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

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What Failure Really Means

What Failure Really Means

No one likes to fail. It’s disappointing and, depending on what failed, is accompanied by various negative emotions. And there are just countless ways in which we can fail, aren’t there? We fail in relationship, flunk out of school, and fail at our jobs or in our careers. We can fail board exams, sobriety tests, and physical exams. Really, at every turn, there is an opportunity to fail. Life can start to feel pretty daunting… depending on how we value failure.

Failure means different things to different people. To some of us, it might mean we’re not good enough or that we didn’t try hard enough. To others, it might mean something is wrong with us. However, we look at it, under these assumptions failure is something to be ashamed of.

There’s another way to understand failure. We can look to it as a teacher. If we fail, it means we tried something. We put ourselves out there and took a risk. Maybe the failure is there to tell us what doesn’t work. Maybe it means we should try it a different way or at a different time or using alternative components.

We’re going to fail. It’s inevitable. If we try enough things, we’re going to fail. It’s part of living. The healthier our relationship with failure, the more useful it will be to us and the easier it will be to manage.

So, how do we do it? How do we become more open to the negative or uncomfortable experiences that are a part of the journey of accomplishing our goals?

It’s helpful if we have a growth or “challenge” mindset versus fixed or “threat” mindset. With a growth mindset, we view things as experiments. Everything is a teachable moment. With a fixed mindset our beliefs are absolute, impermeable to change, and everything is a threat. We’re much more insecure and defensive in a fixed mindset. The first step, then, is to try to talk ourselves through an endeavor or a failure as though it’s an experiment… because it is.

A helpful way to become more psychologically flexible is to access our curiosity. “What didn’t work? Why? What should I try next?” The more we move toward curiosity and away from self-judgment, the less we will view failure as an exhibition of our lack of worth and the more inclined we will be to make the necessary changes.

We’ll spend less time ruminating, hiding, and avoiding and more time learning about what we need to do to fix the problem. We will increase our emotional resilience.

Most of us know we need to make improvements, but we start to lose the value of that knowledge when we take failure personally. Taking a position of curiosity will help us get closer to our goals.

It takes courage to fail. It takes courage to be open to the lessons failure has to teach. It’s common for us to avoid trying so that we can avoid the discomfort it brings. It’s common for us to experience failure and let it define us instead of gathering the information, reassessing it, and bouncing back for another experiment. Hiding from avoiding failure is a great way to teach ourselves to become more fearful of failure. It’s an effective way to clip our own wings and make sure we stay stuck.

But if we let it, failure can mean that we have the courage, strength, and resolve to try something again and again, that we are unstoppable champions of our goals.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

Has anyone ever given you the (often unsolicited) advice, “You need to learn to be thicker skinned”? Yep. A lot of us have been given that tip. It’s not necessarily a “bad” recommendation. I’m just not sure it’s always a helpful encouragement for a lot of the situations in which it’s been given. I usually hear that phrase being communicated to people who are sad or mad. And it sends the wrong message.

Being thick-skinned means being resilient. For example, say someone applies for a job, interviews, and doesn’t get the job. If they are thin-skinned, they will take it personally and assume it’s a direct statement about their worth as a person. Maybe it will even affect the effort they put into looking for other jobs or the confidence they exude during future interviews. If the person is thick-skinned, they will feel disappointed, and maybe a slight sting, but know that there are various reasons that explain why they must not have been the best fit for the job. Because they have resilience, they will try again with hope intact.

There are many reasons for a person to exhibit qualities of having thin skin. Different types of trauma can have an impact on someone’s ability to tap into the power of their resilience, (but this is an entirely different article). Those who can access their resilience, those who seem to have thicker skin know that, though it might add to their grit factor, adversity doesn’t define them.

So, what are a few signs that you’re accessing your own thick skin (resilience)?

You know and respect your boundaries. People who have thicker skin can hold and maintain a boundary with others. They can identify when, for whatever reason, something does not feel right for them. They know that they have a right to protect their time, their energy, their needs, and they know they have a right to do so. They don’t feel that they have to say yes to everyone for everything all the time to feel worthy.

You take responsibility for yourself. This requires a certain level of self-awareness. Those who have thick skin can assess when it’s time for them to call in the reinforcements (ask for help, take a break, delegate, etc.) without feeling like it’s a huge blow to their egos. They can see how they impact people and make adjustments when necessary.

You can say the words, “I don’t know.” When someone is aligned with their thick skin, they don’t have to have all the answers to know that they’re worthy. They can sit in the unknown without watching their confidence and self-trust diminish.

You employ acceptance. This is what helps you respect your boundaries. You have flexibility. You accept when you need help, when you need a break, and when you need a change. You don’t fight with your pain or hardship. You understand that it will pass and give way to new emotion, new circumstance. You know that your present state does not define you.

You show up for yourself. This means you take care of your mind, body, and soul. You know what you need to do to care for yourself, and you do it. When you need alone time, you take it. When you need to spend time with loved ones, you reach out. When you need to go to bed, but you’d rather watch another episode of “The Office” you go to bed. When you need to take a sick day, you take it.

 

You might notice that, in no way, have I said, “to be thick-skinned, you must not be in touch with your feelings,” or “You don’t cry or get upset.” Right, because having thick skin is not about cutting yourself off from your feelings; it’s about being in touch with those precious feelings and being honest about them, respecting them, managing them, and using those feelings as part of your guide.

We all have these qualities already inside us. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel them. The more we work at practicing these things, the more resilient we will be.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie          

Managing and Learning from Fear and Failure

Managing and Learning from Fear and Failure

I’m willing to bet that you have experienced failure. In fact, you have probably had some real showstoppers. I can relate.

We all want the experience of success whether it’s in our relationships, careers, academics, finances, safe-driving records- whatever. Failure isn’t usually one of our goals. It’s a funny thing about failure, though; we go from “not counting failure as a goal” (reasonable), to “failure is the worst thing that could ever happen.” How… did we get there? And more importantly, why?

Perhaps some of us grew up in an era during which undiscerning praise and awards were given to us for merely showing up. Perhaps, through that, some of us now believe that there is no failure or that failure is not our fault. Others might have understood those trophies and awards, as a sort of “Hail Mary”, deliverance from such failure that is a dark abyss of shame into which we would fall and never get out. Maybe some of us were intentionally taught that failure is an outcome worse than death, and we still believe it. Maybe we’re afraid of failure for other reasons.

Why? What does failure mean to us? Some people overidentify with failure- failure means “I’m not a good (fill in the blank).” Others become overwhelmed- “I just can’t handle going through that again,” and attempt an escape in various ways. It’s easy to be blinded by our pain and forget that these are stories we tell ourselves, not facts. But we believe them. We believe that if we fail a test, we’re (feel in the blank); if we end a relationship, we must not be (fill in the blank); if our business isn’t thriving, it’s obviously because of (fill in the blank).

Failure is a lot less powerful than that, although we can find our power in experiencing it. Failure does not define us. It communicates to us.

If we failed that (again, fill in the blank), maybe it means that we didn’t use the best form of preparation, that we need to learn how to manage conflict better, that we didn’t have all of the information we needed.

Maybe it wasn’t a failure at all, and something was incompatible for or with us. When we experience something as failure, we get to ask ourselves “why?” We get to find out what we need to do differently and how we can produce better results next time. We have the chance to learn, get smarter, get better.

When we fail, we can connect to our resilience. We get to see that, after all, the hardship, pain, and rejection we’re still standing. We’re given the chance to learn that we are our champions. We get back up after each fall, and continue with more knowledge, courage, and perspective, each time less controlled by our fear.

With that kind of perseverance, self-trust becomes increasingly available to us. We begin to realize our potential. We need less external validation. Reassessing our parameters, lifting a boundary here while strengthening a boundary there seems more doable for us… because we’re more comfortable with the truth about who we are.

This week, let’s be curious about our failures. Hey- and whatever you do? Don’t fail. Just kidding.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Falling in Love- Again

Falling in Love- Again

Feel like you need to reconnect? With the responsibility to work, family, chores, and any other commitments you have, it can be easy to find yourself spending less and less quality time with your partner. You feel tired, stressed, and stretched thin. You start to feel like you’re energy level allows you to merely flip on the T.V. and fall asleep in front of it. With this kind of pattern, your relationship can start to feel less rewarding. You want to feel closer, but you can’t seem to find the time.

While it’s great to share stories about your day, catch each other up on the latest who-did-what and your experiences, there are other, more intimate ways to ground your relationship than the standard “how was your day?” approach. Here are a few simple strategies that can yield increased positivity between you and yours.

After your long day, when you get home and see one another, initiate intentional physical contact with one another. Sometimes it might be in the form of a sustained hug and a kiss. Maybe other days it will be something more playful and light-hearted. Experiencing one another’s touch, smell, and physical proximity in this way is a powerful catalyst for reconnection.

Another impactful technique you can use is to let your loved one know how much you’ve missed them, thought about them, or how glad you are to see them. Saying the words, “You’re home! I missed you today,” or “ Oh my gosh, I’m so glad to see you,” can express to your partner the appreciation you have for them, the warmth you feel, and your desire to feel close. What they can experience after hearing those words is powerful- an experience of being nurtured, wanted and held. (And who doesn’t love feeling that?!)

Eye contact is another simple way to reground yourselves in your relationship. During an embrace, gazing into one another’s eyes can heighten the feeling of intimacy at that moment. Talking with one another about your day, how glad you are to be home with one another while making eye contact engages more of your whole self. So much can be communicated through eye contact- their appreciation for you, your need for support, mutual admiration, and so many other feelings. This can strengthen the connection between you and allow both of you to feel more held in the relationship.

Set aside technology at some point during the evening. Agree to an amount of time if you wish 20, 45, 60 minutes- whatever seems feasible, and turn off your T.V.; silence your phones, tablets, computers, and other devices you have. Turn them over or put them in the next room and focus on one another. We compromise our connection and ability to be present with one another when we split our attention. Sure, multitasking has its place, and that place is not between you and your partner as you spend quality time together.

These are just a few strategies that you can put toward reigniting the intimate connection between you and your partner. Maybe you can’t find more time, but with a few tweaks here and there, you’ll see that you can make some. And a little quality time can go a long way.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Learn How to Take Control of Your Fear

Learn How to Take Control of Your Fear

If you’ve ever had that uneasy feeling of insecurity creep in while you’re working on a project or sitting in a meeting, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve had thoughts like, “Do I even know what I’m doing? Am I good enough at this?” or “Everyone else sounds like they know what they’re talking about. They’re going to think I look stupid.” This is an incredibly painful and scary place to be.

You might do all sorts of things to avoid letting people see how insecure you are.  Maybe you keep quiet when you want to share an idea. Perhaps you don’t ask for clarification about something when you know you need it. Maybe keeping quiet isn’t your style and instead, you speak your mind, but not about the relevant issue at hand; you joke or talk in circles about the issue. You might take on a lot more responsibility than you can handle to prove your competence to others (and to yourself). There are a lot of different ways to hide insecurity.

Why is it so compelling to go to these lengths of protection against allowing others to see your self-doubt? Well, when you’re insecure about your ability, your skill, or your worth you’ve usually been comparing yourself to other people, generally in your group or cohort. Chances are, your cohort is important to you (as it is for most of us), and so is their acceptance and opinion. You fear their judgment, appearing one-dimensional, being misunderstood. You begin to feel that losing your membership to this group is a real possibility, that you could be excluded. As a human, you are a social being, driven to connect; you are motivated by relationships so, the threat of losing them is terrifying. You avoid exclusion and isolation from your group at all cost.

But when you’re focused on protecting yourself from pain and rejection, you’re not authentic which means you’re not being seen for who you are. Your group doesn’t get to see the real you and your bonds are not as strong as they might be. You’re trading one type of isolation for another. It can be easy to lose yourself in this and begin to develop more feelings of fear and loneliness.

What can you do? You don’t want to feel like this, but you don’t want them to find out you’re not as good as they think you are. There are many things you can do, but here are just a few. Here is the first recommendation:

 

-You’re going to have to stop thinking of yourself as, “not as good as they think you are.” That sounds like a substantial change in thought habit and it is, but it’s necessary. We can talk more about it. I’m not saying you don’t ever get to feel insecure again- it’s still an option (if you want it). Start slowly at first. For 10 or 15 minutes a day you will allow yourself to do something that gets you in touch with feeling your talent, worth, and expertise, on your way to becoming even more skilled. You can increase this time as you get the hang of it. This will build your confidence and increase your comfort with thinking more highly of yourself.

 

-Next, you have to allow yourself to say, “I don’t know.” You have to be able to say it to yourself and others. This will allow you to see that a) the earth doesn’t swallow you up if you don’t know everything and b) you can increase genuine self -confidence without knowing all the answers. I guarantee that you will find a sense of freedom the more you allow yourself to say, “I don’t know.”

-Finally, when someone compliments you or your work, start taking it in. Don’t push it aside. Don’t intellectualize it away until it’s meaningless. Allow yourself to feel positivity in it, however slight. Feel free to ask for specific feedback on the compliment, too, so that you can hold onto concrete examples of what someone appreciated about you or your work.

 

These are a few things that are helpful in getting the ball rolling away from your “fear of being found out,” toward the satisfaction and peace of living more authentically, enjoying increased self-confidence and more genuine relationships. People get to interact with you, not your defenses.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie