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

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.

 

We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.

 

We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.

 

The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.

 

But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?

 

Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.

 

How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?

 

When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

A while back, I wrote a post directed toward parents who regret parenthood. And I don’t just mean sometimes. I don’t mean that “Ugh, I hate this part,” feeling. I mean the whole thing, the conflict of loving their children but hating the entire process.

I’ve received a lot of feedback about it. Many people were grateful and expressed that they’d been feeling alone with their guilt and regret. Feelings are complicated, people are complex, and our culture is still learning how to accept and hold all of this. My message was that it’s ok to regret or hate parenthood, that it’s ok not to feel as though you were cut out to be a parent whether your kid is 3 months, 2 years old, 6, 10, 16, 22, or 27 years old. It seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

There’s a theory developed by Donald W. Winnicott called “The Good Enough Mother.” It was developed in the culture of the 1950s which is why it only refers to the mother. It’s more complicated than the title suggests, but basically, he tells us that parents should slowly titrate the soothing to their children’s frustration, that parents should slowly and methodically transition from immediately meeting a child’s needs to letting the child self-soothe and learn how to get their needs met. But that’s not all. Upon further study of his theory, we find that Winnicott talks about the dangers of chasing perfect parenting. He cautions that striving for perfect parenting does a real number on developing brains.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of parents, families, and children. I’ve seen parents who wanted children from the time they were children, parents who somehow found themselves suddenly parents, and parents who figured they’d want kids some day, so they had them. A significant amount of these parents realized that they didn’t like being parenthood. Not only was it different from what they’d envisioned; it turns out the whole thing (or much of the thing) felt completely contrary to everything they wanted.

These parents have struggled with regret, guilt over the regret, anger over what they feel they’ve missed, and angst over how this might impact their children. (Although, there have been some parents who swapped their angst and guilt for denial.)

These parents need to hear that they don’t have to love parenthood to love their kids.

There are a million reasons not to love parenthood- poverty, any and all of the –isms, trauma, lack of a support network, disliking our own children, resenting the responsibility and experiencing it as an unwanted burden.

If you are a parent who regrets or hates parenthood, you’re not alone. You deserve compassion and respect. I know it’s taboo to regret something society tells us is the pinnacle of love and value and meaning. If you would like therapeutic or referrals for adjunct support, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Say It Better

Say It Better

It occurs to me every so often that my job is instrumental in helping me manage life. I’m really lucky. I get to spend my days learning about what works and what doesn’t and for whom. I get to talk and think all day about the human brain and its connection with the body, what to do when we find ourselves in various pickles, and best practices for increasing our well-being. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I take for granted. Last week, I realized how much I take for granted having a constructive conversation.

 

All the time (and I mean, constantly) I hear people say to one another, “How many more times are we going to have this conversation?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” or “How long are we going to have to keep revisiting this subject until you finally get it?” Most of the time the answer to that question is- however many times it takes because we don’t learn from lectures and conversations and words alone. Our most effective preceptor is experience. So, on the one hand, when a need or a goal is really important to us, and we feel it’s not being met, we can definitely count on having multiple conversations about it over and over and over. We might as well make ourselves a little more comfortable and feel a little less crazy by learning how to practice and apply effective conversation skills.

 

You might remember from the 80s, the T.H.I.N.K. method for communication (which I’m not totally sure but I think might have been founded on some Buddhist principles for wise speech).

 

At some point, you probably saw the poster for it in a humanities class, at a presentation given by your Human Resources department, or on a wall in your kindergarten classroom. Decades later, most of us have forgotten the message brought to us by that wise little poster. At any rate, it said:

 

Before you speak,

 

T- is it thoughtful?

H- is it helpful?

I- what is my intention?

N- is it necessary?

K- is it kind?

 

And honestly, it’s a technique that I use every day, both at work and in the rest of life. We cannot underestimate the healing power of deliberate and compassionate communication. I’m going to break it down with some more questions for deeper self-inquiry. The T.H.I.N.K. method is always simple, but it’s not always easy.

 

T- it is thoughtful:

Have I reflected on my experience to optimize this conversation? Am I fully present for this conversation or am I feeling pretty reactive right now? Am I clear on my message, needs, experience, and feelings? Is this a good time for each of us to talk about it?

 

H- is it helpful:

Does this help the other person understand my experience? Does it help me express my feelings and needs? How will it help our connection?

 

I- what is my intention:

What do I want the other person to know about how I am feeling and what I need? What do I need from this interaction?

 

N- is it necessary:

Is what I am about to say critical to my message? Is it essential to understanding my experience?

 

K- is it kind:

Am I approaching this conversation with the utmost dignity, respect, love, and compassion for myself and the other person? If I am feeling reactive, am I trying to hurt the other person so that they feel what I feel? For both of us to get the most out of this, do I need to pause or take a longer break before I continue this discussion?

 

Sometimes it’s not possible to be this thoughtful. We’re people, and we react when we feel strongly about something. Sometimes we act or speak impulsively. And sometimes others can’t or won’t hear us no matter what. And sometimes there just isn’t time and space. Our world moves at hyper speed, and we are pretty consistently pressured by this. But when we can pause for a minute, reflect, and inquire, we give ourselves and others the gift of clarity. Over time and with practice, we find that this quality of communication paves the way a deeper insight. This is crucial for changing behavior and patterns. Go forth and effectively communicate.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

Pain is inevitable. If you’re alive, you feel pain. I write a lot about techniques and skills we can engage to alleviate our pain and suffering. There are so many options available to us, and I like to spread the word about protocols I’ve found useful. When we’re in emotional, physical, or spiritual pain, sometimes we need to apply a technique or change positions or take a medication or seek support to help ease some of our burdens.

And sometimes we need to sit with it.

This is often confusing to us because of our cultural messaging about pain. It’s categorized as “bad” and in need of immediate amelioration. It is our adversary. The way we deal with pain is to either totally stigmatize it and think we must be bad humans if we’re experiencing it or to completely normalize it and search for someone or something to help us keep ourselves from feeling it. We think “I’m in pain. I must be bad,” or “I’m in pain and I can’t handle it.” If we are in pain, we’re encouraged to throw everything we’ve got in our tool kits at it and never look back. Take a pill; take ten pills; take a vacation; move; buy something; buy everything; get rid of everything you own and live a monastic, minimal life; get a divorce; get married; do something; do anything; produce any external result.

There is a time for acting, for taking steps, for making major life changes and there is a time for inaction, for sitting with the information we’re receiving from our pain or discomfort. “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

All over the internet, in magazines, in self-help books, at workshops we can find myriad strategies for managing and relieving pain. Everywhere we look we see titles reading, “5 Quick Tips for Relieving Anxiety” and “6 Ways to Getting Over It.” I contribute to this, too! I write about tips and sometimes use catchy titles in hopes of drawing attention to tools I’ve found useful both personally and clinically. It’s great to have so many options, and it’s proficient to apply techniques to feeling better. But the answer isn’t always to do something.

It’s important that we face our pain, see it, and pay attention to it. It is important that we hear what our pain is telling us. Pain is useful. It communicates perceived danger, wounding, and injury. It contains essential information about our immediate and unmet needs.

Pain is always trying to tell us something, and it will never get its need met if we don’t figure out what it’s telling us. If it doesn’t get its need met, it will keep gnawing at us in bigger and louder (and often more uncomfortable) ways. Pain understands that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. So, it opens its mouth and talks to us anyway it knows how. If that doesn’t work, it raises the volume of its voice and continues to raise it until we hear what it’s saying and investigate. If we treat our pain with respect, dignity, and curiosity, we will begin to understand what it needs from us. The more we understand our pain, the less afraid of it we will be and to sit with it will feel more tolerable. Eventually, our relationship to pain will change.

There are two irrefutable truths about pain: 1) We will always experience it and 2) It will always hurt. We will always experience pain because we are living beings and all living beings experience some form of pain. It will always hurt because that is the most effective way of getting our attention.

As we learn to sit with our pain we will begin to notice that our reactions to much of our pain stimuli will change from “Oh my god, I’m going to die,” to “Oh my god, I feel like I’m going to die,” and “This really sucks but let’s see what the hell is happening here,” and “Damn, I’m in so much pain. Let’s see what this pain wants or needs from me,” and so on.

If you’d like to try this on your own, I recommend experimenting with something more surface-level at first. Try sitting with a minor irritation like an itch or the frustration of waiting for a website page to load. With more substantial pain, it is wise to start our inquiry into our pain with the accompaniment and guidance of a skilled practitioner. A lot can come up, and we can become very overwhelmed very quickly. That’s kind of the thing about pain, isn’t it? Sitting with it is, well, painful.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

(Side note: I am right there with you. I also don’t like pain and still find myself avoiding it or ignoring it. No one is exempt from this process.)

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

When You’re Stuck on the Corner of Anxiety & Dread

When You’re Stuck on the Corner of Anxiety & Dread

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
Michel de Montaigne

 

You know how when you’re anxious, there are certain thoughts that feel really real? And obviously, you have to engage them because to think of anything else would be irresponsible. You have to figure this out!! And you have to find every possible solution to every possibility so that you can either prevent it or mitigate the damages.

 

You have a weird rash so, you go online, and after reading some stuff, you’ve decided it’s indicative of some terrible health condition. Or you’re thinking about a loved one, and suddenly you’re convinced that the person will die. Or it’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re awake (either because you haven’t fallen to sleep yet or because something woke you up) and you start thinking about your financial situation, the 500 things you have to do tomorrow, and how you never get enough sleep. Or you’re enjoying yourself, and you’re feeling good, but then you think, “I’m so happy right now. What if this all goes away? I’d be devastated.”

 

I know I don’t have to tell you that there are limitless scenarios. 90% of it runs through your mind. We’re usually anxiously replaying something that has already happened or anxiously thinking about something that hasn’t.

 

I’m a big believer in feelings as guides, but sometimes we feel less guided by them and more overwhelmed. They can’t guide us as effectively when we are in a state of overwhelm. Sometimes what we need is to get some space from the intensity, to get some sleep, and to face it with a fresher perspective. (And then sometimes it’s not even trying to guide us. Sometimes it’s just anxiety being anxiety, and it needs us to nip it in the bud.)

 

So, try these evidence-based practices:

 

  • Move from what if-ing/ future-tripping/freaking out to presentifying yourself:

Notice that you’re dwelling or what if-ing the situation to death and pause. Bring your attention to what’s happening now. Some Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapists call this practice “going from What If to What Is.” Let’s say I’m thinking about an upcoming out-of-state move. I start making a list of what I have to take care of before I move. Then I start thinking of all the different bureaucracies I have to deal with to accomplish my task list. Pretty quickly after that, I’m freaking out about how much there is to do and what if I can’t get it all done and about how bureaucracy makes me crazy and then I’m overwhelmed and spinning. I’ll bring myself out of my unproductive spinning by asking myself, “What is happening right now?” In that moment of right now, I am sitting at the table making a to-do list. Your future self can’t be productive because it doesn’t exist yet. Your present self does. Focus on what you know is happening right now.

 

  • Mindfulness in the present moment:

This is similar to what’s practiced in #1, but it’s slower and more involved. You’ll bring your attention to your senses, one-by-one. Notice how you’re sitting or standing, how it feels, what muscles are tense and which are relaxed. If you want to try progressive muscle relaxation, you can go here for a helpful guide. Notice what you see around you, what it looks like. Notice how you might describe what you see. Observe what you hear, what you feel, what you smell and how you might describe these observations. Mindfulness slows us down and helps us to stay present.

 

  • Exercise self-compassion:

Sometimes (most times) what we need to help us calm our anxious little brains is a little self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, renowned self-compassion researcher, has prescribed these questions to help us get in touch with our compassion as we reflect on our experience.

 

“What am I observing?

“What am I feeling?”

“What am I needing right now?”

“Do I have a request of myself or someone else?”

 

Self-compassion/compassion is proven to be the best resource available to the human brain in times of struggle, anxiety, sadness/depression, anger, frustration, guilt, and shame.

 

  • Square breathing:

Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat 4x. Reevaluate and do it again if you need to. Square breathing helps to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as our “rest and digest system”) which is responsible for slowing down our movement and thought.

 

  • Take a moment of gratitude:

Say to yourself, “I’m so grateful for this moment.” This helps us pull ourselves out of the anxiety spins and is another way for us to be present. It is especially helpful when we are thinking about something that makes us feel happy or content only to have fear hijack our thoughts and start to dread the inevitable dissolution of that happiness. We’ve all felt it. “I’m really enjoying my family.” “My life is going so well.” “I don’t want this vacation to end.” “I have never been so happy.” The truth is, we won’t always be the same level of happiness or content for the rest of our lives. But we can’t prepare for how and when things will change. We don’t have to obsess over it. Whenever we notice that familiar dread moving in, we can pause that thought and think, “I’m so grateful for this moment.” Each time a dread thought makes its way in, redirect your thinking back to the gratitude you were feeling just a moment ago. “I’m so grateful for this moment.”

 

 

Try this short, powerful list of practices the next time you’re feeling plagued by the anxiety loop. See what works best for you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

You Are Not Crazy

You Are Not Crazy

Crazy: mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way; mad, insane, deranged, demented, unhinged.

 

As women, we have been told that we’re crazy for millennia. Men have told us we’re crazy. Women have called themselves and one another “crazy.” For thousands of years, if our responses or feelings or desires or problems or pain or authenticity were inconvenient or contrary to someone else’s agenda we were labeled “hysterical.” We were called witches and burned at the stake (translation: “Women are evil and need to be killed.”), crazy and handed over to institutions (translation: “Women are fragile and manipulative and need to be locked away for everyone’s protection.”). The earliest record referring to women’s “hysteria” was found in ancient Egypt. Its documentation date is circa 1600 BC. Behaviors deemed problematic were attributed to the spontaneous movement of the uterus. There is documentation that supports a high percentage of female mental health clients, the pathologization of women and subsequent treatment in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance period, and the Modern Age. By the Contemporary period, more information about differential diagnoses had been discovered. Clinicians organized symptoms into groups and categorized them.

 

Many of us are aware of the diagnoses commonly given to women during the Contemporary period such as Neurasthenia, Depression, Anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder. The trend continues. Across the ages, it’s clear that women account for a disproportionately higher number in the consumption of mental health services than men. This is due both to the traumatic impact of gender bias (sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, toxic masculinity) on women and the pathologization of women and our experiences. Not only do women suffer higher incidences of violence, abuse, and disparate rights in our communities; research also shows that clinicians are more likely to diagnose depression in women than men, even when we have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms.

 

We need to continue to ask questions that hold our groups and systems accountable:

“Who is more marginalized in our community?”

“What’s happening to these marginalized groups?”

“What are we/am I not seeing? What are we/am I seeing, but not addressing effectively enough?”

“Why is there such a disproportionately higher number of women consuming mental health services?”

“How can we/I be more supportive?”

“How can we/I improve our systems and women’s experience of our systems?”

 

To any woman and girl, genderfluid person, however you identify, you are not crazy. You are not crazy for having feelings, for having trauma and responding to it or for getting activated in certain situations. You are not crazy for having Post Partum Depression or Depression or for self-injuring. You are not crazy for getting fed up with being undervalued, being seen as fragile because you have emotions or being seen as a bitch because you don’t seem fragile enough. You are not crazy for simultaneously wanting to fit in and wanting to be respected. You are not crazy for trying to navigate between being seen as nurturing enough, goal-oriented enough, sexy enough, ladylike enough, professional enough, dependent enough, independent enough, smart enough, nonthreatening enough… The system is rigged. And it can be crazy-making, but you are not crazy. You are operating in an impossible situation designed for your failure. Keep going. Keep fighting.

 

There is a sea of us out here who can and will listen, support you, help you to understand what’s working for you and what isn’t, and plan the next individual and collective action steps to take.

 

I’m with you.

 

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

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