A poem for you in the midst of everything happening right now.
O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space beween us: A book of blessings. USA: DoubleDay.
Articles related to psychotherapy and counselling.
Wow, a lot has happened in the span of a few days with the spiralling reactions and realities about COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt a lot of different emotions in a very short time, and I continue to ride those waves. I’ve been watching my own experience and reflecting on what has been helpful for me, and the most helpful thing is to acknowledge what I’m feeling without dismissing it as irrelevant because “other people have it worse”.
If I can give you one recommendation, it’s to acknowledge your feelings, disappointments, anger, sadness, rage, fear, terror, numbness or whatever else that you are feeling. As soon as you do this, you give permission for those emotions to unwind from your physical and energetic body and your psyche instead of holding them all in. When you hold emotions in for a long time you can feel like Stephen King’s Carrie, ready to explode at the moment the threshold is broken.
The art is to NOT take it out on others, but to express and feel them in your own style. Fearful that if you start to feel these things that you’ll never pull yourself out of it? Then give yourself a time limit. For the next 10 minutes, 2 hours, 1 day etc, I give myself permission to feel _____________. Then I will regroup and do ____________ to shift my mood in a positive way. If you’re worried you won’t follow through on a positive activity, then plan it before you give yourself permission to feel your emotions.
Like waves, your emotions cannot be controlled. If you feel another surge of emotions, repeat the actions of feeling your emotions and then shifting them.
Here are a few ideas to get you started. Feel free to google for more.
Then you can ground, regroup, and maybe even brightside things if you’re feeling like that’s right for you.
Want to learn more about how to Ride the Wave of Big Emotions? Then read on.
This post was originally posted on August 30, 2018.
Have you ever watched the big wave surfers such as Laird Hamilton ride an 80-foot wave?
Big wave surfers have made it their life mission to find ways to ride the largest waves out there. On the days that the coastguard recommends people to stay out of the water, these surfers go into the water. Here’s a clip to give you a taste of big wave surfing.
When I watch surfing clips on YouTube part of me is pulled to go and become a big wave surfer and part of me wants to sip coffee on the beach while watching big-wave surfers.
Or something stronger than coffee.
When I taught Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to groups of teens, one of the key skills was, Ride the Wave. It is one of the simplest and yet most challenging psychotherapeutic skills.
Notice when you have an uncomfortable emotion rising. Fully feel that emotion and release it. Carry on.
Now here are a few common reactions towards feeling those uncomfortable emotions
or there can be fear that your rage will explode or you’ll fall apart into a million pieces
or we might just show our inner Queen and wave while we say to ourselves, “what uncomfortable emotions?” “Maybe others feel them, but I don’t.” In fact I just feel love and such gratitude.
You can assess what kind of emotional surfer you are and depending on your skill and experience you can often do it on your own.
If you meditate, practice mindfulness, or do relaxation exercises this can be an excellent avenue to practice riding the wave. Part of riding the wave is noticing where you’re holding emotions in your body and giving them attention. It can be noticing the resistance to allowing an emotion. It can be noticing the thoughts or old patterns and beliefs that keep you from expressing your emotions.
One notice might be the common culturally valued pattern of “keeping it all together”. We often want our children to “keep it all together” too. This belief is a barrier to feeling your emotions. Notice the language ‘keep it all together” – the phrase intuits a fear that letting out emotion will result in falling apart.
I don’t know about you, but i’m easily distracted when i try to emotionally surf on my own. My mind creates things that are much more urgent for me to do instead. Also if you’re a master at holding in emotions, it often takes time and space to allow for things to start moving.
As a psychotherapist, this is often what I help people do. Holding in emotions takes A LOT of power and energy. If we slow down and connect to those buried emotions this can help us shift the tension in our bodies and free us from old patterns. I have had many therapy sessions where it took the full hour to allow myself to feel something deeply, and if I wasn’t paying for the session, I would’ve ended it early and buried the emotions for a little longer (maybe a decade).
Like choosing a wave to surf, riding an emotional wave must be your choice. No one can make you do it. Yet like learning to surf, it can be helpful to have a guide on your journey.
No one becomes a big wave surfer overnight. It’s helpful to start by putting your toe in the water, or notice if you’re drowning in your emotions and need a life preserver or someone to take you back to smaller waves first.
Riding the wave is a skill that has taken me a long-time to learn, but with the help of some fabulous guides I keep going back in the water, even when I’d rather be on dry land.
This is a practical skill for everyone, yet it can be especially helpful if you are feeling:
If you’re you the kind of person who likes to make resolutions for yourself and is determined that 2020 is your year for making those changes, then this post is for you. Today I’m going to share some of my successes and failures in changing habits and give you a few ideas to help make your resolutions a success.
It was very timely for me be the recipient on the local library waitlist for James Clear‘s New York Times Best-Seller Atomic Habits in mid-December. James Clear has made it his life mission to help companies and individuals change their habits. As an avid reader, I look at multiple books and when I find a good one, I like to share it with you. Easy to read, succinct, practical, evidence-based and information that we kind of know already is distilled clearly. Atomic Habits are about making tiny changes over time resulting in new habits.
Most of the goals we create for ourselves are outcome-based: I want to lose weight, drink less alcohol, exercise more, change jobs etc. etc. So let’s pick one of those goals and figure out how to embody it. If we reverse-engineer these goals and connect them to the underlying identity we want to have for ourselves, we are much more likely to make a change.
One of my failed goals is always lurking the background – to become more proficient in French. When I lived in France for a year, I became better at understanding French, but I still struggled to speak it well. Part of me thought it might be nice to continue this learning, but it was never a priority and never happened.
James Clear writes that outcome-based goals are the least successful. We need to find out what it is about our identity that we want to change that is making us choose that goal. This is going to be different for everyone. Why do I want to become a better French speaker?
What I like about this exercise is that it helps me determine if I should even keep this on my resolution list, or just toss it and stop feeling bad about it if I never do it. If you’re struggling with the why in your goal or even choosing which resolution to make a priority, take a look at my earlier blog-post Overwhelmed? 3 Strategies to Filter Out the Noise.
My identity-based goal could be, “I want to be a person who can communicate well in another language, because I love visiting France and would like to be able to converse with ease with my French friends and French people in general”. For someone else, it could be, “I’m a person who likes to challenge myself and keep my mind sharp. I love learning languages so I want to learn French”.
If I want to be a person who wants to communicate well in another language, what choices will I make for myself to get there?
“The biggest barrier to positive change at any level – individual, team, society – is identity conflict. Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity you will fail to put them into action”. James Clear
I have always struggled with getting regular exercise unless it’s part of my daily routine. I used to have a job where I walked 30 minutes to work. Boom. 60 minutes of exercise a day without even thinking about it. Then I started my private practice and my built-in work-out plan was toast.
So did I stop exercising because I lack motivation? That’s what I’ve often thought, but I made a change last September and booked my exercise into my schedule and success! Apparently it was lack of clarity.
James Clear’s simple hack for creating clarity: “I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]. In retrospect, this is what I had done. If I want to apply this to my goal of learning French I need to do the same.
Example: I will [look up ways to find people to practice French] on [Wednesday January 15 from 1-2pm] [online].
Another factor that made my new work-out regime a success is that I do it in the same building I work. I have my gear in my office, and it’s very easy to go there even on days that I contemplate taking a nap instead. If my exercise class is 30 minutes away during rush hour, even if it’s in my schedule, I’m more likely to self-sabotage on days I feel resistance in going.
Not everyone has a gym or yoga studio in the place they work, but it’s more about connecting exercise to something you’re already doing. What’s on the way to your workplace or close to your home? How can you creatively add it to your life so that’s it’s just part of your schedule?
If I look at my goal for learning French, if the options I find are too expensive or inconvenient, I’m less likely to make it a priority. Maybe I need an online option if I can’t find something close to home or work location.
We all do things that aren’t always the best for our health. We do them because they serve an emotional need. I like sugar and find that a difficult habit to change. Eating a cookie feels like a reward to me and I relax as I eat it. Shaming ourselves or others will often backfire in changing bad habits. A person is smoking a cigarette because it gives them something emotionally – maybe peace, maybe reduction of anxiety, maybe connection to others. James Clear writes about how trying to shame people into eating healthier or stop smoking cigarettes (e.g. cigarette packets with horrible health warnings on them) actually increases our stress and then we’re more likely to continue a bad habit. Human beings are wilely like that.
For bad habits, also follow steps 1-3, but if it’s a habit that you’ve had for a long time, it might take a few extra tricks to help yourself out.
“You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it…and that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy…I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment”. James Clear
The book Atomic Habits goes in more depth about habit change, but consider this blog to be congruent with the tip “start with easier goals to reach your hard goal”. Start with these strategies and then get the book if this has whet your appetite for goal change.
What are your goals for 2020?
Some of you will lean in closer after you read the title of this blog, and some of you will lean away. Guess what, both are normal reactions to talking, reading, or discussing anything related to female sexuality. Any woman knows that female sexuality is something that everyone has an opinion about. Morality of what is “appropriate” or good or bad often stop women from getting to know their sexuality in a deeper way. This is a detriment to ourselves and to our partners. If you can, for the remainder of this article (and maybe beyond), gather any self-judgments or opinions from your family, friends, and community and put them on a shelf as you learn a little more in one of these books.
I remember in Highschool during a biology dissection we had to go up to the teacher and label where the female genitalia was located on whatever poor creature we were dissecting. Only one woman in the room got it right, and it wasn’t me. The teacher marvelled out loud that so many women got it wrong. For many women, this story will probably not shock you in any sort of way, because we were never encouraged to become friends with our anatomy. If you grew up in a school that promoted abstinence (like mine), then this experience was probably even more likely. Can you think of any positive stories about female sexuality shared by family, educators or in the media growing up? I can’t think of a single one. That is highly concerning.
For fun I’ve put each of the Sex and the City characters with each book to give you sense of what you might be drawn to. I miss that show.
If you want me to choose one book for you to read, start with this one. This should be required for any person coming into their sexuality.
“What it comes down to is that a lot of women trust their bodies less than they trust what they’ve been taught, culturally, about their bodies. But culture has taught you stuff that is both incorrect and just wrong.” Emily Nagoski (p. 164)
Emily is a sex-educator in the USA with a plethora of degrees and experience. This books is based on science and psychology. There is way too much in this book to give a summary that will do it justice, but here are a few nuggets. This book is not heteronormative and includes discussion about experiences for someone who is intersex. Her examples are inclusive of the LGTBQI community.
This book is not going to be for everyone, first because you’ll probably have a reaction to the title that again will have you lean in to read more or lean away because of your judgment about the word pussy. The author too started her journey cringing at the word pussy and over decades Regena decided to reclaim this word. She fully embodies a woman who owns and takes pleasure in her sexuality. She was tired of the patriarchal world-view of sexuality in which someone who has “balls” is someone who has courage and someone who is a “pussy” is a wimp. She takes the word pussy and reclaims it in a powerful and provactive way. She is highly regarded by such feminists as Christine Northrup, Eve Ensler, Kris Carr, & Gabrielle Bernstein, and it’s easy to see why.
I felt nauseous after reading the first half of this book because her reclamation spoke to me as truth and how polar opposite it is to the current patriarchal worldview and my experience growing up. Like the book Come as You Are, this book encourages women to get to know their anatomy, explore their desire and own their sexuality. Regena gives many ideas for women to start relaiming their sexuality at the pace that is right for you.
This non-fiction book is one of those rare books that gives you a glimpse into the lives of female sexuality of three different American women. All are heteronormative relationships. One is the experience of a woman who was seduced by a highschool teacher when she was a teenager and all the different emotions she felt during and after she brought him to court and he was found to be not guilty. Another is the experience of a conservative woman in a relationship with a man who does not want to be with her sexually. She reconnects with a married man who she dated in highschool. The third is a woman who is in an open-relationship and enjoys sex on a daily basis. She is empowered in some ways, but in many ways it is a big challenge for her to own her actions and be with the judgment she experiences from herself and others.
It is saddening, but not surprising that none of the women are sexually empowered in this book. All of the women have the context of living in a patriarchal society and experience the invalidation that occurs to women by both the men and women in their lives.
It would’ve been great to have a one of the women be in a relationship that wasn’t heteronormative or if the author could’ve written about a female who was empowered in her sexuality like Regena Thomashauer (author of Pussy: A Reclamation). Maybe Lisa Taddeo could write a sequal?
All of these books gave me food for thought about my own sexuality, validation for my experience living in a patriarchal culture, and gratefulness for those times when I feel like I’ve embodied my sexuality. Three Women is a great overview of what it is often like to be a woman in a patriarchal culture. Come As You Are will encourage you to change that world-view with concrete suggestions and 21st century information about female sexuality. Pussy: A Reclamation is the frontier of what is possible for a woman to experience when she reclaims her sexuality and power. Have you read any of these books? Or what book will you start with?
A quick quote from one the inspirational author of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. More on The Artist’s Way coming soon…
Anger. This emotion is so often disregarded. We disregard another person’s anger or we disregard our own anger. We can try to do anything to avoid another person’s anger or avoid our own anger. We can try to convince ourselves that the time we yelled or treated someone horribly, that we had good reason.
This article will give you one path to truly let go of your anger. I’ll be giving you 3 steps, and sorry, you can’t skip the first 2 and jump to number three, even though you might be tempted. Emotions need to be felt before they are met with reason. As someone once said,
“No one in the history of being told to calm down, has ever calmed down”.
Anger can make us really uncomfortable. We are told, “Get over it”, “Let it go”, “What’s the point in being angry? It doesn’t change anything”.
We can be told that our horrible actions were justified because another person “had it coming”.
The remedy to anger is to:
1) Acknowledge your anger
2) Feel your anger in a way that suits your personality, and
3) Reflect on what about the situation made you angry.
This is the unfiltered part of what is making you angry, even if it’s “irrational”. “I hate the way that person looked at me.” “That person is being an asshole.” And all the softer or louder interpretations of those words.
The goal is not to say these words to person who triggered you. It’s to either say these words out loud (e.g. in the bathroom, while walking, or in your head, whichever approach suits the situation you’re in.
Sometimes a loud person thinks they need to show their anger more quietly and a quiet person thinks they need to express their anger loudly. If you want to try either of those on, go ahead, but there is not one best way to express your anger.
That being said, it is always your responsibility not to take your anger out on another person.
So where can you express your anger in a respectful way?
There are an infinite number of ways to express anger, the adventure is finding out what is most suited to your personality. It can be saying it your head while you feel the anger. It can be going for a run and screaming in the forest. It can be shouting in your car with the music on. It can be daring to put it onto paper and ripping it up. It can be taking out the energy of that anger into a sport you play.
What feels right to you? Experiment with different options.
We can’t move on until we have owned and felt our often long-repressed anger. We need to get curious about where our anger comes from. Are we projecting child-hood frustrations and problems onto the people around us? Are we minimizing our feelings because we’ve been taught that our feelings aren’t important?
Do you have the tendency to blame when you feel anger?
Do you have the tendency to take responsibility for other people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviours?
Both of these tendencies are LEARNED from somewhere. If we can realize the source of our reactions, this gives us insight when another similar situation occurs and the chance to respond differently. Maybe you’ve under-reacted to situations where you could have set boundaries. Maybe you’ve over-reacted to situations that were a little too close to home.
Anger is a misunderstood emotion in our society, so it can take time to change a habit that has often been engrained for years if not decades. So if you catch yourself in another situation and you respond the same you’ve always responded, pause and show yourself some compassion. “Of course I reacted that way, that’s really not too surprising because I’ve responded that way for decades! Next time I’ll try again”.
After giving yourself compassion, reflect on what you need to do.
Do you need to apologize if you have treated a person poorly? Notice if you want to blame your angry behaviour on someone else.
Notice if you want to blame someone else’s angry behaviour on yourself. Do you need to make an intentional choice NOT to apologize? Consider ways to set a boundary with that person.
As always, when you stuck or overwhelmed by a situation or an emotion, it’s good to seek support from someone who is compassionate, honest, and encouraging.
What have you found to be the best way to help you with your anger?