Meeting as Equals: The Value of Person-Centered Therapy

In an earlier post, I discussed the counseling style I adhere to: person-centered therapy. Today, I’d like to share a short video clip from an interview with the founder of person-centered therapy, the late Carl Rogers.  To me, his thoughts at minute 1:20 & 3:00 highlight the essence of this particular psychotherapy style.

“I think that some of what I have done professionally in my work has been a reaction to my early upbringing. Where I was not heard, I really wanted to hear people. Where I didn’t dare to expose what was going on in my own world, I would really like to hear from other people – I would like to make it safe for them to reveal their own inner worlds.” ~Carl Rogers (at 1:30 of interview).

“What I learned was – if I want to seem very smart and very expert, then I will continue to diagnose and tell you what’s wrong with you and tell you what should be done. But If I really want to be of help, perhaps the thing I should do is to listen to where the pain or the problem or the issue is within you. And that had a profound effect on my later experience.” ~ Carl Rogers (at 3:00 of same interview).

“Perhaps the thing I should is to listen…”  My own personal experience sitting in the client seat along with professional experience working with individuals as a therapist has highlighted this truth: “meeting as equals” is invaluable towards the process of true self-awareness, understanding, and healthy emotional healing.  Like Rogers explains, we all have an inner world. Perhaps your inner world is composed of guilt, fear, worry, or pain. Perhaps it is filled with regrets – choices you wish you could undo, experiences you wish you could erase, and questions you long to ask . To sit with another human being who travels to that inner world with you – not in a prideful, demanding, or pressured way but rather in a humble, empathetic way – is a powerful and potentially transforming experience.

And why is it so impactful?

…likely because being completely alone in one’s inner world – in the hidden and dark places is scary.  Similar to being trapped in a deep, dark pit, being alone in this way can result in feeling emotionally “stuck.”  Fearful of being “found out” and nervous that we will be misunderstood or punished by those around us, we may be left with the feeling that there is no way out. Yet, seeing that another person can sit with you in that world and in your distress provides incredible relief. When we allow a safe person into that place, we begin to see ourselves and our circumstances differently. No longer am I so different, so weird, or so horrible when I feel the comfort of someone else’s presence there with me in the reality of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Knowing that I am not hated, pushed away, or rejected for these things provides a way for me to begin the crucial acts of self-compassion, self-forgiveness, understanding, and growth towards perhaps new choices and greater self-acceptance.

As a counselor, this is my heartbeat – my highest hope for the people I sit with: that they would know they are not alone. That they would feel the comfort and strength that is offered from sitting with another equal – a human being who is able to travel to those dark places with them in a safe and kind way.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Un-plugging this Summer: 9 Fun Activities for Teens Offline

Summer can be a breathe of fresh air for both teens and their parents who have survived the grueling, hectic schedule of the school year. In a previous post, I discuss the realities of stress that accompany adolescence, often due to the sheer number of changes and challenges that occur during this time of growing up. So, of course summer can and should be a relief for the student (and hopefully for the whole family).

However, in working with families, I commonly hear of how in this Age of Technology – the primary source of entertainment involves being online. Along with typical social media outlets (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, & Youtube), gaming online as well as marathon t.v. watching (Netflix) can take up an overwhelming number of hours for pre-teens and teens during the lazy summer days in between school years.

There is nothing wrong with having fun online or watching television. However, what we find is that when entire days are filled with nothing but being “plugged-in” and depending on a screen, a person’s mood tends to go south. Staying stationary for long periods of time, especially when isolated, tends to cause feelings of sluggish sadness over time. The reality is that getting up, moving, and doing something – even if for only a portion of the day – leads to feeling more accomplished, motivated, and typically better about oneself.  In short, having fun online is like candy. Too much of a good thing can turn sour and leave a person aching in the end.

Below I’ve included a few suggestions for alternatives to time spent online or in front of the t.v. The activities below are relatively budget-friendly and available regardless of the age and stage of the child or teen:

1. Relax by the pool. If you live in a neighborhood with a pool (or close to a community pool), this option is perfect. Easy access for families allows for a relaxing alternative to being “plugged-in” with the added bonus of a chance to get some Vitamin D. Being outside in the summer can be challenging – especially with the kind of heat we have in Georgia…being near the pool allows for a quick relief from the sun.

2. Join a team. While competitive school teams lasts throughout the school year, the summer can be a chance for your child or teenager to have fun interacting with other peers in a sport without the pressure of intense competition. Places like the local YMCA provide a variety of activities, including basketball, martial arts, swimming, soccer, and dance classes.

3. Volunteer. Volunteering can be good for the community and the young person engaging to better it. Helping those in need can teach teens important lessons of compassion, humility, and putting others first.  Nursing homes, homeless shelters, animal rescue centers, and so many other facilities are in need of volunteers. Websites like Volunteer Match & All For Good can match a person with opportunities to volunteer in their area.

4. Consider camp. Day camp and away camps provide fun opportunities for children and teens to experience what it is like to get out of their “comfort zone” – to be in a new place with new people and learn to tackle fun challenges in a safe environment. In this way, going to camp cultivates time for the young person to grow in independence and confidence. Camps exists for a variety of interests and are not only limited to younger children. A listing of camps in Atlanta can be found here.

5. Read. It doesn’t have to be a classic novel – like the ones you read for English class. How about a fun mystery novel or the latest comic book? Unlike watching a movie or television show, reading allows a person to more fully engage in the world of the characters and enjoy a story in a different way. Take a field trip to your local Barnes & Noble, peruse the aisles, and find something that peeks your interest.

6. Get creative. Drawing, painting, & crafting: only a few ways to let your creative juices flow this summer. Maybe getting creative for you looks more like writing a song/ playing music or choreographing a dance to your favorite new song. If you enjoy being artistic, consider setting aside specific time in the day to invest creatively.

7. Learn a new skill. Knowing how to cook, change a flat tire, or mow the lawn – these may sound like chores (and they very well may be) but they are also important skills that every individuals needs to have before entering the “real world”. Teaching these skills also provides an opportunity for parents to bond with their teen and pass along important tools. Consider making it fun by getting creative. For example, determine a certain night of the week as “their night to cook.” They get to plan the menu and together you shop for ingredients to make the meal. You are there to help but they are primarily in charge of cooking the dinner.  Added bonus: supporting their independence in this way creates an environment for self-confidence to grow.

8. Schedule game nights with the family. Puzzles, cards, board games – the options are endless. Plan a night at least once a week for your family to get together and play a game. Simple and fun.

9. Go for walks. Growing up, my family loved to go on walks together. It was a great time to get some fresh air, exercise, and talk about the day. Take a stroll around the neighborhood or visit a park with a nice walking path.  You’ll feel great afterwards.

These are just a few ideas – but you may know of even better ways to unplug and have fun. Hope you and your family’s summer is a time of re-cooperating and relaxing!

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Why Counselors Welcome Silence in Session

I have found that people often hold one of two fears about counselors:

(1) Counselors exist to tell me what to do and what not to do. (In essence, the belief that counselors exist as advice-givers i.e., An extension of your parent, spouse, or boss.)

(2) Counselors just sit in silence, nodding, and writing notes while I spill out my heart and then hand over a check at the end of the session. (i.e. The belief that therapists are mysterious and aloof, adding little to the therapy session.)

Coming from a person-centered approach, I believe both of these approaches to psychotherapy can be largely unhelpful. Thankfully, I work with a team of counselors who similarly believe in a different way of meeting with clients…

The kind of psychotherapy that I personally and professionally believe in involves cultivating a place of safety, freedom, and honesty. Meeting with another human being and providing both empathy and sensitive challenge to their unique way of being requires more humility than advice-giving and greater mutual cooperation between counselor and client than “lounging and listening”.

As human beings, we as counselors naturally carry our own experiences and perspectives with us, which color they way we see circumstances and those people we sit with each week in session.  However, we are also trained to acknowledge “our stuff” and strive to discern when it is appropriate and helpful to vocalize our insight (for instance, offering tools and strategies to help clients in dealing with stress and managing moods) and when it is necessary to “get out of the way.” “Getting out of the way” simply means to ethically allow the client time to explore the spaces of their mind and heart, which often go ignored or avoided until an opportunity of safe silence is afforded…

“Sitting with” Silence

In a culture & time in which there are endless distractions, readily available to sweep us away from emotional discomfort, it can become rare that we are faced with moments of “sitting with” our stories and acknowleding how we feel about our relationships, our jobs, our past, our future, and simply stated-our lives.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?:

Immediately turning on the radio when I get in the car. // Flipping through Facebook when I’m stressed and take a break at work. // Swiftly changing the topic of conversation when someone asks how I’m really doing.

I have been guilty of allowing some of these behaviors to become distractions. How about you? Do you find yourself escaping, minimizing, or numbing emotions?

How about the times when you don’t – when you allow yourself to feel and sit with the reality of the moment. What is it like? Until we allow ourselves to sit with and process our feelings with a safe person & in a safe place, it can be challenging to accept the reality of the struggle, problem or loss we have experienced.

…And this is exactly why I believe that silence can be “golden.” I notice that when silence is constantly “rescued” by my noise, that clients can become stuck in the therapy process. Further, their story is not being told if I fill it with my own opinions. Opening up space to think, evaluate, feel, and deal is not only helpful, it is healthy. However, it is not necessarily natural in a world in which so many interferences reside. Therefore, we must be intentional in seeking it out.

As someone who can attest to the deep value present in allowing silence to produce natural and authentic expressions of true feelings, I am ready to begin banning the presence of “awkward” before silence, and instead allow for silence to be exactly what it is: a needed, quiet space that offers the chance for honesty and freedom.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

The Stress of Adolescence: 3 Reminders for Parents of Teens

CRCT testing. SATs. Final exams. Finding a date to prom. Passing the driver’s test. Do I trust them? Do they like me? How do I look? My parents don’t get it…. My teachers won’t give me a break. Grades. AP Classes. Group Projects. Sports. Extracurricular activities. Parties. Dating. Sex? Fitting-in. Social media. Graduation. First job. College? Scholarships?? Future??? Choices, choices, choices.

…as an Adolescent Counselor, these are popular topics of conversation in my office.  Sitting with the teens I am privileged to work with, I find that one word most correctly describes the adolescent years: STRESSFUL. Surely this is a good description when we consider how these changes and challenges are faced within a mere 7 years (from the first day of middle school to the last day of high school). Further, if these hard choices, and milestones above are not enough, many teens face additional difficulties. The death of a loved one, separating parents, a diagnosis of ADHD, and cyber-bullying are just a few examples of more “wrenches” commonly thrown into an already-demanding plate of new transitions.

All of these things and more line the path of the relatively short time, which exists between childhood and adulthood.  Compounding these experiences and circumstances are very real biological changes: maturing physically and shifts in hormones that affect the way teens respond emotionally to their world of school, peers, friends, and families.

…Perhaps you are a parent and you are fully aware of this knowledge. You experience these changes and your teen’s reaction to them on a daily basis. You see the high’s and low’s of their anger, sadness, anxiety, and disappointment, and maybe you yourself have felt exhausted and even confused as to their behaviors…For this reason, I want to share 3 helpful reminders for parents – and other significant guardians-  of teens:

1. You will experience push-back from your teen. (It’s not a question of “If?” but “When?” and “How?”…)

As the adult and authority, you will experience some push-back and rule-breaking during this time of their expanding independence. This is normal. It does not mean your son or daughter is bad, and it certainly does not mean that you are a bad parent as a result. Also, it does not entail that they are trying to hurt or disappoint you. Rather, this is to be expected as they “try on” independence and test the limits. Not only is this normal, it is healthy. It can be a sign that they are gaining confidence and autonomy, which is important as they move into adulthood. We should expect growing pains to naturally occur during this time, and along with this growth comes some normal emotional tension between child and parent.

2. Rules & discipline are important. How you implement them is just as important.

Just as teens are expected to test some boundaries, you are expected to implement rules in order to protect them and help them move towards positive goals. However, oftentimes fears can leave parents worried of what is enough in relation to parenting. Too little structure can be confusing for teens (who are still in need of stability) while too much protection can leave them socially and emotionally stunted. Further, when teens cross lines and break family rules, it is important that parents discipline their behaviorwhile treating their worth and value as a person the same. Regardless of what they do, teens need to know they are unconditionally loved, valued, and secure as your son and daughter. This means that despite your (certainly justified) frustrations with them, firm yet respectful and calm conversations with your teen are the most helpful and productive.   

3. Their peers and friends may be their “world” but you are their Safe Place.

You may feel ignored and treated as if you were “annoying” or “a burden.” In fact, they may even voice this to you. This is, after all, an unfortunate side effect of the natural push-back, previously discussed.  However, do not be fooledthey need you. And not just for the basic necessities. You are more than the person who pays for the data plan on their phone or drives them to soccer practice. Teens need to know that after their friends have betrayed them (which they will), their first boyfriend/girlfriend has broken their heart (which he or she will), and after feeling rejected by a certain group at school – that you will be there to love them regardless. You are the safe place of needed understanding, and knowing that you are on their side is essential towards their development of a secure and grounded sense of self. On a daily basis, ask how they are doing and how they are feeling. Even if they give a short reply, they notice that you care.  You can never be a perfect parent; however, being a stable place where they can come to you and express emotions is invaluable in their journey towards adulthood.

Hopefully from these three points I’ve listed, the importance of your place in your teenager’s life has been highlighted. I feel privileged to walk alongside teens and their families as they face some of the ups and down of these difficult years together.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Daring Greatly [by Brené Brown] Book Review: Wholehearted Living Vs. “Culture of Scarcity”

Daring GreatlyIn the month of February, I had the pleasure of reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, & Parent, by talented writer & research professor, Brené Brown.  I consider Daring Greatly to be a fantastic – and important read for anyone who has felt or currently feels stunted – perhaps relationally, professionally, or emotionally – by the experience of rejection, shame, and the pressure of perfectionism.

A few months ago, I shared a video by Brené Brown on my blog, entitled The Power of Vulnerability.  In this 20 minute talk, she outlines the research she conducted for 6+ years on the topics of shame, vulnerability, and what it means to live Wholeheartedly.  She also candidly admits to her own personal struggles with perfectionism, her honest disdain for “messy” emotions, and the journey she endured in therapy to truly “lose the fight [for control] but win my life back.”

Daring Greatly showcases in much more detail the research and findings Brené touches on in her TedTalk.  It is difficult to summarize 250+ all-noteworthy pages of insight into a brief book review. However, I want to share one of my favorite points Brené shares, which is what she calls “Wholehearted Living.”

Wholehearted Living vs. the “Culture of Scarcity”

After years of collecting the stories of real men and women with real hurts, pains, struggles, and joys, Brené noticed a common theme in one group of research participants who she noticed lived “Wholeheartedly” or from a place of worthiness.  These “Wholehearted” persons who experienced a deep sense of love & belonging were only different in one way from others.  The difference was not in financial status, race, profession, gender, or age. The difference existed in one area: they believed they were worthy of love & belonging. Living from this place of worthiness did not shield them from heartache, disappointment, or loss. They experienced pain like any other person. Neither did they possess some kind of super-human ability to always say and do the right thing. They were flawed, made mistakes, and felt normal guilt just as any person does. However, Brené explains that the defining difference involved how these “Wholehearted” people viewed themselves. When life threw them a curve ball or they themselves made mistakes, they offered themselves grace & understanding rather than harsh criticism. Rather than reacting to life from a place of “scarcity” – (a fear of not being or having enough), Brené notes that Wholehearted living involves “digging deep” and seeing themselves in a realistic and compassionate manner.

Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem…Everything from safety to love to money and resources feels lacking” (Brown, p. 27).

“What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it” (Brown, p. 26).

“The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness…[which] at its core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough” (Brown, p. 29).

After reading Daring Greatly, I believe the idea of living Wholeheartedly is not a mere Self-Help idea like the “Power of Positive Thinking.”  It goes much deeper than patting oneself on the back. Neither does it involve sticking our heads in the sand and denying problems in our lives or within ourselves. Furthermore, to say, “I am enough” does not denote a narcissistic belief system or idealism that assumes “I can do anything” or “I can be everything.” Instead, it simply means that I can accept in essence my humanness – of feeling pain, of experiencing brokenness, and of battling shame and accept these parts of me as instrically human. To be enough, also means to be able to look into our hurts and our fears and see them for what they are, and to allow ourselves the freedom to exist with these things under the umbrella of kindness rather than under the umbrella of contempt and disdain.

“Leaning into the Discomfort”: Stepping off the Zipline

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” (Brown, p. 27).

Brené Brown speaks of “leaning into the discomfort” of emotional messiness in her TedTalk as well as in her book by embracing vulnerability. As I read Daring Greatly, one image kept crossing my mind: I imagined a child preparing to experience a zipline for the very first time. He’s on the edge of the platform, strapped in to the harness, and ready to jump. However, his heart beats fast in his small chest as his legs shake beneath him.  The fear is real. Walking off the platform means leaving the security of what is known behind and facing a thrilling yet risky challenge…he literally must lean in to the discomfort of the reality of his adventure. What boldness it takes to respect the fear, experience it, and embrace the challenge regardless.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path” (Brown, p.27).

I believe facing our fears – emotional fears- feels like this. I sit with courageous clients who dare greatly by sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences they have carried for years – and even decades alone.  Leaning into that kind of discomfort is powerful. It can also feel intimidating for the person exposing their truth. Further, it is a process to be done with a safe person (aka, a “secure harness”). One of the most true messages that Brené makes clear in Daring Greatly is that not everyone is worthy or capable of sitting with you in your place of vulnerability. I believe that especially with deep hurts and sensitive struggles, finding persons who can be with you in your discomfort to provide support and compassion – rather than judgment, advice-giving, or a legalistic “finger-wagging” is essential. A safe person allows the space for your story to be told without interruption and respects the uniqueness of your story as your own.

I learned a great deal from Daring Greatly and hope to share more  of what I gleaned in future posts. If you feel that the topics of the book I discussed speak to your own personal story, I encourage you to check-out Brené Brown’s books here.

Brown, Brené. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, and parent. New York, New York: Penguin Group Publishing.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

 

The Power of Boundaries for the “Highly Sensitive”

Boundaries 2Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own & take responsibility for gives me freedom.” – Henry Cloud in the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes & How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. [ A book I highly recommend. ]

If you are like me, the word boundary may feel a bit worn-out. Similar to being repeatedly told not to worry,  we have all been directed – likely countless times- that establishing boundaries with friends, family members, and co-workers is important. Most of us have experienced hearing more than a few of the warnings below, including…

“Don’t be a doormat and let them run all over you.”

“Stand up for yourself!”

“People will take advantage of you, if you let them.”

“If you give them an inch, they’ll try and take a mile.”

“Sometimes you just need to show tough love.”

I find myself cringing a bit when I read this list above. While the deeper message holds true [ setting boundaries is important in protecting ourselves ],  these statements sound a bit cynical, carrying almost a sense of  “us-versus-them” attitude.  For many of us – and especially those of us who tend towards being highly sensitive – these challenges can leave us feeling stuck in the fear of hurting those we love and care for. Perhaps the idea of defining boundaries feels like a daunting/near-impossible task as a result.  And this is exactly why I believe boundaries get a bad rap

Messages like the ones listed above may mistakenly teach us that boundaries represent “walls to keep the enemy out”, promoting an almost-aggressive and certainly defensive mindset.  However, as revealed by the portion of the book Boundaries quoted at the beginning, relational boundaries are not mean or a threat to others. Instead boundaries that encourage emotionally healthy living focus less on the actions of others and more on what your individual needs and capabilities are [ “knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for…”]. Valuable boundaries do not box us in, and neither do they entail rejecting the people in our lives. Rather, the opposite is true. Healthy boundaries mentally & emotionally set us free, allowing us to not merely survive but thrive personally & in connection with others.

“Boundaries are a part of self care. They are healthy, normal, & necessary.” ~Doreen Virtue

The Highly Sensitive (aka “Feelers”)

According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, those with a preference for  Feeling (over Thinking) as a function for making decisions tend towards believing,  “I can make the best decisions by weighing what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation. I am concerned with values and what is the best for the people involved. I like to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony.”

Establishing and sticking-to relational boundaries can present more of a challenge for the highly sensitive, or what the Myers & Briggs Foundation would define as “Feelers.” I can say this because, well, I am one.  Being sensitive to the needs, values, and emotions of those around us can be a beautiful gift and tremendous benefit; however, pitfalls include potentially loosing sight of “where I end and someone else begins” [ Boundaries ].  As a defining feature of “Feelers,” such sensitive persons are more inclined to allow the reactions of others to influence the choices they make. This presents problems when we notice the following tendencies developing:

  • Inability to say ‘No’ to requests, even when physical, emotional, & mental resources have been exhausted.
  • Sacrificing personal [ and reasonable ] goals out of a fear of the reactions of others.
  • Moving past healthy expressions of empathy and taking-on the responsibility of others’ decisions & problems.
  • Failing to structure personal ‘re-charging’ time into one’s day, in order to regain emotional & physical energy. [ And this involves more than merely time sleeping ].
  •  Refusing to notify close friends and family when in need of support & help.

And if you have fit one or most of these criteria at some point in your life [ perhaps even now ], you are not alone. When I consider a man or woman described by the bullet points above, I get an image of a water pitcher.  The pitcher of water continuously pours without stopping to re-fill.  After a period of time, it simply runs dry.  I don’t know about you, but when I am thirsty, I get cranky, frustrated, and even a bit resentful of those around me.  I may even expect others to magically know my pitcher is dry and understand how I am in need, without voicing my emptiness.  Over time, my anger & anxiety may build under the surface, erroding away my peace.  Yet who is in charge of re-filling my water pitcher?  Who is responsible for creating (or not creating) boundaries in my personal, relational, & professional life?

Boundaries = Advocating for My Needs & Respecting Yours:

How do boundaries set us free? If we establish wise boundaries in our lives – from how often we check our email, to the major decisions we make with our children and spouses – we can find ourselves leaving behind unneccesary and damaging feelings of guilt, frustration, & disappointment. And this is where I believe “Feelers” get stuck.  The highly sensitive may fear that advocating for needs appears selfish and is a sign of not caring for others. Yet, nothing is further from the truth. By taking care of myself, I enable my “water pitcher” to re-fill. I am my best for others when I am emotionally and physically healthy and strong. Putting in place boundaries is a form of self-care. It means we appreciate and respect who we are: human beings, rather than perfect beings.

So, how do you re-fill your heart, mind, and spirit? And how are you respecting & loving yourself by drawing lines and acknowledging your limits?

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

 

Less is More in 2014 [ Five Resolutions for Your Emotional Health ]

The New Year can be a time of feeling refreshed – of experiencing excitement and purpose in leaving old habits in the dust, creating new goals, and perhaps even pursuing challenging adventures! Maybe 2013 was full of disappointment and heartache. As a result, you are nothing but utterly ready to shed those bad experiences and discover new beginnings. Oppositely, perhaps your 2013 was a year of great joy, love, and achievement. Possibly, you are eager for what awaits in 2014, hopeful that good things continue in the positive direction they have been headed.

Either way 2014 is upon us. What will it mean for you?

“Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but how we react to what happens, not by what life brings us but the attitude we bring to life.”  ~ Wade Boggs

Many resolutions focus on the external actions and decisions we make, and this is great! However, it is important to recognize that our behaviors spring forth from the beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes we hold. I have created a list of moment-by-moment internal resolutions, which can greatly impact the way you react to the events & people awaiting you in 2014.

1. Less Ruminating : As a therapist, I am a big fan of introspection (thinking carefully and processing thoughts and feelings deeply). Introspection is important and can provide clarity, self-awareness, & direction. Yet, ruminating carries us into a darker realm where obsessive thought &  worry reside.  We may think of it as getting “stuck in our own heads.” It can occur when we are so focused on one idea, event, or worry that we are distracted from the here-and-now. Unfortunately, feelings of anxiety and depression often coincide with ruminating. Instead of ruminating, perhaps there is room for More Writing.  I often encourage my clients to journal. When our minds are overwhelmed, writing can be a great way of getting jumbled thoughts out of the darkness of our heavy minds and into the light in a very tangible manner. By carving out time in your day or week to journal, you are providing yourself with practical boundaries in the expression of certain thoughts & feelings. Writing can be empowering in that it gives voice to the activity of your mind & can provide peace and at times even closure when challenged with difficult thoughts and situations.

2. Less Negative Self-Talk : I have discussed self-talk on the Blog several times before because I believe it to be critical to individuals’ overall emotional health. Self-talk quite simply includes the words we tell ourselves.  Negative self-talk can appear as, “I’m a failure.” or “I look hideous today.” or “I will likely embarass myself in this job interview.” Negative self-talk is nasty and by participating in it, we are often setting ourselves up for failure. Negative self-talk is not only degrading, it is simply untrue. By viewing ourselves with only our imperfections or mistakes in mind, we are wrongly filtering-out the beauty and capability alive within us.  Instead of negative self-talk, consider offering yourself More Kindness. In contrast to negative self-talk, positive self-talk implies taking a position of kindness towards oneself. Many people so easily give kindness to family, friends, & even strangers yet struggle to see themselves through the lens of understanding and grace. In my Blog post, “The Good News of Being ‘Messy”“, I discuss this idea of valuing how you are created uniquely and dare I say beautifully.

3. Less Comparison : This is an important one, and it is closely tied with #2 above. In my Blog post, “Shaking off Comparison,” I discuss the very common hole many of us find ourselves in when we constantly measure our own worth by comparing ‘me to you.’  For so many reasons this is unhealthy and can lead to negative self-talk (mentioned above). And while self-degradation is reason enough to work on issues of comparison, there is another nasty side effect of comparison we often forget: damage to our relationships with others.  When we compare, we are- perhaps subconsciously- viewing the other person as an enemy. How often does this damage our ability to genuinely connect with those around you? Instead of comparison, how about this one: More Encouraging OthersTaking note of others’ accomplishments does not have to equate de-valuing your own abilities and personality.  In fact, praising the success and the positive qualities of family members, friends,  colleagues, and classmates displays a level of humility, which can be a reflection of genuine confidence in oneself.  Appreciating and vocalizing encouragement to others can also offer relief from the often draining cycle of continual self-appraisal. Looking outside of oneself and authentically supporting another individual can deepen healthy relationships, build the other person up, and simply stated- feels good.

4. Less Assuming : Working with couples and experiencing marriage myself has served to highlight the importance of this one. Jumping to assumptions and often the ‘worst-case’ conclusions in both romantic relationships and friendships hurts you, the other person, and your relationship together. In relationships, we may notice we tend do this as a form of self-defense. Fearful of being hurt or having past mistakes repeated, we may defiantly assume that we know the thoughts and intentions of the other person. Doing so can create unnecessary stress for us and anger on the part of your partner. I talk more in-detail about hostile communication, including the tendency to assume wrongly in my Blog post, “Throwing Paperclips: Relationship Conflict & Communication”.  In 2014, how about More Listening. What do happy and successful couples do? They listen. And it is the same with close friendships. It is simple but often overlooked that in relationship we cannot 100% know the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the other person. We so desperately need to be intentional in asking questions and listening to the answers. Anger may block us from this – feeling frustrated may propel us in the direction of blame and shaming; yet, this only leaves us and them with relational scars. Listening – rather than attacking – can save not only your relationship but rescue your emotional health.

5. Less Fear : Each of us experience fear – it is a natural response to an unpredictable world. Some of you have experienced very real, deep pain in your lives. Perhaps 2013 presented you with more than you thought you could bear at once. For you, perhaps fear is very much alive.  For others of you, possibly you have been living in fear for a long time. Either you experienced hurt many years ago or you witnessed damage inflicted on loved ones, and this has left you feeling paralyzed – fearful of moving forward.  Lessening fear is a process – not a quick fix. It means More Healing than anything else.  In my work as a counselor, I have spoken with individuals who do not feel worthy of healing. They believe that their situations are ‘not bad enough’ and that ‘others have it worse’ or that they themselves ‘do not deserve to feel better.’ People have assumed that their struggles are punishment for past mistakes. There is nothing further from the truth.  In truth, seeking the process of healing from emotional wounds takes time and it takes courage.  I am daily honored to sit with individuals who invest deeply in themselves, willing to do the difficult work of looking pain and fear in the face and committing to the process of healing. I talk a bit more about this process of healing in my Blog post, “Vulnerability in Counseling: The Face of Courage“.

I hope this list provides some ideas for stepping forward into the New Year and that you allow yourself Grace & Kindness along your 2014 journey!

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

The Good News of Being “Messy”

“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”  ~ Carl Rogers (Psychotherapist)sunset

Break-throughs, as most therapist will tell you, are those beautifully authentic, & at times surprising events that occur when clients reach new levels of self-awareness and understanding. We may think of them as the “Ah-ha!” moments.   Oftentimes, tears foreshadow these precious moments as emotional stretchmarks are taking shape – the result of leaning in to the discomfort and being present with the anxiety, the fear, the anger, the sadness, and whatever feeling is taking hold. Much like digging through the mud to find that precious gold nugget within the depths & yelling “Eureka!” at its sight, breaking through normally involves a great deal of effort, which in-turn makes the prize that much more valuable.

As with most aspects of our lives, we love the result – the product, the knowledge, the “goodie” – but we tend to despise the process. The getting-there is the hard part. The messy part. The rolling-up our sleeves and delving into the muck can be emotionally exhausting as it requires that we allow ourselves to be transparent with our very imperfect, human qualities.

In reality, this messy process occurs when we let our truth seep through. And truth may feel scary. It may even shock and disrupt the normal ebb-&-flow of our day-to-day lives, which has long adjusted to concealing our emotionally vulnerable parts as we operate under the false assumption of “I’ve got it altogether.”  In the process of facing the challenges of living, we  often experience the need and pressure to present ourselves to the world as flawless, shiny boxes with neatly-tied bows, in which our worlds are perfectly & cleanly organized.  We may falsely believe that “cleaning-up” our spills & stumbles and fitting ourselves within the tightly-closed box of both outward & inward perfection will protect us from harm and even propell us towards success. I believe this is false.

I tend to believe that this “perfect box” is not only unreasonable but it also thwarts rather than motivates our growth. We were never meant to fit inside the confines of perfect parameters. Furthermore, I think Carl Rogers [quoted above] was on to something when he compared people to sunsets. Perhaps messiness is not only intrinsically human but also wonderfully beautiful & valuable.

Valuable how? Valuable in the way that accepting our messiness can. . .

(a)  bring us to a place of humility,

(b) teach us about reality [ after all, the world is messy too ],

(c) free us from the trappings of impossible expectations,

(c) promote a healthy love of self,

(d) encourage greater kindness towards others [ no longer requiring perfection from them either ], and

(e) challenge our anxiety & worry by acknowledging [ & perhaps even welcoming ] events that color outside the line.

Now, people may reject this good news of being messy.

Some persons may reject it out of a fear of allowing themselves to settle and become complacent in possible areas of needed improvement. I certainly understand these concerns.  However, I remain faithful to the power of unconditional self-acceptance. In fact, studies of mental health (including this one: Self-esteem and Self-Acceptance: An Examination into their Relationship and their Affect on Psychological Health, 2006) confirm that discovering self-worth and gaining self-acceptance not only provides greater stability in mood [ managing depressed and anxious emotional affect, for instance ] but also results in improved functioning at work and at home.  

When we can be content and happy with ourselves, our whole selves, there is magnificent freedom to live wholheartedly – unafraid to exists in our own skin.  So, what parts of you overflow and spill outside of “lines of perfection”, and how can you love yourself not only despite it but for it?

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Recognizing Yourself as a Friend

friend

I love this quote (left) by Elizabeth Gilbert, an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer.  I believe it to be an often-dismissed yet critically important reminder.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about accepting and loving oneself, entitled: Being Kind To Yourself [ Shaking Off Comparison].  In it, I discussed the common struggle of negative self-talk & self-degradation in the light of not meeting our own highly-set expectations.  In that post I also asked this question: Are you as kind to yourself as you are to your family members, your friends, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers? In other words, do you offer-up to yourself the same kindness you freely give to others?

Sadly, for many the answer is no…

In this post I wanted to continue-on in this important topic of how we treat ourselves. Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote brings up an important question we should all ask: Am I a friend to myself?

Perhaps we should begin with defining friendship…

friend: (1) a person with whom one knows, likes, and trusts; (2) a person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade

This definition is in no way ground-breaking.  True, genuine friends see you – all of you. Friends know and adore your funny sense of humor, and laugh at your corny jokes as well as the stories you’ve told three times already. Close friends can see and admire your unique personality and way of being – your strengths and talents. Perhaps most importantly, true friends recognize your rough spots – your mistakes and challenges – and fully embrace you regardless. Through the thick and the thin, they are there with you: companions, loyal comrades.

The question, then, is: Do we embrace, cherish, and celebrate our own unique personality, abilities, and passions? Furthermore, can we recognize our own rough spots and embrace and allow ourselves grace regardless? Are we as loyal and compassionate to ourselves as we can be to the friends we love and cherish so dearly?

Returning back to the quote by Gilbert (above), I am struck by the words “in an unguarded moment.” What comes to mind when you read this? For me, I imagine a very young child spinning carefree in his parents’ backyard. In the summer heat, mom and dad have turned on the outdoor sprinkler for relief and he is now skipping back and forth in nothing but a now-drooping diaper. His smile stretches from ear to ear, covering his small face as his contagious laughter fills the air and warms the heart of his parents. He lives completely in the moment – entirely occupied by the coolness of the streaming water and the feeling of his bare feet in the green grass below him.  He lets out a high-pitch squeal as he jumps over the sprinkler head – running now as fast as his little legs will take him. How can he be anything but unguarded & unashamed in this moment? How can he be anything other than his own trusted friend?

And most of us can think back to these type of moments in our own lives – before designer clothes, cliques, GPA’s or career aspirations every mattered. Before we so quickly measured others up and ranked ourselves “accordingly”, looking for some defect in them to be satisfied with ourselves. Before we were damaged by the careless words of others, which we buried in the moment but left long-lasting scars. Before the world became tough so we got tough right back – built some walls, placing guardrails along the exterior of our heart and caution signs near the soft spots in our minds. Before  we turned against ourselves – no longer seeing ourselves as a friend but rather as a let-down, a failure, or possibly a desperate work-in-progress. Before all of that – we once upon a time saw that it was okay when we fell down because it only meant that we were just like everyone else: human.

Can we return to that child, that once-unguarded person who loved himself  and enjoyed his own company unashamedly? I believe we can… this time different, of course. Perhaps we are wiser now and sure, appropriate boundaries should be in-place. After all, the world can still be mean and circumstances of life can feel like ever-changing waves.  However, maybe we can begin letting ourselves in – giving ourselves a break and whispering “it’s okay” when we feel hurt and have had a bad day. Because it is okay. It is okay when you cry, and it is okay when you feel angry. It does not necessarily mean that you are wrong or a failure – but merely reflects that  you are a human with thoughts and emotions. And that is not only okay – it is healthy that your heart beats and you experience emotion.

How can you be a friend to yourself? Possibly by treating yourself as you treat your best friend…with understanding, compassion, and free of expectation of perfection. My prayer is that these words give hope and peace to those in need today.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

The Power of Vulnerability

In this post, I simply wanted to share a fantastic and eye-opening Ted Talk video, by Researcher and LMSW Brene Brown.  She presents findings from years of research on the power of vulnerability, the necessity of authenticity, and the importance of living wholeheartedly

I hope it challenges and inspires you as well. Enjoy!

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.