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

It’s Not About Self-Esteem

It’s Not About Self-Esteem

The US went on a real self-esteem rampage starting in the mid to late ‘80s. How-To books were written for parents, leaders, educators, executives, and anyone else who wanted to know how to cultivate high self-esteem in themselves and others. After 30 years or so, we’ve seen the impact of this practice, and it hasn’t delivered what its supporters had hoped. As it turns out, the self-esteem movement helped people approach life with more entitlement and less personal accountability. I get the intention behind the self-esteem movement and support that intention, but based on what we now know about the human brain, the application was doomed from the start.

 

Self-esteem is about confidence in one’s abilities, feeling good about oneself. I might be the most confident about my driving skills but constantly get into fender benders, get pulled over for speeding, and be a general train wreck on the road. Someone else might believe that he is an ace baseball player and yet is consistently overlooked by even the least competitive teams. Anyone can have high self-esteem. It doesn’t mean they’ve earned it. It doesn’t even mean that it’s based in reality. This goes to show that someone might have great self-esteem and a poor self-concept.

 

Self-concept is how we view ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the feedback we get from our environment. We categorize ourselves, then interpret those categorizations.

Part of your self-concept might be that you handle failure well because you learn from it and use failure as a way to learn strategy and increase your drive to get what you want.

 

I’m not saying that plenty of us don’t have faulty self-concepts. Most of us have incommensurate negative or positive self-concepts somewhere in there. I’m saying it’s more skillful to assess self-concept as opposed to self-esteem because it’s not about how confident or insecure we are in our capabilities as it is about looking at the evidence.

 

In sixth grade, I struggled with math. I wasn’t crazy-struggling, but I wanted to enjoy the same confidence in the subject I saw my peers enjoying so, I came to my teacher for help. If she had been concerned about my self-esteem, she would have told me something like, “Oh, Natalie, you’re such a great student! You’re not struggling that badly. Besides, you’re great and look at all the other things you can do!” Luckily, she cared more about my long-term self-concept than my self-esteem and told me something like, “Ok, Natalie, if you want to be better at math let’s look at where your performance is weak. Here’s where you’re doing well and here’s where you need help. Let’s work on it.” (Thanks, Mrs. Roloffs. I owe you.)

 

So, if you’re struggling with insecurity, instead of working on raising your self-esteem, try looking at how you’ve structured your self-concept. You’ll find it’s a much more useful tool than glossing over your experience with an I’m-ok-you’re-ok message.

 

If you want to look more closely at your self-concept, be curious. What are your values? What do you believe about yourself? What is the evidence of how true or false those beliefs are? What are the stories you tell about yourself? How do they play out in your life?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What Does “Having It All” Mean?

What Does “Having It All” Mean?

For years, women have been told that we can or cannot have it all. We’ve been told what having it all means and either how we can get it or that it’s an unattainable myth. On the one hand, having it all means we’re worthy and successful. On another, wanting it all means we’re selfish and unrealistic. There are books, articles, workshops, and classes devoted to demystifying this subject.

Recently, though, there has been a directional shift. We’ve broached a new domain in the conversation and have started to ask ourselves and each other questions about the “having it all” mentality. Who decided what “having it all” means? On what cultural values does this mentality depend and do they align with our values? What narratives do we tell ourselves about what “having it all” looks like and do they work for us?

Having it all means choosing- choosing what it means to us to have it all, choosing our values, choosing how we think about our priorities, and choosing our own narrative. Choosing is not an easy task. For generations, we have had our choices and our consent removed from our view. The human rights movement has changed this and continues to bring our choice and consent into sight.

So, what does having it all mean to you? Does it mean being happily partnered, having children, working in a meaningful career? Does it mean being a stay-at-home parent? Does it mean working in a career that allows you to travel around the world eight months out of the year? Does it mean devoting your time to your career and volunteering? There are as many possibilities as there are people. It’s challenging to connect to a personalized definition of “having it all.” We’ve spent years reading from the scripts handed down to us and committing them to memory.

To me, “having it all” means connecting to my sense of purpose and my choices. It is not a fixed definition and it changes from year to year and throughout phases of my life. Sometimes having it all looks like a lot of intense work in my career. Sometimes it looks like more time spent in the domestic domain of my life.

To figure out what “having it all” means to you (and to see if you already do have it all but don’t realize it), try asking yourself these questions:

 

  • What feelings, thoughts, and images are evoked by the phrase “having it all?”
  • In what ways do I connect to those feelings, thoughts, and images? 
  • What are the values I was programmed to have and do they match my values now? 
  • What makes me valuable? Does that work for me? 
  • Do I believe that having it all makes me complete? Do I believe that not having it all makes me incomplete? How did I come to this conclusion? 
  • What are my priorities and how did they make the list? 
  • What are my capabilities? How do I know this? 
  • What beliefs, opinions, and narratives might I need to let go of to build the life I want? 
  • Can I see the choices available to me in how I think about things, how I respond to my feelings and situations, and how I identify and set my boundaries?

 

Life is full of struggle and things we want to change, but it’s also full of choices. It’s tough to recognize our choices when we’re feeling overwhelmed. If we haven’t been taught to identify and set our own boundaries, it’s even tougher. Self-awareness lends itself to the ability to identify our choices and boundaries. Identifying our choices and boundaries helps us connect to our sense of agency. When we are connected to our own agency, we can create our own meaning. We are free to define what it means to live a full life, have it all, and to do so wholeheartedly.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie                     

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

“I Love My Kid but Hate Parenthood.”

A while back, I wrote a post directed toward parents who regret parenthood. And I don’t just mean sometimes. I don’t mean that “Ugh, I hate this part,” feeling. I mean the whole thing, the conflict of loving their children but hating the entire process.

I’ve received a lot of feedback about it. Many people were grateful and expressed that they’d been feeling alone with their guilt and regret. Feelings are complicated, people are complex, and our culture is still learning how to accept and hold all of this. My message was that it’s ok to regret or hate parenthood, that it’s ok not to feel as though you were cut out to be a parent whether your kid is 3 months, 2 years old, 6, 10, 16, 22, or 27 years old. It seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

There’s a theory developed by Donald W. Winnicott called “The Good Enough Mother.” It was developed in the culture of the 1950s which is why it only refers to the mother. It’s more complicated than the title suggests, but basically, he tells us that parents should slowly titrate the soothing to their children’s frustration, that parents should slowly and methodically transition from immediately meeting a child’s needs to letting the child self-soothe and learn how to get their needs met. But that’s not all. Upon further study of his theory, we find that Winnicott talks about the dangers of chasing perfect parenting. He cautions that striving for perfect parenting does a real number on developing brains.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of parents, families, and children. I’ve seen parents who wanted children from the time they were children, parents who somehow found themselves suddenly parents, and parents who figured they’d want kids some day, so they had them. A significant amount of these parents realized that they didn’t like being parenthood. Not only was it different from what they’d envisioned; it turns out the whole thing (or much of the thing) felt completely contrary to everything they wanted.

These parents have struggled with regret, guilt over the regret, anger over what they feel they’ve missed, and angst over how this might impact their children. (Although, there have been some parents who swapped their angst and guilt for denial.)

These parents need to hear that they don’t have to love parenthood to love their kids.

There are a million reasons not to love parenthood- poverty, any and all of the –isms, trauma, lack of a support network, disliking our own children, resenting the responsibility and experiencing it as an unwanted burden.

If you are a parent who regrets or hates parenthood, you’re not alone. You deserve compassion and respect. I know it’s taboo to regret something society tells us is the pinnacle of love and value and meaning. If you would like therapeutic or referrals for adjunct support, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Know Your Demons

Know Your Demons

Have you ever watched a thriller about demon possession? Kind of off my usual beaten path, I know, but you’ll see where I’m going with this. I promise. Anyway, I like them sometimes. Every so often, I’ll check around for a good one to watch and see what piques my interest. I’ve found that sometimes I’m drawn to thrillers that make demonic possession of someone their central plot. (Which is surprising to me because I’m not usually interested in seeking out super dark stories about evil, especially when there’s more than enough of it to be found in the news). About once every three or four years, one of these dark plotlines pulls me in and I find myself watching an unsuspecting upstander begin the struggle of (and for) their life.

 

When I find a good possession thriller, I like almost everything about it. I like the journey the character takes from being ok (or pretty ok) to decompensating to being pretty possessed most of the time to being fully possessed all the time to finding progressive healing to being stronger and more conscious than when their story started. I like the tension over “will this character we’ve all come to love make it through this?” I like the research and deep inquiry that the other characters employ in an effort to find out more about the demon that is in possession of the victim.

 

What I am particularly drawn to, what I appreciate most is that there’s always ample time given to the journey taken by the characters in finding out the particular nature of the demon and its name. When the demon is called by name, its possession breaks. The demon always gives clues as to who they are, but they’re usually abstract and steeped in about a million layers of epic composition of poetry and require a doctorate in theology. At some point, to the rest of us, it pretty much seems like a lost cause. Just in the nick of time, someone puts all of the pieces together and discovers the name of the demon. Then we feel that surge of renewed hope.

 

What I’ve noticed is that, in all of the stories that I find most gripping, there are at least five commonalities:

 

  • There is a specific name of the demon, which when finally discovered and uttered face-to-face to the demon is the only defense against it.

 

  • The possessed or loved ones of the possessed enlist help.

 

  • The demon seems to have limitless ways of manifesting itself.

 

  • Someone, whether the possessed or loved ones of the possessed, experiences self-doubt, retreats, somehow finds the motivation to throw themselves into the metaphorical fire of terror and uncertainty, and contacts the demon for a head-on battle.

 

  • The demon never really goes away. It’s still there lurking around, but now the characters have more strength, courage, willingness, and awareness to deal with it.

 

I appreciate the symbolism because darned if that just isn’t that just how life is.

 

Whether it’s depression or anxiety or addiction or a particular pattern of behavior or thought pattern or chronic pain or the fear of fear or general dispiritedness, we all go through periods of life when we feel utterly possessed by pain and completely out of control. And many of us have found release through inquiry about the name of our experience or feeling and asking for help from loved ones, peer groups, and professionals.

 

Many of us have realized that our demons never completely go away, but that our relationship with them changes, and that with each bout with and experience of those demons, we learn to sit with whatever they bring. Through this long, uncomfortable process, we’re learning that our demons have many, many ways of manifesting themselves in our lives. We’re learning to coexist in a world where demons can’t be extinguished but instead faced with self-compassion, willingness, and courage. We’re learning to stop believing the bullshit they spew in an attempt to maintain their control over us. We’re becoming more connected with ourselves and with others, with life.

 

Keep on keepin’ on.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie

Learning to Stay

Learning to Stay

As a species, we’re in for some challenges. Humans have both nervous systems and self-awareness, the awareness of change, loss, and of death. We are aware that situations change and it motivates us to hold onto the situations we like and try to force a shift in situations we don’t like. We’re aware of loss so; we go to great lengths in trying to avoid it. We’re aware of death and generally fear it so, we engage in all sorts of behaviors and thinking in an attempt to gain control over it. Since everything is temporary, all of our grasping and holding and forcing and avoiding is useless. There is no lasting way for us to ever really hold onto something or someone, force a shift, or avoid change, loss, or death. And this creates a pretty uneasy sense of being.

 

Look at some of your own fear-based beliefs for a second. What makes you nervous? What are you believing when you notice the nervousness? What do you dread? What are you believing when you notice the dread?

 

We have an extensive list of strategies that we employ to avoid feeling the discomfort of these beliefs, to avoid feeling our fear of life’s fluidity. We numb. We fight ourselves or others. We seek comfort in addiction.

 

Underneath all of this struggle is the fear that we are not ok.

 

In the mythology of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama’s final challenge before he reached enlightenment was doubt. Mara, the dark deity symbol of humanity’s shadow side, our challenging emotions, appeared to Siddhartha in the form many distractions some of which were fear, pain, and lust. Finally, Mara appeared to him as doubt. Siddhartha experienced the most difficulty and discomfort with this last challenge. Siddhartha put his hand to the ground and felt the earth, calling upon it to ground him and give him strength. He looked up at Mara and said, “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.”

 

I’m always struck by this story. I find it comforting that Siddhartha, someone who had practiced for years, received years of mentoring and training and support, someone who was so well-resourced still felt the challenge of Mara, of the hard-to-feel, painful human emotions. I also appreciate that working through his last challenge involved asking for help, that he didn’t try to do it alone. And to boot, he invited the damn thing to tea!!

 

Siddhartha didn’t gain freedom from Mara all at once. It took years of practice and training. Gradually, after reaching out for help and engaging his own presence, he extricated himself. He was free.

 

On this quest for our own freedom, we learn of at least two important resources available to us as suggested by the Buddha mythology: 1) to ask for help when dealing with a challenge and 2) to be present with our experience of our process.

 

It’s so hard to keep ourselves from being swept away by the runaway train of our limiting beliefs, beliefs about ourselves and others, about the nature of the world; our fears of unworthiness; our doubt of our own lovability. Sometimes we can see this train coming for us and we freeze, unable to fight it. Sometimes we don’t see it coming; we realize we’re on it and don’t know how it happened. Sometimes we try to outrun it or fight it. One way or another, it picks us up anyway. Most of us are familiar with this cycle. Most of us know exactly what it’s like to be caught in Mara’s grip and to feel utterly helpless.

 

Asking for help is hard enough. Sitting with the discomfort, bringing presence to it is even more challenging. It requires a willing attentiveness, a moment of pause, and gentle inquiry. The sheer thought of asking ourselves gentle, inquiring questions when we’re in the middle of some kind of freak out brings with it its own uncomfortable trials.

 

Something I’ve found helpful both personally and professionally is Byron Katie’s work. It is aptly named “The Work.” She gives us four questions to pose to ourselves when we are facing the underlying doubt of our ok-ness. In those moments, Katie recommends that we ask ourselves:

 

  1. Is it true? We know that the experience of the belief feels real, but is the belief true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the indisputable evidence?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens for you? What is it like for you? What is the impact of this thought or belief on you? On others?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Can you sense what life would be like, what you would be like if you no longer lived your life by this thought or belief?

 

These four questions get us off to a good start in dismantling maladaptive or limiting thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs that served us at one time in our lives, but that are now crippling us. If you find it difficult to ask yourself these questions, start with this one: Am I willing to pay attention to what this experience is like for me? We can’t always jump right in so, simply bringing the intention of presence if often a good place to start.

 

I recommend first trying these investigative questions with a shallow or midlevel fear-based belief. Since we are often floating around in the experience of these thoughts and beliefs, identified with them, bringing attention and presence can be really intense. Start slow. If you’d like to apply this approach to deeper fears and beliefs including trauma, I recommend doing so with the help and support of a therapist or healer.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

90 Second Eternity

90 Second Eternity

The natural lifespan for an emotion is 90 seconds. From the time the emotion is triggered until it passes through our nervous system, 90 seconds pass. Something special happens to turn those 90 seconds of emotion into a mood or a type of day- our thoughts. Most of us aren’t sad or angry or irritated or frustrated or anxious for 90 seconds until we feel better. No, we think some thoughts, feel unpleasant feelings, think some more thoughts, feel a few more unpleasant feelings. We’ll get our behavior involved and maybe yell at the car in front of us or brush hurriedly past someone. Then, we’ll think some more thoughts and feel some more feelings. This can last so much longer than 90 seconds.

 

You know how it goes. You wake up and realize you over slept. First thought of the day, “No!! Why?!!” As you grab your phone to shut off your alarm, you notice that people have already texted and emailed with questions and concerns about pressing issues. You walk the dog, but he takes his sweet time making any progress on his business. You start taking an inventory of all the things you have to do today, all the things that will need your attention until you can finally relax at home again. Your stomach tenses. A neighbor, retired, stops to say good morning and casually chat. You feel kind of bad for pulling your dog away from her and toward home. You take your dog back home and grab everything you’ll need for the day- almost. You forget your lunch. You run to the train stop relieved to see that it hasn’t come yet. You notice that there is an inordinate amount of people waiting at the stop. You can see on train stop display that the wait time is longer than usual. You’re pissed again. Eventually, your train comes, and it’s crowded beyond measure, but you manage to climb in and hang on. You’re glad that you’re moving in the right direction and allow yourself to think, “Maybe because it’s so crowded, the driver won’t make the usual stops, and I won’t actually be that late.” Thanks to the fact that neurons that fire together wire together, your brain is used to feeling anxious about getting to the next thing so, it fires off more thoughts about how much you have to do, how stressful it all is, and how infuriating it is that you are wedged in between what feels like the entire population of the city. You arrive to work, find that people are impatiently waiting for you. As you start to think, “At least I have my delicious lunch waiting for me at lunchtime,” until you remember that you left it sitting on the table in your haste to make the train.

 

Yikes. This morning sounds stressful. We’ve all had them. Sometimes we’re able to regroup and make the next half of the day better, other times we just don’t think we have it in us. We’ve all definitely blamed a bad mood, bad day, even a bad week on a morning like this. Together, the frustrating events and our thoughts created a perfect storm for continued feelings of unpleasantness. (And we all know that it doesn’t even necessarily take an event in tandem with thought to cause more uncomfortable feelings. We can do it all by ourselves armed with only our thoughts.)

 

The thing is, it’s pretty much always our thoughts that create the unpleasantness. Traffic jam got you upset? Thoughts. Colleague irritating you? Thoughts. Afraid you won’t get what you want at work? Thoughts. Resentful that your spouse hasn’t once thought to clean the baseboards? Thoughts. Tired and cranky and stressed and busy? Thoughts.

 

Don’t get me wrong, thinking is totally a part of the human experience, and there is no way to avoid it (unless we experience major cognitive decline). And I’m not saying thoughts are bad; they’re not. They can be really useful to us. It’s the meaning we make of them and the rumination that challenges us. We decide that an event means a certain thing so we think thoughts associated with that thing and they gain momentum. Ultimately, the fear is that we are not ok/will not be ok as a result of it.

 

When we experience and unpleasant feeling, think thoughts associated with it, fear is often at the heart of it; we are usually attuning to some kind of vulnerability of life.

 

We can’t and don’t need to avoid or thoughts, but we could learn how to guide them. We could learn how to use our thoughts instead of being used by our thoughts.

 

Some people are fine with this and don’t experience that much suffering with their thoughts, or they do, but they find purpose in their suffering. To those, people I say, great! Looks like you’ve figured out what works for you and you don’t need me to tell you anything. To everyone else, I feel you.

 

And some of you might say, “Whatever, dude, stuff is stressful!! I can’t just not be stressed. I’m not flakey enough. What, am I suddenly just not going to care about being on time, what my boss thinks of me, or if I’m doing life right?!” And the answer is… kind of. You can be less stressed though it certainly won’t happen suddenly. (And you will also see that you are doing life just fine, but we won’t get to that yet.)

 

When we care about how we feel, we are more deliberate with our thoughts. If we don’t care about how we feel, then we allow ourselves to fall down the rabbit hole of rumination or put our happiness in the hands of other people, places, and things. The trick is to remind ourselves that we care about how we feel. The other trick is to ask ourselves these questions:

 

1)Do I care about how I’m feeling?

2)What am I observing about my experience right now?

3)It’s hard to feel __________.

4)What can I do about the situation I’m in?

5)What can I do to make myself happier/more at peace/neutral (whatever feels doable for you) in this moment?

 

It’s natural to think about what we have next on the agenda, what we have yet to accomplish, the miles to go before we sleep. And feeling time-poor and responsibility-rich is challenging. I’m not saying that you have to get to a place of rapturous joy on that crowded train with your whole day in front of you, but maybe you can feel a little less dread and discomfort. You can feel a little more grounded.

Because we have nervous systems, we won’t always be able to respond like this. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be humans having human experiences.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Say So…

If You Say So…

When I was past the fledging-therapist stage, but not yet a seasoned professional (so, maybe the adolescent-therapist stage), I was talking with my mentor about a clinical struggle I was having. I was really going through it. This is the day that he told me about the “If you say so” approach to life. The idea is pretty much “you are what you think,” but with more of an emphasis on personal accountability. He hadn’t said much about it when I had already decided that I hated it and that he was totally wrong. I remember fighting him pretty hard on it and trying to get him to validate that actually; I needed an easier, softer approach. He said, “Soft, yes. Easy, no.”

 

The “If you say so” teaching is easily described as this: the more energy we spend thinking about something, the more of a belief it becomes and the more probable the outcome of its nature. So, if I spend a lot of time thinking, “I can’t mess this up. It would be a disaster. I can’t. mess this. up!!” then, eventually I’ll believe that I really can’t mess whatever it is up because it would be a disaster. The more I believe it, the more pressure I put on myself and the higher the likelihood that I will make a mistake (“mess this up”) because I’m operating in panic or anticipatory anxiety mode. It’s not just about the words, but the feeling behind them. When we’re thinking these thoughts, we’re often feeling/sending ourselves the feeling of fear, dread, threat, or criticism.

 

I hated this approach so much when my mentor first told me about it because I didn’t like the idea that my outcome was my responsibility. I was coming out of a “, but life just happens to me!” phase and although it wasn’t serving me anymore, I was still seeking validation that it could. He wasn’t having any of that, though, so he continued to carry the accountability torch. For months we talked about the truth behind the fact that if we think something enough, we’ll believe it and it will manifest in our life situations. I staunchly defended against it, tried to poke holes in it, anything. Luckily, I failed.

 

After many (m a n y) conversations about it and the eventual incorporation of the practice into my own life, I began to experience the beauty of “If you say so.” I also realized that my mentor was teaching me to hold myself accountable for my choices of thought and responses in an incredibly self-compassionate way. He never used those exact words (it was something more like “show up for yourself” or something), but knowing what I know now, it’s clear that he was teaching me to cultivate self-compassion.

 

It was the “showing up for myself” or self-compassion that really made me adopt the belief that “If I say so,” it’s true. I looked back at all the negative self-beliefs I’d held and made clear associations between my negative thoughts that I’d turned into negative beliefs which turned into real things and situations. Since I had been paying attention to my thoughts and choosing them more deliberately, I was also able to see how I had turned my positive thoughts into positive beliefs which turned into real things and situations. For the first time, I felt empowered. I could decide how I was going to feel. I could decide what my experience was going to be like. I could decide how to respond to something, how much to personalize something, how much to let something go. It was my decision whether I was going to let a rude comment or a mistake or a scary situation ruin my day or week. I knew for the first time that I could let feelings and situations inform me and then let the rest go.

 

Research has confirmed that self-criticism and negative self-beliefs directly impact behavior, achievable outcomes, and self-efficacy in a negative way. Research has also confirmed that self-compassion and positive self-beliefs directly impact behavior, achievable outcomes, and self-efficacy in a positive way. The power in that is crazy!!!

 

Sometimes a lot has to happen before we feel ready to just switch our way of thinking. I get that; this was also true for me. I’d be happy to talk with you about what next steps would be helpful.

 

Give it a try first-

 

Right now, give yourself two minutes to observe your thoughts. If you’re having trouble and you need to jumpstart your thoughts (which almost never happens because they’re so good at flowing on their own except when you suddenly shine a spotlight on them), think about some of your goals or what’s important to you. Some people notice emotions or sensations in their body before they notice their thoughts. If this is you, then observe these feelings and sensations and notice the thoughts with which they’re associated. Do these thoughts, feelings, and sensations feel like a new experience to you or do they feel more familiar? Which beliefs have they fed? And finally, notice how these beliefs have demonstrated themselves in your life through your behavior, through a pattern, or through life situations.

 

The more we realize we really do have the power to create what we want to see in life, the more freedom we get to experience. (But again, I get it. At first, it’s like, “What the hell are you talking about? Shut up. Do you really think that if it were up to me, I’d have created this kind of life for myself?!”)

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Defending Our Limitations

Defending Our Limitations

Have you ever talked with someone about a problem that they have, and they’re asking for your advice and opinions and every time you make a suggestion they respond with something like, “Yeah, but it wouldn’t work and here are all the reasons why”? And you can “yeah, but” anything- “Yeah, but I tried that and my situation stayed the same.” “Yeah, but she won’t listen to me anyway.” “Yeah, but that would require me to change everything I’m doing.” “Yeah, but if I did that then I would have to go back and fix a million other things that I’ve left unaddressed.”

After a while, it starts to seem like the person whose problem your listening to isn’t really looking for a solution. In fact, it might even start to seem like they’re committed to feeling bad and frustrated and to the problem itself. You get impatient and say something like, “Well, are you going to shoot down everything I suggest?” or “I don’t know what the answer is.” And they say something about how they don’t mean to be contrary and then start the cycle all over again. It almost feels like an argument, and they’re trying to convince you of all the reasons their life will always suck.

Most of us have been on either side of this conversation and understand that both of these roles are frustrating. When we’re the ones acting as the sounding board, we feel like the other person just wants to complain. When we’re the ones complaining, we feel frustrated that we’re experiencing the problem and scared that we will never move through it.

But what’s the deal? What’s happening with this pattern? And what can we do to make it productive instead of self-defeating?

What’s happening with this pattern is that we are arguing for our problem or our limitations. We’re defending them. (That feeling you had about your friend seeming pretty committed to their problem is right on. They are.) We have a lot of reasons to argue for our limitations. Most of them have to do with core beliefs we hold and the narratives we tell about the world and who we are in it.

We pick up our core beliefs as we develop. As we experience the world, we make meaning of these experiences and internalize that meaning. Our core beliefs are born of this meaning. If I grew up poor and I experienced this as lack, I might have started to believe that there is not enough. As I continued to develop, I might have cultivated the belief that, “Because I am poor, I cannot have what I want.” This limiting belief might have prevented me from going to college and setting my sights on the kind of life I wanted instead of the life I thought was available to me in my current state of lack. Maybe my narrative turned into “Everyone else can figure out how to have the life they want because they came from money or had some kind of windfall or are not as challenged.”

I might even go to therapy in hopes of enlisting the help of a professional, but end up spending a lot of my time fighting the treatment and arguing for my limitations. (And if I’ve picked a therapist worth their weight they’ll challenge me on this so that I can get out of my own way.)

Defending our problems is a pretty common behavior and while it takes time and work to change it, we can.

 

Try this exercise:           

1) Assess your narrative: What story do you tell about yourself, about who you are in the world? What story do you tell about the world? What story do you tell yourself about your capabilities, limitations, how you respond to challenges, what’s available to you?                       

2) Assess your current core beliefs: What negative and positive core self-beliefs do you hold?

 

Next time you’re in an empathic space, explore these questions with yourself. No need to connect your findings to any behavior yet. Just be curious about it. Let yourself sit with what you’ve been telling yourself all these years and hold that with compassion.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Take Some Space

Take Some Space

“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.”
-Victor Frankl

 

We have so many goals and desires. We want to engage in purposeful, fulfilling work. We want to have enriching relationships. We want to be healthy, financially secure and loved. We want a lot out of life, but we don’t always allow ourselves to achieve it. Frequently, I talk about why we might block ourselves from accomplishing our goals, and today I’m going to talk about how we block ourselves.

And no one wants to hear about the ways in which we get in our own ways or things we do and think to sabotage ourselves. Most people don’t like to think about our part in unpleasant experiences. We like to blame it on other people, things, past experiences. Most of us find personal accountability pretty challenging.

Speaking for myself, I can say confidently that two things are true about myself: 1) I’ve set goals and 2) I have worked really hard to resist making space for myself to achieve those goals. Most of us do it with something. It’s not conscious. We think we’re fighting our hardest and fiercest to get what we want. And we are fighting, vigorously and ferociously. We just aren’t always fighting for ourselves; we are fighting ourselves, everything we don’t want (and sometimes, everything we do want). We get too handsy with the goal don’t allow for what we want to be a part of our narratives. We want to reach our goals, but we fight them.

I’ve heard stories like this from clients and friends for many years. We want something; we go after it, but somehow we end up creating an even bigger challenge. We get frustrated. Sometimes we give up and walk away. And resistance can be so sneaky. It can totally appear to us that we are taking steps toward our goals. But, then why do we feel further away from accomplishing them than when we started?

Take this common problem: “We’re not getting along.” Ok, I get it. We’ve all been there. We’re figuring out an issue with a partner, trying to see eye-to-eye on something, effect some compromise, maybe but it just… isn’t happening. We start talking about it, disagree, fight, and someone either blows up or walks way. (Sometimes both, am I right?) And we think, “But I’m trying to talk about it. I’m trying to help us reach an understanding. Why isn’t it working?” Sometimes it’s not working because we’re not allowing for the change. We’re not making room in our relationship or our communication style to allow anything different to happen. Instead, we are suffocating the possibility for change with a closed mind and heart, forceful confrontation, and poor emotion management. This approach resists the very change we want to see.

When I first started my private practice, I knew that I needed an office to see clients, but I didn’t have any clients, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my office rent. But if I never got an office, how could I see people? And I would just go around and around like that, sometimes for days at a time. Intellectually, I knew it would work out, but my fear wasn’t so sure about it. Eventually, I took the plunge and experienced the change I wanted to see. If I had never made space for this change, I probably would have given up a long time ago. Sure, there were obvious actionable steps I had to take in getting there, but first I had to allow for this thing I wanted by making space for it.

We have to make space to allow for the changes we want to take place. It’s true for any of these pretty common concerns:

“They don’t appreciate me.”

“I can’t lose weight.”

“I’ll never save enough money.”

“How long will it take until I feel better?”

“My life is one big clusterfuck.”

“I’m always so stressed out.”

If you’re finding that you feel you’ve been fighting for what you want and seeing low to no results, try this:

 

Step 0: Look into starting a mindfulness practice (get acquainted with how space feels)

Step 1: Step back from the situation (make space for yourself)

Step 2: Look at your situation (make space for possibility)

Step 3: Ask yourself if you’re forcing an outcome (more space)

Step 4: Extend compassion for how hard it is not to force an outcome (compassionate space)

Step 5: Be interested in other possible responses to your frustration and feelings (constructive space)

Step 6: Try some of them (adventurous space!)

Step 7: See what happens (curious space)

 

Sometimes we have to have a knock-down-drag-out fight for what we want. Sometimes we just have to allow space for it to be.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie