The Parts Dance

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Imagine yourself in the line at the grocery store and the person in front of you suddenly realizes that they’ve forgotten to get a carton of eggs.  Normally this wouldn’t upset you, but today you find yourself immediately angry because you’ll now have to wait an extra five minutes to complete your check out.  That’s a part. One evening, you’re sitting on the couch watching TV. A commercial comes on and Sarah McLachlan’s “In The Arm’s of An Angel” starts playing; you find yourself sobbing into your blanket.  That’s a part. During lunch, one of your friends at school says to you, “I can’t make it to the game Friday night. Something else came up.” You instantly feel sad and rejected, assuming that you’ve been ditched because something better came along.  That, too, is a part. We all have different parts – sadness, happiness, joy, frustration, anger, resentment, disappointment, rejection, etc. Each part plays a role in us being us and each part has something to say whether we want to hear it or not. Problems arise when we don’t allow ourselves to listen to what our parts have to say.

As humans, we are complex.  Our brain is constantly processing new information while drawing on past experiences and thinking about future possibilities.  With this, the emotional center of our brain is always on, ready to send out either warning flares if things become too intense to tolerate or self hugs if things feel good and are validating.  This is when our “parts” start to pop up and begin to do a dance with our true, genuine, authentic self. It is through this dance that we instinctively decide which parts are going to lead and which parts are going to get pushed aside.

Imagine yourself in the middle of an empty room, waiting for a party to start.  The doors to the room open and your different parts start to file in. Here comes: happiness, excitement, contentment, joy, security, bliss, and gratitude.  Storming in behind them are: anger, frustration, sadness, rejection, disappointment, abandonment, rage, fear, and insecurity. You find yourself quickly glancing around to see where everyone will position themselves in the room.  Who’s going to come up and talk to you first? Who do you hope will stay on the perimeter of the room keeping their distance from you? You begin to notice that certain parts are forming cliques and banding together. Happiness and security seem to be hitting it off well and come up to dance with you while anger, resentment, and fear are huddled together in the corner, glaring at the three of you.  Out of no where, self-doubt taps you on your shoulder and happiness and security slowly fade off into the distance. The next thing you know, anxiety, fear, anger, and insecurity have circled around, you trying to get your attention by starting a mosh pit. Try as you might to push these four away, they stand their ground insisting that you listen to them. All you want is for happiness and security come back in and save you but now you can’t even see them because the circle of negativity has become too tight.  This is when you find yourself ready to yell at the woman at the grocery store because she forgot her eggs. Obviously it’s not about the eggs; it’s about your parts and how they hijacked your genuine self.

What is it that anxiety, fear, anger, and insecurity wanted to say to you?  Perhaps the more important question is, why did you want so desperately to get away from them and not listen to their stories?  Maybe if you had leaned into them a little, welcomed them into the circle, and had given them the attention that they yearned for, you wouldn’t have found yourself ready to yell at the lady in the grocery store.  I know, I know...uncomfortable feelings are just that – uncomfortable. No one wants to feel them nor give them any attention, but maybe they have something important to tell you. Perhaps if you’d give them a few moments of your attention and tolerate their discomfort, you’ll find that they’re not so scary after all.  It’s possible that they just need someone to hear them say that they’re sad, hurt, scared, or lonely. More than likely they really just want you to give them a hug and acknowledge their words. Just as we don’t like to get pushed aside, our parts don’t like it either.

The next time you find yourself having some uncomfortable or painful feelings, give yourself the grace to pause and listen to those feelings.  What part is rearing it’s voice and what is it that it’s trying to say? Try something different and allow your true self to listen to that part and show it the same compassion and respect that your true self wants.  Rather than reject or hide away that part, identify and embrace it for it’s a piece of your identity quilt. If you find that listening to these parts is too intense to do alone, reach out to a therapist for support. In challenging yourself to interact with these parts differently, you’ll very likely find that your parts dance will shift from being a clumsy square dance to a smooth and engaged waltz.



Meet Shannon!

Shannon in her element

Shannon in her element

Hey, y’all! Thanks for stopping by.

As GT Therapy Group’s newest associate therapist I feel like we may have some stuff in common already: I’m new, you’re new (to me, anyway); you’re looking for support, I’m a therapist; we’re probably binging the same show on Netflix. I mean, this could really be the start of something great, so whether you’re browsing for a potential therapist or just need a mindless scroll to help keep you occupied while standing in line at the grocery store, here’s a little bit about me:

Early Life

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Texas; I love the sound of cicadas in the summertime and know a good breakfast taco when I eat one.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

A veterinarian princess, with a teaching side hustle.

What is one of your favorite childhood memories?

I once got an orange TicTac stuck up my nose and, clearly panicked, had to get my dad to pull off to the side of the road to assist in the evacuation of my nasal cavity. I don’t eat TicTacs anymore, or stick them up my nose.

Career

What’s your favorite part about being a therapist?

Helping others accept that their mental and emotional well-being is just as important as their physical health.

Name three words that describe you professionally.

Approachable, funny, direct.

What have you learned so far?

Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.

Personal Life

Name three pet peeves.

Loud chewing; someone saying "Guess what!" then "Never mind"; shopping carts in parking spots.

What are you happiest doing, when you’re not working?

Traveling, watching stand-up comedy, and at home movie nights.

What would be your personal motto?

“Strong back. Soft front. Wild Heart.” Brene Brown (my spirit animal)

What’s your favorite self-care activity?

My morning yoga routine and the occasional pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, although not necessarily at the same time.

Enough about me, though, I want to hear your story. I’d love to help support you on your journey. So why not make this thing official?




4 Common Myths about Group Therapy (And the Surprising Truth!)

With the number of new groups GT Therapy Group is offering this month, it can be hard to know which is the best fit for you or someone you care about. Plus, what if group therapy is completely new to you? You might be thinking, “Who knows what these other people might be like,” or “There’s no way people will really care about or listen to me." We all come to group with stories we tell ourselves of what it would be like, so now feels like a great time to explore the Fact vs. Fiction of group therapy! Take a look below to see if any of the four group therapy myths below have crossed your mind when considering joining a group!

  • MYTH: “I will be forced to tell all of my deepest thoughts, feelings, and secrets to the group."

  • Reality: You control what, how much, and when you share with the group.

    • Most people find that when they feel safe enough to share what is troubling them, a group can be very helpful and affirming. We encourage you not to share what you are not ready to disclose. However, you can also be helped by listening to others and thinking about how what they are saying might apply to you.

  • MYTH: “I have so much trouble talking to people; I'll never be able to share in a group."

  • Reality: Most people are anxious about being able to talk.

    • Almost without exception, within a few sessions, people find that they do begin to talk in the group. Group members with past group experience remember what it is like to be new to the group, so you will most likely get a lot of support around feeling anxious, as well as support when you begin to talk in the group.

  • MYTH: “If I do share, the group members or leader might not like what I have to say."

  • Reality: It is very important that group members feel safe. Group leaders are there to help foster a safe environment and, sometimes, feedback can be difficult to hear.

    • As group members come to trust and accept one another, they generally experience feedback and even gentle confrontation as positive, as if it were coming from a friend. One of the benefits of group therapy is the opportunity to receive feedback from others in a supportive environment. It is rare to find friends who will gently point out how you might be behaving in ways that hurt yourself or others. In the safety of group therapy, you can experience how to tolerate feedback, learn from feedback, and authentically communicate with others.

  • MYTH: "Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy because I will have to share the time with others."

  • Reality: Actually, over 50 clinical trials have shown that group therapy is often more efficient than individual therapy for at least two reasons:

    • First, you can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little but listen carefully to others. You will find that you have much in common with other group members, and as they work on a concern, you can learn more about yourself.

    • Secondly, group members will often bring up issues that strike a chord with you, but that you might not have been aware of or brought up yourself. Everyone in the group will be at different places in their own and will be able to offer their unique perspective, skills, or ways of coping with the rest of the group. journey,

    • Finally, and in my own opinion, groups can also be a safe space to try new strategies by role-playing without being judged. Plus, group members can provide feedback on how the strategies work, and how your actions come across, which can help you become more self-aware.

