asserting needs prevents break-ups!

No matter who a person dates, there will always be some aspects of that other person that they don’t like. What defines whether they will or won’t dump that person is how they handle these aspects of their partner that they don’t like. It’s very easy to fall into the idea of thinking that when we meet our perfect partner that they should be compatible with us in every way. This can train us into the idea of thinking that we should never have to tell our partner that we are not happy about some aspect of them. If they truly are our perfect partner, they should just figure this out for themselves. This is not a healthy way to view a relationship.The reality is that if something is bothering you about your partner, you must air that grievance to them. And visa versa.

Assertiveness can prevent a breakup from occurring. Many relationships fall apart because one or both partners are afraid to assert their wants and needs properly - when if we have been assertive and aired grievances with our partner it likely wouldn’t have happened. If you let something bother you without trying to do anything about it inevitably leads to frustration. And when something becomes too frustrating, it can often seem easier to simply walk away than to try and deal with that thing that has become too frustrating to handle. You need to introduce an ethos of assertiveness into your relationship to prevent small problems from growing into bigger programs that eventually lead to a breakup. People who are not assertive tend to build up a collection of bad emotions within themselves as a result of having their rights inadvertently violated. This in time can lead to a sudden outburst of these bad emotions onto their partner.

4. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE

When we feel more in control in other areas of our life, we will be less likely to rely on unhealthy avoidant strategies to give us control in our relationships, and more comfortable going with the flow. The amount of control we need in our relationships - resisting strategies that prioritise the team rather than ourselves as individuals - is directly related to how in control we feel in the rest of our lives. Improve our lives and we safeguard our relationships. Use your new-found understanding of your needs, individuation and improved self-esteem to take control of your life in all areas.

 

So first, commit to yourself to make choices that are based out of self-actualisation - beginning by discovering your goals and desires - not choices (or lack of choices) out of fear, which can keep you restricted and ultimately unhappy and regretful. Reluctance may come ultimately out of a feeling that we are not worthy, for example to have a career we enjoy, or a healthy lifestyle. But if we begin treating ourselves with the kindness and respect we might treat another, we will start to feel better for it. So even if you might not believe it, start behaving to yourself as if you are worthy of good treatment and life satisfaction, and eventually this will help you feel it!

Start by setting specific goals in the different areas of your life (making sure they are all congruent with what you truly want, not others' expectations), and then break them down into very clear, detailed and actionable steps, working in small, achievable, practical stages and listing what you need to make them happen:

  • business & career

  • fun & recreation

  • relationships

  • family

  • friends

  • health & fitness

  • money & wealth

  • personal growth

 

Check out Tony Robbins' book and strategies on taking charge of your life, ranging from your mood to your finances to your relationships, here. Keep checking in on those small, actionable steps, but remember is important to attach to the intention ("I am going to move in this direction"), not to the outcome or expectation, otherwise we become perfectionist, deny ourselves flexibility and can set ourselves up for failure. Be alert to your brain's perfectionism - perfectionism can be the enemy of progress, and be prepared to change the approach as you go.

Beware of your brain's aversion to any form of change - existing patterns are comfortable, but in this way it wants to keep you unhappy. It's important to try to do things in many areas of your life that are going to help you develop a secure mindset, otherwise it can be hard to get there in just your relationship. This could include building your competencies as well putting yourself in unfamiliar situations where you have the opportunity to develop trust in new people. If things feel uncomfortable, that can mean they're motivating change, which is a good thing! Everything gets easier with practice.

Avoidance in response to trauma, and recovery through secure relationships

"When my mum died it felt like an earthquake had struck. So many things I had never had to question; so many things that were irrefutably strong; so many things that had always been dependable – so many of them, levelled in an instant. Long after the funeral, the shockwaves kept coming: waves of emotion and waves of despair too. Because earthquakes like losing a loved one always bring unanswerable questions. The hardest of all: “Why did this happen?”

 

I couldn’t bear the pain for very long. I didn’t have the strength to stay with the intensity of my feelings or emotions. So I fled. My escape was to busy-ness, distraction and the start of my career. It was a chance to escape the wreckage and start building new life elsewhere. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I lost a lot of trust in the safety and sanctity of the world, and in particular, I lost my trust in other people. I found it very hard to accept support, help or love from other people. It was safest and easiest if I just did it all myself. I couldn’t see the link at the time, but that loss of trust led to a lot of anxiety. The anxiety I experienced, and still experience, is the bit of me that’s always got one eye on the Richter Scale. It’s always wary of the next Earthquake, looking fastidiously, nervously and distrustingly at what's happening in my life and the world around me.

Time passed, and slowly I started to build new areas of my life with love, support and trust at their foundation. The cornerstones have been my relationship with my wife and my relationships with my dad, brothers and close family and friends. It's only with this support, that eleven years later I’ve found the time, support and strength to revisit the scene of that earthquake. To return to that place has brought with it great sorrow, but also great love. I’ve had the chance to let go of some of the grief that I had no idea I had been storing up. And at the epicentre of the earthquake I discovered a beautiful fault line. On one side is the love I will always feel towards my mum. On the other side is the pain I will always feel because she died before her time and she left me behind. Today, I have the strength to stand at that fault line… with one foot on either side."

 
 
 
 
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