For Challenging Difficult Thoughts
Introducing CPR for the Amygdala and Self-Havening—Tools for Immediate Anxiety & Stress Relief
A Havening Guided Meditation for Cultivating Self Compassion in Difficult Moments
In this video, Dr. Kate Truitt leads you through a havening guided meditation for cultivating self-compassion in difficult moments. She begins by asking us to welcome in the soothing, self-havening touch in order to allow our brain and body to be more in touch with this exercise. Then, she asks you to bring to mind a person, being, or color that embodies kindness and compassion to us. As we invite our mind to explore back in time and find this experience, she asks that we gently breathe in and out. Once we have identified the experience, she asks us to notice details about what it looks and feels like, and how that affects the energy within us.
Is there a part of your being that could use more love? If there is, Dr. Kate asks us to turn our attention toward it, but then slowly step ten paces away from it. This will allow us to see and observe this difficult space from a safe distance. We can welcome in the loving energy from before to join us in this difficult space in order to release the tension and bring kindness.
Stop Beating Yourself Up! Two Questions to Release Negativity & Enhance Self-Acceptance
In this psychoeducation video, Dr. Kate Truitt begins by explaining that self-compassion is critical in order for our brain to transition from feeling guilty to feeling present and engaged. She then walks you through a worksheet to help you challenge difficult thoughts and beliefs.
Once you have a pen and paper ready, she asks you to find a time when you made a mistake, and we were really critical of yourself and write down some of the harsh thoughts you had. Then she prompts you with the first question: Why might my amygdala be saying these things to me to keep me safe? She explains that when we criticize ourselves, our brain is trying to keep us safe. Thus, she asks us to fill in three different hypotheses as to why Amy might be saying these things to us in order to keep us safe. Dr. Kate then prompts the second question: how can I respond to Amy from a state of compassionate understanding and love? She then asks us to write down three ways we can show ourselves some love and care.
A Havening Guided Meditation to Heal Self-Criticism & Connect Inward with Love
Dr. Kate Truitt leads you through a guided meditation that allows you to move into relationship with difficult thoughts and feelings and develop a space of understanding and self-love. She begins by asking you to bring in havening touch and soothing breath. She then asks you to recall a recent time our brain said something unkind about yourself and shows you how to recognize where in our mind these thoughts live. Once we’ve found that energetic space, she asks us to realize what Amy the Amygdala looks like. Through controlled breathing, we can create space between ourselves and Amy. Dr. Kate asks you to engage in a conversation with Amy, asking her when she learned to act like this. Almost always, these harsh experiences belong to our past, meaning that Amy learned these traits a long time ago. Dr. Kate explains that we don’t deserve to feel this way, and she asks us to grant our young selves forgiveness and understanding.
Challenging Difficult Thoughts to Create Personal Empowerment
By Dr. Kate Truitt
Are you kind to yourself? Do you like who you are?
If you are like most people you will say, “Sure I’m nice to myself” and “Yeah, I like who I am.”
But now let me ask something else. Look back over the course of the past month or so and consider this question: Do you remember how many times you have said nice things to yourself, or is it easier to remember when you were mean to yourself?
being mindful of how we talk to ourselves
Interestingly, the negative will usually jump out more prominently in our minds because we have this thing called a “negativity bias” which is one of the survival mechanisms in our brain that helps protect us.
Our brain is hardwired to keep us safe. The amygdala of our brains, which I call “Amy,” is always on alert for instances that remind her of negative or difficult experiences from our past to define our present moment and she creates narratives around them to protect us.
For this reason, it is important for us to be mindful of how we talk to ourselves. Because we are hard-wired with this negativity bias, we not only look out for the negative experiences in our day-to-day lives, but we also think difficult, negative thoughts and experience painful emotions.
So, can you remember the last time you said something kind or loving to yourself? How often do you lean into self-compassion, self-kindness and even self-love? If you are having trouble remembering the last time you treated yourself with kindness, you’re not alone, and it just means you are human, and Amy is working hard to keep you safe. So, give your amygdala a high-five for that and thank her for her service to you. But at the same time, you need to work on intentionally giving her another job.
giving amy a new job with cpr for the amygdala
One of my favorite ways to do this is to engage in CPR for the Amygdala. In this case, CPR stands for Creating Personal Resilience, because that is what you’re doing for your brain when you are practicing this program. The soothing touch of havening and even the gentle, moving hug we practice during CPR for the Amygdala is full of self-compassion.
CPR for the Amygdala is a Havening Techniques-based exercise that grounds your brain and body in the present moment—connecting you to the here and now rather than in the narratives of our past that Amy the amygdala creates. The gentle, soothing touch of self-havening releases the neurotransmitters, serotonin GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) and oxytocin, that are literally the molecules that help create the here and now experience. (If you are not familiar with this yet, I invite you to view the video, Introducing CPR for the Amygdala and Self-Havening—Tools for Immediate Anxiety & Stress Relief in the sidebar to this article.)
As you do these gentle exercises, you combine them with brain games, such as singing simple songs from our childhood such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm or counting backward and forward in different counts of four or six. These brain games (also known as distractions) will give you the opportunity to enjoy these natural feel-good chemicals, which help to ground you gently but solidly in the present.
When you start going down those pathways from the past, the amygdala likes to bring up all of those times where you may have felt something similar to the present difficult moment. Her goal is to remind you of all the ways you’ve stayed safe and survived! Experience is there to remind you of ways that you can stay safe in the world, but sometimes these behaviors no longer serve you. So, once you have calmed Amy down with CPR for the Amygdala and let her know you are safe, you have an opportunity to build a new neural pathway in your brain for encouraging your new vision of a blanket of safety.
Looking for the positive experiences around you
Now, try finding a positive experience around you where you have been kind to yourself in a positive, self-strengthening way, where you have reassured yourself that everything is going to be OK.
If you try to recall one of those times and one is not available, no problem! This is why you’re here doing this powerful work. Instead find something in your life that you’re grateful for, or a moment that contains something you can be grateful for, no matter how small. It might be the sound of children laughing and playing when you were out on a walk, the warmth in your hands and smell in your nose of a fresh cup of coffee, or just the sight of a beautiful flower or bird. Breathe in that experience and connect with it. This is an easy way to create a moment of self-care at any time.
One of the reasons it is often difficult to recall those moments when we have been kind to ourselves is that we humans are very good at mentally beating ourselves up. When things are going off the rails in our life and we feel like we are making mistakes it can be nearly impossible to welcome in compassion and understanding, and instead negativity and self-criticism can dominate.
But in these moments of amygdala-driven guilt and shame it is critical for us transition into engagement with the present moment. I invite you to try the brief exercise in the video in the sidebar of this article titled, Stop Beating Yourself Up! Two Questions to Release Negativity & Enhance Self-Acceptance, which is designed to help you do just that.
Please also try the guided meditation in the video titled, A Havening Guided Meditation to Heal Self-Criticism & Connect Inward with Love. This exercise is intended to help you move into relationship with difficult thoughts and feelings and developing a space of understanding, self-compassion, and self-love.
Anytime you notice that your brain is beating you up, take a moment and a step back to ask Amy, “Hey, what is going on?” to connect with yourself. Then identify ways that your brain might be trying to keep you safe. Then explore whether there might be kinder ways of treating yourself to get to that safe space. The exercises above and in the sidebar of this article can help you do that.