acceptance

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

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Life can be hard, stressful, painful, and just downright unfair sometimes.  We all have so many pressures and expectations placed upon us as well as our own hopes and desires to be happy.  As we’ve all experienced, our day to day routines don’t always end in happiness and sometimes we just hurt.  Somehow, though, we’ve learned that we can’t show these signs of sadness and pain for fear of being seen as weak or dramatic.  So we add to our armor and spruce up our mask – getting our battle shields ready to protect us from further hurt while continuing to bury down our ‘yuck’ feelings. Why? Well because this is what we’ve learned, and this is what has been taught to us. I’d like to tell you all a different story and one that you may think odd coming from a therapist - sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.

Why do we work so darn hard to make sure that no one else knows that we’re hurting? What is it that we’re so afraid of? Vulnerability – the one magical word that can strike fear into the strongest of people.  When we take down our veil, we open our hearts to potential disapproval, dismissal, and invalidation. For some, it only takes one experience of this for them to tell themselves that vulnerability is unsafe and therefore, guards must always be up to protect them from the pain and ‘yuck.’  Others learn from society – men who show emotion are weak and women who cry are hysterical (not the funny kind). So the shields go up and the masks become fixed to our faces. We brace ourselves for the day and begin our inner monologue: “no one’s going to see how I’m feeling today so I’m safe.”  All the while, our hidden feelings and emotions pile up inside, eating away at our happiness and sense of self-appreciation. The days become weeks which turn into months which turn into years, all the while we sing the same song to ourselves - “Put On a Happy Face.” Of course the gray skies are gonna clear up, but they don’t stay clear forever.  

Boy that’s a downer, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, my purpose in writing this isn’t to put you all in a funk and pour salt into your wounds. I’m trying to highlight something that we all do and the cycle that we all get ourselves into. We wake up, start our day, put on our mask, and hope that nothing bad happens. When that something bad does happen we either react to it or we bury it down deep, adding it to the already immense pile of ‘yuck.’ Rarely, though, do we allow ourselves to embrace those icky feelings and authentically share with others that we’re not okay. What would it be like for you if you were to share those feelings and tell someone, “hey, that really hurt my feelings”? Pretty terrifying, huh? Do you think that this might change your cycle? Perhaps that one act of vulnerability could decrease the amount of armor that you put on and release some of that ‘yuck’ that is stored up inside.

Maybe sharing your feelings with others seems too scary right now.  I can appreciate that. What would it be like if you shared your feelings with someone who is less scary? What about that person that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror? I’ve written in previous blogs about my love of journaling. Now when I talk about writing in a journal, I’m not referring to that fluffy pink journal with the gold lock in which we write about our latest crush or the hottest song that’s on the radio. I’m talking about an outlet in which you write down whatever is on your mind – your innermost thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sources of anxiety/depression. This is a place where you can ‘dump your yuck’.  A place to get those feelings down on the page and remove them from your body.

One of the beautiful things about therapy is that we have an opportunity to ‘dump’ all of this hard stuff in the therapy office so that we can feel lighter and release the heaviness of our yuck. Journaling provides the same opportunity. Although a journal isn’t able to provide verbal feedback or validation of your feelings, it is able to capture the weight of your thoughts and trap them within the pages of your journal. This type of journaling isn’t meant to serve as a historical record in which you go back after a few months and re-read what you’ve written to reminisce about the memories captured. It’s a place to release the heaviness in your head and your heart. Once inside, the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are to be closed in and barricaded by the covers of the journal. It’s not necessary to go back and re-read previous passages, because you might run the risk of re-injecting this yuck into your head and heart. Write and close the book.

We all experience those heavy and painful emotions, and we all know what it’s like to be weighed down by the ‘yuck.’ By embracing those feelings for what they truly are, we take the first step in lightening their heavy load. Acknowledging and accepting the ‘yuck’ doesn’t make us weak. Much to the contrary, it’s empowering and tremendously strong to speak of and/or write about that heaviness. Removing our masks, barriers, and armor allows us to truly hear ourselves say, “sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”

It Is What It Is: Acceptance as Empowerment, NOT Resignation

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Often times we are confronted with situations in our lives that we are forced to accept for one reason or another. For example, we do not have agency over who we are related to, the fact that we have to attend school, the age we are, or the way others behave and react… The list goes on and on. The idea of accepting these somewhat unpleasant realities is extremely challenging: we might even find ourselves resisting situations that we cannot change because they feel so intolerable. In reality, resisting the inevitable causes us more emotional pain and decreases our ability to be effective in the areas of our lives that we can implement change. So how do we accept these unpleasant, intolerable, and sometimes distressing circumstances?

Acceptance is a process rather than a single event. It is first important to acknowledge what it is that we find challenging to accept and furthermore identify our emotions toward our reality. Validate yourself for feeling the way you do about this situation. For example, “it makes sense that I feel disappointed that my family member is not supportive of my decision to switch schools, because I would like my family to feel proud of me.” Validation is a crucial part of accepting reality, as it allows us to feel and express our true emotions.

You might next look at this situation and identify what is “set-in-stone” and CANNOT be changed. From the example above, we cannot change how our family will react to our choices, nor can we change their opinions. Then, take a look at what is malleable and CAN be changed (even if in a very small way). Perhaps that means we can reframe our expectations, find another source of validation (from ourselves or other supports), and practice assertive communication strategies with family members. Rather than focusing our energy on what cannot be changed, challenge yourself to play around with the more flexible areas of your circumstance. This is the space that we can work with and experience change and growth.

It is important to note that acceptance does NOT mean that we are okay with our circumstance. We may go through the process of practicing acceptance and still experience distress around what cannot be changed. Implement strategies that help you to tolerate what emotions come up for you around this (i.e. self care, grounding techniques). Embrace the areas you can make change in to be most effective in your challenging circumstance and practice strategies that allow you to shift perspective, change, and grow.

I challenge you to experiment with the process of acceptance. Notice where you are resisting an unpleasant reality, and identify where you can can be effective in changing your circumstance. Remember, reality acceptance is not easy and takes practice. Be kind to yourself if it doesn’t work the first, second, or third time. Practice self care and come back to your intention with reality acceptance.

Accept what is, and embrace what can be!

How To Let Go of Your Own Stuff and Parent Your LGBTQ+ Kid With Unconditional Love

The emotional support and unconditional acceptance from the caregiver/parent of a youth is imperative in promoting a positive and successful life for the youth. Each and every one of us have navigated through our own identity formation stage in life. Through this stage, we recognized and eventually embraced all of the pieces of ourselves that create our own identity. For some, that period included the construct of heterosexuality and for others that stage included: homosexuality, bisexuality, sexual fluidity, or any other construct that is not within the parameters and confines of heterosexuality. Our gender identification also occurs during this period. Whether it be the two binary gender concepts of male and female or gender concepts that fall outside of the binary constructs such as: non-binary, gender fluid, agender, or transgender. Regardless, though, of what is learned and embraced, each and every one of us were provided with an opportunity to learn and appreciate who we are as individuals. Kiddos need that same opportunity as well as the unconditional love and support from their parents/caregivers.

I could sure get academic and rattle off the various studies that have been conducted to assess the emotional well-being of youth who consistently received that support from parents compared to youth who did not receive that love and support, but I’d rather talk to you as a person and not a research study. Yes, each study identifies grave disparities between the two groups and the well-being of those where the love and support was withheld resulted in poor mental health, school performance, struggles in maintaining healthy relationships, and substance use issues. More important, though, individuals who don’t receive that unconditional love and support from their parents are often left floundering and feeling abandoned by their foundation – their parents &/or caregivers.

Within my practice, I often hear parents say, “I just want to love my kid but now that they’ve told me (I’m gay, I’m non-binary, I’m transgender, etc.) I feel like I just don’t know how to show him that I love him anymore.” I’ll often respond with a question of how the parent showed love to her child prior to the ‘announcement’ and how is it that the love of yesterday can’t be displayed today? What often is discovered is that the parent &/or caregiver has gotten caught up in her own struggles with the youth’s identity which has caused a rift in the relationship between parent and child. Through positive support, education, and processing, parents are able to work through their own biases and return to a place where their love is no longer hindered by their fears.

Parents – love your kiddos. Whether they’re 2, 15, or 46 years old, they need to know that you love and support them. When you see your child struggling, talk to them. Don’t talk down to them, just talk to them. Educate yourself, reach out to someone to talk to, join a parent support group, or set up an appointment to meet with a therapist. Do something so that you are best equipped to be that core source of support and love for your child. Don’t allow your biases or struggles become your child’s torment. Rather, relish in the thought that your child loves and trusts you enough to show you his true and authentic self for it is within this authenticity that genuine love thrives.

