Ever feel like you're working against yourself?
I came across this quote the other day (see below), and thought that it highlighted how important it is to pay attention to those internal struggles we all feel. Paying attention to all of the parts of ourselves, all of the different conflicting feelings and thoughts, means that we can negotiate with everyone in our mind. And then the less-heplful parts of ourselves that work against us, can have a voice and be validated. That less-than-helpful part of the self probably had a good reason for being created in the first place. Paying attention to everyone inside of ourselves allows us to pro-actively address those feelings with our strongest, most wise, parts. And the first step is to be aware of them.
"There are many different ideas of “you” in your mind, each with its own agenda. Each of these “you’s” is a member of the committee of the mind. This is why the mind is less like a single mind and more like an unruly throng of people: lots of different voices, with lots of different opinions about what you should do. Some members of the committee are open and honest about the assumptions underlying their central desires. Others are more obscure and devious. This is because each committee member is like a politician, with its own supporters and strategies for satisfying their desires. One of the purposes of meditation is to bring these dealings out into the open, so that you can bring more order to the committee — so that your desires for happiness work less at cross purposes, and more in harmony as you realize that they don’t always have to be in conflict."
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Is this how you get through the holidays? If not, but you'd like it to be, what's standing in your way? What expectations do you have for the holidays? Where did those expectations come from? What will it mean to meet, or not meet, those expectations? What can you change, remove, or add to make the season more meaningful and calm? Try being curious about these thoughts, without shame and judgement towards yourself or others.
Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about shopping as a "search for security." Sometimes it feels really good to find the "perfect" gift for someone, which can give us the feeling that giving that thing to the person we love will secure the relationship. It might give us a sense of security about relationships if we give or receive things from others. Of course there's nothing wrong with feeling really good about finding a personal gift that holds a lot of meaning. But do you have the time and energy to do that for everyone on your list? After a while, how could we not begin to feel a sense of obligation? And how much stuff do we all need, really?
This holiday season has been especially low-stress for me because my friends and adults in my family have all decided this year that we aren't going to exchange gifts. (The kids will still get some fun stuff.) I felt a little disappointment at first that I wouldn't get to pick out things for the people who I love, but that was quickly replaced by a sigh of relief. I'm excited to just spend the time together.
This season, no matter what holiday you celebrate, consider asking the ones you love what makes the celebration special. See if you can reflect on what holds meaning in your traditions, and make that grow.
I was talking with some colleagues recently about Brene Brown, a social worker, researcher, and author, and was reminded of what a fabulous speaker she is--funny, poignant, honest to her core. I think she was one of the first researchers to take a close look at the topic of shame. She makes a really good argument for all of us to learn to be more emotionally vulnerable. Here she is speaking at Ted Talks:
I've decided to begin writing here in order to educate about various mental health topics, reflect on current issues in mental health, share a little about my career as a clinical social worker, and work toward the de-stigmatization of mental health. I will try to keep my quirky sense of humor to a minimum, but no promises.
Photo by L. Kinstad, 6/2014, do not reproduce w/out permission.
Therapy is a big investment in yourself--an investment of time, money, and emotional energy to name a few. For some, it can be really difficult to make the decision to even begin therapy. But once you've decided to give it a try, how do you get the most out of each session? For adult and older adolescent clients, here's a few thoughts about that:
#1: Find the right fit.
It may take some extra time on the front end to make phone calls, play phone tag, and set up free consultations with a few potential therapists. But this will save you in the long-term. Therapists/counselors/psychologists are trained to understand the importance of a good therapeutic fit, and are usually happy to meet for 20-30 minutes at no cost. Ask them questions about their experience, what they specialize in, and talk about what you are looking for in a therapist. If it doesn't feel like a good fit, ask them who else they know who might be a good fit.
#2: Use documentation to remember the learning, and what you want to share.
Get a notebook (electronic or the old fashioned paper kind) and designate it for documenting the learning that happens during your time in therapy. Between sessions, write down issues/thoughts/situations that felt important, or future situations that will be difficult, so that you remember to talk about them in the next session. Your therapist might give you assignments, recommendations, or resources that you'll want to explore. Sometimes I recommend to children and adolescents (or creative adults) to draw or paint a picture after the session about what they learned, or what they felt about themselves. The point here is to recognize what is meaningful, and generalize all of the new learning.
This doesn't need to take much time, just pause for 60 seconds before heading to your appointment, and reflect on yourself, how you've been doing, what changes have you noticed since the last session, and glance at your notes (see #2). If you have nothing to talk about, or don't want to go that day, then just notice that. Whatever you bring to the session that day is all okay. Just being aware of it, and communicating those thoughts and feelings, will be helpful to the process.
#4: Show up.
Literally and figuratively speaking, showing up to the appointment with your body, mind, and heart, will help you attend to yourself during the session. Turn off the volume on your phone. If letting go of distractions in sessions is a struggle, tell your therapist, and work together to find strategies so that you can be present.
#5: Don't give up at the first sign of difficulty.
If you found someone who you feel is a good fit (see #1), you've made some progress, but encountered some bumps in the road, talk about it with your therapist. When people share with me past experiences they've had in therapy, it's usually positive, but sometimes things sound...off. Sometimes it feels stagnant, or too intense, or mixed up. They might feel judged, aren't seeing the change they hoped for, or feel like the conversations are off-target. When they brought up these issues with their therapist, if they did at all, there were mixed results, or they had difficulty being honest. It's disheartening for me to hear this because there's a lot to gain from the experience of working through those barriers and putting words to what is happening in the room. You don't have to be articulate about it, just notice out loud that something feels off. It's the therapist's job to help you put words to the specific experience, and be supportive and professional about it. Maybe the therapist needs to change something, maybe you do, maybe both of you do. Whatever the answer, it's important to pay attention to those feelings. The difficult parts of the therapeutic relationship can often mirror real life. And so addressing the "off" feelings within a therapeutic setting might be exactly the breakthrough that you need.
by Lori Kinstad, MSW, LICSW