While this is not a complete list of group therapy fact vs. fiction, it certainly addresses some of the most common fears we’ve seen new clients and parents express when finding the right fit. In fact, for some clients, group therapy can also be an affordable and supportive introduction into the therapeutic space that may have once seemed too overwhelming. Our therapists at GT Therapy Group can help guide and recommend the most appropriate and best fit for you or your child, and it is our main goal to provide a safe, therapeutic and nurturing space for growth, exploration and overall healing. Please do not hesitate to contact us or read more about our groups here. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

When Relationships End

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The end of a meaningful relationship can be one of the hardest things to navigate through.  Yuck!! Even less meaningful relationships can stir up icky feelings when they end. Whether the end of the relationship was due to a break-up, the final straw with a friend, or a significant loss like death, they all hurt.  No matter how strong, grounded, or even-keeled we think we are, these endings can make us feel like we’re the most unstable, unlovable, and unwanted person in the world. We all experience that pain and that heartache; we all ask ourselves the question of “why me?”.  

Grief and loss tough.  It exposes our innermost fears of mortality, loneliness, and rejection and is never an easy thing to deal with no matter how much experience we have with it.  Often, when we experience a loss, our emotional brain kicks in and starts throwing up all kinds of defense mechanisms so to try and lessen the sting. We try and convince ourselves that it doesn’t really hurt that bad (denial/minimization), that it’s all the other person’s fault (projection/blame), that we’re better off without that other person (justification), that our deceased loved one is in a ‘better place’ (rationalization), or that we were the ones that messed everything up and therefore deserve to swim in the yuck (introjection).  We tell ourselves this so that it doesn’t hurt as bad and we try to justify and rationalize the ending of the relationship. The reality is, though, that it does hurt and all we want to do is cry, yell, and just be sad.

As much as those feelings sting, it’s important that we lean into that sadness, fear and even anger; it’s a natural part of the grieving process.  The more we try to push those feelings aside or down, the longer the pain will linger. The harder we try to keep our true feelings locked away, the stronger they become and the harder they’ll fight to be heard. That’s power that we don’t need to be giving away to unwanted feelings.  Allow that door to open a crack and listen to what those feelings are trying to tell you. It’s okay to hear: “I’m sad that it’s over”, “I’m really mad that this happened”, “I’m super disappointed that it ended this way”, and “I’m scared of being alone”. In permitting these parts of us to be heard, we’re able to release some of that steam and let go of some of that yuck.  

Perhaps the end of the relationship was your fault, maybe that person is in a ‘better place’, it’s possible that you are better off without that other person.  In the end, though, what really matters is you and your healing. What is it that you need so that you can take care of your needs?  Do you need some alone time so that you can have that good cry?  How about surrounding yourself with people that love you and lift you up?  Or what about a nice long afternoon at the dog park with your pup? Do what you need to do to embrace and hold yourself.  

We all experience the pain and suffering that follows loss – you’re not alone in your suffering, even when it feels that way.  Rather than viewing the termination of a relationship as an ending, in time try to shift to the possibility of it being a new beginning.  This can be an opportunity for you to learn more about and love you.  If and when the “yuck” feelings become too intense, reach out and talk to someone.  Remember, you’re not broken, you’re human. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the grace and love that you deserve.  It’s time to let go of the yuck of that ended relationship with that other person and embrace the beauty of the relationship with yourself.


Connection & Empathy Before Problem Solving

Photo by  Josh Calabrese  on  Unsplash

One of the most important things that happens in family or relationship counseling is growth in, and practice of, adopting the perspective of another person.  Perspective taking is a versatile life skill that is helpful in everything from interviewing for a job to staying out of trouble in school. The better a person is at perspective taking, the more fully they can put themselves in another person’s shoes and the more effectively they can interact with that person.  Since no one lives in isolation, improving interactions with others is an investment that pays dividends all the time.

These benefits are even more significant in the relationships where we interact most frequently and often most abrasively: our family.  Let’s look at a common situation in families and how effective perspective taking can help.

Someone in your family is upset about something outside the family.  

Often our first response (especially with kids) is to dive into problem solving mode and try to fix things. This is a mistake because there are almost always at least three different problems and it is most effective (and strengthens your relationship the most) to address the other two problems before tackling the most obvious one.  

  1. The first problem is that the family member feels alone.  Being upset is isolating and studies have shown that simply removing aloneness can help improve someone’s outlook (click here for an example of one of these studies).  Perspective taking helps us understand what someone is experiencing and communicate that we are there for them.

  2. The second problem is that the family member is hurting.  No matter what feeling we express when we are upset, it springs from pain.  This could be physical pain but is most often relational. It also could be based on something the person is anticipating rather than something that has already happened. When we provide comfort, the pain goes away more quickly and becomes more bearable.  Perspective taking allows us to identify the pain and provide comfort more effectively. What I’ve outlined in these two steps could also be called empathy. To learn more about empathy, check out this blog post by one of our directors.

  3. Once the first two problems are addressed, you can help your loved one with their problem solving but after the first two problems are addressed, they are often able to solve their problem themselves.

Following the steps outlined above can often lead to significant improvements in family and couple relationships. Perspective taking can also be extremely helpful, and much harder, during conflict. 

If you would like help applying perspective taking in your relationships, I encourage you to reach out to a therapist.



Beating the Back to School Blues

Photo by  moren hsu  on  Unsplash

Photo by moren hsu on Unsplash

Are you dreading going back to school? Trust me, I’m well acquainted with this feeling. From elementary school all the way up through college, it’s a feeling that doesn’t (and probably won’t) go away. Because with the end of summer comes a specific type of grief that comes from the loss of the glorious freedom of endless days with no obligations. And let me assure you that this is a valid loss that is important to grieve. The changing of seasons is always bittersweet, so give yourself space to feel all the feelings, and also know you’re not alone in feeling them. Here’s some helpful tips to soothe those back to school blues, and hopefully set you up for a successful and fulfilling new school year. 

  1. Marie Kondo Yourself: If you haven’t heard of the KonMari Method, then take a moment and look it up- trust me, it’s worth a quick google to find out how a woman’s name turned into a verb. The basis of this method is to rid your life of clutter, or things that no longer serve you. While it could be helpful to use this method for your bedroom or your school supplies, I mostly mean this in a metaphoric sense. Before going back to school, take a look at all of your habits, your routines, your relationships, your coping skills. Take a deep loving deep breath and lay them all on the table in front of you. Now slowly pick up each one and ask yourself- Does this serve me? Does this bring me joy? Is this in line with what I value? If the answer is yes, great- place it in the metaphoric “keep” pile, if it’s a no- say “thank you, next” and send it on its way. 

  1. Set Your Intentions: Grab a notebook, a few post-it notes, or open your notes app. You’ll need something to jot down your thoughts, and a way to keep your notes visible throughout the year. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this school year? How do I want this school year to feel? In what ways do I want to grow this school year?” Capture your thoughts and set your intentions. Maybe it’s just one word, maybe it’s a list of things, whatever your intentions are, make sure that they are realistic and they are in line with what you value. Tape them on your mirror, save them as your phone lock screen, place them anywhere that you can be frequently reminded of these intentions. 

  1. Gratitude Gratitude Gratitude: It may seem like nothing about a new school year is good, and that there is no possible room for gratitude, but I’m a firm believer that there is always something worth being grateful for in every situation. Maybe you get to see a friend you missed over the summer, maybe you get to wear some new shoes, maybe you get to practice a sport and see your teammates again? However tiny it may be, I invite you to find one thing that you can cultivate gratitude towards during this new school year. Research has proven time and time again that gratitude helps us decrease stress hormones, sleep better at night, improve self esteem, and even can increase our physical health. 

The Story of My Life?

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What story do you tell yourself about your life? Is this story helpful, unhelpful? We all create a story, or narrative, that fits together our experiences, emotions, thoughts, etc. Often the stories that accumulated over time form our perception of ourselves and guide our thought processes and decisions. Depending on the narrative we subscribe to, we may find ourselves subconsciously overidentifying with experiences that confirm our self concept and disregarding experiences that do not. While there is nothing inherently unhelpful about this very human and adaptive process, it can lead us to create and uphold a narrative that does not serve us.

For example, perhaps I have had several experiences of discouragement in my recent past (i.e. the history exam that I performed poorly on, the misunderstanding with a friend, the rejection from my most recent love interest, the summer job that I was not offered). These experiences may contribute to a subconscious narrative that “I am a failure”. This self-perception can lead to unhelpful thoughts (“why me?”, “this ALWAYS happens”, “I can’t do anything right”, feeling unmotivated, rejected, disappointed, and perhaps a lack of pursuing opportunities for potential success. It is common and natural to tune into the experiences that validate our self-perception. That said, in doing so we often ignore additional experiences that contradict our created narrative. In the example above, I have also sought additional help in history following this test and now better understand the subject, I have built new and seemingly more positive peer relationships with my friends from swimming and found a summer job that fits better with my schedule (even though it was not my first choice). Because the later experiences do not fit in with the failure story I tell myself, I may be completely ignoring the non-failure aspects of my circumstance. Again, it is totally human to be attuned with the circumstances that fit in with our self-concept; however, I encourage practicing self-reflection around how your narrative is serving you. In the example above, I am not only experiencing unhelpful emotions and perceptions of myself, but I am also riddled with barriers to seeing my success and cultivating new opportunities for myself.

How do we change the narrative? Now that we have practiced self-reflection on our narrative and evaluated that it is NOT serving us we can make some changes. See below for some helpful tips on shifting your experience:

  • Practice intentionally observing thoughts, feelings, and experiences that contradict the narrative you have created

  • Identify what you would like your story to look like (whether or not you believe this is possible, simply imagine what you would like your life story to sound like)

  • Begin thinking about some small actions you might be able to try that align with the story you envision for yourself (break down actions into realistic and manageable steps)

  • Practice self-compassion and know that it is challenging to shift our narrative and does not happen overnight

  • Care for yourself by paying attention to your thoughts and feelings and tend to them accordingly

Remember that YOU have the agency to write and rewrite your story, so what do you want it to say?


All Vibes Welcome

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We’ve all heard sayings such as: “just stay positive”, “positive vibes only” and “don’t worry, it’ll all work out”. These words are taking over social media posts, inspirational posters, and easily fall out of our mouths when we’re met with uncomfortable emotions. While these phrases are well-intentioned, they can leave us feeling even more disconnected. This is due to the implicit message of only accepting a narrow range of feelings. Basically we now feel bad for feeling bad, since we can’t choose our emotions. So how can we shift from spreading toxic positivity to providing hope?

First off, let’s just own that most of us have been on the receiving and perpetuating end of these phrases. Even as a trained therapist, I recognize these words have slipped out of my mouth before I could even blink. Toxic positivity is vastly ingrained in our culture, and the discomfort around sitting with sadness, anger, frustration, etc. is present. Yet, when we are struggling and seeking hope, we also need validation and connection. We actually need our support system to acknowledge our pain, rather than dismiss it.

To illustrate my point, try this out for me...Think about something you’re struggling with and notice how your brain and body responds to each of these phrases:

“Don’t stress”

“Being negative won’t help”

“Choose happiness”

Versus...

“This is hard for you. How can I help make your day easier?”

“This sounds like a challenging situation. What are some challenges you’ve overcome in the past?”

“I see you trying. I believe in you”

How was it hearing the first three statements compared to the last three? What differences do you notice in wording?

The first three are actually dismissing your current feelings. Compared to the last three, these words validate the struggle and provide encouragement. That order is key to inspiring hope and building connection: validate first, encourage second.

While it is easier to keep your distance from someone’s discomfort, meeting your loved ones where they are is what will truly inspire healing. While we all hold the capacity to better our situation and heal emotionally, a support system along-side us can help ease that process.

ParentTip: Division of Responsibility (Or How to Do Less So Your Kid Does More)

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I was having this conversation with a parent the other day about how our role changes pretty much continuously as our kids develop, and how much we have to shift the division of responsibility as they grow up. If you think about it like a big, messy pie, our share of responsibility goes from the whole dang thing as caregivers to infants to a big thick slice in the middle school years to a thin and very delicate sliver as our teens get ready to launch. The way we adapt to the shifts in the division of responsibility can influence how our kids develop the skills needed for living independently, how much we experience power struggles in our relationships with our kids, and how prepared we are for the inevitable letting go that occurs inch by inch as our kids get older.

Like development in general, changing the division of responsibility is not a linear process. It can ebb and flow along with each child's unique ability to manage increasing responsibility, and as they experience the inevitable mistakes, backslides and missteps that mark the process. How we adapt the division of responsibility is also dependent on our own willingness and ability to step back, let go, and create space for our kids to try new things that they will have to mess up a little along the way. This can be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, confusing and scary for parents. It also means that we're constantly having to reassess our own readiness and our kid's readiness for taking over a larger piece of the pie. 

In early childhood, we can get in a routine of "doing for" our kids in big and small ways, and it can be tough to know when the right time is to give them a little more autonomy. How much do we manage *for* our kids and how much do we manage *with* our kids? How do we get comfortable with all the discomfort this messy process uncovers? Part of what makes this so challenging is that there's no way to change up the division of responsibility without experiencing some failures and some heartaches. This is the hardest work of parenting, learning how to manage our own fears and pain as we give our kids room to skin their knees, experience loss, and get their hearts broken along the way.

Think about a time your young child made a mistake. How much did you step in to correct course for them? How much did you have to guide, manage, advise, and direct this process? Now what about with your teen? How different does it need to look in order for your teen to develop the necessary skills for living independently from you? The teen brain is wired for novelty-seeking and  risk-taking, but it's also wired for resilience and growth. The most effective way to nurture our teen's developing frontal lobe (home of all the critical thinking and executive functioning skills) is to give them plenty of room to practice, practice, practice their increasing responsibility to directly manage their own lives, and to learn how to parent from a place of collaboration & compassion as they grow. This isn't about turning our backs on them, or shutting them out, or leaving them to fend for themselves. It's about moving from the position of leading them by the hand (sometimes dragging them kicking and screaming) to walking behind them with a gentle hand raised in readiness to help steady them when they stumble. Because how will we, but more importantly they, ever know what they're really capable of until we give them room to try?

Need some guidance or support with navigating the tricky teen years? We've got you. Check out Blake & Tracy's TeenWise® Parent Coaching or sign up for our upcoming parenting support group to find out more about how we can help. You don"t have to parent alone. 

Sympathy vs. Empathy

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We hear these words get tossed around, almost interchangeably, all the time. So what's really the big difference between sympathy and empathy, and why should it matter to a teenager?

Here are some common definitions:

sym·pa·thy

ˈsimpəTHē/

noun 

1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune

em·pa·thy

ˈempəTHē/

noun 

1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

One way to help really get the difference between the two is to think of sympathy as feeling sorry for someone and empathy as feeling sorrow with someone. Climbing into the space where a friend is hurting and just being present with them. Sitting close to a friend whose crying and allowing the sadness to just be. We want so much to help our loved ones not feel pain, but oftentimes our efforts can have the unintended consequence of leaving a friend alone with their feelings. We dismiss, or minimize, or try to put on a silver lining, when what a friend really needs is to know that you are there for her and that you know that sometimes life is hard.

Rather than jumping in to fix it when your friend or your daughter or your partner is hurting, try just allowing yourself to be in the moment with them. Allow yourself, and your loved one, to have all these feelings without trying to rush past them back into the happiness zone. Here's a great video from the always-awesome Brene Brown that highlights the critical differences between sympathy and empathy: