By Caryl Ann, CFLE ACMHC
Don’t you just love the sight of a freshly pruned orchard? I have always been captivated by the beautiful pines and fruit trees that thrive in Utah. Imagine a native tree, orchard or a vineyard that surrounds you. Visualize the size and shape, the leaves/needles, the truck, and roots. You may see yourself sitting high on a branch looking into the sunset. The LEAVES, the external growth that revolve yearly. The dense bark of the TRUNK protects and supports the tree to reach its highest potential. The strong deep ROOT gives power and foundation. The magnificence, oxygen, and bounty they provide is worth preserving in hopes of healthy outcomes.
Maybe you have never needed to or know how to tend to an orchard, grapevine or rose bush. Never the less, you can use this pruning visual to apply to your own journey. What can you cut out of your life that keeps you new and vibrant? How do you deal with loss and harsh trials? This article will explore five categories for personal awareness—Prevention, Reflect, Nurture, Understanding, and Emotion. Prevent, reflect, renew or repair does not imply to modify your core personality, but to improve healthier behavior. I suggest you pick one area where you need some TLC so you can rise up and show up!
Power of Prevention—The Branches
If the root of the tree is the most important, why do we worry about the branches and PRUNE? It’s a lot of work and it seems easier to put it off for a season or two. According to the experts, removing diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive branches and stems increases fruitfulness and proper growth. So, if you don’t prune trees or roses at the right time, the right way, with proper tools, you are risking over-growth and poor fruit production or even disease. Furthermore, have you ever noticed the branches low on the trunk die from shading and competition? At times those dead branches are signs that something is wrong and if not attended to, nature does this for us. For instance, meteorological conditions such as wind, ice and snow, and salinity can cause plants to self-prune. In human life, this is what I call natural consequences or LOSS of many good branches that can be a ROOT disaster when we least expect it.
Reflect, Repair and Rise Up—The Leaves
Vulnerability generates creativity, strength, potential, shame resilience, and increases our ability to wholeheartedly love, live, and lead.
Brene Brown is a professor and researcher on a range of topics, including vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy. She is the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), Daring Greatly (2012), and Rising Strong (2015). Vulnerability is defined by Brene Brown as, “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, creativity, and trust. It’s showing up and saying, I am enough. When you fall, you get back up” (Brown, 2012). When vulnerability and whole-heartedness are present, healthy space is provided for self-reflection, repairing, courage, worthiness, and connected lives. Fighting vulnerability kills creativity, our strength, our spirits, our potential, generates shame, and our ability to wholeheartedly love, live, and lead.
According to Brown’s research, courage and connection are generated when vulnerability and shame resilience are incorporated and practiced. Shame is a primary emotion, a LEAF issue. Other examples of a primary emotions are sad, mad, and happy—which I will explain further in the emotion section. Shame is defined as “I am bad” opposed to guilt as “I did something bad.” Shame resistance means that you can successfully deal with the ROOT issue, shield ourselves without sacrificing values and self-worth. Once shame recognition is applied, then there is room to nurture the ROOT of your life. What I call, “what is really going on!”
Nourish your Needs—The Root
Nourishing the root issue, such as trauma and loss can be extremely difficult. We sometimes don’t know how or who to turn to for help. Our self-talk says—“don’t go there it’s scary.” The daily routines, balance, and boundaries guard us from developing a serious ROOT burnout reaction. A burnout reaction affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally that continues for over two weeks. Burnout leads to increased irrational behavior and illness. If you suspect burnout reaction, see a physician to rule out medical reasons and then seek professional counseling.
I mentioned routines, balance, and boundaries to combat burnout. In my practice I find these to be the top three skills to prevent burnout. There’s a science behind daily routines of building neurological pathways that keep us connected. Daily routines or healthy distractions should include mindfulness (being in the present without judgment), mini-vacations (10 min visuals/imagery), physical exercise (30 minutes 4 times a week), and emotional awareness (journaling secondary emotions and expressing them). This is also true for our destructive or avoidance daily habits. The rule is distractions are 10 minutes to two hours. A routine behavior that extends over two hours can be classified as an avoidant behavior. For example, distract yourself in a mind numbing book for 20 minutes and then move back into life. If you want to avoid people, responsibilities, etc., turn on Netflix and watch 16 episodes in a row. I know, we all do it at times, but just don’t let it be your routine. If you feel out of balance emotionally, physically, spiritually, or intellectually then start with these daily routines and healthy distractions.
“The most fundamental identifying features of true jerks is their persistent resistance to ever changing their core jerk qualities.”
Now moving onto boundaries. I could write a book on this subject! Speaking of books, my favorite on boundaries and dating is called, How to Avoid Following in Love with a Jerk by John Van Epp. This is what you need to know—what a jerk or jerkette looks like. It’s simple really. A repeated boundary breaker and space invader, a person that can’t see others perspectives, and a person with extreme unstable emotional control. Well that’s easy to pick out, right? Wrong! You see, unhealthy love is blind. Healthy love is not blind—this is expanded further in the book. I have found in my experience, boundary setting and assertiveness is one of least practiced behaviors, yet the most important for preventing burnout reaction. So if you need to nurture yourself, repair the damage, and re-grow—do it through balance and boundaries to nourish your beautiful roots.
Understanding before Being Understood—The Root
Wanting to be understanding is a universal need. Humans want to be understood not shamed, or judged. Sometimes we focus our time and energy proving ourselves to others and forget to seek understanding from others. For this reason and we project a thinking error of jumping to conclusions. In relationships we “bid” to be emotionally connected, to be understood. One example of a bid can be a question which desires understanding. Gottman explains how bids are requests for connection, provide trust, and is shown to be very relevant in a long-lasting relationship.
The Gottman Institute studied thousands of couples over the past four decades. In one of their research studies, Gottman invited 130 newlywed couples to spend the day at his retreat and watched them as they did what couples normally do on vacation—cook, clean, listen to music, eat, chat, and hang out. Gottman made a critical discovery of why some relationships thrive while others languish. Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection or bids. For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife —a sign of interest or support —hoping they’ll connect, however temporarily, over the bird Gottman 2010).
The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.
These bidding exchanges had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow-up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs. So the bottom line is it’s not about the bird. It’s about seeking for connection and understanding which is turning toward someone not away (Gottman, 2001).
Emotional Intelligence and Empathy —The Trunk
All emotions are signs, and they are all GOOD. Emotional awareness means that you can label and identify your primary and secondary emotion and how you respond to that emotion, which is the foundation to adaptability. A primary emotion are the simple, happy, sad, mad, shame, etc. Secondary emotions are the underlining issue. Feeling harmony, content, hurt, inadequate, frustrated, discouraged, powerless, etc. We need to know how to become emotionally aware of what our needs are by asking, “WHAT is going on? The WHYS are just not helpful. According to Gottman’s research in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, emotion coaching or intelligence promotes better health, academic performance, and social interactions with fewer acts of violence, and negative feelings for children (Gottman, 1997). Wouldn’t it have been nice to be emotionally coached in childhood? I wish I would have been taught how to be more emotionally intelligent and how to bring myself back to my frontal lobes of reasoning.
The goal is to hang-out in the prefrontal cortex of the brain because it allows logical thinking combined with emotional reasoning which is called the Wisemind. Here’s some key information. Fight, flight or freeze also called the defense response, is in the mid-brain—it keeps us alive. I’m sure thankful for it! We learn how to use FFF to survive in our childhood and in adulthood. As adults it can get us in when we behave aggressive, passive aggressive, or passive—fight, flight, or freeze, in adult relationships. Only maintaining assertive behavior does.
There are several ways to get yourself out of our FFF mid-brain and into the frontal Wisemind (logic and emotion together). For instance, taking a time-out to practice mindfulness, breathing techniques, journaling, creative activities, and many others. Studies show if you use one of these skills for just 10 minutes it combats an urge or reduces your heart rate so you can make sound decisions.
The last E of PRUNE is empathy, which is an important subject to end on. Empathy is the ability to have an experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective through emotion. You place yourself in their emotion and feel what they are feeling. Not just feel with another’s feeling but be in that space. When I am teaching this concept, it seems we really don’t understand empathy and that it is NOT about the event, it’s only about the feeling. This is why emotional intelligence is so important. We have all felt shame, rage, frustration, powerless, overwhelmed, hopeless and pure joy. Through emotion and empathy we find connection, support, encouragement, inspiration, growth, and healing.
Prevention, repair, understanding, nurture, and emotional wellness are needed to build connections and partnerships. These ideas work. I practice them and I have watched hundreds of clients maintain long-lasting behavioral improvements. I believe faith is dead without works. Working at improving self with awareness is tough. Vulnerability is heart wrenching. Showing up as a single parent and co-parenting seems impossible at times. The wound of disappointment and shame is just too deep and it seems easier to bleed. To trust again and to understand before being understood is foreign. To nurture yourself before others is selfish and it’s ok if my branches die. It’s been ingrained that forgiveness means we give up emotions like anger and hurt, which is why we don’t. I never thought that I would have to add divorce or being a single parent to my list of life’s accomplishments. But I did. So as do all of us, I am learning as I go, forgiving myself when I can, doing the best I know how, living in the present, and nurturing my roots. Be kind, be real!
Between 1942 and 1945, Viktor Frankl spent time in four different Nazi concentration camps. This quote form his book, Mans search for meaning inspires me to keep moving forward. “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still knows bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” — P.37
Caryl Ann has a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health and is a Certified Family Life Educator and Mediator. As a former adjunct professor at UVU, she taught Marriage Relations and assisted several professors in the behavior science department. She is a single mother of three girls, two grand kids and a former foster parent of over 25 children. Her favorite hobbies include studying research, gardening, hiking, and sewing. If you want more info on her monthly book club, Paperback Connections you can like her FB page. https://www.facebook.com/carylsbookclub/