I was listening to a podcast when I first heard about therapist, Aundi Kolbar. As she shared the title of her book, I was instantly comforted. Try Softer, A Fresh Approach To Move Us Out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode-and into a Life of Connection and Joy looks at how our bodies are great communicators of what we need. Using knowledge from neuropsychology & attachment theory, Kolbar gives us insight into how many are prone to over or under function during times of stress or fear. In her gentle way, she reminds us all that we don’t have to live this way. Through self-compassion and other tools, we can stop “white knuckling” through life and instead “try softer.”
It’s this area of “white knuckling” that Kolbar begins her book and is something that I’d like to park us at for a moment. She says that many “white knuckle” “when we consciously or unconsciously ignore internal warning signs from our minds and bodies to cope with situations that are overwhelming or disturbing (page 19).” So what are those signs? And how can we pay more attention to them?
What are some signs that you are “white knuckling?”
- Start with your daily functioning. Are you sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom when you need to?
- Have you taken a break from a task that you are working on?
- Are you in pain (physical or emotional) but you just keep going?
- Do you feel like you are pushing hard to get what you want?
- From her book Kolbar describes that the way we express/don’t express our emotions can be a sign of “white knuckling.” For instance are you downplaying your emotions?
- Are you trying to push them down out of fear that they will be too overwhelming?
What can cause us to white knuckle?
Sometimes when our dreams have not been realized, we can find ourselves “white knuckling” it. For instance, in a women’s fertility journey, many will pursue their career working longer hours, taking on more responsibility in an effort to excel in something.
Kolbar explores how unsafe incidents that we experience, hear, or witness can cause our nervous systems to become overwhelmed and makes it difficult for us to return to a calm state. When we are unable to cope with this distress in our bodies many will either shut down or detach from their emotions or will be overloaded by emotion. Either way, our body responds out of a need for survival. Kolbar emphasizes that while our bodies natural response to survival is good, it is meant to be temporary. When we are constantly in a state of fight/flight/freeze we are white knuckling.
So what can you do?
Choose to offer self-compassion, recognizing that you have white knuckled out of a need for survival and to cope with the pain of an unmet dream.
Practice mindfulness: Often we are unaware of our emotions, body, and thoughts. Practicing mindfulness causes you to slow down and check in with yourself.
Grieve your losses: Going through the phases of grief (shock, anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance, and meaning making) can help you to resolve what has remained unresolved.
I highly recommend this book! The invitation to Try Softer is something that I think many of you will experience as a welcome comfort.
If you’d like to talk more about your patterns of white knuckling, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Written by therapist Pamela Larkin
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