The Meadows Blog


Mindfulness (11)

By Joyce Willis, Therapist at The Meadows

Mindfulness meditation is, ideally, an effortless state of being. Practice using these five key elements of mindfulness meditation to help better regulate emotions, bring about positive changes in your mind and body, or to simply reach a state of relaxation.

By Joyce Willis, Therapist, The Meadows

Value, power, and abundance are connected to the five core issues in the Meadows Model of Developmental Immaturity as taught by Pia Mellody.

The Five Core Issues are…

  • Self Esteem
  • Boundaries
  • Reality
  • Dependency
  • Moderation
  • Containment

By Nancy Minister, Workshop Facilitator, Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows

In this Mindful Monday series, we have presented many different ways of being mindful and many different benefits of having a mindfulness practice. We know that mindfulness is a deliberate practice and a deliberate experience of being present in the moment.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 11:26

Four Ways to Practice Mindfulness Every Day

By Joyce Willis, MC, LPC, Therapist, The Meadows

What is mindfulness?

The great leaders of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield, tell us that mindfulness is the art of paying attention to what you are doing and what is going on around you in the present moment.

Monday, 07 November 2016 00:00

Use Mindfulness to Get Through Election Day

An online survey conducted by the American Psychological Association recently found that more than 50 percent of Americans feel stressed out and anxious about this year’s presidential election.

In her #Mindful Monday presentation on Facebook, Meadows therapist Joyce Willis reminds us what forgiveness is and what it is not:

“Forgiveness is about bringing peace to ourselves. Forgiveness is a way to end suffering for ourselves and others and to bring dignity and harmony back into our lives. It is fundamentally for our own sake, and for our own emotional health. It is one tool that we can use to let go of the pain that we carry.”

Letting Go of Resentment

In AA’s Big Book, the 4th step calls on people in recovery to search out ‘the flaws in our make-up which cause our failure,’ and understand that ‘self, manifested in various ways, is what has failed us.” The book goes on to identify the number one failure of self as resentment.

However, for people who have been abused or mistreated, resentment is perfectly reasonable feeling to have toward the perpetrator (or perpetrators.) When people with histories of emotional trauma approach this step in their recovery, they can sometimes feel stuck. Some interpret this step to mean that they have to find a way to accept some responsibility for what happened to them—that they have to somehow find their part in allowing themselves to be victimized.

This notion can most certainly be counterproductive to trauma survivors’ processes of healing. And, it can intensify the shame and self-blame that likely fed their addictions and behavioral health issues in the first place. That’s why there has to be some nuance and balance to interpreting this step for those who have experienced physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse.

No one is responsible for someone else’s decision to abuse them. In order to heal, it’s not the abuse that the survivor has to accept responsibility for but for the ways in which they may have acted out as a result of their feelings related to that abuse. If a trauma and abuse survivor realizes through their work in recovery that they have behaved in ways that were harmful to themselves or others, they can ask themselves “What other choices did I have? Could I have done better given the circumstances?”

All in all, forgiveness is not about absolving the abuser of guilt or letting them “off the hook.” Instead, it’s about letting go of feelings and beliefs that prevent a survivor from living the full, connected, and authentic lives they deserve.

Can Meditation Help You Forgive?

Forgiving is not easy. It is not something you can do in an instant. You can’t simply decide to forgive and then expect all of your anger and resentment to instantly disappear; it is something that you will have to work through over time, by letting go of a little bit of your anger each day.

You may need more than meditation to help you let go of resentment, especially if you have been abused or mistreated. Therapy and self-care can also be crucial to forgiveness, but meditation can play a key supporting role in the process by helping you cultivate your capacity for love, compassion, and healing. Meditation can help you access and accept the past as it is, and help you gain a deeper understanding of the thoughts and beliefs that are blocking you from having a full emotional life and reaching your full potential. More on Mindfulness and Meditation

Check our Facebook page every Monday for a new guided meditation led by one of our experts. Coming up on Oct. 31, Joe Whitwell, MAC, LAC, CCTP and Therapist at The Meadows Outpatient Center will present a mindfulness talk and exercise on Anger.

And, for a more intensive experience, consider registering for or 5-day Mind & Heart: A Mindful Path to Wholehearted Living workshop. For more information call 866-494-4930 or reach out online.


Monday, 24 October 2016 00:00

Join Us for Mindful Mondays

Why do we struggle in life? That’s a question that many religions, philosophers, and scholars have tried to tackle for centuries. You’d be hard-pressed to find any human being who hasn’t experienced their fair share of pain and difficulty. It often comes in the form of trauma, abuse, neglect, break-ups, betrayals, disappointment, failures, illnesses, loss, and grief.

