Today we have Natasha Daniels, an OCD specialist, talking all about how to help children and teens with OCD and phobias. In this conversation, we talk all about how to motivate our children and teens to manage their OCD, phobias, and anxiety using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and other treatments such as self-compassion, mindfulness, and ACT. We also address what OCD treatment for children entails and what changes need to be made in OCD treatment for teens. In this episode, Natasha and Kimberley share their experiences of parenting children with phobias and OCD.
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.
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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 304.
Welcome back, everybody. It’s a delight to have you here with me today.
Oh, I’ve got so much I want to talk to you about and this is actually coming from an emotion of frustration, this episode, which every time I check in and I begin a podcast, I try to come from a place of fun. And am I feeling calm? And am I feeling completely connected to you, the listener? But today, just for fun, I’m coming to you from a place of frustration. And the frustration, promise, this is not going to be a vent episode – it’s actually a frustration in that I caught an error that I’ve made, and I think a lot of clinicians are making. And it’s not an error in that it’s bad or wrong or problematic. It’s just that I caught something in my own practice, and I was like, “Oh, hold up, we have to talk about this.”
So, saddle in, get your cup of tea, settle in, because we’re going to have to have a conversation about wording. It might be really nuanced and I want you to take what’s helpful and leave the rest. I want you to think about it with an open, curious mind, and decide what’s best for you.
So, before we get into the show, as always, let’s start with the “I did a hard thing.” Let’s do it. This one is actually from someone that says-- the handle name is GottaCatchEmAll, and they said:
“Thank you so much for your recent series on mental compulsions. Your podcast is truly a godsend and I’ve been listening nonstop ever since my friend shared it with me last month.”
Now, for those of you who don’t know, the mental compulsion series was a six-part series that we created here on the podcast. It had so many amazing clinicians on. If you want access to that series, you can go back and listen to previous podcasts. Or, if you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll go to CBTSchool.com/newsletter. I will actually send you an amazing webpage, just one link where all the episodes are there, all the PDFs are there. It’s so pretty. I have to say it is so pretty, and it’s like a one-stop shop for that series. So, go over to the newsletter, CBTSchool.com/newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter. You’ll get an email from me every week. But on the front end, you will receive that link. I’m so proud of it. I love it. So, I digress, sorry.
They went on to say: “I suffer from a plethora of different anxieties, OCD, scrupulosity, hoarding, body dysmorphia, perfectionism. So, basically a bunch of normal human things, right? Exactly. The other day, I told my therapist that dealing with all of these issues felt like playing a game of whack-a-mole in my head, except that instead of the typical game, the mole would pop up and then a zebra and a giraffe, and so on, in a quick succession throughout the course of the day. While sobbing, I told my therapist that I didn’t want to have a zoo in my head and I didn’t know how to treat so many issues simultaneously. Imagine my surprise when I heard a recent episode called Whack-a-mole Obsessions, it was a relief to discover that I wasn’t alone and weird or broken as I thought. I realized, instead of trying to resist or whack the zoo in my head, I could approach my anxieties and compulsions like they were different Pokemons that I could catch and train and carry around with me while I live the rest of my best life. Thank you, Kimberley, for putting on such an incredible content and for helping me and so many others navigate this difficult thing.”
That is so good. Look at you working through that whack-a-mole ongoing struggle with different thoughts, different disorders, and so forth. I think so many of us resonate with this and you are definitely doing hard things. So, so, so cool.
All right. Real quick, before we get to the frustration that we’re all hanging out for, let’s just quickly do the review of the week. This one is a shorty from Inventedcharm, and they said:
“It is a mental pick me up. I love listening when I need a mental pick me up. Kimberley’s voice is soothing, and she offers great tools for self-compassion and interviews other experts in the field of mental health.”
So, thank you, Inventedcharm, and thank you, GottaCatchEmAll.
Okay. So, here we go. I’m going to tell you a story of why I’m landing here on this episode with you today. So, once I got back from Australia, a lot of you know I spent five and a half weeks in Australia over the summer with my children. It was so beautiful. I can’t tell you how full my heart was when I returned. I was energized. I was the happiest I’ve ever been. And you know where this is going. Yeah, we do. I crashed big time. I just went through so much sadness. I missed my family. I was angry. I had so much grief. I was feeling, actually, if I’m going to be completely honest, quite a lot of resent towards even my husband, who I love and is such a wonderful human. But I was observing resent show up because I was like, “I don’t understand. I just want to be with my family and why can’t I have all the things I want?” So, all these emotions started showing up.
My therapist – of course, I talked with a therapist – was saying, “Everything, Kimberley, that you’re saying makes complete sense. Why don’t you practice sitting with your emotions?” And of course, I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense. I have given that advice myself.” And so, off I went right onto the roller coaster, or we could say the whack-a-mole to talk about the “I did the hard thing” segment, the whack-a-mole of emotions with the agenda of not numbing them like I often do. Sometimes when I work, I engage in these numbing behaviors where I just numb all of everything out by working. It’s something that I’ve overused as a coping skill, is when I work. So, I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not using any other problematic safety behaviors.
I caught all these problems. So, it’s like, “I think really all you’ve got left to do is just sit with your emotions.” So, I went, “Okay, let’s do it. There’s no solution. There’s nothing I can do about this. Let’s just sit with it.” And I started to play with this idea of, okay, let’s talk about what does it mean to sit with your emotions. Now, this is where, again, I’m going to identify, I’ve given this advice and I’m going to say, I don’t think I’m going to give that advice anymore. Or if I do give it, and for any reason you don’t catch me doing this, you can always bring it to my attention, but I’m going to do my best, is I’m going to add another sentence to the whole “sit with your emotions” concept, because let’s say often you guys have heard me say, “Sit with anxiety, sit with your anxiety.” And that’s helpful because we know that doing compulsions with anxiety is a problem. If you resist or avoid or try and remove your anxiety, it’s going to create more problems. But where that gets in the way is it doesn’t mean you just sit there and do nothing but stare at the wall and just let the anxiety beat you into a pummel. No. I think that the mistake I’ll make, and I’m going to be completely transparent, I think the mistake I make is I’m assuming you guys know what I mean by that, and I’m assuming that you know, I mean, don’t just sit there and stare at the wall.
There were a couple of days where I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I did just sit there and be like, “Okay, I’m allowing this. I have to allow it. I’m sitting here. I’m allowing it. Oh man, this is hard,” until I was like, “Wait a second. This is not helpful. Just sitting here and letting it pummel me, that’s not the whole picture. There has to be tools and skills associated with it.” That’s where I’m talking about in regards to anxiety. It’s a great concept, but what do we actually mean when we say, “Sit with your emotions”? We mean, allow it, particularly when we’re talking about fear. We’re saying, don’t interfere with it. Don’t engage with it. Don’t wrestle with it. Don’t stir it up. And we’re also saying, don’t run away from it. We don’t thought suppress. So important.
So, I totally believe that sitting with emotions is an important concept, but we must, and I am sorry if I haven’t mentioned this and I haven’t gone a full explanation, we then must engage back into life. We must engage back into the things that we value. We must engage, even if we don’t like it. Sometimes you have to do the dishes. Sometimes you have to get out of bed. And sometimes we have to allow emotions, embrace emotions, bring on emotions in order to get up and do those things. But that’s just anxiety.
Now, let’s talk about which emotions should you sit with and which ones shouldn’t you? Now, number one, there is no bad emotion. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion, a negative emotion, a problematic emotion. They’re all just neutral. And that’s huge to know. But as I was sitting in the chair of the client instead of being the therapist, and I was really going, “Okay, I’m not going to engage in these behaviors. I’m going to instead just allow them and sit with them,” I realized sometimes asking yourself to sit with an emotion, particularly ones like guilt and shame, that too isn’t completely helpful. We need to put an extra sentence on the end of that as well. So, we can say, “Sit with your emotion of shame, but also be aware of the stories it’s telling you, not taking it as a fact.” Because as I was noticing, so much shame showed up for myself in this specific situation. I was thinking, wait, if I told my client to sit with shame, but I hadn’t taught them the skill of diffusing from shame or observing the story of shame, they’re going to have shame and be like, “Oh yeah, it’s true. I am bad. I’m just going to sit with the fact that I’m bad.” So, no, no, no, no, no. That’s not what we mean, again, by sitting with emotions. We’re not saying we’re going to sit with them and accept them as fact.
Let’s talk about sitting with sadness and grief because, boy oh boy, did I have sadness and grief. And it would come in waves that punch me in the face. I’d be like-- and again, I want to validate grief. Doesn’t matter, it’s not just losing a human body. Nobody passed away. That’s definitely grief. But I was handling grief and loss of like, “Oh, I missed my family. I wish I was there. I wish I lived there. I wish I could just snap my fingers and be there. I wish the world was different. I wish COVID didn’t happen.” All these things. So, I just was getting these waves of sadness. And it was important as I was “sitting with sadness.” That’s okay. We want to do that. We want to allow it. We don’t want to interfere with it. We don’t want to run away from it. We want to embrace it. But we don’t want to thicken it with hopelessness as we sit there. We don’t want to thicken it with like, “Yeah, bad things are going to keep happening and there’s not hope.” That will only create more problems.
So, when we say “sit with your emotions,” particularly the one of sadness, we actually want to sit in sadness again with non-judgment, with curiosity, with awareness of other things. And when I did that, when I sat with my emotions and was curious and open, I noticed like LA’s got a beautiful, beautiful scene. The vibe is really cool. I love my house. I really do love my house. I love the fact that my house is surrounded by trees. I love my family. And I allowed me to be open to sadness and other parts of my life here. So, again, I’m bringing this up of just like in that moment of doing the action, I was thinking, oh my goodness, we need to make sure we expand our description of what it means to sit with your emotions.
If you need more step by step, in my book, The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD, if you have OCD, I actually have a full chapter on managing strong emotions. And in that book, I actually did, I believe, a good degree of explanation. But I wanted to get on here and set the-- what do you say? Set you straight? That’s not right. Set the story straight. I don’t really know what that saying is, forgive me. But I wanted to be really clear and actually correct if I’ve ever said this term, “sit with your emotions.” It’s not a bad term. I actually almost called this episode “Why I’ll never say sit with your emotions again.” But the truth is, I won’t. I can’t hold that as true. So, I changed it to “What does it really mean to sit with your emotions,” and how can we add additional context to that statement so that it doesn’t mean you’re just indulging the emotion and all of the trash that some emotions can leave behind. And what I mean by trash, I’m not judging, it is like, with sadness comes hopelessness sometimes. So, we want to be careful not to engage with that and infuse too much with that. With shame comes a story that you’re bad, that you’re wrong, that you don’t have any worth. We don’t want to indulge or engage in that while we allow and experience the emotion of shame.
Anger was another one. I went through these crazy waves of anger and talking with a therapist like, “Okay, you’re having your anger.” Of course, don’t lash out or say me unkind things, or catch yourself if you’re starting to feel highly dysregulated. And then just sit with your emotions. And I thought, wow, again, there’s that saying. But if I’m angry and I’m sitting with it, I could easily percolate on some pretty hateful thoughts. I could be sitting with and ruminating with that emotion. And that is not what we mean when we say “sit with your emotions.”
So, I really wanted to just drop into this. If I were to sum up this whole episode, the thing I want you to think about the most is, there is no right way to manage an emotion and there is no right or wrong emotion. There is no-- and I talk with my patients all the time about this. There is no playbook on how this is supposed to go. The metaphor I often use is, it’s like any sport. Some of you may know, I’m learning tennis. I actually pretty suck at it, but that’s a whole nother story. The whole thing I’m learning is, and the reason that I suck, and I don’t say that in a judgmental way, I actually think it’s hilarious, is it’s all about being super flexible. So, I’m standing and my knees are bent and I’m holding my racket and I’m going left to right, left to right on my feet, and I’m getting ready for this constantly changing direction of a ball. And I have to stay really flexible. So, if the ball goes all the way to the right, I have to move my legs so I can move to the right. And then if next time it goes to the left, I have to be ready to make that maneuver.
Same goes with emotions. Your emotions are going to flip flop and go from left to right and north to west, and it’s going to give you a run for your money. And we have to be able to adjust the strategy depending on what’s coming to us. And that’s true of emotions. In simple, we’re always going to observe it, allow it, acknowledge it. In some points, we have to be curious instead of being closed and judgmental. These are skills you can use with all of them. But as I’ve gone through some of the more difficult emotions today, sometimes we have to catch the themes that percolate and loop us into it when “sitting with emotions.”
So, that’s the main thing I want to talk to you. Again, I’ll tell you, as I-- I was actually driving to the dentist and I called a very dear friend of mine, and I just said, “I actually just had a major epiphany. We can’t keep saying ‘sit with your emotions’ as clinicians. We have to make sure we add context to what that looks like, and it means not just sitting still and doing nothing, except focusing on the emotion.”
So, if this resonates with you, I hope it does. It was such an important thing I wanted to talk with you about again. Does it mean it’s wrong? Absolutely not. If you’re a clinician or you hear this, or you’ve probably even heard it from me – if you’ve heard it, it doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong. I just want you to understand what it actually means when they say that and to add those extra sentences at the end and give context to like-- again, don’t interfere with them. Don’t run away from them. Allow them. Also, don’t calculate and ruminate on them either.
Sending you so much love. As always, this is really hard work. So, please do remember, it is a beautiful day to do these hard things. And I will add, for any of you who are writing out waves of emotion right now, I salute you. I have such deep respect for you because it’s no easy feat to choose an emotion, to choose to tolerate it and interrupt behaviors that are problematic and allow emotions to rise and fall. That is some pretty impressive work you’re doing. And I just want to give you a massive shout out because it’s not fun. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s skillful work. It takes some stamina to do it, and it’s exhausting. And so, if you’re doing even 10% of this work, I applaud you.
All right, my friends, I will see you next week. Have a wonderful, wonderful week. Again, please do go to CBTSchool.com/newsletter if you want access to that mental compulsions worksheet. And I’ll be seeing you in a week.