Search Results for "compassion"

Every Moment is an Opportunity to Return to Center: Using compassion to achieve your goals

At the start of a New Year, most people feel the need to mark it with resolutions, goals, behaviors or attitude changes – whatever they want to label it –  because the New year brings about the feeling of a “fresh start”, which humans love. I mean, who wouldn’t? That “begin again” feeling is nice.

But as January ends and the New Year buzz dwindles, life has typically already stomped in and derailed things OR people have built up a lot of pressure around maintaining and sticking to their goals. It’s understandable. Achieving your goals feels great! However, not achieving your goals feels like a moral failing – especially in a society jammed full of “bootstrapping” rhetoric and diet culture (which is built on the American ideal of “bootstrapping”). 

Bootstrapping is the idea that anyone can get into or out of a situation using existing resources. And I  would add another layer to this definition that we have here in America, “good” people bootstrap through anything because they are strong willed, noble, have integrity and “bad” people fail at it because they are weak willed, morally failing and don’t have integrity.

The bootstrapping rhetoric is everywhere. Diet culture, politicians, the educational system, motivational speakers, manifesting gurus all promote the idea that with enough willpower you can do it too (whatever “it” is).

Now, please do not misinterpret this post. Setting goals and working towards them is a beautiful thing. Wanting to grow, change, build more positive habits, take care of yourself and your body better, these are wonderful things and I fully support you!

The point I’m here to make is, the rhetoric that develops due to the American bootstrapping theory, is toxic to your wellbeing. It is narrow minded and lacks compassion. 

The real truth of life is that every moment is a moment to change behavior, adopt a new attitude, practice self care. You don’t need to wait for Monday, a new month or a New Year to get that “fresh start” feeling. You can cultivate that a minute from now. Now, it does take a little practice, but the dividends are exponential. 

The other truth of life is priorities shift. What we want changes or goals we thought were healthy and helpful turn out to be harmful. And sometimes they are just unrealistic or infeasible and we need to adapt and adjust. You’re not “quitting” you’re pivoting and businesses do this all the time and are NEVER seen as a failure, but as agile. 

In my view,  owning and practicing these two truths is true integrity and nobility – to know your worth doesn’t change and that you always have the power to build back better with a compassionate voice at the heart of it. 

Here are some questions to help you practice adding compassion: 

  • “Will pushing myself to do this make me feel better or worse?” 
  • “Is this approach sustainable?”
  • “Is there a way to break this goal into more manageable steps?”
  • “Why are you taking this approach instead of another one?”
  • “Am I attaching judgement or morality to this goal?”
  • “What would it feel like if I didn’t attach judgement or morality to this goal?”
  • “If/When I achieve this goal will it change how I think about my own worth/desirability or deservingness?”
  • “Can I just complete this task tomorrow and support my mental health with more time/sleep/family time/socialization?”

The Cost of Caring: The Emotional and Physical Toll of Compassion Fatigue

With everything going on in our country right now, it is hard to not feel stressed, taxed or overwhelmed, especially those in caregiving positions. Our nation, as a community, is struggling with compassion fatigue as we are bombarded daily with one tragedy after another. I hope this can be a resource to remind you this is a normal feeling and we’re all experiencing it right now.  I, myself, have begun to see the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue.

So, I am writing this post to remind myself and support others. Often compassion fatigue can bring up feelings of shame or guilt for “not doing enough”, but I keep returning to this quote:

“I had never been told that empathy is a finite resource. You can run out. As a normal, psychological response, you cannot give of yourself again and again and again without replenishing.” – Emmett Fitzgerld 

Though he names empathy – compassion is empathy in action, so this is very much a description of how compassion fatigue materializes in our lives. 

What is compassion fatigue? 

Compassion fatigue is the phenomenon when the helpers in the world: therapist, teachers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, etc… experience what is called secondary trauma. The persistent demand of caring for others overtime wears on the emotional fabric of those helping. 

Despite what people often think, compassion fatigue is not the same as burnout. Burnout happens over time when the demands on oneself outweigh one’s resources or ability to cope. It is hard to reverse or recover from burnout without the complete cessation of your workload.

However, compassion fatigue happens more suddenly, but can be prevented or reversed through emotional support and structured self-care. 

Signs & Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue: 

It has been noted in research that the signs and symptoms helpers experience often mirror the symptoms of the victims they are caring for. 

  • Sadness, Greif 
  • Depression & anxiety 
  • Dread, horror, fear
  • Shame 
  • Vivid nightmares, trouble sleeping
  • Flashbacks to their own trauma
  • Numbing and avoidance 
  • Viewing the world as unsafe
  • Suspiciousness 
  • Cynicism 
  • Poor self-esteem 
  • Survivors guilt or guilt for enjoying life 

Steps to help prevent or reverse Compassion Fatigue: 

Typically helpers developed their passion to help due to their own experiences with similar traumas. This can make compassion fatigue more likely for those helpers whose own trauma is triggered by those they are caring for. It is especially important that those helpers have structured self-care and are acutely self-aware. 

  1. Structured Self-Care – this means making self-care non-negotiable, like you would a doctor’s appointment. The more routine and consistent it can be, the better. Self-care can look like: hobbies, support groups, yoga classes, alone time, or anything else that helps you recharge. 
  2.  Quality Sleep – this can feel like it is not in your control, but there are things that help improve your sleep quality and quantity. Ritualizing a nighttime routine. This psychologically prepares your body for bed. A hot bath or shower before bed. The drastic drop in temperature when you get out simulates what happens during sleep. Keeping the temperature in your bedroom cool. Bodies sleep more soundly in cooler temperatures. Remove electronics from the bedroom, not only because of the blue light which makes us think it is daytime, but the content on the news can trigger anxiety. Listen to a sleep medication. Humans fall asleep faster to the sound of human voices.
  3. Listening to music – particularly slow, relaxing music, but whatever music relaxes you and helps cue your brain and body that you’re safe. 
  4.  Spend time in nature – research shows that numerous things in nature calm our bodies and brains. Spending time connected to the wider world can give perspective. Taking in the beauty of the natural world often brings up feelings of gratitude or appreciation. The earth’s electromagnetic field has been shown to relax our own energy fields. 

If you are already experiencing compassion fatigue, this list of to-dos might feel like I’m piling onto your already maxed out plate. So, take it slow. Choose the easiest one on the list and try to be consistent. Ask for help from family and friends in keeping to your self-care routine. If you have a therapist, ask them to support you. 

Shameless plug, follow me on IG because every Saturday I post self-care ideas, which can be a helpful reminder that your own care matters. 


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!


Grieving your Fantasy Body

Honestly, I have been trying to write this blog for a few weeks. It didn’t seem like a hard topic to confront. I didn’t realize that I still had so much wrapped up in this fantasy that examining my grief around it would be so sad. 

Most children dream and fantasize about becoming a “grown up”. The lure of being in control with no rules, bedtimes and obligations is such a fixation. (Of course the real tragedy is, most kids don’t realize that being a grown up only brings more obligations and rules.) But for most pre-teen girls, another narrative crops up in many of the female “coming of age stories” – the summer your body naturally leans out and you go from child to woman and suddenly the whole town takes notice. 

The seed is planted and waiting begins. 

Pre-teen years are also typically the time most girls* begin or are put on diets, with the same promise: If you diet (thin out), they will come. Cementing the idea of one’s identity and worth with their body size and shape AND beginning the yearly practice of fantasizing about next year’s body, which eventually becomes “the summer body” the cycle continues, infinitum.

Imagining your fantasy future self is as much a ritual-like practice as weighing your food when dieting. If I close my eyes I can see her enjoying her cocktail on the beach in a bikini, taking selfies and pictures without a fuss. I dress her in my mind in all the outfits I will not dress my current body in. I imagine how sexy she is and how desirable. 

AND letting go of this practice feels like a real loss. It is admitting that this person I devoted so much time and energy into becoming a person that will never be realized. So much of my hopes and dreams were put on her narrow, svelte shoulders. Not to mention the very real sunk cost value of this fantasy body. Literally, thousands of dollars. 

So, how do you even begin to grieve this fantasy? 

  1. Remind yourself that everything you have been putting off “until you were thin” can be done now. Ask for that promotion, get on a dating app, ask out that person, start your business, wear the swimsuit, join that soccer league, and the 8 million other things you are waiting to do.
  2. Acknowledge your grief and provide a space to process. It is completely and utterly valid to grieve your “fantasy you” just as you would another person in your life. Acknowledging it goes a long way to starting the healing process. It is also important to develop a space to discuss, write or dump all your feelings about your grief.
  3. Cultivate self compassion and self forgiveness. If you have spent a quarter of your life fantasizing about having a different body, that probably won’t go away overnight. That’s normal and totally ok. Develop a practice (if you don’t already have one) of self-compassion around this space. It can be hard to let go.
  4. You are not a failure. Letting go of your “fantasy you” is not “giving up” or “quitting”. It is pivoting and we praise corporations for changing directions all the time because it is a smart thing to do. You are moving towards goals that truly bring you more wellbeing.

It can be hard to let go of something so interwoven into the fabric of your life. For most people it is part of the rhythm of every year, but it doesn’t have to be. You have the power to build a new reality, where you’re not living for a future you, but taking stock in the current you. The current you is magnificent, strong and resilient AF.


Perpetual Loss: Grieving during the Pandemic

Covid-19 has not only brought about immense loss of life, thousands of loved ones gone too soon, but it has also restructured our daily lives and doled out a lot of disappointment, economic instability and pulled back the veil on several festering wounds in our societal structure. And the rapidity of all this change has left a lot of us reeling. 

 

In a matter of months, this pandemic completely changed the way we operate within our society: working from home, masking up before entering buildings or standing on spacing dots at the grocery store, meetings, birthdays and holidays being held online, staring a people through plexiglass and face shields, and avoiding all close contact with anyone you’re not quarantining with. Not to mention, the cancellation of sports games, concerts, vacations, family reunions, summer camps and so many more events we were looking forward to.

 

Throughout all this change, I have watched the world grieve all of these losses. The stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are everywhere throughout the national and global dialogue about this pandemic. It is important to note that the stages of grief are not linear for most people. Although grief is universal, the experience of grief is unique to the griever. Someone can experience all stages one minute, only to start back a denial later that night, while someone else may never get past denial.

 

So, what do you do?

 

1.)   Try to name and identify the emotions that you are having. It can help lessen the impact once you shine light on your experience, but it might not go away.

2.)   So, it is also important to allow the feeling you’re feeling. Pain, disappointment, grief, depression, are all part of the human experience and feeling them, though uncomfortable, can allow them to process.

3.)   Develop a practice of self-compassion. Grief can be slippery and elusive to pin down, so we can sometimes feel like we’ve lost control. This can cause deep depression and sadness in some, while in others it produces a need to control more of their environment, body and life to produce a sense of security. Both are completely understandable reactions.

 

People often say “time heals grief”, but I haven’t found that to be true. Grief can often reformat the perception we have about the world, our mortality, and prioritize what truly matters to us. Whenever we experience loss, the word “forever” gets an updated definition.

 

Personally, I think of grief like a chain wrapped around a tree (stay with me here, I promise it’ll make sense). Loggers often leave the chains they use wrapped around trees in the woods. Overtime, that resilient tree grows around the chain, eventually consuming it entirely within it’s being.

 

Grief is that chain. In the beginning, the grief you experience is a very prominent part of your life. The hurt is constantly visible to you and maybe even to your loved ones around you. But over time, your life continues and you begin to grow around your grief. It doesn’t go away and you are forever altered, but it decreases in pain and prominence. And because you are resilient, it may be a beautiful driving force for you to cherish the life you do have and prioritize the things most important to you.

 

Grief is hard, but can be a powerful facilitator of change.


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.

 

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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.