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 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

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

“So about how long should it take until I feel better?” “How long do you think I’ll need therapy?” “How many sessions should I expect to attend before my problem is solved?” I have asked all of these questions during time spent on the other side of the couch. I know what it’s like to want concrete answers and expectations met. Everyone wants a sure thing in the face of so much uncertainty.

Therapy is not exactly a sure thing. Surely, it can and does help, but it’s not as simple as basic input of time and results yielded. Results depend on client honesty (with themselves and the therapist), right fit with a therapist, client’s commitment to the work both in and out of the therapy office, and right fit with whatever therapeutic modality is used.

Therapy is almost never a quick fix, but there are quicker-fix type/brief therapeutic modalities available. Whether or not these protocols are right for someone depends on a lot- personality, history, diagnosis, whether or not a person has experienced complex trauma. Even in the best of scenarios, it still requires the practice of skills through time to maintain results.

Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are five really (really) broad categories we use to organize treatment strategies:

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy:

Makes the unconscious conscious, insight oriented. Emphasis on client-therapist relationship. Brief therapy model (20 session maximum) is not the rule, but is available for single-incident trauma like an attack, rape, catastrophic event, targeting a single life shift.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy: Jungian, Dream Work, Attachment-based

Often used for: Increasing self-compassion, improving self-concept, self-actualization, mood disorders, relational problems, trauma, developing insight to identify and manage internal conflict, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families,

*Psychoanalysis: Multiple times per week. The therapist is a blank slate onto which client projects their beliefs and experiences. Relies heavily on free association.

 

Behavior Therapy:

Focuses on conditioning new behavior. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Aversion Therapy, System Desensitization

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Anger issues, Impulse control problems, self-injury

 

Cognitive Therapy:

Focuses on changing thought pattern. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Suicidal ideation, Anxiety disorders

 

Humanistic Therapy:

Focuses on cultivating personal accountability and reaching highest potential. Emphasis on free will. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: Gestalt, Client-Centered, Transpersonal, Solution-Focused, Adlerian  

Often used for: Improving self-concept, self-actualization, improving communication with others, cultivating self-awareness, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families, existential crises  

 

Integrative or Holistic Therapy:

Often referred to as “Eclectic Therapy.” (Some practitioners will basically fight to the death in disagreement over whether or not Integrative is also Eclectic.) Uses various modalities depending on what is indicated for each client. One therapeutic modality combines various features of the previous four categories. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: EMDR, Narrative, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectical Behavior, Internal Family Systems, Gottman Method, Transactional Analysis

Often used for: All of the above

 

Some people prefer to see the same therapist for various issues they’d like to target while others seek out a different specialist to treat each issue. There’s no right way to do this, just whatever feels like it’s working for the client. Some clients come with an agenda and leave when their goals have been reached. Some stay for a while after because they like having a professional to talk to who’s all about them. Plenty of people try therapy and find it difficult to give themselves over to the process, take a more passive route to treatment, get frustrated and give up. Sometimes this is because traditional psychotherapy is not a good fit for them right now, maybe ever. There are so many other great therapeutic options. Traditional psychotherapy is not the only way to heal or feel better.

 

I know it’s overwhelming to look for a therapist and decide which kind of therapy would be best for you, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem for years, and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and ask for help.

 

If you describe the issue and a little bit about yourself, many of us will be able to direct you in the right direction. There are plenty of therapists who won’t do this because they are sure that they can handle it regardless of their training and orientation. While I would like to believe that this is mostly the exception rather than the rule, it happens. If you feel too overwhelmed or busy or exhausted to educate yourself on various therapeutic tools and modalities, remember that you can interview multiple therapists at a time to see who feels like the best fit for you. (You can also do this regardless of your stamina to self-educate.) Once you start seeing a therapist, you can audition us. If you’re not feelin’ it for some reason, you can switch. It’s ok not to like your therapist or to like them, but feel like they’re not actually helping you. Therapy is an investment, and you have the right to switch providers at any time for any reason. If you’re feeling like you need to discontinue treatment, I usually recommend addressing this with the therapist; sometimes it just takes a little direct communication to shift things. Even if you don’t plan on continuing your work with the therapist, honest feedback is good for both sides.

 

If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me or call and I would be happy to answer any questions. This is one of my favorite subjects!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Know Your Demons

Know Your Demons

Have you ever watched a thriller about demon possession? Kind of off my usual beaten path, I know, but you’ll see where I’m going with this. I promise. Anyway, I like them sometimes. Every so often, I’ll check around for a good one to watch and see what piques my interest. I’ve found that sometimes I’m drawn to thrillers that make demonic possession of someone their central plot. (Which is surprising to me because I’m not usually interested in seeking out super dark stories about evil, especially when there’s more than enough of it to be found in the news). About once every three or four years, one of these dark plotlines pulls me in and I find myself watching an unsuspecting upstander begin the struggle of (and for) their life.

 

When I find a good possession thriller, I like almost everything about it. I like the journey the character takes from being ok (or pretty ok) to decompensating to being pretty possessed most of the time to being fully possessed all the time to finding progressive healing to being stronger and more conscious than when their story started. I like the tension over “will this character we’ve all come to love make it through this?” I like the research and deep inquiry that the other characters employ in an effort to find out more about the demon that is in possession of the victim.

 

What I am particularly drawn to, what I appreciate most is that there’s always ample time given to the journey taken by the characters in finding out the particular nature of the demon and its name. When the demon is called by name, its possession breaks. The demon always gives clues as to who they are, but they’re usually abstract and steeped in about a million layers of epic composition of poetry and require a doctorate in theology. At some point, to the rest of us, it pretty much seems like a lost cause. Just in the nick of time, someone puts all of the pieces together and discovers the name of the demon. Then we feel that surge of renewed hope.

 

What I’ve noticed is that, in all of the stories that I find most gripping, there are at least five commonalities:

 

  • There is a specific name of the demon, which when finally discovered and uttered face-to-face to the demon is the only defense against it.

 

  • The possessed or loved ones of the possessed enlist help.

 

  • The demon seems to have limitless ways of manifesting itself.

 

  • Someone, whether the possessed or loved ones of the possessed, experiences self-doubt, retreats, somehow finds the motivation to throw themselves into the metaphorical fire of terror and uncertainty, and contacts the demon for a head-on battle.

 

  • The demon never really goes away. It’s still there lurking around, but now the characters have more strength, courage, willingness, and awareness to deal with it.

 

I appreciate the symbolism because darned if that just isn’t that just how life is.

 

Whether it’s depression or anxiety or addiction or a particular pattern of behavior or thought pattern or chronic pain or the fear of fear or general dispiritedness, we all go through periods of life when we feel utterly possessed by pain and completely out of control. And many of us have found release through inquiry about the name of our experience or feeling and asking for help from loved ones, peer groups, and professionals.

 

Many of us have realized that our demons never completely go away, but that our relationship with them changes, and that with each bout with and experience of those demons, we learn to sit with whatever they bring. Through this long, uncomfortable process, we’re learning that our demons have many, many ways of manifesting themselves in our lives. We’re learning to coexist in a world where demons can’t be extinguished but instead faced with self-compassion, willingness, and courage. We’re learning to stop believing the bullshit they spew in an attempt to maintain their control over us. We’re becoming more connected with ourselves and with others, with life.

 

Keep on keepin’ on.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie

Learning to Stay

Learning to Stay

As a species, we’re in for some challenges. Humans have both nervous systems and self-awareness, the awareness of change, loss, and of death. We are aware that situations change and it motivates us to hold onto the situations we like and try to force a shift in situations we don’t like. We’re aware of loss so; we go to great lengths in trying to avoid it. We’re aware of death and generally fear it so, we engage in all sorts of behaviors and thinking in an attempt to gain control over it. Since everything is temporary, all of our grasping and holding and forcing and avoiding is useless. There is no lasting way for us to ever really hold onto something or someone, force a shift, or avoid change, loss, or death. And this creates a pretty uneasy sense of being.

 

Look at some of your own fear-based beliefs for a second. What makes you nervous? What are you believing when you notice the nervousness? What do you dread? What are you believing when you notice the dread?

 

We have an extensive list of strategies that we employ to avoid feeling the discomfort of these beliefs, to avoid feeling our fear of life’s fluidity. We numb. We fight ourselves or others. We seek comfort in addiction.

 

Underneath all of this struggle is the fear that we are not ok.

 

In the mythology of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama’s final challenge before he reached enlightenment was doubt. Mara, the dark deity symbol of humanity’s shadow side, our challenging emotions, appeared to Siddhartha in the form many distractions some of which were fear, pain, and lust. Finally, Mara appeared to him as doubt. Siddhartha experienced the most difficulty and discomfort with this last challenge. Siddhartha put his hand to the ground and felt the earth, calling upon it to ground him and give him strength. He looked up at Mara and said, “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.”

 

I’m always struck by this story. I find it comforting that Siddhartha, someone who had practiced for years, received years of mentoring and training and support, someone who was so well-resourced still felt the challenge of Mara, of the hard-to-feel, painful human emotions. I also appreciate that working through his last challenge involved asking for help, that he didn’t try to do it alone. And to boot, he invited the damn thing to tea!!

 

Siddhartha didn’t gain freedom from Mara all at once. It took years of practice and training. Gradually, after reaching out for help and engaging his own presence, he extricated himself. He was free.

 

On this quest for our own freedom, we learn of at least two important resources available to us as suggested by the Buddha mythology: 1) to ask for help when dealing with a challenge and 2) to be present with our experience of our process.

 

It’s so hard to keep ourselves from being swept away by the runaway train of our limiting beliefs, beliefs about ourselves and others, about the nature of the world; our fears of unworthiness; our doubt of our own lovability. Sometimes we can see this train coming for us and we freeze, unable to fight it. Sometimes we don’t see it coming; we realize we’re on it and don’t know how it happened. Sometimes we try to outrun it or fight it. One way or another, it picks us up anyway. Most of us are familiar with this cycle. Most of us know exactly what it’s like to be caught in Mara’s grip and to feel utterly helpless.

 

Asking for help is hard enough. Sitting with the discomfort, bringing presence to it is even more challenging. It requires a willing attentiveness, a moment of pause, and gentle inquiry. The sheer thought of asking ourselves gentle, inquiring questions when we’re in the middle of some kind of freak out brings with it its own uncomfortable trials.

 

Something I’ve found helpful both personally and professionally is Byron Katie’s work. It is aptly named “The Work.” She gives us four questions to pose to ourselves when we are facing the underlying doubt of our ok-ness. In those moments, Katie recommends that we ask ourselves:

 

  1. Is it true? We know that the experience of the belief feels real, but is the belief true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the indisputable evidence?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens for you? What is it like for you? What is the impact of this thought or belief on you? On others?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Can you sense what life would be like, what you would be like if you no longer lived your life by this thought or belief?

 

These four questions get us off to a good start in dismantling maladaptive or limiting thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs that served us at one time in our lives, but that are now crippling us. If you find it difficult to ask yourself these questions, start with this one: Am I willing to pay attention to what this experience is like for me? We can’t always jump right in so, simply bringing the intention of presence if often a good place to start.

 

I recommend first trying these investigative questions with a shallow or midlevel fear-based belief. Since we are often floating around in the experience of these thoughts and beliefs, identified with them, bringing attention and presence can be really intense. Start slow. If you’d like to apply this approach to deeper fears and beliefs including trauma, I recommend doing so with the help and support of a therapist or healer.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don’t Really Need

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don’t Really Need

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really need to make you happy.”

(Eric Hoffer; longshoreman, philosopher)

 

I’ve felt it. You’ve felt it; that compulsion to eat more, drink more, buy more, acquire more, make more money, set our sights on bigger ticket items. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to drive a car we like or liking what we put on our backs or aiming to make enough money to live in a place we really enjoy. The problem comes with the meaning we make of all this stuff. And what we hope our stuff means about us.

We all have the same basic need for safety, clean water, food, and shelter. And we all have the same need for love, joy, belonging, freedom, and a sense of purpose. While these are more secondary needs, they’re still pretty basic to our life’s happiness. Once our most basic needs are met, we have the capacity to focus on our secondary needs.

Many of us run into trouble here. It’s easy to see how it happens. Love, joy, belonging, freedom, purpose- all of these things can seem so elusive. What does any of it even mean? And how do we… get ourselves to feel any of it, to be any of it?

We want to feel confidence in ourselves, in our abilities, so we buy expensive jeans or bags or shoes. They make us look the part. It gives us the shot in the arm we’re looking for, so we do it again. We want to feel loved, that we belong so, we use the buzzwords, buy the luxury cars, and redecorate the house. We send our kids to the schools and preschools we think they should go to so that they can belong, too. Some of us aim to buy yachts and become billionaires. Some of us aim to have the “perfect beach body.”

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting our children to attend good schools or aspiring to see how our bodies could look and feel at maximum fitness or wanting to buy that pair of jeans because we know just how glorious our butts look in them. The problem lies in the meaning we make; that if we can swing this stuff it means we’re lovable, joyful, free, we belong, and that we have purpose.

We end up buying a lifestyle and never really living our lives. We keep searching for ways to meet our needs, so we look for more- more clothes, more treats, a bigger house, a fancier car, more vacations. We feel lost, so we get more. We feel more lost than ever so we turn up our acquisitions frequency all the way up and, you guessed it, get even more stuff.

Those of us who have grown up in or experienced deprivation of basic and secondary needs at some point probably feel even more confusion as we try to navigate our relationships with these symbols. To some of us, it might even have felt like acquiring the next thing, the best thing, more things was a matter of survival.

It won’t shut itself off over night. It won’t shut itself off at all. We have to be the ones to turn the dial back down. It’s a slow and often painful process. But the alternative is profoundly more painful.

I recommend starting at square one. Just notice. Notice when you feel the urge to acquire something or more of something. You won’t always notice right away. That’s ok. Keep plugging away at it.

Then stop. Don’t buy it, eat it, drink it, whatever. Just stop.

Ask yourself:

Do I need it?

How will this enrich my life?

Is buying (eating, drinking, ingesting, acquiring, keeping) this item in direct integrity with my values?

The more we ask ourselves these questions, the more thoughtful we allow ourselves to be about the way we live our lives. We can start to make the critical shift from collecting society’s symbols of love, joy, belonging, purpose, and freedom to actually experiencing these things firsthand. We can live deliberate lives.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie       

How to Stop Living in Scarcity

How to Stop Living in Scarcity

The feeling of scarcity is alive and well in our culture. Advertisers use it to make us feel like we need their products to be happy. Politicians use it to exploit our fear of not having enough, marginalize us, and look to them to give us more. We tell ourselves that there isn’t enough time and money to go back to school. We tell others that we don’t have enough time to call or see them. We tell ourselves that we have to work more, earn more, do more, acquire more, achieve more.

We are not telling ourselves these things because we feel driven to fulfill our life’s purpose. We’re telling ourselves this because we are coming from a deep place of fear and lack. And we are looking for a way out. We tell ourselves this because we’re afraid we don’t or won’t have enough to be happy- enough money, enough stuff, enough accomplishments, enough praise, enough status, enough respect. And if we don’t have enough of these things we’re not happy; we’re unfulfilled. If we don’t have enough of these things we’ll have to pay more attention to why this feeling of fear and lack is surfacing in the first place. So we run ourselves into the ground trying to get money to get more stuff.

The bummer part of all this is that the more we tell ourselves we don’t have enough, the more we don’t have enough. It creates an even greater imbalance. If I’m afraid I don’t have enough money, I’m going to work more which means I’ll have less time to spend with loved ones and do things that nurture me. If I feel like I don’t have enough stuff, I’m going to spend more money consuming the things I think I need or want. Time spent consuming will also cut down on time I could be spending with loved ones, working on a cause about which I am passionate, or doing things that nurture me. I’ll need to work more to make sure I can both pay my bills and consume more stuff. Pretty soon, I’ll be tired from all this working and consuming, more isolated because I miss my loved ones. I might spend more time watching TV or going online. I might eat and drink more. It’s kind of a rough cycle.

There are plenty of times in our lives when we feel capable and grounded in our ability to manage scarcity, times when this cycle isn’t a problem for us because we can keep our feelings in check. But sometimes we find ourselves more vulnerable, less able to evaluate what’s happening for us. We have more difficulty identifying what we need and the healthy steps it will take to get there.

We might fall into this scarcity cycle when we’re feeling insecure about something- our relationships, our economic status, a failure we’ve recently experienced (or a failure we are trying to avoid), the anticipation of a major discomfort. Sometimes stuff/emotional burden might pile up over time. It’ll sneakily cloud our judgment. We might not even notice we’ve fallen into this cycle until we realize how unhappy we’ve been for the past few months.

Getting out of the pit of scarcity-living isn’t easy, but it’s worth the challenge. People just feel better when we’re not dominated by this fear of not having enough. And it’s much more satisfying to uncover how we came to believe that there isn’t enough than to keep throwing clothes, food, money, substances into a sieve.

I often suggest a slow start:

  • Identify cravings, impulses, compulsions.
  • Identify thoughts and feelings of scarcity
  • Be curious about how you feel before and after engaging in craving/impulse/compulsive behavior
  • Exercise self-compassion. You’re definitely not going to judge your way out of this so, just be gentle with yourself.

This will be a good start. If you need further help, let me know and we will set up a time to talk.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Post-Election 2016

Post-Election 2016

The U.S. General Election of 2016 has been stressful for most and torture for many. The months leading up to the disastrous outcome supplied us with vitriolic arguments and constant contention. Some of us have been directly impacted by the state of affairs our nation for years, for generations while others are just now feeling the fire, post-election. Some of us were shocked, others are not surprised but disappointed. Postings on social media and articles in major news publications have called this election divisive. They’re right. But the divisiveness and division plagued our communities for generations.

We’ve always been stronger together and now is as good a time as any to exercise this strength. It’s easy to let our feelings dominate us and react, especially when people’s safety is at risk. And it’s easy to get defensive. Some people deal with this by avoiding all information and actively disengaging from the issues. Others inundate themselves with information, mobilize, and march for justice. Some people are relieved Clinton lost. Others are devastated. Many felt that neither candidate was suitable. Let’s use this process as a way to learn how to be better with and for each other. Instead of avoiding conversations and each other, let’s use this to make us stronger, to help us see what else needs to be done, and to take responsibility for ourselves as part of the solution. Here are a few suggestions to stay grounded and connected to loved ones during this time:

 

  • Put your energy into action to ensure that you’re doing everything you can. If you’re angry and scared, find out how you can translate that energy into something that will make you feel productive and empowered. If you’re tired of fighting, rest and ask your network to hold your torch for a while.
  • Don’t get lost in self-blame if you didn’t vote, if you didn’t participate in activism or social justice activities, or if you don’t live your life in the margins. Instead, educate yourself on what next steps need to be taken and take them.
  • Don’t just apologize to your Muslim, POC, LGBQ, Trans, Undocumented, Migrant, Sexual Assault Survivor, Female friends. Ask what you can do to support them. Fight alongside them.
  • Have conversations about this with others if you feel up to it and give yourself permission to walk away if you don’t.
  • Remind yourself that it is not your job to take care of your friends’ feelings if they are experiencing white guilt, straight guilt, privileged group guilt, etc.
  • Donate your time, your energy, and your resources.
  • Keep talking. Be compassionately curious about other people’s experience. Ask questions and communicate with others about why they believe what they believe. This is to lay the groundwork for empathy and understanding. Both are critical in productive communication and soltution-finding. When we shut down and stop talking, stop listening, we cut ourselves off from finding workable solutions.
  • Educate others where you see a need for it. Much of the research has shown us that our nation is in this position of making hate/fear-fueled choices based on a severe lack of education and lack of exposure to diversity.
  • Respect others’ grieving processes and how they choose to express it. Be sensitive to their needs and experience. Everyone’s process is different.
  • Remember to engage your self-compassion. Check in with yourself and give yourself what you need as you become aware of it. When you need soothing or validation  try repeating to yourself, “Even though I am feeling________________, I deeply and profoundly accept myself.” Self-compassion is a fundamental resource available to us.
  • Identify and surround yourself with whatever and whoever connects you to hope.

 

And please let me know if you need anything. I’m always here.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What is Your Avoidance Telling You?

What is Your Avoidance Telling You?

Avoidance isn’t always unhealthy. In fact, there are plenty of times that it’s really adaptive. I want to avoid getting a parking ticket, so I move my car during the specified times. You want to avoid getting fired so you do the parts of your job that you’d prefer not to do. I want to avoid getting scratched by that mysterious cat, so I won’t bend down to pet her.

Sometimes we’ve personally experienced something that has taught us to avoid a certain stimulus and other times it’s common sense or a gut feeling. In my early twenties, I had to learn through a few different experiences that Hot Cheetos should be avoided if I wanted to side-step heartburn and a fairly sizeable stomach ache. I did not, however, have to learn through personal experience that the assignments for my Abnormal Developmental Psychology class needed to be completed and handed in on time. My instincts told me that my professor had zero tolerance for tardy assignments.

And really, it’s up to us to decide what we’re willing to endure. If you don’t mind getting the parking ticket, dealing with heartburn, or getting a bad grade, you probably won’t move your car. You’ll eat that bag of Hot Cheetos while procrastinating your assignments. We all have varying levels of tolerance to discomfort. And we even label discomfort differently. I might experience public speaking as uncomfortable, but you might label it as one of the more pleasurable ways to pass an evening. It really depends on what we tell ourselves about the experience we are having.

Avoidance becomes more troublesome or unhealthy when it gets in the way of our relationships, responsibilities, and the way we want to live our lives when it becomes our thinking-doing pattern. If I think, “Ugh, I really hate this meeting. I don’t want to go. We never get anything done, and it just goes on and on forever,” and then I skip the meeting once to stay back and get some work done, that’s not the end of the world. But I’m definitely going to want to get that thought process under control. If I constantly tell myself how much I hate the meeting and label it as something undesirable, I’m going to believe that it’s something I need to avoid. I’m going to make it pretty hard on myself to motivate when it’s time to go to the meeting. The more difficult it is for me to find the motivation to go, the more I’ll probably find ways to get out of it. That becomes a problem with both my thinking and my doing (behavior).

I’m not saying avoidance is bad or that we need to manipulate or trick ourselves out of feeling it. I’m saying we need to be curious about it. If I’m curious about why I don’t want to go to the meeting, what makes me so uncomfortable, I’ll probably learn something. I might learn that I need to speak up about it. I might learn that I can effect change by using my voice. Maybe I’ll see that I need to talk about it with my boss and we’ll both discover that my time is better spent doing something else. Upon further inspection, I might find that this is a much more chronic problem than I realized and discover that it’s time to look for a new job. If you allow yourself to contemplate why you’re often late with assignments, maybe you’ll discover that it’s because you don’t want to be in the field you’re studying. Maybe you’ll even find that you don’t want to be in school at all right now.

This is one of the gifts of avoidance. “If I don’t think about it, I don’t have to deal with it.” We can just keep skipping the meeting rather than thinking about training and searching for a new job. We can continue not to get credit for late assignments and focus on that problem instead of risking what it might be like to tell our parents that we don’t want to be in school right now. We can come home to our partner after a long day and sit in front of the TV with our phone in our hand and not think or talk about the fact that we haven’t felt very connected lately. When we avoid, we don’t have to do the thing, and we don’t have to think about why we’re not doing the thing.

I like to use mindfulness when I’m dealing with avoidance, my own or someone else’s. Give it a try. Ask yourself what you notice about the situation you are avoiding. What’s it like to do it? What’s it like to avoid it? What are the sensations associated with both? What does it mean to do the thing you are avoiding? And what does it mean to avoid it? What meaning are you making out of the sensations? How are you labeling them?

Bringing a little mindfulness is a good start to hearing what your avoidance is trying to tell you. You deserve to know.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Giving Versus Giving In

Giving Versus Giving In

Being in a successful, healthy relationship requires prosocial behavior. We must employ tools such as active listening, curiosity, giving the benefit of the doubt, assuming the best intentions, empathy, honesty, cooperation, and sharing. All of these actions sit under the umbrella of giving. Most of us are familiar with the saying “relationships require give and take.” Giving is an essential part of any relationship.

I’ve seen a lot of people who confuse giving with giving in. And the two have very different implications for a relationship.

Giving comes from a loving, strong, and often courageous place. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, for instance, we’re allowing ourselves to trust, to be in a vulnerable position. We are not defending ourselves with skepticism or assumptions. We’re giving out of love and in doing so enriching our relationship.

Much can be given from such a loving, strong, and courageous place within ourselves- boundaries, empathy, second chances, forgiveness, patience. We can navigate our own limits of giving with more confidence and self-assuredness when we come from this place. We can teach cooperate, receive and give back. We can truly give.

But sometimes it’s hard to inhabit this place that lives within us. We feel drained or exhausted or alone or overwhelmed. We want to avoid the feelings we’re experiencing from the situation that’s causing us to have to decide what and how much we will give.

Most of us have been there. Most of us have found ourselves saying something like, “Fine, take the ice cream.” Or “Yeah, I’ll just do it. Whatever.” Instead of giving, we’re giving in. If we do this enough, we can build some pretty hefty resentment. We start to feel totally disempowered, that we have no voice (or that our voice doesn’t matter). We might even begin to assume that this is what everyone expects- for us to just give-in and soon we believe that everyone has an agenda. We start to feel defeated.

Some of us give in more than others. When we are afraid of confrontation, we give-in. Some of us do it because we’re afraid we’ll be rejected if we don’t. Some of us believe that that’s our role, to give-in endlessly. Some of us would have been hurt in the past if we didn’t give-in and defer to someone else, so we’ve learned to do it as a way to keep ourselves safe. Many of us give in because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to do; we don’t really recognize it as giving in.

A good way to check-in with ourselves to find out if we are giving or giving in is to pause and see what our intention is. Do we want to get this conversation over with or avoid a feeling we don’t like? We’re probably giving in. If we pause to take the temperature of our intention and our feeling, we’ll start to see how we feel when we are giving in and how different we feel when we are giving.

If we can, we should try not to judge ourselves (or others) for this. It’s something that happens.  We get tired or overworked and make mistakes. So, every-so-often giving-in is bound to happen. We can keep an eye on it and make sure we’re keeping it in check because the less we give in and the more we give, the more we will serve our relationships.

I know it’s not always easy to change behavioral patterns. Identifying it is the easy part; changing it provides much more challenging work. I’d love to talk with you more about this if you have questions about it. We’ll figure it out together, little by little.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie