Has perfectionism ever kept you from doing something you really want to do? Let's give it another name: SHAME. What is it and how do we keep it from sabotaging us? (SPOILER: Shame almost kept me from making this video!!) If you like this video, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more videos like this one :)
"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf." I love this quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn!
It reminds me that all of the tumult and pain that can result from personal growth, loss, and therapy has a greater purpose. Feeling through our pain gives us great strength, perspective, and the ability to manage life's ups and downs with greater ease. We always face change, which can be scary and unwanted, but learning how to "surf the waves" is one of the greatest rewards of maintaining awareness through our experiences. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to manage painful emotions and allows us to open ourselves to the deep intimacy and connection that comes with allowing others to be a part of our healing processes.
Who has it? What is it? How do we get it? Happiness is subjective for everyone, but happiness must be defined by every person in order to be tangible. How does one achieve a goal without measurable tasks? It seems impossible to seek happiness but not know what must be done daily to have it.
So what is happiness? I ask clients to pretend as though they have a magic wand which they will use to make their life happy overnight. Then I ask, 'what has changed?' I often hear crickets to this question because it is difficult to envision what needs to change in our lives in order to achieve happiness if we do not examine the elements that make up our own personal happiness. Many psychotherapists, psychologists, and others in helping professionals claim to be happiness experts, but in reality, everyone who comes to therapy is the master and expert of his or her own happiness. It takes applied self-exploration to know what comprises happiness for you.
What does happiness mean to you? Is it feeling fulfilled by your job and family? Is it obtaining a goal, like a college degree or promotion? Or is it living in the moment and taking in the beauty of your surroundings? Is happiness comprised of other emotions, such as relaxation, excitement, energy, concentration, sadness, despair, or contentment? These are great questions to ask, but the deeper question left unanswered is, what measurable/attainable tasks must I accomplish each day in order to achieve my goal of happiness?
Instead of thinking that happiness is something that happens to you, a passive state, try to conceptualize happiness as something that you cultivate and nurture daily. If your goal is to feel happiness and fulfillment for most of your day every day, the tasks of meeting this goal must be concrete and based on knowledge of yourself to inform your choices (e.g. eating ten cupcakes might make someone feel happy in the moment but may cause lethargy, anxiety, or depression in the coming hours or days. The net outcome is not happiness.)
Maintaining a mostly happy life involves hard work and dedication to your cause at times. For example, I know that 30 minutes to an hour of exercise every day makes me happier, calmer, and feel better. I still struggle to do this because it does not bring immediate satisfaction to me personally. It is hard work to put in the time to maintain happiness through exercise but I KNOW that if I broke down the net outcome hour by hour the net outcome would be happiness. It would look something like this:
Being happy and fulfilled can be exhausting, taxing, and overwhelming, especially if you struggle with depression, anxiety, or other life stressors. If this is the case, start small! Create a goal of feeling happy (or whatever positive feeling it is that you wish to feel) for 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour every day. Don't focus on big, overwhelming goals, but rather look for small things that bring you happiness like drawing or painting, listening to music, dancing in your house, smiling, playing with an animal, or anything else that brings on feelings of happiness without detracting from your overall well-being.
What does a state of happiness look like to you? And what do you have to do daily to feel happy?
"How do I find the right therapist?" I am often asked this question and would like to preface my opinions by saying that they are just that – opinions. Therapists are as diverse as their clientele and I presume that all would have something to add to this discussion, or perhaps an entirely opposite perspective. If you are looking for a healing, caring, supportive, and emotionally challenging experience, this is my take.
1. All therapists are different, but I would say that the primary characteristic of importance in your therapist is that he or she tries to make you feel comfortable and wants to be present with you.
2. Having said that, everyone will be nervous at the beginning of therapy, your therapist included if he or she is human, so give yourself a few weeks to settle in. If you feel inclined, talk to your therapist about feeling nervous and he or she should response empathically.
3. Therapy can be funny and light-hearted at times, but you should not feel the need to impress or entertain your therapist.
4. Therapy can be humorous, intellectual, and emotional, but remember that intellectualism and humor can be used to defend against difficult emotions. Therapists are in the business of emotions, so you may be challenged to access your own at times.
5. You should feel safe in therapy at all times and your therapist should be able to create that safety with you.
Many of the clients I see have discussed "settling" with their previous therapist(s). He or she would listen most of the time, or was good enough is not an ideal therapeutic situation. You have the right to the right fit for you. If it isn't ideal, talk to your therapist about what is missing. If he or she responds in a way that upsets you, say that you're upset. If it gets to the point where you want to end the relationship because of this disconnect, talk about it. A relationship with a therapist should enhance your ability to have relationships in the real world. As a model of relationship, a therapist should encourage honesty, even when it is difficult, and should always have your interest first on the list of importance.
Step 1. Assess your needs.
What do you need and what do you want? You can have both needs and wants met in therapy with the right person. Read the following questions for guidance on your needs and wishes for therapy.
Are you going through a life transition like college, marriage, divorce, parenthood, or late adulthood?
Are you a member of an oppressed group? Is it important to you that your therapist is a part of this group or has special training around your difference?
Will it be difficult for you to speak to a stranger for the first time?
Have you had therapy experiences in the past that did NOT work? What was missing?
Are you depressed, anxious, sad, or do you have a dominating emotion that comes to mind?
Have you consulted a medical professional and if so, what does he or she recommend?
Do you just want to talk and have someone listen?
Do you want to explore your past or focus on the present? Or both?
Do you want to be challenged or supported unconditionally?
Do you want to talk about goals and be accountable to your therapist in attaining them?
Do you seek structure or freedom in therapy?
Are you more comfortable with a particular gender, and why? Would it be helpful to you to have a therapist representing the gender of comfort or perhaps to have a new experience with the gender you do not prefer?
Are you comfortable with a particular age group, and why? How would your experience be enhanced or compromised with different age groups?
What are you able to pay for therapy?
Step 2. Find a recommended therapist
Word of mouth is the most helpful way of finding a clinician but more and more, therapists are advertising and promoting themselves online. There are some websites that verify the credentials of the therapists who are advertising (psychologytoday.com, goodtherapy.org) so make sure that the therapists you read about have credentials.
Money is usually an uncomfortable topic for most people, but prospective therapists should be clear about charges when asked. Some therapists work on a “sliding scale” basis, meaning that they have different rates depending on financial need. If you are in need of financial assistance, think about what you are able to pay and ask the therapist if the rate would be acceptable.
LPC-i and LPC – These therapists are master’s level professional counselors who are seeking or have obtained a clinical licensure. You can expect to pay more to see an LPC than an LPC-Intern.
LMSW and LCSW – These therapists are master’s level social workers who are seeking or have obtained a clinical licensure. You can expect to pay more to see an LCSW than an LMSW.
Psy.D. or PhD. - Psychologists are doctorate level clinicians who perform therapy and also focus on psychological assessment or testing. Psy.D. is a newer degree plan focusing on clinical psychotherapy as well as research and testing. You can expect to pay more for a doctorate level clinician than an LPC or an LCSW.
M.D. or D.O. - Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are primarily focused on psychobiological assessment and medication management for patients. Some psychiatrists are trained in psychotherapeutic techniques but most have little training in psychotherapy. You can expect to pay the most for a psychiatrist since he or she has a medical license and can prescribe medication.
Unfortunately, when assessing therapists one can rarely tell which will be a fit on paper. You may be able to read a bio on the therapist that may help you get a feel for his or her personality and theoretical leanings, but having a conversation is the best way to assess goodness of fit.
Use the questions from Step 1 to guide you in expressing your needs and ask about their training, specialties, and areas of practice. Despite the traditional hierarchy, you may find your needs anywhere in this ranking of therapists.
Step 3: Get to know the therapist
In order to assess fit, one has to “talk the talk” in some ways to understand how a therapist operates. Read up on types of therapies and you may find that one resonates with you.
Psych Central's article on Psychotherapy - check out the types of therapy on the left index
Ask questions and expect to get your needs met! This principle is basic to living a life with healthy self-esteem and self-care.
As always, take care.
If you have never read Brain Pickings, I highly recommend this thoughtful, well-done, search for "interestingness" spear-headed by Maria Popova (@brainpicker) and the occasional guest writer. The writing at first glance often appears outside my comfort zone, but I'm usually drawn in to subjects that I might naturally toss aside as too lofty or inapplicable to my daily life (i.e. too daunting/time-consuming/intellectual for moi). I love Popova's style; she can take a subject that is over my head and make it tangible and fascinating. Many times I find that these subjects intertwine with my own life, as a therapist and a person, more than I would have imagined upon reading the title. Cue my interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret of Great Writing, a.k.a. 'how to be a great writer by one of the most famous writers of all time,' as my self-valuation interprets.I love to write, I aspire to reach other and connect through writing, so naturally this title both titillates and terrifies me. It triggers the immediate, vulnerable, knee-jerk, "am I good enough?" reaction that is the inevitable cost of putting ourselves "out there" for the world to see. Popova references a letter written by Fitzgerald to a young woman, a college sophomore, and family friend who sent her writing to him, presumably for critique and guidance. I don't know if this young person, Frances, was expecting honesty or fluff... but she got honesty. In Fitzgerald's response he references the "price of admission," or the cost of great writing quite harshly to an aspiring young writer. An excerpt:
"November 9, 1938
I've read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile...
That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.
In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,
Your old friend,
F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point."
Ouch, Frances. Ouch.
You may be wondering, as was I, why I felt as we may say in the therapy world over-identified with the recipient of this letter. Why would I focus on the potential hurt feelings of a stranger who aspired to write over seventy years ago and was given such a harsh critique? The obvious answer is that I'm focused on emotions in general. I did not accidentally arrive in the field of social work and therapy. A natural draw toward and affinity for emotional care and compassion led me here. The not-so-obvious answer is that I too fear judgment, harsh criticism, and critique as a writer, as a therapist, and as a person.
The vulnerability of writing, especially about matters of the heart weighs on me as much as it enriches my life. I write because it allows me to make sense of the pain, elation, and all feelings in between in the human experience. Rarely do I write of my own feelings because it is challenging, less comfortable, and scary. I could blame some lofty principles of maintaining my role as a therapist (which is a very important and entirely different discussion), but it is the feelings of vulnerability that usually hold me back. When I do share parts of myself and write about things that are subversive, I feel exposed, anxious, and at times, irrelevant. I worry that I've said 'too much,' gone 'too far,' or have been 'self-indulgent,' all judgments that I have made up in my head based on my own anxiety, experiences, and elaborations...
Writing can be a gut-wrenching process of displaying your inner-world, word by word, and opening oneself to strangers much like the courageous work of therapy participants. In many ways, I write to experience this vulnerability, risk, and potential benefit of exposure as a constant reminder of the risks that clients take. It is a reminder of the emotional cost paid by the brave people who sit in the chair and share their inner-selves and the respect, kindness, and admiration that is deserved for such an endeavor. There is a monetary investment for therapy as well which is a valuable topic of exploration, but they also pay with their honesty, their fear, their vulnerability, and the spoken or unspoken hopes and disappointments. At times, this is a high cost, more so than money.
Without hiding behind principles of "being a therapist," I'll share a specific fear that edits my writing, words, and thoughts. It is the fear of not being liked. There are variations of this fear, such as not being nice, agreeable, palatable, competent, or pleasant. Talking about things that are hard to talk about, uncomfortable, opinionated, or divisive also scare me. These fears are all bi-products of my upbringing and training as a woman, a social worker, and a therapist but to what end? These are questions that my clients ask of themselves and usually end up with a resounding sense of entitlement to feel, express, and be who they are. Undoubtedly being yourself is hard, and I'm not immune.
Lately, my reflections on this topic have turned toward a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to share myself with others and receive the kindness, accolades, and positive feedback that I've received as a result of writing, speaking, and being myself. In hindsight, when I am met with "negative" emotions from someone - disagreement, anger, and even contempt at times - the hurt feelings and vulnerabilities that I'm forced to acknowledge are far outweighed by the learning, the growth, the opportunity to practice compassion toward myself and others, and the disarming of my own defenses. These are valuable and sometimes priceless experiences.
As always, take care of yourself (while also stretching and growing when the time is right.)
[ted id=1669] International author, therapist, and speaker Esther Perel always offer a diverse perspective on relationships, sex, and "erotic intelligence" so I was excited to see her featured on the Ted website. Her Ted Talk, entitled "Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship," offers a short refresher course on the origins of relationships, attraction, and our evolution into 21st Century monogamy. I highly recommend Esther Perel's material, including her book, "Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence."
If you are not in a relationship, Valentine's Day can be a constant reminder of how everyone else is in love, therefore you should be too. For those of you who are nauseated by the explosive pink decor and continuous cycle of flower deliveries, perhaps this video can serve as a reminder that even those in relationships work to maintain physical and emotional connection, attraction, and sustained interest in one another. Revel in the fact that the vast majority of people (coupled, single, men, women, straight, gay, old, young...) will end up in the same place tonight: watching t.v. in their pajamas and eating candy. Also, remember that tomorrow is February 15th a.k.a. not Valentine's Day :)
Take good care.
And thanks, Esther! www.estherperel.com