As many of you know, working with LBGTQIA++ youth is a passion of mine. Once the holiday’s pass and things begin to calm down a bit, I will finally be starting up a processing/support group for high school-aged individuals who identify as LGBTQIA++. I’ve attached our groups flyer with additional information. Contact us by clicking the button below to start the enrollment process!

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LifeTip: How to Show Your Body Some Love

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a great start to 2018. With everyone creating resolutions or intentions, I hear people talking about losing weight or getting into shape, which I want to say if that's something that brings you joy, it's for a medical reason, or you just simply want to, all the love and support to you! I do want to throw this in there too for everyone-- wherever you are on your journey with your body, please try to practice loving your body for all that it is in this moment. Your body whatever the size, condition, shape, etc... it is yours* and it has been on a journey with you through good times and bad. It has experienced everything right alongside you; it's your constant in life. Whether you feel like it's failed you at times or caused you pain, loving your body can be a beautiful practice of unconditional love.

I want to provide a little yoga/meditative practice to help you love your body a little more: Sit, stand or lie down, close your eyes (if that's comfortable), and picture your body in this moment. Starting from the tips of your toes and moving to the top of your head, say to yourself, "Thank you/I love you, *insert body part you are picturing*" Be specific! "Thank you, left big toe" or "I love you, right thigh." Please try to do this with intention and without judgment. It may feel silly or weird at first, but please try it. If going body part by body part feels too difficult, you can state, "Thank you, body" or "I love my body" a few times until you feel ready to go body part by part. It may be the next day or many months down the line; there is no rush in this process. If working on loving the outside body feels difficult or uncomfortable, go ahead and shift your focus to the inside, such as to your muscles, bones, lungs, heart, brain, etc… they are all apart of your physical body and need some love and acknowledgment too! Practice this every day if you can and take notice of how you feel about yourself. 

Wherever you are with your relationship to your body, I support you. You are amazing! So much metta to you all!

*I want to speak to those individuals who may feel like they were born with a body that does not feel like their own. I honor and respect your journey. I acknowledge this exercise may or may not be helpful. Please follow the path that feels right for you. 

Intentions over Resolutions (And Book Inspo!)

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As 2017 draws to a close, I’m feeling reflective and hopeful. There’s a simultaneous sense of looking back and looking ahead, trying to stay present while also taking stock of another year in the life, all while preparing for what’s in store in the new year. We hear so much talk about resolutions this time of year. There’s a sense of “not good enough” that always comes up for me when I think about resolutions. This idea that we have to give something up, be better, be more disciplined, lose more weight, make more money, do more, have more, be more. But more isn’t what I’m feeling right now. Yes, there are things I want more of. But they aren’t really about things, or even really goal-oriented at the moment. They aren’t things I can pass or fail at, and they aren’t about discipline and control.

Enter intention. Intention is a practice, much like mindfulness. It is about the process and the journey rather than the outcome and destination. For so many of us, resolutions have us kicking off the new year in a burst of energy, willpower, and drive, and often end in a month or two in disappointment, self-recrimination and shame. Intention is all about self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. When I think of what I want more of in 2018, it’s all of those things.

There are a few books I’ve read this year that have tended the embers of these intentions, and some that I offer to you as a way to light your own path away from burdensome resolutions and towards a new way of being with yourself and your loved ones. Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, Amy Johnson’s Little Book of Big Change, Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness come to mind. I have Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes, Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck all queued up on my bookshelf. Are you sensing a theme?

My work this year with Rachel Madorsky of The Coaching Therapist Institute (Tracy and I both became Certified Transformational Coaching Method Practitioners) has helped me shift gears internally and in my work, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: my intention for 2018 is to allow myself a lot more grace, a lot more room to fail, and a daily practice of slowing down, staying present, letting go of what doesn’t serve me, and honoring my own work/life alignment by focusing on self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. What will your intention be today?

LifeTip: Decisions! Decisions! Oh My!

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This time of year is fraught with decisions and not just what gifts to buy, who to have holiday meals with, or how to reconcile the year-end bookkeeping. Underneath all the minutia of details is often an undercurrent of deeper questions connected to that nagging sense of knowing the new year is ever so close and hoping that THIS year is THE year . . . the year to conquer all those habits that keep you from living the life you’ve imagined. Many of us start the year off strong, determined, and resolute in our goals, only to find our hopes dashed as the realities of life creep back in and resolutions fall to the side. I think it’s probably safe to say this has happened to all of us, at least once!

