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

33 Comments

Zara

I love the article. Sadly, its not so easy to do when youre so deep in DP and general anxiety. Ive been dealing with it for almost a year now, and theres still a long way to go. When I first felt DP I felt like im losing my mind, I had no idea whats wrong with me. After a while I started to look up for the symptoms and realized what im dealing with. DP makes you disconnected from everything around you, you can hear yourself and feel like a stranger is talking, you can look at something you know but deep down will question yourself why does it feel strange to look at, situations will feel like a dream. Its living but not really living – it disconnects you from all your surrondings. When I looked for the disorder I was happy to find out that im not the only one who deals with it and was looking for people to hear their story and their way of handling the situation. I hope all DP sufferers will find the strength to win the battle, also for myself.

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Dr mirza

Hi I am Dr mirza and I am anesthetist .i feel depersonalised when Iam addressing huge gathering and when I am doing some critical work like intubation .but then I recover spontaneously after seconds of being disconnected and this is happening repeatedly when I do some critical work or when I am being watched by masses .this temporary discomfort is hampering my confidence otherwise I know I am best in my skills and my thinking is very appropriate and intelligent .please help

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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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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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M

Yes my son has weed induced anxiety. Therefore it is probably better to be careful with weed if you are having anxiety issues.

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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

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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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Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things 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. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare

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