23 Traits of People with the Victim/Learned Helplessness Mindset:

23 Traits of People with the Victim/Learned Helplessness Mindset:

When we’ve experienced relational trauma, we’ve been victimized. Some of us stay victimized long after the trauma has happened and this wreaks havoc on our lives and relationships.

 

Some of us have been the one with the victim mindset, and some of us have been in relationship to someone who perceives the world through the victim mindset. (And some of us have played both parts.) No matter which side we’ve been on, if we’ve experienced it, we’ve felt the dread, fear and infuriation this mindset brings with it.

 

Perceiving from the victim mindset is different from being victimized although the two are related. Those of us who have survived trauma, especially in early childhood, often stay stuck in the victim role and our victim mindset is born.

 

Clinically, we refer to the victim mindset as learned helplessness. Learned helplessness happens when we are exposed to an aversive stimulus that we cannot avoid. Whether we are trying to avoid a slap, bullying at school, sexual abuse, or mistreatment from friends, if we feel powerless enough, we will learn that, no matter what we do, we can’t stop it. Studies show that many creatures including fish are susceptible to the learned helplessness phenomenon.

 

This is an allegory I often tell when I’m working with clients:

 

A few decades ago, circus animal handlers tied baby elephants to a tent stake. They attached a heavy chain from the baby elephant’s leg to a stake near the tent so that they could be left unsupervised without wandering away. Throughout its life, this is how handlers kept the circus elephant. Once the elephant matured, the handlers exchanged the heavy chain for a thin rope. The strength of a heavy chain was no longer needed; just a little bit of resistance against the animal’s leg was enough to keep it from freeing itself. The elephant was more than strong enough to pull its leg away from the tent stake and roam free, but because of its early conditioning, it didn’t realize this. It gave up at even the slightest bit of resistance. At one point, the elephant was actually stuck, and it habituated to being stuck. It continued to believe that it was helpless passed the point of objective helplessness.

 

This story is a great way to pictorialize the learned helplessness/ victim mindset. At some point, we are helpless, and we are subject to feeling helpless long after our objective helplessness.

 

Whether we are the person with the learned helplessness/victim mindset or we’re interacting with someone who is stuck in the learned helplessness/victim mindset, we find ourselves emotionally drained. It’s a challenge no matter which role we play. If we are the victim, we move through life feeling powerless and miserable. In reference to the circus elephant, we might think, “You can see that I’m stuck! Why won’t you help me and untie my leg from the tent stake?!” If we are in relationship to a victim, we feel irritated and burdened. We probably think, “Just start walking away from the tent, and you’ll see you’re not actually stuck!”

 

It’s hard to be the one who feels dependent on someone else to change things, and it’s hard to be the one who is charged with the impossible burden of changing something for someone else. Nothing is ever enough, and everybody feels it. In this dynamic, everybody is set up for failure.   

 

Here is a list of 23 common characteristics demonstrated by those of us with the learned helplessness/victim mindset:

 

1) Self-pity: We typically wallow in how hard things are for us. We feel entitled to better treatment and circumstances, but don’t know how to manage our disappointment or set and maintain a healthy boundary. Instead, we feel bad for ourselves and wait for someone or something to improve our situation.    

 

2) Lack of Accountability: Our feelings and circumstances are not our responsibilities. Instead of taking care of our feelings and identifying our part in a situation, we look to external stimuli that we’re sure is the culprit of our discomfort. If good things happen, we’re not sure how or why, but we know it couldn’t be because of anything we did. We wait for the other shoe to drop. If something bad happens, we are usually anxious about it but not surprised.

 

3) Passive-Aggressive: Growing up, it either wasn’t safe to disagree or assert ourselves, we went unheard, or we weren’t taught how to do it. We do not know how to appropriately self-advocate or assert ourselves, so we communicate our displeasure and hurt through passive-aggressive comments, actions, and silence. We wait for the other person to address an issue and when they do, we often become defensive or deny any hurt, disappointment, anger, or resentment.     

 

4) Quit Relationships, Jobs, Hobbies, etc.: Instead of maintaining proximity to a person or situation and working through challenges, when we experience hardship in a dynamic we cut someone out of our lives, quit a job or hobby, or otherwise remove ourselves from the relationship or situation. (Abusive or toxic situations are not included in this dysfunctional behavior. It is perfectly healthy and recommended to remove ourselves from an abusive or toxic circumstance.)

 

5) Critical of Ourselves and Others: It is hard to be compassionate for others when we a) didn’t experience much compassion growing up b) aren’t compassionate with ourselves and c) haven’t been able to receive compassion from others in any meaningful way. We nitpick, judge ourselves and others harshly, and hold people to unreasonably high standards.        

 

6) Blaming: We believe that everything would be so much better if someone else changed their behavior. Everything feels like a personal affront, and we believe that others know exactly how we are interpreting their actions but just don’t care. We inflict unnecessary pain in relationships because of our unwillingness or inability to accept responsibility for our choices and feelings.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca      

7) Frequent Comparison: We look around to see who among us has it better than we think we have it. We vilify those people and feel sorry for ourselves. We feel better about ourselves (but it is short-lived) if we identify someone who is not as smart or successful.      

 

8) Difficulty Letting Go of Conflict and Grudges: Man, do we hold grudges. We bring up perceived wrongdoing long after it happened. It often feels like those wounds happened yesterday. And we don’t back down. When given the choice of being happy or right, we almost always choose to be right. (But since we don’t see our choices, that’s not how we would tell it. We believe we’re just doing what we have to do.)    

 

9) Don’t Know or Respect Self-Boundaries: We are out of touch with our boundaries, so we are constantly going above and beyond, even when it doesn’t work for us. We are constantly doing more than we can do. We don’t know how to say no and are afraid that, if we do, we will be rejected and abandoned.

 

10) Often Feel Slighted or Targeted: We do not feel considered by others. We feel targeted and cheated. We’re not faithful believers in the unintentional or giving the benefit of the doubt to others. If we feel bad about something, it’s because someone wanted us to feel bad. People aren’t just doing things, they are doing things to us. And we can be really hard on the people who we believe have perpetrated a slight.

 

11) “It’s Never Enough” Mindset: We are constantly aware of and looking for lack. We’re inclined to focus on the negative even when something positive happens. If we get a raise, it happened too late. If we get engaged, we don’t like the way it happened. If we go on an incredible vacation, the weather sucks or the accommodations aren’t up to our standards. If it’s raining happiness, we will pull out an umbrella and wonder why it’s not raining down on us.

 

12) Insecure: We need constant validation or reassurance at work, in our relationships, and everywhere else. We don’t trust our own experience, so we need it narrated to us by others. But we only want the positive version. And not too much of that, either, or we’ll feel uncomfortable and mistrustful.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

13) Loud Inner Critic: Our inner critic is our loudest internal voice. We could have always done something better, smarter, more thoroughly, or more efficiently. We don’t look as good as we want to. We aren’t as worthy as everyone else. We amplify our mistakes and gloss over our positive attributes if we see them at all.

 

14) Unhealthy Management of Feelings/Mismanagement of Anger: We don’t know how to take care of ourselves and our feelings. We look to people and things outside of us to improve our mood, situation, or to make us feel better. When we’re angry, it’s usually disproportionate to the situation, and we’re often mean. We oscillate between quietly seething and exploding in rage.

 

15) Complains: Pretty much everything can be turned into a complaint. We are unable to sit with happiness, joy, relaxation, or neutrality for any length of time. Our negative-biased brains are in overdrive, constantly searching for what’s wrong, what’s lacking, and what could be better. We are never satisfied, and everyone around us knows it.

 

16) Difficulty Accepting Compliments: We are uncomfortable with most types of attention and don’t respond favorably to positive attention, compliments, and gifts. You will not often hear us utter a gracious, “Thank you so much.” You will hear a constrained, “Oh… um, thanks.” We often tell people why they are wrong to compliment us. We feel undeserving and mistrustful of compliments. But we are even worse with negative attention…

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

17) “It’s Not Fair” Attitude: We begrudge other people their happiness and take it personally. It’s not fair that they have what they have and we only have what we have. It’s not fair that life is as hard as it is for us. We firmly believe that our lives should be better, easier, or smoother in some way.     

 

18) Vacillate Between “It’s Not My Fault” and “Everything is Always My Fault Because I’m Terrible” Attitudes: When we’re not blaming other people for doing the wrong thing or causing us to have to deal with uncomfortable feelings, we blame ourselves because, after all, we believe that we are terrible. We either take on too little responsibility for wrongdoing or too much and beat ourselves up mercilessly.

 

19) Cannot See Choices: We see all of our actions, thoughts, and feelings as inevitable reactions to external stimuli. Life, people, and situations have power; we’re simply living in reaction to them. Our lives are not in our own hands. And that’s exactly how we relate, talk, behave, and live. We don’t choose how to spend our money, what to eat, or how much to drink; it just sort of… happens.        

 

20) Often Feel Resentful: Because we don’t know how to manage and communicate our feelings, we usually bottle them up and store them away in our resentment bank. This resentment leaks out and alienates us from others. Over time, if left unchecked, this resentment turns into contempt.      

 

21) Defensive When Given Constructive Feedback: This is the kiss of death. Anyone who knows us knows that we don’t do well with attention. We fear that people will notice that we do not measure up so, when there are ways in which we are not measuring up, and someone says so, we cry, get defensive, and blame others. Once we get ourselves together, we meet our new demands passive-aggressively.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

22) “Life Just Happens to Me” Mindset: Because we cannot see our choices, we don’t see our lives as a series of choices as much as a series of events that happened to us because of other events that happened to us and so on. We feel completely disempowered and stuck in relationships, jobs, and life situations. Drama, hardship, and struggle are always at our front door, sneaking through windows, and wreaking havoc in our homes.

 

23) Difficulty Reaching Out: We often wait to be contacted by others. It either doesn’t occur to us that we can reach out, too, or we feel uncomfortable doing it, as though we’re overstepping our bounds or being a bother. Besides, if someone really loves us and wants to make time for us, they’ll reach out no matter how long it’s been since they’ve heard from us.   

 

This way of living is really hard on us, and it’s very hard on our relationships. We feel some level of miserable most of the time, and it rubs off on others. Many of us come by this victim/learned helplessness mentality honestly. It’s an understandable response to adverse and traumatic experiences. Transitioning out of this mindset takes deliberate effort, patience, and time, but it can happen.

 

I don’t have a quick “10 Ways to Stop Learned Helplessness” follow-up article because it can’t be done in 10 quick and easy steps. It takes time and effort, and often the guidance of a psychotherapist or coach. Like everything, it is a practice.

 

If you would like to talk more about shifting your mindset or changing the way you respond to someone who you believe employs this mindset, please contact me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

Freedom from the Destructive Pattern of People-Pleasing

Freedom from the Destructive Pattern of People-Pleasing

Those of us who have lived through relational trauma typically have a challenging time setting healthy boundaries for ourselves. We’re either too rigid or too flexible.

 

In my work with clients, I hear a lot of things like, “I do so much for her. She would never do for me what I’ve done for her.” Or “Why am I always the one bending over backward for everyone?” And “Everything is always up to me. Why doesn’t anyone offer to help me get things done or make decisions?”

 

We do a lot. We do for others, hold things down at work and home, support our loved ones, and take care of our responsibilities. We’re in weddings. We go to baby showers and birthday parties. We make sure gifts have been wrapped, and cards have been sent.

 

We also have days when we can’t seem to pull ourselves out of bed to make into work on time. Laundry piles up. Our budgets are neglected. It takes us forever to get out the door because we’re slogging through a million things and can’t seem to cross the threshold to the outside world.

 

A lot of us feel overburdened and underappreciated at work, at home, or in our relationships. Sometimes this is because we’re tired and vulnerable. Sometimes it’s because we’re doing too much. And some of us chronically do too much, give too much.

 

We say yes too often, take on too many responsibilities, do too many favors, caretake, and neglect our own needs. We give gifts, make trips, invest ourselves in finding solutions to problems, accommodate, and excuse behavior. None of these behaviors are inherently problematic, but too much too often and with the wrong intention makes us feel imbalanced and resentful.

 

If I’m constantly trying to find ways to accommodate coworkers, clients, friends, and family members, anticipate peoples’ needs, and please everyone all the time, I’m probably going to find myself wondering when people are going to offer me the same in return. I’ll be waiting a long time, though.

 

That’s kind of how this works.

 

In psychotherapy, we look at schemas. A schema is a framework for how we live and relate. It’s information we’ve accumulated from life and stored in our brains and bodies. That information helps our brain decide what it believes, how we should respond to our beliefs. It helps us have expectations. To our human brain, assumption equals truth. It’s an “If this, then that,” process. Most of our schemas were programmed during childhood.

 

Those of us who habitually over-accommodate and people-please often have schemas that tell us something like, “I have to overextend to get love. I am not ok as I am.” We believe that we’ll lose relationships if we don’t constantly give to and please others. And we usually bring this attitude to work, our relationships, and our homes. At that rate, we’ll feel resentful and exhausted in no time flat.

 

We do these things because we believe we have to, not because we want to. Sometimes it’s mixed; we enjoy seeing the look on someone’s face when we do something nice for them but we also need to do something that elicits that response for us to feel good about ourselves, loved, and worthy. It’s a lot like getting a fix.

 

Once we find out what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and that it doesn’t work for us, we feel kind of trapped. The whole point is to keep overdoing it so that we’ll feel lovable and worthy. The compulsion is to keep doing more and more and more. How could we ever imagine pulling back and doing less for others?

 

It’s not an easy transition to make. Like any new habit, it feels awkward and uncomfortable at first. What’s worse is that it comes with flawed logic that, for so long, has felt like truth. Chances are, we don’t know why we feel this way. We probably don’t, “I do too much. I give too much of myself in order to keep my relationships and feel loved.” We probably think, “I do what I’ve always done.”

 

Some of us have moved hundreds or thousands of miles away from our triggers only to find that they have followed us, a sort of “the call is coming from inside the house” situation.

 

We find ourselves in similar situations and relationships to the ones we left. The scenery has changed, but the narrative is the same.

 

We’re bending over backward for people and not considering our needs. We feel underappreciated and taken for granted. We store our resentments, and they leak out in other ways.

 

And whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve defined ourselves by our people-pleasing behaviors. It’s been our way of relating to our world for a long time. Mourning the loss of this identity will come with its own process.

 

So, what do we do?

 

First, we should approach our transition out of over-accommodating and into healthy boundaries slowly and deliberately. When faced with an urge to caretake or accommodate, we can ask ourselves, “Who is this for?” It will feel a little clunky at first. The question is a great start because it reminds us that we have choices in our interactions.

 

Our first answers to this questions will probably be something like, “It’s for them! They need something, and I can make it happen.” We might think, “It’s for me. I love to help people.” While these statements might be true, beneath the surface lies a whole world of expectation- that the person will do the same thing for us, that they’ll love us more, that they’ll see how irreplaceable we are, that we’re special.

 

We can also ask ourselves, “What do I want from this interaction? What am I expecting from the other person?” Running through this a few times is a great exercise in self-awareness and mindfulness. It also teaches us to consider ourselves, an act of self-care.

 

We can follow up with running through a previous scenario with the same person. “How often have they met my expectations before this situation? Am I expecting a brand new behavior from them because I want it or because they’ve taken legitimate steps toward that behavior?”          

 

Be prepared to be uncomfortable. When we’re used to getting our self-worth from acts of service, performing fewer of those acts will be anxiety-producing. (And somehow, simultaneously, a relief.) Reconditioning ourselves is slow-going and scary.

 

If we’ve found ourselves saying, “This person would never do for me what I’ve done for them,” there is probably wisdom in that. And more than meets the eye. If someone wouldn’t do for us what we’ve done for them, why not? Do they value their time more than we value ours? Are they selfish? Are they better at prioritizing where they give their favors? Could we learn from their boundaries?

 

If we consistently find ourselves in relationships where we’re giving more than the other person, we need to look at a) who we’re forging relationships with and b) our beliefs and patterns of behavior in relationship.  

 

 

When we’re caught in a pattern of people-pleasing, the language of over-accommodating spins both ways. We believe that we have to do more than we can do to be lovable and maintain the relationship. We also believe that others should over-accommodate us if they really love us. If they don’t, it means they don’t love us or that we’re not as important to them as they are to us. This is pretty hard to live up to (especially if the other person isn’t aware of the rules).

 

If people-pleasing is our love language, we’re going to have no trouble finding people who would love for us to please them. We will have trouble finding people who will put up healthy boundaries for us.

 

If you want to talk about your struggle with people-pleasing and are curious about how you can establish healthy boundaries for yourself, I’d love to talk with you!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

5 Books to Read When You’re Struggling to Live Life

5 Books to Read When You’re Struggling to Live Life

Those of us who have experienced relational trauma understand the discomfort of being in our own bodies. We understand how unnatural it feels to self-advocate and take care of ourselves. (And I mean actual self-care, not just rigidly refusing to lean on anyone else.) We understand what it’s like to live our lives and make choices based in fear. I have put together a list of five books that I often recommend to clients who want to improve their self-care, learn how to set better boundaries, communicate more honestly and effectively, stop being controlled by their fear, listen to, understand and respect their bodies, support themselves, deepen intimacy, and stop dysfunctional behaviors that are hurting their ability to connect.

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

  • Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

 

This is one of my top favorite books of all time, and I recommend it to anyone who is or has ever been a caregiver in any capacity and to those working in helping professions. The term “codependent” was popularized by Melody Beattie in the 1980s, but no one’s sure who coined it. (Although many people have taken credit for it.)

 

Its definition was hard to narrow down to a succinct phrase since there are so many behaviors and reasons for those behaviors that fall under the umbrella of being codependent. Most of us agree that the heart of codependency can be defined as behaviors employed in the attempt to control someone else’s behavior so that the codependent can get their needs met and whose behavior keeps them from getting their needs met. It’s when we make someone else’s problem our problem.

 

The term was originally used to describe loved ones of addicts, but we don’t need to be in a relationship with an addict to be codependent. People who have been abused, raised by parents with personality disorders, loved ones of people with eating disorders, those with an anxious attachment style, those who are caregivers, people in helping professions, or people with otherwise lower self-worth can find themselves demonstrating codependent behaviors.

 

Like pretty much all things, codependency is a spectrum. Some of us have more traits than others and demonstrate them more or less often. The author understands that when we are trying to control someone’s behavior, trying to get them to do something or stop doing something, we do things “at” them (use substances, clean, make a passive aggressive comment, nag, sigh loudly, eat, starve, spend money, etc.). There are endless ways that we might try to persuade someone to change their behavior. This book helps us to see that we’re already holding the key to our own prison.

 

Codependent No More is an invaluable box of tools that teaches us to identify the problematic and controlling behaviors we use in an effort to get our needs met/avoid being abandoned and teaches us how to create healthier, more self-supportive behaviors for ourselves. In an honest, nonpathologizing approach, this book shines a light on why we’ve come to behave this way in relationship, our thinking, and self-beliefs behind the behaviors, and walks us through other options.

 

It’s essential for those of us who want to learn how to set better boundaries. It’s possible for us to be supportive of others and those in need without becoming completely worn down, exhausted, and bent out of shape. We don’t have to hawk over someone’s problem-behavior, be embarrassed by them, feel like the “mean one” in the relationship, and arrange our entire lives around people.

 

When someone else’s problem has become our problem and we’re tired of feeling helpless, frustrated, and resentful I recommend reading Codependent No More. Stop doing more than we can do.

 

I also recommend the Codependent No More Workbook for those who want guided practice of these new healthy behaviors.

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

 

When we’ve been oppressed, marginalized, or abused we usually don’t see our options. We either react or see our choices as a series of ultimatums. We believe that people, places, and things can “make us feel” a certain way. It’s the old, “I only did that because you completely infuriated me.” We speak the languages of blame, shame, and guilt. We don’t understand accountability, personal responsibility, and choices.

 

We’re used to living stressed out lives. We’re habituated to feeling controlled in our relationships, at work, in life. We’ve acclimated, but it’s not a normal way of living. Trauma symptoms are often described as “normal reactions to abnormal situations.” Many of us have either experienced abnormal situations growing up or have grown accustomed to living life as a continuous series of abnormal situations, often both. We end up normalizing disempowerment. We believe that others hold our happiness in their hands.

 

Nonviolent communication is so much more than the name lets on. It’s about recognizing our choices and acknowledging the difference between our backs being up against the proverbial wall and feeling as though they are. It gives us tools to understand how we’ve interpreted an event, teaches us to identify our feelings about it, helps us to see our choice of response to the event and our feelings about it, and how to take responsibility for our feelings and choices.

 

We learn to stop trying to control others’ behavior and beliefs. Our intention shifts from trying to get something from another person to clear, honest communication for the sake of our integrity, sanity, and wellness. We learn to employ curiosity to deepen understanding of our experiences, of others’ experiences. Through the practice of nonviolent communication, we start the process of transforming our judgments. We create more space between ourselves and reactivity.

 

We land the jump from, “I yelled at you because you made me mad,” to “I yelled at you because I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and insecure about a lot of things. I interpreted what you said as dismissive and felt sad and outraged. I lost it.” The practice of nonviolent communication helps us to see our part in things, that everything isn’t our fault and everything isn’t someone else’s fault. It gives us the freedom to identify our responsibility in a situation, to own it, and, realizing we can’t control other people, to let the rest go.

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron

 

There are myriad books about humans’ innate fear of death, but I’d always found a shortage of discourse about our fear of life. I came across this book ten years ago, and it pointed me in the right direction. (As it turns out, there is much discussion on our fear of living in psychospiritual literature.)

 

In The Places That Scare You, Pema Chodron talks about the common human fear of living our lives. Most of us experience this at one time or another, but those of us who have lived through extended relational trauma often experience this fear more chronically. We feel anxiety about everything- doing something, not doing something, going somewhere, leaving somewhere, falling in love, never falling in love, staying stuck, making progress, literally anything. We are anxious all the time and driven into depression from our lack of traction.

 

Pema Chodron helps us to reconnect with our inner intelligence that allows us to interpret our fear and helps us to find ways to support our fearful parts. Her book shines a light on the path back to self-trust and resilience. We learn to listen to our experiences, take care of ourselves around fear and pain, and reemerge from our protective shell.

 

Above all, the message in this book serves as an encouraging and insightful guide to allowing people and circumstances to be whole in their complexity. It’s possible for us to hold all of our experiences without having to over-compartmentalize. We can handle disappointment, hurt, and anger without having to permanently retreat.

 

Pema introduces us to the simple application of gentle curiosity. When we practice this, eventually, we begin to recognize what our fear is telling us. Using our own intelligence, we can identify, accept, and respond to our needs.                           

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • BodyWise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing by Rachel Carlton Abrams

 

When we’ve been physically, sexually, emotionally, or systematically abused and traumatized, we have felt unsafe in our bodies. Even having a body has felt unsafe. Many of us have depersonalized to the point of being unaware of our biological needs and urges (hunger/satiety, thirst, body temperature, pain, urination, and other body sensations).

 

Our bodies hold valuable wisdom. They communicate all sorts of information to us like when we are getting a bad feeling about someone, when we need more protein, when we’re relaxed, when something is working for us, when something needs to shift, when we need attention and help. If we are cut off from our bodies, we are cut off from that intelligence.

 

In BodyWise, we find helpful, detailed techniques for establishing a safe and empowered connection to our physical bodies. If we’ve been struggling, it’s possible for us to feel at home in and accepting of our bodies. Dr. Abrams offers an insightful 28-day program for bringing physical and emotional healing and balance to our bodies. This program is most empowering because rather than presenting general tips, it requires a detailed self-assessment. This makes the program unique for each participant.

 

Dr. Abrams’ gives clear, accessible advice for exploring and taking ownership of our physical health (or unhealth). Her approach is nonpathologizing, direct, and humorous. She reminds us that we can have a safe, loving, intuitive, and supportive partnership with our bodies.                           

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

 

Self-compassion is still making its way into mainstream culture. While it looks like mainstream culture isn’t quite finished strong-arming itself, a lot of us are. People who are tired of living a life of self-criticism, blaming others, perfectionism, chronic overwhelm, and disempowerment will find great refuge in this book.

 

Those of us who have experienced any form of relational trauma are not well-practiced in the art of self-compassion. We know how to care-take, anticipate the needs of others, turn off our own needs for long stretches, blame others for our feelings, blame ourselves, guilt ourselves, and are experts at all-or-nothing thinking. In fact, due in large part to our conditioning, most of us are pretty sure that self-compassion is synonymous letting ourselves off the hook or getting away with something.

 

Self-compassion is “self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness,” as defined by Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion and leading researcher of this subject. When we extend compassion to ourselves in difficult times, we offer support to ourselves. Here is an exercise called “Self-Compassion Break” taken from her book:

 

            This is a moment of suffering (or difficulty).

            Suffering (or difficulty) is a part of life.

            May I be kind to myself.

 

 There is no letting ourselves off the hook or getting away with anything. There is only acknowledgment of our experience, validation, and support. If it is hard for us to accept outside support, this is a soothing exercise. If we feel like we can never get enough support from others, this is also a great exercise. There’s power in our ability to face our experiences and offer ourselves support and kindness.

 

In this book, Kristin Neff guides us through the demystification of self-compassion, clarifies what self-compassion is, why it’s necessary and teaches us direct and accessible daily practice.

 

If we are struggling with shame, guilt, and anger, this book is especially helpful for us. It doesn’t sugar-coat a situation. To be sure, the tenants behind the practice of self-compassion encourage us to look honestly at whatever we’re dealing with so that we can support ourselves, ask for help when we need it, and respond in alignment with our values.


 

Like all self-help books and therapeutic tools, these books are only as useful as the reader is willing to put their advice into action. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of reading them. Sometimes we need to be in therapy and go through them with a skilled clinician. If you have been thinking about starting or going back to your own therapy process and have any questions about next steps, please contact me for help.

 

Learning to self-advocate is not easy, especially if we have received messages that it is not safe for us to do so. And often, in some way or another, we have.  Self-care and self-support do not always come naturally to us. And making choices based in fear often seems like the only available option.

 

While these books are not the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for, they are helpful tools, and the authors offer deep insight into healing our physical and emotional selves. We can learn to live more fully and authentically, communicate more directly, self-advocate, and participate wholeheartedly in our relationships.

 

We have been living in a dim room with one arm tied behind our backs. There is hope for illumination and freedom. We don’t have to struggle through life. We can accept ourselves, feel at home in our bodies, and respond to issues in our lives healthfully and skillfully.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

The Agony of Codependent Boundaries

The Agony of Codependent Boundaries

Those of us who experienced relational trauma at an early age either weren’t taught how to have clear, predictable, and logical boundaries or had that training interrupted. Chances are, we do not know how to set those kinds of boundaries for ourselves now. In fact, we probably have a skewed idea of what healthy boundaries look like. We might think it’s our responsibility to prevent others from getting mad or sad. We might have had to do this to keep ourselves safe during childhood. We might think it’s perfectly acceptable to micromanage someone else’s choices. (And we probably don’t see it as “micromanaging.” It’s more likely that we see our behavior as helpful or supportive.)

 

There are a million examples of unhealthy boundaries (or lack of boundaries). Here are a few common ones:  

 

  • Saying yes when we mean no.
  • Trying to control someone else’s behavior or choices.
  • Being unclear (with ourselves and others) on what we’re willing to tolerate and what we’re not.
  • Not telling the truth about what is working for us and what isn’t.
  • If we break a commitment to someone, being dishonest with them about why.
  • Not saying how we feel because we think someone doesn’t want to hear it.
  • Being unwilling to end a relationship if that relationship has become nonreciprocal.
  • Not letting people have their feelings when we say no or set and hold a limit.
  • Not Accepting someone else’s limits without becoming defensive or punishing.

 

It is understandable that at some point, we learned that we would be safer or more effective at getting what we wanted if we demonstrated these behaviors. As adults, though, most of us have found that they no longer serve us. We understand that these behaviors keep us from genuinely connecting with ourselves and others.

 

See if this scenario sounds familiar. Your partner tells you he’s been working really hard, is tired, and needs a break. He asks if you’d mind if he took a long weekend away with some friends to blow off some steam. This is the third recreational trip he’s taken without you in four months while you have not taken one in two years. You have also been working hard, are tired, and would like a weekend away with your friends. If you say no, you don’t mind, it will mean managing your fulltime work schedule, your two-and-a-half-year-old, and preparing for the week-long visit from out-of-town family you’ve scheduled for the upcoming holiday week. If you say yes, you absolutely mind, it will mean disappointing your partner. You say yes, throw this newest resentment in your resentment bank, and martyr through. He has a great time and comes back feeling refreshed.

 

The fact that you said yes to the trip isn’t what makes this an unhealthy boundary. Plenty of partners trade off taking separate vacations. It’s the fact that you haven’t traded off taking vacations in years, said yes when you meant no, didn’t tell the truth about what’s working for you and what’s not, and silenced your feelings to keep your partner from feeling disappointed.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Sometimes we confuse boundaries with controlling behavior.

 

Boundaries involve choices, what we are willing to do and accept and what we are not, and our behavior that we can control. “I won’t answer your call if you call after 9:30p.” Or “If you continue to talk to me this way I’m going to leave.” Or “I can’t help you with that right now. If you still need help in a couple of hours, try back then.”

 

Controlling behavior is manipulative and often passive-aggressive. “I told you I’d leave you if you didn’t stop drinking and start going to AA so, I’ll take you to your AA meeting to make sure you go, wait outside to see if you stay, and pick you up to make sure you don’t go to any bars or liquor stores on the way home.” Or “I hate the way she talks to me. I’m going to give her the cold shoulder whenever she says something in a way I don’t like so that she gets the message.” Or “I’m making plans with a friend for next week even though I might not feel up to hanging out with them. I want to please them in the moment. Rather than making tentative plans, I’m going to cancel last minute because I don’t want to deal with them feeling frustrated or disappointed with me right now. I’ll just avoid them for a few days after I cancel our plans and then go on as if nothing has happened.”

 

We exert control over people or situations instead of setting boundaries so that we don’t lose the relationship or situation on which we are dependent.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Weak boundaries often flop either way. If we know that we can be pressured into doing something we don’t want to do, we probably assume others can, too. Unconsciously or intentionally, we might apply pressure or bulldoze to get someone to relax their boundaries.

 

We’re afraid to set boundaries because we don’t want to deal with what happens when we keep them. We don’t want to have to hold the limit with our children or parents or partners or friends or coworkers. Boundaries are painful. They take work and commitment. It hurts when someone is mad at us or when we have to separate from them for a while or for good.

 

Instead, we try to show someone how frustrated or scared or sad we’re feeling by saying mean things, doing things “at” them (drinking, stomping around the house, eating, starving, literally anything), making empty threats, tantruming, or shutting someone out for a day or two. If we weren’t allowed to set boundaries as children, if our boundaries weren’t respected, or if we never learned how to set boundaries, we’ll be well-practiced at power struggling and weak at boundary setting as adults.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

A sneaky way for us to fall off our boundaries game is the urge to care-take.

 

We give advice or help without being asked. We insinuate ourselves into someone else’s situation and micromanage them. We rescue people, do for them, give to them because we want to feel needed, indispensable, helpful, and lovable. Usually, what happens is the other person starts to expect this from us. They depend on us. We feel good about ourselves knowing that we’re taking care of someone and we wait for the effusive gratitude and love. When the reciprocity doesn’t come, we start to feel resentful because we are doing so much. It’s pretty much doomed from the start.

 

There is a difference between giving to others and helping people in need and care-taking so that we get our needs met. We give so that we live inline with our values. We care-take in hopes of not being abandoned. When we care-take, the boundary between our responsibility and others’ responsibility is blurred.

 

Often, we get so sick or run down we can’t perform our care-taking behaviors continuously. Some of us pray for a sick day so that we have an excuse to stay home and not take care of anyone else for a while. Self-care is so foreign to us that we feel we have to justify it through illness or injury. “I’ve been working hard and taking care of everyone else. I’m exhausted and sick as a dog. I deserve to stay in bed and watch TV and rest.” We equate care-taking with earning our keep. Some of us are often sick or inured and use that time to wait for others to give us the same care we’ve given them. This is, of course, a set up for everyone.

 

The more we give until we’re depleted and neglect our own needs, the more we martyr ourselves, the needier we become. We drive ourselves deeper into emotional debt. Our resentments increase, and we become the dreaded victim.

 

Being a perpetual victim is exhausting both for us and for the people in our lives. It happens when we don’t take responsibility for our choices and believe that everyone else’s wellbeing depends on us. We say things like, “What am I supposed to do? Not give my sister money when I know she’s struggling with her finances?” Or “Of course I’m going to spend the holidays with my mother. It doesn’t matter if I have a good time or not. That’s not what’s important. What, am I just not going to go and make her think I don’t love her? Then what?” When we are victims, everything we do is a burden. We have to give that unlikable coworker a ride home if they ask. We have to stay at the job we hate. We have to say yes when a family member asks us for a favor. We have to suck it up and give our last piece of energy away.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Sometimes it’s a fine line between care-taking and taking care of our responsibilities. If we are in charge of caring for children, animals, or dependent adults we can’t stop or duties, but we can ask for help and make sure we are meeting our biological and emotional needs. We can make sure that we’re not trying to do more than we realistically can. We can remember that we can say no. Care-taking has the attitude of “I have to do it all.” Boundaries and taking care of our responsibilities are about choices and sound like “This is what it is right now. Is there a way I can approach things differently? Is there a different perspective I can access? What are my choices here?”

 

It’s normal to want to help someone when we see them in need. Helping doesn’t mean we’re not setting healthy boundaries. It’s not so much the what as it is the how and why. Am I saying yes to this person because I genuinely want to help them or because I’m afraid of losing the relationship if I don’t? Am I straightening the living room because I want to maintain my responsibility to myself and the space I live in or am I doing it “at” the members of my family, huffing and stomping around, trying to get them to see how much I’m doing while they sit there and watch TV? Do I list all the things I’ve done today so that everyone can see how worthy and productive I am?

 

Loving someone and sincerely wanting to help them means that we will:

  • Check in with ourselves to see what kind of place we are in to help. If someone asks us directly for our help, it’s always acceptable to say, “Let me get back to you,” and decide what, if anything, we are willing to do.
  • Pay attention to relationships in which there is low or no reciprocity. Is this working for you?
  • Notice and be honest with ourselves when we are giving because we want to receive. (Ever heard of “needy giving?”)
  • Take responsibility for our feelings and choices.
  • Not take responsibility for other people’s feelings and choices.
  • Make a deliberate choice to take care of ourselves and stop when we need a break.
  • Understand that saying no is sometimes the best help we have to offer someone.
  • Ask ourselves why we feel compelled to help someone and what we’re hoping to gain from it.                    

 

The more we trust and accept ourselves, the more we will trust and accept our boundaries and limits. When we’ve experienced relational trauma, our ability to trust and accept ourselves is compromised and sometimes terminated. If we are willing to be uncomfortable as we learn how to identify, set, and hold the boundaries that feel right for us, we will be able to contact self-trust and self-acceptance again or for the first time. We will test patience, fail, disappoint others, feel awkward, and make mistakes. And we will finally learn that we can survive all of those things.

 

This practice, like so many others, is a slow burn.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

Trusting Yourself During Failure

Trusting Yourself During Failure

So many of us gravitate toward challenging ourselves and our status quo- The Whole 30, New Year’s resolutions, 100 pictures in 100 days, Couch to 5K, creative writing competitions, training for a race. I love getting to see people who want to better themselves preparing to accomplish a new thing or hit a new goal. There’s something inspiring about being around other people who are plotting their next achievement.

 

A pretty major defining part of a challenge is that it’s hard. We are confronted by parts of ourselves that don’t think we can finish or maintain, parts of ourselves that are afraid of being uncomfortable. We get overwhelmed or don’t see results as fast as we want them, or we lose steam or skip a day/week/month, and we give up and forget about our goals.

 

This is why we’re encouraged to participate in group challenges and tell other people about our goals. We need each other for support, to hold one another accountable, especially when the going gets tough.

 

And even then it’s still so easy to slip out of the new routine we’ve created. Little by little or all at once, we find ourselves letting go of progress. We feel defeated, and we berate ourselves for failing to accomplish another goal. We make excuses. Sometimes we punish ourselves. Sometimes we let ourselves off the hook.

 

But we have another option. There’s another opportunity available to us that doesn’t involve making excuses or punishing ourselves or letting ourselves off the hook. We can begin again.

 

Sometimes we’ll need to reassess so that we can begin again. It will be hard for us to keep up with the goals we’ve set for ourselves if they’re too advanced for our current skill set or if we’re not listening to ourselves. When we embark on a challenge, we’ll be more successful if we are honest with ourselves and start where we are, not where we wish we were. It’s critical that we listen to ourselves and go back to the drawing board if something isn’t working for us.

 

Beginning again is an essential ingredient to meeting a challenge. There will, of course, be days where we don’t feel like going for the run, eating the clean meal, sitting down to meditate, going to our wellness appointment, reading the articles, writing the articles. There will be days where we do feel like it, but something prevents us from sticking to the plan. We will have to begin again.

 

There will be times when we are in the middle of a run or a mediation or a meal or a plan and know that we’re phoning it in or not fully present. There will be moments when our commitment falters. This is an expected and built-in part of any challenge. We’re allowed to struggle and we will. We can accept it and begin again. (Some days, I begin again 25 times during a run. I’ve begun again countless times during meditations.)

 

We can practice a “begin again” mindset with any challenge, including the daily challenges of life and being a person. We can apply it to driving when we discover our feathers have been ruffled by our fellow road warriors. We can begin again when we’re in the middle of a disagreement with someone, and we don’t like how we’re acting. We can begin again at work.

 

We can make it as momentous or pedestrian as we want. We don’t have to go anywhere or close our eyes or have a special ritual. It can be as simple as taking a breath and beginning again.

 

Beginning again marks its own challenge. Play around with it and see what works for you. Be curious about when it seems to be easier and when it’s harder.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

“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.

 

A client recently recommended I watch 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

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

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

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Critical 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

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