Thank You, From Your Therapist

Thank You, From Your Therapist

We all want to know how people feel about us. Most of us want to know how our therapists feel about us. “Does he think about me in between sessions?” “Does she think I’m smart? Funny? Doing a good job?” “Does my therapist like me?” I think of clients often, both past and present. In fact, I think of our work together and how I’ve received immeasurable benefit from knowing each and every client.

 

Every single day I’m aware of the gifts of this profession. I’m deeply thankful and appreciative to be in a position that allows me to make contact with so many different members of my community. I’ve wanted to write a thank you letter to past and present clients for some time, but I’ve been fearful that I couldn’t express my gratitude as clearly as I’d hoped. I decided that it’s better to try than to stay silent.

 

We start out as strangers. You call or email, looking for help with your pain and suffering, questions, and frustration about your situation. Sometimes you’ve been suffering for years. Other times your discomfort is recent.

 

I know how hard it is to make that first contact, to come in for the first few sessions, before we’ve established a connection. You feel a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism. You’re afraid I might judge you. You’re afraid of stigma. You’re afraid there’s nothing anybody can do to help you, that you’re beyond hope, but you’re not ready to give up just yet. Thank you for your fight.

 

You show up and share your history, parts of yourself. You answer my questions. Little by little, you start to let go and engage in the process. You fight against the urge to clam up when you’re visited by self-judgment and fear. Sometimes you win. Sometimes the urges win. You keep trying. Thank you for your persistence.

 

I am awe-struck by your courage. You’ve been through so much life. We live in similar worlds so, I know that you’re working against years of people telling you to suck it up, that your pain isn’t a big deal, that there is more pain, worse pain out there, and that you’re lucky. I know you tell yourself this, too. But there’s a small part of you that doesn’t believe it. Thank you for your courage to hold onto this small part.

 

You come to our sessions when you don’t feel like it, when you’re thrown around by life, when you’d rather finish that work project or Netflix show or go out with friends. You come to our sessions when you’ve got a million responsibilities, when you’re afraid to face your feelings, when you’re embarrassed about what you shared last session. Thank you for your commitment to this work.

 

Somehow, you push through your own self-judgments, fear of judgment from me, discomfort, and you bring your authentic self. You allow yourself to ask revealing questions. You face your vulnerability and insecurity. You tell me what makes you feel joy, loneliness, hate, fear, and rage. Thank you for your authenticity.

 

For these and so many other reasons, I am inspired by you. You remind me that, while life is undoubtedly a painful experience, it is also wonderful. You remind me that it’s better to take chances instead of staying grounded in fear. Thank you for your inspiration.

 

You have changed me. I’m not the same person I was before I started this work. You have inspired me to become more self-aware, more patient, more curious, more direct. You’ve inspired me to learn and to embrace my vulnerability, to live more authentically. You’ve taught me to stop getting angry at people for being who they are and instead be curious. You’ve taught me to look and listen more closely and more compassionately. I would not be who I am today without our work. Thank you for changing me.

 

It is an honor and privilege to work with all of you. I hope my words and actions demonstrate my gratitude for you. Thank you for all you share with me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Come Out, Come Out Whoever You Are

Come Out, Come Out Whoever You Are

Expressing our authentic selves can be terrifying. We risk rejection, disappointment, loss, and sometimes even violence. On the other hand, we stand to gain a life lived in integrity with who we are, more intimacy with our loved ones, acceptance, joy, and satisfaction. If we choose to stay closeted about who we are, we risk living our lives imprisoned.

There are a million ways in which we “come out of the closet” and, although they’re not all comparable, they’re all challenging to make known. We can come out as Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, GenderQueer, a survivor of abuse, polyamorous, religious, having a criminal history, a sex worker, nonreligious, an addict, recovering from an illness or disease… There is no limit.

Some closets are harder than others to come out of due to prejudices, culture climates, and phobias. It’s not always safe to make ourselves vulnerable and come out of our closets. If we live in a culture or an environment where we could suffer violence and abuse, coming out might be dangerous for us.

