4 Ways to Navigate Holiday Tension

BY: CODI PONTE MA, LLMSW

A common focus in my sessions as of late has been about the anxiety felt due to numerous holiday obligations and family gatherings. During this season, the demands on your time alone may feel overwhelming. Couple that with tense relationship dynamics and the holiday season can feel down right unmanageable. While for some the holiday season is a joyful time filled with tradition, you’re certainly not alone if the season brings upon feelings of anxiety and dread. Below are a few ideas on how to take care of yourself while navigating tension and obligation during the holidays:

  1. Schedule Self-Care: Try being very intentional with scheduling time for yourself before and after holiday gatherings. Prioritize getting good sleep in the days leading up to the party, as sleep can significantly impact your mood and stress tolerance. For my fellow introverts, make sure to schedule alone time after a party to debrief and rejuvenate. It could also be helpful after a challenging get-together to schedule quality time with someone who feels safe and supportive. The holidays are full of obligations for your time, so self-care could also be scheduling a day to do absolutely nothing. Veg out with your favorite movie, snuggle your pet, wear pajamas all. day. long. That’s what a self-care day looks like to me, tailor yours to reflect what feels most rejuvenating to you!
     
  2. Set boundaries with yourself: Raise your hand if you, like me, have really high expectations for yourself. Now’s the moment you give yourself a little hug and remind yourself that you can lower those standards and you are still deserving of love. You are only one person and you cannot be everything to everyone or do everything with everyone. Take inventory of all the annual obligations/traditions you normally partake in and assess which ones you want/need to say “no” to this year. Feeling discomfort when saying “no” to loved ones is common but doesn’t automatically mean your boundary is wrong. The discomfort may ease with time and practice. Seeking the support of a therapist can also be helpful to process and better understand your feelings.  
     
  3. Set boundaries with others: Give yourself a time limit for gatherings where attendance includes those with whom you have a tense relationship. Even further, communicate your planned departure time ahead of time so that you aren’t concerned with surprising the host. When topics arise that threaten your emotional well-being, vocalize your desire for a new conversation topic. You can acknowledge their right to an opinion while still requesting they respect your feelings. If they choose not to respect your feelings, consider the next suggestion…
     
  4. Leave: Give yourself permission to leave a party if the space becomes unsafe or unhealthy for your emotional well-being. This tip might sound simple but can feel really really hard. Prioritizing your own feelings over others’ is hard but IS NOT selfish. In this instance, your intention for leaving early is not to be hurtful to others but rather to protect yourself. You deserve that.

If you take away one thing from this discussion, my hope is that you are considering giving yourself permission this holiday season to prioritize your needs and emotional well-being. Remember, it is not selfish to take care of yourself. If this post resonates with you, we would be honored to walk alongside you as you delve deeper into understanding and navigating tension in your relationships. Email or call, we’re here.

Grief at the Holidays

By: Elsa Lockman, MA, LMSW

Every Thanksgiving, as the temperature drops a devastating 15 degrees and stores are filled with holiday decorations, I miss my Father. It has been 10 years since his death and like clockwork - the radio begins to play Holiday music (ALL THE TIME) and memories of my Dad come flooding in. My heart aches with that familiar grief. I smile remembering his yearly battle with forcing the Christmas tree to stand straight in the stand. I remember his generosity at Christmas and his excitement for my Mom’s holiday baking extravaganza.

The holidays are a perfect reminder to practice more gratitude. I know I am absurdly lucky in many ways. Holidays are also a fantastic time to practice mindfulness and celebrating what is in front of us. But for me, a bitterness can creep in...how my Father should be here playing with the grandkids he never met. He should be here arguing with me and laughing. I miss his affection and genuine interest to hear about the fantastic and difficult parts of my day. And he’s gone. And then I feel guilty because seemingly everyone is so very happy at this time.

This is grief. Everyone has a unique relationship with his/her loved one, and a unique story of his/her death. But there are commonalities in grief: States of shock, sadness, anger, regret, acceptance. Highlighted calendar days usually trigger emotions and memories; in particular, birthdays, anniversaries of the loved one’s death, and…the Holiday season. In our culture, the holidays are a time to be with loved ones and be joyous. Be grateful. It is a time of cheerful bustle, stress to fit in the perfect holiday. It is a time for rest and social events. This time of year then triggers one of the most shocking discovery in grief’s early stages: The world keeps turning. There is an entire population who does not miss your loved one. People go on.

We are inherently social creatures. We thrive on connecting with others and sharing common experiences. When our internal state does not seem to match those around us, we feel isolated. We wonder what is wrong with us. We feel adrift and unheard. After experiencing a loss, we have learned that for most people, grief and death are uncomfortable. There seems to be no room to bring up someone dearly missed. Perhaps the holidays can be an opportunity to honor grief together. Instead of feeling alone with grief, maybe we can push ourselves to create room for sharing memories. Being heard and that your emotions are valid communicates love to many people.

If you are grieving a loved one during the holidays, try to have grace with yourself. Validate your conflicting feelings. Do not apologize for your emotions. Incorporating a tradition that is special to your loved one can be a way of including them still. Or set a time during the bustle to reminisce with safe people. Saying a prayer or telling your loved one’s story can help you honor that person is missed. If you are trying to support someone who is experiencing grief, ask how they are doing. You are not going to plant the idea that the loved one is gone and should be missed. You are not going to ruin their holiday. Take the person’s lead. If they don’t want to talk about it, they will move on. If they do, just listen and offer what support you can. Your job is to not make the person forget or erase their grief.

For myself, I will walk alongside my brave clients as they experience their own holiday grief. I will check in with dear friends, who have lost loved ones. I will look for moments when I see my Dad in the faces of my kids. I will call my sister to hear her familiar, knowing voice. And I will try my best to (make my husband) make the Christmas tree straight.

 

Finding the Right Therapist

BY: ASHLEIGH TOBIN, MA, LLPC

 

The process of finding a therapist can be daunting. There are many factors to consider - whether your insurance is accepted, their availability, the convenience of their office location, their theoretical orientation, other services they offer, etc. And then, of course, once you sort out all of these details, it needs to be someone you actually trust and can build a relationship with. This is why I feel so honored to work with my clients - I recognize that their landing in my office is the result of a lot of work on their part. Therapy is an investment of time, finances, and energy. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

A couple of months ago, I began the process of finding a therapist myself. I’d been feeling ready to return to therapy in this season of life to do some deeper level work and to ensure that when I am in the room with my clients that my own issues and insecurities don’t seep into their space. It is so important that therapists learn to practice what they preach! In beginning the process, I began to appreciate more fully how challenging it can be to find the right fit. After several weeks of research, asking colleagues for referrals, and scrolling through multiple websites, I finally set an appointment. It felt like a relief to finally have something scheduled. And so I went.

The therapist was welcoming, kind, and non-judgmental. I felt comfortable sharing significant parts of my story with her as early as our first session. She was knowledgeable, patient, and I benefitted from her presence. But then there was her office. At my first appointment, I walked into a sad looking building and into an ever sadder looking waiting room. It was as if I had been transported back to my pediatrician’s office in the early 90’s, but the fish tank wasn’t as cool and they were out of coffee. I didn’t know if I needed to check in anywhere, so had to resort to knocking on this glass window so the woman behind it would look up from her work. I was handed a clipboard and four or five different forms to complete. I had only finished about three-quarters of the first page when my therapist retrieved me from the waiting room. She asked me to follow her down the hall, and then down to the basement level to her office. The room was awkwardly large and I was immediately greeted by the irritating hum of a water dispensing machine in the corner. It felt trapped in an era where a lot of my core wounds are rooted. I was off to a strange start.

Was this the space where I would experience toward insight, healing, and transformation? I debated this for a month. I asked for the opinions of others to help me weigh the pros and cons, though I already knew what I needed to do. I had to break up with my therapist. And a few days ago, I finally did. Though I had only seen her for a few sessions, I still feel guilty about having done so. In thinking about ending the relationship, about a million thoughts ran through my mind: Will she be mad? Was the depressing office space a good enough reason to end it? Will she be disappointed? Think that I am avoiding my issues? Feel relieved? Is this behavior a symptom of my greater struggles? Will I be able to find a better fit? Is this a mistake?

In order to quiet all of the questions, I knew I had to center myself. I reminded myself of the purpose of the journey - to find a therapist so that I can care for myself well. When I really let this reminder sink it, I recognized that it was ok for me to not like the space. In fact, it was more than ok. Finding a space you feel comfortable in should be a priority - it’s about you, after all! And there are many places and people to choose from because people are different and have different needs. The best therapists understand that. Mine did. When I contacted her to end things, she was so gracious. I told her about how the space was a barrier for me and she actually thanked me for my honesty. She told me she respected my decision and to continue to place value on finding the right fit - even if that wasn’t with her. Ironically, in ending things with this therapist, I did gain some insight, find some healing, and move forward in transformation - I learned to place value on my needs and that it is ok for me to prioritize myself. I am grateful to this therapist for giving me permission to do this. And so, my search for the right therapist continues. I am on my way.

 


 

 

 

The Therapeutic Journey: Transformation

BY: BRYAN NIXON, MA, LPC

Transformation is a natural re-aligning with your own innate ability to flourish in the world. It is the journey home that occurs along the path of insight and healing.

Depth psychologist David Benner writes that, “Genuine transformation involves a reorganization and realignment of personality that results in a changed way of being in the world. The result of this movement is a larger and truer self, which will be reflected in more authenticity and vitality, increased wholeness and integration, larger horizons, an expanded sense of identity, and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.”

Transformation is a slow shifting of the self. Over time you begin to notice that you are different as circumstances arise, even old circumstances that come up again and again.  The marker of transformation is not, “I used to struggle with anxiety and now I don’t anymore.” Rather, it is measured by, “Who am I this time as anxiety comes around the spiral? I’m differently able to respond today than I was last year when this came up.”

Transformation is evidenced by increased compassion both for yourself and for others. It begins with increasing awareness of your own experiences with a growing ability to turn toward them non-judgmentally. An ability to zoom out just a bit and say, “Oh, look what the human is experiencing. Wow, the human is really angry. Or sad, or happy.”

It shows up as an increased capacity for courage and vulnerability to set aside your survival strategies. You begin to realize that you can bless your survival strategies because they have served to protect you and help you survive, but that you don’t need to survive any more because you have done that already. Here you are. You can begin to lay down your survival strategies and bit by bit you start showing up in the world as your most authentic self, engaged in a life lead by love rather than by fear and defenses.

May you find within yourself the courage to tell your story. To name what is true without minimizing and to grieve what needs to be grieved so that you may continue to move with the ARC of your own, Insight, Healing, and  Transformation.

 

The Therapeutic Journey: Healing

BY: BRYAN NIXON, MA, LPC

Healing happens as we integrate the new insights into our conscious experience and allow ourselves to feel and accept the full range of emotions that often come up with these insights.

I frequently encourage my clients to slow down and turn towards their difficult emotions  welcoming them with a posture of curiosity rather than judgment.

Our emotions are often guides to deeper meanings that won’t be realized if we judge our emotional experience as wrong because we would prefer to feel differently.

Emotions are like energy. Some would argue that they are, in fact, energy. Energy moves in waves. Likewise, the intensity of an emotion has a beginning, middle and end. The thing to remember is that no emotion is permanent. Picture a bell curve with an initial rise in intensity, an eventual plateau of intensity and then a decline in intensity.  We tend to have a difficult time simply riding the wave, particularly when the emotion is an unpleasant one.

For example: Think about how you deal with your own times of grief, sadness, fear, disgust, shame and anger. Anger is particularly difficult to allow for those of us who live in West Michigan, am I right?! How many times have you either heard or said, “Oh, I’m not angry! I’m just frustrated.”

Sidenote: anger is a feeling not a behavior. We often confuse aggression and violent behavior with anger, which is why we typically try to stuff our anger down deep. I would argue that aggression and violent behavior are actually the result of one’s inability to tolerate one’s own anger in a healthy and mindful way.

There are THREE ways we tend to interact with our emotional experiences:

Aversion - like a clenched fist - a type of resisting or avoiding  (increases suffering)
Attachment - like a white-knuckled hand - a form of clinging (increases suffering)
Acceptance - like an open hand - a more fluid sense of flowing (reduces suffering)

In addition to reducing suffering, acceptance allows us to experience our emotions as guides and teachers into deeper authenticity and self-understanding. This, in turn, helps us to show up in our lives and relationships in more intentional and meaningful ways.

Please consider the following questions in relation to acceptance and movement toward your own healing:

  1. Will you have the courage NAME what is true about your:

    Past harm
    Past abuse
    Loss
    Abandonment
    Betrayal

without minimizing it? … “It wasn’t so bad...there are a lot of people who have had it worse than me. It was in the past, so it doesn’t really matter now.”

  1. Will you have the courage to GRIEVE that which you name? Which is to ask, will you stand in the in tension between the goodness and beauty of what you needed and the tragedy of not having received it?

How you answer these 2 questions with drastically impact how you experience TRANSFORMATION, which we will explore in part 3 of this series.

 

 

The Therapeutic Journey: Insight

This is a series of 3 blog posts to explore the distinct but interrelated categories of INSIGHT, HEALING and TRANSFORMATION as the arc of the therapeutic journey.

I want to ask you told hold two questions in your awareness as you read through this post:

  1. Where did you come from?

  2. Where are you going?

These questions guide us into the category of INSIGHT.  What do I mean by insight?  Simply put: INSIGHT is making the unconscious conscious.

We are often like really passive landlords, unaware really, that we are landlords at all. Each of us, without exception, has tenants that take up residence in our being.  What am I talking about?  

We each have both an inner critic and an inner child that have emerged from our stories:

The inner critic is made up of the harsh and shaming voices from our external world, family of origin, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, etc that have been internalized and have taken root in our unconscious. The inner critic is tricky in that we tend to believe that its voice is our own voice. It’s not. In fact, if you pay close enough attention you will notice that the inner critic typically speaks to you in 2nd person.  “I can’t believe you said that, you’re such an idiot,” or, “you suck as a parent,” or “you’re worthless and can’t do anything right.” You get the idea.

The inner child is often experienced as a voiceless sense of powerlessness or helplessness that bows her or his head in agreement with the inner critic. It is the recipient of the shame and condemnation that the inner critic is heaping on.

Exploring your story is not just a mental remembering of facts and events. Your story is your embodied reality. There are scenes and characters which have marked you. There are themes woven throughout your life that currently impact the way you show up in the world. We often try to convince ourselves that the past doesn’t matter. “I can’t do anything about it anyway. It happened so long ago. I just need to move on.” These are harsh and violent words to your inner child.

There is a quote by William Faulkner that I absolutely love. He said that, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past”

The truth is that we don’t actually, on a deep gut level, believe that the past doesn’t matter. Intuitively, we know that it does. What is more true is that we want to believe that the past doesn’t matter because denial and avoidance are much easier than turning toward the scenes of harm, abuse, shame and other forms of suffering in our stories. We’d like to believe that there is an easy way to bypass looking back. But unfortunately, there is not. Further, to attempt to do so is an act of abandoning your inner child.

To demonstrate the dance between the past, present and future, I will share the following story.

At the end of my freshman year of college my Resident Assistant, Virgil, handed out little sheets of paper to each of us in the dorm. His desire was to name a particular goodness he saw in each of us as young men. We sat in a circle and one by one we took turns unfolding our little sheets of paper and reading the contents to one another. As you might expect, there were some whose strength in leadership was named. Others whose sense of humor was highlighted. And still others who were recognized for their kindness. I sat there with an eager anticipation of what would be named about me on this small, folded piece of paper.

What you need to understand is that I grew up in a home in which my goodness was rarely seen. Or if it was seen, it was even more rarely intentionally named. So as you can imagine, my very being was thirsty for the words on that piece of paper. My turn to open my note from Virgil arrived. I looked down at the folded piece of paper and opened it. I encountered the following words, “Bryan, your even keeled personality lends stability to those around you.” Something I had intuitively known, but had no words for, was named that day. I felt a mixture of relief and a subtle undercurrent of sadness.

You see, that “even keeled personality” has often served me well throughout my life.  I would call it a strength of mine. It has helped me remain calm in chaotic situations. In part, it is what makes me a good therapist. It gives me the ability to non-judgmentally hold space for others to explore their own stories of shame, past abuse, and woundedness.

I firmly believe that our greatest strengths are often born out of our deepest wounds and that no individual moment exists in isolation. All stories are connected to other stories. This is to say that the past, present and future are always in an intimate dance with one another. So in order for you to truly grasp the weight and gravity of the words, “Bryan, your even keeled personality lends stability to those around you,” I will, of course, need to tell you another story.

When I was 5 years old I was sitting on my bedroom floor...crying.  Nothing had happened. Meaning there was no triggering event that made me sad. At least not that I can recall. What I remember is that I just felt sad, as 5 year olds are inclined to do on occasion. What happened next marked me. My mom, who I would describe as emotionally chaotic and unpredictable, opened the door to my bedroom because she must have heard the sobs. I felt relief that she had come to me. Maybe she would comfort me. Help me sort out my own confusing emotional experience. Tell me that it is going to be ok. But instead she asked this question, “What is wrong with you?” My relief vanished as I registered the look on her face not as one of warmth and compassion, but rather one of annoyance as though I had interrupted an episode of General Hospital. I said, “I don’t know. I just feel really sad.” Seeing that I was not physically hurt, my mom turned around, walked out of my room and closed the door. What I internalized in that moment was that my emotional needs don’t matter. In fact, they are a burden. I recall making a contract with myself in that moment. A contract in which I agreed to stuff my emotions down deep...to stay off the radar and not rock other people’s boats with my needs or emotions. It was a contract to always be a peacemaker.  Can you hear it? Can you hear in the contract of a 5 year old little boy the seedling that would eventually grow into, “Bryan, your even-keeled personality lends stability to those around you,” and can you also see the cost of this contract?

As humans we all experience core wounds (Emotional abandonment in my story above). These core wounds become unconscious core beliefs (My needs don’t matter. I don’t matter). From these core beliefs we, often unconsciously, develop relational survival strategies in an attempt to get our needs met (Be even keeled and lend stability to those around me if I don’t want to be rejected).

So, as you gain INSIGHT about your core wounds, core beliefs and survival strategies you also gain the possibility of experiencing deeper HEALING, which we will explore in part 2 of this series.

 

 

Intro to Body Trust Workshop

By: Jennifer DiGennaro, Professional Counseling Intern

Food restriction for weight loss, a.k.a. dieting, does not work for most people long term. Sadly, we often blame ourselves, not the "plan", when it fails. Research has shown that pursuing weight loss as a goal is flawed and restrictive diets are not sustainable. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control shared that in "both in naturalistic, longitudinal samples and in randomized controlled trials, various weight-loss efforts and strategies lead to long-term weight gain." Yes, you read that correctly, focusing on weight loss is an indicator for weight gain. (source: Do No Harm: Moving Beyond Weight Loss to Emphasize Physical Activity at Every Size: Vol. 14, April 20, 2017 www.cdc.gov). Even in light of the mounting evidence against restrictive diets, many continue to pursue them, medical providers continue to prescribe them, and the cycle of shame and self-blame continues. Why? Because the dieting mentality feeds on unconscious, or unchallenged, world views such as:

I am not good enough.
There is something wrong with me.
I need to try harder.
I can control everything.
I cannot be fat and okay.

When I began to let go of my own limiting beliefs, fully inhabit my body and heal my relationship to food and eating a veil was lifted from my eyes. I examined my own lived experience as a participant in diet culture and listened more closely to the stories of those participating in diet culture, in addition I read a ton of research illuminating the damage restrictive dieting does. I knew could not be complicit in a broken system as I counseled others. I found Intuitive Eating, a concept originally developed over two decades ago and building on that, I found Body Trust® Wellness which expands on the concept of intuitive eating and is based in five core competencies: 

     Practice weight-neutral self-care: You worthy of care exactly as you are
     Eat intuitively: Choosing to eat for and from your body
     Move your body joyfully: Physical activity supports all sized bodies
     Nurture self-compassion: Acceptance and kindness are the way
     Redefine success: Cut the ties between worth and weight

It is important to remember Body Trust and Intuitive Eating are practices, not more rules, but a gentle balancing back to listening to and trusting our bodies as well as advocating for our care.  

I have been a fully Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor since 2015 and just recently finished up an inspiring, extensive training with a dynamic therapist and dietitian duo to become a Certified Body Trust® Provider. I have tools, resources, knowledge, and hope to share with those who no longer want to participate in diet culture and the oppressive systems in place around food, bodies, and weight. This work is about choice and often involves deeply questioning our beliefs to explore where our true liberations lies. I do not claim to know where anyone else’s freedom lies, I do offer a compassionate alternative to consider.

Shame and punishment do not initiate healing; connection, compassion, and trust do. 

"I don't diet, so therefore this workshop isn’t for me, right?"

Have you heard the phrase "a wolf in sheep's clothing"? It's like the idea of "a diet in health's clothing". There are many plans, programs and lifestyles that purposely avoid the word "diet', claiming they are for "health" though they are based heavily on external cues, food restriction, and/or measuring food, often in addition to punitive exercise. The focus is health as indicated by losing weight, not on actual self-care rooted in self-trust and body trust. This is the diet mentality in disguise. Just like dieting, these plans work until they do not work and it is not your fault.

If any of this is intriguing to you, or speaks to you, please join me for an introductory workshop where together we will dive into the question: What is Body Trust?  

This interactive workshop includes:
Experiments in mindfulness and embodiment
Optional sharing

Time for Q&A
And More!

Water, tea, and light snacks will be provided.

Everyone will leave with a couple tools/resources/hand-outs. 

Come learn about the paradigm shifting, healing work of Body Trust®.

Come into your fullness. Let Body Trust® be the way. All bodies welcome

When: Sunday September 17, 2017 2PM to 4PM
Where: Mindful Counseling GR 741 Kenmoor Ave SE Suite B Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Cost: $25
To register: email jen@mindfulcounselinggr.com or call 616-446-6728
Space is limited to 12 participants

 

A Naked Guitar Stand

Just before each new year, my family gathers to celebrate. We’ve developed the tradition of dinner, a movie, and sharing goals with each other for the coming year. My Dad takes record, and when the next yearly celebration comes around, we see how far we’ve come. Around five years ago, my Dad stated that it was his goal to learn how to play guitar. I was really excited for him - especially since playing guitar is something I’ve enjoyed since childhood. A few days later, I noticed that one of my favorite guitar shops was having a major sale. I suggested to my Dad that we go take a look so I could help him make a selection. We spent about an hour in the shop and my Dad had settled on a nice mahogany acoustic. He snapped a photo of it, but didn’t wind up making the purchase. He didn’t seem ready to commit.

 

The year went by pretty quickly and it was time for our family gathering once more. Most of us had done well on our goals - but my Dad still didn’t have a guitar. So his goal remained. Actually, it still remains - even after my purchasing him a guitar stand and tuner for motivation last year. I’m not sure at this point if he’ll get closer to that goal. He’s a stubborn and super busy guy - but I don’t think that’s what is stopping him. He could certainly develop the skills. Something else is in the way.

The problem is the goal itself. It has no definition, no accountability, no way to measure success. What does it mean to learn to play guitar? Is simply learning one song required, or is he hoping to put Hendrix to shame? How will he learn to play? Will he sign up for lessons? How often will he practice? And when will he be able to satisfactorily cross that goal off the list at our family gathering? I have no idea and neither does he. His goal is not unreachable - it’s just a skeleton without a body.

So what can be done to put some meat on the bones? I occasionally use the SMART goal setting method with my clients. SMART is an acronym that helps you remember that your goals ought to be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound. It effectively takes your goal and breaks it down into metrics for success. It’s the difference between:

  • I want to learn how to play guitar

AND

  • I will learn how to play two James Taylor songs on my acoustic guitar by December 2017

The first sounds more like a wish. The second insists that you have a guitar to practice with, zeroes in on an artist and style, and comes complete with a deadline. Not only that, but it can be broken down into more manageable steps: purchase a guitar, sign up for lessons, practice your desired songs, etc. In other words, it invokes action! This is SMART goal setting.

My dad still has a few more months to make the mark. We’re all cheering for him. And who knows … maybe I’ll get around to learning more chords on that banjo I bought six years ago.

 

Perfectly Imperfect

By: Erin Sweeney, MA, LMSW

We are all perfectly imperfect

We are all flawed and good

We all have light and darkness in us


I’m finding that many of us experience one of the following:

  1. We are blind to or deny the imperfections, flaws, the “bad” in us

  2. We are blind to or deny the “goodness” in us

We struggle to hold the tension and accept ourselves with the “good” and the “bad.”  If we accept ourselves only when we are perfect, we either end up denying the “bad” or we are discouraged and unaccepting of ourselves because we have flaws.  We might put on an illusion for others that we are perfect, and we might even put on that illusion for ourselves.  Others of us might focus solely on these imperfections, missing all of the good, becoming discouraged, and label ourselves as “bad” or “defective,” or some other untrue thing.

Sometimes, we hold onto the the “bad” parts of us in a dark and secret place, never being brave enough to let these secrets see the light.  I’ve seen this keep people feeling lonely and disconnected.  We believe, “If people saw these parts of me, they would abandon, reject, or hurt me in some way.”  What happens is we can never be fully loved, because we are never fully seen and known.  We live with a secret.  Sometimes that secret can feel like the core of who we are, when really it’s a periphery imperfection that would not seem so defining in the light.

It takes a lot of courage to hold onto the fact that we are flawed and good at the same time.  It is even braver to let someone in on the secret.  It requires a great deal of vulnerability to share the “bad” parts of us with another person.  With safe people who love us, we can experience so much love in sharing these things.  It’s possible another person will love us, flaws and all!  Then we can stop telling ourselves we have an unacceptable and unlovable part of us.  We can find acceptance of our imperfections within us.  We can find acceptance of our imperfections with ourselves and with others.  Therapy can be a great place to start being honest with yourself about these imperfections and honest with someone else who is safe.  Whether you are working on accepting the “good” and “bad” in yourself, or need to know someone else can, therapy is a great place to start.

 

 

This...AGAIN?


By: Benjamin Reisterer, MA, LPC

You know that feeling you get when you have an automatic reaction but regret it? Take a second and see if you can recall that feeling. What are the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations it brings up for you? For me, in these situations my inner critic often pops up and begins asking leading questions like, “Why do you keep doing this when you know what it is and how it tends to show up?” I feel annoyance and some shame. My jaw clenches just a bit, my eyes widen a tad, I sigh and say, “this...AGAIN!?!” Now, however this experience tends to go for you, hold on to it until the end of this post.

A major question that often comes up early on with new clients is, “why do I do this?” or “why do I keep doing this?” The hope is often that once the “why” is understood the behavior can then be avoided or just stop altogether. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Awareness and insight are necessary, but usually they are early steps in a journey and not a final destination.

An imperfect analogy for this would be a spiral staircase and I think it works in two different ways. First, in your mind’s eye, put yourself on the staircase a few steps in. You look out over the railing and take in the view, a few steps later as you twist around the axis you look again and see a different scene. But then you take a few more steps and the first environment starts to be experienced once again. It may be a little different as the angle has changed slightly, but you’ve taken a lot of steps for a very slight shift in perspective and find yourself saying, “this...AGAIN!?!” It feels like not much progress has been made when the truth is you’re just a few turns away from reaching your destination.

Second, if you look at it from a two dimensional bird’s eye view, it would look like a person on the staircase is just going around in circles. This can often be what healing and change looks and feels like. However, once you add in a third dimension and shift your perspective, you begin to see those circles are slowly moving that person towards a desired destination.

I believe that the new perspective and/or dimension to add here is shifting from a place of judgement (this is bad, wrong, etc) to one of practice. There is much less pressure in practice as this is where we are expected to make mistakes and figure things out. In practice we can ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this seemingly similar situation? Is there anything different about it? What is the next most healthy step for me now?” and so on. In practice, as with a staircase, each step builds off of the other and it makes no real difference whether or not the path is a straight line or a spiral.

Remember that feeling I asked you to recall at the beginning? Next time you find yourself there (because you will) shift your perspective from one of judgement to one of practice and see what happens. Do you experience your emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations differently? Regardless, you’re now holding a posture where it is much easier to take that next important step in your process.

Because we are human beings, practice is often most rewarding when we do it with others. Finding a good fit in a therapist who will safely and authentically hold practice with you can be a daunting task, but many find that it is just the right next step. If you feel that having a place to “practice out loud” might be just what you need to help you move forward, I invite you to check us out!