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When dealing with a crisis, some clients focus so intensely that it feels like they have blinders on.

Throughout my years in clinical practice, I have worked countless times with clients facing situations of acute overwhelm. Whether it is a crisis issue, a trauma trigger, or something stressful that just can’t be figured out right now, “thinking” something to resolution seems like a logical route to reduce the pain. This process can demand all of our focus, like adding horse blinders, obscuring our vision so all we can see is the issue or trigger at hand.

Empathic Response

Don’t say “at least”

When we are brave enough to seek support, there can be people in our lives that, in the face of hearing something uncomfortable, tend to paint an immediate silver lining.

Brené Brown in her famous talk on ‘Empathy’ states that “rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘at least’: “at least you have a roof over your head.”

“Other people have it so much worse,” or to quote Kourtney Kardashian, “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” When we are overwhelmed, it can be invalidating to be told to just “look on the bright side” or think about how others have it worse. (Admittedly I don’t feel that bad for Kim losing her earring).

An empathic and supportive response, whether it comes from the outside, or something we do for ourselves, comes when we can sit with the problem and acknowledge its impact.

What else is true?

Laverne Cox asks “What else is true?”

In Laverne Cox’s podcast “The Laverne Cox Show,” she ends each episode asking her guest to answer the question, “what else is true?” Laverne shares that she borrows this question from her personal therapy within the Community Resiliency Model, a trauma-informed modality that pulls from somatic exercises to “stabiliz[e] the nervous system when we are under stress or triggered by traumatic events,” (Trauma Resource Institute).

My right ankle

For example, if I am anxious about an upcoming performance review or a difficult conversation, can I locate that anxiety within my body? If I have noticed that my shoulders are tense, or my stomach is turning, is there somewhere else in my body that feels, as Laverne says on her show, “positive or neutral?” What about my right ankle? Not much going on there… just a neutral… beige feeling. Can I lean into the neutral, “beigeness” of my right ankle, and focus my attention there, even just briefly?

Holding many “truths” at once

This process allows us to not just paint over our problems with a silver lining, but acknowledge that we are often holding many realities or “truths” at once. My shoulders are tense, and what else is true? What else is true is that my ankle is neutral. I am stressed about the performance review, and what else is true? What else is true is that I am looking forward to showing off my great work.

A more balanced picture

When we can remind ourselves that we are, in fact able to hold more than just one reality or awareness, we can achieve a more balanced picture of the situation. It also gives us a chance to impress ourselves with our ability to tolerate discomfort, and allow our resilience to emerge.

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About the Author

Jake Weinraub is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In his words, “I am a believer in therapy because it can make ongoing issues feel more manageable, and better defined.”

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