Emotional Short-Arming: Protecting A Psychological Injury

My massage therapist commented that I twist my right arm whenever she moves it. She questioned the origin of this tendency. During the height of my swim conditioning, I short-armed my right free style stroke. My coach instructed me to pull my arm through completely before exiting the water.  This adjustment improved my speed and efficiency. For a few workouts I decelerated and concentrated on pulling through. However, I found it tedious, and it slowed me down tremendously. Additionally, as I fatigued I returned to short-arming. I shared this story with my massage therapist, and she commented, “Maybe you’re protecting something.” She asked if I had a past injury. Prior to swimming, I spent several years rock climbing and pushing my body in ways you can in your late 20’s and early 30’s. I likely sustained an injury.

My response to this physical injury mimics a psychological injury. Often times we compensate to avoid pain and keep moving forward. However, this coping style eventually short changes us when we can no longer progress with ease and efficiency. We are frequently unaware of this protective mechanism until we enter relationships, and others identify it. Once this compensatory strategy enters our awareness slowing down and addressing it proves challenging. We feel pulled into our old habit particularly during times of stress and fatigue. However, if we slow down and address the injury, we start moving with greater fluidity and ease.

Admittedly, when I dive into the pool, I’m tempted to bullet through the water like a torpedo. Then, I hear my healthy self, “you’re short-arming . . . pull through the entire stroke . . . don’t get in a hurry.” I may resemble Esther Williams. However, my right arm propels me further if I can resist exiting at the point of discomfort.

Where in your life are you emotional short-arming? How can you leave your arm in the water a bit longer when it feels uncomfortable?

Imperfectly,

Amelia

 

 

Forgive Yourself

I recently joined some yogi friends at a trendy all-vegan, organic restaurant. After enjoying delectable appetizers and a few glasses of wine, someone suggested we do a clearing activity. (Hey, what do you expect from a bunch of yogis after wine?) The yogi leading our exercise asked, “What have you not forgiven yourself for?” He added the caveat to only share that with which we felt comfortable (i.e., “don’t share shit that is too deep”). I thought, “can’t we start with an easier question . . .say what is your favorite color? . . .dog or cat person?”

The authenticity of my dinning mates created a sense of safety which encouraged me to share something beyond, “I need to forgive myself for using the last of the toilet paper at work and not telling anyone.” Themes which emerged from our conversation included forgiving oneself for . . . negatively comparing oneself to others, not meeting cultural standards of success, putting one’s self-care first . . . As the sharing continued, I felt more endured to this lovely group of individuals. Hence, my toilet paper response seemed, forgive the pun, crappy. Hence, I took a deep breath and summoned my courage. “I need to forgive myself for feeling guilty about setting boundaries with people who are suffering.” I went on to explain that I have a history of swimming out to drowning folks with life jackets and holding them above treacherous waters. The feeling of saving others feels good. However, in the past, I lost sight that treading water contributed to sheer exhaustion.

Now I’m learning to set healthy boundaries, so I don’t drown in my quest to exercise compassion towards others. I used to think this process was selfish and mean. However, I now know this process is incredibly caring. I cannot help anyone if I’m lying lifeless on the bottom of the ocean.

What do you need to forgive yourself for today my splendidly imperfect friend?

Imperfectly,

Amelia

 

You Won’t Die in the Yoga Room

I made the mistake. I had the fortunate opportunity to practice Bikram yoga on a 90% humidity day in sunny southern California. For ten years I effectively tolerated the 105 degree, 60% humidity environment of this yoga. However, this day I entered the studio, unrolled my mat, and instantly transformed into a human water fountain. Sweat gushed from every pore in my body despite the fact I laid silently in savasana (i.e., corpse pose)! The teacher entered the room and announced, “Rise and shine it’s yoga time! I know it’s a hot day, but you’re not going to die in the yoga room.” I stood up and thought, “I’m f*&#ed!” My body boiled. Probably, because I was standing DIRECTLY under the red glow of a radiant heater. Given room was packed with sweaty yoga bodies, I could not escape the heater’s radius. During the second breath of pranayama, my mind raced, “It’s too hot . . .I’m dizzy . . . I have to pee. . . I want to run out of this room . . . what if I run out? . . .I’ve never run out. . .what’s wrong with me? . . . everyone else looks ok . . .this absolutely sucks . . . I should have slept in . . . I will be dehydrated . . .my stomach is on fire . . .why did I eat garlicky hummus before class? . . . breathe . . . breathe . . .breathe.” I eventually calmed my mind. However, my body fought to stand. My stomach knotted and the room spun. I surrendered to my mat until the world stilled. Then, with a big deep breath, I stood up and tried again.

By virtue of our human-beingness, we experience moments of intense emotional pain. We question whether we can tolerate another excruciating second and feel pulled to flee the room. We numb . . . with reality TV (goodness knows I’ve watched way too much Teen Mom), busyness, material objects, and substances. We do everything in our power to escape that radiant heater, because it’s tremendously uncomfortable. We gain momentary lapses of relief only for the heat to blast us squarely in the face. If we surrender and breathe, the perspiration pours from our bodies. The toxins leave, we cool, and oxygen replenishes us. We stand up and try again. When the intensity of the heat overwhelms you, lie down, breathe, and recover. Then, get up and try again. If you run, pain will follow you right out of the door.

 If emotional heat has left you face down on the floor, I recommend reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. This wonderful manuscript reminds us that signing up to live whole-heartedly involves falling, and she gives us a formula for rising up.

Imperfectly,

Amelia

My splendidly imperfect dog's version of shavasana.

My splendidly imperfect dog’s version of savasana.

Assist Pin: Coping With Painful Emotions

 

I love the chin up/dip machine in the gym. It is one of the most efficient ways to work several major muscle groups at once. Given I detest weight lifting, but I know it builds strong and healthy bones, yada, yada, yada, I celebrate a machine that shortens my agony. I also love that it contains the “weight assist” stack. I simply determine the pounds I want to subtract from my actual weight and insert the lovely “assist” pin. On particularly challenging days, I place the pin near my exact weight and pull myself up with one hand! I feel like Demi Moore in GI Jane except I don’t have a shaved head or her ripped biceps. Gymgoers standing  at least 20 feet away might possibly mistake me for Svetlana Feofanova — a fellow famous red-haired athlete! I do try to challenge myself and move the pin up and pull up more and more of my weight. I recognize muscle building involves pain but some days I need a break from it.

When it comes to painful emotions, perfectionists find the assist pin particularly attractive. Perfectionist assist pins come in all shapes and sizes . . . working long hours, racking up achievements, filling every available moment with something productive, rigid exercise routines, and cleaning. Some assist pin activities can be helpful like distracting oneself from painful emotions by calling a friend, going for a run, or doing something kind for others. Others can prove particularly damaging like numbing out with alcohol, food or excessive sedentariness.

One should not use the aforementioned coping strategies to continuously to avoid painful emotions. Tal- Ben Shahar (2009) highlights that painful emotions need to move freely down the “emotional pipe line” in order to maintain good emotional-wellbeing. When we continuously suppress, ignore, and distract ourselves from painful emotions a clog builds and these emotions remain trapped inside contributing to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If we use the “assist pin” over and over again it will eventually wear down, break and send us crashing under our true weight. Hence, we need to challenge ourselves to pull it out and feel, ache, grieve and hurt and know we are human and splendidly, imperfectly built.

At times, we need to put the pin in. Shortly after I separated from my ex-husband the grief permeated my being to the depths that my heart physically ached. I had no idea that a human being could shed such colossal volumes of tears. I recognized that I could not grieve 24/7 and maintain some semblance of sanity. I needed breaks. I needed the assist pin. My “assist” pin included things like a living room early 90’s dance party with my sister, watching really horrible reality TV (so bad I cannot succumb to telling you even though I use a pen name), painting my toe nails radical colors, listening to Nine Inch Nails VERY, VERY loud in my car and yelling “Head like a hole, black’s got your soul, I’d rather die than give you control!,” hot baths, watching videos of cute baby animals on youtube and then . . . I. Pulled. The. Pin. Out. . . so I could work through the pain, build strength and prevent the pin from wearing out. It’s an imperfect process. Sometimes I leave the pin in too long. Other times, I suffer too long under the gravity of my own weight and could benefit from giving myself a break. My wish for all of us is that we can grow in our discernment of when to put the pin in and pull it out.

Imperfectly,

Amelia

My splendidly imperfect dog can be a sweet, furry, four-legged “assist pin.”