Finding comfort and joy, moment by moment.

During this season we hear a lot about comfort and joy but many people feel only pain and loss. Comfort and joy are the perfect antidotes to this suffering. It is what a broken world needs most. It may be that we can’t find comfort and joy because we believe that when we do we will stop feeling hurt. This is not always true. Our heart is to create more space not to eliminate hurt. That would be a nice result but isn’t reality. We strive to allow comfort and joy to coexist with our pain and loss. This inner act expands our heart of compassion. We now have a greater capacity for feeling both comfort and pain, joy and loss. It is a spiritual paradox but it is a direction for our own healing. 

Science confirms this idea. Our hearts literally do expand when we entertain compassion and allow more space for comfort and joy. Choosing compassion releases neurotransmitters in the brain and hormones in the body and calm down the hyperaroused nervous system, reducing fear, anger, anxiety, and depression. 

Studies on the practice of compassion reveal improved autoimmune functioning, decreased inflammation, improved digestion, increase mental focus, motivation, and even sleep. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a noted cognitive neuroscientist, and researcher on the mind-body connection report that compassion increases the grey matter in the brain, allowing improved thinking and sensory processing. 

So how does compassion start? How do we allow comfort and joy into our lives when we feel stuck emotionally? The answer is where we put our focus. 

Right now, at this moment, you have a choice. Whoops, there it went but don’t worry, here comes another. Missed that one. Just wait…

We have thousands of opportunities to choose comfort and joy. Every moment is a chance to change the directions of our lives. It will not remove pain and suffering but it will allow us to build a mindset that allows comfort and joy too. Take a deep breath and make one statement of comfort and joy. Maybe it is gratitude for that cup of coffee or tea in front of you. Is it warm and comforting however brief? Maybe you heard someone laugh and it made you smile? Perhaps, someone opened the door for you when your hands were full? Life is constantly presenting micro-moments of comfort and joy. You just have to notice them. 

The problem is that we allow suffering to be our filter for living. We get angry expecting things to be different than they are. We resent people for not treating us the way we deserve. Just allow those challenges to exist alongside the next moment of gratitude and pleasure. Build those moments up, one after the other, and live a day full of tiny, joyful experiences. Tip the emotional scale in your direction. 

The brain likes to automate our life. It will take any repeated experience, good or bad, and make it a habit. This is how we can do so many tasks and face so many diverse problems. It makes us efficient and skilled. It can also make us miserable if we stop being aware of what is going on around us. A lack of moment to moment awareness makes us a machine, driven to self-protect and insulate from anything that smells dangerous or out of the norm. We don’t want the norm. The norm is hurt. We want the new which is comfort and joy. This will cost you some mental energy until the new norm becomes a happy habit. 

Test these ideas out today. Stop three times today to recognize a moment of comfort or joy. Write them down on a post-it note. Remember, in as much detail as you can muster, throughout the day, what it felt like. Do this for a week and see if your pain, your suffering, starts to lessen and a life of greater compassion takes over. 

Let Ron Huxley, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, assist you in finding more comfort and joy. Schedule a session today – Click here!

Keeping Love Alive Loving Through Difficult Times

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

How we love family members during the emotional distances and dark shadows of our relationships determine the long-term quality of those relationships. All relationships have ups and downs and our ability to ride out the extremes is challenging but a normal process of loving others. At the heart of the dark moments, we want to abandon the roller coaster ride for the firm safety of the ground. Our inner brains want us to fight or flee or if both of these options fail us, to freeze internal emotional reality. How do we overcome the turbulence and deep disconnect for the long haul?

One truth is to develop our identity and remind ourselves that relationship in not contained in the ups and downs but over the entire course of life. Look for the long tail of relationships and how to keep a spark alive even if it just nurture by you and not the other. The fight or flight mechanism of the brain wants us to rush our actions or re-actions when we really need to do in these crucibles is slow down and evaluate our choices. My best advice to families in the middle of chaos is to slow down but that is one of the hardest things to do. Many fail in the attempt.

A lot of my therapeutic work is with adoptive families. Many times the early life trauma results in an out-of-control teenager that ultimately forces the parent to consider residential care. They believe they have failed as parents and the relationship feels like it has ended. The truth is that relationship trumps residence. Your connection is stretchier than you thought. You may have to make a decision to create distance to ensure safety but you are not letting go of the relationship. You are protecting it and that is very different.

Because we like “up” moments filled with laughter and hugs and emotional closeness and hate the “down” moments with its harsh words, self-pity, victimization, and loneliness, we can start a rocking motion that swings faster and faster between the ups and downs. Pushing on one side and then the other increases chaos that throws everyone off the see-saw entirely.

When I work with bitter couples, hurt by infidelity and emotional rejection, I ask them to step off the see-saw, remember what attracted them to each other, the values they used to believe and to forgive one another. Too many nurture the wound and do not receive the healing. It is difficult to forgive but unforgiveness is like a poison that kills the heart of the relationship. It doesn’t say what was done was acceptable or that I will “forget and forgive”. You do not forget but you must forgive to allow life to start up again. From here we rebuild new creations that last.

Give up the illusion of control. You cannot control anyone else. You only have 100%, guaranteed results with yourself. You must manage you. Controlling your reactions is what allow the extreme ups and downs to settle and become smooth again. Take 5 to keep your relationship alive and pause to consider your best long-term actions. Take 10 and then reconsider again. If you need to make a hard, drastic decision, it is better to take the time to think it through completely vs. carrying a weight of regret.

Identity is the most important ingredient in loving through the distance.  Victim-minded people seek their identity through others instead of operation from a place of a sense of self. If I need you in order to be me and you are the source of my hurt and pain, then I cannot manage me that doesn’t exist. I cannot sustain a relationship that is one-sided. Start a journey of knowing yourself and your needs and your drives and your desires to deal with others in the distant relationships. Operating FROM a place of identity allows you to remain you even if others reject you. A simple starting place is journaling or talking to a therapist.

A final truth is that love is unconditional. It doesn’t have to agree with the other person’s actions or allow it to continue damaging the family but it doesn’t have to turn off. It can continue from a safer distant to provide an opportunity to bring it into closer intimacy. We don’t turn off love when others don’t do what we want. That is false power. Real power says I can set a boundary and I can exist without you but I choose to continue to love you. If you do not choose the same than I will remain me and love myself and others too.