Cultivating Presence & Love: What Dogs Teach Us About “Being”

imageEight months ago my husband & I got a dog (Winston, pictured left), and amidst the process of potty training and curbing his desire for chewing corners of furniture, we found ourselves with a new best friend.

Further, in my little journey of puppy parenting, there are these small moments – flashes of insight – in which I feel like I am learning from our small companion…

Presence

“The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become self-critical about what we should be doing & feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are.” ~ Dawna Markova

I have grown to love walks with my dog. Winston loves to take his time, smelling trees and rolling in the grass. I admire him as I notice how he so naturally enjoys just existing, taking in the simple pleasures outdoors. He is great at being present. I cherish these moments; yet, there are other times when I sense an inward pull to something else. I can suddenly find myself tugging on his leash with the words “Come on, let’s go” spilling out as impatience begins to grip me. I notice how quickly and easily I can rob myself of these lovely opportunities for stillness. Suddenly in my mind the walk becomes a nuisance: a chore to get through and onto the next thing…

And onto what exactly? What feels so urgent? Typically nothing is so urgent or in need of immediate attention that I cannot relish a moment longer in this serenity. Quite possibly, I find that I’m merely rushing to the next thing because I am so used to “the next thing”: the next distraction. Much like Dawna refers to (in the quote above), there is a good possibility that as humans we have become uncomfortable with simply being, and this restlessness within ourselves pushes us to find something, anything to occupy the space.

Love:

Most dog-owners recognize how easy it is to spoil their pet. Ours is similarly well-loved. What has our dog done to receive all our love? Nothing. He just is. We love him because we get to experience life with him. He does not need to impress or perform and neither do we. There is love between us regardless. What a beautiful way of being. Yet, can we dare to be as accepting of ourselves as persons for being persons as we are of animals for just being animals? Perhaps loosing our hold on expectations for one another and ourselves allows for the simple, pure pleasures of love, play, and acceptance to flourish.

I wonder how these challenges –  to be present with oneself and to love oneself – are deeply linked? The distractions, the “somethings” we fill our spaces with – the new project, the new goal, more followers & likes on social media – how are these things too often merely a way of seeking love in the moment? How do they make us feel smarter, more well-liked, and successful for a brief time yet quickly fade, leaving us with that still deep desire for a deeper sense of love, acceptance, and worthiness?

To practice presence and love likely entails being aware of the small, daily, seemingly insignificant moments when we face the anxiety of existence and the pressures to be productive and prove our value. In these short seconds, can we resist the pull to “hustle”? Can we instead lean into the discomfort, recognizing the anxiety for what it is and choose to let ourselves breath and be?

__________________________________________________________________________________

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

Growing & Becoming: A Resource for Reflection

image

Friends,

In addition to continuing to share thoughts on topics related to mental wellness, personal growth, and therapy here, I am also excited to introduce an additional site for encouraging meaningful reflection. Growing & Becoming exists with the hope of engaging readers to “Find Solace. Connect with Meaning. Be Inspired.”  I created G&B six months ago with the desire to share weekly bite-size helpings of wisdom related to the following topics:

Acceptance • Beauty • Bravery • Connection • Creativity • Curiosity • Discovery • Empathy • Empowerment • Fun • Growth • Healing • Humanity • Humor • Insight • Love • Resilience • Wholeness

This month we are excitedly welcoming on several new Contributors –  friends and fellow professional helpers – with a desire to creatively celebrate these important matters of the heart & soul. To learn more and meet our team, please feel free to visit us here.

Warm regards,

Lydia

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Journaling: Writing What You Feel & Three Tips in Starting

painting“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Carl Jung

IMG_2071
I love to write. With time alone and a blank piece of paper, I find that journaling gives me the space and freedom to do what for me is most necessary: give name to what I feel. I often recommend it to clients desiring to invest in themselves & their emotional well-being.

How is Journaling helpful?

paintingI believe that journaling can provide insight through self-exploration. If we are to paint a picture of what our inner world looks like on any given day, we may witness a flood of different shapes & colors – a swirling mass of faces, places, worries, fears, hopes, and a plethora of varying thoughts splattered across the walls inside our minds. Some aspects of a person’s painting have been there for a while – years, maybe even decades. Other images are newer, even fuzzy and incomplete. As we go throughout our days, these objects come in and out of focus, at times rapidly appearing and disappearing as various events trigger changes in feeling & thought. In some moments, difficult emotions – feelings of confusion, pain, guilt, sadness, or fear are elicited by specific images and we often find ourselves pushing these away. Still, there are many parts of the painting which have been covered-up; yet despite being hidden, they have significant impact on the way we move and breathe.

In a sense, journaling entails carving out intentional room to visit the whole painting in an attempt to better understand… Journaling involves making sense of the ever-changing inner world of our hearts and minds by writing out whatever comes to mind. For many people, however, journaling seems daunting. I believe this may be due to its open-ended nature. Questions of How do I get started?What should I write about? may prevent getting started. What I have discovered is releasing judment and opening myself up to the process – wherever it takes me on that particular day allows for the “dam to break” and the words to come. From my own experiences, here are some tips in beginning…

Three Tips in Getting Started:

(1)  Make it Private. I believe the best self-exploration comes in feeling complete freedom to be honest. Unlike blogging for an online audience, writing a paper to be graded by a teacher, or planning a speech – journaling is purely for the writer. It is for you and you alone. This is not to say that you can’t share your findings later with trust friends if you so desire. Yet, I believe that engaging in the journaling process with the intention of it being purely for yourself allows for the unlocking of more deeply authentic emotional expression. In a big way, the point of this is to delete the “person reading over my shoulder” sensation that many of us have, which contains all of the expectations, “should’s” and “shouldnt’s” that oftentimes hold us back from acknowleding what we truly feel.

(2) Be as Creative as You Want (This isn’t for School). Many of us have strong associations with writing – we relate it to English class, papers, and grades. Journaling is wildly different. Maybe you need to write in the typical sentence format, but perhaps not. Some days you may find jumbled words, all caps, drawing pictures in the margins, and any combination of wording feels right. Try out different color pens/markers/colored pencils. The beauty of journaling is that it will never look the same from day to day largely because you never feel the exact same from day to day. This is your time, make it what you need it to be.

(3) Let Emotion Lead. A great advantage of the journaling process is getting in-touch with underlying emotion. A great question to begin your journaling time may simply be: How do I feel? Try writing this feeling word(s) at the top and begin there. Further questions may include: What are your feelings telling you? What images, faces, places come to mind with this feeling? How are these things linked? What does this mean for you? Through journaling – much like in therapy – we try to understand the meanings underneath the circumstances. This is different from much of life in which we are instructed to “keep our emotions in check” in order to function appropriately at work, in class, at home, in relationship, etc. Yet, feelings are utterly important and affect the way we live – whether we acknowledge it and like it or not. Journaling can be a way to wrestle with difficult realities in an honest and safe way.

__________________________________________________________________________________

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

Individuation: The Healing Power of Discovering Your Unique Voice

open door“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth.” – Abraham Maslow

Individuation can be defined as the continual process of developing one’s unique voice. It involves differentiating yourself from others – of “knowing thyself” as a separate individual. It includes embracing and celebrating your authentic self. This is a simple definition; yet, in reality individuating is typically complex and the journey demands not only a physical investment but at times an intensely emotional one as well.

If we look at the lifespan of a person, there are numerous transitions – or turning points – every man and woman must approach. Some expected, others not. Journeying through childhood, adolescence, the young adult years, and beyond, involves going down paths lined with hundreds of contrasting doors, each of varying shapes and sizes. Some doors are easy to unlock while others require a lot more effort. Opening certain doors of course means rejecting others and behind each wall awaits even more openings – choices and pathways to be decided upon. This labryinth called living presents us with endless decisions to be made, both externally and internally. From the careers we choose and places we live to the beliefs and values we hold, we have the option of determining our own direction, reflexively shuffling through the easiest openingstanding still, frozen in the doorway, or perhaps awaiting for others to push us along, relieving the burden and pressures of deciding

And this is why individuating, knowing yourself, becomes so necessary. It is not so much about which doors we choose as it is about how we choose them. Recognizing that your own unique personhood matters directs the way you move through life and approach transitions.

Individuating from Other Voices

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

We do not travel through life alone, thankfully. Our early guides – parents, teachers, siblings, grandparents, neighbors (etc.) help us find our footing in the very beginning. As we move forward, these voices do not typically disappear, they are often imprinted and stay with us. Later on, new ones are added: church/religion, school, friends, classmates, colleagues, bosses, roommates, associations, spouses, (etc.). These groups matter since they often deeply affect the way we see the world.

Individuation does not necessarily mean rejecting the messages, values, and beliefs encouraged by others. Instead, individuating means shedding our attachment to them out of apathy, expectation, guilt, and/or fear. Recognizing that it is completely natural and okay for your journey to look differently than those who have gone before you or even walk next to you invites the empowering experience of moving forward, open to the journey rather than shrinking, shaky in the pressence of overwhelming pressures to “be perfect” and “choose correctly.”

Individuating & Healing

So why does individuation matter? Why is it worth noting?

Because through discovering your voice and letting go of some idea of “doing life the right way” we can more kindly love ourselves where we are at and for who we are – the good, the flaws, and every messy thing in between. And when we arrive at that wonderful place, we can afford ourselves the healing experience of replacing self-doubt and self-hatred with self-compassion and love.

__________________________________________________________________________________

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

Acceptance & Empowerment: When Change Happens Deeply

sky photo“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”  – Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

Upon hearing the quote above, some individuals question psychotherapist, Carl Rogers’s message. You may similarly wonder, “How does that work?”

The idea of Acceptance preceding Change goes against much of the quick-fix/self-help/problem-focused culture we often find ourselves in. I must be ______________ (smart, “normal”, outgoing, thin, organized, well-off, educated, popular, confident, in a relationship, stress-free, employed, composed, attractive, spiritual, sober, “well-adjusted”, etc.) before I can be _______________ (accepted, loved, happy, respected, understood & okay). Yet, I question the depth of change possible when we try altering the outer behaviors and “problem areas” without also taking time to understand and attend to the inner person of who we are. Much like trimming grass at the surface only to have it grow back days later, there are deeper, much more complex roots that lie below and require understanding.

In my last post I discussed the idea of the inner Child – the part of each one of us, which is formed in childhood, and continues into adulthood, and which asks the question: “Am I Okay?” Related to this question, I believe change is what many seek when attempting to answer another quite similar question: “How Can I Be Okay?

Empowered to “Climb the Mountain”:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”  – Brene Brown

And why is self-acceptance, or self-love and the development of understanding one’s core self, so important and necessary for moving forward? Perhaps because in its absence, we often find shame. I find that shame can be explained as that gnawing, pit-in-the-stomach feeling that coincides with thoughts of “I’m bad,” “I’m hated,”, “I’m useless,” or “I’m uncared for…” Perhaps a specific event impacted the amount of shame you carry? Or maybe rather than the presence of something negative it was the lack of the positive (i.e. love, understanding, & validation) that resulted in your shame?

Regardless of what your shame looks like, carrying shame with us through life is similar to carrying added weight to one’s backpack and then attempting to hike – or sprint – up a mountain unsuccessfully. The weight is needless and unhelpful -pulling us backward – but we’ve carried it for so long. It has become “our normal” and we’ve become all-too accustomed to the aches and pains it provides. Stopping to unpack the extra load takes time and commitment. It also requires looking at difficult realities below the surface. Yet, it is an investment in ourselves and provides the empowering effect of standing and walking forward more free to create and enjoy the journey ahead.

Psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom, refers to therapist and client as “fellow travelers.” (The Gift of Therapy). I love this idea and I have found it to be true both in my role as counselor as well as in my own time spent in the client-seat. Traveling together in the reflective journey of counseling requires the difficult tasks of looking at the “weight” – the shame, the pain, and the confusion present. However, through the challenge it also provides the exciting experience of exploring what hopes are possible when a person begins to see him/herself through the lens of love rather than shame and encounters change happening deeply. ___________________________________________________________________________________ Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

On the Parent, Adult, & Child Within: The Voices that Guide Us

pacPsychotherapist & founder of Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne, is famous for creating P-A-C (Parent-Adult-Child), a theory about personality based on the idea that each person contains three psychological positions or “voices” that guide our interactions & choices.

I have found that this creative framework allows us an opportunity to better understand ourselves and the way we interact with others. Below, I hope to provide a basic overview of these three positions or “voices”:

the Parent: The “How-To” Recording

“Much Parent data appears in current living in the “how-to” category; how to hit a nail, how to make a bed, how to eat soup, how to blow your nose, how to thank the hosetess, how to shake hands, how to pretend no one’s at home, how to fold the bath towels, or how to dress the Christmas tree…” (Harris, I’m OK-You’re OK, p.23).

We can think of the Parent voice as the set of rules – the do’s & don’ts – naturally taught by our early caregivers. Dependent on our caregivers, these rules become ingrained as truth – what is right & wrong. In addition, the Parent involves not only the rules of right and wrong but also the manner of directing these rules. While the Parent voice can be nurturing and protecting, it may also be critical and controlling. When we recognize ourselves becoming stubborn & hypercritical (“My way or the highway!) OR overly protective (“The constant Hero”) of others in our lives, this is our inner Parent “coming out to play” in a potentially unhealthy way.

dad bondingthe Child: The “I’m NOT Ok” Recording

“Everyone has an inner child.” (Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK)

“On the basis of these feelings the little person early concludes, “I’m not OK.” Even the child of kind, loving, well-meaning parents. It is the situation of the childhood and not the intention of the parents which produces the problem.” (Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK, p.28).

Like the Parent recording, the Child recording is instilled early on in our lives. While the Child contains the potential for creativity & playfulness, it also consists of the “I’m NOT Ok” message. In reaction to being small & dependent on “big people” to survive, each little person’s insecurity arises here in the Child. Understandably, it contains much of the fear, guilt, and pain emotions we experience. It is normal to have a Child reactions, especially in shocking situations; however, when the Child continues to dominate into adulthood it can look like constant self-doubting, struggles in stating opinions, or consistently choosing the “easy way out” – escaping or numbing discomfort in the face of challenges. While comfort and support from loving caregivers can soothe and provide the necessary “okayness” for a time, building self-esteem & confidence is necessary towards positive growth and maturity in adolescence and adulthood. This leads us to the next position, the Adult…

the Adult: A Voice of Clarity

“Thus we see the Adult as the place where the action is, where hope resides, and where change is possible.” – (Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK, p. 67)

The Adult voice is the only one of the three that is not a recording. Instead, it is ours to create as autonomous, free individuals. Further, we must be intentional in forming it. The Adult does not neglect or ignore the Parent & Child voices but rather is aware of how the Parent or “taught concept” and the Child or “felt concept” impacts interactions and choices. The Adult position respects these initial thoughts and feelings yet is also open to the here and now – to being present & open to new information. The beauty of the Adult is in its empowering effect. Where the Parent & Child can leave us stuck – one in a place of dominant inflexibility (P) and the other in a place of personal insecurity (C) – the Adult moves forward with honesty and curiosity.

How P-A-C Appears:

An example of P-A-C may involve a scenario in which one’s boss giving an honest critique of lateness. The employee can respond in one of three ways:

  • the Parent may respond with anger & defensiveness, expressing “You’re one to talk about me showing up late! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you come into work several minutes late recently!”
  • the Child may respond with meekness & anxiety, stating “I’m so so sorry! I can’t believe I’ve been late…you probably want to fire me, huh?”
  • the Adult however responds with respect & honesty, responding with “Thank you for your honesty and I agree  – being on time is an area where I would like to grow. I’m wondering if I could can ask a few questions…”

What we can see here is an Adult who surely feels the same embarrassment & guilt of the Child & Parent yet responds from a position of remaining okay with oneself & open to change. This is only one example. You may notice your inner Parent or inner Child appearing in your life in more subtle ways – in interactions with friends, colleagues, family, or even strangers. The process of developing a strong Adult is not necessarily simple or easy. It is certainly a process and one that involves self-kindness, honesty, and genuine openness to recognizing personal patterns of dealing with strong emotions.

___________________________________________________________________________________

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