“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin

 

 

Not often enough is each of us asked, “What’s it like moving through the world as you?” We are not often asked about our fears and insecurities, hopes, frustrations, and about what makes us feel alive. We are not often asked about what we’re thinking, what we’re wondering about, or if we’re worried.

 

Some of us experience racism and homophobia. Some of us experience ableism or transphobia or sexism or classism or ageism.

 

Some of us suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic pain, or addiction. Some of us are navigating the complicated mourning process and feeling what can only be described as unyielding fragility. Some of us are numb.

 

All of us are grappling with something- marital problems, financial instability, a terminally ill child, a best friend dead from aggressive cancer, panic about the future, historical or intergenerational trauma, chronic mental or physical illness, a break-up, discrimination, sexual harassment, the aging process, our own inexorable thoughts.

 

I get the pleasure and honor of creating a space for people to sit down and tell me about what it’s like for them as they move through the world. I get to see couples learn, for the first time, in a deeper way what it’s like for their partners to be them. I have made a career out of witnessing what happens when people speak honestly and listen compassionately.

 

Not everyone has the privilege of making this their daily life, and I’d like to help make it as accessible as possible. It’s the act of intelligently tuning into our own experience and seeing what’s there. It’s the act of deepening our understanding of ourselves and another.

 

When we become attuned to and present with our pain, we can tune into and be present with another’s pain. The reverse is also true, that when we are present with and attuned to another’s pain we can also be present with our own. We are complex creatures, capable of many things, some being empathy and compassion.

 

When we open space for ourselves to be present and attuned, it’s easier to listen to what is really being said. It’s easier to see someone for who they are instead of our projection of them.

 

We can’t do this all the time, but we can do it more often. We can slow down and drop in.

 

Someone recently recommended to me Patton Oswalt’s “Annihilation” performance. In it, he talks about his late wife, writer Michelle McNamara, and her belief system. He quotes her as saying, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

 

There is chaos. And there is kindness.

 

I wonder, what’s it like moving through the world as you?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Thank You, From Your Therapist

Thank You, From Your Therapist

We all want to know how people feel about us. Most of us want to know how our therapists feel about us. “Does he think about me in between sessions?” “Does she think I’m smart? Funny? Doing a good job?” “Does my therapist like me?” I think of clients often, both past and present. In fact, I think of our work together and how I’ve received immeasurable benefit from knowing each and every client.

 

Every single day I’m aware of the gifts of this profession. I’m deeply thankful and appreciative to be in a position that allows me to make contact with so many different members of my community. I’ve wanted to write a thank you letter to past and present clients for some time, but I’ve been fearful that I couldn’t express my gratitude as clearly as I’d hoped. I decided that it’s better to try than to stay silent.

 

We start out as strangers. You call or email, looking for help with your pain and suffering, questions, and frustration about your situation. Sometimes you’ve been suffering for years. Other times your discomfort is recent.

 

I know how hard it is to make that first contact, to come in for the first few sessions, before we’ve established a connection. You feel a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism. You’re afraid I might judge you. You’re afraid of stigma. You’re afraid there’s nothing anybody can do to help you, that you’re beyond hope, but you’re not ready to give up just yet. Thank you for your fight.

 

You show up and share your history, parts of yourself. You answer my questions. Little by little, you start to let go and engage in the process. You fight against the urge to clam up when you’re visited by self-judgment and fear. Sometimes you win. Sometimes the urges win. You keep trying. Thank you for your persistence.

 

I am awe-struck by your courage. You’ve been through so much life. We live in similar worlds so, I know that you’re working against years of people telling you to suck it up, that your pain isn’t a big deal, that there is more pain, worse pain out there, and that you’re lucky. I know you tell yourself this, too. But there’s a small part of you that doesn’t believe it. Thank you for your courage to hold onto this small part.

 

You come to our sessions when you don’t feel like it, when you’re thrown around by life, when you’d rather finish that work project or Netflix show or go out with friends. You come to our sessions when you’ve got a million responsibilities, when you’re afraid to face your feelings, when you’re embarrassed about what you shared last session. Thank you for your commitment to this work.

 

Somehow, you push through your own self-judgments, fear of judgment from me, discomfort, and you bring your authentic self. You allow yourself to ask revealing questions. You face your vulnerability and insecurity. You tell me what makes you feel joy, loneliness, hate, fear, and rage. Thank you for your authenticity.

 

For these and so many other reasons, I am inspired by you. You remind me that, while life is undoubtedly a painful experience, it is also wonderful. You remind me that it’s better to take chances instead of staying grounded in fear. Thank you for your inspiration.

 

You have changed me. I’m not the same person I was before I started this work. You have inspired me to become more self-aware, more patient, more curious, more direct. You’ve inspired me to learn and to embrace my vulnerability, to live more authentically. You’ve taught me to stop getting angry at people for being who they are and instead be curious. You’ve taught me to look and listen more closely and more compassionately. I would not be who I am today without our work. Thank you for changing me.

 

It is an honor and privilege to work with all of you. I hope my words and actions demonstrate my gratitude for you. Thank you for all you share with me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“How Do I Know If We Should Break Up?”

“How Do I Know If We Should Break Up?”

Ideally, we’d all be able to have disagreements with people while regulating our emotions. Most of us, at some point, though, blow our tops. We get our buttons pushed and lose it or shut down or walk away. The answer isn’t always to break up. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s not.

 

It’s useful to understand that, like most things, interactions happen on a continuum. We can yell and throw something one time during one argument in our lives, or it can be a pattern. We can make intentionally hurtful comments when we’re feeling backed against a corner, or it can be our go-to in trying to maintain control in any fight. One of these behaviors might start out as a rare occurrence and, over time, become a mainstay in the way we handle conflict.

 

We all feel triggered and angry. We all take out our issues out on other people. Often, the closer the bond, the more likely it is that a loved one will push our buttons and the higher the likelihood that we will argue. This fighting often separates us from the ones with whom we share our deepest bonds.

 

So, how can we manage our fighting and use our arguments as insight?        

 

Make a Plan:

Having a solid, clear agreement between you and your partner about how to manage escalating anger is crucial for protecting both of you from hurting each other and for protecting any children in the household from witnessing these arguments.

 

A necessary part of this plan is to open the space for a timeout. Identify when you’re feeling emotionally reactive/triggered and take space from the issue. Agree on another time to come back together to discuss it when you can better manage your emotions. Sometimes couples can’t get results this way or can’t stick to the plan. If this sounds like you, please consult a therapist.

 

Be Aware:

It’s easy to identify the subject matter of many of our fights. A skillful tool is to notice the process of fighting, themes, times, triggers, the way we resolve our fights.

 

Do the fights happen on the weekends? Long car rides? Are they often precipitated by a disagreement about finances or parenting? Are they resolved when someone shuts down or explicitly threatens to leave?

 

Paying close attention to our own experience of our fights, specifically when we’re in a neutral or calm state, provides us with substantive clarity. Learning about our partner’s triggers and fighting processes is also useful. We can apply the insights we’ve gathered to new, more beneficial behaviors.

 

It Is Not Weird to Ask for Help:

A lot of people go to therapy- your boss, your no-nonsense sister-in-law who often makes jokes about therapy, your fitness trainer, your coach, the Caltrans worker on Market and 5th. Managing relationships specific to our cultures and upbringing is not inborn. We were taught whatever our families learned and believed, not necessarily what works. (You can’t be what you can’t see.) Luckily, we can learn new information and gain the freedom to choose.

 

It is important to acknowledge that people are complex. Someone can be supportive, loving, calm, smart, independent and also, angry, jealous, controlling, suspicious, and demanding. We might remind ourselves that the qualities we love and the qualities we find challenging exist within the same person. We’ve heard ourselves say things like, “Overall, he’s really great. This is the best relationship I’ve ever had. Once he stops being so depressed, he’ll be able to get his life together. I’ll stop feeling so resentful, and we won’t fight as much.”

 

Or “We really do love each other. She’s basically perfect for me. She just has to learn to stop setting off my anger. Then things will be so much better.” There is both truth and false hope in statements like these. The solution isn’t always to walk away, but it isn’t just to stay and fight either. It’s more intricate than that.

 

How can we navigate this complex middle space? 

 

1) Assess what is working in the relationship and what is not.

2) Be honest with ourselves about our responsibility in the relationship.

3) Be honest with ourselves about what is not our responsibility in the relationship.

4) Understand what our commitment to our relationship means and what we want it to look like.

5) Commit to actions that are in alignment with how we want to manage our responsibilities.

 

Remember that for a couples’ relationship to be healthy, thriving, and fully functional; there need to be two emotionally healthy adults. One partner can do all the work in the world, learn great communication tools, heal their old wounds, and change their part of the dynamic, but if the other partner stays stuck, the dynamic will stay stunted.

 

Commitment is always an unknown, but the more we know and trust ourselves, the more we can accept these unknowns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

Have you ever noticed that one guy at work, the one who you’ve never liked, but couldn’t put your finger on why? Or the neighbor who, for some reason, when she smiles at you, you feel irritated? Or why you can’t stand the smell of a certain laundry detergent? Or why, even though you’re accomplished in your field, you feel like an idiot before you give a presentation?

We all have an information processing system hardwired into our brains. This processing system has evolved to help us integrate emotional turmoil into our mental health and is essential for healing. This system helps us to let go of what is not useful information and make connections to what is useful about an experience so that we can adapt, grow, learn, and face similar situations more intelligently.

Here is an example:

You have a stressful interaction with your mother-in-law while she is visiting for a holiday. You feel angry, disappointed, and resentful. Your chest is tight, and your stomach is in knots. You think negative thoughts about her (“She’s always such a cold, demanding jerk.”) and about yourself (“What is wrong with me that after so many years, I can’t seem to avoid these situations with her? Is it me?”)

You keep mulling over what happened, talk about it with friends, maybe even have a stress dream about it that night. The next day, you still feel a bothered by it but not nearly as much. You’re able to think more clearly about it and understand that you two interpret things differently and that there are ways that you can skillfully manage this. This is your brain’s information processing system at work. It’s transformed this disturbing situation into a learning experience. (You can also thank your REM sleep phase for this since this is the time during which wishes, learning/lessons, survival/stress experiences are processed through the action of “synaptic pruning.”

Because of this uninterrupted time to process, your brain was able to associate the memory of the interaction with your mother-in-law and useful information already stored in your brain (from other stressful interactions with her and others) to create resolution. You remember what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and that it isn’t personal, that this is just the way she is and that you have useful tools for interacting with her. The intense emotional reaction you felt the day before is gone.

Unfortunately, our brains do not adaptively store all of our experiences in this way. Sometimes we encounter traumatic experiences or otherwise stressful experiences that overwhelm our brain’s capacity to process and adaptively store information received during these experiences. This is often referred to as “going off-line.” It’s kind of like short-circuiting.

When we encounter extreme stress, the emotional and physical reactions we experience during the event keep the brain from identifying useful information about the situation; there is no resolve. What happens instead is that the event and its information is maladaptively stored. This means that the event and its components are stored in the brain and body as it happened. Everything you saw, heard, felt (physically and emotionally), tasted, smelled, thought remain in their original, unprocessed form.

You do your best to move through it, but whenever any of these senses are triggered, your emotional disturbance level sky-rockets and you have a reaction. Many times, multiple unprocessed events are linked to one another in such a way that if one is triggered, all are triggered. These events, while often linked to one another, are stored in isolation so that they are not linked to anything adaptive.

No amount of time will help them to integrate. It’s as though these events are frozen in time. An event could have happened 40 years ago, but when triggered it’s as though it is still happening or just happened.

Our personalities, coping skills, perspectives, and beliefs about ourselves and others can develop through the lens of these unprocessed events and impact our emotional and physical capabilities.

Research shows that it’s not just clearly identifiable traumatic events that are responsible for this outcome, but any event or pattern that our brain experienced as overwhelming.

It could be the way someone spoke to you as a child, your interpretation of someone’s behavior you witnessed at three years old or making a mistake during an academic oral exam in second grade. We don’t always know how our brains will store an event.

The good news is that we’re not stuck here. There are therapeutic tools that can help us to free ourselves from the suffering of an unconscious cycle or unprocessed event. One of the most efficacious and reliable tools is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy. This therapy helps us to safely contact the disturbing event or maladaptive cycle and process it, giving us a new understanding of the situation so that we can use its information intelligently.

If you would like to know more about EMDR Therapy, please call or email me. I would love to talk with you more about this process and see if it’s right for you. If you’re not quite ready to reach out yet, that’s ok, too. You can find more information on EMDR Therapy here and here.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

At some point, most of us have a hard time letting someone have their feelings. When someone is mad at us or sad about something we’ve done or said, we feel uncomfortable. We get defensive (“That’s not what I meant!”), aggressive (“Ugh, you always do this! Whatever. You don’t need to get upset about it.”), or we try to clean it up by backtracking.

 

When we react to the I-don’t-like-the-way-I-feel-when-you-feel-the-way-you-feel feeling, it usually doesn’t help the situation, right? The other person experiences our efforts as invalidating and self-serving (and they’re right). Everyone gets more upset, and we cause more hurt.

 

So, what can we do? Instead of trying to control how someone feels, instead of trying to control the way they interpret our actions and words, we can show respect and dignity to the other person and their experience while taking care of our feelings about their feelings.

 

This requires:

 

  • Curiosity about the other person’s experience
  • Presence, both with ourselves and with the other
  • Self-compassion for our own experience

 

When we’re employing curiosity, it’s important that the curiosity be as genuine as possible (or at least the wish for it). We’re not looking for ways in which we think they misunderstood us or for an in somewhere. We want to understand their experience. We want to know what they heard and saw and felt.

 

Engaging our presence will help us keep our reactivity to a minimum and provide a solid foundation for the conversation. It’s a great way to soothe ourselves in a moment of upset and show up emotionally and cognitively for the other person (and for any difficult situation).

 

Using self-compassion is helpful for something like this because it helps stabilize us and our need to make sure we’re ok with the other person. It gives us what we are looking for, the knowledge that we are ok, right from the source- ourselves. Often, the reason why we go on the defensive/offensive or try to convince the other person out of their feelings is that we need validation that we’re ok. But when we try to feel ok using those tactics we invalidate the other person. Then, there are two people who feel invalidated and are putting their needs on each other.

 

Managing conflict isn’t easy, and relational discord feels bad. Often, we are challenged by our need to be right and our need to maintain peace in the relationship. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Ultimately, what matters is our ability to validate our own experience and our desire to see and hear the other person. Because many of our experiences will not be shared, it is important for us to be able to validate ourselves and respect other people’s perspectives.

 

The more curious we are about others’ experiences, the more likely it is that we will come to an understanding. If I’m busy trying to talk someone out of their anger, I probably won’t hear their need to feel respected. I probably won’t hear that they experienced me as belittling, that they felt insignificant and small. Chances are, we’ll keep rolling around in the same cycle because we’ll both keep triggering each other and waiting for the other to back down.

 

We will not always do this. I don’t always do this. There are plenty of times when I find myself acting defensively because I don’t like the way I feel when someone else feels the way they feel. But it’s less often. The more I practice taking care of myself and giving someone space for their own experience, the more I feel like it’s my natural primary response.

 

If you’d like to know more about managing conflict, please email or call me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

What We Want:

We all long for fulfilling, stable, and safe connections to others. We want to be understood and hope for people to experience us as we experience ourselves. We long for someone who will take care of us and reassure us that everything will be ok. We want to feel held and contained. We want our rage and defiance to be tolerated. We want to feel that someone understands our experiences of the world and we want those our feelings about those experiences to either be validated or soothed.

Why That’s Challenging:

We will often be misunderstood by and misunderstand others.

We don’t always know how to tolerate someone else’s rage and defiance. Some of us were taught that rage and defiance are intolerable and unacceptable. We were taught that in order to be lovable we had to be “good” which meant being pleasing and accommodating.

We all have some degree of self-idealization, over-inflation of certain qualities and that is often in conflict with a) others’ self-idealization and b) others’ self-concepts. It gets in the way. I might think of myself as a smart, fantastic listener and you might consider yourself a smart, effective communicator. If we come across a misunderstanding or a fair amount of tension during an encounter in our relationship, depending on how psychologically flexible we are, both of us might jump to the conclusion that the other is not as smart as they think they are or not a great listener/communicator.

We are a complex constellation of inner experiences and reduced to words as a means of communication.

Some of us have been deeply hurt by intimacy. Some of us respond to this wound by avoiding intimacy. Others respond by developing a preoccupation with it. Depending on the experiences endured in childhood, we might view safety as either boring, untrustworthy, or elusive. (And plenty of people would say that safety is downright illusory.)

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our own difficult emotions, let alone tolerate high emotionality in others.

What We Can Do:

 We can begin by learning to accept that we are never going to be completely understood by nor completely understand others. Having some understanding can be enough.

At any moment, we can slow down and label what is happening to give us space from the immediate interpretations calculated by our brains.

We can look at our expectations.

We can start to be more curious about which narratives we’re living by that aren’t serving us.

We can remind ourselves that, at the core, what we want from others is often what they want from us and that we might define this differently.

We can learn to balance between our attunement to others’ needs and our own.

Listening is an ineffably effective tool. When we’re willing to listen to ourselves and others we create an open, stable environment. Listening allows us to contact an experience on a deeper level and then make choices that are more in alignment with what is needed.

As always, none of this exhaustive but it’s off to a good start. Happy relating!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

“The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”
-Allen Ginsberg

 

When I first started my own work with mindfulness and radical acceptance, I found myself saying, “I’ll accept this feeling/ this symptom so that I don’t have to have it anymore.” That’s… not really acceptance but it was the best I could do at the time. Since working with clients around mindfulness and radical acceptance, I have heard this sentiment hundreds of times. It’s hard to get behind the idea that accepting our pain or feelings or aversive experiences has therapeutic value, that it could ever help us to make positive changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is driven by just this, accepting the hard-to-accept.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven Hayes in the early 1980s and tested by Robert Zettle in the mid-1980s. It is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is based on Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s (ACT) main objective is to help participants turn toward their feelings and symptoms instead of resisting them. The protocol helps participants learn how not to overreact nor underreact nor altogether avoid the associations with these feelings and symptoms. With ACT, we learn to accept ourselves and the experience we are having in the present moment so that we can commit to a behavior aligned with our values.

 

ACT succinctly describes the change in psychological flexibility in this way:

 

We go from F.E.A.R.

 

F- fusion with our thoughts

E- evaluation of our experience

A- avoidance of our experience

R- reason-giving for our behavior

 

To A.C.T.

 

A-accept our reactions and be present

C- choose a valued direction

T- take action

 

In the book, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Hayes, Strosahi, and Wilson, we’re given the six core principles to help us develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reifythoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to oneself.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

 

ACT emphasizes mindfulness because presence of mind/contact with the present is the only way to change behavior. Now is the only time that we can truly choose a behavior. We habituate to looking at the world in a certain way which makes us miss important external and internal cues to help us determine what is happening in the present moment by thinking about the past or the future. Awareness of the present moment helps us to differentiate between what we are afraid is happening and what is actually happening. It helps us to describe what is happening and then make choices in response. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

The “acceptance” part of ACT is problematic for some. “So then, if I’m supposed to accept my feelings and my experience, does that mean I’m supposed to accept abuse and maltreatment?” The answer to that will always be no. When we accept our feelings and experience, it means we accept the information that we are receiving and can make choices based on that information. It means that we accept that this is how it is right, not that this is how it should continue to be.

 

When we practice acceptance of what’s happening we can mindfully make choices that are in alignment with our values. I like to use this phrasing in my own life and when working with clients: “I’m going to keep choosing the same behavior of ______ because I care about______.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to ______ because I care about ________.” So, someone might say “I am going to keep choosing the same behavior of confronting people when they treat me with disrespect because I care about my feelings and how I’m treated.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to respectfully disengaging from an argument when it no longer feels productive because I care about my feelings and this relationship and I know that continuing in unproductive conversation usually leads to hurt feelings and resentment.”

 

Sometimes the choice is hard to make. For instance, “I choose to go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling more refreshed” is a great behavior goal. But what if it means sacrificing quality time spent with loved ones? This is where present moment focus and acceptance of your experience comes in handy. You might prefer to spend the time with your loved ones and wake up feeling a little more sluggish.

 

I know it’s hard to identify choices so let’s do it together. If you want to talk more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, changing behaviors, or anything else, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What Is Gender

What Is Gender

Gender is confusing. It’s often used and understood as a synonym for sexual genitalia. Consult any dictionary, and you’ll see. And while, in our culture, both terms are inextricably linked with one another, they are different. They’re associations with one another (and our staunch adherence to them) have proven oppressive and dangerously limiting.

For some, it’s never an issue; they’re born, they are raised as the sex they were assigned at birth, identify with that sex and its associated gender, and it’s all good. For many others, it’s not so easy. Some of us feel confined by the limits of our current conceptualization of gender upon which our society has agreed and enforced for generations.

Even in places where people self-describe as open-minded and accepting, a cis man wearing a dress is assumed to be in costume, and a femme or high femme woman with fully grown out leg hair is a spectacle.

Gender is a construct, and we have agreed that being masculine means one thing and being feminine means another. Many of us who disagree with this construct do so while following the rules. We feel that we are following these rules against our wills. When people do break free and live authentically, however outside the norm, they are mocked, isolated, bullied, attacked, and even killed.

For years, in the Trans community, “passing” has been a goal. Some want to pass in hopes of feeling in alignment with who they know themselves to be. Some want to pass to look and feel like and be accepted as a “real” man or woman. (Please note that I am absolutely simplifying this concept.) This is a testament to the generations of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, sexism, and misogyny that inform our culture. Men must “look like men, ” and women must “look like women.” To this day it’s still an issue of safety as MTF (male-to-female) people are the most targeted members of our community. (And MTF People of Color make up a substantial portion of that group.)

Obviously, this is not true for every Trans person. There are plenty of people in the Trans community for whom passing isn’t much of a goal, and there are many who’ve found more peace and happiness after transitioning. Happiness is a universal goal, and many eventually find it after they have transitioned. (Most people don’t find immediate fulfillment; transitioning is often a long and arduous process during which a person can face various types of rejection and self-doubt. Years of managing the stress brought on by denying oneself, living in fear of being rejected for living authentically compounded by the stress of letting go and allowing oneself to transition is an enormous undertaking.)

But there is a whole group of people who identify as Trans and don’t want HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or surgeries. Some Trans people want HRT but not surgery. Some want some of the surgeries but not all and don’t want HRT. Some FTMs will never look the way we’ve been conditioned to identify as male, and some MTFs will never look the way we’ve been conditioned to identify as female. Most of us assume that when someone transitions they’ll start behaving and presenting in a way that our culture affirms as masculine enough or feminine enough.

We have decided what is masculine and feminine, which characteristics are ok to swap and which are definitely not ok. Straight men can have long hair, but they can’t wear makeup. Women can have buzz cuts and abstain from shaving body hair, but they’d better be Lesbian. Our culture puts an incredible amount of pressure on its members to conform to its rules and has assembled a loyal and persuasive army of militant enforcers who are always more than willing to defend these rules.

In response, so much dangerous adherence to these limits is the notion of being gender-fluid. Gender fluidity is gaining momentum. A lot of people don’t feel they should have to comply with a certain presentation based on their genitals. So they don’t. They identify and present however feels most authentic to them. They don’t ask for permission. They don’t appease. People who are gender-fluid have looked at the gender, and sexual constructs created by the dominant groups in our culture and have opted out. They are creating a safer, more inclusive culture where we are not defined by our presentations or ruled by binaries and either-or options.

I’m often asked about “detransitioning” and how common it is. This is a complicated subject and will take time and commitment to discuss. If you have any questions about what I’ve written or would like to discuss detransitioning, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to talk about this with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie