What Is Gender

What Is Gender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

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

If You Say So…

If You Say So…

When I was past the fledging-therapist stage, but not yet a seasoned professional (so, maybe the adolescent-therapist stage), I was talking with my mentor about a clinical struggle I was having. I was really going through it. This is the day that he told me about the “If you say so” approach to life. The idea is pretty much “you are what you think,” but with more of an emphasis on personal accountability. He hadn’t said much about it when I had already decided that I hated it and that he was totally wrong. I remember fighting him pretty hard on it and trying to get him to validate that actually; I needed an easier, softer approach. He said, “Soft, yes. Easy, no.”

 

The “If you say so” teaching is easily described as this: the more energy we spend thinking about something, the more of a belief it becomes and the more probable the outcome of its nature. So, if I spend a lot of time thinking, “I can’t mess this up. It would be a disaster. I can’t. mess this. up!!” then, eventually I’ll believe that I really can’t mess whatever it is up because it would be a disaster. The more I believe it, the more pressure I put on myself and the higher the likelihood that I will make a mistake (“mess this up”) because I’m operating in panic or anticipatory anxiety mode. It’s not just about the words, but the feeling behind them. When we’re thinking these thoughts, we’re often feeling/sending ourselves the feeling of fear, dread, threat, or criticism.

 

I hated this approach so much when my mentor first told me about it because I didn’t like the idea that my outcome was my responsibility. I was coming out of a “, but life just happens to me!” phase and although it wasn’t serving me anymore, I was still seeking validation that it could. He wasn’t having any of that, though, so he continued to carry the accountability torch. For months we talked about the truth behind the fact that if we think something enough, we’ll believe it and it will manifest in our life situations. I staunchly defended against it, tried to poke holes in it, anything. Luckily, I failed.

 

After many (m a n y) conversations about it and the eventual incorporation of the practice into my own life, I began to experience the beauty of “If you say so.” I also realized that my mentor was teaching me to hold myself accountable for my choices of thought and responses in an incredibly self-compassionate way. He never used those exact words (it was something more like “show up for yourself” or something), but knowing what I know now, it’s clear that he was teaching me to cultivate self-compassion.

 

It was the “showing up for myself” or self-compassion that really made me adopt the belief that “If I say so,” it’s true. I looked back at all the negative self-beliefs I’d held and made clear associations between my negative thoughts that I’d turned into negative beliefs which turned into real things and situations. Since I had been paying attention to my thoughts and choosing them more deliberately, I was also able to see how I had turned my positive thoughts into positive beliefs which turned into real things and situations. For the first time, I felt empowered. I could decide how I was going to feel. I could decide what my experience was going to be like. I could decide how to respond to something, how much to personalize something, how much to let something go. It was my decision whether I was going to let a rude comment or a mistake or a scary situation ruin my day or week. I knew for the first time that I could let feelings and situations inform me and then let the rest go.

 

Research has confirmed that self-criticism and negative self-beliefs directly impact behavior, achievable outcomes, and self-efficacy in a negative way. Research has also confirmed that self-compassion and positive self-beliefs directly impact behavior, achievable outcomes, and self-efficacy in a positive way. The power in that is crazy!!!

 

Sometimes a lot has to happen before we feel ready to just switch our way of thinking. I get that; this was also true for me. I’d be happy to talk with you about what next steps would be helpful.

 

Give it a try first-

 

Right now, give yourself two minutes to observe your thoughts. If you’re having trouble and you need to jumpstart your thoughts (which almost never happens because they’re so good at flowing on their own except when you suddenly shine a spotlight on them), think about some of your goals or what’s important to you. Some people notice emotions or sensations in their body before they notice their thoughts. If this is you, then observe these feelings and sensations and notice the thoughts with which they’re associated. Do these thoughts, feelings, and sensations feel like a new experience to you or do they feel more familiar? Which beliefs have they fed? And finally, notice how these beliefs have demonstrated themselves in your life through your behavior, through a pattern, or through life situations.

 

The more we realize we really do have the power to create what we want to see in life, the more freedom we get to experience. (But again, I get it. At first, it’s like, “What the hell are you talking about? Shut up. Do you really think that if it were up to me, I’d have created this kind of life for myself?!”)

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Take Some Space

Take Some Space

“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.”
-Victor Frankl

 

We have so many goals and desires. We want to engage in purposeful, fulfilling work. We want to have enriching relationships. We want to be healthy, financially secure and loved. We want a lot out of life, but we don’t always allow ourselves to achieve it. Frequently, I talk about why we might block ourselves from accomplishing our goals, and today I’m going to talk about how we block ourselves.

And no one wants to hear about the ways in which we get in our own ways or things we do and think to sabotage ourselves. Most people don’t like to think about our part in unpleasant experiences. We like to blame it on other people, things, past experiences. Most of us find personal accountability pretty challenging.

Speaking for myself, I can say confidently that two things are true about myself: 1) I’ve set goals and 2) I have worked really hard to resist making space for myself to achieve those goals. Most of us do it with something. It’s not conscious. We think we’re fighting our hardest and fiercest to get what we want. And we are fighting, vigorously and ferociously. We just aren’t always fighting for ourselves; we are fighting ourselves, everything we don’t want (and sometimes, everything we do want). We get too handsy with the goal don’t allow for what we want to be a part of our narratives. We want to reach our goals, but we fight them.

I’ve heard stories like this from clients and friends for many years. We want something; we go after it, but somehow we end up creating an even bigger challenge. We get frustrated. Sometimes we give up and walk away. And resistance can be so sneaky. It can totally appear to us that we are taking steps toward our goals. But, then why do we feel further away from accomplishing them than when we started?

Take this common problem: “We’re not getting along.” Ok, I get it. We’ve all been there. We’re figuring out an issue with a partner, trying to see eye-to-eye on something, effect some compromise, maybe but it just… isn’t happening. We start talking about it, disagree, fight, and someone either blows up or walks way. (Sometimes both, am I right?) And we think, “But I’m trying to talk about it. I’m trying to help us reach an understanding. Why isn’t it working?” Sometimes it’s not working because we’re not allowing for the change. We’re not making room in our relationship or our communication style to allow anything different to happen. Instead, we are suffocating the possibility for change with a closed mind and heart, forceful confrontation, and poor emotion management. This approach resists the very change we want to see.

When I first started my private practice, I knew that I needed an office to see clients, but I didn’t have any clients, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my office rent. But if I never got an office, how could I see people? And I would just go around and around like that, sometimes for days at a time. Intellectually, I knew it would work out, but my fear wasn’t so sure about it. Eventually, I took the plunge and experienced the change I wanted to see. If I had never made space for this change, I probably would have given up a long time ago. Sure, there were obvious actionable steps I had to take in getting there, but first I had to allow for this thing I wanted by making space for it.

We have to make space to allow for the changes we want to take place. It’s true for any of these pretty common concerns:

“They don’t appreciate me.”

“I can’t lose weight.”

“I’ll never save enough money.”

“How long will it take until I feel better?”

“My life is one big clusterfuck.”

“I’m always so stressed out.”

If you’re finding that you feel you’ve been fighting for what you want and seeing low to no results, try this:

 

Step 0: Look into starting a mindfulness practice (get acquainted with how space feels)

Step 1: Step back from the situation (make space for yourself)

Step 2: Look at your situation (make space for possibility)

Step 3: Ask yourself if you’re forcing an outcome (more space)

Step 4: Extend compassion for how hard it is not to force an outcome (compassionate space)

Step 5: Be interested in other possible responses to your frustration and feelings (constructive space)

Step 6: Try some of them (adventurous space!)

Step 7: See what happens (curious space)

 

Sometimes we have to have a knock-down-drag-out fight for what we want. Sometimes we just have to allow space for it to be.

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

There is Enough.

There is Enough.

Experiencing deprivation is painful. Whether we’ve experienced deprivation in a neglectful or abusive relationship, financially, or otherwise; the lived experience of “not enough” hurts. Even when we are no longer in that same situation where we experienced the deprivation we often find ourselves in the same mindset. We can be in a totally lucrative career, making plenty of money or in a healthy, stable relationship with plenty of love and affection and still feel like there’s “not enough.”

And that scarcity mindset is a harsh landscape. It prevents us from allowing ourselves to really enjoy what we have and keeps us stuck in fear of losing it. We want to feel gratitude and excitement for how far we’ve come and where we’re at now, but we won’t allow ourselves to experience it for fear of jinxing the whole thing.

I find that, for myself, whenever I’m coming from a scarcity mindset it feels so much more dangerous to take a risk, put myself out there and get what I want. I think to myself, “Don’t rock the boat, man. You’re lucky to have what you have.” It feels safer to hold back.

It can almost feel like we’re getting away with something when we find ourselves in a good place. Any second it could all come crashing down, and we’ll lose it only this time we’ll end up worse off because we know how much better life can be. We end up holding ourselves back. Some of us protested against the deprivation we experienced in the past and got burned. The person we wanted more from rejected or abandoned us. The boss we confronted fired us. It taught us that it really is too risky to rock the boat, that we should just shut up and take what we’re offered if we know what’s good for us. So we stay stuck. It makes us more fearful and resentful. Years pass and it feels like life is just happening to us.

Often, I post about a subject and then write about some helpful tips to try. I won’t do that this time. For some reason, it seems like it would be somehow misleading. There’s no quick fix for overcoming a scarcity mindset. (I mean, there’s no quick fix for anything.) It’s a process of very deliberate practice. Some might find strength in cultivating a mindfulness practice. Others will find it in a therapeutic relationship. Some might find it using a combination of tools.

I will encourage you to try this, though. See what it’s like to notice whatever it is you’re afraid of losing. Notice how much you like having it in your life, what it does for you, how it nurtures you. Whenever the panic shows up and tells you that these are the exact reasons you’re afraid of losing this aspect of your life, acknowledge it with compassion. Remind yourself again how grateful you are to have whatever it is at the focus if this exercise.

I’ll be honest. It will be hard at first, and you’ll freak out about losing whatever it is you’re afraid of losing. You’ll probably feel anxious and irritated. When I first started, I would think, “Whatever. This is stupid.” Sometimes I’d cry, filled with anxiety about losing what I loved. It’s fine. There is no right way. You’re only job is to notice that part of yourself with compassion and remind yourself of your gratitude. Maybe you’ll only feel like you can do it for a few seconds. That’s enough. Maybe you’ll be able to do it for a minute and a half. That’s enough, too. It’s enough because there is enough.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“How could I not have known?”

“How could I not have known?”

There are times in our lives when it serves us not to know something, times when it serves us not to know something about what’s happened in the past, what’s happening now, or our feelings and experience. It will upset the status quo, and we are committed to protecting our status quo even when it’s killing us. Eventually, the attachment to not knowing dominates us.

We repress and suppress painful memories, our awareness. We do this for lots of reasons. We try not to know that our partner is trapped in an addiction because we don’t know how we’d deal with it, how our families would deal with it. We try not to know that we’re being cheated on because we don’t want to get divorced or break up and we don’t know how to recover from the betrayal. We try not to know that we’ve fallen out of love with someone or something because we don’t know how to move forward and we don’t want to hurt anyone. We try not to know what happened in our childhood households because if we were to know it, we’d have to rearrange our understanding of life and relationships. We try not to know that we’re depressed because it is so stigmatized and we don’t want to seem weak or sick.

We try not to know that we’re stuck in our own addiction cycle. We try not to know that we’re afraid of expressing emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, that we are ashamed of how we feel.

But one day we’re presented with irrefutable evidence or we feel we just can’t keep avoiding it or someone shines the light on the truth… and the thing we were trying so hard not to know makes itself known.

Sometimes we fall apart with this knowledge. Sometimes we steel ourselves against it. Sometimes we oscillate between the two.

We ask ourselves how this could have happened right under our noses. We wonder how we could not have known. We feel guilt for not having seen it all this time and anger for seeing it now. We blame ourselves for not knowing sooner and not changing courses, not stopping whatever was happening, not getting help sooner. Avoidance is an understandable response to stress. Stress is painful, and our brains are wired to be pain-averse. It’s what’s kept us safe and alive for generations. Some of us experienced trauma during childhood and learned to believe that we are helpless against pain or that resolving the thing that’s causing us pain is just as awful as experiencing the thing itself. Lose-lose.

It benefits us to learn about why we didn’t want to know something, why we fought knowing for so long, what it would have meant for us to know, and what it meant for us not to. When we understand the meaning, we made out of knowing versus not knowing we can have compassion for ourselves. Eventually, we can learn to stop blaming ourselves, figure out why we had to keep ourselves from not knowing and internalize that we can accept and handle the future knowledge that comes our way, no matter how painful. This takes time and practice.

We can also practice asking ourselves what we are trying not to know in our everyday lives. When sense ourselves avoiding something, a feeling, a situation, a person, we can ask ourselves what we are trying not to know. If the awareness of avoidance is still new for us and we don’t quite have the hang of it, we can ask ourselves what we are trying not to know by looking at our behavior. Sometimes the very thought of asking ourselves what we are trying not to know is terrifying.

If this sounds like you, I get it, and I would love to help you with this. Please contact me to talk about next steps. You don’t have to stay stuck in not knowing. You can upset your status quo, address the knowing, and see that you’re ok.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” –Carl Rogers

 

In my work with clients, I often talk about Radical Acceptance. Frequently there is a misunderstanding about what it means so, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little bit about it here. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it’s a nice little foray into what it’s like to Radically Accept.

First, let’s talk about what Radical Acceptance is not. Radical Acceptance is not passively accepting that we are in a challenging situation. It is not avoidance. It is not giving up or resigning to fate. It’s not taking on a victim role. Radical Acceptance is not saying to ourselves, “You know what? I have Attention Deficit Disorder, so I can’t do well in school or perform well at work. It’s just the way my brain works.” Radical Acceptance is not a cop out. It doesn’t mean that we accept abuse or disrespect. Radical Acceptance does not mean that we think, “Yep, climate change is happening. Might as well accept that this is just how things are now.” It does not have the harsh tone of “no one ever said life was easy.”

Radical Acceptance is an empowered way of approaching life. It is a deep, honest, loving, and mindful acknowledgement. Tara Brach, PhD. is a wonderful resource for Radical Acceptance. She refers to Radical Acceptance as “seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion.” (Check out her website.)

When we employ Radical Acceptance, we turn toward ourselves and our experiences with honesty and love. We acknowledge our pain, discomfort, symptoms, struggle, and experience. It looks something like this: “I know I struggle with escapism. Instead of getting work done, I watch TV and go online. This is causing my work to suffer. I feel guilty and embarrassed. I want to change this, but I’m afraid of committing more fully to my work.” Sitting presently and authentically with our experience is powerful. It creates a safe place for us to face our fear and discomfort and that’s a critical first step.

As we engage in Radical Acceptance, we accept that we are struggling. We accept that it will take work to get through the struggle. We accept the uncertainty of what that will look and feel like. We accept that our changes and newfound knowledge of ourselves might make other people uncomfortable. We accept that relationships might change or dissolve. We accept that there are no guarantees.

In Radically Accepting something, we embrace all of this. We embrace the risk and the fear and the discomfort and the wish for protection from all of this and the impulse to avoid and the change and the work and the struggle. We own it all. We own our experience and our journey through it. The feelings and the circumstances stop dominating us.

Try this exercise. Sit quietly for a minute and just be. See what you notice. If there is anxiety, acknowledge it. If your nose itches, acknowledge it. If there is a loud siren wailing down the street, acknowledge it. If there is a judgment about sitting quietly followed by an impulse to meet a need, acknowledge it. It’s that simple. As you practice Radical Acceptance it will grow and strengthen and shape your life; you will notice that you feel more grounded, present, and empowered. It’s a long, nonlinear, unending, powerful journey.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What Gets in the Way of Self-Care?

What Gets in the Way of Self-Care?

We hear a lot about the importance of self-care. It’s become a pretty big industry. It’s even commonplace to be asked what we do to take care of ourselves when we are applying for certain jobs. We know it’s good for us. We want to do it, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Self-care is incredibly personal and defined on a case-by-case basis. What I might consider self-care you might consider a chore or a waste of time. When we finally figure out what self-care means to us, we run into other obstacles. We don’t have the time or the means or the motivation. Sometimes we feel that we have such a deficit of self-care that we’re overwhelmed by what we need and don’t know where to start. We just keep slogging through life because it’s what we know how to do and what we’ve always done.

Let’s take a break from all that slogging and look at some of the common issues that get in the way of self-care:

A lack of understanding of what self-care is: A good way to find out what feels like self-care to you is to explore. Ask yourself what you need and want more of in life and what you need to do to get it. For some it might be more play time. For others it might be more work time. Some of us might need more massages and nights out with friends while others might require more time to prepare meals and quiet time. Sometimes it’s more specific. Someone might want to self-advocate more in relationships needs to create a self-care plan around that. Some of us need many hours of self-care per week and some of us need a lot fewer. And it’s subject to change from week to week and age to age; what we consider self-care at 25 might be different at 35.

Defining ourselves based on what other people think: When we define ourselves and our worth based on what others think we imprison ourselves. We either deprive ourselves of the self-care behaviors we know we need or we engage them in secret, surrounding ourselves with guilt. We feel we have to steal that time instead of owning it. I know how hard this is. We live in a culture that encourages us to define our worth by how busy we are, how overworked and exhausted we are. If we have anything left to give at the end of the day we haven’t done enough. We’re not as worthy as someone who doesn’t make time for themselves.

Low self-worth: The lower our self-worth the less we believe that we have the right to self-care. We’re on a hamster wheel just running to try to reach that coveted status symbol of worth. We run ourselves into the ground. We work around the clock. We don’t say “no.” We don’t hold limits with other people. We people please. We try to fit in.

Perfectionism: We eat into our self-care time with work, chores, favors for other people. It’s hard for us to stop something mid-project or before it meets our unattainable measure of satisfaction. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle; we don’t want to start a self-care routine until we (are in a relationship, move, lose weight, are sure we have the job, etc.) This is dicey because there will never be a right time to start the routine. There will always be something that prevents us from taking care of ourselves. We’ll just keep running on that hamster wheel.

Inability to ask for help/define needs: When we introduce self-care into our lives it usually requires a change somewhere else. We need to restructure our time and this can impact other aspects of our lives and relationships. When we can’t ask for what we need we stay stuck. Not asking for help when we need it is a great way to make self-care seem like a chore. It becomes one more thing we have to get done instead of something that feels restorative and nutritive.

Shame: When we carry beliefs that we are defective, not enough, unworthy, or intrinsically bad it’s difficult for us to believe that we deserve to take care of ourselves. We’re usually too busy trying to prove our worth by taking care of others to give ourselves care. This is an insidious issue that has many faces and can show up in various aspects of our lives. It can feel nearly impossible to take care of ourselves when we’re carrying around shame.

The list looks like a pretty tall order of change to address, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s challenging. We’ll have to be willing to look at our patterns and narratives and do some uncomfortable work. It’s better than the alternative, though. It’s better than staying stuck in the pile of shame and resentment and exhaustion. Let’s get to work.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Navigating Investment and Detachment

Navigating Investment and Detachment

I’ve spent years thinking about this. I’m learning to practice it regularly and often find myself challenged by it. I talk a lot about it with people, our struggle to cultivate balance that works for us. How do we balance investment with detachment? We frequently find ourselves oscillating between the two, trying to find a balance that works for us. We do it with everything- relationships, goals, jobs, conversations, literally everything.

We come across it every day. “I want my kid to be happy. I think a), b), and c) will make him happy.” “I want my friend to have a healthy relationship, but she’s married to an idiot. She’s totally settling.” “The agency I work for isn’t optimizing their marketing tools. They’re selling themselves short!” “My brother isn’t putting enough into his retirement. He’s irresponsible, and he’s going to have to pay for it later.”
I’m far from having found the perfect equation to balancing investment with detachment. I have, however, found a few helpful tools.

Helpful Tips:

Look at how we make meaning: “a), b), and c) will make him happy.” “She’s totally settling.” “He’s irresponsible, and he’s going to have to pay for it later.” These are all assumptions we’ve used to make meaning of someone’s behavior, and we can take it to the next level. “My kid is academically talented. If she applies herself, she’ll have her choice of schools and careers; she’ll feel empowered and confident. She will have a happy and successful life. If I send her to this elementary school and keep her on this track it means that a) I’m a good parent because I want my daughter to be happy and successful and b) she will, in fact, be happy.” It’s pretty hard to detach from the outcome of something you believe makes you a good parent or that will make your child happy. Allowing ourselves some space to explore how we’ve arrived at this meaning helps us reevaluate our process. We can dig around to see how we’ve come to subscribe to our beliefs. Sometimes we’ve been caring around these beliefs and narratives for a lifetime.
It’s common for us to personalize what people do. It can feel almost as though they are doing it at or to us. “If she stops doing this, it means she respects me.” “If he does this, it means he respects me.” We become entrenched in the stories we tell ourselves about what others do. Looking at how we make meaning will allow crucial insight into what we need to do to balance our investment with detachment.

Be honest with ourselves: We can ask ourselves, “Is this for them or me? Why do I feel so unflinchingly passionate about this?” When we look at how we make meaning of something, we also need to practice honesty. Sometimes we’ll come up with the same answer that’s always felt true, “because I love them, and I want them to be happy.” Sometimes we’ll realize that it’s because we’re equating control with love or worthiness. “If they take my advice, it means they love me/that I’m worthy.” or “If I impose my advice, it means I love them.” We can come to many different conclusions. It’s important that we’re curious and honest with ourselves about our intentions. We often tell ourselves that we’re doing something because we love someone. I don’t know about you, but most people I know don’t experience lectures or micromanagement as love. Intellectually, we know that that’s probably where they come from, but it doesn’t give us a felt experience of love.
Practice compassion (with ourselves and others): By looking for reasons and ways to have compassion for ourselves and others we give ourselves space from frustration. When we understand why someone chooses what they choose or behaves in a certain way, it helps us to shift from feeling infuriated to feeling love and patience. It’s another way of making meaning of behavior that depersonalizes someone else’s choices or behavior and replaces it with empathy and understanding.

Ask ourselves how it affects us: Some people and situations affect us more than others. We might not be terribly affected by a sibling’s choice of how they choose to manage their retirement account as we are by the choices made by our employer. Luckily, even when it seems as though there’s no way around the deep effects of someone or something, we have some choices. We have a choice in how much we personalize things or in the perspective with which we align ourselves. I like to ask myself, “How does this affect me?” I like to follow it up with, “What can I do about it?” (which can be a little tricky sometimes because of ideas like lecturing someone or imposing my view seem like viable options. They’re not.) I also like to ask myself, “Am I trying to stop someone from learning from their experiences?” I’ve been surprised by how many times the answer is, “Yep, I definitely am.”
It’s hard to let go of the things that win our investment. But finding our balance between investment and detachment is a precious gift that we give to ourselves and our loved ones.
Love and Be Loved,
Natalie