Regardless of the type or severity of their hardships, people typically find ways to survive. But, unfortunately, some of the ways we adapt our thoughts and behaviors in order to survive get in the way of our ability to thrive.

When we feel pain or discomfort, we tend to try to avoid it, suppress it, or repress it; or, we find some distraction through drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or any number of other substances and activities.

Mindfulness is about bringing unconditional, nonjudgmental attention to our experience in the present moment. Its aim is to help us learn how to tolerate, accept, and even appreciate our pain, and emotional experiences. Mindfulness work teaches us how to really show up in our lives without being constantly distracted by fears of fantasies and without wishing for things to be other than they are.

So, how do we go about this work? There is no one “right” way, but many people begin to cultivate mindfulness through the regular practice of meditation. Many experts believe that you can begin to notice changes in your moods and perceptions with as little as 10 minutes a day of meditation.

That’s why each Monday The Meadows will offer you the opportunity to meditate with one of our experts. Watch The Meadows Facebook page for a live, 10 to 15 minute, guided meditation every week.

Guided Meditation on Forgiving

Joyce Willis will be leading our first Mindful Monday session on Oct. 24 at 12:30 Mountain Standard Time (3:30 p.m. Eastern) Joyce is a therapist at The Meadows with 18 years of experience with mindfulness and meditation practices. She began her journey in 1998 when a doctor told her she needed to slow down after suffering a severe asthma attack. She realized that she had spent years trying to be superwoman, and didn’t quite know how to slow down. This led her to pick up Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living.

Since then, she has trained with Kabat-Zinn and other leaders in the field of mindfulness like Jack Kornfield and Ronald Siegel. Through her Mindful Monday sessions, she hopes to help people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful, and physiological selves with compassion and respect.

Want More Mindfulness?

The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows offers an incredible, transformational, 5-day workshop on mindfulness called Mind & Heart: A Mindful Path to Wholehearted Living. It is led by The Meadows Medical Director, Dr. Jon Caldwell, whose clinical practice is rooted in the timeless teaching and contemplative traditions of mindfulness meditation.

During the workshop. Dr. Caldwell leads participants through several enlightening presentations and experiential exercises focused on cultivating mindfulness and compassion. Ancient and scientifically-verified practices will be applied in unique ways to help heal past wounds. People with various levels of experience with mindfulness and meditation can benefit from the workshop. All that is needed is a curious mind, a willing heart, and an intention to heal!

For more information on the Mind & Heart Workshop or on any of The Meadows personal growth workshops, please call 866-457-3202, or reach out online.

Dr. Jon Caldwell

The swirling busyness and restless energy settled and a profound stillness permeated the room, enveloping the group like a soft feather blanket. Sitting in silence and sensing the body was unfamiliar territory for most of the two-dozen workshop participants. After all, for many of them, the body had long-been associated with shame, self-judgment, discomfort, and trauma. Yet, there they were, courageously bringing compassionate awareness to their embodied experience, one moment at a time. Opening to the life that had been refused, again and again, until that moment.¹

This is a description of the first day of the first REAC²H workshop, which was conducted with a group of female survivors of childhood maltreatment. REAC²H is an acronym that stands for Restoring Embodied Awareness, Compassionate Connection, and Hope. It is an innovative approach to healing past relational trauma by cultivating present-moment awareness and self-compassion. The workshop was designed by Dr. Jon G. Caldwell, DO, PhD after years of research and clinical work in the fields of traumatology, attachment theory, affective neuroscience, and contemplative practices.

The REAC²H workshop was specifically designed to help individuals who have experienced “relational trauma”, which encompasses various kinds of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that occur in the context of close relationships. Relational trauma has meaningful effects on the attachment system – an innate, biological system that facilitates interpersonal connection to adaptively shape human development. Thus, relational trauma and the resulting disturbances in attachment can have profound effects on a person’s developmental trajectory across the lifespan.

As discussed in the previous article in this series, when attachment partners are inconsistent, enmeshing, hypercritical, abusive, uncaring, or neglectful people must adapt if they are to maintain personal and interpersonal integrity. Meaning, in unsafe or insecure attachment relationships, people are generally walking a precarious line of trying to get their basic relational needs met while also remaining safe. This balancing act is accomplished by unconsciously developing patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating that, over time, can crystallize into attachment orientations or styles.

There are two main attachment dimensions: anxious and avoidant. People with an anxious attachment style usually harbor tremendous fear of abandonment and tend to have strong desires for closeness. They are hypersensitive to perceived relationship threats and react with intense negative emotion, dramatic displays of affection, and desperate attempts to cling to relationships, even at great cost to themselves. People with an anxious attachment style are prone to self-doubt, rumination (i.e., repeating loops of negative thinking), and they have trouble managing intense emotions.

