From pain to Power: one woman’s journey through Divorce

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In the “You Got This: Healing Through Divorce” Group I created on Facebook, I see a lot of women wanting to see that there is hope. And there is.

The following is an interview with a friend who I will call Lin (she wants to remain Anonymous) who went through an excruciatingly painful divorce and rebuilt her life afterward. She is remarried, happy, and thriving at the top of her game professionally. I asked her to share her story because she inspires me and I think she will inspire others who are struggling through divorce too.

This is Lin:

Me: Do you remember the day you knew your marriage was over?

Lin: When my ex-husband was caught using drugs for a second time during rehab.

Me: What was the hardest/worst part of your divorce?

Lin: Losing time with my daughter and having her spend time with a person I no longer trusted or felt was safe or a good influence.

Me: How did you get through it?

Lin: I think mostly it took time, patience with myself, and the support of friends and family. We have been separated more than 10 years and our divorce went final 9 years ago, and I still miss her when my daughter is gone. I still don’t particularly trust (nor respect) her dad. I still worry. But it is more the dull ache than the sharp pain if that makes sense. Being with people I love and respect and filling time with things I enjoy and are meaningful to me worked. I felt like I could get back to “me” (who I was without a toxic influence.)

Me: What did you learn about yourself as a result of your divorce?

Lin: Just the continued reinforcement that, actually, I am a good person, and I have amazing friends and family… that I am strong and capable (which, honestly, I knew but the reminder was nice, after a while with an emotionally abusive person who told me otherwise)… that being away from my daughter, however painful, was far better than staying in a horrible situation… I was reminded who are my real friends (vs. the people who never reached out). I was allowed to remember that my religious traditions and faith are important to me and to enjoy them. I restarted sports I love, like skiing. I learned that I need things orderly in my house and that living with anyone who couldn’t respect that would be a non-starter. I learned that I love my crockpot and that cooking a meal for the family means a lot to me.

Me: What have you accomplished or gained in your life since your divorce that you did not expect before?

Lin: Hmmmm…. not sure. I didn’t “expect” to find love again, but I’m not like ‘surprised’ that I did. I had some career success, but I earned it.

Me: Any advice or words of wisdom to someone who is going through divorce right now?

Lin: The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel looks far away and probably like a train. It is not. It is sunlight, and peace, and freedom. To be your best self, be patient. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Don’t work too hard to maintain relationships that aren’t healthy, that includes friends. Be close with the ones who nurture your soul. When you feel you have time, get a puppy. There’s nothing like puppy love.

Thank you, Lin. XOXO

This is part of my “There Are Lanterns” series where I am consistently reminded of how much inspiration can come from another person’s journey.

Caterpillars must end their existence as caterpillars to become butterflies. Diamonds exist after intense heat and pressure. Flowers only bloom after the bud has broken open. Sometimes it takes moving through the darkness to create light.

Our pain creates our story which fuels growth and power. Sometimes we have to tolerate discomfort and move through darkness to create light and healing. But we don’t have to do it alone. Others have moved through that darkness too and we can use them as lanterns along the way, learning from their journeys and their growth as a means to understand our own.

Divorce is Trauma

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In my practice, I often see people going through divorce or who have gone through divorce. I also work extensively with people struggling with trauma. Do these seem like two different things to you?

They are not.

Guess what? Divorce is trauma.

This is how the American Psychological Association defines trauma: “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”

For those of you going through divorce, does any of that sound familiar?

Even if your divorce feels like a good thing, it is a terrible event in the sense that it challenges your entire sense of self and well-being. You have to re-invent who you are to get through it because before your divorce, your hopes and dreams were tied to somebody else, somebody you have to let go of. That’s not small. Your entire concept of you who you are and who you are going to be just got steamrolled.

In my ‘Healing Through Divorce’ group on Facebook, I often see women lament that they are having difficulty moving on and if that’s where you’re at, I encourage you to have some compassion for yourself here and read the last line of the APA definition of trauma.

The reason you’re having trouble moving on is because you’re going through something traumatic.

How do you heal through trauma? First and foremost, make sure that you feel safe. Set healthy boundaries so that you are safe physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Next, be present — if you connect with the here and now, you will notice that most of the time that you are okay. So take a moment to check in with what’s happening right now— feel your breath, have a sip of water. Finally, be compassionate with yourself. This means upping your self-care — make sure you’re fueling your body, staying hydrated, getting good sleep, exercising and doing things that make you feel good and supported.

Be kind to yourself right now. Divorce isn’t just hard. It’s trauma.

Moving through darkness to create light: There are Lanterns

Caterpillars must end their existence as caterpillars to become butterflies. Diamonds exist after intense heat and pressure. Flowers only bloom after the bud has broken open.

Sometimes it takes moving through the darkness to create light.

Our pain creates our story which fuels growth and power. Sometimes we have to tolerate discomfort and move through darkness to create light and healing. But we don’t have to do it alone. Others have moved through that darkness too and we can use them as lanterns along the way, learning from their journeys and their growth as a means to understand our own.

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Cinnamon Howard is one of those lanterns: she is a gifted insightful therapist, an incredible human and an amazing friend. I am grateful for her willingness to let me share her insights with you here.

What does it mean to be vulnerable in life and in therapy? The following is written by Cinnamon Howard about her own experiences as a therapist.

This is Cinnamon:

To witness people unravel, the tears and the anguish tearing them apart from who they were when they walked in... these days, when I have the honor of witnessing someone's unraveling, it fills me with hope for them because I understand what's in the making.  But in the early days, it was a different story. I listened while clients whispered secret ugly truths that they hid from others because they felt shame.  What sometimes followed was uncontrollable weeping, even moaning; people double-over in emotional pain.  Some people can't talk anymore after that and we just sit together.  Sometimes it's just silent tears, not allowing themselves to reach for a tissue. It was hard for me to sit with them and taught me so much.  

As a child, it didn't feel safe for me to share my feelings or what was really going on so I kept to myself a lot and learned to be an "internal processor."  That internal processing "skill" served me well growing up and it has stayed with me.  Even now, decades later, it's still difficult for me to be fully emotionally vulnerable, even with my closest friends.  So as a brand-new-therapist-in training, seeing clients' raw vulnerability, their display of very out-loud emotions, the way they were exposing themselves... it shocked the hell out of me.  I remember being in awe, thinking, how do people do that?  How can they just come in (to therapy), unload all this horribly painful stuff in front of a complete stranger, leave and go back to the rest of their day?  Aren't they embarrassed?  Isn't that kind of soul-breaking experience supposed to happen in the dark, alone?  Didn't they feel brutally exposed?  

In therapy school, we learn (to the nth degree!) that ALL our feelings are normal and acceptable. But still, I didn't make any plans to let mine come screaming out of the bag to run wild.  Yes, I was in therapy.  And yes, sometimes I cried.  But I never let loose, not like THAT!  I was making some progress, but I wasn't telling the full, honest-to-goodness-ugly truth or baring my soul in therapy.  I hard-cried at home, in the dark, by myself!  In those days, I definitely was NOT taking the risk that some of my clients were taking by being that vulnerable.  I didn't know how like they did.

My clients were getting it OUT and they felt so much better, so much faster!  I hadn't realized it, but I was holding it in, keeping it private and trying to process on my own (think, echo chamber).  My clients were taking a huge risk, being so vulnerable, getting the yuckiest, excruciating parts out, with me as witness.  I learned from them that I was definitely not "doing vulnerability" to the fullest extent.  This means I wasn't being honest with my thoughts and feelings because I was too scared.  Therefore, I was not getting the full benefits of therapy... and it was taking longer!  It was my clients, in those early days, that taught me the value of doing the no-holds-barred method of therapy.  When I started telling the yucky truth and stopped holding back my feelings, it was terrifying.  But I felt so much better not carrying all that "emotional baggage" around by myself. 

I don't want to tell other people how to "do" their therapy, but maybe there are others out there who might want to try the no-holds-barred method.  It definitely gets my vote!  Who knows, maybe you'll shock the hell out of your therapist, too.

Cinnamon Howard is an LMFT in private practice in Redondo Beach, CA.

There Are Signs, Look for Them

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Nearly a decade ago, I was considering a career change. I was a card carrying member of the WGA and had sporadic on-again-off-again work in film and television that was more off-again than on. While the idea of leaving a career that I loved so much terrified me, the idea of staying on the roller coaster of my career was equally terrifying. I went to an orientation at Antioch University for their Masters program in Clinical Psychology. I was running late. A few minutes after I sat down in the back of the room, a folded up note made its way to me. There was nobody else to pass it to so I opened it and the paper said, “Are you Whitney Boole?” As far as I could tell, I knew nobody in that room. I later discovered that someone I knew when I was five years old recognized me and sent that note back. But to me, this didn’t just feel like a note. It felt like a sign that I was in the right place. And I was. I love what I do and I am grateful I took the chance to pursue it even when I thought the door might slam on me.

I do believe in signs — it’s less about magic in the world and more about how we reflect on what we see.

A piece to that story that I don’t often share is that on my first day of grad school when driving into the parking garage, the garage gate closed down on my car as I was driving through it suddenly and oddly (I never saw or heard of that happening to anyone ever). I went in any way. I guess I could have interpreted that as a sign that I was not in the right place, but I chose to see it as an obstacle that I would overcome. And I did.

Signs are not always easy to see or accept. Being present to our experience, internal and external, is so important. I only learned this after spending many years disconnecting from my own feelings and intuition, dismissing them as misguided only to suffer the consequences that resulted from not appreciating them and taking in what I needed to learn from them. Connecting to my feelings and intuition has been a journey for me and one that I have helped many of my clients navigate as well.

When clients ask me if I believe in signs, the answer is absolutely yes. But you don’t have to look for magic falling from the sky to see signs — gaze inward. The meaning we see in the signs out in the world comes through the lens of our feelings and intuition.

Signs aren’t about what’s out there — they’re about what’s in here.

Yesterday, I found a bush filled with caterpillars — felt like a sign to me. It inspired me to post this blog today.

Trauma Informed Therapy

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Once upon a time, therapists told clients to go over all of the gory details of the horrific things they had been through because it would be therapeutic. They were wrong. Sometimes this can deepen the neural pathways to the trauma and even re-traumatize. The moment I learned this, I decided to get trained in EMDR. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an evidence-based treatment for trauma that is incredibly effective at treating and addressing symptoms of trauma without re-traumatizing. I have been using EMDR for years now and I’m fully certified — I have seen how much it helps people firsthand.

This week, I’m taking a couple days off from my practice to learn EMDR protocols for crisis intervention that can be used immediately after a trauma -- evidence shows that this protocol drastically decreases the painful symptoms that occur after trauma and the risk of developing PTSD. I'm excited to be able to offer this to my clients and in my community.

Helping people work through trauma is incredibly rewarding. Often people don't realize how much trauma has impacted them but when we untangle and work though traumatic incidents using EMDR, the breakthroughs that happen are incredible.

Letting go of the pain in the past has a way of removing obstacles in the present.

Living With Intention -- Tips to Setting Intentions for the New Year

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Every year, I sit down and set intentions for the year to come. Sometimes, they are specific and goal-oriented. Sometimes they are not. I have come to look forward to this exercise every year. The secret of setting intentions is this: you create the intention, you set the tone and then, you make it happen.

You create the future you want to live when you choose to live with intention.

Here are some tips for setting intentions in the year ahead:

  1. Don’t confuse intentions with resolutions. Resolutions, particularly those centered around deprivation, set you up for disappointment. Avoid resolutions like, “I am going to lose 15 pounds” or “I am never going to eat chocolate again.” Instead try on intentions that you can realistically live up to like “I am going to choose a healthy lifestyle” or “I am going to find a new job.” The difference is subtle but important. You might still lose 15 pounds, but you won’t feel like a failure and compelled to eat a whole chocolate cake if you don’t.

  2. Get clarity around what you want and need. Intentions can be goal-oriented like finding a new job or creating a healthier lifestyle. Intentions can also be more psychologically-oriented like making a decision about a relationship or life choice. For example, the year that I chose to get a divorce, I had set the intention to get clarity around my marriage. I didn’t know what that would look like at the time but creating the intention helped me to create movement and understanding in an area where I really needed it. What do you want and need in your life right now? Reflect on that question before setting your intentions.

  3. Think about what you would like to accomplish at the end of next year — don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Imagine being at the end of the year ahead, looking back and feeling fulfilled — how did you make that happen? This is an opportunity to set the intention to do something you’ve been wanting to do — write that book, climb that mountain, run that marathon. Make the decision to make this the year you actually do it.

  4. Don’t let fear of failure deter you from setting meaningful intentions. Yes, you might fail. Maybe that’s okay, good even. If you don’t risk failure, you can’t succeed. Would you rather fail trying or succeed at doing nothing? Failure is an opportunity for growth so try to change the way you look at it. If you don’t succeed, you’ll learn something about yourself that you may not have known before. Failure can be a gift. Seriously. Nobody likes it at first, and sometimes it’s hard to see the gift in it, but life’s great failures can pave the way to meaningful next chapters.

  5. Consider how you will follow through with your intentions and create a plan — schedule it. Think about what it will take for you to get there. For example, if you want to find a new job in the new year, you will need to work on your resume, research job opportunities, apply, go on interviews, maybe do some networking. When you create the intention, think about the actions required to get there and set deadlines for yourself. Make the action plan to back up your intentions so that you set yourself up for success, especially with goal-oriented intentions.

Intentions are a superpower available to anyone who takes the time to set them. One of my favorite rituals at the end of every year is looking back at the intentions from the year before and creating my intentions for the year ahead.

Set the intention to make this an amazing year.

And then make it happen. You can and will.

Live with intention.

Three Simple Strategies for Getting Through the Holidays without Resentment, Hate, or Drama

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Let’s keep it simple: Be true. Be kind. Set boundaries. That’s it.

  1. Be true. Couldn’t be more clear. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Be true to what you want and need. Don’t want eggnog? Say ‘no thank you.’ Stuck in a conversation that makes you want to rip your eyeballs out? Say ‘how about we talk about something else here.’ Let’s end the game where the people around us have to guess what we really want because it’s not what we actually say. Don’t say ‘yes’ if what you’re thinking is ‘no’ and you’re hoping they’ll guess that. It’s not their job to read your mind and it’s not your job to read theirs. You want someone to help you clean up the kitchen? Ask rather than hating them for not knowing that they should. Everything is so much easier when you take people at their word and you say what you mean. If they choose to build passive aggressive resentment, let them and let it go — it’s not on you if you’re true to yourself and accept the truths of others. Just be authentic— honor your truth and their truth, even if they conflict. It’s okay if your truth doesn’t align with theirs.

  2. Be kind. I know you’re kind already but we can’t all be care bears all the time — sometimes setting the intention to be kind going into get togethers makes it easier. Kindness means respecting people’s views even if you disagree and yes, I know that’s hard when you’re talking to somebody who is very clearly wrong (wink, wink). Kindly drop the battle and accept that they don’t see it your way. Hug often — hugs help regulate your nervous system and the nervous system of the people you care about. When you see someone getting grumpy, rather than fight or argue, try to offer kindness — maybe even a hug? Usually that grumpiness is a sign that something is amiss with them and it likely has nothing to do with you. A kind gesture goes a long way when someone is struggling. Let the people you care about know that you see them and appreciate them — sprinkle gratitudes and look for gratitudes in everything from the tired ugly sweaters (when will this trend end) to the gifts that you will never use. Kindness begets kindness — if you get that ball rolling, it will pay off for you too. And “be kind” means being kind to yourself as well — don’t beat yourself up or make things harder than they need to be. Take care of yourself too— it’s not selfish. When you’re kind to yourself, it’s easier to be kind to others.

  3. Set boundaries. If your family gets heated when a subject like politics or Scrabble comes up, set a boundary and don’t talk about politics or Scrabble. Easy as that. Boundaries can be applied to all topics of conversation that lead to family fights including controversial relatives— there is no need to have difficult conversations at holiday get togethers. Set boundaries around how much you drink so that you are able to hold your boundaries — there’s nothing worse than that last glass of wine that opens the door to the big blow-out when the rest of the night was lovely. Boundaries are not punishment — they are there to protect you and are incredible self-care. You will show up in a kinder way if you feel safe and comfortable with your family.

Try to keep your side of the street clean with those three simple strategies. Let go of what happens on the other side of the street — you can’t control what other people think or feel. If you are true, kind and set healthy boundaries, you are doing your part, and that’s all you can do.

Wishing you a happy holiday season — and hoping that your unwanted gifts do not include resentment, hate or drama.

Hugs (virtual is not the same so go hug someone you care about),

Whitney

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Free and Backed by Science

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Looking for the perfect holiday gift? Look no further. I’ve got it right here. And if you’re going through a hard time, or fighting with a partner, or feeling especially stressed out, this is just the gift you need. It can make you happier and regulate your nervous system. Oh, and it’s free. Totally free. No strings attached. No shipping, no fees, no taxes.

So what is this magical gift?

Hugs. For real. Don’t laugh. I’m serious.

Hugs may sound silly, but they are far from it. When you give a hug, your body releases oxytocin which has a calming effect on your central nervous system. Studies suggest that hugs help you regulate when you are feeling stressed and anxious. Additionally, hugs can stimulate serotonin levels in the brain leaving you feeling happier.

When someone you care about is disregulated or upset, consider leaning in and offering a hug. See what happens. And be generous with your hugs. The pat on the back is not a hug. Please don’t call that a hug. It’s a pat on the back.

Hug tight and hold on for longer than you normally would. Try thirty seconds. Try a minute. You might be surprised by how calming a good long hug can be. The world would be a better place if we hugged more. We’d be calmer, we’d be more reasonable, we might even be happier.

When I work with couples, I sometimes recommend hugs as a way to break difficult relationship patterns. Try it — when your partner is making you crazy and you want to yell at them, try hugging them instead and see what happens.

And if you don’t have a significant other to hug, that’s okay. Hug a friend. Hug a child. Hug a family member. Hug someone else who needs a hug.

Especially this time of year, no matter what you’re going through, you could probably use a hug. And the person you’re hugging probably could too. Give the gift of autonomic regulation — it’s kind and it’s free.

So hug more. Hug often. See what happens.

Make the world a better place, one hug at a time.

Check out these articles if you’re feeling skeptical:

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-power-of-personal-touch-how-hugging-can-help-solve-conflicts

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5756/10-Reasons-Why-We-Need-at-Least-8-Hugs-a-Day.html

Divorce -- Will It Ruin the Kids?

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"This divorce will ruin our kids."  Will it?  Or is it a myth?  Divorce with at least one mindful parent willing to dig deep and do the work entrenched in the pain of divorce is an opportunity.  When parents use adversity to fuel growth, they became healthier and more present which gives rise to stronger, more grounded children.    

Recently, my oldest daughter was telling me about something she was reading about a teenager whose parents' divorce ruined her life.  And I asked her, was my divorce from her father difficult for her.  Her answer blew me away -- "No.  Not really."  And then I asked her if she ever wished that her father and I were still married and she said "No."  I think she was being honest about it because her behavior has backed it up.  She has never tried to get her dad and me to spend time together and the biggest losses of our divorce for her have seemed to be the material ones (the house with a giant yard by her school we once lived it that the new owners just built a pool in... ouch, yeah that hurt.)  

I share this deeply personal quip with you for a reason.  While I have many clients worry that a divorce would ruin their kids, I think our fear and our projection that it will ruin our kids is more damaging than divorce.  I have never had a client who made me believe divorces ruin children.  Yes, I have seen clients who's parents got divorced and then stopped living and the whole family suffered.  Parents suffering from anxiety and depression bouncing from one unhealthy relationship or addiction to another after coming through a divorce create chaotic lives for children that can be extremely painful.  But that's not about the divorce -- it's about the choices that come after.  Surprisingly, I have had teens sit on my sofa and tell me that they wish their parents would divorce while their parents suffer through their marriage trying to make it work for the sake of the kids.  And I have had those clients too -- parents in painful marriages sticking their head in the sand, wanting to not see how bad it actually is because they believe that divorce might destroy them or worse, destroy their kids.  

Of course, doing the work and reconnecting in a crumbling marriage can be an opportunity for incredible transformation and growth.  I help couples with that too.  But that's not always possible especially when one partner isn't willing to do the work.  Divorce can be an opportunity for growth too .  When people examine their pain and their choices and stay present with their children and themselves, they have more to offer their children than when they disconnect from their family in an effort to keep it "in tact."  The distinction is doing the work and tackling the difficult emotions, relationship patterns, trauma, and pain that resulted from or contributed to the divorce.  Those who do the work create healthier and happier lives.  Those who don't address those issues continue to create chaos.  

"Broken homes" can be happy homes.  I really enjoy working with parents going through the process of divorce who want to do the work to co-parent as amicably as possible, and go on to have fulfilling lives with their children post-divorce.  It's not an easy journey but it's a powerful one.  

What better lesson is there to teach your children than that they can survive even the hardest of times and go on to have happy lives?  

My daughter's elementary school overlooked our old house.  She literally watched them build the pool in the backyard.  And I know it was painful for her.  But I also see an appreciation for all that we have now that wasn't there before.  Luckily, she moved on to middle school and so we don't have to pour salt in that wound anymore but as painful as that was, she made it through and grew right alongside me as I ached watching her stare down the construction trucks in the driveway as the pool was being built.

Please don't misunderstand this blog.  I am not pro-divorce and I enjoy working with couples wanting to use adversity to fortify their marriage too.  I believe in that (and wrote a blog about that on here too).  But sometimes, that's not possible.  And many people in excruciating relationships stay together because they think it's what's best for the kids having no idea that their kids feel as crushed as they do by the misery of their relationship.   

If you want to retrieve the pieces of yourself from the wreckage of your marriage so you can heal and move forward in your life, I am here to help you get there.  

 

Tips to Surviving Thanksgiving

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If Thanksgiving brings out the worst in you or your family, you are not alone.  Sadly, Thanksgiving often shines a light on family, tensions, losses, and unresolved family conflicts.  

Here are some tips to get you through:

1.  Set boundaries before you get there.  What conversations are you going to politely end before they get ugly?  How will you take care of yourself so that your resentment doesn't build and blow up? You can always step away from triggering conversations.  Boundaries are not punitive.  They are self-protective.  Think of where things went awry at previous family gatherings and set boundaries to protect yourself.

2.  Try to eat mindfully.  So often we think about the next bite rather than the one we are enjoying and gorge ourselves with food that leaves us feeling ill.  Or, we think about our diet to the point that we can't enjoy the food we eat without feeling stressed out about it.  It sounds so simple to just enjoy the food and yet it's not as easy as it sounds.  Try to be mindful of the food that you eat and all of the work and love that was required to land it on your plate by both people you care about and people you've never met (after all, the food didn't grow in your fridge).  Really notice how the food tastes.  Take your time between bites and pay attention to how it feels.  You may enjoy your meal more if you are able to eat mindfully.  Try.  Enjoy the experience of eating a piece of pie rather than thinking about the calories in it.

3.  Don't get drunk.  It probably feels like a good idea to have another drink if tensions are mounting, but if you have it, you are likely to feel more depressed and/or irritable.  Alcohol is, after all, a depressant.  Uncomfortable family drama is rarely made better by more booze.  

4.  Don't be afraid to abandon old rituals if they are not working for you.  If the turkey doesn't thaw in time, the day is not ruined.  If your children aren't interested in trying the yams, it's not the end of the world.  Make Thanksgiving work for you and your family.  Forget the rest of it.  I celebrated Thanksgiving with my kids last year over monkey bread and bacon at breakfast.  It was one of my favorite Thanksgivings.   

5.  Notice any feelings that come up around the holiday.  Don't pretend the feelings don't exist -- they'll just surface when you least expect it or push you toward the liquor cabinet.  Noticing an uncomfortable feeling is not going to ruin the holiday.  You can feel it.  It will pass.  You will be okay.  Modeling this for your children is an incredible gift.    

6.  If there are big changes this year -- a divorce, a death, a loss, a move, a new baby-- be especially gentle with yourself and your loved ones.  Big life changes may sting or bring up challenges that make it harder to appreciate the gratitude at the heart of Thanksgiving.  Give yourself space.  Acknowledge whoever's not at the table who you wish was there or any changes that have thrown you for a loop.  Treat yourself with the same kindness you would treat a friend going through the same thing.    

7.  Try to connect with gratitude but don't feel pressured to be thankful.  Gratitude in studies is correlated with a greater sense of experienced happiness so focusing on what you are grateful for may actually make you feel happier.  However, there is a lot of pressure to be thankful on Thanksgiving and if that's not where you are at right now, there's nothing wrong with you.  You don't have to be thankful.  Bad moods don't observe holidays.  Try to be grateful if just for the fact that it might boost your mood. 

8.  Be kind.  I have been reading Brene Brown's Into the Wilderness and she talks a lot about how we separate ourselves from others based on beliefs or experiences and that it prevents us from really connecting.  No matter what you think of your family or friend's beliefs, be kind to them.  Lean toward connection rather than separation.  Agree to disagree.  Accept them for who they are rather than what they think.  If their political beliefs don't align with yours, talk about the memories that connect you instead.  That's more important.   

9.  Listen.  There is no greater gift that to be heard.  I was once at a Thanksgiving with the most offensive racist sexist old white man I have ever met.  Everything that came out of his mouth was unbelievably offensive.  But I did not argue and I don't regret it.  Arguing would not have changed his mind.  I listened.  And when I could take no more, I politely excused myself.  You don't have to agree with everything everybody says.  Yet it's not your job to convert their opinions, thoughts, beliefs, or feelings to yours.  It never hurts to just listen to what someone has to say even if it's absurd.  Truly listening to someone is a gift.  It's connective in and of itself.  If your partner or a family member is complaining, resist the urge to fix it and just listen and let them know that you get what they are saying and it makes sense.  Most of the time they will appreciate that you've listened more than any attempts to fix.  

10.  Connect with the people you love.  We run around in circles trying to get the stuffing just right and make sure that the turkey isn't too dry, but none of that matters.  Thanksgiving is an opportunity to connect with the people you care about.  Lean in to connection and vulnerability.  Remember, if the turkey burns but you are able to connect with your family, that's a great Thanksgiving.  Be present with the people you care about.  

In an effort to abide my own tips to lean in to vulnerability, Thanksgiving has been a challenging time of year for me personally.  The stars have aligned such that some of the most amazing things (the birth of my twins) and most painful things have happened right around this holiday.  I share this because I want you to know that if this holiday is hard for you, I can say with absolute sincerity that you are not alone.  

We will get through it.  We will thrive through it.  

Happy Thanksgiving.  

News Induced Anxiety -- Tips for Coping and Managing

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Is the news leaving you feeling anxious and scared?  Does it feel like the world is not safe?  You are not alone.  You can't change the news but there are some things you can do to cope and manage the anxiety.

Part of the problem is that news is a business for consumers who respond to entertainment.  It is designed to hook us and make us want to read more.  Often, headlines twist the news with such sensationalism and drama that it leaves us feeling we are in immediate danger.  Throw in a massive tragedy like the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, and that anxiety skyrockets.  The news allows us to witness people's pain in extreme detail, 24/7 if we choose to.  Our feelings of safety plummet, our anxiety escalates, and we feel like the world is not safe.  These feelings make sense but they also give a lot of power to our news sources and people like this cruel human who did something truly evil. 

Take a deep breath, look around, notice what's here and now.  More than likely, in this very moment, you are safe.  You are supported. For right now, just notice how safe you are.  

If you are struggling with news induced anxiety, set boundaries to protect yourself.  These days, you download a news app to your phone and your phone will alert you all day long to every horrible thing that happens in the world.  I strongly suggest turning off some or all of those push notifications.  They are not necessary or helpful.  Limit and control your exposure to the news.  TV News is designed to keep you engaged with constant hooks demanding your attention.  Watching news stories with these built-in hooks can feel like an emotional roller coaster.  Get off.  Read the news.  Choose less sensationalized news sources such as NPR.  Consider turning the TV off altogether.  Even if something horrible has happened in the world, you do not need to immerse yourself in it all day every day.  It's too much.  Setting limits on how much time you spend even just reading these stories is a healthy self-protective boundary.

And when something horrible happens like what happened this week in Las Vegas, it's okay to feel sadness around it.  Grief.  Make space for those feelings.  When I read about a local family who lost a mother there last week, I felt pain.  To think that a family woke up one morning dealing with the same daily struggles as most people and went to bed that night with a loss that can never be undone is heartbreaking and so hard to come to grips with.  It hurts.  And so many more families suffering so much.  It's painfully sad and it's okay to feel that sadness.    

But that next step that some of you may take with it -- I can't go to concerts anymore, I can't go to work, I can't send my kids to school because bad things happen-- slow down.  Anxiety can distort reality.  For every concert like the one in Vegas, there are millions upon millions where nothing ever happened at all.  For every cruel human like the shooter in Vegas, there are millions upon millions of good, kind people.  Just look at the hundreds upon hundreds of people out there right now taking care of those who have suffered.  That's all true too.  Our brains distort when we feel traumatized and afraid.  We can take that concert in Vegas and catastrophize it into a world where nobody is safe.  But there are far more loving, kind safe humans than there are cruel ones.  

Take a moment and look around -- you will see it.  Look for the kindness in humanity -- pay attention to all of the good people like you who are helping and sending prayers, love and warmth.  

If you are feeling news induced anxiety, set boundaries around how you interact with the news, take time to breathe and be gentle with yourself.  You may need some extra self-care whether that's exercise, time with friends or a hot bath.  If your anxiety continues to mount, reach out for support.  When traumatic events happen in the world, it sometimes opens up our own traumatic wounds.  Having someone to help you process and work through the anxiety and feelings that come up is helpful.  Getting support is not weakness, it's strength.  Therapy can help.

 

Taking Amazing Care of Your Kids is Not Enough to Be a Good Parent -- You're Missing Someone

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As I watch all of the parents running around with the start of Fall busting their butts for their kids, I feel their pain and exhaustion.  It's so hard.  The expectations of parents today in the world of technology that allows us to do so much with our time (too much sometimes), well, it's ridiculous.  And yes, it's important to take care of your kids, but if you're feeling resentful and annoyed with them and not able to enjoy them, you're not doing them any favors.  I get it.  I struggle with this too.

Last week, as I juggled all of my kids' activities and starts of school and school supplies and temper tantrums and laundry... oh, and work... I started to feel something I didn't like.  Irritability.  I felt like a drill sergeant ordering my children from here to there and demanding that they keep their shoes on their feet and not throw their food and trash on the floor of the car or the house, or scream in the car -- why oh why do they do scream in the car?  Suddenly, everything and everyone was pissing me off.  Especially the telemarketer who called me fifteen times last week.  I was irritated with my friends and children before they did anything at all -- the problem was not with them.    

The problem was with me.  

The problem was that I was taking care of everybody except for me.  

With good reason, I didn't have much time for me.  But that left me feeling irritable.  Feeling irritable does not make for a good parent, a good friend, or much of anything at all (My apologies go out to the telemarketer who was just doing her job and got her head bit off at the end of the week... I'm sorry).   

I went for a walk with a friend and was telling her that I felt like a mean, bitchy mom sometimes.  It's true.  I do.  Another mom passing by overheard me and kindly said, "You're not."  And that's true too.  I'm not.  But I am not always my best self.  And when I am not taking care of myself, I am definitely not my best self.  

Taking care of yourself is not selfish.  It's the opposite.  

It allows you to show up and be present for the people you care most about in the world.  This past weekend, I went to yoga, I ran, I got a cheap massage, and watched a movie on demand while I caught up on laundry.  I feel fantastic.  

When clients show up in my office guilty to spend money or take time for themselves, I remind them that taking care of themselves is what makes them able to enjoy and show up for their family.  Self-care is a gift not just for you but for everybody around you (including obnoxious telemarketers).  On top of it, you're modeling healthy self-care for your kids.  Do you want them to grow up sacrificing themselves for everybody else feeling  irritable and annoyed?  If that's what you're doing, that's what you're teaching them to do too.    

If you're not taking care of you, do better.  You deserve it.  So do your friends and family.  

Growing Up with a Parent with a Personality Disorder -- It's Not You

Many of my clients struggle with the wreckage caused by a parent who has a Personality Disorder.  Having a parent who has Narcissistic or Borderline traits is confusing growing up. 

Their erratic behavior may leave you feeling as though there is something profoundly wrong with you.  

Their inability to empathize with you or offer consistency in the parental relationship may feel traumatic.    When a client realizes that their parent has a personality disorder, it is sometimes a relief -- they finally understand the parts of their childhood that felt so confusing before.  However, there is often work to be done as a result.  Therapy can help.

Most clients who have a parent with Narcissistic or Borderline traits experience a great deal of grief.  

They continue to reach out to their parent for the kind of care their parent isn't capable of giving and, as a result, they are consistently disappointed.  It's painful.  Setting healthy boundaries is critical.  It's not about punishing your parent -- it's about protecting yourself.  You can't change them, but you can change the way you engage with them.  You can adjust your expectations and interact accordingly. 

Another piece of fallout as a result of having a parent who has Narcissistic or Borderline Personality traits is that you may struggle with having healthy relationships of your own.  

You may unconsciously attract and/or be attracted to people with personality disorders because you're good at managing them and it feels like home to you.  Sadly it was.  

Your comfort level around personality disorders makes it easy for you to fall into an emotionally disconnected relationship with someone with a personality disorder even when that's not what you want.  You may crave emotional connection and at the same time feel incredibly uncomfortable with it.  The good news is that we can change the way our brains fire and function which means we can change the way we do relationships. 

Having a parent with Borderline or Narcissistic traits is not easy and may leave you more vulnerable to disconnected relationships.  It may require some work and even some discomfort to get there, but I am inspired my clients who take it on and create the healthy relationships they want for themselves. 

It is possible to create healthy relationships and process the grief and trauma that come from growing up with a parent who has a personality disorder. If you need help, I am here to support you and help you move through it.  

Why Dating Sometimes Leaves Strong Independent Women Feeling Like Insecure Needy Teenage Girls

Something that I have noticed with many of my clients who are successful, high-achieving, independent women navigating dating is a struggle that transcends age, race and socioeconomics -- when it comes to dating, they feel like insecure needy teenagers. 

Some of these women have blown up a romantic interest's phone with texts or held on to men who they knew were not right for them for fear of being alone.  They are not stupid women or crazy women -- they are the opposite.  Intelligent and articulate.  They know that it does not make sense even as they do it.  And yet they continue to struggle with this insecurity and neediness.  

Why?

No matter how successful, accomplished, independent or strong we may be, all human beings are wired for connection.  We crave it.  Most of us reach for it in our electronic devices using social media or online dating apps but it's not the same as real human connection.  We are desperate for it to the point that when we get sight of it, we sometimes lose ourselves trying to hold on to it.  And texting is too easy.  It does not leave wiggle room for impulsivity.  

Once upon a time, you had to make a phone call and leave a voicemail on an answering machine.  Now, you can have instant gratification and send your immediate reaction to whoever whenever you please.  Our first impulse is rarely our best.  Processing our reactions before sharing them is an important skill to remember which is why I encourage many of my clients to write the text they want to send in a private note on their phones instead -- if they still want to send it the next day, by all means.  Often, the impulse fades before any damage is done.

When self-respecting women repeatedly cling to men who treat them poorly, it's often a sign that there's some work to be done.  I am committed to helping women work on dysfunctional relationship patterns and deal with hidden negative beliefs they have about themselves that hold them back.  It can be painful but closing the door on challenging chapters often opens the door to healthier happier ones.  

There's a book that I like quite a bit about holding on to your sense of self and setting healthy boundaries while dating.  While I like the book, it has a splashy title that I hate and find misleading.  It's called, "Why Men Love Bitches" by Sherry Argov.  I do not recommend that you read this book to become a bitch that men love.  If that's what you're looking for, this book will disappoint you.  However, I do recommend this book to set strong boundaries and hold on to your sense of self while dating which is a critical life skill for any single woman.  

Beyond that, I encourage you to have compassion around the neediness that comes up.  It's okay to feel it and not send the text messages.  There's nothing wrong with you -- you're human and you crave connection.  

If you're struggling with these issues, I'm here to support you.