5 Books to Read When You’re Struggling to Live Life

5 Books to Read When You’re Struggling to Live Life

Those of us who have experienced relational trauma understand the discomfort of being in our own bodies. We understand how unnatural it feels to self-advocate and take care of ourselves. (And I mean actual self-care, not just rigidly refusing to lean on anyone else.) We understand what it’s like to live our lives and make choices based in fear. I have put together a list of five books that I often recommend to clients who want to improve their self-care, learn how to set better boundaries, communicate more honestly and effectively, stop being controlled by their fear, listen to, understand and respect their bodies, support themselves, deepen intimacy, and stop dysfunctional behaviors that are hurting their ability to connect.

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

  • Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

 

This is one of my top favorite books of all time, and I recommend it to anyone who is or has ever been a caregiver in any capacity and to those working in helping professions. The term “codependent” was popularized by Melody Beattie in the 1980s, but no one’s sure who coined it. (Although many people have taken credit for it.)

 

Its definition was hard to narrow down to a succinct phrase since there are so many behaviors and reasons for those behaviors that fall under the umbrella of being codependent. Most of us agree that the heart of codependency can be defined as behaviors employed in the attempt to control someone else’s behavior so that the codependent can get their needs met and whose behavior keeps them from getting their needs met. It’s when we make someone else’s problem our problem.

 

The term was originally used to describe loved ones of addicts, but we don’t need to be in a relationship with an addict to be codependent. People who have been abused, raised by parents with personality disorders, loved ones of people with eating disorders, those with an anxious attachment style, those who are caregivers, people in helping professions, or people with otherwise lower self-worth can find themselves demonstrating codependent behaviors.

 

Like pretty much all things, codependency is a spectrum. Some of us have more traits than others and demonstrate them more or less often. The author understands that when we are trying to control someone’s behavior, trying to get them to do something or stop doing something, we do things “at” them (use substances, clean, make a passive aggressive comment, nag, sigh loudly, eat, starve, spend money, etc.). There are endless ways that we might try to persuade someone to change their behavior. This book helps us to see that we’re already holding the key to our own prison.

 

Codependent No More is an invaluable box of tools that teaches us to identify the problematic and controlling behaviors we use in an effort to get our needs met/avoid being abandoned and teaches us how to create healthier, more self-supportive behaviors for ourselves. In an honest, nonpathologizing approach, this book shines a light on why we’ve come to behave this way in relationship, our thinking, and self-beliefs behind the behaviors, and walks us through other options.

 

It’s essential for those of us who want to learn how to set better boundaries. It’s possible for us to be supportive of others and those in need without becoming completely worn down, exhausted, and bent out of shape. We don’t have to hawk over someone’s problem-behavior, be embarrassed by them, feel like the “mean one” in the relationship, and arrange our entire lives around people.

 

When someone else’s problem has become our problem and we’re tired of feeling helpless, frustrated, and resentful I recommend reading Codependent No More. Stop doing more than we can do.

 

I also recommend the Codependent No More Workbook for those who want guided practice of these new healthy behaviors.

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

 

When we’ve been oppressed, marginalized, or abused we usually don’t see our options. We either react or see our choices as a series of ultimatums. We believe that people, places, and things can “make us feel” a certain way. It’s the old, “I only did that because you completely infuriated me.” We speak the languages of blame, shame, and guilt. We don’t understand accountability, personal responsibility, and choices.

 

We’re used to living stressed out lives. We’re habituated to feeling controlled in our relationships, at work, in life. We’ve acclimated, but it’s not a normal way of living. Trauma symptoms are often described as “normal reactions to abnormal situations.” Many of us have either experienced abnormal situations growing up or have grown accustomed to living life as a continuous series of abnormal situations, often both. We end up normalizing disempowerment. We believe that others hold our happiness in their hands.

 

Nonviolent communication is so much more than the name lets on. It’s about recognizing our choices and acknowledging the difference between our backs being up against the proverbial wall and feeling as though they are. It gives us tools to understand how we’ve interpreted an event, teaches us to identify our feelings about it, helps us to see our choice of response to the event and our feelings about it, and how to take responsibility for our feelings and choices.

 

We learn to stop trying to control others’ behavior and beliefs. Our intention shifts from trying to get something from another person to clear, honest communication for the sake of our integrity, sanity, and wellness. We learn to employ curiosity to deepen understanding of our experiences, of others’ experiences. Through the practice of nonviolent communication, we start the process of transforming our judgments. We create more space between ourselves and reactivity.

 

We land the jump from, “I yelled at you because you made me mad,” to “I yelled at you because I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and insecure about a lot of things. I interpreted what you said as dismissive and felt sad and outraged. I lost it.” The practice of nonviolent communication helps us to see our part in things, that everything isn’t our fault and everything isn’t someone else’s fault. It gives us the freedom to identify our responsibility in a situation, to own it, and, realizing we can’t control other people, to let the rest go.

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron

 

There are myriad books about humans’ innate fear of death, but I’d always found a shortage of discourse about our fear of life. I came across this book ten years ago, and it pointed me in the right direction. (As it turns out, there is much discussion on our fear of living in psychospiritual literature.)

 

In The Places That Scare You, Pema Chodron talks about the common human fear of living our lives. Most of us experience this at one time or another, but those of us who have lived through extended relational trauma often experience this fear more chronically. We feel anxiety about everything- doing something, not doing something, going somewhere, leaving somewhere, falling in love, never falling in love, staying stuck, making progress, literally anything. We are anxious all the time and driven into depression from our lack of traction.

 

Pema Chodron helps us to reconnect with our inner intelligence that allows us to interpret our fear and helps us to find ways to support our fearful parts. Her book shines a light on the path back to self-trust and resilience. We learn to listen to our experiences, take care of ourselves around fear and pain, and reemerge from our protective shell.

 

Above all, the message in this book serves as an encouraging and insightful guide to allowing people and circumstances to be whole in their complexity. It’s possible for us to hold all of our experiences without having to over-compartmentalize. We can handle disappointment, hurt, and anger without having to permanently retreat.

 

Pema introduces us to the simple application of gentle curiosity. When we practice this, eventually, we begin to recognize what our fear is telling us. Using our own intelligence, we can identify, accept, and respond to our needs.                           

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • BodyWise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing by Rachel Carlton Abrams

 

When we’ve been physically, sexually, emotionally, or systematically abused and traumatized, we have felt unsafe in our bodies. Even having a body has felt unsafe. Many of us have depersonalized to the point of being unaware of our biological needs and urges (hunger/satiety, thirst, body temperature, pain, urination, and other body sensations).

 

Our bodies hold valuable wisdom. They communicate all sorts of information to us like when we are getting a bad feeling about someone, when we need more protein, when we’re relaxed, when something is working for us, when something needs to shift, when we need attention and help. If we are cut off from our bodies, we are cut off from that intelligence.

 

In BodyWise, we find helpful, detailed techniques for establishing a safe and empowered connection to our physical bodies. If we’ve been struggling, it’s possible for us to feel at home in and accepting of our bodies. Dr. Abrams offers an insightful 28-day program for bringing physical and emotional healing and balance to our bodies. This program is most empowering because rather than presenting general tips, it requires a detailed self-assessment. This makes the program unique for each participant.

 

Dr. Abrams’ gives clear, accessible advice for exploring and taking ownership of our physical health (or unhealth). Her approach is nonpathologizing, direct, and humorous. She reminds us that we can have a safe, loving, intuitive, and supportive partnership with our bodies.                           

 


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

  • Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

 

Self-compassion is still making its way into mainstream culture. While it looks like mainstream culture isn’t quite finished strong-arming itself, a lot of us are. People who are tired of living a life of self-criticism, blaming others, perfectionism, chronic overwhelm, and disempowerment will find great refuge in this book.

 

Those of us who have experienced any form of relational trauma are not well-practiced in the art of self-compassion. We know how to care-take, anticipate the needs of others, turn off our own needs for long stretches, blame others for our feelings, blame ourselves, guilt ourselves, and are experts at all-or-nothing thinking. In fact, due in large part to our conditioning, most of us are pretty sure that self-compassion is synonymous letting ourselves off the hook or getting away with something.

 

Self-compassion is “self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness,” as defined by Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion and leading researcher of this subject. When we extend compassion to ourselves in difficult times, we offer support to ourselves. Here is an exercise called “Self-Compassion Break” taken from her book:

 

            This is a moment of suffering (or difficulty).

            Suffering (or difficulty) is a part of life.

            May I be kind to myself.

 

 There is no letting ourselves off the hook or getting away with anything. There is only acknowledgment of our experience, validation, and support. If it is hard for us to accept outside support, this is a soothing exercise. If we feel like we can never get enough support from others, this is also a great exercise. There’s power in our ability to face our experiences and offer ourselves support and kindness.

 

In this book, Kristin Neff guides us through the demystification of self-compassion, clarifies what self-compassion is, why it’s necessary and teaches us direct and accessible daily practice.

 

If we are struggling with shame, guilt, and anger, this book is especially helpful for us. It doesn’t sugar-coat a situation. To be sure, the tenants behind the practice of self-compassion encourage us to look honestly at whatever we’re dealing with so that we can support ourselves, ask for help when we need it, and respond in alignment with our values.


 

Like all self-help books and therapeutic tools, these books are only as useful as the reader is willing to put their advice into action. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of reading them. Sometimes we need to be in therapy and go through them with a skilled clinician. If you have been thinking about starting or going back to your own therapy process and have any questions about next steps, please contact me for help.

 

Learning to self-advocate is not easy, especially if we have received messages that it is not safe for us to do so. And often, in some way or another, we have.  Self-care and self-support do not always come naturally to us. And making choices based in fear often seems like the only available option.

 

While these books are not the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for, they are helpful tools, and the authors offer deep insight into healing our physical and emotional selves. We can learn to live more fully and authentically, communicate more directly, self-advocate, and participate wholeheartedly in our relationships.

 

We have been living in a dim room with one arm tied behind our backs. There is hope for illumination and freedom. We don’t have to struggle through life. We can accept ourselves, feel at home in our bodies, and respond to issues in our lives healthfully and skillfully.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

The Agony of Codependent Boundaries

The Agony of Codependent Boundaries

Those of us who experienced relational trauma at an early age either weren’t taught how to have clear, predictable, and logical boundaries or had that training interrupted. Chances are, we do not know how to set those kinds of boundaries for ourselves now. In fact, we probably have a skewed idea of what healthy boundaries look like. We might think it’s our responsibility to prevent others from getting mad or sad. We might have had to do this to keep ourselves safe during childhood. We might think it’s perfectly acceptable to micromanage someone else’s choices. (And we probably don’t see it as “micromanaging.” It’s more likely that we see our behavior as helpful or supportive.)

 

There are a million examples of unhealthy boundaries (or lack of boundaries). Here are a few common ones:  

 

  • Saying yes when we mean no.
  • Trying to control someone else’s behavior or choices.
  • Being unclear (with ourselves and others) on what we’re willing to tolerate and what we’re not.
  • Not telling the truth about what is working for us and what isn’t.
  • If we break a commitment to someone, being dishonest with them about why.
  • Not saying how we feel because we think someone doesn’t want to hear it.
  • Being unwilling to end a relationship if that relationship has become nonreciprocal.
  • Not letting people have their feelings when we say no or set and hold a limit.
  • Not Accepting someone else’s limits without becoming defensive or punishing.

 

It is understandable that at some point, we learned that we would be safer or more effective at getting what we wanted if we demonstrated these behaviors. As adults, though, most of us have found that they no longer serve us. We understand that these behaviors keep us from genuinely connecting with ourselves and others.

 

See if this scenario sounds familiar. Your partner tells you he’s been working really hard, is tired, and needs a break. He asks if you’d mind if he took a long weekend away with some friends to blow off some steam. This is the third recreational trip he’s taken without you in four months while you have not taken one in two years. You have also been working hard, are tired, and would like a weekend away with your friends. If you say no, you don’t mind, it will mean managing your fulltime work schedule, your two-and-a-half-year-old, and preparing for the week-long visit from out-of-town family you’ve scheduled for the upcoming holiday week. If you say yes, you absolutely mind, it will mean disappointing your partner. You say yes, throw this newest resentment in your resentment bank, and martyr through. He has a great time and comes back feeling refreshed.

 

The fact that you said yes to the trip isn’t what makes this an unhealthy boundary. Plenty of partners trade off taking separate vacations. It’s the fact that you haven’t traded off taking vacations in years, said yes when you meant no, didn’t tell the truth about what’s working for you and what’s not, and silenced your feelings to keep your partner from feeling disappointed.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Sometimes we confuse boundaries with controlling behavior.

 

Boundaries involve choices, what we are willing to do and accept and what we are not, and our behavior that we can control. “I won’t answer your call if you call after 9:30p.” Or “If you continue to talk to me this way I’m going to leave.” Or “I can’t help you with that right now. If you still need help in a couple of hours, try back then.”

 

Controlling behavior is manipulative and often passive-aggressive. “I told you I’d leave you if you didn’t stop drinking and start going to AA so, I’ll take you to your AA meeting to make sure you go, wait outside to see if you stay, and pick you up to make sure you don’t go to any bars or liquor stores on the way home.” Or “I hate the way she talks to me. I’m going to give her the cold shoulder whenever she says something in a way I don’t like so that she gets the message.” Or “I’m making plans with a friend for next week even though I might not feel up to hanging out with them. I want to please them in the moment. Rather than making tentative plans, I’m going to cancel last minute because I don’t want to deal with them feeling frustrated or disappointed with me right now. I’ll just avoid them for a few days after I cancel our plans and then go on as if nothing has happened.”

 

We exert control over people or situations instead of setting boundaries so that we don’t lose the relationship or situation on which we are dependent.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Weak boundaries often flop either way. If we know that we can be pressured into doing something we don’t want to do, we probably assume others can, too. Unconsciously or intentionally, we might apply pressure or bulldoze to get someone to relax their boundaries.

 

We’re afraid to set boundaries because we don’t want to deal with what happens when we keep them. We don’t want to have to hold the limit with our children or parents or partners or friends or coworkers. Boundaries are painful. They take work and commitment. It hurts when someone is mad at us or when we have to separate from them for a while or for good.

 

Instead, we try to show someone how frustrated or scared or sad we’re feeling by saying mean things, doing things “at” them (drinking, stomping around the house, eating, starving, literally anything), making empty threats, tantruming, or shutting someone out for a day or two. If we weren’t allowed to set boundaries as children, if our boundaries weren’t respected, or if we never learned how to set boundaries, we’ll be well-practiced at power struggling and weak at boundary setting as adults.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

A sneaky way for us to fall off our boundaries game is the urge to care-take.

 

We give advice or help without being asked. We insinuate ourselves into someone else’s situation and micromanage them. We rescue people, do for them, give to them because we want to feel needed, indispensable, helpful, and lovable. Usually, what happens is the other person starts to expect this from us. They depend on us. We feel good about ourselves knowing that we’re taking care of someone and we wait for the effusive gratitude and love. When the reciprocity doesn’t come, we start to feel resentful because we are doing so much. It’s pretty much doomed from the start.

 

There is a difference between giving to others and helping people in need and care-taking so that we get our needs met. We give so that we live inline with our values. We care-take in hopes of not being abandoned. When we care-take, the boundary between our responsibility and others’ responsibility is blurred.

 

Often, we get so sick or run down we can’t perform our care-taking behaviors continuously. Some of us pray for a sick day so that we have an excuse to stay home and not take care of anyone else for a while. Self-care is so foreign to us that we feel we have to justify it through illness or injury. “I’ve been working hard and taking care of everyone else. I’m exhausted and sick as a dog. I deserve to stay in bed and watch TV and rest.” We equate care-taking with earning our keep. Some of us are often sick or inured and use that time to wait for others to give us the same care we’ve given them. This is, of course, a set up for everyone.

 

The more we give until we’re depleted and neglect our own needs, the more we martyr ourselves, the needier we become. We drive ourselves deeper into emotional debt. Our resentments increase, and we become the dreaded victim.

 

Being a perpetual victim is exhausting both for us and for the people in our lives. It happens when we don’t take responsibility for our choices and believe that everyone else’s wellbeing depends on us. We say things like, “What am I supposed to do? Not give my sister money when I know she’s struggling with her finances?” Or “Of course I’m going to spend the holidays with my mother. It doesn’t matter if I have a good time or not. That’s not what’s important. What, am I just not going to go and make her think I don’t love her? Then what?” When we are victims, everything we do is a burden. We have to give that unlikable coworker a ride home if they ask. We have to stay at the job we hate. We have to say yes when a family member asks us for a favor. We have to suck it up and give our last piece of energy away.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Sometimes it’s a fine line between care-taking and taking care of our responsibilities. If we are in charge of caring for children, animals, or dependent adults we can’t stop or duties, but we can ask for help and make sure we are meeting our biological and emotional needs. We can make sure that we’re not trying to do more than we realistically can. We can remember that we can say no. Care-taking has the attitude of “I have to do it all.” Boundaries and taking care of our responsibilities are about choices and sound like “This is what it is right now. Is there a way I can approach things differently? Is there a different perspective I can access? What are my choices here?”

 

It’s normal to want to help someone when we see them in need. Helping doesn’t mean we’re not setting healthy boundaries. It’s not so much the what as it is the how and why. Am I saying yes to this person because I genuinely want to help them or because I’m afraid of losing the relationship if I don’t? Am I straightening the living room because I want to maintain my responsibility to myself and the space I live in or am I doing it “at” the members of my family, huffing and stomping around, trying to get them to see how much I’m doing while they sit there and watch TV? Do I list all the things I’ve done today so that everyone can see how worthy and productive I am?

 

Loving someone and sincerely wanting to help them means that we will:

  • Check in with ourselves to see what kind of place we are in to help. If someone asks us directly for our help, it’s always acceptable to say, “Let me get back to you,” and decide what, if anything, we are willing to do.
  • Pay attention to relationships in which there is low or no reciprocity. Is this working for you?
  • Notice and be honest with ourselves when we are giving because we want to receive. (Ever heard of “needy giving?”)
  • Take responsibility for our feelings and choices.
  • Not take responsibility for other people’s feelings and choices.
  • Make a deliberate choice to take care of ourselves and stop when we need a break.
  • Understand that saying no is sometimes the best help we have to offer someone.
  • Ask ourselves why we feel compelled to help someone and what we’re hoping to gain from it.                    

 

The more we trust and accept ourselves, the more we will trust and accept our boundaries and limits. When we’ve experienced relational trauma, our ability to trust and accept ourselves is compromised and sometimes terminated. If we are willing to be uncomfortable as we learn how to identify, set, and hold the boundaries that feel right for us, we will be able to contact self-trust and self-acceptance again or for the first time. We will test patience, fail, disappoint others, feel awkward, and make mistakes. And we will finally learn that we can survive all of those things.

 

This practice, like so many others, is a slow burn.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin

 

 

Not often enough is each of us asked, “What’s it like moving through the world as you?” We are not often asked about our fears and insecurities, hopes, frustrations, and about what makes us feel alive. We are not often asked about what we’re thinking, what we’re wondering about, or if we’re worried.

 

Some of us experience racism and homophobia. Some of us experience ableism or transphobia or sexism or classism or ageism.

 

Some of us suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic pain, or addiction. Some of us are navigating the complicated mourning process and feeling what can only be described as unyielding fragility. Some of us are numb.

 

All of us are grappling with something- marital problems, financial instability, a terminally ill child, a best friend dead from aggressive cancer, panic about the future, historical or intergenerational trauma, chronic mental or physical illness, a break-up, discrimination, sexual harassment, the aging process, our own inexorable thoughts.

 

I get the pleasure and honor of creating a space for people to sit down and tell me about what it’s like for them as they move through the world. I get to see couples learn, for the first time, in a deeper way what it’s like for their partners to be them. I have made a career out of witnessing what happens when people speak honestly and listen compassionately.

 

Not everyone has the privilege of making this their daily life, and I’d like to help make it as accessible as possible. It’s the act of intelligently tuning into our own experience and seeing what’s there. It’s the act of deepening our understanding of ourselves and another.

 

When we become attuned to and present with our pain, we can tune into and be present with another’s pain. The reverse is also true, that when we are present with and attuned to another’s pain we can also be present with our own. We are complex creatures, capable of many things, some being empathy and compassion.

 

When we open space for ourselves to be present and attuned, it’s easier to listen to what is really being said. It’s easier to see someone for who they are instead of our projection of them.

 

We can’t do this all the time, but we can do it more often. We can slow down and drop in.

 

A client recently recommended I watch Patton Oswalt’s “Annihilation” performance. In it, he talks about his late wife, writer Michelle McNamara, and her belief system. He quotes her as saying, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

 

There is chaos. And there is kindness.

 

I wonder, what’s it like moving through the world as you?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

Triumph in Disagreement

Triumph in Disagreement

At some point, most of us have a hard time letting someone have their feelings. When someone is mad at us or sad about something we’ve done or said, we feel uncomfortable. We get defensive (“That’s not what I meant!”), aggressive (“Ugh, you always do this! Whatever. You don’t need to get upset about it.”), or we try to clean it up by backtracking.

 

When we react to the I-don’t-like-the-way-I-feel-when-you-feel-the-way-you-feel feeling, it usually doesn’t help the situation, right? The other person experiences our efforts as invalidating and self-serving (and they’re right). Everyone gets more upset, and we cause more hurt.

 

So, what can we do? Instead of trying to control how someone feels, instead of trying to control the way they interpret our actions and words, we can show respect and dignity to the other person and their experience while taking care of our feelings about their feelings.

 

This requires:

 

  • Curiosity about the other person’s experience
  • Presence, both with ourselves and with the other
  • Self-compassion for our own experience

 

When we’re employing curiosity, it’s important that the curiosity be as genuine as possible (or at least the wish for it). We’re not looking for ways in which we think they misunderstood us or for an in somewhere. We want to understand their experience. We want to know what they heard and saw and felt.

 

Engaging our presence will help us keep our reactivity to a minimum and provide a solid foundation for the conversation. It’s a great way to soothe ourselves in a moment of upset and show up emotionally and cognitively for the other person (and for any difficult situation).

 

Using self-compassion is helpful for something like this because it helps stabilize us and our need to make sure we’re ok with the other person. It gives us what we are looking for, the knowledge that we are ok, right from the source- ourselves. Often, the reason why we go on the defensive/offensive or try to convince the other person out of their feelings is that we need validation that we’re ok. But when we try to feel ok using those tactics we invalidate the other person. Then, there are two people who feel invalidated and are putting their needs on each other.

 

Managing conflict isn’t easy, and relational discord feels bad. Often, we are challenged by our need to be right and our need to maintain peace in the relationship. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Ultimately, what matters is our ability to validate our own experience and our desire to see and hear the other person. Because many of our experiences will not be shared, it is important for us to be able to validate ourselves and respect other people’s perspectives.

 

The more curious we are about others’ experiences, the more likely it is that we will come to an understanding. If I’m busy trying to talk someone out of their anger, I probably won’t hear their need to feel respected. I probably won’t hear that they experienced me as belittling, that they felt insignificant and small. Chances are, we’ll keep rolling around in the same cycle because we’ll both keep triggering each other and waiting for the other to back down.

 

We will not always do this. I don’t always do this. There are plenty of times when I find myself acting defensively because I don’t like the way I feel when someone else feels the way they feel. But it’s less often. The more I practice taking care of myself and giving someone space for their own experience, the more I feel like it’s my natural primary response.

 

If you’d like to know more about managing conflict, please email or call me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

What We Want:

We all long for fulfilling, stable, and safe connections to others. We want to be understood and hope for people to experience us as we experience ourselves. We long for someone who will take care of us and reassure us that everything will be ok. We want to feel held and contained. We want our rage and defiance to be tolerated. We want to feel that someone understands our experiences of the world and we want those our feelings about those experiences to either be validated or soothed.

Why That’s Challenging:

We will often be misunderstood by and misunderstand others.

We don’t always know how to tolerate someone else’s rage and defiance. Some of us were taught that rage and defiance are intolerable and unacceptable. We were taught that in order to be lovable we had to be “good” which meant being pleasing and accommodating.

We all have some degree of self-idealization, over-inflation of certain qualities and that is often in conflict with a) others’ self-idealization and b) others’ self-concepts. It gets in the way. I might think of myself as a smart, fantastic listener and you might consider yourself a smart, effective communicator. If we come across a misunderstanding or a fair amount of tension during an encounter in our relationship, depending on how psychologically flexible we are, both of us might jump to the conclusion that the other is not as smart as they think they are or not a great listener/communicator.

We are a complex constellation of inner experiences and reduced to words as a means of communication.

Some of us have been deeply hurt by intimacy. Some of us respond to this wound by avoiding intimacy. Others respond by developing a preoccupation with it. Depending on the experiences endured in childhood, we might view safety as either boring, untrustworthy, or elusive. (And plenty of people would say that safety is downright illusory.)

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our own difficult emotions, let alone tolerate high emotionality in others.

What We Can Do:

 We can begin by learning to accept that we are never going to be completely understood by nor completely understand others. Having some understanding can be enough.

At any moment, we can slow down and label what is happening to give us space from the immediate interpretations calculated by our brains.

We can look at our expectations.

We can start to be more curious about which narratives we’re living by that aren’t serving us.

We can remind ourselves that, at the core, what we want from others is often what they want from us and that we might define this differently.

We can learn to balance between our attunement to others’ needs and our own.

Listening is an ineffably effective tool. When we’re willing to listen to ourselves and others we create an open, stable environment. Listening allows us to contact an experience on a deeper level and then make choices that are more in alignment with what is needed.

As always, none of this exhaustive but it’s off to a good start. Happy relating!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Jumpstart Your Compassion

Jumpstart Your Compassion

I talk a lot about compassion on this forum. I’m a big fan. Throughout my years of working in mental health, providing clinical therapy, and immersing myself in the research I’ve come to understand that compassion plays a critical role in our human lives, the way we behave, and how we feel.

 

Buddhists and Buddhist Psychologists define compassion as being made up of two parts- 1) empathy, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and 2) action, extending your felt sense of empathy to do something about it. I like that. It’s a gentle but clear way of saying, “Don’t just feel for the person. Do something about it.” Feeling and action cause change.

 

There are as many reasons as there are people why it might be challenging to tap into our own compassion. Many of us don’t believe we hold enough power to effect anything worthwhile or sustainable. We feel beaten down, afraid, over-worked, alone, inadequate. Some of us even use denial to medicate our guilt and powerlessness by telling ourselves things like, “Oh, that group is suffering probably because they’ve done something to deserve it,” and “It’s probably not really that bad. Besides, I’ve got my own problems to worry about.”

 

If I cut myself off from feeling empathy because it is accompanied by feelings of sadness and guilt, it means that I am out of integrity with myself. If I am out of integrity with myself, that means I invite a whole treasure trove of other hard-to-feel feelings- blame, anger and of course more sadness and guilt. I’ll experience blame and anger because, in the short term, it is easier to get angry and blame someone who is suffering than to feel powerless to help them. It is easier to look down from my high horse on someone who is suffering and have the gall to find a reason as to why their suffering is their fault. This propensity is in all of us. We have all been in situations where we have seen suffering and not extended ourselves. We have all been in situations where we have witnessed injustice and not intervened.

 

In their book, Mindful Compassion, Paul Gilbert and Choden reflect that “Perhaps one of the greatest enemies of compassion is conformity; a preparedness to go along with the way things are, sometimes out of fear, sometimes complacency, and sometimes because we do what our leaders tell us what to do.” It’s hard to act compassionately, especially when our first instinct is to protect ourselves.

 

There are times when it is easier for us to feel compassion for others and times when it is easier to feel self-compassion. In those moments when we feel more challenged by finding compassion for others, a good way to jump start it is to practice self-compassion:

 

1) We can identify our feelings and try to define the experience we’re having.

2) We can accept our feelings and the experience we are having.

3) We can acknowledge what connects all beings- the desire to be free, happy, and loved.

4) We can acknowledge compassion that has been extended to us.

 

Like almost everything else, this is about perpetuating patterns. What we practice will continue. What our brains practice will help strengthen those neural pathways creating our neural circuitry.

 

“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” (Albert Schweitzer)

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

In a relationship, when we have a wish or a need for something to be different, most of us would like to feel that we can speak up, be heard, and see changes. And most of us have at least a few stories to tell about times that didn’t happen. Either we found it difficult to speak up for ourselves, didn’t feel that the other person really heard us, or didn’t experience a change.

It can be scary to speak up for yourself when you need or want something because it leaves you feeling more vulnerable to rejection. Conflict is hard for people to manage for a variety of reasons. By not addressing your needs, though, you’re not avoiding conflict. You still feel those needs. And they are still unmet. That’s a pretty great recipe for resentment. In the short term, it might seem easier not to voice your concerns, not to ask for something to change. The longer you keep quiet, the longer your needs stay unmet and the worse it feels.

So, what can you do to express what you need in a way that someone is likely to hear?

To start, speak in an even, calm tone that conveys respect. Most people won’t readily listen to (or care about) what is being asked of them if you are defensive, condescending, or attacking. A calm, respectful tone helps the listener to feel safer. When someone feels safe, they are much more likely to consider what is being communicated to them. Likewise, by keeping yourself calm, you are more likely to feel confident about what you are saying. When you feel confident, you don’t need to rely on a defensive or condescending tone. Win-win.

Remember I-statements? Use them. Tell me what you think sounds better to you:

A)   “What the hell?! I thought you said you were going to wash the dishes before you went to bed! Why are they still sitting here sixteen hours later?! You had time to play around on your iPad two hours, but you didn’t have time to do the dishes? How many times are we going to have to go through this before you decide to stop being so lazy?!”

B)   “I felt mad and disappointed when I went into the kitchen and saw the dirty dishes still sitting there. When you don’t do something you said you would do, I feel disregarded.”

Would A or B help you feel more receptive to what another person is saying? I guess most people would choose B. Example B doesn’t attack, doesn’t condescend, and clearly communicates the speaker’s experience.

Keep it solution-focused, not problem-focused. Solution-focused identifies strategies to try that would produce an ideal outcome. Problem-focused highlights what went wrong and is a slippery slope on the way to both of you feeling polarized on the subject. Solution-focused says, “Tonight, let’s decide who will cook dinner and who will wash the dishes. Whoever chooses to do dishes will uphold their end of the bargain by washing them before we sit down to watch Modern Family.” By focusing on how you would like the situation to play out, you are keeping a hopeful and positive perspective while addressing what isn’t working. When you focus only on what isn’t working, the other person can feel blamed and criticized.

By using these techniques, you can help create a safer environment for your loved one to hear feedback and foster a dynamic of responsibility and respect.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie