Enemies Are Welcome Here.

As I was creating my working model this afternoon, I came across some words of wisdom that were put so well:

As Longfellow said, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” This applies not just to outer enemies but inner ones too. All parts are welcome.

-Richard Schwartz

This message rings true for me and for those I’ve worked with. Sometimes I feel “ick” or angered by certain people, and sometimes I feel those sensations towards parts of my self, or my history. But in the end, all parts and persons have a story, and if we could disarm hostility, we can begin to love and accept even the “ick” people and parts of ourselves.

But what of changing those awful, icky parts?

Through my studies, I’ve learned that we are all inevitably drawn to higher qualities of living and being when we feel safe, when we feel non-judged, and when we feel accepted as we are. Loving are enemies is not a natural human instinct, but cultivating this practice is what transforms others and ourselves.

4 Common Mistakes Even Good Therapists & Coaches Make

Therapists and coaches are human (*Gasp, I know*). We will make mistakes on a daily basis, and I for one will be the first to admit that I make them all the time.

However, there’s A LOT we can gain from learning from them and being aware of the big ones that we can at times continue for a long time when we don’t realize that we are making them. Here’s a list of some of the common mistakes that I’ve made, along with my peers and what to look out for when seeking a good therapist or coach.

  1. Thinking too much about how to respond vs. just listening. — When we are in our heads, we are terrible listeners. It’s just the way humans are created. When I first began therapy and coaching, I would often get so caught up in what “amazing insight” I wanted to point out to my client, that I would really miss the big picture, and not truly be present with them. I would wait for a pause, and sometimes *cringe* I would be so impatient to respond that I would cut them off. My “amazing insight” is NEVER better than really LISTENING to the client and giving them space to process. Plus, most of the time, my amazing insight is NOT what the client needs, especially when you give them the impression your just “advicing” on them. Much of the therapy magic is done through creating space for people to come to their own insights, expand their ways of thinking, and grow. My “insight” never trumps that.
  2. Pretending to be an emotion-less robot.  — I used to think that when you were doing therapy, it was a time to cut off your attention from yourself, and fully absorb the other person. While being present IS super important, it’s not very relationship building when we aren’t aware of what’s going on with our own bodies (emotionally or physically). In fact, naming our own discomfort or feelings during the session can, when done well, be very healing. I now let my client’s know when I’m feeling a bit off because of sickness, or if I just heard really bad news, or if I’m feeling like my heart is racing as a couple yells back and forth. I pause, try to differentiate, and tell them “I’m noticing that in myself I’m feeling my heart race and I’m having a hard time keeping up, can you slow things down for me a bit?” 9.9 times/10 this is more helpful for clients then pretending like I’m a robot as they engage in war or tell me about past trauma. By modeling our own emotion regulation, this helps clients learn to name their feelings and stay in the moment too. Helping our client’s build that skill is one of the most healing things we can do.
  3. Caring TOO much about your client’s success. — Yes, I said it. When we are overly invested in our client’s making positive changes, it is important for us to stand back and ask ourselves, “Why am I really THIS invested?.. Is it about my client’s long-term wellbeing, or is it about my need for them to be successful so my ego doesn’t take a hit?” When we are pushing for our client’s success, and stressing ourselves out in the process –that’s often called “working for the client”, and that is not a good thing. When we “work for the client” we are often doing their work for them and they never actually LEARN to do the work for themselves (Like getting frustrated with a kid and tying their shoes for them). Additionally, when we care too much about client outcomes, we often end up feeling stressed out and being unable to be the presence our client’s truly need us to be.
  4. Making assumptions about culture or what people know. — I used to think that most people had what was called “theory of mind”, or the ability to think about one’s mind and thoughts from an observational view. Boy, was I wrong. Most people struggle to name more than 2 emotions (and that’s totally okay!)… and weren’t odd, psychology reading nerds like myself. I have also learned that I can never assume I understand what a person will believe or what their cultural outlook is. I remember being confused and surprised when a transgendered client was embracing of so many different genders and sexualities, but still felt discomfort around gay men. Again, I am learning to open up my mind and experiences to being embracing of all viewpoints and understanding my client’s wherever they are coming from. And with my experiences, reaffirming that “every thing makes sense in context”.

Being Okay With “Good Enough” From A Recovering Perfectionist

Admittedly, I really struggle with accepting “good enough” or being “okay” at things. For many different reasons (all stemming from various things I’m working through in my own therapeutic journey) I have noticed a desire in myself to work as hard as I can to be as good as I can be at every venture that I try without setting realistic boundaries, limits, or having much grace for myself in the process. The result? The overachiever-perfectionist mode or OPM leaves me feeling exhausted, depressed, and inadequate.

Knowing this tendency that I have for OPM, I have worked over the past 2-3 years more intentionally to slowly but surely become more okay with just being “okay” and saying “no” to myself on taking on too much all at once. As a graduate student who also coaches part-time, does CrossFit, and various entrepreneurial projects on the side — I really have to be cautious about the expectations and goals I set for myself and remember to be grateful for the progress I’ve made in the meantime.

One of the most helpful quotes that resonates in my mind when I begin going on an overachieving binge would be that,

“We will never fully arrive. If we think we have arrived, we are already far off course.”

These truths are so incredibly helpful for me because I have realized that this whole process of improving is a JOURNEY and we will never win at it. So, why not ENJOY that journey in the process?

It’s funny because most of my own “big-why’s” for setting certain goals is to become more of the person I think I want to be because I believe it will make me happier, more in touch with my healthier self, more at peace, and better able to serve others…. Ironically,  when I get into my OPM which I believe will help me achieve said “inner peace”, all of that goes out of the window and I lose sight of my whole purpose and drift farther from happiness, peace, and being attuned to others.

For this reason, I have set lower expectations, and practice being grateful for the “good enough”. This year, I may not progress much in CrossFit or my entrepreneurial projects because my main focus is on my clients and graduation. If I am able to be more present with them and get my degree — I will feel good enough and grateful that I am still a part of CrossFit (because I love my community <3) and able to feed the entrepreneur inside of me albeit with slow progress.

I will also embrace when I don’t get a chance to blog because my day is so incredibly hectic or a client is in crisis. The whole point of this blogging thing is for me to document as I learn and grow — and hopefully for that to be something that is inspiring and helpful in you, my reader’s, in your own journey of growth.

So to my fellow perfectionists (or to those who tolerate us!), my hope is that we can SLOWLY (not all at once or perfectly as we will be soooo tempted to do) give ourselves permission to be good enough with things as they are today, to be grateful for the baby steps along the way, and have grace for the moments that we fall and fail. In doing this, I have been able to grow a bunch more in my own personal and professional journey which has been full of failing, spiraling into the shame cave, realizing I’m spiraling into the shame cave, and doing things even when I really doubt myself.

Cheers to an imperfect, failure-full journey of growth in 2017!

 

 

 

 

How Avoiding People or Things Means Rejecting Ourselves.

When we avoid dealing or responding to a situation or person, we
are really saying no to the hard things that are coming up within ourselves
when dealing with that situation. *Whether we are conscious of these hard feelings or not.*

This is really unfortunate, because those hard feelings can be a great
opportunity for us to understand those parts of ourselves — what’s
really going on? Why does this suck so much? How do I make peace and
embrace this part of myself? Or how do I grieve this pain I’m feeling?

While there may not be any obvious, tangible consequences when we just
let time gloss over the things we avoid,  the true consequence lies in rejecting and burying pieces of who we are. When we reject & bury hard feelings that come up by avoiding hard situations, it’s hard for us to live from a place of truly being ourselves and letting others know who we are as well (i.e. not really giving people we care about the chance to love us as a whole – just the fragmented parts we choose to engage with).

So…where does the avoidance strategy come from?

