Many of the clients that I work with report feeling “disconnected from”, “at war with”, “disgusted by”, or “dissatisfied with” their bodies. To me this says that there has been some form of trauma that has caused a rift in the natural mind-body connection. This could mean an actual traumatic event in one’s life, or, more commonly, it could mean that some form of internal experience (feelings) has felt too painful or too disregulated and we must disconnect from it. Our bodies can be a battlefield for our emotions. Castlewood Treatment Center defines one’s body image as:
‘Body image is comprised of how one sees their body, lives in and experiences their body and perceives how others see their body. Negative body image can serve a protective function to distract clients from painful feelings or emotions held in the body.’
To heal from this disconnect between mind, body and soul, we strive to become more “embodied”, to literally attach ourselves to our bodies once more, as we were when we were born. To find a way to be accepting of our internal and experiences and thus more accepting of ourselves.
What does it mean to “be embodied”? Being “embodied” signifies:
Here are a few ideas for beginning to implement these and be on your way to “becoming more embodied” in a safe, accepting, nonjudgmental, and joyous capacity.
1.) Bring your focus to the daily essential tasks that your body performs for you. Have you ever noticed how many muscles, bones, and ligaments it takes to walk effectively? It’s not just our legs and feet that need to be involved; our whole body is on the job as we walk down the street and keep us balanced. What about all of the steps it take to take a shower? Have you ever slowed down and tuned into each step? Your body does so much for you — much of it out of your consciousness — and you may not realize this. By bringing attention and focus to the physical tasks it implements for you, you can begin to feel more present, grounded, and appreciative of your whole body and the miracle it is.
2.) Draw a body image timeline. What is the story of your body? What would it say to you about its life if it could speak? Begin with a large piece of drawing paper and some art materials. Draw a line from your earliest memory of your body to the present. Fill in each of the events that stand out to you (for example: ‘felt self-conscious in my bathing suit at the pool party, age 13′, or ‘gave birth to my first child, age 33′). Use colors, shapes, words to describe the journey your body has been on until this point. Add influential people to the timeline. This is not about weight, but about how it has felt to be in your body. Then, draw a line from the present into the future: how do you want the story of your body to look from here on out?
3.) Pay attention to the messages you send to your body. These may come from both internal and external sources. What kinds of statements do you send to your body? That it’s not good enough? That it’s awesome and strong? That it’s beautiful? That ‘if only I could lose 5 more lbs, I’d be happy’? Write these down in a notebook. Then try to reframe the negative ones to thoughts that feel more accepting, validating, kind, and compassionate — the kinds of messages you would send to someone you love very much. Offer kindness to what it’s been through — pains, injuries, surgeries, etc — and how resilient it is!
4.) Dance, dance, dance! We all can project feelings of awkwardness, uncertainty, or insecurity on our bodies. Have you ever watched someone dance in a way with complete abandon, fearlessness, and joy? Try it! You can begin in your own home. Turn on a song that you love, one that really gets into your soul, your joints, your body. And let yourself dance to it with no rules and no self-consciousness. Fling your arms around; gallop across the floor; jump in the air! Do whatever your body wants to do — just follow it. See how it feels!
5.) Spend a day tracking your emotions and your body signals. We tend to hold our emotions in our bodies, and they can often show up as somatic concerns if we don’t address them. Have you ever had a stress headache? Or shoulder tension? These could be the result of untreated emotional pain you are holding in your body. When we take care of our bodies appropriately (and this means REST as well as movement!), then we send the message to our emotional selves that we deserve to be appropriately tended to as well. Spend a day tracking the messages from your body and your emotions. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On one side, track any emotions you feel that day (sad, angry, lonely, surprised, etc). On the other, track physical sensations you feel (headache, stomach queasy, muscle spasm in leg, tight hamstring, etc). Just notice where these line up next to each other and if you see any connection.
These are only a few ideas to helping you become more embodied in your body, your soul, and your life. This Saturday, March 29th, I’ll be facilitating a full-day workshop on this topic, using some of these techniques and so much more! There are a few spots left, so contact me ASAP at 720-340-1443 to reserve yours!
Leave a comment below with ideas you have tried that have helped you feel more “at home” in your body. What are the daily practices you use to facilitate this? There are more great ideas as Embodiment Training as well.
This is the only body you’ll have. Let’s see how we can celebrate our bodies and pamper them instead of judge and criticize them!
Shorter Days. Icy temperatures. Slippery roads. Snow. Do you ever get the ‘wintertime blues’? Do you sometimes feel like you have less energy, are more prone to depressed moods, or struggle to motivate yourself to act? I’ve been there!
While I love the beauty of the snow, the cozy feelings that the winter brings, and the hibernation of the earth, I do find myself getting antsy for the blooms and renewal of springtime. I am also reminded that earth needs winter, just as it needs summer, and fall, and spring. This deep sleep that it takes from December through March help replenish our water sources, nurture our plants’ natural cycles, and prepare for the re-birth of spring.
Psychologists use a term called “seasonal affective disorder” to help describe what some of us might feel during these long, dark, cold winter days. SAD is a clinical term to describe a form of depression that most commonly occurs in the wintertime (but did you know that you can feel effects of SAD all year round?) and is much more than just feeling tired or having low energy. SAD expert Norman E. Rosenthal states that it can affect up to 14 million people each year (or about 14% of American adults), as explained in his book Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Common symptoms include:
Light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and some antidepressant medications have been proven to help alleviate some of these symptoms. Mindfulness, or the act of experiencing the present moment in a non-judgmental way, is especially helpful in treating forms of depression.
No matter what time of year it is, each season brings its own variety of joy, celebration, and tradition. If you’re finding yourself waiting for the first day of spring, try to allow yourself to be mindful of the gifts of the present — winter — because you might be missing it come mid-August!
Here are a few simple mindfulness practices to ground you in the present moment, receive its gifts, and focus on what’s meaningful to you right here, right now.
If you’re feeling a bit “sad” this winter, you’re not alone! Try to remember what the winter has to offer — and the fun mythology tales that describe our history with the seasons. Spring will come, the sun will shine again, and earth will flourish in greens, oranges, blues, purples, pinks, reds, and every color under the rainbow once more
If you’re looking for a little bit of support to cope with the wintertime blues, I offer complimentary consultations to see if we’d be a good fit to work together. Please call me at 720-340-1443 today!
I am SO excited about all the new happenings and growth at Kate Daigle Counseling! It’s been a very busy summer and autumn here…In September I was honored to be a presenter at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Sciences Regional Conference in Golden, CO, where I presented to my esteemed colleagues “Embracing Our Bodies, Allowing Our Experience: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to Treating Disordered Eating and Body Image Issues”. This was a fun way to stretch my wings at being a presenter and also to learn a lot about myself while confronting some uncomfortable fears (public speaking!) in order to achieve the experience I truly hoped for. Read more about this on my blog.
I’ve begun to do some supervision for Master’s level students who are working toward licensure or continued professional development! Currently, I’m really enjoying working with clinicians/new professionals who are passionate about helping clients struggling with eating disorders and body image and looking to deepen their own understanding of these issues and competency to help treat them and grow as a professional. I’m always eager to enrich this work and my own growth as a supervisor and am currently accepting new supervises. Contact me for more information!
In the new year, I will welcome my first intern in my practice. She will help me build groups, workshops, and other offerings to the community. Stay tuned for more information about this!
The biggest change at Kate Daigle Counseling has been moving to join a collaborative community of health professionals at Awaken Healing Center. Joining acupuncturists, massage therapists, reiki practitioners, rolfing practitioners, energy medicine workers, and other mental health professionals, I’m so excited to bring my practice to a new level and be a part of such a welcoming, healing, and warm center. It’s located very centrally at 1574 York Street, Denver, and if you’re in the area, please stop by!! Stay tuned for news about my upcoming open house.
All of these inspiring and invigorating changes would not be possible without the support and care of my loved ones, professional network, clients, and colleagues. I am deeply grateful that you continue to help me learn, grow, and challenge myself so that I can be the most effective professional counselor that I can be.
Wishing you a peaceful and bright autumn, filled with love and light!
1. Choose to start your day rather than letting the day start you — begin each day by noticing the sensations of the breath for a few breaths before jumping out of bed.
2. Use transitions wisely — choose some days to drive to and from work without the radio or phone. When you arrive at your destination, allow yourself a few moments to sit in the car, noticing the breath.
3. Nourish yourself — mindfully eat your lunch attending to the colors, taste and smells of the food.
4. Just walk between meetings — no emails or texts — feeling the feet on the floor, the air on the skin and the possibility of greeting colleagues you pass rather than bumping into them while you text!
Get More tips here!
(adapted from: Simple, Daily Tips for Mindfulness at Work)
I don’t see myself as a “typical” risk taker — I don’t think I’d ever like to climb on the side of a jutted cliff or swim with sharks (yikes!). But sometimes something gets into me that pushes me to take a giant step outside of my comfort zone and push myself to my very limits. I recently engaged in one of the biggest challenges I have ever come across in my career: PUBLIC SPEAKING.
I was very fortunate to be chosen in April to be a presenter for the Association for Contextual Behavioral Sciences Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Regional Conference held on September 20-21, 2013. This association brings together professionals who utilize Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Relational Frame Theory with clients in many different capacities to help reduce suffering and facilitate healing. I put together a presentation entitled: Embracing Our Bodies, Allowing Our Experience: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to Treating Body Image and Disordered Eating Issues. This topic is near to my heart and I am always excited to explore the ways that ACT is effective in helping clients from this population. (more...)
The Eating Disorder Foundation
A wonderful local resource and support center with many FREE support groups and workshops, The Eating Disorder Foundation is inspired to help eradicate eating disorders through support, education, and community. The EDF is uniquely positioned to help those who suffer from eating disorders and their families, to create an environment that fosters sustained recovery and to provide information that’s vital to prevention. The EDF provides high-quality, carefully focused educational and support services, and welcome your help and involvement as we continue and grow our activities, many of which take place in or originate at our new facility, A Place of Our Own ® . Check out their website for a full list of the more than 10 free weekly support groups, workshops and other activities!
A Place of Our Own is located at 1901 E. 20th Ave, Denver 80205. View Map.
Tue: 10am – 6pm
Wed: 12pm – 5pm
Thu: 10am – 6pm
Fri: 12pm – 5pm
Sat: 10am – 2pm
Kate Daigle, MA, LPC offers individual, couples and group therapy to those struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and other related issues. She is expecially interested in supporting men, women in pre- or post-partum, or multicultural populations who are striving for recovery from body image struggles.
CALL TODAY for a complimentary consultation! 720-340-1443
I was recently asked if I thought there was such thing as “good foods” and “bad foods”. To me, this is like asking “do you want to get stuck in a rigid cycle of all or nothing thinking?”. The answer is no!
For myself while I was going through my recovery many years ago, and for others who are actively engaging in recovery today, ‘all or nothing’ thinking can be a common yet very limiting and confining behavior centered not just around eating, but branching out to many areas of life. ’All or nothing’ thinking occurs in eating disordered behaviors but is not limited to this realm.
Many of us have caught ourselves thinking or feeling: “It has to be this way or nothing at all”, or “I am not able to enjoy my day until I do x, y, and z.” These limiting thought patterns can make us feel like there are only two extremes to choose from, both of them so extreme that they are unhealthy to maintain and actually diminish our life satisfaction. It’s like we’re keeping ourselves in a jail cell, yet we don’t have the key. What gives?
For people who are struggling with disordered eating (and this concept can be applied across many realms, struggles, or concerns), they can arrive at a dichotomous crossroads where there is some sort of decision or classification made about themselves and their experience. These choices might be related to weight, body shape, numbers, or certain food types and amounts. Once there is a “rule” set about these things, it can become quite rigid and hard to challenge. Some folks may decide that certain foods with lower fat or carb or sugar content are “good” foods, while everything else is “bad”. This is based on a fear of gaining weight, but I also see it as a fear of letting go of control.
What is the function of the “all or nothing” thinking? There can be numerous reasons for this, but one of the most common is that seemingly only having two choices (“good or bad”, or “right or wrong”) helps to create a focus where they can put their energy and attention. Food might be something that they can control, when something else in their lives feels out of control — whether it be emotions, a family situation, a relationship, etc. Food can be the “red herring“, the object that is focused on instead of what’s really going on underneath. The problem is, when a rule such as “I can only have x y and z food (even if I don’t really like it), but not a b and c foods (even if I love those foods)”, the body and the emotional self begins to feel deprived and to crave those foods that “aren’t okay”. This can commonly lead to eventual out of control behavior around food, such as bingeing or emotionally overeating and “feeling out of control.”
In recovery, I help my clients find the “grey area”. This can be very scary at times, as living in the “all or nothing” has felt safe, albeit not healthy at times. Only in the grey area can we embrace life’s imperfections, its joy, its silliness, its sadness, and to find ways to tolerate all of these without needing rules to govern them. In the grey area, there are no rules about food, emotions, or the human experience. So, to answer my original question, : “NO, I do not think there are things such as “good foods” and “bad foods”, as these trigger the dichotomous thinking and lead to a rigid, rule-driven, stuck emotional place. By offering ourselves and our experiences compassion, we can eat all foods – especially the ones that we really love! — in moderation and enjoyment.
I don’t want to undermine the importance of nutrition. Getting our nutritional needs met is very important! Some foods have higher and more diverse nutritional content than others, and these foods will make our bodies feel strong, energized, and healthy.
I think that sometimes when ‘all or nothing’ thinking becomes extreme, folks can become convinced that only certain foods with low fat, sugar, salt or carbs means “eating healthily”, when in reality, we need a good dose of those things for our bodies to function fully. Consulting with a nutritionist is a great way to learn about your body’s specific needs. When fear consumes certain foods for you, the true meaning of nutrition and health can go out the door, and the “food rules” can become more about control than about truly nurturing your body. Don’t forget to also nurture your soul — sometimes an ice cream sundae is just what your soul ordered!
By exploring what’s really going on underneath, and having compassion and tolerance for those feelings, we are able to move forward and walk the life of value that we’ve always wanted.
Tell me, what is your experience with “food rules” or “all or nothing thinking” and what are some ways to find more balance and flexibility?
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.