About These Annoying Seven Tips That Will Change Your Life

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

photo-17 Here’s what’s wrong with the seemingly endless and yet so fascinating lists of things that are either good for you or bad for you: They give me anxiety. Here’s this list about the 7 most compelling books I should read. And then there’s the one with the 10 most delicious dessert recipes without sugar. Even news organization now publish a daily list of “5 things to know for your new day”, covering everything from winter weather to the fighting in Ukraine. 

Every day I am bombarded with – probably even quite useful – information about all the things I am supposed to do better. The problem is: it’s too much.

Don’t get me wrong: I too am frequently drawn to articles headlined “5 Ways To Increase your Mental Strength” or “6 Breathing Techniques That Help You Fall Asleep”. I have read many fine articles by equally fine writers that contain helpful information about anything from healthy foods to why smiling is good for you. I even wrote an article some years ago about “5 Dating Tips for Introverts”.

The problem is: it doesn’t stick. I love reading what I could do to lose those five pounds or to make my brain stop forgetting random pieces of information. I go down the lists, thinking: yep, I know that already. Oh, that’s actually interesting. Wait, I haven’t thought of that one before.

But as soon as I click on another article I have already forgotten what 5-item-list I just read. The lists are a great seduction to lure us into the kind of bite-size infotainment that makes us believe we learn something new. But the brain doesn’t learn from reading 50 different things in as short a time as possible. It learns by repeating the same things over and over.

Some people say it takes 17 repetitions – for example to learn a new word in a foreign language, or get the hang of a new habit. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery, and how even geniuses like the Beatles had to practice in order to become really good musicians.

How many hours you need exactly, I don’t know. But I do know that the people in my psychotherapy practice need to address their issues over and over in order to change their behavior or how they feel about a certain situation. I know that changing your mind means changing your beliefs about yourself – and that may be a job of a lifetime.



Lying Awake at Night

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

Last night was one of those nights again. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning – maybe it was 3am, maybe it was 5am, I don’t know. I felt sad and uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right. What was it this time? Sometimes I wake up at night and I worry that I don’t have enough friends. Other times I am afraid I won’t have enough money in the long run to live the life I want to live.

Last night I felt concerned about one of the clients in my care who had arrived at an impasse. Was there something I hadn’t done for her? Was she mad about an intervention I had made? Did I not live up to my responsibilities?

As usual I started doing what I learned works best in these situations. I start to comfort that part of me that is afraid. I tell myself that everything will be all right. Like a child on my lap that is inconsolable, I tell myself that it’s ok. That there’s nothing to worry about.

It usually helps. Most of the time, I fall back asleep.

In the past I tried to push away the fears. As soon as I realized that I was anguished, I would repress the fear. No, it’s insubstantial. Nope, I don’t want to think about that. No way is this something I want to deal with right now

It backfired. Every time I dismissed my own fears, they would come back with a vengeance. I kept waking up, having the same concerns. Or I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I felt worn out, tossing from side to side, starved for warmth and attention – from myself.

Until I finally started to realize that I have to actually do what I tell my clients: walk towards the fear. Look at it. Embrace it. Rock it side to side. Don’t repress it. It will get worse.

Millions and millions of people lie awake at night, worrying about their loved ones, about their mortality, about their future. You are not alone. Whenever your mind is in the grip of fear, remember, there are so many people who feel just as alone and scared and bleak as you do right now.

We are all in the same boat. When night falls and morning is about to break, we are at our most vulnerable. We lie alone with our thoughts with no one to talk to, fragile and full of sorrow. But you are not alone. You are a part of the human family. We all are afraid at times. We worry about things that seem meaningless once the sun comes out.

Fear is a part of being alive. It’s the flip side of courage, of heroism and resolve. Without fear, we would be complacent and stagnant. Welcome your fear. It is trying to relay a message that only you can decipher.

 

José María Pérez Nuñez via Compfight



Every Breath You Take

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

October 17, 2013 

Breath is the source of life. Ancient yogis have built much of their wisdom on how to utilize breathing not just as a spiritual practice, but also a means to enhance physical and emotional well being.

“Take a deep breath” has become a ubiquitous formula to meet many challenges: it’s a popular – and effective – go-to remedy to calm yourself down, to handle the anticipation of bad news or to get ready and take a dive. Breathing techniques are a common tool to contain pain, most frequently in child birth. But what may seem to some like new age advice to avoid more heavy duty solutions is actually based on hard science.

Deep, slow breathing has been proven to increase oxygen flow in the bloodstream, which in turn triggers the relaxation response. What is usually meant is abdominal breathing, where the inhale is focused on the abdominal area rather than the chest and shoulders.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal praised the benefits of deep breathing and its potential benefits for multiple conditions, starting with stress reduction and anxiety, and improving physical conditions like inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, heart health and the entire immune system.

Most techniques focus on deep breathing versus shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is usually associated with stress – the fight or flight trigger. Howard Kent, founder of the Yoga for Health organization and author of the book Yoga Made Easy, states that, “One of the most common problems in our society is shallow breathing. The process that we call hyperventilation can be a response to many challenges: emotional, environmental, and physical. As a result of these challenges, there is a tendency to take small breaths — a sign of unease with life — using only a small upper part of the lungs.”

Taking the time to redirect the attention to the automatic and effortless dynamic of the breath is a soothing and easy way to calm yourself in a self directed manner. No experts or pharmaceutical help necessary.

Another set of breathing exercises come via the Huffington Post: The so-called “Taco breath” is good to cool down physically and mentally. You curl your tongue and inhale through your tongue like a straw. Sit with your back, neck and head aligned, feet flat on the ground, and inhale through your tongue. Then  swallow the breath while you’re holding onto the breath, and then exhale through your nose, pulling your bellybutton to your spine — a long, slow, deep breath. It’s good to sooth stomach aches.

 

The Zen Diary via Compfight



How Body Language Helps Us Make Decisions

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

Une passante

Sometimes the mind is too confused or too overwhelmed to give us useful information about what the right thing to do is. We get trapped in self doubt and anxiety and may end up doing nothing at all, which makes us feel depressed and not in control.

When the mind is too wrapped up in thinking, listening to the body can provide relief.

I sometimes get upset about silly things. The neighbor did this, or a friend said that… it’s easy to get caught up in making assumptions about what other people do, and we tend to think their actions have something to do with us, when in reality they don’t.

When that happens I check in with my body. Am I really upset about my friend not calling back at the desired time? Or is it just my paranoid mind telling me stories that she doesn’t want to talk to me, is trying to tell me something blablabla.

When my body is relaxed and doesn’t give me any signal, I attribute the thoughts to my reptile brain, which is programmed to dish out warnings when there seems to be danger, but isn’t very good at differentiating between what is really dangerous or just related to a past experience. So when the body is calm, I try to let it go. It’s so tempting to give in to fearful thinking even when there isn’t the slightest evidence that harm is being done.

It’s different, when my body gives me warning signs. For example, if I have a conversation with a friend and something that was said doesn’t sit right with me, I wonder if I should bring it up to that person or let it go. When I feel a knot in my stomach or a tightening of the muscles in my chest, then I know that something is up. Maybe something from the past was triggered that needs soothing or simply being talked about. Then I try to bring it up in a non-threatening way, by talking about my experience rather than blaming the other person.

It’s important to take a closer look at these physical reactions as well. When the body contracts or sends a warning sign, it may have to do with what’s happening right now. Or it may have to do with past experiences. For example, you might get tight around the shoulders when you hear someone talk very loudly. That can be a sign of trauma. Maybe a parent was rageful or flew of the handle quickly when you were a child, so the body reacts protectively when triggered. It doesn’t have to mean that the person you are talking to is intending to do harm. It may have to do with a sensitivity that goes back to experiences in the past.

So, even though the body is an impeccable tool to get to know yourself better, it’s important to understand why these reactions happen. Body language is an additional tool of self exploration, but it has to be utilized sensibly and with care.

 

Gilles Klein via Compfight

 

 



The Soul Wants to Grow

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

Muerte Logos

I am starting to doubt the medical model of mental health. I am not so sure anymore that when we chose challenging relationships that it means we are having a personality defect or are attracted to the “wrong person”. I am beginning to believe that our soul – the part of us that is consistent, calm and free from anxiety – choses people who confront us in ways that force us to grow.

The way I learned about psychotherapy was that we are essentially shaped in our families: our parents and siblings and close relatives are the first major influences in our lives and form our beliefs about what relationships should look like.

I still believe that. Yet, another aspect of this model is that we continue to be attracted to the same type of people who in some ways resemble our family members. If your father wasn’t really there for you or was absent in your childhood, chances are that you will feel attracted to a similarly unavailable person as you look for a partner. Or, if your mother was depressed and unresponsive as you were growing up, you may feel drawn to someone who too can be moody or uncaring of your needs.

Freud called this dynamic the “repetition compulsion”: somehow we are prone to make the same mistakes over and over until it hits us over the head that we are supposed to do something different, and we have learned our lesson. Many therapists will tell you to stay away from the same type of personality you keep feeling drawn to, because you will never get what you want, and just settle for the nice guy who may be good for you but don’t really feel an attraction to.

But the real lesson is that we have to engage in these relationships to some degree in order to learn about ourselves. We have to feel the despair of not getting what we want from an unavailable person in order to learn that we have to stop looking to others for the fulfillment of our every need. That first and foremost we have to take a close look at ourselves and what we want from life and what we can and should expect from others.

That doesn’t mean we have to stay in a relationship that is chronically frustrating or lifeless. It means that we unconsciously chose it on order to learn about ourselves and to try to overcome what was missing from childhood. If your partner doesn’t embark on this path of growth with you, you don’t have to do all the work alone. If it feels like there is no interest or willingness whatsoever to learn and grow together, it may be time to allow the relationship to end.

The soul wants to grow. It can grow within a relationship, when both partners recognize that unhealthy patterns need to be addressed. Or it can grow in a relationship where both partners are in agreement that they want to continue to learn together.

If neither possibility is on the horizon the soul must move on by itself and find other relationships where it can continue to grow.

 

Andres Rodriguez via Compfight



How to Prevent Sex and Desire from Fading Away

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

 “Good lovers aren’t born, they’re made. You cultivate the erotic. It takes an active focus and intention to see your partner as an erotic person”. These are the words of Ester Perel, the new star in the world of sex therapy. Her popular book “Mating in Captivity” discusses how to deal with the potential fading of lust and romance in longterm relationships.

When asked when they find themselves most drawn to their partner, most people will say something like, when I see them radiant, in their element, passionate or joyful. They see their partner as “the other”, where there is absolutely no caretaking. They are curious and don’t assume to know everything about them. Knowing that life still has surprises, that there is more to discover about your partner is the key to an erotic revival.

One way to bring back the excitement is to utilize an extra email address just to be seductive with each other, suggests Perel. The alternative email address becomes an erotic space that exists only for the sake of playing and flirting. You can come up with different personas in yourself or live out a role play you always wanted to engage in.

In a recent podcast, Perel reminds us that eroticism is not the same as sexuality. While sex is an action, eros happens very much in the mind. “Eroticism means connecting with aliveness”, says the sex therapist.

A good sexual fantasy often offers the solution to the widespread boredom in longterm relationships. Whatever turns you on – toys, stories, things – can be utilized to spice up your sex life.

Too much safety in a relationship can become an obstacle to sexual interest. It especially becomes an issue when one person feels that he or she is doing too much of the care taking. Women in particular get worn out by providing care and nurture and experience attending to their spouses’ sexual needs as just another burden.

Perel suggests that it is important to take responsibility when we contribute to the disconnect by not taking enough time for ourselves. She has coined the phrase “I turn myself off when…” (for example “…I spend all my energy on taking care of the kids”) in order to bring the attention back to the partner who is uninterested in sex. Rather than saying “nothing is turning me on” the phrase “I turn myself off” brings the focus back to the place where desire isn’t owned. Desire requires us to take an interest in oneself.

Perel believes that monogamy is harder on women. Women are hardwired to try and create safety for their offspring, and that focus can lead to setting aside their sex life  for sake of safety. Women struggle with how to deal with motherhood and taking care of the whole family at same time. The prejudice is that women don’t want sex, but the truth is that the need to create safety and to nurture everybody else had depleted them from feeling their own sexuality. They may not have been seen, nor do they see themselves as a sexual being in a long time. When the partner brings up eroticism, they really are trying to remind them not to forget that part of themselves.

When one partner is uninterested, yet the other is, the latter is put into a painful state of longing. And when that longing is chronically ignored or even ridiculed, it causes frustration. That is when the conversation about what was lost needs to begin. And one thing that was lost is aliveness, which some people attempt to recover with an affair.

“Affairs are not about sex, they are about feeling alive again”, so Perel. When sex is being withheld, there is lots of frustration. At this point, the best thing to do is to have a conversation about missing the other, missing what has been lost and that is not necessarily sex alone. Starting the conversation is paramount.

Infidelity, so Perel, doesn’t always mean that something was missing from the relationship other than simple aliveness. In that case, the infidelity is simply an alarm to put more energy into regenerating the relationship.

How you can learn to navigate the stalemate around one partner wanting sex and one who does not, click here.

Foto: Brigitte Deisenhammer via Compfight



Welcome Back!

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • Less than a min read

helloHello again! After a not quite two year long hiatus, I am ready to blog once again. In the meantime, I’ve completed my training in Imago Relationship therapy, which was such a gift to me and deepened my knowledge about relationships, couples dynamics, intimacy and sex therapy. You will read a lot more about these topics. Stay tuned! I am excited to be with you again.

Hand photo available from Shutterstock



Good Bye And Good Luck!

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • Less than a min read

shutterAfter one and a half years, I am retiring my blog about introverts, shy people and all kinds of Gentle Selves, and turn to the new and exciting field of the science of consciousness. It has been an honor to serve all readers who shared my interest, and I want to encourage all the check out my new blog Mind Matters – Neuroscience and Consciousness.

Woman behind shutter image available from Shutterstock.



The Power Of Being An Introvert

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

minimalistic white idol in black background

Introverts and shy people all over rejoice: there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with needing space and quiet, and preferring a low key dinner with a good friend to a loud and extravagant party.

There is nothing wrong with needing time to retreat from the world and recharge your internal batteries, or to feel overwhelmed by too much pressure or too much information.

I’m a latecomer to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s been out for a while, but that doesn’t make its message any less important.

One major point she makes is that introverts are thinkers and creators. “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement”, science journalist Winifred Gallagher is quoted. He concludes that neither Einstein’s theory of relativity nor John Milton’s Paradise Lost was “dashed off by a party animal.”

Susan Cain adds more great achievements by venerable introverts: Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. Even techno revolutionaries like Google founder Sergey Brin or Facebook creator Marc Zuckerberg are included. The list goes on to include Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.

Many of us turn to the mind. We are called cerebral, innovative, brooding, creative. But also spiritual, psychologically minded, curious about the inner workings of all things. Endlessly fascinated by the wonders of nature, and inspired by the journey of discovery.

Of course, not all introverts end up famous. Many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness, fear of conflict, depression and low self esteem.

Many times, our negative self image goes back to the messages we received from our families and our culture. Extroverted children are deemed preferable to quiet ones by lots of parents, for fear that their kids will end up as outsiders or loners. The angst they are putting on their children ends up creating just that: youngers who feel bad about themselves because they don’t live up to the expectations of their surroundings.

Culture does the same. When everyone pulls away from the nerdy kid that may be a loyal and decent being but doesn’t have great social skills, the boy will come to believe that something is wrong with him. In some Asian countries, where extroversion is seen as equivalent to superficiality, introverts are the norm and appreciated accordingly.

The key for introverts to feel better about themselves is paradoxically not to try and turn into an exuberant extrovert, but to accept and even appreciate the qualities that come with a more introspective nature. Some elements that can come with the personality, like fear of public speaking or social anxiety, can be treated very successfully. But the inherent character will not change.

Nor does it have to.

 

calliope_Muse via Compfight



How Couples Can Break Through An Impasse

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

Love on Tehran`s Roof

Couples who start to think about separation or divorce are in a place of high conflict or high dissatisfaction. Sometimes it’s very easy to find the main culprit in the relationship, especially when there is verbal or physical abuse. But often it’s not so clear cut.

Lots of couples aren’t happy in their marriage, but find themselves unable to end the relationship. There may be an element of co-dependency, maybe there’s children involved, and most importantly, there is still a remnant of good will to try and improve things.

Most of us enter a relationship pondering what we can get out of it and how it fits our needs. When we first meet our partner, there is always the deliberation of how being with them can improve our lives. If you’re an introvert and your spouse is an extrovert, there was at one point probably the idea that both partners can gain from the other person’s personality style. 

It’s similar in conflict situations. We tend to get hung up on questions like “what did I not get from the other?” “How are my needs not met?” “He or she always does this and I am always at the losing end of the battle.”

What we often neglect is the question of “how can I contribute to the well being of our relationship at this point of impasse?” When two differing opinions bump up against each other, it’s very difficult to not just have one’s own point of view in mind, but to simply ponder “what does the relationship need from me right now?”

We tend to forget that it’s not one against the other, but that our job is to find a third solution that both partners can live with. As soon as we can step out of the unproductive cycle of you against me and take a caring look at the good things you and your partner have built together, there is a way out of the impasse.

If disagreement after disagreement has piled up over the years and they all remain unsolved, it may appear easier to just call it quits. But that too is hard to do. So we keep drifting along in what feels like a dead end relationship.

We need to take responsibility for our own failings and to try and improve whatever went wrong, even if it feels daunting. Many times one partner – often women – feels like they have tried everything before, and they are tired of having to fix what’s broken.

Relationships require effort. And having to put in effort is never over. It’s a lifetime task.

 

Mohammadali f. via Compfight



 
The Gentle Self Buddha Betrayed
Gerti Schoen is the author of The Gentle Self
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