Self-Reflective Practice: Recognizing Patterns of Self-Protection

Sometimes I’m amazed at new insights about myself, especially at my age.

One I just discovered was so deeply rooted, I thought it was just my personality.

This pattern’s motive is for one single use—the holy grail of psychological mechanisms: self-protection.

Here it is: if I am quiet and shut down around someone or in an environment—it is because for one reason or another- I do not feel safe.

I am not shut down and quiet because I am:

a) an introvert

b) weird

c) anti-social.

I am shut down and quiet because actually…….

I LOVE MYSELF. I CARE ABOUT MYSELF.

What I needed in order to see this pattern: to—finally—be with people who, and in environments that, create a sense of safety and worthiness.

When I was a little girl, I was just quiet. I kept to myself. The more quiet and to myself, the more isolated and therefore, weird I thought I was. But, recently when I noticed myself being shut down and quiet around certain people, I also noticed the story I was telling about myself: you’re weird and everyone thinks you’re weird. And then the berating: what is wrong with you? Why can’t you just talk to people? Do you think you are better than they are…? (Well, I mean yes, sometimes I do).

But— a stream of high-level consciousness broke through. I connected this adult moment in real time with my child self. I saw my child self do exactly what grown up self is doing and realized: I AM NOT WEIRD. I may not even be an introvert. My little kid self who shut down to stay safe did so because she loved her self.

A-fucking-ha!

“It is in the homes and in childhood that the wreckage of human life begins.” 
~Katherine Tingley

Self-Reflective Practice

This week, and quite honestly from now on, consider your personality traits, that you think you are just stuck with or maybe even like, could be deeply ingrained self-protective mechanisms. For many of us, in our childhoods, conditions were harsh. These harsh conditions showed up in our childhood homes, in the schools we attended and in the world we lived in. Harsh doesn’t have to mean abuse. It can just mean unkind or not hospitable to the souls and spirits that we are.

To protect ourselves from harshness our wisdom created mechanisms to keep us safe and protected. Mine was to shut down. What was/is yours?

Once you discover it, pay attention to it. Where does it show up? Consider why. Do you have to hang on to it to keep you safe or can you start to let it go? Could it be that you are more than what you think your personality is? Now that you are a grown up, is it possible to be safe even when around unsafe people?

Finding our self-protective patterns can be a tedious task. And some are buried more deeply than others. I am 47, and just discovered my deeply ingrained pattern. But you know, now that I have, I feel lighter. I feel freer. I feel more myself. And, I know I have worked to build or perhaps, uncover, the foundation within myself— a foundation I stand safely on— even in the harshest conditions.

As usual, reach out if needed. I am here to hold space for your stories, your challenges, your process.

To learn more about me and my services, click here. To reach me for questions or to share, click here or email me at thesoulreporter@gmail.com 

Connect with me on Social Media: Facebook Twitter Instagram

~The Soul Reporter

Living Deeper

Below is my mental health article published in The Volk, Spring 2019

Mental Health: Living Deeper

By Nikki DiVirgillo, MSW, LGSW

When I was young, I looked through a telescope and viewed the stars in the sky. The expansive night sky with its twinkling lights told me I was special: connected to a great force and intelligence.  In my early twenties I lived my life from this acknowledgment and my desires manifested effortlessly. Then, one night as I wrote in my journal, I made a profound connection. It brought a vital link from childhood experiences to what I was beginning to experience internally, which was anxiety. This discovery led to the opening of my Pandora’s Box where I made one childhood connection after another, throwing me in to what some have called a dark night of the soul. The details of this long, dark, night are irrelevant in light of the lessons I learned and the growth that followed.

Photography by: Will Miles
Photography by: Will Miles

The main lesson, from which all the other lessons fall under, is that if we want to become more of who we really are, if we want to “live our best life,” and experience calm within ourselves, then we must live deeper, and then once we do, live deeper still. Many of us work at the surface of life; we are conditioned this way. We begin in a family, however that looks, with adults who are often existing at the surface of life. Then we fit our tiny bodies into a school desk with bodies taller than us telling us what they think we need to know to live a successful, fulfilling life. We move on to a job to pay for the lifestyle we think we should have. Through all of these stages who asks what we want? What we think? What we feel? At what point do we wonder, where are we? Who are we? And, is this all there is? If we don’t, at any point, stop and ask ourselves these questions or listen to those who might be asking us, we will continue to work at the surface level until our bodies and minds break down. Sure, some will earn what we see as success working at the surface, but will they be fulfilled? Will they be living an authentic life?

What we know is there is a mental health issue (more likely a crisis) in our country. According to the NAMI website (National Alliance on Mental Illness) “1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.” What is also clear is that mental illness is on the rise for our younger population as well. There is no truer sign of a culture’s overall well-being than how its children are doing. According to the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute, anxiety disorders have increased 17% in the past ten years. From my professional perspective, I have also seen an increase of students in school diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Something is not right.

My personal theory of what’s not right is that we’ve lost touch with who we really are because we primarily work and function at the surface of life and the surface of ourselves. When I looked up at that star-filled, night sky I was tapping into expansiveness, into space, into mystery, truth, and cosmic order. When I wrote in my journal and made childhood connections, I was digging in beyond the surface to a deeper part of myself, an unconscious part, just as vast and mysterious as the night sky. This space was filled with beliefs, memories, trauma, and emotions stemming from my upbringing. This “stuff” has to be processed, and often our first que that we are ready for this inner work is the experience of anxiety and/or depression.

To listen to our emotions, seeing them as a signal to slow down and check in with our selves, is not something that comes naturally to many of us. We weren’t taught this. Further, to listen and be curious enough about what’s happening inside of us, will open us to change. And, change is frightening, especially at first, because we have only known the surface of ourselves. The surface can lure us with its comfort and safety, but the real value is going beneath our surface. We are more than what we experienced as children, and more than what the culture tells us now. Therefore, when something prompts us to live deeper, like the stars in the night sky, there are points of light within ourselves that we must, and can follow to help us along this journey.

Here are my points of light for you- if you are going through a dark night, if you are experiencing anxiety, if you are feeling an urge to step into something more:

Photography by: Will Miles
Photography by: Will Miles

                 Find Space: this can be anything from looking up into the night sky, taking notice of the stars and the moon, and during the day, the clouds or shades of blue to clearing out a cluttered corner, closet or drawer. Space bring perspective and perspective helps us start to see possibilities and pathways that can bring depth and more internal satisfaction. Meditation is another way to find space.

                 Be curious: Once you’ve created space, it’s time to get curious- curious about you. This is time to self-reflect, be mindful and ask questions. Beginning this deeper work requires resources to support us. This is important because we may be processing traumas and feeling feelings we haven’t consciously connected with. Consider a journal and seeing a therapist as useful resources as you explore yourself and books!

                 Seek connection: What I have come to trust and understand is all of us, every single one of us, is looking for connection. We long for deeper connections with ourselves, with our experiences and within our relationships. One of the most important lessons I learned has to do with attachment theory. This theory states the importance of having a secure physical and emotional attachment to a primary caregiver. These attachment needs are present as soon as we are born and continue as we develop and grow. However, it is in our earliest stages that attachment matters most as this will shape our future relationships. If our physical and emotional needs are not met consistently, we will develop insecure attachment. Being insecurely attached will cause anxiety and create difficulties in relationships, along with a disconnection with ourselves. I recommend exploring attachment theory through books or the internet. You will find the four types of attachment and perhaps understand which one best describes yours.  Through the process of understanding ourselves, and evolving from greater understanding we will find our relationships change too. Deeper connections with ourselves and others is possible!

These points of light begin the process of deeper work, the work that will eventually guide us to more clarity, wisdom, connection and peace.

Exploring Self-Care

What do you think and feel when you hear the word self-care?

It may appear self-care is a recent trend that only younger generations take part in. According to the Pew Research Center this is true. The research showed in 2015 that Millennials spend more money and time on self-care than any generation before them. However, according to an NPR article, The Millennial Obsession with Self-Care, self-care is hardly new. Ancient Greeks partook in self-care to make them better citizens. It seems Millennials understand what the Ancient Greeks understood. But what about older generations— the Baby Boomers or Gen X? What are their thoughts and feelings about self-care?

During discussions I’ve had about self-care, I have heard people (mostly middle-aged women) ask, “What is self-care?” and “How do I do it?” I have heard them say, “I am not good at self-care” or “It’s not realistic to take care of myself. I am a mother. I work full-time…” For some, self-care is just one more thing to do and if it’s not done, it’s one more area in their lives to feel badly about. For others, it seems too self-indulgent.

If we want self-care to be a ritual we all partake in to become better citizens, I think it’s important to explore these concerns and answer these questions.  The last thing we need to do is taint self-care with shame and fill it with unrealistic expectations. So, let’s explore self-care a little more deeply. My guess is self-care is already a part of many of our lives. To continue reading go to The Volk magazine. 

You Belong. You Exist.

You belong. You exist.

This is important to say. You belong. You exist. Exist means: to have actual being.

Very often we don’t receive these messages as children. You belong. You exist. The yearning to belong and exist is deep, deep within us. I might argue this yearning creates everything we have experienced in our lives so far. There comes a point, if we are reaching for it, where we realize we actually do belong, we do exist. This occurrence happens even if our experiences have shown us the opposite.

I just had this experience. I was listening to Day 5 of Deepak & Oprah’s 21-Day Meditation, Experiencing, Creating Peace from the Inside Out. Oprah said, “If it is intimacy and connection you resist, it is love you crave most.” This struck a chord and is a theme that’s been surfacing lately.

Moving into the meditation, the centering thought for Day 5 was, I only feel a need to connect. Instead of closing my eyes as I normally would, I looked up at a picture of me, probably 4 or 5 years of age, sitting at on a chair at my grandmother’s house. I’m wearing light bluish-green pants, a dark blue-green turtle neck and what look like Buster Brown shoes. My hands are folded in my lap, my shoulders are hunched over and my head is slightly tilted to the side. My eyes are bright, yet distant, I have a soft smile and I envy my thick, wavy hair. I think: this little girl only feels a need to connect.

I cannot hold back what’s inside of me. Pain and hurt for the yearning of this little girl. I began to speak to her. You are not rejected. You aren’t rejectable. You are sacred. You are connected. You are loved. You are safe.

I cried throughout the meditation and continued to speak to her. I imagined myself holding her to my heart, giving her a kiss on that thick, wavy head of hair. After the meditation I picked up the framed picture and kissed her face and held her image to my chest and said, “You belong. You exist.”

The word exist felt like truth ringing inside of my being. I made the connection to my pattern of hiding to this fear I don’t exist. I keep this pattern going by continuing to hide. But, now, I know~

littlenikkiI do belong. I do exist. I don’t need to hide anymore.

I look at her now, and smile.

Namaste,

The Soul Reporter

Rethinking Self-Care

Self-Care……..What do you think and feel when you read those two words?

When I think of self-care I feel enthusiastic. But, I realize this is not the case for everyone. When the word self-care is mentioned, I have heard people (mostly women) ask, “What is self-care?” I have heard women say, “I am not good at self-care.” I’ve heard other women say, “It’s not realistic to take care of myself. I am a mother. I work full-time…” For some women, self-care is just one more thing to do and if it’s not done, it’s one more area in their lives to feel badly about. This is not the point of self-care and so before self-care becomes even more of a hot topic, let’s be careful not to taint it with shame and false ideas of what it is. Instead, let’s take these concerns and questions and expand our idea of it so we can easily and effortlessly fit it into our lives. My guess is self-care is already a part of many of our lives.

What is self-care?

Image result for self care quotes

Self-care is any act that we do that promotes well-being. I highlight any because self-care doesn’t just mean yoga and meditation, although these are good self-care practices. I have had long stretches where I didn’t feel like I took good care of myself. When this has happened, I would usually have an impulse to give myself a pedicure. First, I use a foot file on the bottom of my feet. Then, I use a handmade scrub of either salt or sugar with olive oil and scrub. From here, I rinse with warm water and massage my feet with lavender foot lotion. Before I start walking around I make sure to put on soft, comfy socks to keep them smooth. This is self-care.

Here’s a (partial) list of other self-care rituals:

  • Baths
  • Reading
  • Walking /Hiking
  • Physical activity
  • Therapy
  • Lunch dates with friends
  • Coloring/painting/drawing
  • Journaling
  • Decluttering
  • Pedicures/Manicures
  • Massage
  • Mindful breathing
  • Music
  • Dancing in your living room
  • A few minutes soaking in the sunshine
  • Lighting candles and sitting in the dark
  • Lighting incense
  • Silence
  • Crying
  • Making a cup of tea

 But, I’m not good at self-care

 As you can see from the partial list above, many of these rituals do not take up a lot of time or may be things we are doing already. I first learned the ritual of self-care (before it was a trend or had a name) spending weekends at my dads. There, I listened to classical music, drank hot tea by the space heater, took baths in the claw tub and drew pictures. These rituals still bring me comfort today. When someone says they are not good at self-care my insides crumble a little bit. What I hear is shame and doubt- as if self-care is something we have to be good at. We don’t. We just simply have to do it or recognize the many ways we already are doing it.

When we want to change our eating habits one of the ways to do this is to begin a food diary. This kind of documentation facilitates self-awareness and change doesn’t happen without awareness. In the same way as changing our eating habits, we can start a self-care diary to become aware of how we take of ourselves or how we don’t. If I were to begin a self-care diary today, here is what it might look like:

Ways I took care of myself today~

  • Slept in
  • Picked up the house after having a big dinner last night (and for me staying organized and keeping a clean house makes me feel good)
  • Did 25 minutes of yoga
  • Started Deepak & Oprah’s 21-Day meditation program
  • Finished writing this article

What I think is important to understand is self-care is anything that gives you some space and room in your life, in your body, in your mind, and in your self. We all need space and thrive in it. Without space in all of these areas we will feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed is unmotivating and so of course, just the idea of self-care will make us angry or fill us with shame because we just can’t seem to do it.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes said in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves, “The modern woman is a blur of activity. She is pressured to be all things to all people.” I have a feeling most of us (in this case, women) resonate with this, which brings me to the next common obstacle about self-care…..

Image result for self care quotes

Self-Care is not realistic.

 Self-care is not realistic for many of us if we are looking at it through a narrow lens. As previously stated, self-care is any act that promotes well-being, or if that’s too overwhelming of a definition—any act that just brings us a tiny bit of peace and space so that blur of activity stills for a moment. Recently, I listened to a woman share an example of how self-care is not realistic, especially for women with children. Sometimes her son needs help with homework and for her, helping him is important—more important than taking time out for herself. What I heard from this example was the conflict behind the experience. The issue here is not taking care of our child or taking care of our self. The issue is the mind creating a conflict between the two. We, as women, do this a lot. When we have conflict we are not at peace. We are in distress. And, why do we do create conflict in our minds? I think it’s because of what Clarissa said above, we try to be all things to all people— and, now the world also wants us to be all things to ourselves. Many of us respond, Oh, hell no.

But, you know what. We know this is what we have to do and for some of us it’s what we want to do. It’s time to take that old metaphor we know so well about putting on our oxygen masks first and apply it directly to our lives. We, especially have to do this if we are in conflict about what we do for others and what we do for ourselves. And, here’s a twist— we don’t have to pick one over the other. We can have both at the same time. Returning to the example of the woman wanting to help her son—if helping her child is her commitment, then there is no need for conflict. The way to not have conflict is to be mindful about our commitments. When we are mindful and conscious about our choices and commitments we are at ease. This is self-care. What is not self-care is beating ourselves up about what we should be doing when we are doing something that is important to us.

If our argument is that self-care is not realistic, but on some level we do sense the value in taking care of ourselves then we need to make it realistic for ourselves. We need to find the space to fit it into our lives, even if it’s 5 minutes of coloring. Any action we take toward taking care of our self will not only benefit our selves, but our families, our friends and any one or thing we come in contact with.

Image result for self care quotes

Why is Self-Care Important?

Just like self-care is more than just sitting in meditation or doing yoga poses on our mats, self-care is important for reasons we may not fully comprehend. Sure, our self-care practices will make us start to feel better inside our bodies and minds. But, what is really happening is we are building a relationship with our selves, which can be the best relationship we will ever have. I see self-care as an opening into the deeper world of our souls. Our souls know who and what we are. Our souls carry what is true and real about ourselves, and I believe we can consciously live here in our souls, which means we will live in a more authentic way—the ultimate in self-care. For this to happen we need to start digging our tunnel inside of ourselves and create a self-care plan for our selves. This is a good start.

Image result for self care quotes

Creating Your Self-Care Plan

I am available to help you develop a self-care plan starting with taking a self-care inventory. I am also available to help you stay with your plan and help guide you deeper into your relationship with your self. If you have questions or are interested in setting up a time for your self-care assessment, call/text @ 612-405-8053 or email me at nikki@nikkidivirgilio.com. For more information, go to the Self-Care & Discovery Consultations Tab on this site.