On Changing Habits and My Relationship with Fingerpicking

getting to know, understand, and forgive these dark selves can have deeply transformative healing powers for the whole person, making us better, kinder, more compassionate to others than before. Quote by Dr. Richard Schwartz.

A guest post by Heather Pringle, another one of my favourite colleagues in our office.  Sometimes at work we get to talking about situations, and life and our lives.  We have the coolest conversations:

When I mentioned my finger picking to Carolyn a little while ago, it felt like a slightly risky thing to do, but I’ve talked with her enough times to have trust to take the chance that her response might be good. After me briefly explaining what I’ve come to think about this habit of mine, she invited me to write on this topic. I felt thankfulness for being accepted (and that this didn’t seem to faze her). I don’t usually talk about finger picking.

In addition to the weirdness I feel writing about this because of my quietness around the topic, it feels like it indicates a personal flaw sometimes. I wish I felt more at peace and able to be without it; I’m working on it. And I sometimes worry my finger picking is something about me that could indicate to myself and others that somehow I haven’t “attained enough” healing or growth or whatever “I’m supposed to do” (those kind of “supposed to’s” can be so unrelenting and mean, hey? Yuck).

But in the last couple years I’ve wondered if I can look at this in a different way and if I can work to let go of this painful drive to become enough or do enough.

I am enough. You are enough. We are loved and loveable, just as we are.  

In conversation with Carolyn, we came upon the idea that rather than seeing fingerpicking as the “enemy”, it might make more sense to actually see this decades long “bad”habit as an old familiar friend, ready and reliable, always. no matter what.

Fingerpicking, to me, has been like a consistent friend who has helped me through various experiences. I needed “a friend” like this one. This “friend” joined my life sometime when I was small and needed somewhere to turn. So it helped me when I was:

  1. Feeling anxious about being at school
  2. Feeling scared and alone
  3. Feeling confused and bad about myself
  4. Feeling bored and avoiding painful feelings that were bound to surface during downtime, and..
  5. Regretting something and not sure what to do about that. I sometimes finger pick for all of the above situations.

This “friend” has been there through difficulty, for many years!

When I started to compassionately see my finger picking as a friend that I had made for specific purposes…and not an indication that I should punitively push myself harder towards further healing, it freed me up to get to know how this “friend” has been for me (both good and bad).

The freedom of looking at my finger picking as a friend that I made as a child, can also lead to the realization that if I’ve befriended this finger-picking strategy to get through difficult situations, maybe I can find other “friends” or strategies to care for myself–ones that might work better for me, now that I’m an adult.

I’m older and have more time, supports, and ability to find those “friends”. More on this later, but let’s first look at the downside to having this “friend” around so much.

So what are some of the unhelpful parts, besides my fear about others seeing it? The problem with this “friend’s” method is that sometimes it leads to disconnection from myself and other people when I focus on this “friend” instead of what’s happening with myself (my thoughts and emotions) and others verbal and non-verbal communication. My thoughts and emotions get sort of ignored for a bit and my relationships can be ignored sometimes too. This is one of the biggest things that I try to help others do, to gently accept themselves and become aware of emotions and thoughts…and I struggle with doing this too when things feel difficult.

This “friend” also can’t really be helpful for me when I’m doing a lot of things that I really love, like work as a therapist or having an important conversation with loved ones, so I need to rely on other “friends”

Friends like:

  • noticingmy breathing,
  • accepting my emotions,
  • grounding myself in the moment,
  • prayer,
  • compassionate thoughts and
  • self-talk, etc

…to provide calm….and it’s difficult to remember those strategies and to rely on them if I haven’t built a relationship with these “friends” because I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy with finger picking.

I’ve tried to let this “friend” go or at least spend less time with it but it hasn’t been easy. I’m still working on it, slowly. I’ll get there and I’ll keep growing closer to my new “friends”. My new “friends” want to care for me just like finger picking has but it will take a while for my brain and body to trust them.

So I’m going to give myself patience. It will come.

For now, finger picking is sometimes still here, and I’m not sure when I will be ready to let it go completely.

I’ll keep open to further healing and growth so that I can build up healthier strategies but not because I’m not enough or haven’t done enough. 

No, I’ll do this because I am loved, flaws and all, and I can grow by learning helpful strategies for processing difficult experiences. 

Maybe you have a habit or strategy (a “friend”) that you’d like to change your relations hip with but it’s been really difficult. Maybe you’re thinking, “Finger picking is one thing. That couldn’t possibly compare to how embarrassing, strange, dangerous, and/or destructive __(insert your own comforting/destructive habit her(e)_____ feels!”.  That reaction is understandable.

At the same time I would invite you to consider the possibility that, whatever the habit is, maybe it was attempting to meet needs or to accomplish some sort of goal (like protecting you from pain). And if that’s true, one of my hopes for you is that you’d know you’re not alone and that there is hope. If you think it could help to have someone to walk alongside you through this and to introduce to you to some potential strategies, I invite you to give our office an email (or call 204 275 1045)  to inquire about the possibility of seeing a therapist. Having a caring person to help face our difficult thoughts and feelings can be an important step in healing.  Sometimes people like to have something more concrete and calculated for working with a habit. I don’t think it has to be an “either/or” approach for habits, so, for another more step-by-step approach to changing habits like nail biting or finger picking, that can work well sometimes in conjunction with the “friend” approach.

Regardless of how you consider seeking change and health, I hope you discover that finding and befriending strategies that are truly self compassionate is hard work but worth it.


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