Winning Your Private Battles

He got the gold. Forty year old Eric Lamaze won an Olympic Gold medal for the individual show jumping competition in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the first one for Canada in Olympic Equestrian show jumping since 1976. This happened years after being banned from competing on the world stage for a positive drug test. In an interview with CBC Sports he stated “when you give people chances and allow them to come back from their mistakes, great things happen and I’m a perfect example that you shouldn’t give up on people”. Mr. Lamaze is most definitively winning his private battle with cocaine abuse.

How does he do this? Or more importantly, how do any of us fight our private battles and win? Some of us may have a battle with our temper and have difficulty managing our anger in the face of frustrating circumstances or people. We may have difficulty managing our impulses and overspend or overeat. Others are controlled by addictions to substances or gambling, pornography or other unhealthy internet habits. And all of us struggle to some extent with the intensely private battles not evident to others – which come in the form of our own thoughts – criticizing, blaming or shaming ourselves and others. Because the struggles are so intense, we may presume defeat before the fight even begins.

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There are two important phases to winning these private battles. In the first phase we need to grow in awareness and understanding of the behaviours that entrap us again and again. In the second phase we need to enact simple changes that move us out of self–defeating habits. Small, consistent changes lead to long term results.

There are three common self-defeating behaviours:

Short term comfort brings long term pain: When Sally gets frustrated with her boss’s unreasonable expectations at work, she complies without comment, but is inwardly seething. Instead of discussing the problem constructively, she eats an extra donut or two at coffee break, which makes her feel better in the short term, but is causing her to gain weight and feel poorly about herself in the longer term.

The remedy: Replace self-defeating behaviors with alternative ones. Eating is not a helpful way for Sally to handle her emotions. It would be better for her to become aware of this pattern and instead, do something else. Writing her thoughts or taking a walk might be better alternatives. Better yet, she needs to consider how to carefully confront the situation at work, in order to make her workload more manageable and lessen her frustration with her boss.

Waiting to be in the right mood: Often we wait for the ‘right mood” to hit us before we tackle something that needs to be done. While we’re waiting, we engage in all sorts of activities to avoid what we know needs doing: we procrastinate, watch TV, surf the net, worry, sleep… the possibilities are endless.

The remedy: Avoid avoidance. None of the “waiting tactics” are as effective as actually getting to the task at hand. Often when we engage in doing what needs to be done, we even feel more motivated to do it. Once complete, we have a sense of accomplishment and confidence. Feelings not only cause behavior, they flow from behavior.

Rumination: This is one of the common activities repeatedly linked to depression. This is the act of dredging up and turning over repeated negative thoughts of past failures, resentments, comparisons with others or painful feelings and worries that perpetuate anxiety. Ruminating can be a way to avoid problem solving, and leads you to focus solely on yourself. It distorts perspective.

The Remedy: Become aware of your ruminating patterns and switch tracks. If you realize you have ruminated for more than two minutes and have not understood more about the problem, resolved it or felt better about yourself, move on. Just because a negative thought enters your mind does not mean you have to entertain it for any length of time. Recognize it for what it is – “here’s that critical thinking again — I need to move on.” Don’t argue with your negative thoughts, just move on to another topic.

When you are ready to making changes:

  • Decide and write out your commitment to change.
  • Become aware of your self-defeating habits. List them. When are you most susceptible to them?
  • Set achievable objectives. Change small simple things first.
  • Monitor your progress. Don’t be discouraged with relapses. Perseverance brings success.
  • Practice wellness habits. Get enough sleep, exercise frequently, plan something positive for yourself each day, practice gratefulness and kindness. These are daily habits that can change your life.
  • Get help. Find people who believe in you and support you as you change. If changing negative patterns was easy, you would have done it by now.
Winning Your Private Battles
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Joan has provided counselling for marriage, family and individual concerns for over 25 years.  She provides guidance and support for relationship difficulties, reconstructing marriage after an affair, conflict resolution, problem-solving and parent-child relationships.  Joan works with individuals who are dealing with depression, anxiety, loss, trauma recovery and/or experience with assault and abuse.

Joan’s approach depends upon the situation presented, and includes a variety of therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Family Therapy, EMDR and Emotionally Focused Therapy.  Client strengths are emphasized with personal insight and responsibility for growth is encouraged.

Joan’s doctoral dissertation research focused on resilience factors in adversity. She received her master’s degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Saskatchewan, followed by two years of specialized clinical training in Chicago.  She is a member of the B.C. College of Psychologists and the B.C. Psychological Association.

Joan enjoys teaching in community, retreat and university settings on topics related to her areas of practice and experience.  Having been married for over thirty years, with four adult children, her approach to relationships and life problems is both realistic and practical.

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