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.

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.

________________________________________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________

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?

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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

 

Embracing the Elephant in the Room [ My Heart for Psychotherapy ]

You simply cannot ignore an elephant in a room, especially not in a small room.  Well, you can for a time. Maybe you take special precautions to sit in the corner of the room, furthest from its large flopping ears and gray trunk. Perhaps you cover your ears when it lets out a shrill trumpet sound, close your eyes, and even hide behind your nearest friend as its large stocky legs draw nearer.  However, eventually elephants will make themselves known.  They may tear up an entire room doing so, but regardless, you’ll be forced to acknowledge them.

Most of us like real elephants but hate the metaphorical ones. The elephants in our hearts, minds, and lives that disturb us most often enter in uninvited. Psychologically we become experts at denial, pushing these problems and issues to the outskirts of our minds. “Out of sight, out of mind” becomes our philosophy. However, who are we kidding? Certainly not the elephant and probably not ourselves. The truth remains that the concern is still very much present, firmly standing its ground.

I passionately believe that one of the most important features of therapy is to allow a safe space for these elephants to be ‘unearthed’ and better understood. In other words, being vulnerable to the realities in our lives that we tend to dismiss-perhaps because they feel too large or too threatening-is a critical part of the process of personal awareness, growth, and healing.

Allowing clients a safe space to face these emotional elephants at their own pace lies at the heart of my passion for counseling. And why?

Because I know the personal impact it has made in my life.

I am so thankful for my first-ever counselor who challenged me to forge past my meticulously crafted and comfortable ‘topics to discuss’ list each week.  I’m so grateful for my therapist’s willingness to sit with me in the discomfort and tension [ and oftentimes uncomfortable silence ] which existed in the shrinking space between my elephant and me.  Finally, I am forever thankful for that time when I was allowed to move at my own slow pace towards the large, messy animal on the otherside of the room.  And by the time I found myself face-to-face with it, there was a certain inner peace and strength I gained from embracing the tension, crossing the divide, and vocalizing its reality in my life.

“Tension is the great integrity.” –Richard Buckmeister Fuller

I love this quote by R.B. Fuller who was an American architect, author, and inventor. As an architect, surely he understood the importance of literal tension in the building and structures he created.  For instance, even those of us with a minimal understanding of architecture recognize that that a bridge will collapse unless tension exists between the two base structures on either end. I similarly view the importance of recognizing and pressing-in to the emotional tension we may experience.

Pressing-in toward the tension requires vulnerability [ if you read my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I strongly believe in this word ] and humility. It can be difficult and even painful-perhaps comparable to taking off a bandaid, which has covered a deep scar for the first time. However, I feel that it is essential in wholly embracing who we are and where we are at.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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