Staying Present One Moment at a Time

Staying Present

Staying present is the art of being fully aware in the here and now.  It’s the secret to maximally empowered living. And if it were easy to do, everyone would do it. But it’s definitely not easy to do. To be sure, it’s a fairly simple and straightforward task. But that doesn’t equate to easy.

Many things can keep us from staying fully present and aware. There are those mental laundry lists of things to do on our minds. There are things that worry and concern us, keeping us mentally occupied. And most of the time, we operate fairly reflexively. We act out of habit, on “autopilot,” so to speak. And we multitask, doing and thinking about many things at once. So it’s a real challenge to stay fully ocused exclusively on the here and now.

Trauma survivors can have a particularly difficult time being fully present and aware. Trauma can leave deep emotional impressions and scars. And past hurts can haunt a person. Future worries can preoccupy, too. And when one is used to having feelings discounted, exploited, or stomped upon, it’s natural to supress them. Accordingly, survivors tend to lose touch with themselves. And they have a difficult time feeling safe in the present moment.

A Simple Method

I mentioned last week that all successful truama treatments have one thing in common: experiencing the present moment in an atmosphere of safety. (See: Empowered Living in the Here and Now.) But there’s a quick and simple method, too. And it’s solidly grounded in cognitive-behavioral psychology.

We know that what and how we think affects our feelings and actions. (For more, see: A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.) And we also know that what we do and the consequences that flow affect our thoughts and feelings. So, if we change our thoughts, it can help us change behavior patterns. Similarly, if we change behavior, in experiencing the results our thinking and attitude changes. It’s as simple as that: changing our thoughts or behavior in the here and now.

Changing Thoughts or Behavior Successfully

Trauma survivors often experience a barrage negative and insecure thoughts. And they become so used to this that they sometimes forget they can change them. Besides, even when they try to change them, the thoughts only come back. So it’s easy to just stop trying.  It’s easy to give up, believing that nothing will work. But here’s the reality: in any given moment, you can change a thought. You unquestionably have that power. Sure, an unwanted thought can come back in mere seconds. But you still have the power to change that thought. You have the power to do it again, and again, and again!!

Now, changing thoughts or behavior successfully and more permanently requires practice. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And the real secret to making lasting changes is remembering to reinforce efforts. That’s right! All learning requires reinforcement to take real root. That’s what folks too often forget. It’s easy to focus on how hard it is to change. And it’s easy to focus on how frustrating it is when negative thoughts and behaviors return. What folks don’t focus enough on is self-reinforcing every effort. Every time you change a thought or behavior it’s worth an internal pat on the back. And that’s what makes it more likely you’ll do it again. It also makes it more likely you’ll persist when setbacks occur.

The Secret in a Nutshell

So the secret to empowerment is simple, although not easy. When a negative, insecure thought occurs, you change it to a positive, secure one. When a memory drags you back into the past, you re-focus your attention to the present moment. If an old avoidance behavior repeats, you do the very thing you have long feared to do. When future concerns worry you, you refocus on your present efforts. And you start small, reinforcing every effort. It’s that simple. With time and practice, it becomes easier to do this more routinely. And here’s the kicker: focusing your attention this way is also the secret to staying present.

More to Say

There’s much more to say about this self-empowerment method of restoring joy. So I’ll be talking about the mechanics of covert self-monitoring and reinforcement over the next couple of weeks. (See also: How Did We End Up Here?) I know there are some trauma survivors out there who can profit from these methods. And I’ll be sharing how I came to know how effective these techniques can be.

8 thoughts on “Staying Present One Moment at a Time

  1. Here is my thought pattern. Where am I messing up?
    Scenario: Having to drop off my kids at his house (which is my old house):
    1. Look around at all my trees I planted, airplane hangar I paid for, my beautiful patio I paid for in cash, flowers, reminder of old dreams. Thought, My ex not only got away with treating me like shit, but actually his life is now better for having done that. He has all my old stuff I built up, and I have money for my old age.” Infuriation/rage feelings surface.
    2. My ex: With a fleeting thought hpats himself on the back for being self serving, and smugly reminds himself he’s so special and I (me) was lucky to have ever had him in my life and had his children! Then as he goes about his wonderful life, new girlfriends and my kids in tow, the thought is waved away like a gnat.
    3. (Later, after I’ve screamed at the top of my lungs for several hours I remember something good that has happened to me) Oh! I’m feeling good, maybe I can be happy again. Maybe this coparenting thing will work out.
    4. Realize my acceptance of “coparenting” cooperation reinforces his belief in how awesome he is (and I’m not ). Remember my losses in time and money. Remember thoughts of me by him are waved off like gnats. I feel small again. More rage feelings. It’s all I can do to keep my mouth shut.
    5. Remember I’m only doing this emotional work because of him and thinking he was so wonderful in the first place, and took shit off him just to keep him in my life. Realize at one time I had no self respect.
    6. Self hate at my lack of self respect. I want to leave this shit behind.
    7. Start imagining life far away in a new city, imagine how I will feel being far from my (his) kids, and having to pay him child support.
    8. Realize I will still be pissed off, only in another place. But at least I won’t be pretending like I “cooperate” with that dickhead. I will feel free and honest.
    9. Is feeling free and honest worth more than being away from my kids? How free and honest will I feel when he marries one of his dumb whores and she takes my money and raises my kids?
    10. Realize there’s no way out. Look for help online. Find myself here.

    1. Psalm 73 is comforting. He is on a slippery spot and when he dies, it’ll be sudden and down the abuser pervert will go.

      It may bother you to pay child support, but it goes for your kids. He’ll likely spend it on strip clubs and prostituted women, but at least you’ll have made it available. Perhaps spending time with Dad on a full-time basis will be so horrible for your kids and him, they’ll beg your return or beg to be allowed to move an hour away to where you relocate.

      When you see his place during drop-offs, you can see it as material trappings. And at least your kids get to spend time there so it isn’t all for waste.

      I wouldn’t mindlessly cooperate. You don’t say how old your kids are, but it’s never too early to start training them up to know about abusers, exploiters, con artists, deceivers, manipulators, perverts, and why they don’t want to grow up and be anything like their father. Don’t let it be a silly, “you’re dad is a bad man, don’t be like him” but go into detail. Otherwise he’ll have them believing a series of lies and manipulations that serve to make him look good and you look bad. You must counter that.

      Raise feminists. Become a radical feminist yourself. Raise a daughter who questions, hates, and resists the patriarchy. Raise a son who won’t be seeking to pay to rape some prostituted women himself.

      Scorn that house. Realize the price it requires to live there. You have to be with a pervert rapist-john abuser. Don’t sell your soul. Scorn that airplane hanger. Scorn those flower beds. A demon lives there and breathes on them. Eww!

      If nothing else, please stop referring to other women as “dumb whores”. It’s woman-hating. It’s indicative of internalized misogyny on your part. There is no male equivalent. Don’t be silly and hate another woman, hate the man. Ever seen those jealous women who fight one another over one man? They look ridiculous and the man sits back and loves it. Both women lose. Hate your ex-husband, not a fellow woman who has probably been told a lot of lies about you. And if she treats your kids well, you should be grateful and consider yourself blessed.

      Perhaps you can arrange to have your ex-husband pick the kids up, instead of you having to drop them off. And if you don’t want him coming to your place for pick-ups, arrange a neutral location. That way you don’t see your old house anymore.

      Comparisons work both ways. You can compare up and down. Neither are really helpful. But you could compare down, where you appreciate how good you have it compared to other women who are now homeless or rendered disabled due to abuse and too damaged to be an active parent yet to their kids.

      If possible, find a way to cease with the in person drop-offs at your old house to eliminate that trigger. Are you speaking with your ex during the dropoffs? What’s the “cooperation”? Reframe it as you’re only obliging a court order, not cooperating with dickhead.

    2. Babs,
      You are hurt beyond comprehension. My heart goes out to you, and know that you are not alone. While our stories differ I know of so many out here that have similar hurts. Hurts that are compounded by callous character disturbed people. I’m wondering how long ago you two were divorced?
      If it’s recent i would encourage you to take all the time you need to grieve the loss of your former life. What you are describing doesn’t heal in a year or two. A lifetime of hurt takes quite a lot of time to be able to heal and find/discover a new life. You will find a new life, one that’s worth living if you keep looking forward and upward!
      I pray you find love, hope, peace and joy and especially healing in the journey to your new life!
      It’s EXACTLY what I am doing!

    3. Babs,
      You are living in the past and imagining the future which is conjuring all of these feelings. You are focusing on things outside of your control. You are focusing on your ex instead of yourself.
      1. My ex can no longer treat me like shit, and actually my life is now better that I am not with him (mentally, at least).
      2. His life is for him to live. My life is for me to live.
      3. This sounds ok to me. You got out your emotions and felt better and positive about coparenting. I’m not sure if screaming for several hours is the best way but it doesn’t sound like you hurt anyone.
      4. Acceptance of coparenting acknowledges the FACT that both parents are important to their kids. As long as he is not abusing/neglecting the kids then he should be involved in their lives.
      5. I am doing emotional work because I recognize I need emotional work and this is going to help me live my life mentally healthy.
      6. I cannot escape myself. I must face my feelings. Feelings can be intense but they are not permanent. Journaling can help in the moment of intense feelings.
      7. The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. Moving away because of my ex is giving him power over my life. He is not in control of my life, only I am in control of my life.
      8. Child support is the price I pay for my freedom. My freedom is worth this price. I love my children and they are worth this price.
      9. If I move far away then I have also decided I don’t want to raise my kids. My ex gets to marry whomever he chooses and I have no input (unless the kids are in danger) because my ex gets to live his own life.
      10. Keep Googling stuff. That’s how I find a lot of information.

    4. Hello Babs,

      I’m sorry you are suffering so. I understand your pain and frustration, but you can take actions to lessen your ex’s influence on you and your children.
      1) Do you recall your joy when you had your children? How beautiful they were and such a miracle of life? And how much you love them and know they are worth everything? Well the same is true of you. You are a treasure and your worth is intrinsic just like your own kids. Never lose sight of this. Use the advice on this post By Dr. Simon to help you moment by moment. Also use positive self talk. You may also like Robert & Lisa Firestone’s books on “Overcoming Your Critical Inner Voice” to help change your thoughts and actually retire your neural pathways. This leads to a dramatic improvement in how you see yourself and how you deal with any situation.
      2) Your narcissist feeds off your negative and positive emotions. He will continue to provoke you repeatedly with a variety of manipulations indefinitely. He will use the kids as pawns and he will use them as tools. He will not be a good father. He will take all he can from you. There are far better options. I strongly recommend HG Tudor’s “Coparenting with a Narcissist” (google Knowing the Narcissist). This will greatly reduce the abuse and set you up to succeed. I also recommend his “Dealing With the Narcissist at Court” and his trio package on emotional thinking. Once things improve using these tools, I recommend his “Zero Impact”, it has been a life-saver for me. If you have limited funds he has an “Angel Assistance fund” too.
      3) Don’t give up on you, your peace and happiness or your children. You deserve so much more. I know you are beaten down in spirit for good reason, but you are stronger and smarting than you recall. You can do this. You will prevail!

  2. Also, I really appreciate this post, Dr. Simon, and I look forward to your next posts, too. Thanks for writing it.

  3. What are victims supposed to do? By being victimized, victims are already put in a no-win position. Bullies are all around us. Scammers are everywhere. It seems as though life is one big victimization. What is a person to do? Abusers ensure their victims are hated and hunted. Trauma takes its toll on the victim’s health and ability to cope in life.

    And the big advice and therapeutic solution is to control one’s thoughts? Behave your way out of victimization? As though people behave their way into it in the first place? Vulnerable people are dog-piled in society and daily life. I don’t know how to cope.

    1. Sue Ellen,
      In living in the present moment there is power. If you have been inundated with abusers your whole life then recognizing you are overwhelmed is enlightening.
      Keep reading Dr. Simon’s posts, they are empowering but you have to practice what he teaches. I read and re-read his posts as I print them out. I also got his 3 books. My family is reading them again as well.
      Recognizing narcissistic people or character disturbed people is the start. They are on a spectrum as are neurotics. The closer to center you are the more empowered you will feel. Making good choices for yourself will get you there. People who make you doubt your instincts about them are people who are trying to manipulate.
      DON’T DO FOR OTHERS WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES!
      This too is very empowering!
      I hope this helps, and above all don’t give up!

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