ProTip: Being a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field

 Photo by  Ember + Ivory  on  Unsplash

My February 2018 blog, “Should I Work with a Male Therapist?”, seemed to spawn a lot of conversation and provoke a great deal of interest from other therapists. The biggest question that I’ve been asked is - “How do you do it... How do you convince parents/females/other therapists that it is beneficial to work with a male therapist?” I could sure reach back to my grad school days and fill this blog with stats, quotes, and empirical evidence outlining the benefits of working with a male therapist, but I’ll save you all the doldrums of reading a research paper. Today, I’m just going to be me and share my story and experience as a male therapist working in a female-dominated field.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the concept of convincing others to work with you.  As therapists, we all ‘sell ourselves’ to a certain extent regardless of the age/identified gender/or presenting problem. How do I do this? Well, plain and simple, I remain myself – not someone that I think the client/parent wants to see, but just me.  I meet clients where they are and model authenticity and honesty. After all, isn’t this one of the core tenets of what we’re supporting our clients to do? Rather than trying to convince clients of working with me, I assist them in recognizing the potential benefits of working with a male therapist. In remaining objective with the client &/or parent, I’m able to remove my blinders and biases so to genuinely hear any possible concerns or trepidation. I’ve found that I’m able to have genuine and rich conversations surrounding the individual’s/parent’s initial thoughts on working with a guy. I refrain from attempting to convince of anything, rather I present the facts as well as my professional experiences and successes as a male therapist.

Much of my work with clients, regardless of their ages, focuses on authenticity – letting your real and true-self shine through.  I embrace this same mentality for myself. I’m just me and I’ve come to embrace that my authentic-self is my best-self. This is the individual that I bring into each and every session and I like to believe that it is through this display of authenticity that I’m able to connect with all individuals regardless of age or gender identity.  As therapists, we all navigate through our journey in becoming licensed professionals by launching into our own world of self-reflection. With this, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy looking back at my own reflection and learning to appreciate and love the person that was staring back at me. Sure, the journey wasn’t always glamorous and I had some pretty significant “yuck” that I had to work through on my own, but I made it through.  This, I believe above all else, is what has made me the professional that I am today and who individuals trust to support them as they work through their own life struggles.

Now, let’s get to the million-dollar question “how do you convince others that it’s okay to work with a male therapist?”  Before I launch into that, let’s take a step back and look at our own beliefs and biases. What are your own thoughts/beliefs in working with or referring a client to a male therapist?  Do your beliefs change at all depending on the identified gender of the client? How about the age of the client? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, there’s some internal belief exploration to do.  Yes, I possessed my own thoughts and biases regarding male therapists and internalized my own anxieties in working with adult and adolescent female identifying clients. The identification of these anxieties was paramount for me in finding success as a male therapist.  I began asking myself questions: “What is it about working with a 13-year old girl that provokes stress for me when I’m at complete ease in working with a 13-year old boy? Why am I feeling trepidation when speaking to a parent of a high school daughter but feel utter confidence in speaking about their son?”  I could dedicate an entire post just to these emotional disconnects, but for the sake of today’s post, I want to draw back to the concept of authenticity. As long as I’m remaining true to my authentic-self, my support and compassion does not waiver depending upon the identified gender or age of the individual that is sitting on my couch.

As I highlighted in my initial post, there are numerous benefits in working with a male therapist.  Here are a few of the take-aways from that post – male therapists can:

  • provide individuals with a safe man to speak with

  • model healthy boundaries and dynamics with a guy

  • display that males do have the capacity and ability to appropriately and effectively show emotion express feelings

  • dispel concepts of hegemonic/toxic masculinity

This all begins, though, with the therapist’s self-reflection and self-awareness.  Just as I’ve come to embrace my authenticity, I encourage each of you to embrace yours.  We ask our clients to bring their true-selves into each session therefore it’s only expected that we bring ours.

Today’s post is focused on my experience as a male therapist and how I’ve navigated through any hurdles or potential obstacles that I’ve encountered.  Branching out to a broader level, I’ve also had to be mindful of the systems surrounding me and how these structures impact my success. I’ve purposefully left this area out of today’s blog as I feel that it warrants its own post so be on the look out for a future edition of this topic and my adventures.  The new year just may bring about some new trainings/workshops/webinars on Succeeding as a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field.

LifeTip: Learning to Trust and Be Trusted

 Photo by  Perry Grone  on  Unsplash

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

“Trust me” is a phrase we hear in all types of relationship dyads. From intimate partners, to parents and their children, friends, and even work colleagues and acquaintances, we all want to feel trusted and know if we can trust the other person. If we look closely, we might even wonder if we can trust ourselves. It begs the questions - “Why is trust so important?” and “How do we know if we have trust?” The challenge is that like most things in life (dare I say ALL), it isn’t black or white. It’s not as simple as “Yes, I trust you” or “No, I don’t” in most situations...

As I reflect on my 10+ years of experience as a therapist, I can safely say that every one of my clients have struggled with the question: How can I know if I trust him/her/them? I can easily recall the pain in the eyes of a 16 year old client who had worked for months to mend their relationship with their parents after a period of greatly deceptive behavior, as they asked, “Can’t you trust me now? What more can I possibly do?” And the simultaneous confusion, grief, doubt, hope, and uncertainty in the eyes of the parent who responds, “I don’t know; part of me says ‘yes’ while another part says ‘no way!’”  There’s also the employee who can’t quite pinpoint why he feels so uneasy in interactions with his boss. Or the woman who sits in my office wondering out loud if her boyfriend can truly be trusted, despite her deep love for him. Most of the time, it’s painful to examine trust in our relationships and yet, it’s completely necessary.

If we want to be seen and valued in our relationships, trust is essential. Trust is the foundation upon which we can engage in and build authentic relationships with one another. It determines if we feel safe enough to be vulnerable or if we feel the need to put on our armor and self-protect with another person. Trust is not something that we can expect to have with other people instantly. Rather, it is much like a flower - it requires patience, attention, nurturance, and flexibility in order to thrive. When we see warning signs that things aren’t going well, we must take a look at the components of trust to know what is getting in the way and whether it can be salvaged. So what are the components of trust?


Researcher, author, and storyteller, Brené Brown has identified 7 elements of trust which are incredibly helpful when evaluating and examining where there are challenges and strengths in a relationship. Quoting from her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution (pgs 199-200), she defines these elements with the acronym BRAVING:

B - Boundaries: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s

okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

R - Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your

competencies and limitations so you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on

commitments andbalance competing priorities.

A - Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V - Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need

to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any

information about other people that should be confidential.

I - Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun,

fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N - Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can

talk about how we feel without judgment.

G - Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions,

words, and actions of others.

This is one of the most useful measuring sticks for trust that I’ve found. It takes something that is very murky and hard to define, and makes it just a little clearer. The reason the parent may struggle to say whether she trusts her teen is because their child may be incredibly reliable but struggles greatly with accountability. The employee may feel uneasy around their boss because the same boss they are supposed to have rapport and safety with is the same person who revealed deeply personal information to him about another colleague. The newly formed romantic relationship may be strong in generosity but weak in boundaries.

This stuff is complex. The good news is that if we take a look at each of these components we will likely find strengths to acknowledge and praise, as well as new language to explain the reasons we’re struggling with trust in our relationships. Similarly, it can help us to identify our own areas of weakness that may cause others to mistrust us or to mistrust ourselves.


So, the next time you feel uneasy or uncertain about your level of trust in an important relationship, take some time to get quiet, take a deep breath, and evaluate your strengths/weaknesses according to the BRAVING model and the strengths/weaknesses of your counterpart. Keep in mind, the point is not to blame the other, but to make this murky concept of trust a little clearer, which means looking within as well. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” We have to be willing to look at our part in building and maintaining trust, as well as the other’s part.

LifeTip: How Setting Boundaries Promotes Intimacy

Recently, I’ve felt inspired by both my personal and professional life when it comes to interpersonal boundaries. Setting boundaries in our relationships can be challenging because it requires a bit of finessing, but in the long run it can actually help promote intimacy with others.

Often when we talk about setting boundaries in relationships, we refer to creating metaphorical lines that are not to be crossed or tampered with in order to protect ourselves. This idea may appear to create distance in a relationship, perhaps in one that requires nurturing and closeness, but in most cases, the opposite is true.

Boundaries are not only a way to protect ourselves in relationships, they also create healthy structure, promote predictability and safety, and are a form of self-care. A boundary can be as simple as setting guidelines with your child about phone usage at the dinner table. Other boundaries can be more complex, such as telling a parent or family member that certain topics are off-limits because they personally result in unhelpful consequences and emotional discomfort. In either case, we set boundaries with the people we care about in order to increase the safety, intimacy, and long-term sustainability of each relationship. Setting boundaries can be appropriate in any relationship: your child, parent, sibling, partner, friend, coworker, the list goes on. If it’s a relationship you care about, it can certainly benefit from setting healthy boundaries.

It’s important to note that setting boundaries can be really challenging, especially if this is something new you’re trying. It might feel awkward, it might also create some short-term confusion/anger/resentment, and it might even take a handful of tries before it feels authentic. Be patient with yourself and this relationship. If you care enough about this person and yourself, allow the time and space to work out the kinks.

Here are some helpful tips when setting interpersonal boundaries:

  • Practice saying no/yes when it comes to your needs/desires and reflect on how you manage hearing “no” from others. Practice tolerating any uncomfortable emotions that come up.

  • Reflect on your sense of identity. Practice accepting and respecting yourself.

  • Practice speaking up when you feel you have been abused or disrespected by others.

  • Take time to identify your wants, needs, and feelings. Practice using direct communication to share these wants, needs, and feelings with others.

  • Identify your limits and allow others to define their limits.


Finally, remember that we set boundaries out of love and not punishment!

Practice compassion for yourself and within your relationships 😊


LifeTip: Communicating Your Needs and Getting What You Want

 Photo by  Mona Khaleghi  on  Unsplash

You can’t always get what you want, but how do you get what you need?

The Rolling Stones may have been on to something with their 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but what happens when you “try sometimes” and still can’t get what you need? Think about it: Have you ever tried explaining what you need or how you feel to a friend, family member or spouse, but the message doesn’t seem to translate? No matter how you try to explain yourself, your listener becomes defensive, uninterested or simply does not react the way you had anticipated. Afterwards, as you mentally parse every word that was spoken, you start to wonder if talking about your needs, bringing up a concern, or making a request was even worth it in the first place. Let me reassure you- it WAS worth it! Not expressing your needs with others may leave you feeling unfulfilled, overwhelmed and resentful towards those relationships. In my work with couples and individuals, I have found that in most relationships, platonic or romantic, both parties want to provide adequate support and meet the needs of the other person. The problem is not the request for support, but instead how the request was made.

In a society where social and emotional learning is now being taught to kids as young as Pre-K, we are all pretty well versed in “I statements” (for those of you unfamiliar, an “I statement” goes something like this: I feel because ). Many couples and individuals report that they have used traditional “I Statements” but the results have been less than satisfactory. What I have discovered is that this statement tends to leave the listener with only a small amount of information, and in many situations, they can get defensive. While we have the best intentions in explaining why we feel the way we do, this format of the “I Statement” tends to lead us into a “you”/blaming format.

For example: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

In this example you have articulated your feelings, but, unfortunately, your listener is left to interpret your meaning of “selfish” and forced to guess how they could appear less selfish in your eyes. This is especially difficult if the listener doesn’t feel as if they are being selfish, or they just become defensive at the term. Instead of providing our partner or friend with a road map of how to better support us, we end up leaving them questioning the security of our relationship and lacking direction of how to meet our needs.

In an effort to reduce conflict and allow individuals to express their needs, I teach my clients a modified version of the “I Statement.” With this new phrasing, we exclude why the person feels the way they do in the initial statement, and instead specify under what circumstances the feeling occurs, as well as the needs of the speaker. The goal is not to negate why you feel the way you do, however, you want your listener to hear your message before they start disputing your reasoning or feeling under attack. Conversation immediately following the stating of your needs, may allow for you to express the “why.” The phrase I recommend to anyone interested in clearly communicating needs, looks like this:

“I FEEL , WHEN . I NEED .

This statement allows the speaker to not only express how they feel, but give a specific example of when the feeling occurs, and exactly what they need from the listener. Sounds like great information to give and receive, right? This does, however, require a little bit of thinking on your part. Before approaching a loved one with a feeling, determine what you need from the individual. The goal is not to blame the other person for your feelings, but instead provide specific details about what they can do to help you.

In the case of our example, instead of saying: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

Try saying: “I feel sad when you refuse to go to the symphony with me. I need you to show interest and agree to participate in activities that I like. I feel supportive when we go to see your favorite soccer team. I need to feel the same support from you.”

See the difference? The modified “I statement” lets the listener know that the speaker is upset, gives specific reasons why, and provides the listener a road map to the speaker’s preferred path forward. Now the listener should have an opportunity to explain how they are feeling, and if they can’t agree to meet the specified needs, they need to explain why that is (more modified “I statements”, but this time from the listener).

