On Feeling Stuck & How Therapy Helps

In my time meeting with new clients, I often hear some variation of this shared: “I don’t know…I just feel stuck.” This experience of feeling stuck leads many people to consider and potentially try therapy.  I have a hunch that at some point most people find themselves in such a place…

But what does it mean? This stuck-ness, what is it? And is it as vague as it sounds?

imageSometimes, yes it is. Unlike other times when a very clear obstacle or event causes pain, feeling stuck can mean finding oneself in a more general, emotionally undesired and familiar place. This place may involve a mixture of feelings – of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, envy, and sadness. Like wandering through a forest, hoping to find a clearing, yet winding back to the same ‘ole stump, it may feel like you have traveled in circles.
Perhaps you and the stump look a bit different now and the surrounding landscape has changed some too. However, the underlying ground and root issues remain, bringing forth similar tension each time.

If we dig a bit deeper and put names to these often-vague yet familiar places of being stuck, the following may serve as examples:

• Stunted…restrained by self-doubt, fear, and lack of confidence
• Lack of closeness and authenticity in relationships
• General boredom & apathy
• Unclear boundaries with others & people-pleasing behaviors
• Avoidance of emotions (i.e. “pushing down feelings”)
• Unsatisfied and frustrated by school, career, or overall life direction

…just to name a few.

How Therapy Helps:

In response to feeling stuck, I find that it is important to seek understanding. We need to understand what keeps us coming back to our familiar places in order to ultimately head in a new direction…

Therapy invites you to take intentional time for this. It involves a commitment to self – a decision to pause amidst the chaos and choose awareness. In doing so, we can begin to gain insight into the patterns and tendencies which continue to re-emerge. By taking this step we also learn more about how heartache, rejection, and how other painful parts of our individual stories have impacted us. Due to this, therapy includes a leaning-in to the discomfort of our vulnerable feelings to know what our emotions are telling us. It also entails asking important questions such aswho am I, what causes me pain, and what do I hope for?

Finally, therapy is a brave step in the journey of healing. In the presence of a caring and focused counselor, therapy offers us a chance to go – at our own pace – into the hurting places of our hearts with purposes of being understood, seeking clarity, and finding new possibility. Along the way…perhaps we discover why we tend to return to “the stump” and with greater knowledge and comfort, find that we can move forward in a new way.

As a helping professional, I feel grateful for the chance to walk with people as they set aside the time to invest in their wellbeing and explore the depth of themselves in the hopes of growth.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

16 Films for the Heart & Soul

With the cold, rainy, gray days of winter, I find that there is ample time spent indoors. As a self-proclaimed movie-lover, I try to take advantage of this time by watching films – be it classics, the newest Oscar-nominated movie, a documentary found on Netflix, or a fun animated adventure. Below are 16 of my favorite movies. Each of these touch my heart with how they highlight important perspectives on the human experience. Perhaps enjoying a meaningful book or a heartfelt movie can inspire you with doses of compassion, courage, & love during these dark, wintry days.

  1. The King’s Speech : for empowerment and owning your voice
  2. king's speechBig Fish : for living a big life
  3. 42 : for courage & justice
  4. foxFantastic Mr. Fox : for embracing your true (quirky) self
  5. The Pursuit of Happyness : for perseverance & hope
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower : for self-acceptance & navigating pain
  7. Goodwill Hunting : for trust & healing
  8. How to Train Your Dragon : for discovering unlikely friends
  9. dragonThe Imitation Game : for believing in your genius
  10. The Martian : for resilience
  11. The Hobbit  (trilogy) : for risk-taking & bravery
  12. Seeking a Finding for the End of the World : for connection and comradeship
  13. truman showWhen Harry Met Sally : for vulnerability & love
  14. Burt’s Buzz (documentary) for beauty in simplicity
  15. Wreck it Ralph : for knowing your value
  16. The Truman Show: for finding your own way

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

Growing & Becoming: A Resource for Reflection

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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

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Thanks for reading. 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

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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.