LifeTip

Feel + Deal + Heal

Photo by  Yoann Boyer  on  Unsplash

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

The moment we feel an uncomfortable emotion like grief beginning to bubble up within us, it’s tempting to want to run away, distract, or shove it into the back of our minds. That may be a protective mechanism that has served you well in the past, and kept your past self safe when feeling too big of an emotion was just too much to handle. If this sounds like you, ask yourself: is this tendency really still helping/serving me? Or is it just temporary relief?

Running away or distracting yourself from an uncomfortable emotion doesn’t move you any closer to healing. Our emotions are important cues that need our attention. Grief can’t be ignored. One way or another, grief will come out in your life, and the more we avoid it, the less control we’ve got. We must sit with our feelings, befriending the pain, allowing it to take up all the space it needs, and creating room to truly feel deeply. It will hurt, and at the same time, it will be worth it. 

If we want to heal, we’ve not only got to feel, but also truly deal and do the work. This may mean going to therapy, to truly process those feelings with a professional, or joining a support group to connect with other people going through a similar situation. Maybe it means journaling to sort through your thoughts, or calling a friend to talk things over when the pain seems to be demanding your attention. It’s so easy to be afraid to open the door to processing grief, knowing that opening the door is opening your heart up to pain. However the more we open the door, the less the pain will sting. I’m continually amazed by the resilience within us all. 

Healing is hard work, but it’s possible. Hope may seem far off, but once we muster up the courage to embrace all the parts of ourselves, and all of the pain we’re carrying, we begin to open our hearts up to truly heal. 

What Would Your Feelings Tell You if You Paused Long Enough to Listen?

Photo by  David Clode  on  Unsplash

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

The relationship most of us have with our emotions is complicated. I know personally I can fall in the trap of embracing happiness and excitement, and actively avoiding jealousy, anger and sadness. Emotions are experienced very physically in our bodies, and while it makes sense to want to avoid physical discomfort, the act of avoiding or suppressing, is what often creates more distress. 

While we may benefit from experiencing our emotions, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of overindulging in them. It can be helpful to think of our emotions as visitors, that we welcome, sit with and then release once the interaction is over. So how can we learn to navigate this balance and benefit from our emotional experiences?

The first truth is that as humans we are wired to engage in and experience the full range of emotions. We cannot selectively decide to only have some and not the others, because when attempting to numb out sadness for example, we also dull our sensations of happiness and joy. Truly experiencing one emotion, actually helps us understand and feel another. They go hand in hand more than we often recognize. 

A second truth is that, although emotions can create physical discomfort, they are not innately threatening or a real danger. It is more the fear of feeling our emotions that convinces us otherwise. If we can tolerate sitting with our emotions, we can begin to understand them more and even at times befriend them. Yes, even sadness, jealousy and anger. 

To offer some incentive to all of this, emotions can actually teach us about ourselves and our needs/wants. Anger, often acts to empower us and reminds us to speak up for ourselves and our boundaries in relationships. Jealousy clues us in that we may want something, and help inspire us to make it happen for ourselves. Sadness allows us to grieve and heal from loss of something in our lives, whether that be expectations, people, events, etc. Even guilt can keep us accountable, if we have wronged someone or not been true to ourselves. 

Finally, I leave you with some strategies on how to listen to and acknowledge your emotional range: 

  • Notice and name the emotion. Determine if it has a color/texture/shape, and even give it a nickname if you’d like. 

  • Become aware of how it feels in your body, where you feel it most physically, and how strongly you are experiencing it. 

  • Observe what happened before you began to experience this emotion, and note if this a recurring pattern.

  • Allow yourself to reflect on the emotion itself, perhaps by journaling, talking with someone about it or through art.

  • Actively meet your regular needs even as you experience a variety of emotions, including food, rest, moving your body, social support and other forms of self-care.

Remind yourself that you are safe and having a human experience that your body is designed for.

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.



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.

How to be as Kind to Yourself as You are to Others

Guess what? Being kind to yourself isn’t selfish! In fact, letting yourself off the hook every now and then can give you the freedom to be more authentic in your relationships. And contrary, to popular belief, compassion is actually more motivating than criticism. Think of the most caring mentor you have had in your life. Now contrast that with the hostile, angry, yelling coach who always left you in tears. Which one gives you strength and confidence? 

Have you ever considered why it’s so easy for us to be kind, compassionate and loving to others, but not ourselves? Dr. Kristin Neff provides an excellent intro into the benefits of loving yourself, flaws and all, and how the daily practice of self-compassion actually allows you to better care for others as well. She also distinguishes between self-compassion and self-indulgence. Compassion tells us to be kind to ourselves while also holding ourselves accountable.

Hungry for more? Check our recommended reading list for more books on self-compassion!

The Upside to Downtime

How many times have you hear yourself respond to a simple "How have you been?" with something along the lines of "Busy, but good!" There's an element of pride to this constant state of busyness, mixed with a desire to seem productive, sought after, the opposite of lazy. There's the need to reassure oneself and others that our time is not idle, that we are making the most of each day. The irony is that the act of maintaining a constant state of busy can get in the way of living in the moment and slowing down to appreciate the here and now.

High schools in particular champion the busy mindset, and lead us to think that downtime is wasted time. We push ourselves and our teens to do more, achieve more and stay constantly on the go.  After-school activities, sports, clubs, committees and more can take up precious evening hours after school. While our interests and hobbies are worth pursuing, and of value, the key to maintaining one's sanity through all the busyness is balance. 

Balance is the act of placing as much value on unhurried, unscheduled free time as we place on the various tasks at hand. Balance means letting ourselves off the hook when we decide not to take on one more commitment, choosing to stay home on a Saturday night with a good movie instead of going out. Balance looks different to everyone, but the essence of it remains universal. That we strive to value all facets our time and make room in our lives for the decidedly un-busy act of slowing down and letting go.

As with most things in life, the balancing act is a practice and a journey, not a final destination. Each day we learn new ways to let go of busy and embrace idle.  How will you find the upside to downtime?