Alicia Salzer















Your 5 Rx Emotions
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Your 5 Rx Emotions

We often think that we are street-smart or savvy because we no longer set ourselves up for disappointment the way we did when we were young. When our emotions have overwhelmed us, turning down the volume on them seems like self-protective common sense. But unfortunately, sometimes we take whole emotions off the menu. It’s hard to feel safe when you have been through something dangerous. How do you feel joyous when you are grieving? How do you access a sense of pride and confidence when you have experienced something that felt humiliating? How do you trust when you are still angry?

Part of my philosophy of getting “Back To Life” is that we have to take back the emotions we have squelched. They are the soulfood that we are craving. They are the roadmap back to the life we were meant to be living. Getting yourself a dose of those emotions is your new Rx.

In my book we discuss these emotions at length and strategize about how to get them back on the table so that when you need a dose of them you have a concrete way to access them.

Trauma affects each of us differently. But in my work I have found that many of us are suffering from a lack of the same emotions.

The following is a list of the top 5 Rx emotions and how you might go about getting yourself a dose. I invite you to share the emotions you felt that you were lacking and what you personally did to get them back in your life.
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If you are feeling like damaged goods, unconfident or ashamed beause of what you went through, perhaps your Rx emotion is PRIDE.

One of the fundamentals of my approach to healing is that we should be proud of who we are, not despite of, but because of what we have overcome. Veterans are proud of what they have endured. Cancer survivors are proud of the hurdles they have overcome. So why shouldn’t we be proud to have overcome the challenges we have. I’m talking about survivor pride, and it’s something that I would like to instill in everyone who has survived divorce, rape, abuse, betrayal, loss or other emotionally traumatic challenge. You are strong. Just look at all you have been able to accomplish just getting through your day with that enormous weight around your neck.

Here are some ways to get yourself a dose of survivor pride: Reflect on the fact that every human rights movement has been fuelled by survivors who refused to be victims. We are the people who staff shelters, who plan rallies, who demand legislative change. We populate the healing professions. You are part of a wonderful tribe. List all the good that has happened in the world because of the efforts of survivors like you.

Indulge in the fantasy that you are being honored at a gala where you are being recognized for your contributions to the world of overcoming whatever trauma you overcame. Imagine your speech as you accept your Oscar or your Nobel Prize. Bask in the appreciation and admiration others have for you, because you overcame.

If your life experiences robbed you of a sense of dignity and confidence but you took it back, please share with us how you went about getting yourself a dose of pride.
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If you are feeling like nothing you do has any effect or like people don't listen or care, perhaps your Rx emotion is POWER.

All of us have gone through life events which were beyond our control. Our past sometimes leaves us feeling that we are not capable, that we can’t take care of ourselves. We may feel small, vulnerable, cornered or panicked. The antidote to all these feelings is to get yourself a dose of power.

But I don’t mean power in the bully sense. Nor in the Donald Trump sense. I propose that we all can boost our sense of personal power by setting clearer limits with others. By saying no and learning how to get others to listen. By not letting people walk all over us. We’re talking about assertiveness.

Another way to boost your sense of your own power is to take on the challenge of being more self reliant. Learning how to make home repairs, manage your household finances, or fix your car are all relatively easy ways to enjoy a sense of being master of your own destiny, capable and in-control.

Sometimes power means information. Perhaps you were powerless once in the past because you didn’t know how to get something done, didn’t know who your advocates might be or didn’t know what resources might be available to help. I have worked quite a bit with homeless people who ultimately mastered the complicated system that is in place to help them get back on their feet. Having “learned the ropes” was a real source of pride. It builds resilience to know that you have cultivated a social safety net to catch you if you should ever fall again.

Sometimes I find that my clients really underestimate their own sense of personal power. Because they don’t feel powerful in one realm, they fail to notice all the ways they have efficacy in other areas of their life. I like to do an exercise called “billable hours” in which my clients and I go through their datebook and acknowledge all the things that they already do, and accomplish and achieve in the course of their ordinary week that demonstrate control over their lives. Chances are your life management skills are better than you are giving yourself credit for.

What have you done recently that helped you take back your sense of personal power?
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If life is dull, a pastel version of the emotional rainbow it used to be... If you have become all work and no play... then you need to get yourself a dose of JOY.

The problem is, when we have been in serious coping mode for a while we forget what gives us pleasure. We put down the whole notion of pleasure. Often we are mourning a loss of a loved one or the loss of a job or the loss of an identity of ourselves and it just seems inappropriate to pursue feeling good.

Seems like people are always giving you dumb advice…take a bubble bath, have some nice tea. From where you sit these may seem like really lackluster pleasures…simplistic and unrealistic. But there’s something to the idea of engaging your senses in a peaceful way. Specifically, when we have been in crisis, coping as best we can, our bodies are in fight or flight mode. In order to do the things it thinks it needs to do to save your life (like run, like fight) the body shuts down things like digestion, and sex. You simply can’t be simultaneously in “fight or flight” mode AND “relax and enjoy” mode. So pleasure can trick your body into flipping itself physiologically out of panic mode.

I was once working with a group of teens suffering from depression and together we did a collage of the word “Triumphant”. This was a feeling none of them had felt in a long time, if ever. They were skeptical, but they went about clipping pictures of sweepstakes winners with their hands clasped over their mouths in glee, hikers atop mountains with their arms raised high to the sky. They began imitating the people in the pictures, and as I watched, I saw the mood seep under their skin. Get yourself a big sheet of posterboard and a stack of your favorite kinds of magazines and start clipping out all the things that used to give you pleasure and joy.

Our emotions are like muscles, they atrophy with disuse. If we haven’t been feeling an emotion for a while it may require some practice to kickstart it. But the first step is knowing who we are well enough to articulate what we like.

The activities we find most gratifying are those which are consistent with our value systems. If what you value most in the world is nurturing, helping and kindness – then the things that will give you the biggest and most lasting dose of happiness are things like caring for kids, volunteering, or mentoring. If your value system is all about spirituality, transcendence and beauty then the activities that will be most fulfilling may be based in nature, religion or the arts. If you are all about justice, fairness, leadership – then the things that will be most satisfying for you might be activism or politics.

Share with us how you took back the joy in your life, finding happiness from doing what has meaning for you.
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Someone did you wrong and you are not about to be a sucker again. Now you are more careful with people. But you are also lonely and disappointed in humanity. If this sounds like you, maybe your Rx emotion is TRUST.

When we are treated badly by a loved one, it deals us a double whammy. Not only do we hurt because of the betrayal, but often the incident leaves us feeling like we are a bad judge of character. How do you negotiate interpersonal relationships when you know that you can not trust your internal compass to tell you who is worthy of getting close to and who is not? So we go on hyperalert…looking for clues that a person is untrustworthy, unkind or not dependable.

The problem with this approach is that if you are looking for untrustworthiness, you will find it. In my book BACK TO LIFE I introduce the term “harvesting”. Harvesting is what we do when we unconsciously go through life with an expectation that people will be a certain way, and of course we find evidence everywhere… in the taxi driver that short changes you, the driver that cuts you off, the date who seems distracted. All of these seem to confirm that, yes, people are selfish and mean and uncaring.

If your goal is to reintroduce Trust into your life, you’re going to need to convince yourself that it’s safe to do so… and that’s not something that’s going to happen as long as you are harvesting evidence of people’s untrustworthiness.

Try going out into the world with the goal of finding evidence of trustworthy good people in the world. Look around and notice people who are kind and caring. Amass evidence that good people exist.

Remember when I said that emotions atrophy with disuse? The same is true of trust. You may have to practice what it feels like to be trusting with a child, a pet or a deity. Wherever you find it, make many opportunities to bask in that feeling. Eventually it will become easier to feel trusting of your peers.

Be brave enough to tell friends that trust is hard for you but is something you are working on. Help the people who matter to you by being clear about what you need and what would help. Be careful of creating tricky tests that friends and family are destined to fail. If you are counting on someone –make eye contact and tell them you are counting on them. If someone falls short of your expectations, avoid the "aha, I knew that would happen” response. Instead, have the courage to say, “I was counting on you and I was really disappointed that you cancelled at the last minute.” Doing so may give them an opportunity to do better next time, but it also may reveal that these was some reason for their cancellation that was less mean spirited than the conclusion you jumped to.

In BACK TO LIFE, we discuss how to cultivate a trustworthy social safety net of people you can count on, an exercise that can really help get you a dose of that wonderful fuzzy feeling that you are surrounded by and supported by the people in your life.

If you have battled a reluctance to trust and find yourself able to feel safe with others once again, please share what helped you get a dose of this Rx emotion.
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When we have struggled with the emotional challenges of life, we may be left feeling that things will never get better. We become accustomed to moods sweeping over us like a storm cloud. Like the weather, we assume these moods are something that must be passively endured. If these thoughts are familiar, your Rx emotion may be HOPE.

In my book BACK TO LIFE, I relate how some of the world's most iconic overcomers, people like Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, turned to music in their darkest hour to tap into emotions like Hope. Music is powerful medicine. But many people create melancholy mixes that validate the bad feelings they are already wallowing in, instead of looking for music that helps transport you to a better place.

If you look at the Playlists on this site you will see that there are songs that celebrate all kinds of subtle and wonderful emotions that we may not otherwise know how to tap into. What gives you Hope is unique to you. You may need to hear an angry anthem to help you connect with a fierce feeling that gets you back in the game. You may need to hear gentle encouragement that you are not alone. You may need to hear a hundred voices raised in gospel harmonies to rekindle your Hope.

Many resilient survivors rely on music to help them treat a bad mood. They reach for it as someone might reach for a painkiller when they have a headache. But importantly, they reach to music not to fuel wallowing… but to change the way they are feeling.

If you have struggled with a loss of a sense of HOPE but found a way to rekindle this emotion, please share what worked for you.
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