A Powerful Way to Deal With Depersonalization (or Any Anxiety Condition)

Anxiety. Sometimes it just sneaks up on you.

You can be doing all the right things – eating well, exercising, meditating. But still, feelings of anxiety can just appear out of nowhere. Suddenly you have to deal with racing thoughts, heart palpitations, maybe even a full-blown panic attack.

The symptoms and conditions that anxiety produces vary greatly from person to person. For me it was depersonalization, a sense of being cut off from reality, like you’re dreaming all the time. It was horrible and the symptoms were particularly frightening.

And like all anxiety conditions, what was most frightening was the lack of control I seemed to have over it. But here’s a great tip I found incredibly useful:

You may not always be able to control the anxiety.

But you can always control your reaction to it.

And that’s a lot more powerful than you might think!

Take panic attacks, for example. The initial scary thought that sets it off might be something really small. A thought that for most people would last a few seconds and then fade away naturally.

It’s your reaction to it that sets off the spiralling thoughts and eventually, a full-blown panic attack.

But if you can recognize that initial scary thought for what it is (just a thought!), you automatically change your reaction to it. And by not overreacting to it, you can reduce the anxiety and even stop the panic attack completely.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s say you’ve just had a panic attack. What’s the most effective thing to do? Sit around, feeling sorry for yourself, dreading the next panic attack? Of course not. That’ll only worsen your fear and increase the likelihood of another one happening.

Instead, don’t overreact. Distract yourself. Keep your mind occupied. Stay busy. Play an instrument, take a walk, meet up with a friend. That reaction teaches your brain that even though the panic attack has just happened, it hasn’t affected you.

 When your brain registers that these feelings can bring your day to a halt, it confirms that anxiety is ‘big’ and ‘important’. But when you go about your day regardless of any panic attacks, depersonalization or any other form of anxiety? Your brain registers that anxiety is not ‘big’ or ‘important’!

Think of anxiety like a spoiled child. It throws tantrums to get attention. And the more attention you pay to it, the more attention it demands. But if you just let the tantrum happen and go about your day? The child sees that tantrums don’t get him anywhere — and will eventually stop using them!

The same goes for all feelings of anxiety: Don’t overreact to them.

Accept that the feelings are there. Let the ‘tantrum’ happen. It can’t hurt you. And then immediately focus on something constructive and engaging.

This technique is especially useful as you start to recover from any anxiety. You’ll find that you have some good days and some bad days. It’s a natural part of recovery!

 But again — the trick is not to overreact.

When you have a bad day, don’t be disappointed or feel sorry for yourself. Just accept that you feel a little anxious, and stay busy. And it may seem counterintuitive, but when you have a good day, don’t celebrate!

This teaches your brain that anxiety is not important, in either positive or negative terms. That puts the unwanted thoughts and feelings into perspective and allows them to fade away and disappear — which is exactly what they’re supposed to do. 

This simple technique was invaluable in my recovery from depersonalization disorder, but can be used with any anxiety condition. It teaches your brain that feelings of anxiety, no matter how intense they might get, are ultimately not that important.

There’s a great saying in mindfulness: “Engage with useful thoughts, disengage from the others.”

 Anxious thoughts are not useful. So disengage from them by not overreacting to them.


About the Author: Shaun O Connor

Shaun O Connor is the author of The Depersonalization Manual, a book which details his recovery from Depersonalization disorder and provides a complete guide to recovery for sufferers of the condition. First published as an ebook in 2007, it has since expanded to become a complete recovery package and has sold over 9,000 copies worldwide.

Shaun is also a multi award-winning television and film director whose work has screened around the world, including at the Dublin, Helsinki and Boston Film Festivals.

Twitter: @DPManual

29 Comments

sam

Hi, I’m also a 15-year-old and wanted to do more research on depersonalization and anxiety and came across this article. I agree, it really did help me look at this in a different way and I’m glad I was able to find it. Anxiety can be a really scary thing for me and sometimes I don’t know what’s happening to myself so articles like this really help me analyze what going on inside of my head. I hope you know you aren’t alone and staying positive is one of the best things you can do. 🙂

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Sayla

Hi Shaun,
I’m a 15 year old from Australia, and have been battling with anxiety and quite bad derealization and depersonalization for about a year now. My parents are getting me to see people, and i’m trying so hard to keep living my life as usual, to ignore the anxiety. But alas, it can be so hard when one week your mind decides you have a brain tumour, and the next about to have a heart attack. Anxiety is so weird, and so unlogical. It scares me, so much. But i’m working hard to stay positive no matter what, and i’m extremely glad i’ve come across this article as it really helped me look at the way i feel from a new perspective. Thank you so much, keep doing the work your doing on this stuff. Because sometimes just a random article online that a teenager in the midst of a panic attack finds, can really really help. ty <3

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sam

Hi, I’m also a 15-year-old and wanted to do more research on depersonalization and anxiety and came across this article. I agree, it really did help me look at this in a different way and I’m glad I was able to find it. Anxiety can be a really scary thing for me and sometimes I don’t know what’s happening to myself so articles like this really help me analyze what going on inside of my head. I hope you know you aren’t alone and staying positive is one of the best things you can do. 🙂

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Christine

Hello let me thank you frist after reading your article how to over come anxiety I just developed blood pressure 150/90 I was ask to take medicine stamlo 5mg thought it help my bp come lower but my anxiety thinking about my bp it’s difficult to except like normal n thinking many other things feeling low as of now don’t know how to handle ,after reading your article lots more are there who also went through this but come out reading their reviews it’s giving positive enlightenment toward life thank you so much From Christine india

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Maeve H

Shaun,

Thank you so much for writing this and other helpful articles about anxiety. I have always suffered from fear and anxiety disorders as well as OCD. Growing up in a stressful, controlling home situation and becoming a young adult and recently getting my first full time job has made me more stressed than ever. I recently tried weed for the first time because my boyfriend said it might help me calm down, but instead I guess I tried it and didn’t like this new feeling of losing control because my whole life has always been controlled. I had a panic attack and he was there to hold me and comfort me (I don’t remember it at all), and I have been unable to sleep for two days. But I feel as though I am slowly getting back to myself and getting back in touch with reality. It was an extremely stressful experience, but I am learning more and more about myself through it. I was feeling like someone else and feeling physically numb and in a dreamlike state for two days, but reading this and other articles from other people and help sites has made me aware of my own reality and regain control and confidence. Thank you for helping me. It has changed me for the better and forever.

Sincerely,

Maeve

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Soulaimane

Hey Valencia the same with me here and even worst cuz my doctor dont even know what is Derealization! So i learned to cope with it by myself i now go outside and see people but im not really comfortable, i feel like im underwater i started to seen a neurologist he gave me some Benzodiazipin to calm my anxeity and panic attacks and it successfuly did, but i still feel so derealized and cut off from reality! Idk what to do.

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Roland

Hi Shaun,

I had my first panic attack more than a year from now and I have never been the same. I have always thought my entire life that I am a bit more anxious person compare to others. I always think its normal and other people are the same. After my first panic attack my body started paying attention to it and so I have bad days and good days. I cant afford therapy so I have been learning bits of coping mechanism. Thank you for this article. I learned another lesson that it cant hurt us, dont pay attention to it and we have to tell our self that anxiety is not important. And all the feeling associated with it will go away. Another eye opener for me. God bless you!

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Brad R

Shaun….

I recently have had hellish attacks of anxiety/panic….Stress from my job and losing family members has pushed me over the edge. I even ended up in the ER with blood pressure 165/110. I have resorted to Klonopin which seems to have given me Depersonalization along with this as well… I’m also a Hypochondriac and am dealing with TMJ at the moment which has caused me to be dizzy/lightheaded sine September 28, 2019….Needless to say, I’ve dealt with a revolving circle of hell. I have done a lot of research and have found there are natural ways to fight this Anxiety. Seeing that my father ha sever anxiety and fought it his whole life, I to have been stricken with the symptom. However, he had no help. But he did offer me good advice through life… ” son, don’t let any thing have FREE RENT in your mind” Little did I know, he was talking TO ME and seen that I was suffering from the same thing he was. Up until he died, he constantly told me to calm down, don’t worry about things… to prepare me for where I am now….. I am so glad I found this article and you have shed some light that this is not a permanent disease; but rather something I CAN control and not feed….I want to thank you so much….SIDENOTE: I am a kick ass Chef and Drummer, so I am not completely nuts…. Cheers Mate: Brad

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Valencia M

I always feel I’m in a dream state and I see a bit distorted. Happened after a simple surgery. I believe it’s derealization. But my doctors say no. How can I convince my Therepist who I been seeing for anxiety? And this derealization started 20 months ago. I’m afraid to go outside bc of this!! What can I do to help myself to make my providers believe me?!

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Soulaimane

Hey Valencia the same with me here and even worst cuz my doctor dont even know what is Derealization! So i learned to cope with it by myself i now go outside and see people but im not really comfortable, i feel like im underwater i started to seen a neurologist he gave me some Benzodiazipin to calm my anxeity and panic attacks and it successfuly did, but i still feel so derealized and cut off from reality! Idk what to do.

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Jadyn

Hey Shaun, recently I have really struggled with my anxiety and some depression here and there. Recently it has gotten so bad to where it started my relationship with depersonalization and derealization. It’s has taken a big toll on me and I have really been struggling with staying hopeful. I’m somewhat young and feel like I’m not strong enough to fight it being so ripe in age. This is the first thing I have read that has given me hope that I can overcome this. Thank you!

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Hana

Anxiety is not the only factor though. I don’t feel anxious at all but instead, completely emotionally and physically numb. The therapy for anxiety induced dp/dr didn’t work for me. Also, my mind is blank, so quiet I can’t hear any thoughts. No thoughts and no emotions= not human= dp/ dr’d af

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Francis

At age 16, I smoked marijuana for my second time and suffered my first and only panic attack. That panic attack left me with DP/DR disorder. I’ve struggled with DP/DR for seven years now and can’t seem to shake it off. At this point, I’ve accepted that there is no cure.

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Charles C

Hey Francis, I was/am in the exact situation you are, I smoked pot and had a bad experience one night, it sent me into a spiral of “uncontrollable fear and thoughts” I was convinced I was not real or was in a dream state, thankfully I had a dad who I could share this with and he truly comforted me as I ddI genuinely cry out of fear. We decided to sit down and talk and to some mindfulness exercises together every night, slowly but surely I did see change. One day I realised I’d lived a few weeks completely depersonalised free, I hadn’t noticed it leave and didn’t see how i could of possibly felt that way, then it clicked that my mind was just playing tricks on me out of fear for being out of control, as soon as I started doing things in my life that took my attention away and showed these feelings no care, my mind must’ve seen that it was not important for me to feel these things and let go. I song lie, currently I am going through similar stuff and yes it’s scary having it happen almost 2 whole years later. But I am realising small causes like stress in life and me being scared for my future. I believe my brains using it as an attempt to “protect” or “flee” these issues that I need to take on with a smile. I have faith I’ll get through the mud of it once again and believe that if you let others in to help and find a purpose it will leave you feeling better than ever! Good luck and know that I’m cheering for you!
Charlie
PS I know this was posted awhile ago but still wanted to say my piece!

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Phumelelo

Hii My name is Phumi and I live in South Africa and I’m 17 years old. I’ve done some online tests and have been diagnosed with depersonalization disorder. It’s been like this since the month of October 2018 and nothing has changed. In fact things have gotten worse.
I’m writing my prelims soon and I’m really scared that this is gonna affect me in the future.
Please help!!

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Gift

Thought I was the only one suffering from this condition is South Africa???

Did you manage to get help

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Kayla K

Hey, Shaun. I am a 16 year old girl who had been diagnosed with depersonalization disorder just a few years ago when I was 12. And for a few years I never had a single attack. I felt fine. I was relieved because I had suffered with this disorder for so long. However, now that feeling is returning in a most inopportune time because now my mother is not in the position to pay for my treatment. So here I am begging for any means of coping with these feelings as they are becoming more and more common in my everyday life. I am overwhelmed by this feeling and it’s now taking a toll on my day to day life. Please help in any way. Please.

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kartikay d

hi,im now in 10 grade and i am 15 year old this derealisation thing started just a month ago i just wanted to know how to get rid of it and will it affect my studies please reply soon i will be appearing in a very important exam i have to focus on my studies,thank you.kartik

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Matt

I’ve been dealing with the same thing for 4 or 5 days at the moment, and it has been one of the weirdest and unnerving weeks of my life. The best thing to remember is that it is a feeling, and no matter how uncomfortable, feelings ultimately cannot hurt you! Good luck on your exam bud, everything will be ok!

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Momina

Hi I just recently started suffering from anxiety and depression and derealization. Just one question does it ever go away? Coz I’m really freaked out by it I have a small kid and nothing seems real I’m really scared. I hope it just vanishes this feeling is horrible.

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Charles C

Heyo! Same boat, and I know it can be scary, just know it is ultimately your mind being scared of things and there is not real threat, the sooner your mind is at ease the better. Try to focus on all the amazing and beautiful things in life!! In all honesty, smiling, laughing and no joke, crying really helps me to come into a centred mind! Also try mindfulness that stuff really does help!
Good luck
Charles

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Julie

Hi Shaun, I suffer from a form of anxiety that is terrifying, horrifying & controlling. It began when I was 27, just after the birth of my second child. It’s a genetic disorder on mother’s side of the family. My mother suffered with it, 2 of her sisters, cousin, my great auntie (who suicided late 1800’s). Then, worst of all, my youngest son become extremely unwell with it starting May 2016. He tried to cope with it for 9 months, doing all & everything he could to become well. He saw dr’s, 2 psychiatrists, psychologists, did a CBT course, tried many medications – nothing helped him. Sadly & shockingly, he suicided on 27.2.2017. As far as I know, all members of my family who have suffered with this severe form of anxiety have been female. My son was the first male to be affected by it. This type of anxiety does not need anything to “set it in motion”. Everything can be going well, nothing wrong – then IT HITS! Suddenly, without warning. I become extremely unwell with this in approx 10 minutes once the feeling begins. I still suffer from it sporadically. I am extremely well at the moment, but I must stay on medication. I take Nardil (phelelzine sulphate-monoamine oxidase inhibitor) MAO. I have found this to be the only effective medication for me & I have been tried on probably everything on the market. Have you heard of this type of severe anxiety? It’s like having a constant panic attack, but it lasts every second of every day! Thank you, Julie

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Shaun O Connor

Hey Julie, thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that your family has been so affected by that condition. I must say that I’m not personally familiar with any form of anxiety as a genetic disorder, but I’m not a medical practitioner so my knowledge of anxiety-based conditions outside of Depersonalization would be relatively limited. I’m very glad to hear that you’re doing better at the moment though, and that you’ve found a medication that works for you. Stay in regular touch with your doctor, and keep up the good work!

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kathy key

i have suffered from anxiety all my life now my husband has cancer an i have to deal with rude family members plus all of his care im shutting down so tired all the time so filled with worry,

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Shaun O Connor

Hi Kathy,
Thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been having a tough time lately. People react very differently to difficult situations, so don’t worry if you feel stressed out at the moment.

I would advise that you take some time every day to relax and meditate. I have found this invaluable at times of stress, and I try to set aside an hour in the mornings so that I’m as prepared as possible for the day.

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Diane w

Hi Shaun

My 25 year old son has been suffering from DDD for about five years. We only learned about it a year ago and since then he hasn’t had any luck with a therapist. It has been a nightmare for the last five years. But since we have found out what he’s been suffering from he’s been getting better on his own and figuring it out. He is in a better place but has more work to do. He had been non functioning during this but has gone back to college on line and did get a part
Time job. He feels like he is coming to the end of
This but husband who is a physician still thinks he should see a therapist. Would love to get your opinion on this. I am a desperate mom looking for answers

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Rachael C

Hi Shaun, I have recently purchased your e manual and have found it extremely useful and helpful and for the first time in a few months I am starting to feel better after reading it.
Thank you

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hey Rachael,
That’s great news, I’m delighted to hear that you’ve been finding the book so useful! 🙂
Shaun

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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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