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?
In the presence of darkness, we break, we wound, and we crumble inside; in the presence of kindness, openness, and love we heal with one another. When asked what my "style" of therapy is, I spout an eclectic mixture of therapies like "psychodynamic, supportive, and relational psychotherapy," but I truly believe that the most important element that can lead to healing in a therapeutic relationship is the connection between the therapist and client. This is not a typical connection, because it is not reciprocal; it is only intended to serve the client's interest. But it can be even more powerful in healing broken hearts and wounded souls because of the commitment of the therapist to the client.
Many esteemed researchers have come to the same conclusion through different avenues. Scholars like John Bowlby, Alan Schore, Daniel Siegel, and Robert Karen would liken this connection in therapy to healing wounds from lost or ruptured attachments in childhood and adulthood. There is neurological research proving that being in connection with another person can actually create new neurocircuitry, or pathways, in the brain in order to form new attachments to others (Schore, 2003). The authors of Relational-Cultural theory discuss connection as a "growth fostering relationship" leading to a fuller, happier life, as opposed to disconnection as "empathic failures" and missed opportunities (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991; Jordan, 1997; Miller & Stiver, 1997). The arrival at this conclusion, that people heal in relationship with one another, is empirically undeniable.
But what does this look like in the therapy room? Many will experience it as discomfort at first because it feels unusual to have someone in front of you who needs nothing from you and is there to openly explore your psyche. I hope to alleviate some of that discomfort for those of you who are reading because therapists are humans too and we are both engaged in the process of relationship building the moment you walk in the door.
The experience "in the chair" can be enlightening for some in that it brings up feelings that are universal throughout the person's life. For example, a person comes to therapy with severe social anxiety. He tells the therapist this piece of information and the therapist responds by saying, "what a brave move you have made coming here since you are so scared to leave the house." The client may feel discomfort, vulnerability, and like he is being seen and heard, feelings he is uncomfortable with in the outside world and in the therapy room. The question is, what do you do with those feelings? Is the therapy room safe enough to explore those feelings of discomfort?
It is the therapist's job to make sure there is as much safety as possible for the client. In order for there to be safety, the client must understand that the therapist will be non-judgmental and genuinely caring. She must also know that the things she says are confidential and will be kept safe with the therapist. The client must also know that the therapist is taking care of herself and will continue to do so throughout the relationship. For example, the client must know that his therapist will show up on time, will hold to their agreements, will have taken care of her own needs so that she is present, follows her code of ethics in order to maintain a practice, and is working in the best interest of the client.
This is not to suggest that the skills therapists learn from other empirical research is useless. There is skill involved in exploration and presence while witnessing such important work. However, we heal through one another and it should be known that if you are experiencing emotions like discomfort, tension, frustration, resentment, happiness, or any other feeling, especially toward the therapist, they should be welcomed in the therapy room. They are incredibly helpful keys to unlocking closed doors in our minds and discovering how we behave in the outside world. They can also lead to healing old wounds and finding new ways to open one's heart to others.