Have you ever had something on your “to-do” list for days….weeks…(in my case, months!)? And you keep saying, “I’ll do that later”, or “I’d rather do anything — even my taxes! — than do that”? I knew that I was certainly avoiding parts of my “to-do” list because I found myself cleaning everything in my house, office, car, instead of facing the looming elephant in the room.
That elephant, for me, was my professional video. I have made videos in the past, when I started my practice, but took them down because I didn’t feel like they represented “authentic Kate”. I tried again last year to film a video, with a new edge and twist to it, trying to be myself but instead getting emotionally overwhelmed. What was the deal?
So, this March I decided to truly look at what was keeping me stuck and to confront those factors. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an amazing type of behavioral therapy I was recently trained in, one of the guiding principles is to define what is meaningful to you and to pursue it, even if that means experiencing some uncomfortable emotions or feelings along the way.
I spent an afternoon writing about why I wanted to film a professional video. What did it mean to me? Here’s what I came up with:
I still was missing something. Those don’t seem too intense….why couldn’t I just map out what I want to say, and say it? With my meaningful goal in hand, I engaged in some “exposure therapy” (also an element of ACT), and tried to film some initial versions of my video. I was feeling quite uncomfortable. I reflected on a quote I recently heard: “I know that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, I’m about to grow”. Hmm.
After about an hour of filming, viewing, grunting because there was something “wrong” with it, I took a walk and laid down on a patch of green, bright, vibrant grass and took a deep breath. I breathed into my body and tried to focus on what was my barrier to creating a video that was “showable”.
I realized my Perfectionist was rearing her hair-sprayed, curly, gum-smacking head and was telling me “IT’S NOT PERFECT ENOUGH!!! YOU CAN’T BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT!”.
Oh, man! How did I not see this before? I know my Perfectionist quite well…we have coffee sometimes and chat…and I thought I’d be aware enough of her nosiness that I would realize she was interfering. I guess she tricked me. I took another breath and told her: “You are not going to control my video. But, you did show me something very important.”
So, I went back to my office and filmed my video in no time. It is entitled “Perfectly Imperfect”. Sure, it gives me the shivers to ‘put myself out there’ like this, but why not be myself? Being authentic, human, and showing that I am not perfect is one of the most healing aspects I can offer my clients as they find recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or body image and self esteem issues.
My Perfectionist showed me that, while I’m not going to banish her, she is not always helpful. She can get in the way of me being myself, which then can build up anxiety and stress…to levels that I don’t always want to stay at. Getting to understand the times when she is and isn’t helpful has been important for me, and you can also find a way to gently (or not so gently) ask your Critic or Perfectionist or Judge or whomever you have to take a hike for now.
If you are so kind, please view my video and leave a comment with your impressions. My hope is to model that we are all perfectly imperfect and that, in itself, is freeing. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and view this!
If you are looking to improve self-esteem or overcome destructive eating behaviors, I offer a FREE consultation so please give me a call at 720-340-1443!
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Try to think about the last time that you felt vulnerable. What were the circumstances? Do you remember what it felt like? How would you describe that feeling? How did the feeling show up in your body?
Was it akin to: feeling open and naked, wondering if you are going to fall off that very high limb that you just put yourself out on? Out of control? Free-falling? Terrifying? Exposed? These all might be words to describe the feeling of vulnerability — among many others. I’m currently engrossed in Dr. Brene Brown‘s newest book: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead in which Dr. Brown spends a lot of time uncovering different facets of vulnerability and tells her own story with this concept that many of us seem to avoid.
Dr. Brown’s definition of vulnerability invited me to pause and truly reflect on my own relationship with being vulnerable. She describes it as:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
Reading that might cause a ripple of anxiety go up and down your spine. Our society today has adopted a kind of fear mentality that breeds anxiety and avoids vulnerability. We have been through so much in the past decade — war, violence, loss, recession — that we feel we must protect ourselves. But what Dr. Brown asserts, and what many of us might now know, is that being vulnerable comes from a place of power. ”Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, creativity, belonging, joy, courage, and empathy. It is the source of hope, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path,” asserts Dr. Brown.
In short, vulnerability is feeling and feeling is connection to our life’s purpose.
In perusing this, I reflected on my own life story and the character that vulnerability has played. What has it taught me? How has it helped me grow? In exploring this, I am able to help my clients find their own empowerment through vulnerability (while holding space for fear of exploring this topic).
Here are some things that I have done that have made me vulnerable:
And this is how I felt: naked, somewhat raw, but also solid. Dr. Brown surveyed many people with this same question — what did you do to be vulnerable and how did it feel? — and the most common response was “naked”. Naked is what we are when we were born and despite all of the layers we put on throughout the years of our lives, naked vulnerability is the place where we find the inner peace we’re looking for. Why? Because we are expressing ourselves honestly, directly, and wholeheartedly, a light shining from our true selves. When we are our true, open self, we are in touch with emotions that make us human — all shades of emotions, from “dark” ones to “light” ones. And if we can offer acceptance and not judgement to our wide range of emotions, then we are able to overcome challenges and build resiliency.
Dr. Brown suggests that we shy away from vulnerability because we feel we need a “shield” in a society that constantly tells us that we “don’t have enough” or that we “aren’t enough”. This passage, taken from the book The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, really struck me:
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time”. Whether true or not, that thought of “not enough” occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. . . Before we even sit up in bed, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. This internal condition of scarcity lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, our arguments with life. . . “
What if we embraced that we are enough just as we are today? We don’t need to do anything else? Would that make being vulnerable less scary? What change might happen if we were to embrace vulnerability? And what if being vulnerable was the vehicle for the change that you’re yearning for?
As we continue to explore the complexities of vulnerability and its relationship to shame and other emotions, please take a look at Dr. Brown’s talk about the power of vulnerability — a video that has touched people around the world.
How can you “dare greatly” today?
As we welcomed the arrival of autumn on September 22nd, we opened a new chapter of crisp fall air, changing colors, brisk mornings, and harvest dinners. This is what fall is all about and for many, it brings an inner comfort and a desire to snuggle under the blankets with a big cup of hot tea. What else does autumn represent? As each season passes, I am always mindful of the gifts from the outgoing season and the promises of the one yet to come. As nature cycles through her natural patterns, humans and all animals alike take notice of this change.
Change is embraced by some and feared by others. When one is in recovery from an eating disorder such as bulimia, binge eating, anorexia, or any other type of disordered eating, change can bring overwhelming anxiety as it suggests a shift in an all-too-familiar routine. I often sit with clients and hold space for them to share these anxieties, excitements, worries, and anticipations of upcoming changes in their lives. I like to remember that with every change comes a loss as well as a new birth. Moving into a new home is a significant change in someone’s life, bringing new things to adjust to, new neighbors, new routines. Going back to school similarly offers some “unknowns”, some uncertainties of what is yet to come which might feel unsettling for some. A birth of a new child is a huge shift in a family, as the child is welcomed into the fold and the parents adjust to new responsibilities, expectations, and roles.
If you feel stuck in a destructive cycle of bingeing and purging, negative self talk that devastates your self-esteem, or any other type of harmful behavior, you might be ready to make a change in your life. Clients bring with them this hope for change, for a life without self-destructive behaviors or thoughts, and with a hope for accepting and loving themselves. They can also admit to some fears about what they might have to “give up” or “confront” when making this change. This is completely normal! Just as fall eventually turns into winter, a time of hibernation and reflection, change is inevitable — and it can feel simple to slip into a mindset of “dreading” or “avoiding” change.
I try to remind my clients (and myself, if I find myself getting stuck), that winter has its own gifts to offer and that spring will come again. While some may see winter as a time of cold and darkness, you also might approach winter as a time of rejuvenation, slowing down, resting, and preparing for the birth of spring. A new routine, a different way of approaching and caring for yourself, trying to accept your feelings instead of push them away — these all represent change in our lives. And instead of focusing on what is wrong about them, perhaps we could ask ourselves to notice the benefits of this change and remind ourselves that a re-birth is yet to come, whatever that looks like for each of us.
Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself about your relationship to change in your life:
– What am I losing in this change, and how can I offer myself kindness and compassion around this?
– What am I gaining with this change in terms of growth, healing, and self-care?
– How can I be mindful about this change, and check in with myself daily around my feelings about it and try to remind myself of the gifts of the present moment?
Don’t forget to turn your attention inward and notice your emotions around this transition. New beginnings, like autumn or any new beginning in your life, might bring up unresolved feelings or issues from previous life cycles. Perhaps autumn reminds you of a friendship that was lost last autumn which you haven’t allowed yourself to feel in some time. Maybe autumn brings the birthday of a child and each year you are reminded of the pure joy you felt the day he or she was born.
allow yourself to feel. Journal about what you feel, draw what you feel, sing what you feel, dance what you feel. There are no “good” or “bad” feelings, and like a wave in the ocean, each feeling will eventually ride out.
Nature allows us endless opportunities for healing, re-birth, renewal, and getting back in touch with ourselves. How are you going to embrace this new season in your life?
I have been on both sides of “the couch”. I have been a client for many years and currently also inhabit the role of therapist with my own clients. I know how it feels to sit and talk to someone who you do not know on a personal level but still feel this uncanny and close connection to. I also am familiar with the sensation of sitting down with a client, sensing that certain natural anxiety that accompanies every session (even if I’ve been meeting with that person for a long time). Both therapists and clients have feelings and reactions. That is in part why people become therapists: because they can empathize, feel, and connect so deeply with their clients. Clients come to therapy because they would like to sort through some of the feelings and reactions they have to life circumstances…or to try to understand why they DON’T have feelings or reactions to those circumstances.
Feelings and emotions are natural and normal, and everyone has them. In therapy, where the room is safe and secure and there is a degree of comfort between client and therapist, emotions can play and explore the open air between the participants. A psychotherapy blog that I read talks about reactions that clients might have towards their therapists or towards a situation that are really not about that certain thing at all. Psychodynamic therapists call this projection. In this blog, the writer talks about feeling angry at her therapist and feeling that “the connection was lost” between them. As she works through this with her therapist, she realizes that she was upset with him because he was going on vacation for three weeks and she feared being lonely and losing her identity without him. Through this confrontation, she was able to work with her therapist towards developing more autonomy and she explored defense mechanisms that, according to psychodynamic theory, have been in place since the age of three.
In the above example, we can see how a reaction to a situation brought out some deep-seated feelings that the client was unaware of herself, and processing these with her therapist allowed her more freedom and release. This is an instance where the timing was right (the client was able and ready to go to the level of processing she needed to) and the relationship was built from enough trust that the two could sort through some uncomfortable feelings. But those circumstances are not always in place. Sometimes, the client is not able to yet make the steps towards understanding the deeper levels of his/her reactions and feelings, or the therapist is not prepared to hold the anxiety of such a situation and may allow her own feelings to enter the picture.
I have had clients expose a wide variety of emotions in session, and I am grateful that those clients felt safe enough with me to allow me to see them. There have been clients who have let me into their deepest thoughts, thoughts that they sometimes do not feel are “okay” to have. When working through challenging situations, such as when clients are trying to recover from an eating disorder, thoughts and feelings that have not been allowed to come out for fear of rejection can enter the therapy room. This is a healthy dynamic of the therapeutic process, as clients feel accepted despite their struggles. It is crucial that both therapist and client are prepared to work with these sensitive emotions when they are expressed, as they could be stuffed back down at any sign of judgment.
Fear of judgment or being unaccepted can be presented in forms of anxiety, withdrawal, dismissal, and aggression. I had a client that I had been working with for a long time whose eating disorder was spinning out of control. I could tell that she was terrified of this disorder because she felt torn between two very powerful forces: the temptation and addiction of the eating disordered behaviors, and the desire to be healthy and free. We worked for months exploring this tug of war and attempting to empower the voice of recovery that was buried inside of her. When we finally got to the point of challenging the eating disorder, she responded with anger and retreated back inside. The anger was a natural reaction that, if given the chance to work through it, could have been a tool for her to turn against the disorder. However, we did not get to explore that possibility and she never returned.
Timing and readiness for change are essential components to progress in therapy. The therapist must have the tools and experience needed to help support clients as they take steps towards expressing themselves freely and finding those answers that they came into treatment to uncover. One of the most difficult things for therapists to accept is if their clients are not yet ready for change. This is something only the client can decide, as it is ultimately their work. Through my learnings and wanderings as a therapist, I have come to accept that clients will make that commitment when they are ready and that is it my role to support them (and not push them) as they grow.
I found this amazing blog the other day called Voice in Recovery. It is a comprehensive narrative on the struggles, challenges, victories, feelings, and wonderings that occur along the path of eating disorder recovery. It is an accessible resource to all — those who are struggling with an ED, those who have recovered/are in recovery, and families and friends of those affected by EDs. The topic brought out recently in this blog that I was inspired to write about is honesty in recovery. The blog author talked about being honest with all of the feelings, cravings, desires, and motives that you might have in your recovery. I was struck by the HIDDEN theme in the post.
Eating disorders are complex and intricate mental illnesses that affect every part of a person’s life: their mind, body, emotions, feelings, soul, and their family and friends. The ED can completely alter the way that you perceive the world as your are seduced by the powers of the ED voice. The most essential ingredient in recovery, in my opinion, is the way that you fight back against the power of the ED, reclaiming who you are and revitalizing your strengths. To find yourself and reclaim that fighting voice, you must be honest — with yourself, your family, your friends, your therapist, and anyone else who is in your life and who you would like to support you in your recovery. While we are surrounded by people who love us and want us to be healthy, we cannot stand only on the feet of others…we must learn to stand on our own and we must turn inward and take a stark look at the factors that are contributing to the ED behaviors. This can be intimidating! It can bring feelings of guilt, shame, and loneliness – the very feelings that EDs thrive upon – to open ourselves up and try to heal the wounded parts. I VERY strongly suggest that you do this with the help of a therapist, someone who is trained to hold those feelings for you as you sort through them and find ways to not let them be so central to your perspective. Those uncomfortable and sometimes painful feelings that can surface when honestly looking at recovery may tempt you to close up and HIDE again…but they will not go away until they are exposed and you are freed of them.
Honesty is crucial in every part of life: in intimate relationships, in financial transactions, in college applications, and in legal documents. Being honest can bring with it a feeling of freedom and release. For someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, you may yearn for that feeling of freedom and release, but find yourself confronted with a dark and tangled forest of secrets, low self-esteem, and negative feelings that leave you exhausted before you even take a step. Being honest is the key to getting to the light on the other side, and with that honesty must come a promise to embrace yourself with acceptance as you wade through the tangled roots. I think the most liberating thing about honesty, whether it is in recovery from an ED or if it is involved in a relational issue, is the fact that you are letting a weight off of your shoulders that you may have carried around for some time. And as you feel emotionally lighter, there is less and less obstruction towards the freedom and healing that you have been working towards. Ultimately on a journey towards honesty, you will end up in a place where you can say “I am okay”. Those three words can be very powerful. When you are able to say “I am okay” and “there is nothing wrong with me”, and ED begins to lose its power and you begin to regain the strength you crave to design your own free life.
We have all heard the common statistic that body language communicates about 80% of what we are saying and feeling, and our actual words only contribute 20% to getting our point across. Much has been said about how “body language sends messages to your date or partner that you may not even realize”, and how you can have a whole conversation with another person across the room without uttering a syllable. There is truth in the power of body language, and I feel that it is most prominent when two people are interacting and other factors are prohibiting them from honestly communicating. For example, when a partner or friend is tired, stressed out, or if it is a person that you are just getting to know, the most authentic and direct way of communicating how you are feeling is through the way you approach them — are you open and welcoming to connection? Are you scared or frustrated about revealing your feelings to the other person? Or do you not even realize the types of messages you are sending to the recipient?
A popular body language blog gives some examples about what might truly be going on in certain body language interactions. Avoiding eye contact, in this culture, can mean a sign of insecurity or disinterest. In other cultures, such as Asian cultures, avoiding eye contact can be a sign of respect. I would note that in any type of body language-reading situation, the cultural context of the individuals and society involved must be considered, as body language messages differ greatly across cultures. In my therapeutic practice, I take special interest in getting to know the way that my client defines his or her culture and I take an open stance to understanding the cultural undertones of their actions and words. This is another reason I wanted to write about body language in this post: it can often be misinterpreted due to lack of cultural awareness, or due to preconceived notions or feelings of the individuals communicating.
A client once expressed to me how she and her partner often get in conflict because they seem to be “in different emotional states” at the end of the day and cannot connect authentically. I asked her to describe the words, actions, and feelings that she perceives in these situations. She admitted that they don’t often talk about it but that she feels her partner is angry or upset with her because he physically turns away and slumps his shoulders as if he is closing down. I encouraged her to talk to her partner about the feelings she was expressing to me, and she came back to report that things are much better because her partner was not aware of the signals he was sending. Body language and the messages it sends have now become a regular conversation topic for the couple, and they have been able to deepen their relationship through understanding each other’s intentions and feelings.
Not only can body language be a third party in a relationship, it can be a bird on your shoulder as you move throughout your day, processing your own internal feelings. Notice what your face is doing right now. If you cannot tell, look in the mirror. Are your eyebrows tense? Is your chin locked? What are your shoulders and arms doing? Counselors and psychologists note the power that your own body language can have over the way you perceive yourself and how your day is going. I believe that if you make a conscious effort to inhabit an open, accepting stance with your body language, you can influence the course of your emotions throughout your day. Try it — be active, engaging, relaxed, and natural with your body today and see how you feel at the end of the day.