I think it’s a conundrum. The new year represents this major launching pad for intentional renewal and transformation but in reality is usurped by the hectic happenings that are so part of the end of the year.  Knee deep in holiday shopping, traffic, parties, family drama, and the like we hastily declare resolutions that in the end don’t even begin to reflect who we are, what we really want, or what we could reasonably achieve. Often they reflect culture, family, or what our best friend or romantic partner is doing. It’s as if all the chaos of the end of the year robs us of the chance to tune into those deeper currents of what could be (for the next year) that are rumbling within.

How do we deal with this conundrum, especially given the fact we are already in the frenzy of the holidays? How can we get tuned in so we can make more meaningful decisions/resolutions that stand the test of time? Following is a short but useful exercise to help you get in touch with your core values. Core values are deeply held beliefs that represent the essence of who we are, the truth of that inner being within. We each have our own unique set and while many may have a vague sense of what they are, clarifying and naming them can have a profound effect on decision-making. Decisions made through the lens of core values will naturally be more in line with the inner you. And, being more in line with the inner and real you brings about a more centered and happier you. It just makes sense, right?!

Try the short exercise below. Identify your core values. And, with your next dilemma, whether it’s how and who to celebrate the holidays with or a potential life-changing resolution ask yourself if it supports or goes against one of your core values. Try letting your core values act as a roadmap to guide and resolve both internal and external conflict. Experiment. Have fun with it! Even if you have to make a less favorable decision you will likely find meaning in that decision, making it, perhaps, a little more bearable. Many of my clients find that it works.

Happy Holidays and Happy 2018!

LifeTip: Who Has Your Power?

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Many of the folks that come into counseling, tell me that they’re feeling sad, depressed, anxious, defeated, or have lost their self-confidence and want to know why.  “Am I crazy?  Have I lost it? Am I too broken to be fixed?”  No, no, and NO!  There has been a theft and the thing that’s been stolen is power.

We all come into this world with our own power; something that is ours and only ours.  This power is a valuable resource and something that everyone wants more of.  As we grow up, we’re taught how to add and multiply, recite the pledge of allegiance, ride a bike, and tie our shoes, but we’re never taught the lesson of how to protect our power.  Being a visual person, I like to think of power as a stick (wand, sword, lightsaber, you choose the form…) that we each hold.  Every day, someone is vying for that stick, trying to break off pieces to add to their own.  Often, we are unaware that the theft is even happening.  Phrases like:  “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never be good enough for that”, “You’re wasting your time”, “Hopefully you’ll grow out of your ugly phase”, etc., all take a chunk out of our power stick.  Without the tools to fight this, we’re eventually left with a tiny little nub of a stick leaving us feeling defeated, self-conscious, depressed, and expecting failure out of life.  But this doesn’t have to continue.  We can take back our power stick and start to expect success – more importantly, we can begin to truly love who we are and recognize the phenomenal power that we possess.

So now what?  Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks, Justin, you’ve been able to point out that I’m feeling pretty low, but what in the heck do I do now?”  Let me first ask you to sit there and truly embrace the feelings that you’re experiencing.  Put a name to it.  What color is it?  Where in your body are you feeling it?  Is your stomach in knots?  Is your heart beating fast?  Are you feeling hot in the face?  Recognize those feelings and say to yourself, “enough is enough!”  This is your body, your mind, and your power.  It’s time for you to take that power back!!

Society teaches us the importance of being kind to others and treat others with compassion and love, but we rarely hear about the importance of loving ourselves.  If anything, we learn that loving ourselves equates to selfishness and self-centeredness.  I want you to hear me say that this is wrong!!!  You are worthy.  You are special.  You do deserve to be loved.  You do deserve respect.  You are strong.  You are powerful.  The time is now to rebuild that power stick and fall back in love with yourself.

Navigating through these feelings and emotions can be tricky and feel super uncomfortable.  The discomfort can often cause us to shut back up that door to our authenticity room thereby protecting us from having any more power taken away.  This is where therapy comes in.  Your therapist’s goal is to support you as you rebuild your power stick and re-ignite that internal fire.  Yes, you can do this.  Even though you may feel defeated as the world has tried to put out your flame, you do have the power to stoke back up that fire and let that light shine bright!

Your new journey is waiting.  Let’s get on the road and take back that power that was once stolen!