By Heather Coleman, LCSW
“When there is a fundamental openness in a relationship, being faithful, in the sense of real trust, happens automatically; it is a natural situation. Because the communication is so real and so beautiful and flowing, you cannot communicate in the same way with someone else, so automatically you are drawn together.” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, The Myth of Freedom
Mindfulness is non-judgmental openness to whatever may be arising in the present moment–internally or externally. It allows for gentle and curious attention to anything: a sensation, an object or a relationship and is meant to be practiced over and over again. So, how do we practice mindfulness in our relationships? Here are 4 ways to start now:
- Put down the devices and connect: When it comes to having authentic communication, technology is an obstacle. It can lead to more misunderstandings, hurt feelings and sneaky ways to dodge the truth. If we put down the devices, we can communicate directly, face-to-face. If you’re feeling slightly uncomfortable as you speak, you’re probably being honest, i.e. doing it right!
- Use mindfulness to know your feelings: Bring your attention to your felt sensations in your body to get more clued into how we’re feeling in relationship. Ask yourself, “Do I want to move towards this person, away or stay the same distance?” The answer will help us to understand when we need to set boundaries, express empathy, or when we’re annoyed or hurt.
- Practice listening not “being right”: Most of the time when difficult conversations arise, we want to prove that we’re right. We get very narrow and argumentative. However, being right all the time doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term relationships. Mindfulness can be used to recognize when we’re caught in the “being right game”, to take pause and actually see the person in front of us. Ask yourself: “Are they actually a threat? Would it be OK to try to understand them?” What are they saying? Do I understand? Recognize they are separate from us and have their own opinions, and we can use mindfulness to stay with them.
- Practice generosity: The Atlantic came out with an article last year stating that the key to happy, successful relationships is regularly practicing kindness and generosity. It mentioned that long-term success was often built on “scanning the social environment for things they (the couple) can appreciate and be thankful for.” It takes mindful attention to see what we might want to share and offer each other in relationship: a sunset that you appreciate and want to share with your partner or friend, a trait you like about them or gratitude for a task they helped you with.
These are four ways to connect. We each have a choice to become more intimate or to turn away.
Neurofeedback Case Study written by NYC Therapist Heather Coleman, LCSW & Certified NeurOptimal Neurofeedback Trainer in New York:
“When I joined Neurofeedback Training Co. in NYC as a trainer and psychotherapist, I was curious to see how doing the neurofeedback on myself would affect me. After using neurofeedback for a year, I clearly notice these qualitative shifts that others have often described; I find that I sleep straight through the night without waking up, that I feel more clear and focused, it is easier to make decisions, and even my sense perceptions pick up on more details. However, the most persistent, change I’ve noticed over the year is that I am much less stuck in negative thought patterns.
I usually have a soundtrack playing in my head that offers it’s favorite hits: “I can’t believe you just said/did that! What were you thinking?” “Oh no, balancing budgets, you’re no good at that! Let’s just skip that today.” “I can’t believe my to-do list has gotten this long, I don’t even know where to begin!” “You’re never going to get better at ______, that’s just the way it is.” Sometimes my thoughts were even just garbled, but had an ominous tone. It seems as though instead of doing, I was just doing a lot of thinking about doing. In my work and life there has always been a steep learning curve. I am the kind of person that wants to know everything all at once and be an expert at something by tomorrow. Emotionally, this also comes with a lot of anxiety and a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of self-criticism.
With neurofeedback, as the nervous system comes into regulation, the waves and spikes of the brain are less extreme, similarly to how a wild ocean would smooth into still waters. I would notice after a session that my chatter had a quieter volume, and because of that, the tone felt less heavy emotionally. Since a lot of my energy was spent “spinning my wheels” about the quality of my work or freaking out about extensive to-do lists, I now feel clearer and more freed up to actually get the work done and meet each situation one-by-one without as much resistance.
Having been presented with a lot of new tasks this year and learning them from scratch, there was resistance to just simply doing the task. I had fearful inner conversations with myself about “doing it wrong” and the impossibility of ever learning to do it right! However, using neurofeedback on myself, I began to have more clarity about the task at hand and would literally justdo it without the useless inner struggle. I was able to attend to the client more freely, answer questions and accomplish the technical tasks simultaneously.
Overall, whenever I hook myself up to neurofeedback, I feel freer from negative patterns with a greater sense of playfulness and ease during the weeks I trained.Even people around me comment that I seem more productive, and more cheerful about life. I prefer feeling freer and lighter rather than weighed down by my counter-productive habitual patterns. In that sense, I am able to be attentive and more available to learning new tasks this year with a greater ease, which has had real life implications for my personal and professional growth.”
About Heather Coleman, LCSW
“As a psychotherapist I approach clients from a space of “basic sanity”, the innate wisdom each human being has been born with. By using traditional interventions from Western psychology and the ground of Buddhist philosophy, I facilitate a connection with my client’s basic goodness, natural wakefulness and health with the understanding that we are all capable of healing ourselves.” Learn more
Neurofeedback, Psychotherapy and Life Coaching with Neurofeedback (discuss life transitions, career, relationships, and discover options to aid in problem-solving and decision-making).
Therapy & Neurofeedback Sessions are 50 minutes. Schedule a Therapy Session and/or combine Neurofeedback with Therapy. Contact Heather for prices.
Call 347-708-6177 to schedule an appointment with Heather or view our other neurofeedback training options here.
A Case Study on Neurofeedback Training
Jeremy had been physically abused by his father as a child. He once remarked to me: “When I first saw the Sopranos I thought: Oh my god, those guys used to hang out at my house when I was a kid. That’s when I realized how bad it really was growing up.”
As an adult Jeremy has struggled with angry outbursts, constantly feeling like the world is out to get him, poor sleep/nightmares and episodes of depression–all classic Post Traumatic Stress symptoms.
A year ago Jeremy came into some money from his father and I suggested he buy a home neurofeedback system so he could train regularly. Previously he had done 8 in-office sessions but he lived far away and couldn’t come regularly. So while he noticed positive changes to his mood and sleep, the changes didn’t last because he wasn’t able to train regularly enough for them to become long lasting.
Just last week Jeremy and I spoke and the conversation revolved around his current dilemma:“Natalie, I don’t know who I am anymore—I’m not sleep deprived, I can tolerate the challenges at work, the kids don’t irritate me nearly as much as they used to. I’m not sure what to do with myself.” We joked about the fact that he was struggling to find his identity now that his life felt manageable.
The other observation he made was: “Oh, and I’m enjoying sex more with my wife. I’m not sure what that’s about.”
I pushed him a bit and asked, “Are you sure you don’t know what that’s about?” I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to be passive about positive changes.
“Well, I’m more relaxed. And I’m more open with her in general. So I guess it makes sense.”
I responded with, “Deer don’t have sex if they think there’s a bear on the edge of the clearing!”
He laughed and said, “I guess not!”
When the brain is making the gradual transition from living in a state of activation or the fight/flight/freeze response, it takes a while to make those new neural pathways. As a consequence slowly our behaviors and our perception of the world change too. Jeremy’s story is an example of what we call the “seamless changes” that are brought about by neurofeedback training.
Natalie Baker, LMHC, Licensed Psychotherapist, Certified NeurOptimal® Advanced Neurofeedback Trainer in New York
Natalie has over sixteen years experience as a psychotherapist treating clients with conditions such as PTSD, trauma, anxiety, depression, ADHD, insomnia and relationship issues. When she introduced neurofeedback into her practice three years ago, she was thrilled to discover neurofeedback sped up–sometimes effortlessly–her client’s healing process. Some clients opt for simultaneous talk therapy and neurofeedback and some for neurofeedback alone.
Schedule a Session. Call Natalie at 347-860-4778 for more details or send us an email here.
A Cognitive Therapy Case Study
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, also known as MBCT, combines techniques of mindfulness meditation with actively looking into thoughts and feelings that are arising in the present moment.
Jennifer** is a 27 year-old graphic designer who struggles with her relationships, both romantic and platonic. She is actively looking into the root of her difficulty with others and questioning her perceptions of some interactions as of late.
Jennifer: I just don’t understand why she wouldn’t call me back. I called her three days ago and haven’t heard from her. We were supposed to get coffee in this upcoming week and we haven’t set a plan yet.
Therapist: So what is this indicating to you?
Jennifer: That no one wants to get close to me. I’m rejectable and unlovable. There’s something wrong with me.
Therapist: Where is your evidence that this one instance means you’re rejectable and unlovable?
Sometimes things go sour in a relationship. Sometimes we have done something to turn a friend off and the bond is unsalvageable. The onslaught of negative thoughts and feelings that surround this can feel awful. We are evaluating if we’re lovable and worthy of someone’s closeness and intimacy. With MBCT, however, we are looking into how we project at least 50% of old thoughts and feelings onto a current situation. In Jennifer’s example, this projecting of the past could lead her to lash out and leave angry messages for her friend when there is potentially no problem in the relationship. With MBCT Jennifer will look into the dynamics of her past relationships and also into how she might be recreating a “rejecting situation” by using old information to judge her present relationship. This old information shows up as negative beliefs about one’s self, and is often accompanied by a sensation in the body such as a knot in the stomach.
This work is helpful with a therapist as a witness, but to start, how can we do a little MBCT with ourselves?
4 Cognitive Therapy Tips You Can Do On Your Own
1. Stop and ground yourself. Refrain from acting out your feelings in the moment, whether it is lashing out in anger or being hyper-vigilant out of worry. We can attend to our feelings before they get out of control. We start to notice sensations arising in the body that’s alerting us to “a problem.” This can feel like butterflies in the stomach, shortness of breath, tightness in the temples. Before things gets too out of control, such as inducing a panic attack, we can give our anxiety level/anger level a numerical rating. Anything over a 5 is getting high. If it already feels too overwhelming, we may need to ground ourselves in our senses. If we’re walking, can we hear the clip-clop of our shoes or cars zooming past us? Can we see the green benches in a park or the birds eating crumbs? Sensory grounding will immediately get us out of our habitual thinking mind.
2. What’s the inner tape loop saying? Look directly at your thoughts. What is the attitude and quality? What are they trying to indicate about yourself and others? Do they feel solid or floaty? What’s the volume knob up to, a 2-3 or a full blast 9-10?
3. Be a good lawyer, and a friendly one too. Where is my evidence that my negative belief is true? Does this feel like something “old” in my experience? What’s another angle i could see this from? What would a good friend tell me about this situation/my belief? What’s a more balanced, new way of looking at this when i assess all of the information and facts?
4. Re-attend to the body. Now how does the body feel now? Has the sensation moved or gotten lighter? Continue to rest your attention on the body. If at anytime this becomes overwhelming, attend to a neutral place in the body where there isn’t a lot happening (i.e. the tip of the nose, ear, bottom of the feet.)
It is easy to get caught up in our projections and old negative beliefs. The good news is that we have our present moment experience to begin creating something new; a new way of perceiving, and of relating to thoughts and feelings, that isn’t dictated by our past. We can’t be completely free from past damaging experiences, but we can see them clearly for what they are and how they impacted our belief system. In the present, we can choose to make a new balanced view, one that is healthier, more empowering and liberating.
** This is not a real client, but an amalgamation of people, and also a common situation for those dealing with intimacy in relationships.
Neurofeedback and Therapy can also be combined. All sessions are 50 minutes.
Learn more about Heather
Want to learn more about Neurofeedback, click here.
Read a Case Study on Neurofeedback by Heather