Not that long ago, mindfulness was something exotic and strange. Now it’s emerged from obscurity into mainstream culture.
Research has shown that mindfulness is effective for a variety of issues including ADHD, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.
I was first introduced to meditation and mindfulness in the late 80s when I took my first yoga class with Lex Gillan at The Yoga Institute, Houston. At the time there were two (yes, only 2) yoga studios in Houston!
Not long after that, I started teaching meditation and mindfulness, and today I regularly incorporate mindfulness in my work with clients.
When Carol Jeurgensen Sheets interviewed me for her BlogTalk Radio show Strength-Hope-Recovery podcast in February, she asked me how I use mindfulness to help partners of sex addicts manage triggers. Here’s an excerpt from the podcast interview:
Carol: What else would you advise partners to do when they need to self-soothe and calm themselves down?
Vicki: There are a variety of tools. This is what I think of in terms of unavoidable triggers, because there are some triggers that are unavoidable and they do tend to kind of come out of nowhere. So it’s helpful to have a variety of tools to call on.
I think the thing that can help immediately is if even pre-trigger—prior to having the trigger— is if you can identify certain phrases, prayers, mantras, or positive self-talk. Anything like that you can immediately call on to calm the situation down. Even something as simple as “all is well,” or a scripture that is particularly meaningful to you.
I encourage partners when they’re trying to pick these kinds of go-to phrases or prayers to see how it feels in their body as they say it. When they’re calm, they try these out and find out what kind of impact it has on their nervous system, because those are the ones that you’ll know are very powerful to use. I even encourage people to write these down and keep them handy. You can tape something to the dashboard of your car, a screensaver on your phone or computer to remind you.
Journaling is helpful, or learning how to do basic meditation. I’ve been a practitioner of meditation and mindfulness for about 25 years, and I often teach partners mindfulness techniques or how to do simple meditation.
Just bringing awareness to the in-breath and the out-breath. That is one of the best tools to use, because your breath is available anytime. It’s one of the few things we can always count on.
Carol: If you were helping a client to do that, how would you sit her down and what would you tell her to do?
Vicki: I would first of all ask her to tune in to her body and to just notice what she’s feeling. Sometimes just that in and of itself can be a lot to do, and especially if there’s a lot of anxiety, it can be difficult for a partner to tune in to their body.
Sometimes I invite them to orient to the space around them, notice the room they’re in, any colors or texture or shapes or anything like that. Then bring awareness to the body and physical sensations. And then to the breath.
It’s helpful to notice the sensation of the in-breath and the out-breath. Most of us experience that in different places—meaning sometimes we notice it in our abdomen or sometimes in the chest. You just find where you feel the in-breath and the out-breath most and you start to notice that. You’re just being curious and paying attention and you don’t need to try to breathe in any different way, you’re just noticing and being aware.
The thing that people need to know about meditation that I think is kind of a misunderstanding is that there is an idea that your mind is going to stay on what you’re choosing to focus on without wandering, and that is just absolutely not the case.
I encourage people when I’m teaching meditation and mindfulness to really expect that their mind is going to wander, but every time they can bring their awareness back to the in-breath and the out-breath.
The beauty of this practice is that you can do it even if you’re with other people, even if you’re having a conversation. As I said before, the awareness of the breath is so powerful because no matter what, it’s always there. If you’re conscious, it’s there, and it’s something that you can tune in to and it has an almost immediate calming effect. . . . [Listen to the entire podcast episode here.]
If you struggle with triggers, a simple beginning exercise is to immediately direct your attention to what you can see, hear, and touch right there in the moment.
This simple awareness of sensations, along with noticing your in-breath and out-breath, goes along way toward bringing calm to the distressing and often overwhelming triggers that are an inevitable consequence of betrayal and addiction.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
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