One of our main goals for this site has always been to help guide people towards emotional healing after infidelity.
The other day, I was listening to an audio recording of a virtual conference on the subject between host, Dr. Eric Maisel and Dr. Melanie Greenberg. I wanted to share some of the concepts that were discussed, specifically about emotional healing, becoming whole with mindfulness.
Though the interview had nothing to do with infidelity, it did address how to deal with painful thoughts and feelings, which certainly is a hugely important element during affair recovery and healing.
First of all, what exactly is emotional healing?
Dr. Melanie Greenberg suggests the first thing that comes to mind is becoming whole. Many folks, because of the emotional pain experienced through the affair trauma or through a difficult relationship in general, have shut off parts of themselves and have become defensive, self-critical, self-protective and closed.
Becoming whole for some means compassion; learning compassion for yourself, while adopting a more open and compassionate attitude to the world while protecting your healthy grounded ways. It means being more in the present moment with your experiences and letting go. It means becoming aware of those scripts you have from past experiences that maybe limiting your life, and trying to actively challenge them, either through your own thought processes or through self-compassion. It means focusing on your own needs and replacing your critical talk with healing, uplifting talk.
What does wholeness look like?
First of all, Greenberg thinks it’s a process, not an outcome. She says that means being more in touch with your thoughts and your feelings, more accepting of those thoughts and feelings and less reactive to the emotional storms or feelings that we have that make us feel completely out of control.
It’s the process whereby when we have difficult emotions we allow ourselves to soothe them and make them a part of us while using those emotions to teach us and guide us – not overwhelm us. Even if the emotions are very difficult, we allow them to kind of go through and pass as opposed to becoming stuck in them and defined by them.
So how can a person start the process to becoming more whole?
One such mechanism is practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not only a practice, but is an approach to life as well. Some people seem to view it as rubbish and envision a Buddhist monk sitting on a Himalayan mountain top with legs crossed and arms raised.
While mindfulness did start with Buddhist meditative tradition, it was brought into modern psychology by Jon Kabat-Zinn and it has shown in research that it can help people with chronic pain, addiction, difficulty dealing with emotion, depression and so on.
Greenberg states that mindfulness is really just bringing your attention back to the present moment, whenever it wanders. It is also a way of centering yourself in the present moment and having an open, kind, friendly attitude towards your own emotions, your own sensations and the people around you.
It’s not so much about changing your thoughts but more about changing your relationship with your thoughts and feelings.
Certainly as the result of the affair, negative, painful thoughts can come into your mind frequently. Using Dr. Greenberg’s suggestion, part of mindfulness then would be that you can refocus your thoughts on just your immediate reality – what is around you, like the trees and the flowers and the furniture in the room. You can refocus on something neutral but it can also be changing your relationship with your thoughts, just noticing them as they drift by almost like thinking of your thoughts as separate from you, like clouds in the sky.
There are some thoughts that you want to hang onto and there are some that you want to let go. The ones that are more negative, let them float on by and notice how you are becoming pulled in and triggered by certain kinds of thoughts, and try to pull yourself back.
On a practical level, this may be easier to do at 5:30 in the morning before you start your day than it is to do at work with a hundred demands going on around you. So to adopt mindfulness in a real day, the first thing to do is to stop whatever you are doing and take a mindfulness break, because a lot of the time we are on automatic pilot and we don’t even realize it.
Greenberg tells us to stop. Breathe. Focusing on the breath is a key element of grounding yourself, getting yourself back from that automatic pilot, whether it is those automatic thoughts or whether trying to do a hundred things at once. Then you take notice. What are you thinking, feeling, seeing, hearing, doing right now? Then you reflect. “Is this what I want to be doing?” “Is this consistent with my core values?” “How do I feel about what is going on right now?”
Dr. Greenberg says that when you first start a mindfulness practice you will probably need external reminders to do it. Start by setting up a daily meditation practice of some sort – and meditation does not necessarily mean cleaning your mind off thoughts because we can’t do that, it is not how mind works. It is more about just stopping and focusing on your breath, watching your breath or just noticing whatever is coming into your mind.
If you have a meditation practice, even if it starts with five or ten minutes every day, it brings you into the mindfulness mindset. Then during the day you can program certain things. For instance, you can put sticky notes up to remind you. You can have your phone cue you to do it or you can set something like, every time the phone rings, you are going to take a deep breath and center yourself before you start the conversation, or every time you walk past the boss’s office or before heading off to eat lunch.
You can take these regular everyday occurrences and turn them into reminders for you to take a mindfulness break.
She also suggests you start with small amounts of time – minutes here and minutes there – that you normally throw away by checking email or doing something on the Internet. Basically, just take a minute or two here and there for a mindfulness check-in.
Nobody it seems has huge chunks of time anymore so it really is using those few minutes to be grounded and re-center yourself using mindfulness.
If you have interest in looking further into mindfulness, this website has a great resources section that will help guide you in the right direction: http://www.mindful.org/resources
These sites have some mindfulness exercises in various lengths that you can download for free:
Give it a try!