When we keep important parts of our identity secret, we keep a chasm between the people with whom we are in a relationship and us. There is so much we don’t share- our thoughts, our feelings, our wishes, our goals… ourselves. A part of us lives unseen and silent. Having to deny or invisibilize such important parts of ourselves often leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, low self- esteem, self-injury, and suicide.

We feel caught dangling from the precipice of the chasm. If we take the leap and reveal ourselves will we plummet and end up in the void or will we make it to the other side? Many of us spend years, decades even, dangling from this edge, afraid to make a step in any direction.

There is so much to consider when we reveal deep parts of ourselves. Will my support network continue to support me? Will I be safe? Will I be accepted? Will they still love me if I let them see who I am? Sometimes it feels like we have to give up important parts of ourselves to keep the love and support of the people close to us.

Coming out, making ourselves visible, being vulnerable is a painful process by definition. It’s the act of opening ourselves up to attack and harm, scrutiny and judgment. It’s stripping our souls of their protective cloaks and allowing ourselves to stand naked.

Ultimately, all any of us wants is to be loved and accepted. We want to know that our loved ones see us, that regardless of their agreement with and understanding of our choices they want to understand us, and that they love us. We want to know that we’re ok.

So, I want you to know that you are ok. No matter who you are, who you love, what you’ve done, who you want to be, how you want to live, as long as you are not hurting or oppressing anyone, you are ok. You are worthy of love and acceptance, and you are ok.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Not all couples are meant to stay together forever. Some couples are put back on the right track after they take a break from the relationship. Other couples regain stability after seeking professional help from a qualified counselor or therapist. And many couples need a few different strategies to get what they need from the relationship.

This week, let’s look at trust in relationship. What exactly is trust? What does trust look like in relationship? How can you improve the level of trust in your relationship? (And how do you know if your partner is worthy of your trust?)

Merriam-Webster defines trust as the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective,” an “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”. In relationship, some basic principles of trust look like this:

-Both partners attempt to make one another feel emotionally secure

-Neither partner humiliates nor disparages the other

-Both partners uphold their responsibilities

-Both partners have power and influence in the relationship

-Both partners express a desire to listen to the other, even in an argument

-Both partners demonstrate respect toward one another

Some relationships start out with a substantial lack in even the most basic aspects of trust. It’s not necessarily an indication of a doomed relationship; there are plenty of ways to increase trust in a relationship if the motivation is there. (Finding out if the motivation is there is related, but in the interest of a streamlined discussion about trust, I’ll keep it separate for now.) Considering the examples of basic trust above, let’s say that one or even all of these aspects of trust have recently been breached. Does it mean your relationship is unsalvageable? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s take a look at what is communicated depending on how a breach is handled.

Apologizing and Trust:

Can you trust your partner to apologize for mistakes? Apologizing is an excellent way to measure trust. In conflict, it’s important to be accountable to your partner, to show remorse when a wound has been inflicted. Even if one partner has to get through some skepticism, to communicate genuine atonement, the other partner must remain nondefensive and patient. Alternately, if one partner is making a concerted effort to take responsibility for any wounding, the other must also make an effort to work on forgiveness. (If there is an apology, but no forgiveness or no apology, but forgiveness it paves the way for diminishing trust and more hurt.) How do apologies work in your relationship?

Reconnecting and Trust:

To healthfully and sustainably move forward from a breach of trust, both partners must dedicate themselves to taking the relationship to a sturdier (and more satisfying) plane. This means each partner is clearly communicating their feelings as they arise. Couples are in for less welcome returns if one partner expects the other to be a mind reader. They must allow themselves to be curious about their partner’s experience and ask questions. (Remember empathic curiosity?) They must communicate to one another the compassion and empathy they feel. This will help each partner to feel more connected to the other, safer, and more trusting. Are these qualities present in your current relationship?

Everyone makes mistakes. And it can be pretty scary to trust someone when you feel wounded by a current or past relationship. A breach of trust doesn’t have to mean that your relationship is on the verge of collapse. (And there are useful tools used to look at your relationship patterns to see if it is unsustainable.) I’d love to talk more about it with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Exploring Insecurity

Exploring Insecurity

The other day a friend and I walked our dogs together. On our walk, we shared new things that had been going on for each of us. We meandered through various topics. Eventually, the conversation found it’s way to the subject of relationships, what is important to us in relationship, and where we feel we struggle in relationship.

We both agreed that we felt good about the work we put into our relationships. And we both agreed that our relationships had taken a lot of work.

The two of us talked about ups and downs we’ve faced in certain relationships, length of time spent in these relationships, and relationships as they related to developmental periods in our lives. We found many constants that were present through our relationships, but the shared constant we found was how much we trusted ourselves and how that impacted our relationships. The less we trusted ourselves, the less we knew and understood ourselves, the less effective we were at managing challenging aspects of our relationships.

For days afterward, I thought about our conversation and wondered how many other people had similar thoughts to themselves or conversations with others. In my office, I talk with people every day who want to improve their relationships, decrease certain behaviors, and increase others. Much of what we talk about has a common thread about trust as it relates to self and others.

I started thinking about how the different ways in which we benefit from trusting ourselves. When we trust ourselves we feel less anxious and more confident, we feel more comfortable with confrontation and conflict, it’s easier for us to legitimize our feelings, and we experience less dependence on external validation. We are much more resilient and connected to our courage when we trust ourselves.

That was a helpful realization. But then I realized that I thought I trusted myself for years. I wasn’t always aware that I often mistook my defensiveness and criticism of others for self-trust. Part of that was developmental. Part of it was fear. Essentially, I found it hard to trust myself because… I didn’t trust myself.

So, how can you increase your self-trust (especially, when you find it hard to trust yourself!)? Start by being curious. You’ll probably find that as you access curiosity about yourself and your experience, you will feel some amount of judgment. That’s ok. Be curious about the judgment or criticism, too. It doesn’t usually disappear right away; instead of getting lost in the judgments or trying to avoid them, be curious about them. You have them for a reason so, let’s see what you can learn from them.

Be especially curious about times you feel defensive, critical (of yourself or others), contemptuous, empathic, and patient. What’s happening for you that you feel_______? What do you want to do or say? What do you actually do or say? What’s it like to respond or not respond in this particular way? What stops you from doing or saying what you want to do or say?

When it’s difficult for us to trust ourselves, we don’t always do or say or act the way we want. As we learn to trust ourselves, we live in a more authentic way, which helps to deepen our connection to ourselves and our loved ones.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Deepen Your Relationship in Conflict

Deepen Your Relationship in Conflict

A few days ago, I came across various articles warning readers about what not to say to different groups of people- what not to ask women, what not to say to new parents, what not to ask an older male divorcee, what never, ever to ask (fill in the blank). I decided to investigate these articles further so that I might be able to understand the messages. After reading them, it seemed that the message to readers was pretty clear. The authors hoped that their words would preclude people from offending each other, sounding stupid, or both.

Overall, I appreciated this sentiment. I don’t like to see people get their feelings hurt either. But the more I thought about the authors’ collective message, the more I couldn’t help but get the feeling that there might be an even deeper message, a message that communicated danger in being curious.

As a therapist, I see a lot of people who want to learn how to manage conflict in a more productive way so that they can have the relationships, careers, and lives they want. A lot of learning how to manage conflict is a) learning how to manage one’s emotions, b) learning about the language one uses to communicate (and what it says about them), and c) curiosity about another’s experience. We are in conflict in every way, every day. Conflict is simply variation. We all manage (and mismanage) conflict every day, sometimes without realizing it.

When I hear people urging others out there to clam up and not ask specific questions, I hear them asking for people not to communicate their curiosity. It sounds as though they are suggesting that the antidote to conflict is a closed mouth. Of course, that isn’t the intention; I know that. But a lot of relationship wounds happen unintentionally.

Which brings me to… intention. When you are managing conflict, it’s important to pay attention to intention, both your own and another person’s. If another person’s intention is unclear to you, it’s a great idea to ask them. If it seems like they’re trying to make you feel uncomfortable, provoke you, etc., the conversation will probably feel like more of an attack and their questions might feel more threatening or offensive. Most people don’t want to oblige people’s questions when they feel threatened. But what if someone is genuinely curious about your experience? Then how do you feel about questions?

What if the thirty-something single working mom wants you to ask the questions that you have about her life so that she can broaden your understanding, feel a little less isolated, and deepen her connection to you? Obviously, the first step is to ask if you can ask. Second, be respectful and non-critical if she doesn’t want to answer certain questions. I imagine that part of what went into creating these lists of what not to ask who is the notion that there are times when it’s tough to be and feel vulnerable, that we need to respect this in one another.

Take some time right now to think about questions that might be on your “questions never to ask me” list. How did they get on that list? What does it mean to you when someone asks you these questions? Does age, gender, sexuality, privilege, economic status factor in? If so, how? What feeling is evoked when someone asks you or when you think about someone asking you these particular questions? What would you like to avoid by avoiding said questions?

I’m reasonable. I get that it might feel surprising (and maybe a little jarring) to be asked certain questions by strangers or those with whom you are not close, no matter how pure the intention. I’m not advocating for intrusiveness. But it seems like there is a lot of “never ask this!” advice for friends and family and I think it’s such a disservice to intimacy and connection! Most humans want to understand and be understood by one another.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie

Build Your Confidence in Relationships

Build Your Confidence in Relationships

A few years ago, I was walking down a mostly-empty street in my neighborhood, and I saw someone walking in my direction. He was an older man, looking down, walking rather quickly. I waited for him to look up so that I could smile at him or acknowledge him in some way. He didn’t look up, and we both kept walking in our separate directions.

This went on for about four months or so. Different times of day, we passed one another, neither of us greeting one another. For years I had been completely comfortable with this kind of coexistence. I was fine to walk past people without looking at or speaking to them, without making any attempt to connect with them.

Eventually, I noticed a shift. I wanted to reach out to people. I wanted to be a safe, friendly, loving face. My first efforts at this were with this man.

Day after day this man and I walked past one another without much (if any) interaction. After a few months, I said my first “good morning” to him. He briefly looked up, glanced in my direction, looked back down, and continued his quick pace. I decided to stick with my new addition to our routine passing and continued to greet him each time we saw one another.

We pressed through this new phase of our interaction for a few months. We would approach one another; I greeted him; he would quickly glance at me and keep walking. I grew accustomed to this and began to expect it.

One day, as I was gearing up for our usual interface, something changed. I smiled, said hello… and he smiled back. He slowed down, smiled at me, and said, “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?” We chatted for about a minute or so and then continued on our way.

I was elated. After almost a year of consistent behavior and subtle shifts, we were strengthening our gentle little connection. Every day after that, we shared bits of our lives with one another, our weekend plans, which books we were rereading for the hundredth time and why. I still enjoy our connection. We now look for one another and begin our conversation long before we’re side by side.

This process has taught me significant lessons.

If I had never reached out at all or given up early on when it seemed like my neighborhood friend preferred that we keep our narratives to ourselves, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the connection that we have today. If I had stopped reaching out to him any time I felt rejected or embarrassed because he didn’t meet my reach, it would have been a loss- the loss of a warm connection and the loss of my authenticity.

Just because someone might not respond the way you hope doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do or say what’s in your heart.

As I thought about what I learned from the interactions with my neighborhood friend, I started to think about how it could inform my more intimate relationships. What could I give to and gain from relationships in which I reach out empathically, patiently, selflessly? If I can reach out to a stranger for almost a year and expect nothing in return, how am I capable of being in long-term relationships? I began to wonder what my life could be like if I didn’t need anything or anyone to be different from how they are at any given moment.

What seemed like a mundane part of my day turned into an invaluable gift. I started keeping my eyes open to other lessons that might be right in front of me, lessons that I had previously ignored. I like what I am finding.

I’d love for you to tell me about your lessons. What have you found?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie