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Maryann's Picks

Maryann's Picks


Painful Emotions: Soothe Soften Allow

Did you ever try to run from or fight with a difficult feeling? Did you ever notice that this can end up making it feel even more painful? This brief guided meditation by compassion researcher Kristen Neff walks you through a powerful alternative approach where you make a little room to notice your difficult feelings mindfully and then send those feelings some soothing care: Soften, Soothe, Allow.

NOTE: If that idea makes you freeze or freak out, you probably need to build your way up to it (e.g., get acquainted with how emotions work; learn about self-compassion).


In this post, psychologist Tasha Eurich describes her research on self-awareness and points out that introspection (thinking about ourselves) doesn't always lead to increased insight (knowing ourselves). Greater insight may depend upon the type of questions we are asking ourselves. Beware of "why?" questions that might lead to unproductive rumination, over-analyzing past events, or getting fixated on the past as a way to explain present struggles: "Why do I get so overwhelmed by my feelings? Why is it so hard to talk to him?! Why don't I enjoy this?" Instead, orient yourself towards more useful self-reflection with "what?" questions that explore your current state and potential: "What am I feeling right now? What do I want to communicate to this person? What do I like/not like and what can I do about it?"


In this inspiring and funny talk, Jia Jiang becomes my new hero and a fabulous poster-boy for exposure therapy. In large scale reviews of multiple research studies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques, especially exposure-based approaches, were found to be highly efficacious in the treatment of anxiety disorders (Olatunji, Cisler, & Deacon, 2010). Exposure therapy is essentially about seeking out the thing that you're afraid of, instead of running away from it. Sounds freaky as hell because it is! But that's part of what's so therapeutic about it: you need to feel the fear without running from it to finally understand that the fear itself can't hurt you. And it certainly doesn't have to control you. In Jiang's case, when he confronted his fear of rejection directly, he learned some surprising things about himself and about other people too.


Spoiler alert: it's not about chocolate or lingerie. Esther Perel is a veteran New York State licensed marriage and family therapist who travels the world to learn about "erotic intelligence" in modern love. In this talk, she shares some fascinating insights, arguing that in order to have good sex in long-term relationships, we have to find ways to reconcile conflicting needs: the comfort of security and familiarity VS. the thrill of adventure and novelty. Interestingly, recent neuro-imaging research (Diamond & Dickenson, 2012) suggests that romantic love and sexual desire even look different if we map them out in the brain, with each state activating different parts. Yet there might be a little common ground as some regions of the brain may light up in both states, suggesting that certain types of love and desire might be somewhat interconnected at times. Check out Perel's talk and start cultivating your own erotic intelligence!


Hurrah For Gin's Katie Kirby gives us an irreverent take on our own internal bully. Her foul-mouthed cartoon “Guilt Fairy” is the self-critical voice personified. Kirby focuses on her experience as a mom, but similar internal criticisms could be applied to anything. If you've ever beaten yourself up, you might find this post validating, normalizing, and even a little cathartic. Kirby's sketches are a great reminder to stand up for ourselves with humour and logic (talk back, fight back!). I can also spot several aspects of self-compassion woven in there (see the Fairy as a shared human experience; give yourself a break sometimes; stay mindful of your thoughts and feelings). Practicing self-compassion is a great way to soothe harsh self-criticism, build confidence, create meaningful relationships, and promote physical and mental health (Gilbert, 2010).


Seeing a bully take control of a high-ranking public position can feel intensely threatening, discouraging, and disempowering. Mirah Curzer's timely post “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind” offers up some practical self-care lessons for a time of widespread socio-political resistance. I view self-care during difficult times as a radical act of applied self-compassion: “a kind, connected and clear-sighted way of relating to ourselves even in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection” (Neff, 2011, p. 1). Neff's research indicates that self-compassion promotes emotional resilience and stability. It's something within you that you can choose to practice. Empowering thoughts for a destabilizing time.