Often people who choose avoidance as a strategy when the hard stuff comes up are acting from a pattern they developed waaaaay back when they were an infant. Adult avoiders were typically parented by people who were dismissing of emotional attachment in relationships. These parents would often normalize all experiences as being “excellent, or normal” without supporting those statements with concrete experiences/evidence and in some cases, stating contradictory support of these “normalizing” statements. When talking about emotions or attachment, their parents would tend to be brief and only highlight the “normal or good”, while not attending to the bad. When caregivers do this over time, the child learns to have a non-emotional attachment to their parent, not distressing when their parents come or leave and not attaching to them to meet their emotional needs. These children will often turn to toys or the environment to preoccupy their time and seek enjoyment. Additionally, avoidant children are likely to become dismissing adults, whose children will also likely be avoidant.

When the avoidant child becomes an adult, this translates into struggling to develop deeper emotional (and at times physical) intimacy with a partner or letting yourself be really seen by others for both the good and bad parts. Adult avoiders often unintentionally become dismissive of their own and others negative emotional experiences. These adult avoiders can even seem like the “happy-go-lucky” people who are always happy, but somehow hardly ever show their angry or sad parts when hard things happen. In the end, adult avoiders often don’t give others the gift of authenticity and full acceptance, annnnnd they also don’t give themselves that gift either. They essentially reject all unpleasant parts and build their lives on only the positive or neutral pieces.

Now, many of us struggle with avoidance from time-to-time, and temporary avoidance can be a healthy thing– like when we are overwhelmed and need time and space to process through complex emotions. However, if that avoidance becomes a long-term strategy and our go-to for any of the hard stuff, we may want to start questioning why it is so difficult for us to face the hard stuff and even consider working with a professional to do so.

Because at the end of the day, living a full, authentic and healthy life that also fosters intimacy and connection with those we love means facing ourselves, facing others, and embracing the good and bad of us all. ❤

 

That Magic Number of Clients

Having too few clients, and a therapist can find themselves bored, frustrated, and broke.

Too many? You may end up feeling burned out, stressed, and unable to function at your full capacity in other areas of life (family, in the gym, etc.)

That’s why it’s really important to find your sweet spot. That range for you that you have a large enough client base to feed yourself and find excitement with your work, and small enough to be able to give yourself and your clients the best care.

Because let’s face it, when we aren’t taking care of ourselves as therapists, it’s REALLY silly for us to expect our clients to take care of themselves. They can usually pick up on our energy, our overwhelm, and when we reach a point where we are struggling to keep up with names or are looking at the clock in anticipation during session — that’s a good sign we may need to cut back on our client load. I realize this may not always be an option (grad school requirements, agency work, or otherwise) and in those times — self care during our down time (even if that means box breathing on your car ride to work) is EXTRA important.

So how do we find that magic number?

While it may take some trial and error, it will be good to reflect on when you felt energized and in “flow” with your clients. What was your case load? What was the environment you were in?  What was your level of stress in your personal life?

If you are on the low end of clients, try finding a niche of clients that makes you passionate. A good rule of thumb is to go towards a topic that you naturally gravitate to, what field do you find yourself reading about the most?  After you’ve discovered a passion and done your research, go give seminars and talks in your community surrounding those topics! Yes, you may still struggle with finances for a bit, but getting out in the community even if unpaid at first can be a great way to network with other passionate individuals in that field and be able to reach the people that you could help — all while honing in on your skills in that area.

If on the other hand you are carrying a case load that is WAYYY too large, you may want to see if you can start to refer some clients out, create boundaries around your work schedule and in best practice refer out those who aren’t willing or able to meet those boundaries.(I.e. perhaps you find you work best working only 3 days a week — set those days and refer out those who can’t fit in your schedule).

I know that this is MUCH harder to do than to read about. It’s hard to say bye to clients we care about and get connected to. But trust me when I say it is NOT best practice to continue working at a schedule that burns you out and steals your ability to be 100% present for your clients. It’s only hurting yourself and your clients in the long run. And if we are to honor our motto of “do no harm” it’s going to be important that we are also doing “no harm” in the boundaries we set around our case load.