Search Results for "compassion"

Projecting care inward: why are we more compassionate with others than with ourselves?

I admit: I am guilty.  On the scale of 1-5, testing how much self-compassion we have (1 being lacking in self-compassion and 5 being high in self-compassion, with 3 being the average), I scored a 2.13.  Maybe I am even a hypocrite.  Why is it that so many of us in the helping profession have no difficulty offering unlimited amounts of empathy and compassion to those that we work with, but when it comes to treating ourselves with that same kindness, it’s nearly impossible?  I think that many of my friends and colleagues that help others — counselors, social workers, nurses, caregivers — could empathize with this statement.  I also am certain that many other folks, even those who have no training in garnering empathy and compassion skills, could agree that showing self-compassion is difficult.  As one friend put it:  “we are our harshest critic”.  Those of us who have a career in helping people are ethically expected to engage in self-care, which in turn means treating ourselves with kindness and respect so that we can be psychologically fit to work with our clients.  That can be hard to do if we criticize ourselves more than accept ourselves.

What is self-compassion?   According to a well-known blog on the New York Times’ website, self-compassion refers to “how kindly people view themselves”.  The article also talks about “new research” showing that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step towards better health.  This philosophy doesn’t seem too new to me, but the fact that we neglect to do this rings all too clear.  People who score high on the test of self-compassion tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression and a higher quality of life.  Seems simple, doesn’t it?  The more you offer yourself kindness and acceptance, the less depression you will feel.  Take the test of self-compassion and see how you score.  Is it what you expected?   Higher? Lower?  This test is set up as “26 statements meant to determine how often people view kindly of themselves and whether they recognize that ups and downs are a part of life”.  The latter part of that statement is KEY to coping with life:  we all have ups and downs, we can get through them, and you are not alone.

Kristin Neff, who is featured in the article and known as a pioneer in the field of self-compassion warns that “the biggest reason people are not more self-compassionate is because they worry about becoming self-indulgent.”  This is interesting: there is perceived to be quite a fine line between offering ourselves kindness and being seen as someone who indulges themselves so much that they care more about their own needs than others.  These two poles seem pretty different to me but for those of us who are sensitive and perceptive, it can be a battle to determine what defines self-compassion and what defines self-indulgence.  Some self-indulgence is okay, even healthy, but when is it too much?  I think that our culture influences us to indulge ourselves to excess and this in turn can ignite our fears of falling too deeply into this trap.

A further point by Neff:  “I think that self-criticism keeps people in line”.  So, therein lies the complexity of this question.  Self-criticism is believed to help keep us from going overboard into the land of excessive self-indulgence.  However, self-criticism is the antithesis to self-compassion, and so an effort to limit indulgence can in fact cause us to become very critical of and hard on ourselves.  With all of this teeter-tottering between compassion, indulgence, and criticism, no wonder our society is riddled with anxiety about achieving perfectionism!

Cultivating self-compassion instead of choosing self-criticism is difficult, however it can lead to longterm happiness and can help alleviate emotional issues.  Neff cites an example of women who struggle with emotional eating.  If a group of women really want to have some doughnuts, but criticize themselves for perhaps having eaten some a few days ago or for even wanting to eat the doughnuts, then the stress of this self-criticism will project them into a uncontrolled episode of emotional eating.  However, if these women treat themselves with self-compassion and give themselves permission to have some doughnuts because they taste delicious and they really want some, then they will not over-eat.  Compassion breeds happiness and peace, while criticism breeds depression and self-hatred.

Where are you on the scale of self-compassion?  If you are high, then that is wonderful!  If you are lower than you would like to be, I encourage you to write yourself a “letter of support”, as you would for a friend trying to get a new job.  Cite all of the wonderful things about you and why you deserve to be treated (by yourself) as a kind, intelligent, beautiful human being.  Then read this letter out loud to yourself — you will be amazed at how empowering it feels!


Post-Election Repair: Three Steps to Not Losing your Sh*t when Election Results Don’t Go your Way

Your phone rings. You look at your screen and notice it is your relative calling you, your family member who voted for the candidate who won the presidency, the candidate whom you did not vote for.

Suddenly all of the sadness, fear, grief, anger, and worry flood over you again. You have been feeling waves of these emotions for the last two days.

Sometimes they are so intense that you burst into tears.

Sometimes they hurt so much that you want to curl up in a ball and hide. It’s a situation that you don’t know how to handle, an unprecedented time of uncertainty and feeling out of control.

 

Coping With Feelings of Grief and Sadness

These experiences are being felt all over our country right now. No matter who you voted for, you are aware of an energy of divisiveness, fear and judgment that has percolated into our souls like a poisonous drip over the past year and a half.

Stress of this kind shows up in our bodies in somewhat unusual and perhaps unrecognizable ways – physical exhaustion, irritability, difficulty focusing, using destructive behaviors to self-soothe (or to attempt to), digestive problems, sleeping problems, volatility in your closest relationship because you don’t know how else to cope, avoidance, among many others.

The future is uncertain. What will happen next is unknown in many ways, and this can feed our fear even stronger. So what do we do? How do we discuss this with our children when we can’t wrap our heads around it ourselves?

Fear has run rampant in our country ever since the beginning of this election season and it came to a head Tuesday night when the country became more divided than ever before. Fear breeds hate.  We must not feed the hate.

 

Three Steps to Taking Care of Yourself and Finding Meaning in Despair

I certainly don’t have all of the answers on how to get through this difficult and trying time, but I have been leaning on many of my loved ones and listening to how they are coping. I’ve learned some quite amazing and …hopeful… things.  Here are a few ideas:

1.)  Let yourself feel. Many of us are in shock. Shock affects our nervous system in intense ways, slowing down our responsiveness and our abilities to integrate our minds with our bodies effectively. We are more susceptible to reacting with WHY and HOW COULD YOU, than responding with mindfulness. This will ease up.

 But for now, taking care of yourself and your loved ones in ANY way you need to is our           priority. Leave work early to go home and cry in your bed; call upon your neighbor to come sit with you and hold your hand; attend a gathering in your local community. Don’t try to change your emotions today. They are there for a reason and need to be given space to run their course. It won’t always feel this intense.

2.) Set boundaries. How might you mindfully address the family member in the beginning of this post? Give yourself permission to kindly and gently tell them that you are not able to talk with them right now and that you love them. That you will call them back later when you feel more able to come up with words to speak. This is on your own timeline, there is no deadline.

This is how boundaries are enforced: by identifying your need and your emotion, by recognizing who and want can either help with those needs or who might hurt those needs, and then communicating with them what needs to be in place so you can move forward.

Set boundaries with news sources and with social media. Social media can be a way of connecting with others who feel your pain, but it also can easily become an obsession and lead to more suffering. Choose your battles, and know when to turn it off.

3.) Lean in and come together. This is one of the most beautiful results of the recent election that I have witnessed so far. When we are united in pain, we can move forward to heal it. Connect with your neighbor and smile at them. Organize with your community to rally for local causes that matter to you. Volunteer. Attend a spiritual service. Recognize that we will get through this, stronger together than divided.

 

Nurture Your Spiritual Self

I’m noticing within myself a need to reconnect with my own spirituality as my soul has felt hurt and broken recently. I have wanted to avoid feeling things instead of trying to be with them and understand them.

I know that I tend to this part of myself when I am in nature. I am uncertain how else I can heal it, but I do know that spirituality connects us with a part of ourselves that is empowered to heal us. How can you connect with your spirituality?

 

Repairing with Love Instead of Dividing with Hate

In closing, I want to touch on how we might repair the love and connection that our society so desperately craves right now. We all make assumptions about people….this is a huge part of why there is so much fear, hate and judgment in our country right now.

We fear and we judge what we don’t know. Fear loses its power when we open up and allow.

The person who has different views than you do, whether they are a family member or friend or just someone you see walking down the street: try to offer them loving-kindness. Even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. Even if it feels like the most difficult thing to do in that moment.  You don’t know what it is like to be in their shoes, and if we can try to accept and allow instead of judge, then we’re one step closer to finding hope in our lives once again.

 

Steps to Self Compassion

Here is a mediation adapted from HeartMath that teaches us how to practice compassion for ourselves and for others:

  1. Recognize what you are feeling.
  2. Focus in your heart area and breathe in love for about a minute.
  3. Now breathe self-compassion through the heart area and throughout your entire body for a few minutes.
  4. Find a still, quiet place inside where you can feel this compassion. If negative thoughts or feelings about yourself arise in the mind, gently return your focus to the heart area.
  5. Radiate compassion out from your heart to any issues you are addressing – perceived failure, a feeling of inadequacy, insecurity or self-pity – with an honest understanding of what you are going through. Continue to do this for a few minutes, longer if needed, all the while creating within a heart-filled environment of compassion.

 

I’d love for you to leave a comment with any ideas you have for how to persevere despite adversity and how you have taken care of yourself in a time of turmoil and pain.  We are stronger together!


The Sweet Potato Battle: The Vulnerability of Pregnancy, Taking Up Space, and Being a ‘Good Enough’ Parent

Today I am so honored to share with you a guest post by my friend and colleague Ann Stoneson of Labyrinth Healing.  Ann is a therapist in Austin, Texas who helps people pleasers find their voice and empower themselves.  Ann, who is a brilliant writer and also a new mother, graciously offered to write a post for my blog this month exploring her experience with pregnancy, overcoming people-pleasing and showing up for herself.  The experience of pregnancy forces you to take up more space, which for many of us can bring up uncomfortable and conflictual emotions and feelings.  I am personally grateful to Ann for this post as I navigate my own pregnancy and impending motherhood, my own body image and my role as a therapist.

Please enjoy!  And if you find this compelling please leave a comment and share with your peers.

P.S.: Check back in January for my own guest post for Ann’s blog about the challenges and joys of navigating body image during pregnancy.

 

The Sweet Potato Battle: The Vulnerability of Pregnancy, Taking Up Space, and Feeding Your True Hunger

By Ann Stoneson, MS, LPC-S

 

I’m rather embarrassed.

I sit down to write this post for Kate, knowing her practice centers around helping people building healthy relationships with food, and I draw a blank. Have I done this before?

After taking a quick, sheepish inventory of my blog, the verdict comes in.

I am a therapist and I have blogged weekly for three years trying to help women and people-pleasers yet I have written precisely one post about struggles with food.

One. Just one. (And you can read it here, if you like.)

Wow. Really? That’s one heck of a blind spot.

And, in the few posts I’ve written that mention eating at all, like finding Buddha at the breakfast table and the hour long lunch break, don’t get into the often complicated relationship we have with food.

So this is new territory for me.

I’ll do what I usually do with that stuff, which is to pull a handful experiences forward from my life and talk about them. Here we go.

My confession

Yes. I admit it.

I’m a very good chameleon.

I can blend in pleasingly with almost any crowd or situation. But I’m most at home making myself useful to others—listening, helping out, tidying up.

I’m the person at the party who circulates through the house, gathering up empty cups and bottle caps, presiding over the snack table like I was sworn into office for the job.

Of course, some of that has to do with being an introvert and finding refuge in solitary tasks when I’m in a sea of people at a party. But a lot of it also has to do with wanting, no, needing to be helpful to others.

It has to do with being a people pleaser. A chameleon. You obligingly change your shade, your shape, to suit the wishes and needs of those around you.

Being a people-pleaser

I carried on for years doing this. Dissolving myself into situations like tea into water.

You couldn’t even see me. I hid behind the role of helper. I went straight from college to graduate school to become a helper. And then I became a therapist, which is about as professional a helper as you can get.

Now, I preside over counseling sessions rather than snack tables, but the gig is similar.

What can I get you?

How can I help?

Do you need some more water?

Except I got pregnant.

And suddenly, I was the one who needed water, a pee break every hour, and there were even those last minute cancellations when the morning sickness just wouldn’t go away.

Suddenly, I had needs I couldn’t ignore, and I had to practice what I preach, balancing my needs and the needs of my clients during the tender, swollen, confusing months of pregnancy.

Pregnancy introduced a whole new way of chameleoning—perhaps the first true and honest way of changing my shape to suit someone else. And as with any transformation, it had its beautiful and its awkward moments.

The vulnerability of pregnancy

Being pregnant was one of the biggest practices in authenticity and vulnerability I’ve ever

 

experienced. Because I couldn’t hide it.

Because I couldn’t suck in my stomach or hold my breath through it.

I had to take up more space—in every sense of the word—and I was doing my best to be at peace with this.

Being a walking billboard for impending motherhood had its challenges. I got a lot of comments and well-wishes and advice from people I didn’t know. I got asked about my weight gain.

Two weeks shy of my due date, while sitting alone and eating a barbeque sandwich on my lunch break, an elderly woman sidled by my table and asked, “Are you sure you’re going to have time to finish that?”

I remember looking blankly at her, not understanding what the hell she was saying and thinking to myself, “I have another hour before my next appointment, what is she talking about?”

Then she gestured to my stomach and asked, “You look like you’re about to pop. When are you due?”

If this had been the first stranger’s inquiry about my belly’s impending deadline, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. But I was getting inquiries every day, every time I left the house, in my final months of pregnancy. And a part of me was getting tired of all that visibility, particularly as I was feeling anxious about the birthing process and mostly just wanted to be left alone to my thoughts.

My husband joked that I should have thrown my sandwich into the ceiling fan in a panic, dropped to all fours, and then begin moaning as though I was in active labor.

I sort of wish I had, but I wanted to finish the sandwich.

Living life a second time

As a therapist, I’ve talked before with clients who had intrusive parents. Parents who wanted to live vicariously through their kids. Parents who couldn’t step back and give their children some room to breathe, to fumble about, to make mistakes.

This living through your kids phenomenon was often talked about with a tone of condemnation among therapists.

When I consider the notion now, the first thing I think of is how much more compassion and understanding I have for all parents—my own and everyone else’s. Being a parent calls down all sorts of humility on you.

The second thing I think is that raising a child is a chance to live life twice—but hopefully more as an observer and maybe sometimes a co-pilot, nothing more.

The sweet potato battle

A month ago, I sat down with my son to try and feed him his first solid foods. Initially, he didn’t seem too keen on anything I offered.

I remember looking anxiously at the packaging, which told me to use within 24 hours of opening and then discard.

I remember trying to steer sloppy spoonfuls of pureed sweet potato into his mouth when he wasn’t keen on eating.

Fortunately, I caught myself doing this early.

And each time I sit down with him, I try to be mindful and patient when feeding him. I try not to get locked in sweet potato battles. I try to hold things lightly.

As a first-time, sleep-deprived parent, I manage to do this maybe half of the time.

Healing our relationship with food

American culture has a pretty confused, complicated relationship with food, eating, and dieting.

So, with that force as a backdrop, I want to help my son cultivate a thoughtful, loving relationship with food.

I don’t want him to feel like he has to be a member of the “clean plate club” because I’m anxious about wasted food. I want him to learn to listen to his body and its cues.

Sure, there will be times when he doesn’t want what’s on offer, and he eats it anyway, or makes himself a snack when he’s old enough to do so, or maybe goes hungry for a while.

But this will be his choice.

Even now, a baby without words to speak, he has a will and he has preferences. And food is one of his earliest ways to express these.

Our relationship with food is lifelong. Whatever lessons we may have absorbed before this point, there is always opportunity to learn, to grow, to try something new.

Final thoughts

As I work to teach my son to have a healthy, loving relationship with food, I see opportunities to heal my own relationship with it, too.

It’s hit or miss some days, sure.

I’m sure we’ll get into power struggles at times, my own anxieties rising like a tide as I try to get him to do it my way.

I try to cast forgiveness and patience forward to where my future self is waiting, mired in frustration and tears.

As I’ve said before to my clients who struggle in their relationship with food, it is the one “substance” you can’t cut out of your life and live.

A recovering alcoholic can quit the bar scene, hard though it may be. But a person struggling to make peace with her food has to grapple with that relationship every day.

I hope a peaceful relationship with food is a gift I can offer my son.

As a therapist, I’m keenly aware of the cost of parental failings.

I try not to let this awareness fuel my anxiety.

I try to embrace the concept of the good enough mother that Winnicott, a famous analyst, often spoke of.

So, whether you’re a parent or not,

whether you have a peaceful or precarious relationship with food,

whatever the shape of your sweet potato battles,

know that you’re not alone with it.

 

Stonebraker headshotAbout the Author: Ann Stoneson is a counselor in Austin, Texas who helps folks quit people-pleasing.  She writes weekly for her own practice blog at Labyrinth Healing, as well as at her latest project, counselinginterns.com, a resource site for counseling students and interns.


The One Surprising Thing I Never Knew About Yoga and How It Healed My Disordered Relationship With Food

I am honored today to share a guest post to my blog by Annette Sloan, a health coach and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering teens to embrace healthy living through her business, (w)holehearted.  She is gifting us today with her story about how yoga helped her offer herself something that is so integral to its essence: compassion.  Even when you’re struggling with food or body image issues. Especially then.

 

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Have you ever been to a bad yoga class? Maybe it was a class where the teacher wasn’t sure of her instructions and kept fumbling over her words.

Or maybe she talked too much, which made it hard for you to quiet your mind, or she talked too little, which made it hard for you to know what you were supposed to be doing.

Bad yoga classes are the worst. You take the time in your day to get to your mat, hoping to move your body and calm your mind – and then the instructor ruins the whole experience.

I am a yoga instructor, and I have a confession to make: I once taught the worst yoga class ever. Ok, maybe not the worst class ever. I didn’t make fun of anyone or tell them their body was wrong. No one got hurt. But, I did do an absolutely terrible job of leading the class. I forgot my sequence, mixed up left and right multiple times, and fumbled over the instructions on pretty much every pose.

Not even halfway through the class, I could tell that my students were just humoring me. They wanted to roll up their mats and leave, but they were too polite. It was my first class out of yoga teacher training, and I was screwing up it, big time.

Even worse, this wasn’t just a regular class – it was an audition. One of the polite yogis in front of me owned a yoga business, and I was supposed to be proving my chops as an instructor.

When the hour finally ended, my students gratefully rolled up their mats and departed. I was left with Bonnie, the yoga business owner. Telling myself that I could cry in my car in a few minutes, I looked her in the eye and waited to hear my fate.

Bless Bonnie. Instead of diving into the long list of everything I had done wrong, she kindly asked, “How do you think it went?”

I was honest and brutal in my self-appraisal. Bonnie waited patiently for me to finish, then nodded.

Without agreeing or disagreeing with me, she said, “But did you see how they stayed around to talk with you at the end? If they hated you, they would have left immediately. They liked your energy.”

Once again, bless Bonnie. Talk about compassion.

I didn’t get hired for the job that night. But I didn’t get dismissed either. Bonnie recognized that my nerves had played a huge role in my less-than-stellar performance. She gave me a list of areas to work on, and suggested that I do another audition in a few weeks. Later, she hired me.

The moral of the story is that on the night of my worst yoga class ever, Bonnie embodied an essential component of yoga: compassion.

In my opinion, when a yogi steps onto his or her mat, everything that takes place is in service to a higher goal: to connect mind and body to the present moment – and to be compassionate with whatever comes up.

Downward-facing dog too rough on your shoulders today? Try table instead. Table isn’t feeling good? Child’s pose is always available. The underlying message is: wherever you are, right now, is valid. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. Honor your journey.

I started practicing yoga in high school, and continued through college and my twenties. During this time, I was struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food. (Learn more about my story here, or here for a more detailed version). Thankfully, I’m now on the other side of the struggle. And I can honestly say that my practice of yoga was essential to my healing.

Yoga connected my mind and body in the present moment. It regularly reminded me to practice self-compassion and to honor my journey. My subconscious received the message that I wherever I was, it was ok for me to be there. I was worthy, just as I was.

Eventually, my journey led me to yoga-teacher training, where I found the courage to share the story of my struggle with food.

It was terrifying to make myself so vulnerable – but in airing my shame, I found healing. I summoned up the courage to share my story with others, and eventually, with everyone I knew. Today, I have my own business, (w)holehearted, which specializes in compassionate health coaching for teen girls.

I have yoga to thank for it all – and for that, I will be forever grateful.

 

Annette_Greeting_WebAnnette Sloan owns (w)holehearted, a Denver-based business specializing in compassionate health coaching for teen girls. Her work as a coach and speaker empowers teens to discover their happiest, healthiest, most authentic selves. Soon, Annette will also debut a program called Empowered Moms, Empowered Daughters, which will help moms to heal their relationships with food, body, and self so that they can be positive role models for their daughters. In addition, Annette co-leads a workshop called “Yoga, Food, and Love: A Compassionate Journey to Healing your Relationship with Food.” Learn more at www.healthyteengirls.com and www.fb.com/healthyteengirls.


Please Don’t Turn On The Lights: How Body Image Affects Intimacy

I’m so excited today to share a post I wrote for the blog of Dr. Lily Zehner.  What an honor!  Read on…

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Please Don’t Turn On The Lights: How Body Image Affects Intimacy

Have you ever looked in the mirror and had negative thoughts or emotions jump out at you about the image reflected back?  What about standing in front of the mirror naked?  Now try to imagine how it feels to let your partner see you naked.  If you ask me, I’d say vulnerable!!!  Yikes!

We all have a body, so we all have a body image. Our relationship with our bodies can have a significant impact on our physical and emotional intimacy with our loved ones and with ourselves.   Body image is described as a culmination of a person’s internal and external experiences, personality, perception of the world and impact of cultural influences. I also think of it as a person’s perception of their body’s attractiveness and acceptability by others, and it is often influenced by expectations set in the media, in our culture, and by those close to us.  Sometimes, our body image is passed down to us as a reflection of our parents’ own relationships with their bodies.

Our culture’s obsession with the “thin ideal” as the standard for beauty can have a detrimental effect on women (and men) whose bodies do not look the way that society says is “beautiful” – ie: thin, yet curvy in the right places, tall, toned, active, strong yet not too strong, etc etc etc.  For men the standards are equally as confusing and contradictory.

And when we feel as if we are unattractive based on society’s standards, we can internalize that feeling and become at war with our own selves.

Chasing, yet not meeting this elusive thin-ideal standard can foster feelings of inadequacy in women and men and can support a belief that there is something undesirable about our bodies and thus ourselves. Intimacy, whether physical and/or emotional, is the deep connection and closeness felt between romantic partners that is intended to be a method of communicating love, affection, and acceptance.  If we struggle with communicating love and acceptance to ourselves, with our negative body image creating a barrier between us and the world, we can cut ourselves off from this deep, nourishing intimacy with others and create a divide in our relationship.

When we don’t feel emotionally safe and accepting with our own bodies, we may create a self-protecting defensive shield around ourselves which can lead to a disconnection with ourselves and with our partners.  As someone who works extensively with people who struggle with body image and disordered eating issues, I can attest to the deep disconnect and loneliness that these struggles can bring to physical and emotional intimacy.  What I also know is that healing body image wounds is very possible and it is one of the leading factors to re-establishing a sensual, intimate relationship with your partner(s) and with yourself.

How?

If you struggle with body image issues and you feel that they are affecting your intimacy in your relationship,

Be honest.  Open up to your partner(s).  Share as much about what you are feeling as you feel comfortable.  Sure, this is vulnerable as heck.  It also opens the dialogue for understanding and connection and can foster communication between you about how you can feel more comfortable in your body.

Be kind.  First to yourself.  I know this is hard.  I believe that we cannot truly offer to others what we are not able to give to ourselves.  Instead of judging yourself for having these struggles, try to be compassionate and gentle.

Be curious.  What is really going on for you in your body image struggle?  As author Geneen Roth (author of Women, Food and God and When Food is Love) states: “”Every time you sneak food, you give yourself the message that you cannot be seen … [and it] translates into sneaking your desires, sneaking your hungers, and sneaking your heart, because you feel you don’t deserve love.”  Try to take a gentle look at what might be feeding your body image struggle including experiences from your past where you have felt judged about your body for some reason.

Try to reconnect to what intimacy feels like to you.  When have you felt close with someone?  What did that feel like in your body – sensations, emotions, physical touch?  How did your body react to that feeling of closeness?  What is one small step you could take today to re-initiate that feeling of closeness with your partner or yourself?

Have you had body image struggles which have impacted your intimacy and closeness with loved ones?  Leave a comment below about your experience and how you healed that connection with your partner or yourself.

 

Read more about the amazing work happening at Dr. Lily Zehner’s private practice at their site: www.drlilyzehner.com.  Thanks for the opportunity to guest post, and it was an honor to feature owner Lily Zehner’s guest post on my blog last week!


The Self-Care Myth

I am very excited today to share a guest post by Stephanie Small, a Licensed Social Worker and holistic nutritionist who is one of my favorite and most inspiring local helpers in the field of healing from disordered eating!  I met Stephanie several months ago for coffee and we had an invigorating chat about what causes binge eating, what does the process of recovery really look like, and so much more.  Stephanie and I have both recovered from eating disorders and share a similar philosophy in helping our clients find their own path to healing and we decided to “guest write” on each other’s blogs (check out my post on her blog “The Surprising Reason You Don’t Feel Confident in Your Body“)  Please read on to explore her musings on “The Self-Care Myth”:

 

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Hands up if you’ve heard repeatedly about the importance of self-care for healing!

Hands up if the thought of fitting in “bubble bath”, “journaling” and “calling a friend” x number of times per week totally stresses you out, and feels like just one more thing to add into an already overwhelmingly busy life!

You’re not alone. And by the way, that’s not what self-care is about. Let me explain:

Last spring, I raised the topic of self-care to a Women’s Emotional Eating group. Instantly, I felt resistance. Members started to shift around in their seats and make reluctant faces.

“What’s the deal?” I asked.

“I think we all know about self-care already,” offered one of the group members.

“….And it feels like just one more thing to do?” I asked.

“YES!” said several of the members. Others nodded vigorously.

“Let me bust a GIANT myth for you,” I said. “Self-care is NOT about taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, indulging in a pedicure, breathing deeply, practicing your piano, or anything else off some list. Well, let me re-phrase that. It CAN be any of those things. Here’s what self-care actually IS, though – It’s giving yourself whatever you need IN THAT MOMENT.”

Some women looked quizzical. Others looked relieved.

“So in other words, it’s not doing thirty minutes of some activity that sounds nice. It doesn’t really have anything to do with that. It has to do with tuning in, sensing what you need, and giving that to yourself. Do you see what I mean?”

Some women started to nod.

“Here’s the thing with this – and this is really important – self-care IS self-care BECAUSE it’s about giving yourself what you need,” I explained. “Say you’re upset. And what you really, really need to do is cry. Or scream! But you’re not used to tuning in to your body and sensing your needs that way. Or maybe you know that you need to cry or scream, but you don’t give yourself permission to do it. So instead, you take a bubble bath. Well, how effective do you think that bubble bath is going to be in helping you to feel better?”

“Not very,” said one woman.

“Right,” I said. “That is why it’s crucial to learn how to listen to your internal experience. If you’re journaling when you really need to be kickboxing and imagining your boss’s face, or if you’re getting a pedicure when your body is just crying out for the relaxation of a bath, it’s not really self-care.”

“That feels so much more manageable, rather than just ticking off items from a list,” another woman said.

“Yeah,” I said, “and the other piece about that is time. If you’re really tuning in and giving yourself what you need, yes, you may need to spend a half an hour or more, or you may find that a few moments of compassionate attention to your insides can be enough to feel relief.”

That particular Women’s Emotional Eating Group lasted for eight weeks. During the last session, each participant spent time talking about what they would take away from the group. And most mentioned this exchange.

Learning to identify your needs, by the way, is not an intellectual process. It comes from developing a relationship with your body’s signals and cues, and then honoring what it has to say.

Here’s a very simple way to start to explore this process:

The next time you’re feeling off – agitated, sad, worried, angry – find somewhere quiet to sit, close your eyes, and take a few slow, deep breaths. Then pose the question “what do I need right now?” Imagine saying it to yourself, rather than thinking about it. If you give it some time (or it may occur very quickly!) an image may arise, or you may feel suddenly drawn to a particular activity. In this case, you’ll know you’re on the right track as long as it’s not a compulsive activity that medicates feelings. If nothing in particular arises, try offering yourself some options, and sense into how your body feels when you imagine each one. If, upon imagining one or more, you get a sense of relaxation or “rightness” or satisfaction, you’ve got a good place to start.

 

~       ~       ~

 

Stephanie Small is a psychotherapist and holistic nutritionist (and recovering sugar addict) who helps her clients boost their mood and transform their relationship with food. She also offers online programs, writes, blogs and speaks at live events. She received her BA from Yale University, her MSW from Smith College for Social Work, and her Holistic Nutrition Educator Certificate from Bauman College. She is a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Colorado, and has a private practice in Boulder, CO and via Skype. Her website is www.stephaniesmallhealth.com.


Mindful Gardening: Six Seeds to Sow to Nourish a Thriving Recovery!

As a young girl, I loved to play in the fields of sunflowers by my home and watch as they reached higher, higher, and higher, always facing the sun. They thrived in the light.

As a teenager, I became disconnected from my love of the earth and as my eating disorder destroyed my life, I barely noticed the neglected tulips outside my window. I hid in the darkness and so did my garden.

As an eating disorder survivor and now a professional counselor, I play in my garden daily to nurture my recovery, to nourish my soul, and to reconnect with my authentic self. While I have been recovered for more than 10 years now and feel very solid in my recovery, gardening is an integral factor in sustaining my recovery.

I am blessed to be able to help others who struggle with eating disorders to find their own light in their recovery process and I often utilize metaphors from mindful gardening practices (and get our hands in the dirt and actuallypractice it!) to help them cultivate their own inner gardens.

Do you like to garden? If you were a plant, which type do you think you’d be? Why?

The earth is a natural source of healing energy for us and if we connect with it, we can soothe our inner hunger and feed our soul in a way that food cannot.

Six Seeds to Sow in your Inner Garden

1. You are the artist of your own garden. There are hundreds of flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs, and other beauties that can make your garden lush and bountiful! Yes, this can be a bit overwhelming, but it can also be fun! It’s up to you to decide what you like, what you don’t, what you want to experiment with, and what is aesthetically pleasing to you. In recovery, it’s so important to learn that you are unique, you are wonderful any way you want to be, and your voice is the one that truly counts when it comes to taking care of yourself.

2. Can you try to embrace your inner weeds instead of pull them all out? Weeds can sometimes be unpleasant, unsightly, unwanted parts of our gardens. They show up when we didn’t plant them and crowd into our beautiful peony plant. You can spend hours upon hours weeding (trust me, I know!) and while it can be therapeutic to do so, you can never get all of the weeds to permanently scram. This is also true of things in our lives that we feel we want to go away — we can spend so much time and energy trying to get rid of them that we don’t have much space left to notice and appreciate what we already have. Also, some weeds are beautiful and can pop up unexpectedly in the most amazing places — kind of like in recovery when we focus on what we’re grateful for and notice that some of our challenges can sometimes be our greatest teachers.

3. Just as any garden does, your inner garden needs tender, loving care. Self care is so integral to eating disorder recovery. Listening to your inner needs, voice, and limits can foster a healthy bed for lasting recovery. Sprinkle in some self-compassion and you’ll have a beautiful recovery garden nurturing inside of you. Just as gardens need water, sun, shade, and fertilizer, for your recovery garden to thrive you will need to actively and regularly tend to it as well.

4. There is no such thing as a “perfect” garden. Sometimes the gardens that are the most quirky, fun, and unconventional are the ones that we gravitate toward. They embrace themselves even if they don’t follow all of the “rules” of gardening. Just as a garden’s uniqueness is refreshing and inspiring, on the road to recovery it’s essential to remember that there is no perfect body, shape, personality, life, family, recovery, etc. We each discover our recovery in its own imperfect and messy way and through acceptance of this, we learn to accept and cherish ourselves just as we are.

5. If it doesn’t work out the first time, try again. There is no such thing as failure, just learning and having fun. In May, I had just planted my little seedlings that I’d been carefully nurturing indoors for two months. They were finally strong enough to go out in the earth and grow! Of course, the next day we got a MASSIVE hail storm that just about drowned all of my little plants in golf-ball sized pieces. I was so upset, worried and frustrated. After some deep breaths I came to realize that I cannot control nature and that my little plants are going to show me how resilient they are. Once I embraced what I could not change or control, I turned my attention to what I was grateful for and my stress oozed out of me.In recovery, trying to embrace what you cannot control is one of the most difficult but also most freeing concepts — I cannot say that I’m always successful, but hey, I’m not perfect.

6. Patience is a virtue. What seeds do you want to nurture in your own inner garden? Take some time to think of several that you would love to grow in your life. Plant them by writing them down or planting your own garden and setting intentions for each seed that you sow. Of course, some seeds may not grow — this is the nature of nature and also the nature of life. Just plant more. Then, have patience. The most beautiful and magical gifts in our lives take time, gentle care, and acceptance for them to thrive.

Recovery is a garden worth waiting for!

Post originally written by Kate Daigle, MA, LPC and published on the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders site.


Five Steps To Becoming More Embodied: How To Be At Home In Your Body

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:

  • feeling at home in your body
  • feeling connected to your body in a safe manner
  • an increased ability to be in your body in the present moment and to feel all of its sensations (emotional and physical)
  • Safe and healthy expression of needs, desires, fears and wants through the body
  • an increased ability to self-soothe when feeling escalated or agitated
  • an ability to identify inner needs and tend to them appropriately
  • Connection to and acceptance of all parts of your body and of yourself
  • Connection to your sense of self; your soul
  • Ability to recognize and correct cognitive distortions related to your body

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!

 


How many of us must wait until something life-transforming happens before we really appreciate our bodies?

While immersing myself in texts, articles, conversations and daydreams to begin putting together a body image group coming in January 2014 (updates coming soon!!), I came across a beautiful and brilliant photo book by photographer Rosanne Olson entitled this is who I am.  Within the book’s covers, fifty-four women are photographed nude, each with stories to tell to prove that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes:

“The portraits, taken by award-winning photographer Rosanne Olson with a steady, non-judgmental eye, speak loudly to the American obsession of feminine perfection — slim hims and full breasts, high cheekbones and tiny waists, taut skin and eternal youth — and even more loudly to the way real women, with real bodies and real lives, look.”

I was struck by the pure humanness and depth in the eyes and bodies of all of the women represented in the book — women from all walks of life, ethnicities, ages, and with their own unique stories.

Utilizing this book with clients who are struggling with their own various body image issues has proven to be an eye-opening and introspective journey.  We have found a richness in exploring how what we see on the outside does not necessarily tell us the true or whole story.  When looking at a photo of a twenty-two year old slim, blonde woman, one might be compelled to focus on her body first and assume (by society’s standards) that she is happy, rich, popular, and perfect.  Reading her story, you learn that she has had part of her lung removed as part of complications of cystic fibrosis and that she lives with other complications every day.  Look in her eyes and you sense a wisdom, perhaps one that delves into her soul and makes her look older than she is.  You sense that she knows her story and its twists and turns.

What do learn or assume if we focus on how a body looks as an assessment tool for how happy, peaceful, confident, healthy, wealthy, etc etc etc a person is?  How true of a measuring tool is that? What are the consequences to this approach?

Ms. Olson posed intriguing questions to her subjects in her “goal of complete revelation — not hiding behind clothing but exposing both body and mind.  What would we learn about ourselves? Would we — could we — become more compassionate?  Not only towards ourselves but towards another?”  I invite you to peruse through the other questions she posed and see how you would answer them yourself:

  • What do you love about your body?
  • How long has it taken you to arrive at acceptance/love of your body?
  • What frustrates you or what would you like to change?
  • Has your body let you down (if you feel that it has) or have you let your body down?
  • How have you supported your body?
  • How have your feelings changed towards your body since you were younger?
  • In general, how do you feel women feel about their bodies?
  • How do you feel the media have affected how women feel about their bodies? (read an excerpt and see some of the stunning photos here)

She then asked each participant why they agreed to be photographed.  Some of the women struggle with eating or exercise problems.  Some have suffered from medical issues or illnesses that have affected the way their body functions, feels, and looks.  They all have had experiences in their lives which have forced them to become more aware of their bodies — whether in a joyful or painful way.

What story does your body hold?  If photographed, what messages about your internal state of being would your body send to those looking at the photo?  Is your internal state congruent with the energy you exude out of your body?

I have been journaling about my own journey with my body.  It has been through so much with me, and yet here it still stands, walks, talks, and dances, my ever dedicated soldier.  I am so grateful for my body, though my relationship with it can wind through sticky paths as well as bright ones.  In my own recovery, I have learned that I must take care of my body, and this is not negotiable.  My body is unique just to me, a gift.  I admire the women in these photos who allow themselves to be vulnerable, naked, and yet to connect to each other and to those who read their stories and see their photos in such a powerful way.

We have so much to learn from the wisdom of our bodies. Why must we wait until something life-changing happens for us to tune into and adore them?

Stay tuned for my Body Image Acceptance Group coming in January 2014!  The group will be limited to few participants, so sign up quickly.  More info coming soon to my Events page.

 

 


All or Nothing: The Dangers of Getting Trapped in Rigid Thought Patterns — And How to Break Free!

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?