Developing a Positive Body Image

To heal negative Body Image and feel good about your body, it isn’t necessary to change your body. Instead it involves unlearning your beliefs about your body and relearning new things about yourself and your body. It involves “swimming upstream” against societal images, values, and expectations.

It is possible to feel better about your body and see the beauty of your body. Here are some steps to take.

1.     Acquaint yourself with the image you have of your body. Visually, kinesthetically, emotionally, and verbally. Notice what you see and, notice what you don’t see. Notice your own criticism and judgments. Notice how you limit your life because of this. Notice the times you are sensitive about your body.

2.    Find a space inside yourself where you can have your own relationship to your body. Find a place where you can see your self and your body for what it really is. Find people who support you to keep outside messages out so you can hear your own inner voice speak.

3.    Tell the story of your body. Cry the tears, until there are no more tears. Find places to vent the self-hatred. Listen to your own anguish, or find someone to listen to your anguish.

4.    Remember you were trained to focus on your body to solve your problems. Rationally tell yourself your problems or struggles in life are not because of your body. Wrestle with your inner demons. Wrestle them down; see them for what they are—an internalization of self-hatred, of shame, fear, doubts, addictions, and obsessions. We learned in our histories and in our culture to hate ourselves, and our bodies, to not be good enough, to not measure up.

5.    Listen to yourself when you talk about your body

  • Keep a journal
  • What circumstances or people trigger negative feelings?
  • How does this negative self-talk affect your life?

4.    Improve what you can within reason

  • Exercise and movement for fun, pleasure, and health
  • Good nutrition for better health and longevity
  • Dressing and grooming in ways that reflect your uniqueness

4.    Experience body pleasures and sensuality – get massages, go dancing, touch cold marble, etc.

5.    Surround yourself with people who know the difference between inner and outer qualities…people who value your creativity, intelligence, spunkiness, sincerity, vulnerabilities, talents and loving heart.

6.    Develop activities that enrich your self-esteem. Reflect on your many accomplishments besides how well you control your weight or appearance.

7.    Learn to relax and calm your negative mental chatter—through prayer, meditation, yoga, etc.

8.    Cultivate compassion for yourself and others.

Tips for Money Management in the New Year

The new year is a great time to clarify the vision of your life—your ideal lifestyle that reflects your values, your family situation, and other factors unique to you.That vision may change over time, so revisiting it at the start of the new year can help you refocus your financial habits to reflect your current goals.

There are four purposes for clarifying your vision:

  1. It helps you know your unique values.
  2. It helps you recognize when your spending is not in alignment with your values.
  3. It gives a beginning structure to your budget or spending plan.
  4. It motivates you to take the necessary financial action.

Here are a couple of exercises to help you clarify your vision:

  • Take some time to reflect on what you value, asking yourself questions such as:  How would you spend your day if all of your money woes were magically taken care of? Or, how would you spend your day if you had all the time, money and love that you ever wanted? What type of home would you live in? Where would it be located? What type of furnishings would you have? What colors, textures, and space would surround you? What would you be wearing? What would you be doing with your day? Who would be with you? Just let yourself dream and fantasize this lifestyle. During this exercise, jot down notes to yourself until you get some clarity.
  • Make a collage with pictures that depict ideas, scenes, moods, or objects that you desire to have.

Once you have clarified your vision, take these steps toward bringing your finances into line with that vision.

Identify Problem Areas with Money.

Most people with money problems believe that not having enough money is their primary problem, and are unable to pinpoint their specific difficulties. Upon further analysis, more specific difficulties and habits may be identified, such as:

  • Bouncing checks, and losing or not paying bills

  • Impulsive spending or buying things on a whim
  • Being disorganized with papers, making it impossible to locate them at tax time
  • Carrying large credit card balances
  • Procrastinating doing taxes
  • Not earning enough money for survival (financial underachievement)
  • Not saving for the future

Establish Short-, Mid-, and Long-Term Goals

Once the problem areas are identified, goals for improvement can be set.

  • Short-term goals may include such things as cutting up credit cards, saving $5 per week, curbing eating out, or keeping papers together.

  • Mid-term goals may include saving for a vacation, saving for furniture replacement, or beginning to pay off debts.
  • Long-term goals may include saving for college tuition or planning for retirement.

Prioritizing these areas poses a special challenge because successful money management means paying attention to all of them. It is advisable to break down each task into small action steps and incrementally build your confidence until you are attending to the whole financial picture.

Organize Financial Papers

Losing financial papers may have serious consequences. To avoid misplacing or losing them, have a special spot in the house where all financial papers can be stored. This can be a file cabinet, desk drawer, special box, or envelope. This central location should be near where the mail is opened, and may also house a calculator, stamps, envelopes, and anything else needed for paying bills.

Here are some tips for organizing:

Daily Mail Routine. When the mail arrives and is opened, money papers are immediately separated from the rest of the mail and placed into the special container. Money papers include checkbooks, bills, bank statements, legal papers, insurance papers, checks to be cashed, and extra checks. Anything that has a designated account number is important and needs to be immediately separated from the remainder of the papers.

Files with Dividers. Dividers with file names such as home-related, grocery, gifts, utilities, bank statements, personal, car and fuel, hobbies, and insurances can be placed in the container. These file names should reflect your lifestyle and should be kept simple.

Paperwork Flow System. This is a system in which all the money papers "flow" to one central location. For instance, "temporary holding tanks" are designated in the wallet, purse, planner, and car, which hold money papers and receipts until they can be placed in the central money location. These temporary tanks can be envelopes, shoe boxes, or, even more simply, a special spot in the wallet for receipts. Once a month or so, these papers can be transferred to the central location.

Curb Impulsive Shopping

Impulsive shopping and spending is defined as any purchase you did not plan to make when you left the house that morning, any purchase that is not a part of your budget, or any purchase that you don't need. Here are some ways to curb impulsive spending:

  • Put an interruption between your money and the urge to spend it. Avoid credit card use and ATMs. Don’t carry your checkbook with you. Consider having another signer on your checking account or not carrying extra cash.

  • Avoid temptations. Identify and stay away from problem areas such as malls, favorite stores, arts and crafts shows, websites, home shopping channels, and newspaper circulars. Throw out catalogs as soon as they arrive.
  • Bring a list when shopping, and stick to it. If you have trouble sticking to a list, try this: Before you go to the store, call a friend and commit to your shopping list. When you are done, call them again to report that you have adhered to your list.
  • Bring a calculator to the store (you probably already have one in your phone) to add up purchases as they accumulate.
  • Wait a certain number of hours before a purchase. If this time elapses and you decide that you still want the purchase and have the money to buy it, then go and buy it.
  • Find fun hobbies or things to do that are free or inexpensive. Shopping shouldn’t be the main pleasure in life. The world is filled with a vast array of stimulating activities, such as museums and libraries, local lectures, support groups or clubs, public parks, or free concerts and other community events.

Cut Up Credit Cards

Credit cards and the debt that can easily accrue can take a person in the wrong financial direction. Balances build up rapidly from interest, late payment fees, and over the limit charges. This accumulation will rapidly turn small purchases into very large expenses. Paying only the minimum amount due on a large credit card debt means it could take 30 years to pay off the entire balance. If you are in the habit of not paying off credit card balances, the next time you use your credit card, ask yourself if you love the purchase enough to pay for it over 30 years. Call the companies and close these accounts, even if there are balances to pay off.

Keep records to become conscious of where money is going.

Carry a little notebook (or use your phone or other device) and begin to keep track of all purchases. Record even small purchases, such as the parking meter or a beverage.

Successful money management demands that you be able to account for your money. Keeping a record of purchases helps curb impulsivity and serves as an indicator of whether you are spending your money where you want to be spending it -- toward your vision and values. As spending is tracked, certain categories will naturally emerge, such as parking, groceries, restaurants, vending machines, gasoline, clothing, newspapers, household items, donations, and hobbies. As you continue to record your spending, you will no longer have to wonder where all the money goes.

It may be difficult to write down all of their expenses, but do the best you can. Even if you do not keep a perfect record of every expense, the records that you do collect will help you move forward in changing your money management habits.

Determine expenses and develop a spending plan

A spending plan is like a budget. It involves allocating a certain amount of money each month for each spending category in your life. Follow the steps below to develop a simple spending plan. Spreadsheet software can be helpful in developing a spending plan.

  • Make a master list of all expenses. Gather these figures from checkbook records and credit card statements from the past 12 months.

  • It is easier to construct a spending plan monthly rather than annually since most utilities and installments are paid monthly. Sum all expenses from the past 12 months and divide by 12 to get the monthly total expenses. For weekly expenses, multiply them by 4.3 to get the monthly amount.

One secret to healthy financial management is to plan for all expenses every single month. The spending plan or budget can help keep these upcoming expenses top of mind, and ensure that they are planned for every month and not forgotten.

Some suggestions:

  • Use an envelope system. Label a series of envelopes with the names of the major categories of budget items. Upon receiving a paycheck, cash it and place the amount of money allocated for each category in the proper envelope. Whenever an expense needs to be paid, withdraw money from the appropriate envelope. When there is little or no money left in a given envelope, you will know that you have spent the allocated amount for that category and can stop making further purchases in that category until you receive the next paycheck.Record every monthly expenditure in your checkbook at the beginning of the month so you will know when they are due. It may be helpful to eliminate paper and arrange for utilities, car payments, and house payments to be automatically withdrawn from a bank account.
  • Special accounts: Open a special bank account for large ticket items and fluctuating categories such as vacations, car repair, clothing, home repair, and replacements, and make a monthly deposit to this account.
  • Sudden expenses: If you are consistently faced with sudden unexpected expenses such as car repairs, dental and medical emergencies, roof leaks and other household problems, then open a special account for these sudden "emergencies." Remember, most cars break down, teeth need repair and homes need maintenance. They are a predictable part of life so plan ahead for them.
  • Calendar system. Use a yearly calendar to track financial obligations exclusively. At the beginning of each month, record all incoming money and also all major financial obligations for the month such as rent, utilities, insurances and payments due. After these are filled in, fill in other allocations such as groceries and fuel, because these are also necessary expenses. In doing this, it is clear at the beginning of each month what your obligations will be. Refer to this calendar daily. Some persons also find it helpful to record the expenses that will be due later in the year.

Pay off debts

To pay off debt, make a list of all debts that includes credit cards, as well as outstanding debts to doctors, dentists, friends and family, and loans from 401K plans.

Make a chart including creditor, total balance due, payment due date, minimum payment, and interest rate so you can visualize your total debt.

If you are in serious debt, this may be an emotionally painful task. Do it anyway. Talk with a trusted friend or therapist to help deal with the emotional pain. Call creditors to ask for a lower percentage rate or reduced late fees. Arrange regular payments with creditors and stick to the plan. Do not promise more than you can realistically pay. They are less likely to cooperate if you don't keep promises or stick to what you have agreed to pay monthly.

Start Saving

The savings habit should begin immediately, even if it means starting with a piggy bank and making weekly deposits of small amounts, even $.50 or $1.00. No matter how high the debt load, a savings habit needs to be developed. Start small, and be patient with yourself as you learn this new habit. There are different purposes for saving money:

  • Short-term expenditures: These include items like a new refrigerator, a vacation, or insurance payments due annually or semi-annually.

  • Mid-term expenditures: These include children's education, a down payment on a new car, or the purchase of a new home.
  • Long-term future savings: These include retirement. This type of savings can be especially difficult to conceptualize because it is not an immediate need. Nevertheless, the day will come when you'll need this money to live on.

The solution for all of these savings needs is to make saving money fun and visual. For instance, some people find it helpful to use a cute piggy bank for certain expenditures; others find it helpful to use an envelope with a photo of whatever you are saving for glued to the outside. You can also open a special bank account for a particular goal and have automatic deposits taken from your paycheck. If necessary, open this bank account at a different bank—across town so you'll be less tempted to withdraw from it. Some also find it helpful to make a visual thermometer or graph as they save money for special occasions.

Find support and incorporate other resources

Some people may be able to implement the suggestions given here on their own. Others may need the assistance of a friend, therapist, or coach. An individual providing support can help make budget categories and monitor and regulate spending.

Put money management on a timeline

To manage money effectively, it is necessary to organize the above ideas on a timeline. Below is one example of such a timeline, which specifies tasks to be done daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. The approximate amount of time it might take to accomplish each task is also listed. The reader should create a similar timeline that is customized to his/her own circumstances.

Daily

  • Place money papers in one central location. (less than 5 minutes)
  • Open and sort bills. (5 minutes)
  • Record spending. (less than 5 minutes)
  • Review vision and budget if overspending. (less than 10 minutes)
  • Keep a daily account balance on checking accounts. (less than 5 minutes)
  • Resist impulsive spending.

Weekly

  • Pay bills; write checks and mail them; mark date paid and move paid bills to folder marked "PAID." (10-20 minutes)
  • Review expenses for the upcoming week. (5 minutes)
  • Go to the bank; deposit checks and withdraw needed cash for the week. (20 minutes)
  • Add up weekly spending , especially in problem categories. (10 minutes)

Monthly

  • File "PAID" bills into appropriate files. (5-10 minutes)
  • Reconcile bank statement. (30 minutes)
  • Compare actual income and spending to budgeted allocations. (5 minutes)
  • Assess areas of overspending.

Yearly

  • Collect money papers for tax preparation. (1 hour)
  • Create a financial vision for the upcoming year. (30 minutes)
  • List large expenses for the next year. Assess necessary repairs, clothes needed, major gifts, and travel. (10 minutes)
  • After tax preparation is complete, box up money papers, label with appropriate year, and put in storage. (30 minutes)

Summary

In this article, the task of managing money has been broken down into a number of steps, and suggestions have been given for carrying out each of these steps. Because money is a daily event, some action is needed every day. If consistently applied over time, these suggested techniques will help with money management.

 

 

Come to the Party!

I am fortunate that I have the honor and privilege to love in many ways—through cooking, through my work, through my relationships, and now through my writing.

In 30 years of psychotherapy, sitting in one of the most privileged seats in life, I am awestruck about human resilience and our ability to stand up over and over again when we are knocked down.  

Sometimes when folks get knocked down or they can’t take it anymore, they wash up at the shore in my office. Desperate for help or change, someone to tell them they aren’t crazy or that there is hope. Sometimes folks are embarrassed they even reached out to make the call, or can’t believe their life turned this bad. Sometimes they come in with shame and self-loathing, sometimes matter-of-fact.

After 30 years, here’s what I have to say: We’re having a party, and everyone’s invited! Life is going fast and we’re all dying every day, so let’s all roll up our sleeves and get to work—facing those boogeymen, riding those twists and turns in life. Fight back to the things inside us that bother us.   

Let’s see what beauty or uniqueness we can find in one another. Let’s all breathe, because breathing helps everyone.    

Besides, there’s so much fun stuff to do—groovy sharing and connection, waves to surf, mountains to climb, and whole worlds to discover. There’s so much wholesome life to be living, and enough room for everyone.

We’re having a party, and everyone’s invited!

Happy new year.

 

Dysfunctional Parents

It seems psychologically trite to ‘blame’ who we become on our parents. But we grew out of them. We lived in a world they were in charge of.  How could it be otherwise?

In a healing journey, it is necessary to temporarily place the responsibility on them for our destructive coping strategies. We have to be willing to see ourselves as malleable souls shaped by another.  Most parents have the best intentions, but their limitations hinder those intentions from coming through.

If they were fearful of the world, we learned that the world was indeed a fearful place. There was no argument or chance to discover it on our own. We were convinced it was true without questioning where those ideas came from.  

When we grew old enough, we ‘rebelled’ (if we were lucky) and tried to become someone separate from them.  Only we used them as the mold of our definition, forming ourselves around the edges of their shape.  Again, our lives were shaped by our parents.  

Everyone comes into therapy not recognizing that they have been shaped – as well as held captive – by their parents’ emotional needs.  So it becomes a process of stripping away layers of defense and pretense, like stripping garish paints from furniture, to find what was really there all along.  

Most of us don’t recognize ourselves without these layers.  We don’t know about our own possibilities. And we are so afraid to change. Afraid to look in the mirror; thinking it will be bad stuff we’ll see: our weaknesses, our pain, our frailty.  

But if we don’t do it, we’ll miss seeing our beauty, our compassion, our willingness. Instead, our strengths will remain hidden behind dark, shrouded doors.

In the middle of my healing journey, I was recovering from ‘adult child of a dysfunctional family’ issues, such as trust.  I started to see how my parents’ problems had really been the cause of much of my suffering. How their need to be dominant affected me. How problematic the whole family situation had been, and how I suffered greatly at the hands of this type of dysfunction.  

I was raging at them; it was all their fault.  I cursed.  I swore.  I did dramatic things.  I wanted them to hear it.  I wanted them to suffer.  I wanted the world to know of my suffering.  And this was a necessary part of my healing journey.

Then, in the midst of it, I went to a workshop where I saw my parents as adolescents trying to please their parents.  My grandparents, who had immigrated to this country due to massacres of the Armenian people.  Who saw their parents killed when they were teenagers. Who as children lived in fields, sometimes eating grass, until they could find a way to come to America as teenagers.

Once here, they had children fairly quickly.  And those children were my parents.  My parents didn’t have a chance in hell of being healthy psychologically.  They had been raised by post-traumatic stress war victims.  They had no choice but to be ‘good’ kids: loyal, devoted, and honest.  They had been loyal to their parents’ wounds, and boy, were those wounds deep!  

When I realized how close in lineage I was to real psychological trauma, I saw my life in an entirely different tone.  No longer did I view my parents as evil folks out to get me, too selfish to parent in productive, functional ways.  My parents were now part of a very dramatic life play, and I was part of the lineage. They were limited, and their limitations affected me.  

It’s a sad tale all of us live. Our parents were doing the best they could, but it wasn’t enough to stop the chain of abuse – intentional or otherwise – and get on with the healing journey.  

Now, in order to unravel this mess, we need to place the responsibility for our pain on them. I like to think of it as placing our coat temporarily on their hook. Hang them with the blame for a while. Hold them responsible for our suffering.

Ultimately, for good healing, we will take that cloak back and wear it ourselves, but during our healing journey, our parents need to have it on them.  

 

Of Course I Love My Clients

I first learned to love in my wild & wacky ethnic family. I needn’t say more—the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding covered it for lots of ethnic types. Big-hearted characters with unending generosity and pure intentions rule interactions… even if we are boisterous and dysfunctional.  

Next, I learned to love through my work with psychotherapy clients—hour after hour sitting in the most privileged seat in life—I am awestruck about the human ability to stand up over and over again when we are knocked down. I can’t help but love my clients; their resilience and light is irresistible.  

And now I want to tell you about this love.

Sometimes when folks can’t take it anymore, they wash up on the shore of my office. They’re desperate for change, or hope or someone to tell them they aren’t crazy. Sometimes they can’t believe they made the call, or that their life turned this bad. Sometimes they come in with shame and self-loathing, sometimes very matter of fact. A lot of times people catch themselves off guard and before they know it, they’ve gathered a softball wad of Kleenex in their hand. At this point, some of them proclaim to me that they don’t usually cry. I fall in love with them even more when they say those things. It’s the purity that gets me: of course, everyone wants to be above crying in the therapist’s office.  

Yet, they proclaim to feel so much better and happy they finally made the call and finally came in. After 30 years in my chair, I see that every person has traveled their own unique path and each story is a special blend of life circumstances, temperaments, experiences, resources and strange luck. Human beings oozing with passion are hard not to love.

So to the person who is considering coming to psychotherapy, here’s what I have to say: Life is going fast and we’re all dying every day, so let’s get to work, roll up your sleeves and dive in. Let’s get going; it’s time to face those boogeymen, and fight back at the things that bother us. Let’s learn to ride the twists and turns in life. Let’s see what beauty or uniqueness we can find in ourselves and in one another. Let’s all breathe, because breathing helps everyone.    

Besides there’s so much  stuff to do—groovy sharing and connection, waves to surf, mountains to climb, and whole worlds to discover. There’s so much wholesome life to be living, and enough room for everyone. But no one can do any of it if they are tranced out with substances, activities, or device screens.  So put the phone down for an hour or two and come on down. It’s not too late—because every day we get another chance to wake up and be alive!


 

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$100,000 of Therapy...Part 2

After my last blog post where I dared to speak out loud about the financial investment I’ve made in therapy, I had some interesting reactions from people: Some were concerned that I didn’t have health insurance to pay for therapy. Others cringed inside, saying, “I have been afraid to add up that number, for fear of what I’ll see.”

Years ago, I had a friend who told me that her real therapy truly began when she began to pay out of her pocket. Before then, she went to therapy until her annual coverage ran out, then stopped and waited until the following year when the insurance company would restart payments. She said, it was only when I got a part time job solely to pay for my therapy that I began to really grow.

At the beginning, some so badly want to use their insurance and refuse to pay for any part of their therapy. They don't want to have to pay; not realizing it is their own life they hold over a cliff. Their insides, their soul—their own soul they try to find ways out of paying for.

How could it be? I wonder to myself. They bend and shape themselves in a dance to arrange to pay the least amount possible. This is their life, and I am appalled that we are in the 21st century and we still don’t know how precious our lives are. We still don’t know that who we are exists totally in an inner dimension. How could it be that we would so little value our insides? How could it be?

I am still perplexed by it. I gathered up all my pennies as a struggling student to get money together to pay for therapy. It was the only place that just wanted money out of me. I saw it as a very, very clean deal. This arrangement was so simple that I was grateful my first real therapist took my money. He received money from me and that’s all I had to give. With that money I bought myself a relationship in which to explore myself. I bought the privilege to play out all my fears, all my doubts, and all my attachments. I bought that right, to say what I wanted, to be who I wanted, to test, to express, to hide.

I bought a real live player on the other side, something I had never had before. Someone who interacted with me with all he had. Someone who challenged the hell out of me—someone who loved me and cared about me. Someone who had moist eyes at times when I explored things, someone who fought for me and reacted for me long before I could do those things for myself. Someone who knew I had a self before I knew I had a self—someone who knew I had feelings and responses before I knew, before I could let them out.

Someone who let me cling—and attach and be connected to. Someone, another across the room, someone. Another. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay for what I received. Money can’t do it. In fact, nothing material can ever equal what I received. It is invaluable, like priceless artifacts, or nature, or the Grand Canyon or the rainforest, or a sunset. Who can put price tags on that?

So knowing this, I am a touch short and defensive when new clients call and only want to use their insurance. I am defensive and almost indignant. I know what they don’t—if they could/would gather up their pennies and embark with their hands filled, magic could happen in their lives. Real magic where alchemically things change—the type of magic we see in movies and childhood fantasies. They don’t see that a life, their own unique life, awaits them. It is calling them and so much time has been lost already. A life is standing by waiting for them to engage with it. Perched, unique, special callings await our glance. If only we would look over there to see what beckons in the corner—if only we could glimpse the depth of our being, the purpose of our life.

If only we could look straight into that empty corner to see and hear how life and our own soul are calling us to step up to the plate, to show up for our lives. If only there weren’t so many distractions that prevent us from harkening our true colors. Are we willing to hear this call? It isn’t a silent or quiet call at all, really. Once you know to listen in the right way. Once you surrender to it. Life becomes so easy because there are no other choices. One begins to see that staying in the pain of unconscious darkness is overwhelming. One begins to see that allowing an insurance company to dictate their growth journey is a certain form of poverty.


$100,000 of Therapy

Years ago, when I hit $100,000, I stopped counting the money I spent on psychotherapy. I stopped worrying about when I’d be done, how much money I’d spent, and I no longer felt ashamed that I had “taken so long.” Basically I stopped looking for the door before I had even entered it.

I was lucky; I had compatriots to travel the journey with. We joked that our therapy bills were higher than our mortgages. We loved our therapists; we loved to hear each other’s stories about therapy. We respected the choice to spend money in this uncommon pursuit. We were changing and growing and that’s all we cared about.

During this time, I bought my first house and my realtor gave me the little rap about how a house is the biggest expense you’ll have in your life. Not me, I wasn’t traveling that American Dream path; my $46,000 house was third in line after psychotherapy and education. No fancy house to show for the money, but I was becoming lighter and happier inside.

I’m proud of my younger self for making those choices. At the time, I was desperate, and therapy didn’t seem like a luxury, it was saving my life. Thank goodness, I had friends who felt the same way; young searchers optimistically believing our investment would pay off better than the materialistic options we saw around us. While our friends were up-scaling their homes and furniture and 401Ks, we were treading water on those material-world fronts. Now it is years later and I’ve written a book on money and I wonder, what did I buy with that money? And was it worth it?

Well, I can’t speak for my friends, but I can speak for myself. My $100,000 bought me many things. The first one: I bought myself a spot in the boxing ring with a sparring partner, someone who always had my back even while he jabbed at my armor. He helped me to speak and throw good punches and call out unjust moves. He kept me in the ring; guiding me to find my center and trust my own instincts.

In fact, sometimes I got very mad at my sparring partner. I was furious that he was relentless with his “feeling” meter; everything I talked about was somehow measured through the language of feelings. I felt chained down until I could come up with “feelings” to explain my experiences. I hated that, because before this, I was a wild child with matted hair and animal tendencies because I had mostly raised myself. I wasn’t very self reflective before; or any insights I did have about myself, I did not know what to do with.

Secondly, my $100,000 bought me a guide who shone lights on things I couldn’t see myself, because I hadn’t ever traveled that path before. Sometimes it seemed like my therapists could see me before I could see myself. In dysfunctional homes, no one has time or ability to connect to children, so kids aren’t often seen or heard. So, it bought me a spotlight for me to be on stage. I got to rehearse many different aspects of myself. To listen to myself, over and over: sometimes repeating myself, other times, surprising myself with self–discoveries. It is strange at first because no matter what you say, it feels like the therapist defends you and always takes your side. I wasn’t used to having my own perspective or to taking my own side.

But, mostly it bought me many one-hour canvases—whereby week after week, I got to paint myself into a blank space. I didn’t realize it then but I was I carving a path for myself into a life that was an authentic life of my own. Not one my parents wanted for me, not one that society wanted for me, or my friends chose, but uniquely my path.

I learned to take risks and try new things: friends offered to teach me to rollerblade and cross-country ski. I knew therapy had changed me when I went cross-country skiing the first time. I fell nose-first into the snow and my legs and skis popped up behind me all mangled and contorted. My reaction wasn’t fear, or self-consciousness; my first reaction was to squeal and giggle with delight. I’m sure I looked ridiculous but I didn’t care, I was having fun. I felt alive when I stood up to red bloody snow surrounded by friends eager to brush the snow from my body.

Being accepted by another person enables you to accept yourself. From that self acceptance, a person is propelled to try new things—and not be good at them, but still do them anyway. Able to feel successful, even despite lots of failures. That despite falling down 86,000 times there’s getting up 86,001 times. That despite going slow, ever so slow, there’s still progress. That despite that someone, even a hired hand, a paid friend knows who you are—someone, this paid friend/mentor/guide holds your secrets and pain. Someone—this (in a way) total stranger—is cheering for you, even when you’ve long lost the ability to cheer for yourself because no one ever cheered for you. Even though you didn’t know you had a cause to cheer for.

We know psychotherapy can’t buy happiness, or friends or love or luck, or success. Nope, it can’t buy any of that. But it does buy a certain type of inner freedom: freedom from worry, and self-imposed constraints. I’ve gained freedom on my bicycle, freedom in the wilderness, freedom at parties, freedom.

It gave me freedom to play and be foolish, dressing up as Santa, playing adventure games, dancing wildly, painting and singing, too. For me, it freed my joy, my zest. People “like my energy”, they say to me. Before therapy, I didn’t even know I had any energy.

Therapy helped me to face life on life’s terms. I now understand why my therapist had that “feeling meter.” He wanted me to understand myself, to be able to read my body’s feeling signals so I could navigate myself through life’s terrains. In order to live life and make choices and decisions, one needs to understand who they are and how things will feel so you can begin to steer yourself away from things you don’t like.

Look forward to life; enjoy it regardless of which way the winds shift. That’s right, therapy doesn’t buy an escape from heartache. I still made a bad marriage choice and my parents still died quick, shocking deaths. “Bad” things still happen in my life. I still make poor choices or mistakes. I still have immature reactions. However, it has sharpened my ability to learn quickly from mistakes, correct the course, or roll more acrobatically with the falls. It becomes an exquisite dance: learning to fall gracefully all the while not missing the tempo of life. You become like a toddler learning to walk, falling, crying out, getting up, and whisking off to the next interesting thing.

Therapy is expensive, no doubt. And every week, you don’t walk home with something in a bag like a crystal bowl, t-shirt, toilet paper, or some other thing to show for the money. Every week when you walk out, there is nothing tangible to grasp on to, nothing to see, not even photographs of the journey—so you never know for sure what you received for your money. It may take a long, long time to see what you’ve purchased. The money is long gone before you realize what a great bargain you got, and your life didn’t suffer that much for it. It is long gone before you realize that the intangible has become tangible. Even my mother agreed therapy had been good for me.

After therapy, it takes time to integrate and process. But it is still back there, over your shoulder and you remember—you always remember—the silent spaces in time when someone witnessed and held pure and serene your journey, your soul.

When you embark on a serious psychotherapy journey, and someone takes you to that quiet accepting place, there is no going back. Once you sit in that pulsing loving energy, life can never be the same again. And the day comes when you leave that person and on that day you are sad and happy all at once. No more therapy bills… yet you barely notice the extra money because by now you see the value.

Come On Down To Play

Psychotherapy is a joyful journey where we cry a little, laugh a little, and breathe a little. All the while we’re talking A LOT. It’s a journey of experimentation, improvisation, and play.

Because we’re humans and have big brains capable of self-reflection, we are all students of human nature and of life. Psychotherapy is the place where students register for a path of structured study.

We look at hard (sometimes painful) stuff inside us and find new ways of looking. With a simple twist of the kaleidoscope, we find new ways to see, be, feel, think, and believe.

We embrace difficult feelings and get free of them.
We find courage to face dark, empty, hurting places inside.
We learn to be gentle with our self as we explore.
We learn that trying again and again is all that matters.
We learn to begin. Again and again, new hope always emerges.

My philosophy is this: “We’re all dying.” Every minute of every day is one minute closer to our death, to the day when we will shut our eyes and say goodbye to everything. I figure, while we are alive, we may as well embrace LIFE.

I did my dissertation on the experience of longing and because of this, I am an authority on Longing. (At least that’s what our teachers told us we’d be when we were done!) I know that longing pulses through our bloodstream, and it’s what keeps us growing and alive. Sometimes our inner longing does take us in unfortunate directions (addictions and unenlightened pathways). But, mostly longing draws us forward to hope for more.

When entering psychotherapy, get ready for a fun, new-fangled ride. Get ready to fall in like with your life!

It's About You, Silly.

Your life.
Not Facebook or the slogans or videos you like.
Not about how many friends you have.    

Your life was always about you; for you, because of you.
Psychotherapy is about you.

Come on in sweet light of being, perfect beauty and purity.
Come on in; we have been waiting for you.   
Not only that, but someone has been witnessing you forever
—and that witness is inside you.
That’s right, there’s always been someone calling to you.
Believing in you, hoping for you, waiting for you to remember her or him.
Your inner self—your perfect fullness of being—is waiting for you.

You’ve been on such a long journey abandoning yourself.
Not remembering the calls inside you.
You have lost your way pretending your inner world doesn’t matter.

Well, it does matter—it always has.
There were so many dramas in the way.
Preventing you, eclipsing you, enticing you away from your insides.
We all have so many distractions.  
So much time has passed.
Don’t fret one more minute.

You have a love and an essence, and it doesn’t live on Facebook.
Facebook is where we all have advertisements for ourselves.
The pretense that someone can see, someone cares, someone is paying attention.
Well, all those people vying for attention out there can’t see you.
They haven’t paid enough attention to themselves yet.

Psychotherapy is a place to pay attention to yourself.
To hear your own murmurs, your calls, your hopes, your dreams.  
The place to pick through the shards of a life.  
Dedicated time where we brush sand aside to excavate down to the beginning.

When there was only a pulse and a being called to be here.
And then there was that body.
Screaming little swaddled bundle as you were delivered here to your mama and papa.
All wrapped in blankets, looking out with those little glazed eyes.
That was a miracle; your arrival here to meet us
—and there hasn’t been any other miracle that compares to your miracle.
The light that came that day when you arrived.

So many things happened to take you away from that miracle.
So much confusion as you twisted and contorted to find a place to fit.
So many lies were told to you.
So many promises broken.
So many people were cruel.
People you needed pushed you away and endangered you.
You carry all those bruises in your heart.

And now what?
Now where do you find yourself?
What do you want now?

Come home to the call.
To the place where you can remember again that there is love inside you.
A witness; a pure soul who sees it all.

What if all along you were always okay—that nothing ever needed fixing?
What if everyone who ever criticized you or abandoned you was wrong?
What if there was never anything to do except just be you?
What if all the uncompleted things were okay?
All the missteps were meant to be?
What if your slow learning was perfect?
What if every decision you ever made was okay too?
What if you really are miraculous?
And the miracle never stopped—not for one minute
—since that day you were delivered here.   

What if it’s really one long delivery process?
A lifetime of living in the incubator of this delivery room?
Yes, it’s about you, silly.
You, we are pointing at.
You, who we notice is missing here.
You, who needed and deserved a spot at the table all along.


The Daring Way™—Dr. Brené Brown on Shame and Vulnerability

You can’t travel far these days without someone mentioning Dr. Brené Brown and her TED talks on shame and vulnerability. I was first exposed to Brené Brown’s work when Hazelden published my book and I was on a five city speaking circuit with her. I was the new kid on the block, thrown in with women who were famous and well known in the recovery world. I listened to many of her talks and had two reactions to her material: First, for myself personally, it gave me courage to reconnect again to my creativity. Secondly, as a clinician, I was completely thrilled that finally someone was helping the general public identify and understand shame and the power it holds to corrode our life force. Dr. Brown has the ability to entertain while she is teaching, enabling the scary topic of “shame” to be more palatable.

Brené spent 15 years doing qualitative research on shame. Similar to Heuristic and Phenomenological Research, she utilized a research model called Grounded Theory. In addition to elucidating the experience of shame, the research findings also portrayed antidotes to shame, or what some individuals, shame resilient people, do to offset shame. From this, she crafted a model of living to help people become more resilient to shame.

The workshop

Dr. Brown and her staff have taken these research findings and created a workshop, The Daring Way™, which consists of psychological exercises geared to help people embrace her philosophy of “Wholehearted Living.”

Brené Brown’s 10 Guide Posts for Wholehearted Living

  1. Cultivating authenticity: letting go of what people think

  2. Cultivating self-compassion: letting go of perfectionism

  3. Cultivating a resilient spirit: letting go of numbing and powerlessness

  4. Cultivating gratitude and joy: letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark

  5. Cultivating intuition and trusting faith: letting go of the need for certainty

  6. Cultivating creativity: letting go of comparison

  7. Cultivating play and rest: letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth

  8. Cultivating calm and stillness: letting of anxiety as a lifestyle

  9. Cultivating meaningful work: wetting of self-doubt and “supposed to”

  10. Cultivating laughter, song, and dance: letting go of being cool and “always in control”

The Daring Way™ Workshop is a series of exercises that include creating a safe group environment, defining vulnerability, exploring family and childhood patterns, all the while each participant is encouraged to finding his or her unique personal manifesto for Wholehearted Living.  

When participants begin a Daring Way™ workshop, each person is asked to choose one area of his or her life to focus on; this should be an area where one hopes to Show Up, Be Seen and Live Brave™.  

Each exercise kicks off with a video of Dr. Brené Brown describing some part of her research, introducing the concepts, and giving a brief explanation of the accompanying exercise. Participants then take time to journal, fill out worksheets, or do a creative type process. Then the group comes back together to share and process what came up for them during that exercises. This is where the humanity of each person’s struggle and journey come to light, and each person gains greater clarity about how learning to live with greater vulnerability is the path to greater freedom and happiness.

It’s a very gentle yet powerful journey of self-discovery. Having taken part in the process, I have finally become more willing to publish more of my writing, and take action in other difficult areas of my life. I’m offering a four-week group in Bingham Farms, MI on Thursdays, October 8, 15, 29, and November 5 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Please phone (248) 645-5960 or visit www.positiveselfcenter.com for more information.  

Come join us as we learn to Dare Greatly!

Dr. Brené Brown has written very popular books, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and I Thought It Was Just Me.   

If You Are Thinking About Coming to Therapy...

People seek out therapy in a fairly predictable way. They are plugging along in life doing the best they can. Going to school, seeking out careers and then jobs, and finding love, losing love, finding it again. Dealing with parents and siblings.  Starting a family, getting a house. Regular normal stuff basically. We’re all just trying to grow and be happy and get our lives together.

Then difficulties arise because people aren’t perfect and life isn’t perfect. Sometimes these conflicts build over time, like marital troubles or demanding bosses, or there could be a sudden crisis such as finding out about a partner’s affair or a child’s drug addiction. Nevertheless, the person feels they can’t take it anymore; the pressures of the problems become overwhelming. They are depressed, anxious, possibly even desperate—so they reach out for psychotherapy.

Most people who come in never dreamed they would go to therapy, never dreamed their life would come to this. Talking to a total stranger about our personal hardships is foreign and unnatural.    

Nevertheless, the pain is great enough and I get a phone call or an email asking about my rates, insurance and my availability. Some are hesitant and inconsistent about pursuing an appointment. Others just want to schedule because they got my name from someone. Some are urgent, some hold off for a few weeks.  

Eventually we’ll meet and here’s what happens. The client is often unprepared for how easy and natural it really is to talk about their lives. They don’t understand how they feel better but most often at the end of the session, they feel better. They are not really understanding what transpired to cause them to feel better. One person is in charge of listening and probing and the other person is in charge of being willing to talk. It’s like a child’s play room really.   There are all types of toys and parts to toys, some that go together and match, and others that are completely in the wrong container. The client unpacks their life struggles and strews their mismatched toys about the room. The therapist fumbles to understand the dilemmas and begins to group some pieces together. 

After some time, it’s an alchemical process whereby movements begin and despair turns to hope. Suddenly the client can see that some pieces do belong and there are openings. 

 To me, it’s about play and love and improvisation. We fit pieces together to see how things work. We pick up each piece and find the correct position for it. We make context for the dilemma, so we can get some of these toys functioning again.  

And then we're back to normal life again!