Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Small Changes Go A Long Way

Self-Compassion is One of the Most Powerful Sources of Strength…

I have been thinking a lot this past week about what Dr. Alane Daugherty, author and co-director of the Cal Poly Pomona’s Mind and Heart Research Lab, was quoted as saying in last week’s newsletter, “Who Needed To Hear This Today? Small changes go a long way. Each shift builds upon the next, resulting in grander changes.”

We have talked about our fight or flight response versus our calm and connection response. When we can tap into our compassionate response, fear/anxiety cannot be online. One quiets the other. The fight or flight stress response releases cortisol (your body’s stress hormone) while the calm and connection response releases dopamine (a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good).

According to Dr. Daugherty, “Cortisol may give us focus to make changes for the short term, but once we start feeling better, the cortisol will drop, and then we’re going to move away from lasting change. Then we are just worse than we were to start?” (An example, “I hate my body, so I am going to eat better”.)

“On the contrary, she says, when we are grounded in our calm and connection system, we are more prone to see greater possibilities and opportunities. You function at a whole different level”. (“I appreciate my body and believe I will feel better physically and emotionally if I change my eating habits”.)

I admit that I walk through life thinking “I should make this change.” “I should work harder than everyone.” “I should tackle this problem.” I am constantly making decisions from my fight or flight stress response system. I am constantly on high alert. High alert for failure. High alert for being discovered for the fraud I am. High alert I will not be liked or accepted or good enough. I admit I live with a lot of secrecy for fear of being found out, rejected, judged, left behind. I want to believe I am not alone in these feelings. Am I?

I know I respond this way because as a child I was always on high alert for fear of being criticized, hurt, invaded, invalidated. I learned I was not good enough and I could easily be abandoned. Oh, how I wanted to be seen and heard and loved. But I was not; and, thus, how I did dangerous things to numb those feelings. 

But today, thankfully, due to the burgeoning advancements in trauma related behavioral health I can make a different choice. Today, there are tools I can use to lift me out of the quagmire of self-deprecation and embrace the goodness in me. This is what I want for you.

Our brains are hardwired to remember the negative experiences and forget the positive experiences. The human mind is attracted to the negative; and, sadly, we are not nearly as affected by the positive feedback we receive. It was suggested to consider that if you received 10 positive emails in a day and one negative email, which would you ruminate over? The negative one. Research says it takes five positive interactions to counter one negative. The same is true of self-talk and you know that self-talk in your head is never ceasing!

To make lasting internal changes we must choose to look for the positive. We must choose to be thankful. We must choose to lift each other up and not cut each other down. And most importantly, we must choose to lift ourselves up and not tear ourselves down!

So, today, I am going to try a novel approach to my “should” list of tasks and gently remind myself that I “get to” choose how I will approach my life from a more positive frame. 

Instead of “I should go swim”; “I get to go swim”. Instead of “I should go help with my grandchildren”; “I get to spend time wrapping myself in their laughter and love”. Instead of “I should not eat that third chocolate bar”; to “Whoo-hoo, I get to choose whether I want to eat that third chocolate bar and love myself anyway!”.

They say that if you focus on positive thoughts for 15 seconds, they will stick. They will rewire that negative stress response to a more compassionate, “sweet compassionate” response. Let us all spend time today and each day in the coming week remembering and focusing on positive thoughts and experiences. Take a novel approach to something you have been stuck in. Let us absorb a positive experience, a piece of praise or a kind comment from a friend. Let us focus on those moments for at least 15 seconds. If we do not focus on the positive, it will not stick.

Hold hands with that frightened wounded child inside and see her/him with new eyes. Kind loving eyes. Stare into the soul of her/him for 15 seconds or more.

Let us start changing our neural pathways to be able to engage in the world from a more positive place. Who is willing to give this a try with me?

Let me leave you with this from Dr. Kristin Neff: “Self-compassion is one of the most powerful sources of strength, coping and resilience we have.”

Let us each add 15 seconds of positive thoughts to our toolbox.

Until next time, friends.

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