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.

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.

When Happiness Feels Bad.

Although millions of people search endlessly and spend copious amounts of money searching for the key to “happiness”, some people find happiness to be a really anxiety-provoking emotion. This is because happiness is an extremely vulnerable emotion. As people review their lives in their head they start to think, “Life is good right now…the family is good right now…the job is good right now… I feel happy… But what bad thing will happen next? When will the next shoe drop?”

These fears can make happiness and joy a really bothersome emotion. Some people even stifle their happiness with hopes of not feeling too hurt when bad things do happen. This is especially true for people who have suffered through a lot of unprocessed chaos and trauma — their brain’s start to rewire to think, “How can I protect myself? FEAR and NUMBING, that’s the trick! (although when we numb painful emotions, the happy/joyful ones get numbed too)”. However, stifling our joy or happiness does not make the messy or sad parts of life any more tolerable, better, or easier to endure — it just kills our ability to really soak in our happiness.

So what can we do if we struggle to fully embrace our happiness without fear that something bad will happen next?

Gratitude. Gratitude puts us back into our emotion and into the moment in an active way. It replaces our fear of happiness with honoring that emotion and thanking it for it’s presence in our lives.

So, the next moment you feel a blip of happiness  — say a little thank you to it, and let yourself enjoy where you are. Bad things will happen, yes. But it’s best to not let that put a damper on the good moments, because it does far less healing of the negative moments when they do arrive (and sometimes may subconsciously chase more negativity into our lives…. and ain’t nobody got time for that). Be happy, be grateful, be well!

Parenting is Hard

One of the most valuable phrases I’ve learned when working with people is:

Rules – Relationship = Rebellion

This concept was originally created to help step-parents and blended families understand the oh-so common rebellion that can happen when a step-parent steps into a child’s life and tries to enforce rules, while failing to foster the relationship (outside of setting and enforcing rules) with that child first. The common result? Rebellion. Kids innately value the relationship bond that happens at birth (and I’ll likely cover why this is in future blogs). For most step-parents, it’s tricky because they don’t get that opportunity to chemically and emotionally bond in those very crucial developmental stages so creating that bond with step-children can be an even bigger endeavor. Add in the complications of co-parenting, residual trauma from divorce, and a kid being in multiple environments with multiple rules and walaaa! It can be a super frustrating mix of chaos for both the kid and the step-parent.

Needless to say, this formula also applies to Authoritarian parenting relationships. That is, when parents create rules without offering explanations, listening & empathizing with their child’s emotions –even the irritating ones, and expect them to follow it in a militant kind-of-way. Most parents do this with the great intentions of making wonderful kids for our society, however, it commonly can go bad because these kids often struggle in the world when complicated emotions arise and things aren’t so “black and white”.

How can we change this? Build relationship with your kid. Listen to their emotions and utilize emotion coaching when you can (that is, “saying yes to the emotion, and no to the problematic behavior, see Dan Siegel’s works on parenting). More tangibly, make time every week to spend with your kids getting to know them, playing games with them, and taking a break from the enforcer role. Let your kids get to know you and remind them after hard conversations that at the end of the day you are on their side.

Try working on the relationship piece if you are struggling with kid rebellion and see what happens. This equation isn’t perfect (nor my own), but in my experience — it’s pretty darn close.

 

 

 

 

I’m not here to fix you.

As a therapist-in-the-making, I am here to embrace you. The good, bad, messy, silly — all the parts. So many clients come to therapy saying “Fix me!” or “Just help me erase or get rid of these painful memories!”or “Make me better!”, especially when they’ve been struggling with pain from trauma, grief, a break-up, or feeling rejected.

But here’s the thing – my clients are incredibly amazing people and I can’t erase their traumas even if I wanted to. Even more so, I whole-heartedly believe that there is so much growth we can derive from digging deep, feeling the pain, and allowing ourselves to be imperfect as we heal from our past hurts. Trauma will happen. Life will happen. Pain will happen. This isn’t a way of minimizing trauma or it’s effects but to show people that it’s okay to be sad, angry, anxious, depressed and otherwise out-of-sorts when we’ve experienced a lot of trauma and the addition of pressure to not feel pain, to simply get over things, or to “feel normal” only hurts us more.

When a person gets stuck in trying to “fix” themselves — they often go to the shame cave. The shame cave usually is accompanied by or proceeds feelings of not being good enough, not mattering, not getting it right, or of something being “dysfunctional” about ourselves compared to other people. Often our attempts to “fix the problem” becomes the problem. The shame cave often results in numbing behaviors such as addictions, becoming overly involved in another person’s life or a relationship, and in depression.

So what do I  do when my clients are hiding out in the shame cave?

I try to get them back in touch with their true selves. That is, the parts of them that are hidden beneath their feelings of inadequacy. The parts of themselves that are fueled by love and not fear. It can often take some time to get to know these parts of ourselves, especially if we’ve been running a script that has been fueled by fear for years (which is fairly common for people with traumatic histories). This fear-driven part of ourselves is usually created to protect ourselves from future traumas, but now, playing out in non-trauma life moments, can really hinder us from being ourselves and reaching our potential. When fear is driving the bus, we can start to feel on-edge in every day life, and not even sure of what safety is or means. We may try to control things in an effort to feel a false sense of safety and power. And if we don’t know what to do with those feelings of being “on-edge” whether it exhibits itself as anger, anxiety, or depression — well, then we are really in trouble.

So no, I’m not here to FIX you. I’m here to find you. That true self that isn’t afraid, the parts of you that come out when you feel truly safe and valued. It may take some time to get there for many reasons, but boy, is it worth the journey. You are worth it.

Being yourself increases happiness.

“Positive emotion alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, inauthenticity, depression, and as we age the growing realization that we are fidgeting until we die.”

What makes a person truly happy? Not the, “I just ate a really awesome slice of cheesecake happy” but true, lasting emotional satisfaction?

Scientists like Martin Seligman have been studying this phenomenon for years and they state that a crucial component of happiness is  (drumroll, please)…. being yourself.

In fact, many people spend countless hours trying to “correct their weaknesses” instead of honing in on their strengths. I compare it to the athlete that has one body type, but still fights to be good in a skill that requires another (for short people like me? Rowing & basketball will never be my thing). While body type is an easier attribute to understand, many of us also do this with our personality strengths and weaknesses.

But how do we know what these are? Personality tests? Time? Sometimes the tricky part is understanding what are innate strengths and limitations are.

For most, this involves taking time to ask yourself questions about how different things make you feel:

When did you last feel empowered? Or a sense of “flow”, that feeling of getting lost in what you were doing? What have people positively commented on about you? What topics get you excited? When were you last jealous of someone? What were you jealous of? Chances are, you want that thing. You admire the having of whatever triggered your jealousy. Asking yourself these questions can help you get to the root of those authentic strengths and values that ultimately point to who you are.

The other side of this is accepting your limitations. For some, this may be the first step to addressing them, especially if they are problematic. However, for most of us we tend to hone in on our weaknesses that aren’t problematic and don’t ultimately determine our happiness — like that stubborn last 5 pounds we’d like to lose, or not being more naturally good at certain things. It’s funny how becoming caught in stressing over these things can be the thing that keeps us stuck in unhappiness, and ultimately doesn’t make us better.

At the end of the day, getting to know yourself and owning your strengths is going to be important for your journey — and for others who may be missing out on those strengths because you are chasing your weaknesses. Instead, be you, be fulfilled, be happy.

Posing: A Tool for Power and Rapport

We all have a pose, a gesture, a way of holding ourselves. On the surface, many people never broach the topic–but subconsciously? The brain makes a lot of judgments based on how a person holds themselves. Especially when it comes to demonstrating power and building rapport.

Recent studies have even shown that the WAY you stand or pose, has an even more profound impact on how others perceive you in power roles than gender (see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201504/can-women-ever-be-taken-seriously). Sorry ladies, no more excuses.

Additionally, studies by Amy Cuddy have shown the profound impacts of holding a power position (or standing with your hands on hips) for just two minutes before an interview can actually help your brain and physiology communicate more power and calm in a job interview.

So– what exactly are power poses? Power poses typically consist of a person taking up more space (vs crossing their arms and legs), having good posture (which also technically takes up more space), and being still (not fidgeting).  Side note: I wonder if they’ve done any studies with high heels, do women in high heels give off more “vertical” or a sense of power than those who don’t? What about men with a slight heel? If you’ve heard of these studies–I’d be curious to learn more. 

Hands on hip isn’t just sass any more–it’s a power pose. Gesturing with arms–power. Now a word-of-caution, all of these movements should happen at appropriate times and with calm. If you’re flailing your arms around? That doesn’t convey power/respect, but goofiness… which is totally appropriate in other scenarios, but not when you’re trying to gain gravitas.

Next time you want to emphasize some power and rapport? Stand a little taller, wider, and stiller.

Until next time,

J

The American diet: Insidious Mind-Body Damage

The modern American diet. One of those emotional, touchy, messy, endearing subjects.

While providing many with experiences of joy and (literally) drug-like reactions (Yes, sugar’s response in our brain mimics cocaine’s response), some of the modern day processed foods can cause diseases of both the mind and body.

You heard right, body AND mind. Our brains. Mental illness. It’s real.

I only emphasize that because while it’s easier to see the growing impacts on our physical health through increasing rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease–it’s also important to understand the deleterious impacts on our mental health as well (that which is not as tangible—yet.) Diet also impacts our levels of serotonin and a whole food diet & exercise has been one of the best (if not more so effective) treatments to depression/anxiety than medication (pharmaceutical companies would hate me for saying so–but, hey, my moral compass is more important than your pocket book).

Indeed, modern neuroscientists are constantly finding links between diet and behaviors, increased rates of depression/anxiety, and overall mental well being. Scientists are finally able to look at processes in the brain (versus just snap shots like in the 90’s/00’s) and in essence, entering a whole new world of understanding of our mind’s processes and systems. Yay!

Furthermore, what we put into our bodies impacts our aging process. Obese people have higher levels of DNA damage and less repair mechanisms than people who are slender. DNA damage is indicative of cancer, pre-mature aginig, etc. The repair processes require Magnesium to function well and unfortunately 45% of Americans don’t get the Magnesium they need (this is also what’s found in green, leafy plants).

Unfortunately, it gets worse. These traits can also be passed on to our kiddos due to epigenetics. Epigenetics turn genes on and off~ and guess what? They are regulated largely by diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. What does this mean? Diabetes might be passed on through our genetics.

The good news? You can reverse these effects through healthy diet and exercise.

So what dietary changes can people make? This is a complex question… every person’s dietary needs are unique but there are a few guidelines we know apply to most people. (Again, consult a professional/get a blood test to fully understand your personal needs).

Eat whole foods. As hippie-to earth, organic as possible. That means produce, local meats (raised humanely), and dairy products. Skip the diet foods. Skip ANY thing with ingredients in it you can’t bake at home. Seriously, that stuff could be just as terrible as the bacteria you find under your toilet, or worse.

It’s expensive but, so is insulin/medicine and losing your health, premature illness and doctor visits…just ask seniors taking 18 pills a day!

Take supplements for Magnesium (45% of Americans are deficient) and Vitamin D (70% of Americans are deficient) ~4000 IUD’s a day… Take your vitamins in general (the research has only shown some vitamins are bad once you already HAVE cancer because it can fuel the cancer, but as a preventative measure nothing better helps your healthy body function well).

Those newspaper articles on how Vitamins are bad for you? They’re made for ratings, not for accurate portrayals of scientific research. If you can, always have a critical eye for what you read in the paper until you actually decode the research they cite (you’ll be blown away at how much is misconstrued).

Okay–that’s all I have for today. There’s much more to understanding the mind-body interactions but in my efforts to be kind to your attention reserves, I’ll leave you with an awesome YouTube Video that I HIGHLY recommend which has inspired this article and elucidates WITH PICTURES how important this information is.

My very best,

J

The not-so-tough bully: how to feel empathy for those who hurt us.

“Hurt people hurt people”. It’s a quote I really had to think about before the concept sunk in.

There have been times in my life, the not-so glamorous times in which I have felt justified hurting others because of the hurt I was feeling. Now, although I FELT justified.. the truth is, I wasn’t…but that I was also unaware and ill equipped to deal with the unavoidable pain in life in healthier, constructive ways. Bullies are often guilty of this as well.

When you really let it sink in, it makes sense.

Sadness, fear, and guilt/shame/rejection are all secondary emotions of anger. When someone is angry, it is usually coming from a place of feeling one of these emotions and anger is an “easier” emotion to feel (and often more socially acceptable) than the others. Bullies often have a background of being bullied, rejected, or shamed (whether by their families or others). They’ve learned to bully as an effective strategy for temporarily alleviating these feelings (though like other ineffective coping strategies, putting others down doesn’t actually help a bully accept these emotions, and they typically resurface time and time again).

It’s important to remember that when it comes to people being mean, it’s typically more about THEM than it ever is about you. When I find myself feeling bad feelings towards others, I often question what part of me is really needing to be heard and nourished–because it’s always about my own hurt feelings and unresolved anxieties (hey, we are human after all).

Just a little psych empathy tidbit on a Monday evening–catch ya later!

J