Keep in mind, not only couples and adults benefit from clearly stating their needs. While teens may need more help labeling their feelings and identifying their needs, statements such as the modified “I statement” may provide them with an incredible template to express themselves!


Here are a Few Tips for Conversations about Needs:

  1. Privacy Please! Conversations discussing sensitive topics should be done in private, or at least without other people within ear shot. If you want your partner/friend/family member to fully focus on your message, and respond authentically, give them an environment that they feel secure to do that in.

  2. Fully focused! Find a time that is free from distractions. If your listener is dividing their focus, they may not fully understand what you are asking of them or even be able to process your conversation. Also consider outside stressors that may prevent your message from translating; such as, stressful days for your listener, exhausted listener, etc.

  3. Make “eyes” with your listener! Gazing into one another’s eyes allows us to bond, without speaking. By making eye contact, you are showing your listener that you not only want their attention, but you want to connect with them.

** In some situations, the idea of sitting face to face may feel too confrontational. In these cases, instead of forgoing the conversation all together, consider taking a walk and talking side by side, or chatting in the car (after you have pulled into the driveway).

Help your partner meet your needs and vice versa. Use “I feel , when . I need .” statements to get your message across. Encourage the people in your life to also use these statements, so that you can appropriately respond to their needs as well. Promote this type of discussion until it becomes a natural part of your conversations!

LoveTip: The Relationship Tango

 Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

No matter how you look at them, relationships can be tough.  Bringing two or more people together into an emotional dance can cause confusion, insecurity, and feelings of instability.  It is within these feelings of "yuck" that resentment can set in and defenses begin to build.


The million-dollar question that I'm often asked is, "should I really stay in this relationship?"  As easy as it may be to give a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, the solution is rarely that cut and dried.  At the risk of sounding too therapist-like, I'll state that the answer is not always as important as the journey to find that answer.  This is your chance to start looking within and exploring what's working well and what's not working so well.

Check out my latest blog post and read more about turning that disjointed square dance back into a graceful tango.

LifeTip: Taking Baby Steps

At some point in time, someone has probably given you the advice - “Just take it one step at a time” or “Take baby steps.” These helpful sayings are usually said to help us complete a job or figure out something new. Just the other day I used the baby-step metaphor with a client. Using the metaphor this time, however, felt so real and alive to me since I’ve recently gained new insight watching my own sweet baby boy start walking. He’s literally taking baby steps! It’s so darn adorable, too. But guess what? He’s not very good at it... yet. Taking baby steps isn’t just about taking small steps (that’s how my literal mind sometimes interprets this saying). Taking baby steps means that each action towards a new goal is tiny, wobbly, wonky and sloooowwww. My little baby puts his arms in the air to help him balance, and then he pauses to try and right himself when he picks up too much speed or loses coordination (which is often).

When I was talking to this client about taking baby steps with their school work (which causes them some anxiety) we broke down what taking baby steps means for them. I even got up and demonstrated what baby steps are and how they may look! I probably looked like a fool, but it helped us laugh and get into the reality of the metaphor. In life, taking a baby step often means that you aren’t sure, and that’s okay! It’s really about getting yourself moving, starting with the most gradual of steps, and letting yourself sort of hang out in the space of uncertainty and imperfection. It’s okay to want to go fast - some babies start out running! - but know that you also need to figure out how to stop, lest you crash! When I see my baby walk, I feel like I can hear him thinking, “I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Wait, nope, wait, yes! Nope again! Hey, now I’m doing it! This is great!”

What do you think when you’re in the midst of a project or task that you’re trying hard to complete? Is it light and fun and optimistic or harsh and cold? Could you try smiling like a baby when they joyfully take flight with their newfound skill? It could make a difference. And just remember, baby steps don’t last forever. All babies get better... just as you will when you’re working on something new!

LoveTip: Embracing Self-Compassion

 Photo by  Robert Baker  on  Unsplash

While I try to incorporate many forms of mindfulness into my sessions, I’ve found that recently I’ve been drawn to this one, specific guided meditation. In nearly every session that I’ve played this meditation, clients not only report feeling more calm and stillness, but also that they’re seeing it physically in their body.  When something like this works for the majority of my clients, I find it important to check in and see if the tool itself is especially helpful or if the issue being addressed might be more common than I thought. So, I began asking my clients what it was about this one 5-minute meditation that was so beneficial, compared to the thousands of other meditations you can find on the internet. Nearly all of them answered that it came down to this phrase - “May I be kind to myself in this moment, and may I give myself the compassion that I need.”

Wow.  

Growing up, many of us are taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Manners are enforced, and we’re constantly told to have compassion for our fellow humans. All of these things are clearly very positive, because teaching children to have compassion for others is a very important thing. However, I’ve noticed that there isn’t much being taught about self-compassion and the importance it plays in our overall happiness and well-being, especially during the teen years. Really the only time I’ve seen this out in the real world is when a flight attendant tells a caregiver to put their air mask on first before assisting others. Makes sense, right? You need to be able to breathe to help others, so of course you would need to put your mask on first. Similarly, it’s also true that for us to have compassion for others, we need to have it for ourselves. Except sometimes that’s much harder to do.

In my last blog post, I explored negative self-talk using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique of connecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviors using a triangle visual.  From this exercise it became clear to me that my procrastination and “stuckness” came down to saying things to myself that I wouldn’t dare say to another person because they wouldn’t be kind. Why is it that it feels okay to say hurtful things to ourselves when we would be appalled to see someone else being spoken to that way? Why is self-compassion so hard?

These are questions that I still don’t have the answer to, but I am exploring, specifically through a book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and through this meditation that has been so helpful to my clients. For some reason, having someone give you permission to be kind to yourself makes it much easier. It’s amazing what just 5 minutes of treating yourself kindly can do for your entire day! So as school starts, schedules fill, and the stress levels inevitably rise, I invite you to take a few moments to be kind to yourself and give yourself the compassion that you need.

App: Insight Timer (FREE meditation app!) 5 Minutes of Self Compassion by Lisa Abramson


LifeTip: Am I an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Common Misconceptions of Personality Types

Like most categories, our society dichotomizes certain concepts so we are better able to understand and place people/things into general ideas that fit with our concepts. The idea of introverted individuals versus extroverted individuals is one example. Often society defines an introverted person as someone who is quiet, private and prefers to keep to themselves. Contrarily, an extroverted person is described by society as someone who is outgoing, talkative, and has an active social network. While parts of these personality dichotomies may be accurate, they tend to vastly overgeneralize these personality types. In reality, an extroverted and introverted individual may exhibit similar social lives, have the same amount of friends, and engage in similar activities… So what IS the difference?

Am I an Introvert or an Extrovert?

The relevant question to determining if you identify more as an introvert or extrovert is: how do you recharge? Think about how you might feel after a long day of school, work, or any energy-consuming activity. Typically after a long day, one requires the time and space to recharge their depleted energy. An introverted individual will have a propensity to re-energize by spending some quality alone time. This offers an individual the opportunity to decompress and prepare for the next activities/tasks. An extroverted individual seeks to spend quality time around others to recharge their depleted energy and prepare for ongoing activities for the day. This does not necessarily mean that extroverts have more friends and/or enjoy social activities more than introverts - it all comes back to what helps individuals to restore their exhausted energy.

There are some qualities that may be characteristic of introverted and extroverted persons, and they may be more prevalent in some individuals than others. Here are some examples: extroverted individuals may enjoy group conversations while introverted individuals may prefer more one to one interactions, extroverted individuals may speak more while introverted individuals may listen more, and extroverted individuals may express more openness while introverted individuals may be more reserved. These are simply few of many qualities that MAY indicate you are more introverted or extroverted; however, there are always exceptions AND there may be times in our lives or particular situations when we identify more as an introvert or as an extrovert. When in doubt, come back to the question: “how do I recharge?”

How does this apply to mental health?

First, it is less important to label yourself as an “introvert” or “extrovert”, and rather more helpful to identify what helps you to recharge and reenergize. Why would it be helpful to identify how we recharge? Recharging and re-energizing are ways to practice self-care. Self-care becomes increasingly important in moments of stress, physical and emotional depletion, in addition to ways we can proactively take care of our needs. Drawing awareness to the ways in which we recharge can help us to create space for these moments in our lives so that we are better able to tackle whatever life has in store.


ProTip: Spotlight from Work Muse on Job Sharing with Blake & Tracy

We are thrilled to share a collaboration with the founder of Work Muse, Melissa Nicholson, who has a series of interviews with us on our “accidental job share” of co-owning and co-directing our wonderful group practice here. Our first article highlights the ways we put our work relationship first, so that we can bring our best selves to our partnership, our team, our clients and our families. It’s not always easy, but it’s always richly rewarding. We take time to really check in with each other, we show up for each other, we talk it out, and we know how to have fun while doing hard work:

We owe this to ourselves and each other, as well as our therapists and clients. Good communication = love + directness. We don’t wait to talk until we’re burning in resentment. Little things can slide, but the stuff that gets us in our feels is a signal it’s time to talk. Conflict resolution makes your partnership stronger. -Blake & Tracy

Never heard of job sharing? Work Muse is on a mission to bring this creative approach to the work/life balance dilemma so that more men and women can build personal and professional lives that offer flexibility, support, productivity and more joy. Learn more about job sharing and Work Muse’s story here.

Blake-and-Tracy-GT-Therapy-Group-Austin-4.jpg

LifeTip: Meet Your Procrastination with Compassion

 Photo by  Sandro Katalin a on  Unsplash

I have a confession to make: I am horrible at writing blogs.

You might be a bit confused, since you are literally reading a blog post that I have, in fact, written – believe me, the irony is not lost on me. But really and truly, I’ve found that writing a blog is one of the hardest things for me to do at the moment. I don’t understand it either, because I normally love to write, and I think I can even be good at it sometimes. However, my paper/blog writing process is faulty, and I’ve been stuck in a negative feedback loop for as long as I can remember. I procrastinate. I avoid it. I start, and then I don’t finish. I meet the idea of it with dread. Then once I’ve waited too long, my anxiety sky-rockets and nothing makes sense. I’m in a hurry, and I’m not producing something I like which leads to frustration and disappointment and wanting to just give up. Rinse. Repeat. This whole process is extremely challenging, and it just makes me feel really, really crummy.

In many of my sessions, I have asked clients to pay attention to what they’re thinking, feeling, and deciding in their own challenging moments. This is illustrated by a triangle, where each point represents Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors; all of them connecting and influencing the next.

Screenshot 2018-09-07 at 10.56.06 AM.png

Whether we know it or not, we’re using this triangle all the time in nearly every decision we make. When our thoughts are generally positive, the triangle/cycle tends to be positive and run smoother. When our thoughts are negative, however, the opposite is also true and can leave many people feeling stuck. To illustrate, here is what my writing process looks like:

Event: Blogs are due next week. I think, “I should write one about that TED talk I just watched!” I open a new word document, write a few things down, and then wonder what direction I’ll take with the info.

  • Thought: “I don’t know what to do with all of this, how do I make it make sense?”

  • Feeling: Overwhelmed, anxious

  • Behavior: I start to question my abilities, become flooded by my anxiety, and eventually shut down to avoid completing the task

  • Thought: “I AM SO BAD AT THIS!”

Event: Days later I think, “I should write about something more interesting, I’m probably the only one who thinks this is cool.”

  • Thought: “I’m not interesting enough to make something good"

  • Feeling: Inadequate, frustrated, sad

  • Behavior: I don’t like feeling this way, so I’m just going to do something else instead of finishing

  • Thought: “I AM SO BAD AT THIS.”

I could go on and on with this, but hopefully you get the idea. My deadline approaches and because of all my past experiences and behavior, I start to believe that I’m really bad at writing blogs which leaves me feeling stressed and incompetent. Since I don’t want to feel that way I decide to just avoid writing all together. When I avoid it, I’ve just reinforced the idea that I can’t do it and I’m bad at writing. Then I feel bad all over again, and the cycle repeats itself.

Through this exercise I recognize that maybe I’m not actually bad at writing blogs, but that I have an unrealistic expectation that it has to be perfect, and deep down I’m really just scared of failing or embarrassing myself. It has nothing to do with my actual abilities to write a blog, but in how compassionately I talk to myself. How different would this cycle look if instead of cruelly putting myself down, I compassionately thought, “I am a good writer” or “I take my time so I can take pride in my work”? The cycle takes on a totally different tone, and I’m left feeling more competent and calm, which then allows me to actually write something I can take pride in. Instead of believing that I am horrible at writing, I’ve realized that I really just want to do my best and I deserve much, much more self-compassion.

I’d like to challenge each of you to explore what you might be thinking, feeling and deciding when you’re faced with a difficult task that you might be putting off. What might your child be thinking, feeling and deciding in their challenging moments? As you think about it, remember to be kind to yourself in those moments and give yourself the compassion that you need.