Noticing Vs. Judging Your Feelings [ A More Compassionate Way ]

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they may seem.” ~ Ann Frank

I have a paper tucked away in my office drawer that I like to pull out every once in a while with clients. On it you’ll find a list of several dozen “Feeling Words” – each listed under a specific sub category. This simple sheet of paper can often provide some clarity. For instance, I’m not just “happy”, I’m “hopeful” or I’m more than simply “angry”, I feel “bitter”. I find that this simple sheet of paper comes in handy when people find themselves stumped – unsure of exactly how they feel. Gaining this deeper insight also opens the door for better answering the questions of whowhat prompt these feelings within us and whyhow they occur. More so, beyond the use of any kind of “Feeling Words” cheat sheet, I find it important that in the safety of the therapy room that feelings are discussed and processed in a different sort of way. Honestly, I see a need for a kinder, more compassionate stance towards our feelings – and towards ourselves – than we often experience. And what do I mean by this? What I typically notice is that we can quickly get into a harsh cycle of (1) feeling our feelings and then (2) criticizing ourselves, even shaming ourselves, for experiencing these true feelings. An example of this may sound like:

“I feel jealous towards my co-worker for getting the promotion…and now I hate myself for feeing jealous when I should be happy for her.”   OR

“To be honest, I feel depressed today – like I really did not want to get out of bed. Man, I must sound pathetic.”   OR

“I miss my mom so much right now. I feel like I should be dealing with her death much better than I am.

What stands out most to me in these three examples can be summed up in one word: JUDGMENT. I can picture three separate individuals bravely and honestly speaking these truthful emotions outloud and then upon recognizing the discomfort, isolation, or sorrow that these feelings bring, swiftly judging themselves.  Perhaps they deem themselves not “strong enough” or not “normal enough”. Further, how often have we – you and I – responded the same  to our own feelings. The danger about this judgment is that it provokes a third part in the cycle mentioned above. First (1) we feel our feelings, (2) we judge our feelings, and then as a result (3) we get stuck in the “muck” of self-loathing. All of the sudden we are trapped, our self-condemnation preventing us from the necessary work of digging-deepeer and seeking awareness and possible healing in the midst of the initial feeling that brought us here. A Better Way?: Perhaps a better response to our feelings can be found in replacing Judging with simply Noticing. As the initial quote by Ann Frank so accurately states, “feelings can’t be ignored” – especially the bad ones. Furthermore, there is something so incredibly important in recognizing that we are not “bad ones” for feeling these natural human emotions. Anger, guilt, desperation, sadness – it’s all there for any one of us to feel. How completely human we are when they touch our hearts. As psychotherapist Stephen Howard (in his book Heart & Soul of the Therapist) explains, we are much better off approaching our feelings with honesty and curiosity than avoidance or disdain. The reality is that our feelings are important. Though not always easy and rarely simple, our active feelings tell us something. How vital it is to listen to them with openess, ready to be aware of what direction they may be leading, truth yet to uncover, or acceptance needing to be had. __________________________________________________________________________________ Thanks for reading. 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?

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Being Kind to Yourself [ Shaking off Comparison ]

Be Kind to Yourself.

Sometimes the simplest of words ring the truest. I was told this by a therapist once, and well, it stuck.

Self-Talk:  a person’s internal dialogue, which can be positive and motivational or negative and demotivating.

In other, less technical and fancy words, self-talk includes all the mess we tell ourselves. This includes the good, as well as the bad. It can look like a motivational pep-talk you give yourself before entering an interview, and it can also appear as biting criticism you punish yourself with when you feel you haven’t “measured up.” I believe that too often we do not realize how impacting our self-talk truly is. We are constantly stuck in our own heads, after all. How much of the time are you stuck with your own voice, which lacks grace, love, and patience? How often are you willing to freely offer up kindness to others while refusing to offer it to yourself?

“You are your worst critic.”

I forget exactly when I heard the statement above for the first time. All I know is that I’ve heard it over and over, again and again by so many friends and family, and I am guessing that you’ve likely heard it too. However, hearing and recognizing are altogether different. In fact, knowing and believing do not necessarily go hand in hand. We can realize the negative self-talk we indulge  in and acknowledge the damage it does without truly believing that we deserve and need something different, something much more truthfully kind.

What are the barriers to being kind to oneself? What stands in the way? So much can block self-acceptance and self-kindness, but a big one that stands out to me is comparison.

Comparison: Bleh. Yuck.

It’s that aggravating, itch-you-can’t-scratch, readily-available, pesky little life-sucking bug, isn’t it? Measuring one’s life, relationships, career, family, and looks against the state of another’s usually ends in one of two ways: arrogance [feeling better than] or self-degradation [feeling less than]. It is so incredibly unhealthy and unfortunately so common. And there are far too many comparison tools readily available for us. The  presence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets provides us, afterall, with unlimited ways of glancing at a snapshot of another’s life, holding it in view of our own and judging one’s own life based on the circumstances of another.

How silly, though, and how harsh. After allthe beauty of a mountain landscape does not make a sunset at the beach less marvelous to see.  Both take my breath away and remind me of the goodness of life and of God. Human beings-we are the same, I strongly believe. And thank goodness we are not all the same. Each of us, created with distinct personalities, preferences, and quirky little habits. Recognizing our differences does not have to depress us but rather can push us towards appreciating the complex beauty of this life and of the human condition.

So, how are you treating yourself, what words do you tell yourself, and in what way are you being gracious and kind to yourself today?

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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