On the other hand, people with an avoidant attachment style generally have deeply imbedded distrust of others and fears of intimacy and interdependence. Unable to rely on others, they try to keep their relational needs to themselves. People with an avoidant attachment style are also sensitive to relationship threats, but they usually respond by shutting down desires for closeness, hiding their vulnerabilities, and suppressing thoughts and emotions that might invite connection. They are not antisocial or asocial, they simply hold back from meaningful connection for the sake of self-protection.

My clinical experience and preliminary research indicated that both insecure attachment dimensions, anxious and avoidant, were related to lower levels of resiliency and diminished capacity for mindfulness. This led me to an important question: Could the cultivation of mindfulness and self-compassion help people who were mistreated as children to develop healthier attachment-related patterns of thinking and emoting?

To answer this empirical question, I conducted an experiment involving a treatment group who received the REAC²H workshop and a control group who received no intervention. Both groups were assessed before the treatment group received the workshop, one week after the workshop, and again six weeks after the workshop. Thus, because the only significant difference between the two groups was that the treatment group received the workshop and the control group didn’t, we were able to compare the two groups and attribute any differences in pre- and post-assessments to the REAC²H workshop.

The results of this unique study were recently published in the journal Mindfulness. We found that women in both groups who had experienced higher levels of childhood maltreatment were more likely to have anxious and avoidant attachment styles in adulthood. Interestingly, among the various types of childhood abuse and neglect (i.e., emotional, physical, sexual), emotional neglect was the strongest predictor of adult attachment insecurity – more so than physical or sexual abuse. Also, similar to my previous research, anxious attachment was related to rumination and negative affect while attachment avoidance was related to emotion suppression and emotional ambiguity.

Comparing the two groups over time, we found that people who received the REAC²H workshop showed significant reductions in rumination, negative emotion, emotional suppression, and emotional ambiguity. Also, compared to the control group, the treatment group showed greater capacity for emotion regulation and mindfulness. In fact, for those who received the REAC²H workshop, improvements in rumination and emotional clarity contributed most to the gains in mindfulness.

To test whether these changes were specific to thoughts and feelings associated with attachment system we invited study participants to write about a stressful or traumatic experience from their childhood involving caregivers. Participants in both groups wrote about the same experience prior to, and six weeks after, the treatment group received the workshop. Using advanced text analysis software, we were able to detect changes in language usage across time. We found that, compared to their counterparts, women in the treatment group used fewer past-tense words and more present-tense words after the mindfulness-based workshop. They also used more words that showed insight and cognitive processing of the stressful or traumatic childhood experience.

The following examples illustrate language-based changes in mindfulness across time for participants in the treatment group. Again, the first paragraph was written during the week prior to the REAC²H workshop while the second paragraph was written six weeks after the workshop. This first set of narratives was written by a woman with an avoidant attachment style:

Pre-Intervention:My father was an alcoholic and would yell at night and this bothered me and upset the whole family. His yelling was addressed to my Mother and her family. I was upset that he did not have a regular job like my friends’ fathers and was absent many times as he would stay out at the ranch while we were at my grandfather’s home after my grandmother died.

Post-Intervention:As time passes and I reflect on the experience, I find I view it differently. This may be viewing it from a more mature and healthier attitude and as one who is in recovery. My father was a very sick alcoholic and now I see that my mother played an important role in the disease. My mother was not present during these times and often left my brothers and me alone with him while he was drinking. She was the one who yelled at us while he was the one who yelled at and about her. I can understand and accept that this results in some very disruptive thinking about the situation.

Consistent with an avoidant attachment style, this individual initially wrote about her traumatic experience in a somewhat distant, unemotional manner. After briefly noting that her father’s drinking and yelling bothered her, she quickly moved to emotionally safer topics: his unemployment and their living situation. However, following the REAC²H workshop, her use of language was more present-moment focused and it showed greater insight and understanding. The cultivation of mindfulness and loving-kindness enabled her to reflect on her difficult attachment experiences with more compassion for her father and for herself.

This next set of narratives was written by a woman with an anxious attachment style.

Pre-Intervention: “I said something back to my mother and she slapped me. I don’t remember what we were arguing about. I just remember her being so angry. I remember being shocked that she slapped me. I was confused and scared. When I think about it I can feel the sting in my cheek. I couldn’t believe my mom has hit me like that. I didn’t deserve to be hit. You DON’T hit people you love. It taught me that disagreeing with mom and voicing it was NOT OK. I was scared of my mom. Today I fear doing the same thing to my children. I don’t want my kids to feel unloved, scared, hurt, and let down. I don’t want to relive that day and I am scared that I will.”

Post-Intervention: “When I was in middle school and my mom was picking me up from spending time with my best friend’s house. We were sitting in the car in front of the house. We were arguing, and my mom slapped me for talking back to her. I can still feel the pain in my cheek when I remember it. That feeling is like the memory. The pain will always be there, but just a faint shadow of the day. My mom hit me because she didn’t have boundaries. It’s a sad memory, but no longer holds the level of pain.”

Consistent with an anxious attachment style, this individual’s first account is full of strong negative emotion and she seems to get lost in the pain of the story. Her use of language indicates that she readily makes contact with her fears and vulnerabilities and tends to ruminate on them. After the REAC²H workshop she was able to write about her stressful attachment experience without getting overwhelmed by the emotions associated with it. Applying mindful awareness, she was able to adopt an observing stance where she could be a witness to her own attachment experiences with greater equanimity and serenity.

These narratives illustrate how mindfulness and self-compassion can help people to develop a new relationship with the stories from their past. The combination of these two contemplative practices is important because mindfulness fosters non-judgmental clear-seeing or insight of our experience in the present moment and self-compassion enables us to hold that experience with loving-kindness. Tara Brach talks about mindfulness and self-compassion being like two wings of a bird and I believe that both are needed on the journey to heal attachment-related wounds.

As people learn to embody a wholehearted observing stance toward their own experience, they become better able to offer the wounded parts of themselves the unconditional regard and loving presence that may have been missing in their past attachment relationships. This mindful approach facilitates a sort of re-parenting process, as a more functional part of the self mindfully emerges and compassionately accepts and integrates all parts of the self. This integration naturally facilitates emotion regulation and self-regulation. With practice, people can develop a “felt sense” of attachment security as they learn to relate to themselves with greater care and compassion.

In the research literature, this integrated and regulated state of mind regarding attachment has been called “earned security”. Even people who have experienced very challenging attachment relationships, like the women who participated in the REAC²H research project, are able to make peace with their past by wholeheartedly embracing their experience in the present moment. Research also indicates that people who are on the path to earned security have more loving relationships with their children and romantic partners. It all starts right here, in this moment, in this body-mind, with the simple inquiry: “Can I accept with love and compassion the life that is here”.

About the Author

Dr. Jon G. Caldwell, DO, PhD, is a board certified psychiatrist and clinical researcher specializing in the treatment of psychological trauma and addiction. He is a lead psychiatrist at The Meadows and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Arizona. His approach to healing has been heavily influenced by his graduate work at the University of California, Davis in human development and by contemplative teachings and practices like mindfulness and loving-kindness. He has published a number of articles on childhood maltreatment, attachment theory, emotion regulation, and mindfulness ( Dr. Caldwell is a noted international speaker and trainer on these and other topics. He resides in Arizona with his gurus… his wife and two children.

Dr. Jon G. Caldwell, DO, PhD

During a recent trip to Los Angeles California, I was aroused from early morning slumber by an eerie sensation of movement. As the veil of sleep was pulled from my mind, I gradually registered the meaning of the shaking bed beneath me and the groaning structures above me: earthquake! A shot of prickly energy ripped through my gut and landed in my chest, quickening my heart. Adrenaline sharpened my senses and time seemed to slow as I instinctively made my way to the patio door. I looked out onto the street, half expecting to see creviced sidewalks and toppling buildings. Instead I saw people nonchalantly walking their dogs and sipping their morning coffee.Women Talking

Despite the apparent banality of the event for local Angelenos, the earthquake was a hot topic at the airport among people unaccustomed to earth-shaking awakenings. As I waited for my flight, I found myself listening to a conversation between two newly-acquainted women.

The first woman excitedly asked the other, “Did you feel the earthquake this morning?” Leaving no room for a response, she went on, “Wasn’t that something! I mean, have you ever experienced such a thing? I didn’t know what to do – I jumped up and ran around in my nightie like a chicken with its head cut-off!”

The second woman, pulling back a bit from the shared space, cocked an eyebrow and flatly replied, “Didn’t bother me much really. This is L.A. after all – comes with the territory I suppose.” Shifting in her seat uneasily she scanned the terminal while drumming her fingers on the chair’s armrest, “Have you seen a trash can?”

The first woman took hold of the other woman’s arm, causing her coffee to quiver and nearly spill, “I just kept thinking, ‘What will I do if this hotel comes down around me? How will people find me? What will my husband do without me? I mean, he can barely make spaghetti!”

The second woman slowly unhinged her arm from the first and with a shrug said, “I guess if it’s your time, it’s your time.” Slipping out of the chair (and the conversation), she stood up and wandered away while casting a comment over her shoulder, “Never a trash can when you need one.”

As a social scientist, I was fascinated by this exchange. You might be wondering what we can possibly glean from this brief conversation between two strangers? Well, I believe that their interaction can tell us something about their attachment tendencies and their capacity for mindfulness. As it turns out, these two constructs, attachment and mindfulness, are linked by how a person expresses and regulates emotion. Let me explain.

We are social creatures – we enter life ready to attach to other human beings. In fact, our brains are wired for connection and brain development is utterly dependent on input from the social world. Attachment bonds between children and caregivers are the framework upon which the structures of self-regulation are built. In combination with genetic endowment, repeated attachment experiences shape the nervous system and lay the foundation for how a person thinks, feels, and relates to others.

Individuals who have experienced care-giving environments characterized by warmth, sensitivity, trust, and safety are more likely to understand and accept their inner experience, express thoughts and feelings openly and moderately, and manage intense emotions in a way that promotes greater well-being. Having experienced some degree of unconditional acceptance and love from another human being, these individuals recognize their worth and value and they have implicitly learned to treat themselves with care and compassion. Often, adults with this kind of relationship history have a secure attachment orientation and they enjoy greater intimacy and satisfaction in their romantic relationships.

On the other hand, individuals who have experienced close relationships marked by inconsistency, unpredictability, criticism, lack of affection, betrayal, enmeshment, abuse, or neglect often develop defensive strategies aimed at protecting themselves from physical and psychological harm while also maintaining some degree of interpersonal connection. Implicitly, these individuals develop patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating that help them to survive their adverse social conditions, but these patterns can become habitual over time and can lead to diminished well-being in the long run. Adults with this type of relationship background often have an insecure attachment orientation.

For example, individuals who have experienced attachment figures who are inconsistently available – partners who sometimes show love and affection and at other times are emotionally distant or abusive – may unconsciously learn to amplify their attachment needs. How might this strategy be effective? By hyper-activating the attachment system, these individuals increase the likelihood that their aloof, distant, and inconsistent partner will respond to their relational needs, even if temporarily. These individuals are thought to have an anxious attachment style (which is similar to the term “love addiction”).

Individuals who are high in attachment anxiety tend to doubt their own worth and they desperately fear abandonment. They desire closeness and they cling tightly to relationship partners, even when they are unhealthy. They spend a great deal of time worrying and ruminating about their relationships and they are constantly trying to gain their partner’s affection, while avoiding disapproval and betrayal at the same time. They are hypersensitive to relationship threats and can react to perceived threats with strong negative emotion (i.e., anxiety, fear, anger).

In contrast, individuals who have encountered attachment figures who are neglectful, abusive, overbearing, or enmeshing might unwittingly gravitate toward strategies involving deactivation of the attachment system. And why might this be adaptive? When one’s deepest needs for closeness and safety are not met or, worse, are met with harshness or indifference, an individual may tacitly learn to shut down their attachment needs in an unconscious effort to protect themselves by limiting emotional connection and intimacy with others. These folks are said to have an avoidant attachment style (similar to the concept of “love avoidance”).

Individuals who display high levels of attachment avoidance typically find it very difficult to rely on and trust others. They avoid depending on others because they have learned that it is safer to take care of their own needs (“rugged individualism”). Thoughts and feelings that might lead to interpersonal closeness and intimacy often trigger fear and are therefore downplayed or actively suppressed. In contrast to people with an anxious attachment style, individuals with an avoidant attachment style hide their vulnerabilities and suppress their emotions. While this stance discourages connection with others, it can also result in these individuals feeling disconnected from their own tenderhearted feelings.Mindfulness

It is important to remember that these insecure attachment styles make sense in the context an unhealthy attachment relationship. In fact, they can be considered an adaptive response to a suboptimal situation – a person’s best efforts to negotiate challenging interpersonal contexts with some degree of intrapersonal safety. These insecure attachment styles develop because at some level they work… at least in the short-term. They enable people to maintain a measure of interpersonal connection, while simultaneously protecting themselves against loss and pain.

If insecure attachment patterns persist over time, they can influence how a person thinks and feels about themselves and others (i.e., “Am I worthy of love?” or “Can I trust others to be there for me?”) A person’s attachment patterns can have a profound effect on perspective-taking and how a person moves through the world. For example, these attachment-related patterns can play an important role how a person: a) copes with life’s challenges, b) approaches loss and disappointment, c) deals with vulnerability and shame, and d) expresses and regulates emotion. Attachment orientations may also be related to mindfulness, which can be defined as the capacity to pay attention to the present moment, with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgment. (See my recent article on Precious Presence.)

With this information in mind, let’s return to the story of the two women in the airport. When discussing the earthquake, the first woman displayed intense emotion and she seemed to accentuate some of the potential threats. She focused on her vulnerabilities and her need for support and help. In fact, one could even say that she seemed to envision herself being abandoned by the world under a pile of rubble. This cognitive-emotional style is often associated with attachment anxiety.

In contrast, the second woman showed little if any emotion about the matter (although her body language clearly displayed anxiety and fear). In fact, she seemed very uncomfortable with the first woman’s display of emotion and efforts to connect and she vigorously avoided both. As a way of maintaining safety, she erected a facade of invulnerability, as if to say, “death, loss, separation… no big deal.” Of course, this cognitive-emotional style is consistent with attachment avoidance.

So, one can make inferences about the attachment styles of these two woman, but what about their capacities for mindfulness? To my mind, this is a very interesting question! Despite the apparent differences in cognitive-emotional style, both women had trouble talking about the earthquake in an open, curious, present-oriented, and mindful way. The first woman attempted to move into her experience of the earthquake, but she quickly became overtaken by ruminative thoughts and intense emotions. The second woman appeared to have meaningful thoughts and feelings on the issue, but actively moved away from her own experience. In the end, both women struggled to connect with each other and, in a mindful way, with their own life experience.


Recently, my colleague, world-renowned attachment researcher, Phil Shaver, and I published an article in an international relationship journal called Interpersona that examined the connections between attachment orientation and mindfulness. We evaluated nearly a hundred young adults and asked them questions about their attachment style, patterns of thinking and feeling, and their capacity for mindful awareness in every-day life. We found that people with a secure attachment orientation reported the highest levels of mindfulness, people with an anxious attachment style reported lower levels of mindfulness, and people with an avoidant attachment style reported the lowest levels of mindfulness.

What was particularly interesting is that people with attachment-related avoidance and anxiety had trouble practicing mindfulness for different reasons. People with an anxious attachment style indicated that they tended to ruminate a lot. That is, they tended to dwell on negative themes and they were prone to excessive amounts of worry and obsessional thinking. They reported that their tendency to ruminate made it hard for them to focus and manage their attention. It was the combination of rumination and poor attentional control that contributed to their problems with mindfulness.

On the other hand, people with an avoidant attachment style had fewer problems with rumination, but they did tend to suppress unwanted thoughts. They indicated that they frequently avoided or didn’t think about things that might be distressing to them. For individuals with an avoidant attachment style, the tendency to actively suppress unwanted thoughts was associated with less control of attention and these two characteristics both contributed to lower levels of mindfulness.

Again, rumination and thought suppression are responses that can be useful in the context of an insecure attachment relationship. For people with an anxious attachment style, rumination helps to hyperactivate the attachment system and serves the purpose of keeping an inconsistent relationship fresh in the mind, while also guarding against strong fears of abandonment. For people with an avoidant attachment style, suppression of unwanted thoughts is part of a deactivating strategy aimed at keeping attachment-related threats out of awareness so that interpersonal distance and safety can be maintained.

However, as illustrated by this research, these attachment-related patterns of thinking and feeling are associated with undesirable consequences in other contexts, like difficulties in managing attention and practicing mindfulness in daily life. In an insecure relationship, rumination and thought suppression can be protective in some ways, but they can also leave a person with less capacity to effectively manage negative thoughts and emotions and to practice mindful awareness of his or her own experience. Development and maturation always comes with trade-offs – short-term benefits can have long-term consequences.

For many people who have experienced relational trauma and attachment insecurity, there comes a time when this trade-off doesn’t make sense and they become unable or unwilling to continue making the same sacrifices. Sometimes it takes dramatic changes in a person’s close relationships, like separation or divorce, before the habitual attachment-related patterns can shift. Other times, life intervenes in challenging ways and the old patterns just don’t seem to work anymore, on any level. Whatever the impetus for change, often a point is reached where the relationship patterns that were once protective and adaptive become a barrier to realizing deeper connection with oneself and others.

It turns out that mindfulness and self-compassion may be powerful ways to improve the insecure attachment patterns from our past by wholeheartedly stepping into the present moment (see the upcoming third article in this series). Cultivating a practice of kindhearted presence can improve our connection to true self and lead to a greater sense of contentment and peace. Acceptance and compassion for the life that is here results in less need for fearful thinking, rumination, and avoidance of our thoughts and feelings. Gradually, with heart-full practice, it becomes easier to be at home with ourselves. The capacity to be with oneself in a nonjudgmental and loving way can open the door to healthy relationships and greater intimacy. It is possible – don’t give up.

About The Author

Dr. Jon G. Caldwell, DO, PhD, is a board certified psychiatrist and clinical researcher specializing in the treatment of psychological trauma and addiction. He is a lead psychiatrist at The Meadows and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Arizona. His approach to healing has been heavily influenced by his graduate work at the University of California, Davis in human development and by contemplative teachings and practices like mindfulness and loving-kindness. He has published a number of articles on childhood maltreatment, attachment theory, emotion regulation, and mindfulness ( Dr. Caldwell is a noted international speaker and trainer on these and other topics. He resides in Arizona with his gurus… his wife and two children.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014 00:00

Manage Your Cravings with Mindfulness

Carol Juergensen Sheets LCSW, CSAT, PCC

Recently I interviewed Dr. Jon Caldwell, a psychiatrist from The Meadows who is helping sex addicts to look at their urges and cravings differently. This is an excerpt from my internet radio show on sex addiction that you can download on iTunes if you wish to hear the whole show. If you struggle with urges and cravings you might want to give these techniques a try.

If you would like to hear the whole show, please click here

Carol: You have been doing a lot of important work around this topic. I thought, if you could express and explain to our listening audience, in your opinion what is mindfulness?

Jon: Mindfulness really has grown out of contemplative traditions, religions and traditions that come from Buddhism, from contemplative traditions in Christianity and Sufism. Many religious practices have thought that trying to really spend time with our raw experience just as it is, noticing the present moment and noticing the experiences of the present moment have a lot of value for general well-being. These practices have been around for thousands of years actually, and in the last 3 decades or so here in the US, we have been studying these practices. Generally the way that most people talk about it is mindfulness. The definition that’s mostly used for mindfulness was given to us by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and it’s really bringing an unconditional nonjudgmental attention to our experience in the present moment.Jon Caldwell

Carol: That is really important, isn’t it, to be nonjudgmental.

Jon: That’s right.

Carol: So many sex addicts have so many negative thoughts about themselves and about this disorder, so you just did a great job of explaining mindfulness. Now you actually believe that there is a science to this, that it can be studied and it can be measured, is that correct?

Jon: Yes. There has actually been quite a lot of research done in this area. Again, Jon Kabat-Zinn is really the father of mindfulness in the US and in the West. Nearly 30 years ago, he developed a stress management clinic at the University of Massachusetts, and he started working with patients who have chronic pain, patients who are not able to get relief through typical medical treatment. From that beginning, he developed an 8-week course that helps people to learn the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion. He taught them some yoga, so they had more awareness of the body, and then he began to study what happened to these folks as they spent time in this 8-week course. What he found was that people had real genuine improvement in their pain, and they also had better quality of life. There are at least 2 things happening. One is that it seems to have a biological effect on the body. If you think about the toxic effects of stress and chronic stress, including things like pain and disease and psychological stress, then this is a way for people to learn to work with the body that alleviates some of that stress. It’s a form of a coping mechanism, a way of being with our experience in such a way that it helps to reduce the stress and the strain on the body and the mind. In addition to that, it seems to really help with general well-being and positive emotion. There’s more joy and happiness and peace and calmness that comes through this practice.

Carol: This is a subjective question, but would you say that addiction is one of the most powerful stressors in a person’s life?

Jon: We know that people who find themselves in an addiction oftentimes have been dealing with very stressful things for some time, and the addiction is a way to try and manage what’s happening in their life. They’ve probably been dealing with stress for years, if not for most of their life, and they’ve turned to the addiction as a sort of way to manage that. The tragedy of course is that the addiction ends up being more stressful. Not only does it cause a lot of strain in people’s social lives with family members and in their workplace, but it has a lot of stress and strain on the body itself. This includes anything from food addiction, substance addiction, sex addiction; all of these addictions create tremendous stress in the body and in the mind. So yes, I do agree with that.

Carol: My feeling was that oftentimes you’ve got these terrible traumatic experiences from childhood on up, and then in addition to that what ends up happening is you develop the addiction and now you have that double stressor of feeling bad about the trauma, sometimes even reenacting the trauma, and then having the addiction to cope with the trauma which makes you feel worse about yourself. So with mindfulness, what do you work on first?

Jon: Mindfulness and the different techniques that go with it are sort of interesting. The techniques can be specifically applied to the addiction or to the trauma, but they can also be applied quite generally and help both conditions simultaneously. When you think about it, some of the Buddhist psychology says that the source of our suffering here in this life is not necessarily the pain that we will all encounter, the pain of being in this mortal existence. We’re going to run across problems with our body, and we’re going to grow old, and we’re going to lose loved ones and we’re going to have changes in our role and what we’re able to do in terms of functioning. Ultimately, we’re going to die. All of that is sort of the natural pain of life, but the Buddhists said that we don’t have to have suffering piled on top of that. What we end up doing so much of the time, we push our experience away. We resist our own experience. We either avoid it, suppress it, repress it, or we find some pleasure like sex, food or drug, and we hold onto that as a way of avoiding what is really here, the emotions and the thoughts and the various pains that just come with being alive. There is a tendency to avoid what is uncomfortable and to hold onto what is pleasurable. In some ways, that basic tendency, that basic human conditioning, is present in both how people deal with trauma and in how they deal with addiction. These techniques I do with mindfulness are really helping us to not move toward holding onto something pleasurable or avoiding something painful, but instead to learn to be with our experience just as it is; to have a measure of acceptance and allowance, and sometimes even being able to befriend our experience. To be able to really welcome our experience and come home to ourselves in our own experience is the wonderful benefit of this work. It allows us to be here with what is here and not always run from our experience into addiction or into some sort of emotional upheaval that comes with trauma.

Carol: You used those words like repression and suppression, so for our listening audience, repression is when you absolutely forget about the pain and you ignore it and you avoid it and you don’t even know it’s there, whereas suppression is you minimize that. You’re saying that those 2 things are coping mechanisms. They can actually be helpful initially but ultimately end up interfering with that acceptance process which is so important in dealing with whatever pain and suffering we’ve experienced.

Jon: Yes, I totally agree.

Carol: So that is a difficult concept for anybody out there listening who has been, unfortunately, I use the term “fighting” their sexual addiction. You’re actually encouraging them to surrender to it, and to accept it as part of life so that they can then work with it and go with the flow.

Jon: Yeah, this is a very interesting point, Carol, I appreciate that you brought it up. There is a little bit of friction that’s inherent in this process. When I’m working with people with sexual addiction, many of them when I bring up the topic of mindfulness and acceptance, they really struggle with how to incorporate that into their recovery process.mindfulness

Here’s just one practical example of a way I use mindfulness in my practice with people with sexual addiction. Sometimes what I find is that people can really get into a struggle with the addictive tendencies. This can be applied to alcohol, drugs, all the rest as well, but what they oftentimes do is many times especially in recovery, there’s this struggle with what’s happening in the mind, the cravings that are coming up around sexual addiction. People can sometimes find themselves really battling inside of their mind with the stuff that’s coming up. I’ve had a number of people in recovery who say, “It feels like I’m just as distant and not present and struggling now that I’m in recovery than when I was actually dealing with all these cravings.” As if the thought of don’t do it, don’t look, don’t go to that side; all of that tension in the brain saps a lot of their energy and their awareness of the present moment. One of the things I find a practical technique is actually to try and release people from that struggle within their mind.

For example, if somebody in recovery from sexual addiction has a thought that comes up, a trigger; let’s say they drive by a billboard and there is an image on the billboard that really triggers them into some thinking and maybe even an old memory about their addiction, the tendency for many people is to say, “Oh no, I can’t think about this.” There’s this strong resistance to what is happening. The mindful approach would be to just notice that there is a craving there, and to step back from the experience and you might just label the craving with something very neutral. Again, non-judgmentally, label it as I like to use the term “desire.” The person would look at the billboard and say, “Ah, desire.” Desire is a natural human tendency. We all desire. We all have sexual desires. We have desires for food. We have desire for pleasure, so we just label it very gently with something called desire, and then just notice there is this triggering happening in the body and in the mind. Instead of either latching onto it and following that trill to an old memory or resisting it very strongly, you just step back from the experience of what’s triggering and just notice what’s happening. You might be able to pay attention to your breath, or you might pay attention to the feel of your hands on the steering wheel, and just notice this desire or feeling inside of the body happening. You don’t have to do anything with it. You don’t have to push it away. You don’t have to change it. You don’t have to run from it, but you can have a momentary experience or desire and then come back into something in the present. That doesn’t mean you have to just sit there and wallow in that. You may pick up the phone and call your sponsor. You may decide I have to hit a meeting tonight, but you’re not running from it or pushing away your experience, you’re just recognizing that this is part of the process to whole-hearted living, to fullness, just being with our experience the way it is.

Carol: Is that what you would consider self-compassion? When you feel something, and instead of attaching shame and guilt to it, you just have that mindful awareness of it, reframe it, call it something like desire, and then move on from it.

Jon: That’s right. It’s been shown in a lot of studies now that the practice of mindfulness really seems to facilitate greater self-compassion. Whenever I work with people in recovery and I’m using mindfulness as a technique to help them, I always incorporate some tools around self-compassion. You’re exactly right, they go hand in hand. Many times when we start to open to our own experience, we encounter some difficult feelings and thoughts, and it takes a lot of gentleness and self-compassion and care to really hold our experience in a loving and self-compassionate way so we can be with what we find there. The tendency for many people is when that desire comes up, when they’re triggered by something in the environment or even something inside; let’s say they remember a past event that has a trigger to it. The first thing they might think is oh great, here I go again, I can’t believe I’m still in this place where these things trigger me. Why can’t I get over this? Why can’t I do this better? There’s a lot of negative self-talk that goes along with it. This approach brings a lot of gentleness and compassion, so you might say I just noticed I got triggered inside. Again, back up from your experience; take a breath, and say, “So this is still part of my recovery process.” These thoughts still come up. I notice desire right now.

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