As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

As It Turns Out, Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds.

Have you ever noticed that one guy at work, the one who you’ve never liked, but couldn’t put your finger on why? Or the neighbor who, for some reason, when she smiles at you, you feel irritated? Or why you can’t stand the smell of a certain laundry detergent? Or why, even though you’re accomplished in your field, you feel like an idiot before you give a presentation?

We all have an information processing system hardwired into our brains. This processing system has evolved to help us integrate emotional turmoil into our mental health and is essential for healing. This system helps us to let go of what is not useful information and make connections to what is useful about an experience so that we can adapt, grow, learn, and face similar situations more intelligently.

Here is an example:

You have a stressful interaction with your mother-in-law while she is visiting for a holiday. You feel angry, disappointed, and resentful. Your chest is tight, and your stomach is in knots. You think negative thoughts about her (“She’s always such a cold, demanding jerk.”) and about yourself (“What is wrong with me that after so many years, I can’t seem to avoid these situations with her? Is it me?”)

You keep mulling over what happened, talk about it with friends, maybe even have a stress dream about it that night. The next day, you still feel a bothered by it but not nearly as much. You’re able to think more clearly about it and understand that you two interpret things differently and that there are ways that you can skillfully manage this. This is your brain’s information processing system at work. It’s transformed this disturbing situation into a learning experience. (You can also thank your REM sleep phase for this since this is the time during which wishes, learning/lessons, survival/stress experiences are processed through the action of “synaptic pruning.”

Because of this uninterrupted time to process, your brain was able to associate the memory of the interaction with your mother-in-law and useful information already stored in your brain (from other stressful interactions with her and others) to create resolution. You remember what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and that it isn’t personal, that this is just the way she is and that you have useful tools for interacting with her. The intense emotional reaction you felt the day before is gone.

Unfortunately, our brains do not adaptively store all of our experiences in this way. Sometimes we encounter traumatic experiences or otherwise stressful experiences that overwhelm our brain’s capacity to process and adaptively store information received during these experiences. This is often referred to as “going off-line.” It’s kind of like short-circuiting.

When we encounter extreme stress, the emotional and physical reactions we experience during the event keep the brain from identifying useful information about the situation; there is no resolve. What happens instead is that the event and its information is maladaptively stored. This means that the event and its components are stored in the brain and body as it happened. Everything you saw, heard, felt (physically and emotionally), tasted, smelled, thought remain in their original, unprocessed form.

You do your best to move through it, but whenever any of these senses are triggered, your emotional disturbance level sky-rockets and you have a reaction. Many times, multiple unprocessed events are linked to one another in such a way that if one is triggered, all are triggered. These events, while often linked to one another, are stored in isolation so that they are not linked to anything adaptive.

No amount of time will help them to integrate. It’s as though these events are frozen in time. An event could have happened 40 years ago, but when triggered it’s as though it is still happening or just happened.

Our personalities, coping skills, perspectives, and beliefs about ourselves and others can develop through the lens of these unprocessed events and impact our emotional and physical capabilities.

Research shows that it’s not just clearly identifiable traumatic events that are responsible for this outcome, but any event or pattern that our brain experienced as overwhelming.

It could be the way someone spoke to you as a child, your interpretation of someone’s behavior you witnessed at three years old or making a mistake during an academic oral exam in second grade. We don’t always know how our brains will store an event.

The good news is that we’re not stuck here. There are therapeutic tools that can help us to free ourselves from the suffering of an unconscious cycle or unprocessed event. One of the most efficacious and reliable tools is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy. This therapy helps us to safely contact the disturbing event or maladaptive cycle and process it, giving us a new understanding of the situation so that we can use its information intelligently.

If you would like to know more about EMDR Therapy, please call or email me. I would love to talk with you more about this process and see if it’s right for you. If you’re not quite ready to reach out yet, that’s ok, too. You can find more information on EMDR Therapy here and here.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

“The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”
-Allen Ginsberg

 

When I first started my own work with mindfulness and radical acceptance, I found myself saying, “I’ll accept this feeling/ this symptom so that I don’t have to have it anymore.” That’s… not really acceptance but it was the best I could do at the time. Since working with clients around mindfulness and radical acceptance, I have heard this sentiment hundreds of times. It’s hard to get behind the idea that accepting our pain or feelings or aversive experiences has therapeutic value, that it could ever help us to make positive changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is driven by just this, accepting the hard-to-accept.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven Hayes in the early 1980s and tested by Robert Zettle in the mid-1980s. It is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is based on Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s (ACT) main objective is to help participants turn toward their feelings and symptoms instead of resisting them. The protocol helps participants learn how not to overreact nor underreact nor altogether avoid the associations with these feelings and symptoms. With ACT, we learn to accept ourselves and the experience we are having in the present moment so that we can commit to a behavior aligned with our values.

 

ACT succinctly describes the change in psychological flexibility in this way:

 

We go from F.E.A.R.

 

F- fusion with our thoughts

E- evaluation of our experience

A- avoidance of our experience

R- reason-giving for our behavior

 

To A.C.T.

 

A-accept our reactions and be present

C- choose a valued direction

T- take action

 

In the book, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Hayes, Strosahi, and Wilson, we’re given the six core principles to help us develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reifythoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to oneself.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

 

ACT emphasizes mindfulness because presence of mind/contact with the present is the only way to change behavior. Now is the only time that we can truly choose a behavior. We habituate to looking at the world in a certain way which makes us miss important external and internal cues to help us determine what is happening in the present moment by thinking about the past or the future. Awareness of the present moment helps us to differentiate between what we are afraid is happening and what is actually happening. It helps us to describe what is happening and then make choices in response. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

The “acceptance” part of ACT is problematic for some. “So then, if I’m supposed to accept my feelings and my experience, does that mean I’m supposed to accept abuse and maltreatment?” The answer to that will always be no. When we accept our feelings and experience, it means we accept the information that we are receiving and can make choices based on that information. It means that we accept that this is how it is right, not that this is how it should continue to be.

 

When we practice acceptance of what’s happening we can mindfully make choices that are in alignment with our values. I like to use this phrasing in my own life and when working with clients: “I’m going to keep choosing the same behavior of ______ because I care about______.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to ______ because I care about ________.” So, someone might say “I am going to keep choosing the same behavior of confronting people when they treat me with disrespect because I care about my feelings and how I’m treated.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to respectfully disengaging from an argument when it no longer feels productive because I care about my feelings and this relationship and I know that continuing in unproductive conversation usually leads to hurt feelings and resentment.”

 

Sometimes the choice is hard to make. For instance, “I choose to go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling more refreshed” is a great behavior goal. But what if it means sacrificing quality time spent with loved ones? This is where present moment focus and acceptance of your experience comes in handy. You might prefer to spend the time with your loved ones and wake up feeling a little more sluggish.

 

I know it’s hard to identify choices so let’s do it together. If you want to talk more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, changing behaviors, or anything else, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

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

It’s Not About Self-Esteem

It’s Not About Self-Esteem

The US went on a real self-esteem rampage starting in the mid to late ‘80s. How-To books were written for parents, leaders, educators, executives, and anyone else who wanted to know how to cultivate high self-esteem in themselves and others. After 30 years or so, we’ve seen the impact of this practice, and it hasn’t delivered what its supporters had hoped. As it turns out, the self-esteem movement helped people approach life with more entitlement and less personal accountability. I get the intention behind the self-esteem movement and support that intention, but based on what we now know about the human brain, the application was doomed from the start.

 

Self-esteem is about confidence in one’s abilities, feeling good about oneself. I might be the most confident about my driving skills but constantly get into fender benders, get pulled over for speeding, and be a general train wreck on the road. Someone else might believe that he is an ace baseball player and yet is consistently overlooked by even the least competitive teams. Anyone can have high self-esteem. It doesn’t mean they’ve earned it. It doesn’t even mean that it’s based in reality. This goes to show that someone might have great self-esteem and a poor self-concept.

 

Self-concept is how we view ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the feedback we get from our environment. We categorize ourselves, then interpret those categorizations.

Part of your self-concept might be that you handle failure well because you learn from it and use failure as a way to learn strategy and increase your drive to get what you want.

 

I’m not saying that plenty of us don’t have faulty self-concepts. Most of us have incommensurate negative or positive self-concepts somewhere in there. I’m saying it’s more skillful to assess self-concept as opposed to self-esteem because it’s not about how confident or insecure we are in our capabilities as it is about looking at the evidence.

 

In sixth grade, I struggled with math. I wasn’t crazy-struggling, but I wanted to enjoy the same confidence in the subject I saw my peers enjoying so, I came to my teacher for help. If she had been concerned about my self-esteem, she would have told me something like, “Oh, Natalie, you’re such a great student! You’re not struggling that badly. Besides, you’re great and look at all the other things you can do!” Luckily, she cared more about my long-term self-concept than my self-esteem and told me something like, “Ok, Natalie, if you want to be better at math let’s look at where your performance is weak. Here’s where you’re doing well and here’s where you need help. Let’s work on it.” (Thanks, Mrs. Roloffs. I owe you.)

 

So, if you’re struggling with insecurity, instead of working on raising your self-esteem, try looking at how you’ve structured your self-concept. You’ll find it’s a much more useful tool than glossing over your experience with an I’m-ok-you’re-ok message.

 

If you want to look more closely at your self-concept, be curious. What are your values? What do you believe about yourself? What is the evidence of how true or false those beliefs are? What are the stories you tell about yourself? How do they play out in your life?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Get Noticed

Get Noticed

Many creative and content creators have doubted their abilities to share something inventive. They’ve experienced plenty of starts and stops. Self-doubt is often an integral part of the creative process.

 

On some level, most of us experience this. Self-doubt has a way of creeping in through all sorts of corners of our minds when we’re promoting an idea, ourselves, and sharing our perspectives with the world. No matter what field we’re in, as we try to figure out what and how we’d like to contribute we feel overwhelmed by the saturation and think, “What do I have to share that hasn’t already been shared? Can I find an innovative idea to express or even an innovative way to express it?” It’s easy to silence ourselves.

 

I experienced this self-doubt when I first opened my private practice. I looked at how many listings there are for psychotherapists in my city and thought, “What?! How’s this going to work?” I felt this the entire way through building my first website, and I felt it multifold when I decided I was going to keep a blog. And now and then that doubt resurfaces.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with experienced practitioners, mentors, and supervisors who told me different variations of the same thing- There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

 

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on their variations of this message I realized they were right. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, and completed trainings that are similar but land with me in different ways depending on the speaker and where I am in my practice and my own life. (And obviously, even this message I have been relying on all these years has been restated by the people whose advice I’ve valued most. It has never lost its impact.)

 

Broadening this perspective, we can see how many voices uttering the same message from slightly different points of view strengthen a movement and a message- Black Lives Matter, LGBT Equality, Women’s Equality, healthcare reform, and so many other critical causes. There is strength in numbers. What’s not powerful about adding to a growing movement?

 

We need to hear from each other. We need to make ourselves visible so that other members of our community see themselves reflected in us. We cannot hear a message about something until it resonates with us and not every voice or every group will resonate with all of us. So we need to hear from Black members of our community, Transgender members of our community, working single moms, upwardly mobile millennials, professional women, the neuroscience community, the spiritual communities, our youth, people with a sense of humor, people who embrace their vulnerability. I might not be able to hear the message that a 67-year-old straight, white man has to say, but I might be able to hear it from a Biracial, Queer, 67-year-old woman. I also might need to hear the same message from people across communities and identities and intersections.

You have a valuable voice and message worth sharing. You don’t have to sound like Audre Lorde or Tony Robbins or June Jordan. Stay authentic. Sound like yourself. There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

What Does “Having It All” Mean?

What Does “Having It All” Mean?

For years, women have been told that we can or cannot have it all. We’ve been told what having it all means and either how we can get it or that it’s an unattainable myth. On the one hand, having it all means we’re worthy and successful. On another, wanting it all means we’re selfish and unrealistic. There are books, articles, workshops, and classes devoted to demystifying this subject.

Recently, though, there has been a directional shift. We’ve broached a new domain in the conversation and have started to ask ourselves and each other questions about the “having it all” mentality. Who decided what “having it all” means? On what cultural values does this mentality depend and do they align with our values? What narratives do we tell ourselves about what “having it all” looks like and do they work for us?

Having it all means choosing- choosing what it means to us to have it all, choosing our values, choosing how we think about our priorities, and choosing our own narrative. Choosing is not an easy task. For generations, we have had our choices and our consent removed from our view. The human rights movement has changed this and continues to bring our choice and consent into sight.

So, what does having it all mean to you? Does it mean being happily partnered, having children, working in a meaningful career? Does it mean being a stay-at-home parent? Does it mean working in a career that allows you to travel around the world eight months out of the year? Does it mean devoting your time to your career and volunteering? There are as many possibilities as there are people. It’s challenging to connect to a personalized definition of “having it all.” We’ve spent years reading from the scripts handed down to us and committing them to memory.

To me, “having it all” means connecting to my sense of purpose and my choices. It is not a fixed definition and it changes from year to year and throughout phases of my life. Sometimes having it all looks like a lot of intense work in my career. Sometimes it looks like more time spent in the domestic domain of my life.

To figure out what “having it all” means to you (and to see if you already do have it all but don’t realize it), try asking yourself these questions:

 

  • What feelings, thoughts, and images are evoked by the phrase “having it all?”
  • In what ways do I connect to those feelings, thoughts, and images? 
  • What are the values I was programmed to have and do they match my values now? 
  • What makes me valuable? Does that work for me? 
  • Do I believe that having it all makes me complete? Do I believe that not having it all makes me incomplete? How did I come to this conclusion? 
  • What are my priorities and how did they make the list? 
  • What are my capabilities? How do I know this? 
  • What beliefs, opinions, and narratives might I need to let go of to build the life I want? 
  • Can I see the choices available to me in how I think about things, how I respond to my feelings and situations, and how I identify and set my boundaries?

 

Life is full of struggle and things we want to change, but it’s also full of choices. It’s tough to recognize our choices when we’re feeling overwhelmed. If we haven’t been taught to identify and set our own boundaries, it’s even tougher. Self-awareness lends itself to the ability to identify our choices and boundaries. Identifying our choices and boundaries helps us connect to our sense of agency. When we are connected to our own agency, we can create our own meaning. We are free to define what it means to live a full life, have it all, and to do so wholeheartedly.

 

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.)