Get Noticed

Get Noticed

Many creative and content creators have doubted their abilities to share something inventive. They’ve experienced plenty of starts and stops. Self-doubt is often an integral part of the creative process.

 

On some level, most of us experience this. Self-doubt has a way of creeping in through all sorts of corners of our minds when we’re promoting an idea, ourselves, and sharing our perspectives with the world. No matter what field we’re in, as we try to figure out what and how we’d like to contribute we feel overwhelmed by the saturation and think, “What do I have to share that hasn’t already been shared? Can I find an innovative idea to express or even an innovative way to express it?” It’s easy to silence ourselves.

 

I experienced this self-doubt when I first opened my private practice. I looked at how many listings there are for psychotherapists in my city and thought, “What?! How’s this going to work?” I felt this the entire way through building my first website, and I felt it multifold when I decided I was going to keep a blog. And now and then that doubt resurfaces.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with experienced practitioners, mentors, and supervisors who told me different variations of the same thing- There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

 

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on their variations of this message I realized they were right. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, and completed trainings that are similar but land with me in different ways depending on the speaker and where I am in my practice and my own life. (And obviously, even this message I have been relying on all these years has been restated by the people whose advice I’ve valued most. It has never lost its impact.)

 

Broadening this perspective, we can see how many voices uttering the same message from slightly different points of view strengthen a movement and a message- Black Lives Matter, LGBT Equality, Women’s Equality, healthcare reform, and so many other critical causes. There is strength in numbers. What’s not powerful about adding to a growing movement?

 

We need to hear from each other. We need to make ourselves visible so that other members of our community see themselves reflected in us. We cannot hear a message about something until it resonates with us and not every voice or every group will resonate with all of us. So we need to hear from Black members of our community, Transgender members of our community, working single moms, upwardly mobile millennials, professional women, the neuroscience community, the spiritual communities, our youth, people with a sense of humor, people who embrace their vulnerability. I might not be able to hear the message that a 67-year-old straight, white man has to say, but I might be able to hear it from a Biracial, Queer, 67-year-old woman. I also might need to hear the same message from people across communities and identities and intersections.

You have a valuable voice and message worth sharing. You don’t have to sound like Audre Lorde or Tony Robbins or June Jordan. Stay authentic. Sound like yourself. There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

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                     

Say It Better

Say It Better

It occurs to me every so often that my job is instrumental in helping me manage life. I’m really lucky. I get to spend my days learning about what works and what doesn’t and for whom. I get to talk and think all day about the human brain and its connection with the body, what to do when we find ourselves in various pickles, and best practices for increasing our well-being. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I take for granted. Last week, I realized how much I take for granted having a constructive conversation.

 

All the time (and I mean, constantly) I hear people say to one another, “How many more times are we going to have this conversation?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” or “How long are we going to have to keep revisiting this subject until you finally get it?” Most of the time the answer to that question is- however many times it takes because we don’t learn from lectures and conversations and words alone. Our most effective preceptor is experience. So, on the one hand, when a need or a goal is really important to us, and we feel it’s not being met, we can definitely count on having multiple conversations about it over and over and over. We might as well make ourselves a little more comfortable and feel a little less crazy by learning how to practice and apply effective conversation skills.

 

You might remember from the 80s, the T.H.I.N.K. method for communication (which I’m not totally sure but I think might have been founded on some Buddhist principles for wise speech).

 

At some point, you probably saw the poster for it in a humanities class, at a presentation given by your Human Resources department, or on a wall in your kindergarten classroom. Decades later, most of us have forgotten the message brought to us by that wise little poster. At any rate, it said:

 

Before you speak,

 

T- is it thoughtful?

H- is it helpful?

I- what is my intention?

N- is it necessary?

K- is it kind?

 

And honestly, it’s a technique that I use every day, both at work and in the rest of life. We cannot underestimate the healing power of deliberate and compassionate communication. I’m going to break it down with some more questions for deeper self-inquiry. The T.H.I.N.K. method is always simple, but it’s not always easy.

 

T- it is thoughtful:

Have I reflected on my experience to optimize this conversation? Am I fully present for this conversation or am I feeling pretty reactive right now? Am I clear on my message, needs, experience, and feelings? Is this a good time for each of us to talk about it?

 

H- is it helpful:

Does this help the other person understand my experience? Does it help me express my feelings and needs? How will it help our connection?

 

I- what is my intention:

What do I want the other person to know about how I am feeling and what I need? What do I need from this interaction?

 

N- is it necessary:

Is what I am about to say critical to my message? Is it essential to understanding my experience?

 

K- is it kind:

Am I approaching this conversation with the utmost dignity, respect, love, and compassion for myself and the other person? If I am feeling reactive, am I trying to hurt the other person so that they feel what I feel? For both of us to get the most out of this, do I need to pause or take a longer break before I continue this discussion?

 

Sometimes it’s not possible to be this thoughtful. We’re people, and we react when we feel strongly about something. Sometimes we act or speak impulsively. And sometimes others can’t or won’t hear us no matter what. And sometimes there just isn’t time and space. Our world moves at hyper speed, and we are pretty consistently pressured by this. But when we can pause for a minute, reflect, and inquire, we give ourselves and others the gift of clarity. Over time and with practice, we find that this quality of communication paves the way a deeper insight. This is crucial for changing behavior and patterns. Go forth and effectively communicate.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

Pain is inevitable. If you’re alive, you feel pain. I write a lot about techniques and skills we can engage to alleviate our pain and suffering. There are so many options available to us, and I like to spread the word about protocols I’ve found useful. When we’re in emotional, physical, or spiritual pain, sometimes we need to apply a technique or change positions or take a medication or seek support to help ease some of our burdens.

And sometimes we need to sit with it.

This is often confusing to us because of our cultural messaging about pain. It’s categorized as “bad” and in need of immediate amelioration. It is our adversary. The way we deal with pain is to either totally stigmatize it and think we must be bad humans if we’re experiencing it or to completely normalize it and search for someone or something to help us keep ourselves from feeling it. We think “I’m in pain. I must be bad,” or “I’m in pain and I can’t handle it.” If we are in pain, we’re encouraged to throw everything we’ve got in our tool kits at it and never look back. Take a pill; take ten pills; take a vacation; move; buy something; buy everything; get rid of everything you own and live a monastic, minimal life; get a divorce; get married; do something; do anything; produce any external result.

There is a time for acting, for taking steps, for making major life changes and there is a time for inaction, for sitting with the information we’re receiving from our pain or discomfort. “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

All over the internet, in magazines, in self-help books, at workshops we can find myriad strategies for managing and relieving pain. Everywhere we look we see titles reading, “5 Quick Tips for Relieving Anxiety” and “6 Ways to Getting Over It.” I contribute to this, too! I write about tips and sometimes use catchy titles in hopes of drawing attention to tools I’ve found useful both personally and clinically. It’s great to have so many options, and it’s proficient to apply techniques to feeling better. But the answer isn’t always to do something.

It’s important that we face our pain, see it, and pay attention to it. It is important that we hear what our pain is telling us. Pain is useful. It communicates perceived danger, wounding, and injury. It contains essential information about our immediate and unmet needs.

Pain is always trying to tell us something, and it will never get its need met if we don’t figure out what it’s telling us. If it doesn’t get its need met, it will keep gnawing at us in bigger and louder (and often more uncomfortable) ways. Pain understands that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. So, it opens its mouth and talks to us anyway it knows how. If that doesn’t work, it raises the volume of its voice and continues to raise it until we hear what it’s saying and investigate. If we treat our pain with respect, dignity, and curiosity, we will begin to understand what it needs from us. The more we understand our pain, the less afraid of it we will be and to sit with it will feel more tolerable. Eventually, our relationship to pain will change.

There are two irrefutable truths about pain: 1) We will always experience it and 2) It will always hurt. We will always experience pain because we are living beings and all living beings experience some form of pain. It will always hurt because that is the most effective way of getting our attention.

As we learn to sit with our pain we will begin to notice that our reactions to much of our pain stimuli will change from “Oh my god, I’m going to die,” to “Oh my god, I feel like I’m going to die,” and “This really sucks but let’s see what the hell is happening here,” and “Damn, I’m in so much pain. Let’s see what this pain wants or needs from me,” and so on.

If you’d like to try this on your own, I recommend experimenting with something more surface-level at first. Try sitting with a minor irritation like an itch or the frustration of waiting for a website page to load. With more substantial pain, it is wise to start our inquiry into our pain with the accompaniment and guidance of a skilled practitioner. A lot can come up, and we can become very overwhelmed very quickly. That’s kind of the thing about pain, isn’t it? Sitting with it is, well, painful.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

(Side note: I am right there with you. I also don’t like pain and still find myself avoiding it or ignoring it. No one is exempt from this process.)

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

How to Get SMART About Your Goals

How to Get SMART About Your Goals

Setting goals is fairly easy. Most of us experience times in our lives when we know what we want to accomplish whether it’s buying a home, getting a degree, helping to pass a bill, learning a new method of practice for work, strengthening the upper body, swimming a faster mile, and whatever else. It’s easier to know what we want; it’s almost never easy to plan the steps toward getting there. We get lost in the process, frustrated, and eventually, let it go. (And we often chalk it up to another failed attempt at something which bums us out.)

 

Many psychotherapists use a model to help clients plan and reach their goals using the SMART method. This method is attributed to Peter Drucker, business person and author, and developed by Robert Rubin, organizational psychologist and author. The protocol helps to clarify goals, ensure that they are attainable, and plan alternative strategies if they are in any way unreachable. SMART recommends that each goal we set should be:

 

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

 

Broken down into clarifying questions, each step helps the person identify the goal, plan the strategy, and set up accountability. Since 1981, both psychologists and business people have expanded and improved the SMART method, making it increasingly accessible to anyone. I have collected a lot of their suggestions and plugged them into this post. (If you’d like to read more about the SMART method, go here.)

 

  1. Specific

SMART works best when our goals are specific and easily stated. If they’re too abstract or murky, it will be hard to know where to put our focus, and we will probably lose motivation.

  • What do I want to achieve? What is my goal?
  • Why is this important to me? Why do I care about this?
  • Is this achievable by myself?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What limits my achievement of this goal?
  • What resources are available to me/do I possess that will help me achieve this goal?
  1. Measurable

If we have measurable goals, we can keep track of our progress which will help us to maintain our momentum, especially when the going gets tough. Tracking our progress helps us to stay grounded in our goals and the steps toward meeting them through the process.

Here’s how to make sure our goals are measurable:

  • How much/many?
  • How often?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?
  1. Achievable

Our goals must be realistic and attainable to ensure true success. We are not looking for an impossible challenge. We are stepping outside our comfort zones to meet a reasonable goal. We must look at our limits and our resources in preparation for the terrain ahead of us.

An achievable goal will usually answer these questions:

  • How can I accomplish my goal?
  • How realistic is the goal based my limits?
  • What are the potential challenges?
  • What or who do I need to enlist to help me meet the challenges?
  • What, if anything, is outside my control that might impact my achievement of my goal?
  1. Relevant

It’s imperative that you have your own buy-in with the goals that you set for yourself; otherwise, you will most likely lose interest and wander off the path you’ve set.

Ask yourself:

  • Does this goal and what it will take to accomplish it seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time for me to take on this challenge?
  • If I have enlisted others, does this goal also compliment their needs and abilities?
  • Is this goal realistic for my environment?
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?
  1. Time-sensitive

Our goals need a deadline. It’s helpful to know how much time we have to accomplish something so that we have a firm boundary in which to meet all of our deliverables. It’s really easy to get distracted by our everyday routines and to lose focus of our goals. This step will help us bring our focus back to the plan we have carefully implemented.

A time-bound goal answers these questions:

  • When is the reasonable deadline?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do one week from now?
  • What can I do today?

Setting SMART goals enables us to find out why we want to achieve something and the choices we can make to get there. Often, setting up our SMART goals helps us to see that we need to tweak our expectations, ask for help, or reach a stepping-stone goal before our original goal so that we can lay the necessary groundwork. Try it out. Start with a small goal and see how it feels to use the aid of a well-researched procedure to accomplish your goal. (I use it off and on for personal and professional development goals, and it’s almost like having a little personal assistant.)

 

If you’d like support as you set and plan for a goal, let’s talk.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Resources, Not Defense Mechanisms

Resources, Not Defense Mechanisms

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

-Rashani

 

I’m a huge fan of meditation and mindfulness. I’m thrilled by the research that continues to pour forth in support of these practices. Having a regular practice that includes mindfulness and meditation has improved my quality of life, my clinical practice, and the lives of many of my clients.

 

Like anything, though, there are misunderstandings about how to apply these practices. It’s easy to misinterpret phrases like “let it be,” and “just allow it,” and “radically accept,” and other concepts of meditation and mindfulness.

 

I often hear, “Yeah, I tried mindfulness and meditation, but it didn’t really work,” or “Nothing happened,” or “I still feel overwhelmed,” “There’s always some new challenge in my life. Meditation and mindfulness can’t help me.”

 

A couple of things might be happening when we feel like this:

 

1) We might not be focusing on cultivating a regular practice (which, when we do, helps us to achieve the highest benefits they have to offer us).

 

Like anything, meditation and mindfulness serve us best when we commit ourselves to a regular practice. The same is true for exercise, eating our vegetables, studying, and pretty much everything else. We practice whatever we want to get good at, right?

 

We also practice whatever we have learned to practice. Some of us practice perfectionism or worrying or self-criticism or blaming or avoidance. Then it can sort of feel like a battle of the practices. We try to observe our thinking (mindfulness practice) then we notice how worried we feel so; we worry about it (worry practice). We can and do go back and forth with this. When we get tired and frustrated, whatever we have more practice doing is what prevails.

 

This is why it’s so important for us to practice using our resources every day. We are more likely to grab whatever we have more familiarity with and rely on it when we are in a crisis or when we’re feeling uncertain. If we’ve been practicing using our resources when we are feeling calm, in a neutral state, or less activated, we will have laid the critical groundwork needed to trust that they will be there for us. We will be well-rehearsed when a feeling or an experience throws a wrench in our sense of well-being, and we’re more likely to have the patience to find an adaptive response to it.

 

2) We might expect fewer challenges in life, for life to be easier.

 

Been there, done that. I, too, expected life to get easier and to experience fewer challenges once I started meditating and practicing mindfulness! I was pretty disappointed when I didn’t get a pass from pain and suffering. I thought, “Oh, am I maybe doing it wrong?” When I was super frustrated, I thought, “Yeah, this is crap and doesn’t work.” I would either abandon my practice for a while or strive even harder for the perfect practice.

 

It’s a pretty common experience. It’s also pretty common to try to barricade ourselves against life using the tools we have acquired. And we come by it honestly. We try to avoid pain and anxiety and whatever else by employing blame and perfectionism and addiction so, why not do the same thing using meditation and mindfulness and spirituality and religion and recovery?

 

The resources we seek are tools to help us manage life in a more fulfilling and sustainable way. They are here for us so that no matter what is happening, we can connect to the reasons why we love our lives and why we appreciate being alive. We practice using our resources so that we can use our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a more productive way, to connect with our presence and resilience.

 

They are not meant to be a defense against life or a means by which to avoid it. The goal is not to avoid ever feeling sad or anxious or angry or pain. We’re not going to, one day, feel like perfect humans with perfect confidence and a light-pink filter over the pictures of our lives feeling like everything is all good.

 

We’re still going to worry. We’re still going to feel shitty. We’re still going to move through periods of our lives when we feel like we’re not sure if we can keep going. We’re still living in an uncertain world. We will still feel vulnerable knowing that we and our loved ones will die in an unknown way at an unknown time. The goal is to feel all that stuff, all of it, and grow from it. The goal is to feel all of life, allow it, and to let the feelings, thoughts, and experience guide us toward growth. That’s the point. Resources and tools can help us to stop tensing against life, to manage it, bring our best selves to it, and find fulfillment.

 

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

You Are Not Crazy

You Are Not Crazy

Crazy: mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way; mad, insane, deranged, demented, unhinged.

 

As women, we have been told that we’re crazy for millennia. Men have told us we’re crazy. Women have called themselves and one another “crazy.” For thousands of years, if our responses or feelings or desires or problems or pain or authenticity were inconvenient or contrary to someone else’s agenda we were labeled “hysterical.” We were called witches and burned at the stake (translation: “Women are evil and need to be killed.”), crazy and handed over to institutions (translation: “Women are fragile and manipulative and need to be locked away for everyone’s protection.”). The earliest record referring to women’s “hysteria” was found in ancient Egypt. Its documentation date is circa 1600 BC. Behaviors deemed problematic were attributed to the spontaneous movement of the uterus. There is documentation that supports a high percentage of female mental health clients, the pathologization of women and subsequent treatment in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance period, and the Modern Age. By the Contemporary period, more information about differential diagnoses had been discovered. Clinicians organized symptoms into groups and categorized them.

 

Many of us are aware of the diagnoses commonly given to women during the Contemporary period such as Neurasthenia, Depression, Anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder. The trend continues. Across the ages, it’s clear that women account for a disproportionately higher number in the consumption of mental health services than men. This is due both to the traumatic impact of gender bias (sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, toxic masculinity) on women and the pathologization of women and our experiences. Not only do women suffer higher incidences of violence, abuse, and disparate rights in our communities; research also shows that clinicians are more likely to diagnose depression in women than men, even when we have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms.

 

We need to continue to ask questions that hold our groups and systems accountable:

“Who is more marginalized in our community?”

“What’s happening to these marginalized groups?”

“What are we/am I not seeing? What are we/am I seeing, but not addressing effectively enough?”

“Why is there such a disproportionately higher number of women consuming mental health services?”

“How can we/I be more supportive?”

“How can we/I improve our systems and women’s experience of our systems?”

 

To any woman and girl, genderfluid person, however you identify, you are not crazy. You are not crazy for having feelings, for having trauma and responding to it or for getting activated in certain situations. You are not crazy for having Post Partum Depression or Depression or for self-injuring. You are not crazy for getting fed up with being undervalued, being seen as fragile because you have emotions or being seen as a bitch because you don’t seem fragile enough. You are not crazy for simultaneously wanting to fit in and wanting to be respected. You are not crazy for trying to navigate between being seen as nurturing enough, goal-oriented enough, sexy enough, ladylike enough, professional enough, dependent enough, independent enough, smart enough, nonthreatening enough… The system is rigged. And it can be crazy-making, but you are not crazy. You are operating in an impossible situation designed for your failure. Keep going. Keep fighting.

 

There is a sea of us out here who can and will listen, support you, help you to understand what’s working for you and what isn’t, and plan the next individual and collective action steps to take.

 

I’m with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie