Reading: The four Agreements

I want to share with you what I am reading this month, or what I am rereading.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (Don Miguel Ruiz) is an uplifting book to help with healing distress and develop personal growth. This book is a quick read and is written in simple language which can help you bring transformational changes to your life.

I seem to be presently spending the most time on the second agreement. I am working on becoming immune to other’s opinions that are either not invited or are judgmental. Remember, negative judgment from other’s is a representation of their limitations, not yours. Live your life.

Contact me Catherine Cleveland for more information on mental health counseling both online and in person. (585) 432-0313

Pack Your Bags: Are You Going on a Guilt Trip?

There is nothing that ruins joy and calmness quicker than a wave of overcoming guilt.

According to Brene Brown, the definition of guilt is that “I have done something wrong.” Guilt is an emotion that is part of both the cognitive and physical experiences of the mind and body. In other words, unprocessed or unresolved guilt can cause multiples of unnecessary psychological and physical suffering. Simply put, Guilt makes you feel bad, or worse, that you are bad (shame).

For this article, I want to start by separating “I am doing something wrong” into three different categories: 1) Remorse: I have actually done something wrong; 2) The Punishing Ego: What I am thinking and feeling is wrong; and, 3) Manipulation: allowing others to make you feel bad about yourself. 

1. Remorse: I have actually done something wrong

Let’s start with the first one: I have actually done something wrong. When you have done something wrong most of us experience remorse (deep regret). I am sure that you can think of many examples, here is one: You are having an online affair, and you got caught by your significant other.

In this situation, you can do one of two things. A) act like it was no big deal and deny your behaviors; or B) address the situation, admit and apologize (make amends) to the person that you have hurt. 

Be honest with yourself. Which response would you choose, A or B? Why do you think people would pick A? Because it can be painful and even terrifying to face your guilt. Choice A may be more common than you think. Regrettably, this is a type of avoidance that has long-term side effects.  

Avoiding what you have done wrong will not dissipate your guilt. Rather, avoidance (or denial) will perpetuate guilt for a long time; and, if you practice deflecting guilt for things you have done wrong, then the side effects become cumulative. Meaning the effects get worse over time.

However, if you know someone who states they do not feel guilty or says they feel justified in what they are doing, they may be one of three things. 1) In denial of their guilt, 2) the guilt is not in their conscious awareness (repression), or 3) they are purposely suppressing it (shame). 

Furthermore, if someone genuinely does not feel any guilt, be cautious with this person. They are likely to have a personality disorder (PD); meaning that they have difficulty functioning well in normal social interactions. For example, in addition to difficulties with feeling remorse, another symptom of a PD is a person who will make you feel bad when you have done nothing wrong (see manipulation below).


 Another tactic that some people will do to justify when they have done something wrong is scapegoating. Scapegoating is a way to make someone else feel lesser than you. Scapegoating is also a form of externalization. Externalization is a way of removing the guilt from one’s inner world by not allowing the guilt to live inside them. One way to scapegoat or externalize is to blame others for your actions or behaviors. When you externalize your guilt, you think you have distinguished it; but what you are doing is suppressing then projecting it. This means that you have taken it from your conscious awareness and buried it in your unconscious (avoidance). 

But, just because you have suppressed or buried your guilt does not mean that it goes away. 

For instance, imagine that your car is making a noise. If you ignore it, what will happen? That’s right. The noise will get louder and louder or something will malfunction or eventually break. Just like ignoring guilt for things that you have done wrong the problem does not go away. Unresolved and suppressed guilt can make you mentally and physically ill. Meaning the guilt is still there and tends to surfaces as anxiety. 

One way that humans manage their anxiety (and trauma) is through addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse or behavioral addictions (e.g., gambling, shopping, porn). These addictions help keep the guilt and related anxiety from surfacing into the conscious awareness.

Making amends for your remorse

However, making amends for what you have done can only happen when you start by being honest with yourself and admit that you were in the wrong. 

A question was posed to me: but what if the person that I have hurt is no longer alive?

I recommend writing a letter to the deceased. The letter is designed to express your feelings about what you have done rather than keeping them bottled up inside. This type of reflective writing can help to clarify your thoughts that you might not be aware of when speaking or thinking your thoughts. 

2. Punishing Ego: what I am thinking and feeling is wrong

The punishing ego (also known as the superego) is a type of guilt that is not always in your conscious awareness although it is based in similar concepts of remorse guilt – I have done something wrong. 

Here are some examples:

  • You want to break up with someone or end a bad marriage, but you are worried about what others will think of you. This guilt can be so punishing that even the thought of leaving an oppressive relationship (to have a better life) will raise your anxiety above what you can tolerate. So instead, you decide to stay put and avoid (medicate) the guilt.
  • You are angry at someone you are supposed to “only love.” When this happens, unconscious guilt tells you that you are not allowed to feel anything bad toward this person that you love. For example, you are angry at a parent, a child, or a significant other. Nonetheless, all humans have multiple and complex emotions, and acknowledging how these emotions manifest in your body prevents unnecessary guilt and suffering.
  • A colleague of mine, D. M. Stone shared her story of guilt. She stated that she was taught that “women are always supposed to be nice and the peacekeeper of the family.” This is a type of sociocultural genderizing guilt. “Women are the glue that holds the family together. Women are supposed to put their own needs aside for others. If you are confident enough to speak up [in any situation] and stand up for yourself, you are then labeled as a bitch.” This type of punishing guilt can prevent women from feeling worthy, confident, and empowered. 
  • What do you punish yourself for?

Guilt has a way of burying many emotions, and emotions are very human. Everyone experiences some kind of emotion all the time. This type of repression (avoiding/burying emotions) is very cultural (meaning we learn from role models and socialization). And, just like remorse guilt, repression (out of conscious awareness) of emotions (anger, fear, guilt, shame) can cause or exasperate chronic pain and chronic illness. Often, medical providers will treat patients complaining of chronic symptoms with medication or surgery without first asking the patient, “Tell me, what is going on in your life.”

3. Manipulation: Allowing others to make me feel bad about myself 

When someone is saying or doing something to you to make you feel guilty, this is a form of manipulation. For example, “you’re the one who put me in a bad mood.” (As stated earlier, manipulation can sometimes come from someone that is abusive and may have a PD; but not always).

Another example of manipulative behavior is when someone uses terms such as always or never; “you are never there for me” or “you are always nagging at me.” This is often heard when couples are arguing and are trying to make the other feel bad (guilt).

Fortunately, you are the one who gets to choose how to respond to manipulative guilt. Ideally, the response toward manipulation should be to never engage with the manipulation. However, what people tend to do is feed into it the manipulation. You likely defend yourself, maybe get angry, even take on the behaviors of the manipulator just to get them to back off. However, the person who is trying to manipulate you to feel bad has not earned your explanation. In other words, practice not engaging with the manipulator.

Remember, manipulation words that make you feel bad can be very harmful and are emotionally abusive.

What Guilt Does to the Mind and Body

When you are feeling guilty, the guilt can contribute to recurring deficits thinking (putting yourself down). For example, you may be ruminating (living in the past) and/or, worrying about something that has not yet happened, may not happen, and acting as if it is happening (anxiety).

Guilt is one of many emotions; emotions live in your body. Unprocessed emotions (such as guilt) are the same as avoided emotions (suppressed). Experiencing your emotions (not expressing) is a human necessity. Emotions are there, whether you avoid them or not. And, as explained earlier, unprocessed (avoided) emotions (guilt, shame, anger, sadness, etc.) can cause or exasperate physical pain and/or illness sometimes known as chronic symptoms or medically unexplained symptoms.

Kicking Guilt to the Curb!

Getting rid of your guilt allows you to feel more joy and experience less human suffering. But remember, you cannot change what you are not aware of and do not accept (seek counseling). And what are the consequences of experiencing a long life filled with guilt and other disruptive emotions?

So, what can you do? Kick your guilt to the curb. Give it up. Do not let it own you. Make amends if you need to. Pay attention to how often you feel bad. Ask yourself why am I letting this consume me? Also, ask yourself, does your feeling guilty serve a purpose? What are the benefits of my guilt? Maybe maintaining your guilt is what is keeping you connected to your loved ones?

Using Mindful Awareness

Mindful awareness is simply being aware of what is happening in the present moment without judgment. In the case of experiencing (rather than avoiding) your guilt, the goal is to practice and develop mindful awareness of your guilt from an intrapsychic perspective. In other words, paying attention to the physical experience of your emotions in the present moment without judgment (or guilt :-).

Acknowledging guilt 

Being mindfully aware of when you are feeling guilty. What type of guilt are you experiencing? Is it remorse, the punishing ego, or due to manipulation? Maybe it is a combination? Where do you experience the guilt physically in your body? For instance, did you have shortness of breath, racing heart, tightness in your chest, tightness in your stomach, sternum, neck, back, or head?

Facing guilt 

Start by asking yourself: how is this [guilt] serving me? Then answer yourself by saying: It’s not! By just asking and answering yourself, it can be profoundly helpful. Facing and processing guilt also changes the wiring of your brain (neural connections). And it is a great way to reduce unnecessary suffering. 

Remember, do not defend yourself to someone who is using manipulation to make you feel bad about yourself or is telling you that you are doing something wrong when you are not (it is their opinion/reality, not yours; do not take it on). Most importantly, own up to your guilt if you have actually done something wrong. Make the necessary amends. Make your life one that is guilt-free.

Please share this article on your social media. You never know, you could really help someone that is feeling alone in their psychological pain and grief.

For more help, click here to register for a counseling appointment. (585) 432-0313

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Mindful Moments: Being Present

Welcome guest author and mental health counselor, Leslie Wolf Baker

It is important, that each day in each moment we have the opportunity to take a few minutes to be present. Taking a minute to focus on breathing in deeply and exhaling any negative emotions can alleviate any stress or tension.

Often, we think of being present as only a way to acknowledge our stress and to release it. This is a good practice and true. Release helps us to enjoy the moment we are in. But being present also means creating joyful moments before we feel out of balance by engaging in pleasurable activities if only for a few minutes throughout the day.

Some of my favorite ways of being present throughout the day include waking up and meditating in front of my window so I can see nature with the smell of incense or palo santo that I’ve just lit.

Sometimes I have an hour to do this and sometimes I have only a few minutes. Whatever time I have, I use. Something is better than nothing. I love to walk outside noticing the shapes of trees and often I see faces or animal figures in their bumps, knots and holes, and I say hello to these ancient wise beings.

Music and sound are healing for me. Research reveals that various frequencies known as Solfeggio Frequencies can have various healing properties. Striking my meditation bowl a few times or drumming bring me into the present moment and fill me with peace and joy, while also relieving stress.

Sometimes I dance and drum or dance to a favorite tune or dance with no music at all! One of my favorite moments is when I head outdoors and lay down on the ground looking up at the sky while the earth supports my body. I do this in summer, fall, winter and spring. All you need are the right clothes!

Being mindful throughout the day only takes a few moments no matter where you are.

Some ideas for mindful moments at home, in the car or in the office:

1) Breathe in for the count of three and exhale for the count of three for four or five breaths.

2) Make a mosaic out of the items on your desk using pencils, pens, paperclips, torn up papers from the recycle bin. Use nuts, bolts and screws. Make a mosaic with items in your kitchen. I created a labyrinth on my counter using some crystals, rocks and oranges to center myself one afternoon!

3) Light a candle and create an intention for the day.

4) Go outside and lay on the ground; this is known as Earthing and you can do it anywhere, except the middle of the road!

5) Draw a picture of concentric circles, clouds, whatever comes to your mind. Do it without judgment for its “artistic” properties.

6) Drink a cup of tea and feel the warmth of the cup in your hands and watch the steam rise.

7) Stand up and stretch your arms up high above your head while planting your feel firmly in place on the ground. Feel your presence. You are important to this world.

8) Create a positive statement or mantra and repeat it throughout the day. Speak it out loud if you are able to. Remember the healing frequencies of sound I mentioned?! Your voice is a powerful. Use it with love.

9) Look at images of nature if you can’t get outside.

10) Hug yourself for a minute and tell yourself how much you love YOU.

Additional resources:

Healing frequencies:

Book: This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever by Dr. Stephen Sinatra

To contact Leslie, go to

Treating Traumatized Patients

Bessel van der Kolk : A Brief Synopsis

 Bessel van der Kolk (BVDK) is a psychiatrist, researcher, professor, and author who is best known for his work with neurological studies of posttraumatic stress, since the 1970s. This one hour and forty-minute video that I reviewed encompass the research behind BVDK’s The Body Keeps the Score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. 

Candice Lake, WNY

 BVDK is an outspoken researcher on how neural networks need to be changed to treat patients who have been traumatized; and that our current systems of treating trauma are based on an “insane diagnostic system that ignores the reality of peoples’ lives.” “The DSM ignores the fact that we are a part of a larger universe, part of a social world, and that how we behave affects others around us.” BVDK explained that most mental illness is “of the individual and the environment being at odds with each other. More people will kill themselves after going to war (military persons) than are killed during the war.”

 BVDK points out that trauma can prevent individuals from having loving and intimate relationships. People who have experienced trauma are more likely to become alcoholics and drug addicts. BVDK emphasized that “love” is the antecedent to trauma. He claims that

“trauma is a fear reaction, but what we leave out is that we are a connected species. We are interconnected and love is the glue that keeps us together and life without love has no meaning. Love gets very messed up in traumatic stress. We love people who do terrible things to us and then get numbed out to things that are pleasurable. These things get messed up and left out of our over-simplistic diagnostic system.”

 As a researcher, BVDK did the very first neuroimaging studies on traumatized patients and they found that when people remember their trauma, their whole frontal lobe goes offline. What this means is that executive thinking and knowing right from wrong stops working. Furthermore, traumatic experiences shut off the Broca’s area of the brain, which leaves the person speechless during the traumatic event. So, when the therapist gets to the very core of someone’s trauma, the patient will become speechless. The patient does not remember everything that has happened because their brain was “dumbfounded” from the absence of functioning frontal lobes and Broca’s area.

 In this video, BVDK showed several videos of trauma treatment. Two treatments he shared were vipassana yoga research and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment. In the first video BVDK explained his study on yoga and meditation on traumatized patients. He had maximum security prisoners not speak for seven days along with a daily practice of vipassana yoga. This exercise was designed to have participants “meet one’s internal demons.” The outcomes were “highly significant” and showed better results than drug treatment. The point of this study was that there are other ways of calming both the body and mind down (mindfully) which will change what is most necessary, the structure and wiring of the brain.

 BVDK stated that trauma’s biggest effect is on the body. From each traumatic event, the body becomes frightened, uptight, and tense. The trauma lives in the body and the goal of therapy is to help patients feel safe inside their bodies. He stated the act of telling one’s story is helpful but is not enough. For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and we need to live in the reality of the present.

 “When you have been traumatized, you keep going back there and that is upsetting to other people, embarrasses you, and keeps you out of tune with your surroundings.” All of these experiences reinforce that there is something wrong with you, so you experience alienation and are usually out-of-sync with other people. As a result of this alienation, people become more shameful, lonely, frightened, and cut off from the human race. “This is how suicide happens.” “There is a loss of love with the human race.”

 Next, BVDK showed a tape of EMDR in a session with a patient that was raped by her father and then blamed herself for the event. He said that it is important to notice how the patient’s body is reacting before the trauma is discussed. The way that you hold your body determines how you feel; therefore, it is important to assume better body positions with an open chest, supported back, and a strong sternocleidomastoid (neck) muscle. This position is incompatible with feeling defeated. He explained that the EMDR technique helps to distinguish relevant information of the present moment changes the part of the brain that helps you focus on what is relevant, and not on what is not relevant (mindfulness). EMDR techniques proved to be a highly effective tool for treating acute traumatic events but not so much for chronic experiences of trauma where mindfulness of the internal world was more effective.

 BVDK concludes, that regardless of the tool you use such as EMDR, the most important thing is for the patient to feel safe and to bring mindful awareness of an intimate connection into treatment. “Find out how people feel safe and what do they do that gives them a sense of power” What works is anything that helps a person feel a sense of safety including the relationship with the therapist. “This helps you rewire the emotional brain. This is resetting the limbic system.”

“This is why we do neurological research to change the processing of the brain rather than using “bullshit” diagnostic systems.” “CBT doesn’t work because the rational brain is not in touch with the emotional brain. This makes no sense from the brain or a trauma perspective.” People need to feel themselves and feel their bodies and without this interior work, one cannot heal. So, “don’t treat the disorder because this is not the cause or the location of the problem.”

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Developing and Improving Self-Confidence

Low self-confidence seems to be an epidemic in our culture, especially among young women. 

Nonetheless, low self-confidence does not discriminate against anyone, at any age.

What does self-confidence look like?

  • Self-confidence is when you know you are on your life’s path, not someone else’s. It is knowing that failure is expected and that you can learn and grow from your failings. 
  • Self-confidence is facing your anxieties and emotions while you keep moving forward, rather than avoiding showing up in your life and shutting down. It is reaching out to others for support and being supportive of others. 
  • Self-confidence is knowing that life is not meant to be easy and that there is nothing wrong with us if we do not feel happy all the time. 
  • Self-confidence is accountability for your behaviors, attitudes, and actions.

What self-confidence is not…

Self-confidence is not self-centered nor arrogant. It is not putting others down to make you feel better. Self-confidence is not judgmental, and it is not blaming others for one’s problems.

If you ever find that, at times, you (or someone you know) are overly judgmental of others or getting angry with loved ones, this may be defenses to prevent yourself from addressing your own pain and fears. 

What can you do to improve your self-confidence?

  • Start by accepting that you are human and flawed, although a work in progress. 
  • Face and accept your emotions, especially pain, anger, and fear. They are part of who you are because you are human. 
  • Avoiding your emotions is what causes a lot of your anxiety because it can make you feel out of control or overwhelmed at different times in your life.
  • Pay attention to and accept what is going on in your internal world.

Can you answer this question: What do I want for myself and for my life? If you do not have an answer at all for this question, you may be focused more on your external world, a world that you can influence, but cannot control.

Self-confidence is knowing that you are on your life’s path, and not someone else’s.

What is your life’s path? 

My good friend, Laura B. is on her path!

Knowing your life’s path is an ongoing work in progress. Your life’s path is not set in stone but is meant to shift and change as you develop and grow throughout your lifetime. It is never-ending. Being on your path gives you a sense of accomplishment & worth, frustration at times, and a sense of pride and joy. Finding your life’s path (and not someone else’s), is your road to self-confidence.

Finally, when you develop & grow your self-confidence, you become a role model of confidence for others. Especially for your loved ones and family members! 

Do you know someone that is suffering from low self-confidence?

Please comment and share on your social media. You never know, you might just change someone’s life.

Contact me, Catherine Cleveland, for more information on my mental health counseling services (585) 432-0313


By Leslie Wolf Baker

Transition is change…

Transition is change. Change is a constant. It is life’s way of inviting us to reflect and reexamine our present way of being urging us to develop and grow as individuals.

Transitions are all around us. The seasons seamlessly bring endings and new beginnings. Each day transitions from light to dark. The phases of the moon grow from new to full each month, all in constant movement. 

      Just because transitions are a part of life and nature, doesn’t mean they can’t feel uncomfortable and unwanted. They can be expected and unexpected, such as a sudden loss.  

Transitions can bring uncertainty…

Even an expected, desired change, such as a dream job can cause resistance to moving into a new way of being because transitions bring uncertainty. Some examples include marriage, becoming a new parent, aging, a new home, questioning one’s faith or spirituality. It is normal to feel the challenge of these times and to feel a sense of loss. 

 There are some things you can do to alleviate resistance to this change. Taking time to feel the grief of loss can be helpful and healing. Reaching out to your support system can also be beneficial.

Using Ceremony

Ceremonies have been part of every culture for as long as we have known. Marking transitions with the process of a ceremony is a way of both honoring your past self while making space for the new.

Ceremonies can be simple such as a few words of gratitude. They can also be more in-depth and include important people you want to share the space with. Perhaps, you might select an item, create a special song, or hold a fire ceremony. Another idea is to imbue a small object such as a stone, a shell, or something meaningful with a thought or intention. 

What Works for Me

     Personally, I celebrate the transitions into each of the four seasons with an invitation to friends and family to join me around a fire. We create a circle and whoever feels like it can drum, rattle, sing or dance in honor of all that is alive. We offer gratitude for our connection to nature and for the wisdom that nature brings to our awareness.

Each person quietly holds an intention they wish to manifest in the new season while leaving behind what no longer serves their higher self, just as a robustly colored autumn leaf knows when it is time to fall away from its branch at winter’s doorstep.

Often, we write in pencil on a small piece of paper, what we wish to manifest or release. We toss the paper into the fire and let the smoke carry our message away through the universe who is always listening and conspires to meet us where we are at.

Taking the time to recognize transitions can help to make it a special time of reflection where the old and the new, grief, and joy and personal growth can all be honored and celebrated. 

I would like to welcome Leslie Wolf Baker to the Cleveland Emotional Health Family. Leslie’s private practice is located at 95 Allens Creek Road in Brighton (Rochester NY). If you would like to work with Leslie, please contact her directly to schedule your counseling appointment: 585-210-2635

The Difference Between Wanting & Willing

As a flawed human being, I consider myself a work in progress no matter how old I become. Over a lifetime of gaining wisdom in human behaviors, including my own, I have found great value in gaining an understanding of the important differences between “wanting” and “willing” and I share with you, my philosophy.

“The concepts of both wanting to… and willing to… have completely different outcomes.”

To Want

Wanting, is a cognitive process where one is actually “wishing” they could have something or do something. For, example, I really want to lose weight; or, I really want to change jobs; or, I really want to leave this relationship, or _________________________(put yours here).

To Have the Will

Willing takes on the forward-thriving ability of, “I am going to make real changes in my life,” or “I will do what it takes to become healthy,” or “I am really driven to reach this goal.” When you are willing to do something, you have embraced your emotional and passionate powers no matter the hurdles to achieving the task.

What holds you back?

You have probably noticed, that in some parts of your life, you are very good at having the will of productivity, accomplishment, and self-care. But in other parts of your life, not so much. 

What prevents you from moving from wanting to willing? Most likely, it is avoiding your emotions. For instance, fear (avoiding the fear that holds us back rather than working within your fears); social anxiety (worried sick about what others think or how they will react); being addicted to your (unconscious) deficits thinking, letting shame and guilt run your life and drive your behaviors, and addiction to creating drama.

Nonetheless, having an honorable sense of loyalty to the ones you love, and do not want to hurt, can also prevent you from executing any type of personal will.

Signs that you or someone is not willing

Good intentions make us feel connected, but they can also put barriers up to having the fulfillment and the joy you desire. “I really want to lose weight” or “I really want to change to make you happy” remember, these are just thoughts and wishes. And these thoughts are a façade to the true emotions (what we are avoiding) that are preventing you from taking action to change or reach your goals.

Another important sign that someone is not willing to do something is when you ask them a question and they never give a complete or definitive answer.

Here are some examples: 1) Would you like to go out Friday night? Sure, if you want. 2) Are you going to stick to your diet? I’m gonna try. 3) Are you going to finish your project? Well, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on; or, that is the plan.


There are so many consequences of not being willing. However, the consequences may not outweigh the strength of your fear, anxiety, and behavioral addictions. For instance, if you are not willing to change your unhealthy diet, the consequences will be a heart attack, a stroke, chronic aches and pains (inflammation), and a poor quality of life.

So, do the logical consequences of not taking action (for change or goals) outweigh the strength of your emotions (fear & anxiety) and addictive behaviors? Not usually, and especially not without the support of someone you trust. 

So, how do you move forward to make real change?

  1. First, admit to yourself and commit to what is holding you back (fear, anxiety) – this is not easy. You must be honest and open with yourself.
  2. Pay attention to the excuses that you are making to stay where you are at. Are they helping you?
  3. Confide in someone you trust that will not judge you and will hold a caring and loving space for you. This is called vulnerability and being vulnerable (with the right people) takes strength; vulnerability is not a weakness.
  4. Give (or ask for) definitive answers – yes, I will; or no, I will not. Not only should you require definitive answers from others, but you definitely need to say them to yourself (eg. I am willing to do what it takes including reaching out for help).
  5. Know that being willing is a process. It requires action-taking where insecurities (fear of failure and low self-worth) and emotions (fear, anxiety) can become overpowering. When this happens, start over from no. 1
  6. As always, take small steps. Sudden and grand changes can be overwhelming and trigger intolerable levels of anxiety and fears (and the feeling of being alone in your journey) When this happens, start over from no. 1

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Contact Me

For more information or the schedule a counseling appointment with the author, Catherine Cleveland, please call/text (585) 432-0313

Getting Past Fear & Uncertainty: Live Your Life

Fear and uncertainty can happen at any time. The recent Coronavirus has had a way of shining a bright light on the fears that every human secretly harbors. This type of fear and uncertainty originated from an environmental phenomenon.

But what are the fears that live within us?

To better understand the fears and uncertainties that live within us, I will give you a few examples of both conscious and unconscious categories.

The fears and uncertainties, which we are aware of, are conscious. For example, I know, that if I see a snake, I will always jump back and get a physically uneasy feeling (my body will shiver and tense); even if it is a tiny or harmless garter variety. 

Another example. Whenever I have to give a presentation in front of colleagues, who are more knowledgeable than me, I am very conscious of my public speaking/presentation fear. I call it anxiety and I feel it in my stomach to the point that at times, I will want to vomit.

So, what is unconscious fear?

Unconscious fears are fears that are not presently in your conscious awareness. Everyone has unconscious fears. Recently, I have unearthed some of my unconscious fears. And, from this, my new enlightenment, I now know that my unconscious fear and uncertainty (now conscious) was preventing me from living to my full potential to engage in desired activities and adventures.

How did I know this?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my couch reflecting about my life (rebuilding after my house fire) and I came to the realization that I am afraid! There are a lot of things that I want to experience, but I am not because I am afraid. 

Here is an example, I like to go hiking and I want to go to new places. I want to venture out and experience the beauty of the region in which I live. 

But, I am not. Why? 

Well, I realized, as I was having my couch epiphany, that I am always relying on others to go with me to do things that I am interested in. So, if my husband or friends cannot or do not want to join me, I get either angry, upset, or disappointed. And, I have been using their lack of collaboration as my excuse to not venture out.

Rather than being conscious of the fact that I was simply afraid to do some hiking on my own, I would get angry. I would get angry at my husband because (of course) it was his fault that I was not doing what I wanted to do. I would get sad because I did not have a friend that was available to accompany me.  

The anger and the sadness were displaced onto others. This displaced was actually covering up my _________________________?

That’s right. This is my unconscious fear. While sitting on the couch, I said to myself, out loud (no one was home), “I am afraid!” 


What was amazing, was that my self-revelation was a type of acceptance. I accepted, (out loud) that I am afraid to do (some) things on my own. And that is okay. I know that you cannot change what you cannot accept. 

I am afraid of a lot of things. Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence or self-worth. But I am not afraid of everything. I do a lot of things where others remark “I don’t know how you do that” (e.g. extreme skiing, Ph.D. torture;-). 

What to do?

What I did about my fear, was nothing but accept it. I accepted that I was afraid to explore new places and venture out on my own. So, I googled ‘hiking trails near me.’ Then, I headed out one morning and I was so proud of myself for doing this beautiful adventure. The fear and apprehension did not, however, go away, but I learned, that acceptance of anxiety (based in fear) is very empowering. 

Start by:

  1. Accepting that you are afraid
  2. Speak out loud or write down what you are afraid of (trying new things, change jobs, leaving a bad relationship, going back to school, public speaking, being alone).
  3. Be specific about your fears and express them without judgment
  4. Stop blaming and displacing your fears onto others
  5. Work within the fear rather than trying to avoid it
  6. Keep growing and learning and enjoying your accomplishments

The Take Home

Accept what you are afraid of. Don’t try to eliminate the fear or uncertainty. AVOIDANCE of emotions never works! Acceptance allows you to control fear and carry on regardless. Avoidance allows your emotions to control you…

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Anger vs Temper

My patients that are presenting with “anger” problems are learning that their issues are paired directly with their anxiety which inevitably leads to impulsive behaviors (a type of instant relief).

These impulsive behaviors are temper rather than anger. Temper can have harmful consequences that negatively impact your interpersonal relationships.

Does this sound like you or someone that you know?


Anger is a motivating human emotion that can help to make desired and necessary changes.


Temper is an impulsive, anxiety-driven reaction to not getting your way or when your focus is directed toward external reasons for your problems.

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The Physical Impact of Avoiding Emotions

It is not commonly known that emotions are stored on your body. When an emotional event happens, such as verbal or physical harm, you have a visceral response from the sympathetic pathways of the central nervous system. These responsive pathways can be experienced as an impulse of either fight, flight or freeze.

Using your imagination from your own experience, which one (or ones), fight, flight, or freeze, have you experienced as a result of harmful or potentially harmful events? For example, if someone is being verbally abusive, my impulse is to shut down and not respond (freeze). This impulse, I feel, protects me from an escalation of the situation. I believe that if I stay calm, maybe the aggressor will deescalate or at least not get worse. It is kind of like paying dead when you cannot escape the big scary bear that wants you for their dinner.

Some other examples…

The fighting impulse can look like yelling and temper to keep at bay a potential predator. The flight impulse is when you feel so uncomfortable (social anxiety) that your body wants to get up and run out of the room. These are just a few examples and of course, your sympathetic impulse in response to perceived harm is unique to you.

Whenever you are experiencing any kind of trauma (even the cultural trauma of COVID-19), it is always felt in the body. However, you may not be aware of what happens to your body in these emotional states. But the body remembers. As Bessel van der Kolk postulates (see video below), the body always keeps the score.

So, what can you do? The first step is to pay attention to what the emotion is that you are experiencing in the face of harm. Fear is likely present in the moment. Anger toward the aggressor is the most common after someone has harmed or oppressed you; however, you can be experiencing several emotions at once. The next step is to pay attention to what your emotions feel like in your body. The consequences of not properly processing (avoiding) your emotions from past events are the continuance of your version of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional avoidance causes you suffering and disruption in your daily life. Another consequence of unprocessed emotions is high levels of anxiety, which again, can disrupt your life, your experiences of joy, and prevent you from having or reaching your goals.

Keep in mind, that chronic avoidance of emotions and anxiety can eventually manifest as physical pain or other chronic health issues.

Please watch this…

For more information on mental health counseling, please contact me (585) 432-0313 or email me

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