The dish fairy dynamic: Why doing the dishes may save your marriage.

Sometimes, I have days in my practice where there’s a theme that comes up over and over on my sofa in a single day. It doesn’t happen often that the same issues weave through like that but it happened recently and it’s an issue that comes up A LOT. I want to talk about it.

I want to talk about doing the dishes and what happens when a wife asks her husband to do the dishes (or when the dynamic is reversed).

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This may not seem like an important issue but it’s more important than you think. Sometimes, husbands (or wives) respond with “I will do it in a little while,” and then sometimes they forget and the dish fairy comes later that day and the dishes magically get done anyway so it works out just fine as far as they are concerned.

But this is an illusion.

It’s not fine.

And it really doesn’t have very much to do with the dishes at all.

When someone asks for help doing the dishes, what they are really saying is this: “I am feeling overwhelmed and I need some help and support here. Could you please show up for me?” When the dishes don’t get done, the answer feels like a “Nope, you’re on your own, do it yourself — I just don’t care enough to be bothered to help you” and that often feels like abandonment and far more overwhelm than a sink full of dirty dishes.

The underlying issue is not the dishes. Or whatever the chore is the subject of fairy magic.

The underlying issue is needing a partner to show up and get dirty doing the stuff that isn’t fun that has to get done.

The underlying issue is feeling like you are not alone in this.

When the dish fairy has to take care of the dishes, it feels like you’re on your own and that you don’t have a partner. Resentment builds along with a painful dynamic that eats away at even the best of relationships in which one partner (the dish fairy) eventually feels like they have to nag their partner in order to get them to do anything and so they give up and resent their partner for abandoning them. This often leads them to view, or even treat, their partner as though they are another child they have to care for and nag. Their spouse inevitably feels the sting of the resentment, their bitterness and hostility, and often doesn’t understand why. Nothing they do is ever good enough so why bother. They stop trying. Their partner treats them like a child. It creates disconnect and builds tension in the relationship which is the opposite of what either partner wants.

There is no dish fairy. There is just a partner who feels alone and maybe even abandoned.

Little things like the dishes that need to get done, the toilets that need to be cleaned, and the trash that needs to be taken out are opportunities to show up for your partner and remind them that you’re in it too. When one partner doesn’t show up, it create walls in the relationship. That may sound silly. But it’s never about the dishes or the toilets or the garbage — it cuts deeper, it’s more important.

And so if you don’t want this dynamic to erode your relationship, my advice to you is simple — take out the trash before you’re asked, do the dishes now and not later, surprise your partner by cleaning the toilets without being asked at all. You may be surprised by the pay-off in this — your partner feels supported, loved, and connected.

You’re showing up for them. They will want to show up for you too.

And if this dynamic has taken hold and it feels like too much to overcome, couples therapy can help. Couples often wait years before addressing these issues because they fear going to couples therapy means there’s something wrong with their relationship. In my work, I find the opposite is true — couples who come to therapy do so because they value their relationship so much that they will do whatever it takes to keep it.

You Lie to Yourself -- The Truth About Impostor Syndrome

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Do you ever have moments when you feel like a fraud and think you’ll be found out? You’re not really that good? Everyone will discover the truth and it will all come falling down? They think you know more than you do? Other people who do the same thing you do are better than you will ever be? You’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds this out? They will laugh at you and think you are an idiot? Does any of this feel familiar to you? Maybe it doesn’t happen all of the time. Maybe it’s just when you’re taking a risk or trying something out of your comfort zone. Maybe it comes on the heels of criticism. But however it comes, there’s something you need to know:

Those are lies you tell yourself. And many people do this exact same thing even when they are doing the very things that you admire and look up to.

Years ago, when I was working in television, I came into the office early one morning and one of the executive producer-level writers on the TV show I was working on was there too because he had pulled an all-nighter. He looked rough — unshaven, tired. He told me something that shocked me — he felt like he was a fraud and he was one bad script away from being found out. At the time, I was a Writer’s Assistant and this shocked me. He was doing everything I dreamt of, top of his game, and he still didn’t feel good enough. I was sure that if I could just write one produced episode of television, I would feel validated as a writer. And then I did. But when my first ‘written by’ credit aired on TV for all to see, I discovered his truth — I still felt like a fraud, just like he did.

This theme comes up with my clients often. Clients often bring it to me like a deep dark secret — the truth is that they are not good enough and everybody is about to find this out. No, no, no. That is not the truth. That’s the lie. You lie to yourself because you’re terrified. You’re terrified that you’re not good enough. Well guess what — you wouldn’t have this opportunity if you weren’t. You made it happen. You are not a fraud. It might be hard, but you rise. That’s how you got here and that’s how you stay there.

I know this storyline so very well and I help my clients navigate their own Impostor Syndrome when it comes up. And now as I prepare to publish my first book, I am feeling all of this deeply and intensely. Impostor Syndrome is real, ladies and gentlemen. It is so very real.

And I the therapist who helps people soothe their own Impostor Syndrome is also the Impostor understanding the lie and yet perpetuating it within myself. See, I’m a total fraud… a therapist who can’t help herself with the very things she helps her clients with… a flawed, broken human. And a liar, to myself at least… just like some of you.

Try not to believe the lies. I’m trying too.

I never expected this

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At the end of last year, I decided to try to create a Facebook group for people struggling through divorce and wanting to heal. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I have low expectations of social media and didn’t expect much. I just put up a random post with a picture that I took of the pier by my office and hoped people would join.

At first it was slow and I thought it wasn’t going to work. I begged a few divorced friends to join so there would be somebody in it. But then all of a sudden, it took off. I created the group in November and in five months, the group grew to over 1300 members. But what’s amazing about this group is not how many people are in it — what blows me away is the level of support and kindness inside of it.

I never expected this.

These 1300+ people live all over the country, some even in other parts of the world. They come from different backgrounds. They have different beliefs. The only thing that every single one of them has in common is that they have been through or are going through a painful break-up and want to heal and feel empowered through it. They show up for each other in this group. They generously share their stories, their struggles, their fears, their hopes, their sorrows. And they support everybody else who has done the same. Because they get it. No matter how different they are, they get each other.

While I created the space, it’s the people inside of the group who gave it life and filled it with love. I am inspired by the people in this group every day.

In this group, I am reminded of what it means to be vulnerable and supportive in a meaningful, raw and authentic way.

I am reminded that healing comes through connection and that we all want to be seen and heard.

I see what it means to straighten each other’s crowns. Every day.

Kindness is real. True love is real. Divorce is not an obstacle for either of those two things.

To every member of the You Got This: Healing Through Divorce Group on Facebook, thank you for this unexpected gift. I have learned so much from this group and I am grateful for the daily reminders of kindness and love.

Do therapists really care or is it just a job?

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Does your therapist really care about you?  This comes up with clients a lot — they want to know if the caring they feel from me is real. I went for a walk with a therapist friend this week and we talked about this. Do you want to know the truth?

Yes. We care. 

If you feel genuinely cared for by your therapist, it’s real. It’s too hard to fake that. And the truth is that most therapists (myself and the therapists I refer to) care too much.  We do think about you outside of session. We consult with each other (keeping your confidentiality sacred of course) because we want to make sure we are doing the best we can for you.  Sometimes we, or at least I, stay awake thinking about my clients and what they are needing. I feel honored that they trust me with their trauma, their pain, their struggles.  

Yeah, I know sometimes you may wonder if you just pay us to care but we genuinely do care. Or at least I do. Sincerely. We need to make a living but we couldn’t do this work well if the connection wasn’t there.  

Recently, I saw a former client at Target and I wanted desperately to run and ask her how she’s doing. Because I want to know. I tell my clients that I won’t approach them unless they approach me first out of respect for their confidentiality so I didn’t approach her. If she did see me, I was not dressed the part of therapist — I looked more disheveled mom that day— she might not have even recognized me and if she did, I might have scared her. When former clients reach out and send me an email letting me know how they are doing and how our work together has impacted them, it makes my day. I love it.  

Anyway, my point is this: If you are my client or ever have been my client and you have felt cared for by me, I wasn’t faking it. I care.  I really do. And if you’re someone else’s client and you wonder if your therapist really cares about you, chances are that they do too. 

  

The Secret Wounds of Infidelity— It’s not because you weren’t enough

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If you’ve been betrayed in a relationship, there’s something you really need to hear and if you’re like most of the people who sit on my couch in my office, it might be hard to take in:

Your partner’s infidelity was not about your worth. It was not your fault. It did not happen because you are not good enough, not pretty enough, not sexy enough, not skinny enough, not smart enough — it had nothing at all to do with you being enough— even if your partner has said otherwise. When somebody cheats, it has nothing to do with their partner being “enough” of anything. Cheating is a choice and no matter what was happening in your marriage at the time, you are never responsible for your partner’s choice. The choices a person makes are about them, same as your choices are about you.

If this is hard to take in, you are not alone. I have clients who are beautiful, fascinating, intelligent, sexy and incredible women who wrestle with these very same fears that they are not enough for their partner as a result of their partner’s betrayal. There’s a reason for this. When something traumatic happens, our mind tries to make meaning out of it and we often cling to negative cognitions (like “I’m not good enough”) as a way of understanding. We even clump it together with other traumas where we have arrived at the same negative cognition. It’s self-sabotage, it’s unkind, and it’s human. But it is not truth.

Additionally, sometimes partners who cheat also gaslight and tell their partner that they are to blame for their sexual acting out. It’s easier for them to put the blame on you than it is to feel the shame and disappointment that comes with taking responsibility for their own behaviors. Their discomfort with accepting responsibility for their actions is also not about you.

If someone across from you drops a plate, are you responsible for dropping it? Of course not. And yet people who have been betrayed in relationships often take responsibility for the affair as though they caused it.

If you’re noticing that you’re feeling less than enough, I encourage you to remind yourself that you are enough and treat yourself accordingly. Be extra kind to yourself right now — increase your self care as much as possible. You are not responsible for another person’s choices. Does this mean you’re not responsible for the problems in your marriage? No — a marriage has two people. Your choices impact your marriage too. The hard part about healing after infidelity is that the trauma of the betrayal sometimes gets in the way of sifting through the other issues in the marriage. Addressing the infidelity and its impact on both partners comes first. And then, in its wake, there comes a rebuilding of the relationship that addresses the other issues and ruptures in intimacy, both sexual and emotional. The sting of the trauma and the loss of trust and sometimes even self-esteem that follows, makes this process a challenge. And yet people do it and go on to have stronger, healthier, more connected marriages as a result.

And some people don’t. Sometimes infidelity ends marriages. In my Facebook Group “Healing Through Divorce,” I see people feeling as though they were left for another woman. These people often wonder about their ex’s happy life with their new person. But the person who betrays in one relationship is still that same person who betrays regardless of who they are with now. Without doing the deeper work to address the issues that led them there, they just carry the same issues into the next relationship. A new partner may be exciting and euphoric for a while but when real life sets in, reality does too.

Infidelity hurts. Honestly, it took me years to believe that the betrayals in my marriage were not a reflection of my own worth. And I share this with you only because I want you to understand that you are not alone in that place. And that you don’t need to be there. Writing this here is hard and incredibly uncomfortable for me because I too struggle with feeling shame around the reality of what I endured in my marriage. Often, the person who has been betrayed feels shame for their partner’s behavior. It’s unfair. If your partner betrayed you, please try to remember that it was not about you and thus, it’s not your shame to hold.

You are enough.

It’s not your fault.

Treat yourself with kindness and love, and you will heal.

And if you have a friend or know someone going through a divorce, try to understand that as scandalous as their partners’ behaviors may be to gossip about, you are touching an open painful wound. Be gentle, be understanding, be kind.

The wounds of infidelity run deep.

Do you want to get off the whirly ride? Do it — Slow Down, Stop the Noise.

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Do you ever feel like you can’t keep up? Everything is moving forward, you have to forge ahead while keeping all the balls in the air, your day is scheduled with work and family and kids, you don’t have a moment of calm from the time you wake up until you go to bed and then you wake up and do it all over again the very next day…

Can you relate? I can. Geez… it’s exhausting.

It’s so fast-paced. It never stops. When a client compared it to a whirly ride, I knew exactly what he meant. I’m on this Beach Cities Health District Mental Health Task Force which is looking at the mental health of our local teens. And the question comes up — why are our kids struggling? Why do they feel so pressured? Their parents claim that they aren’t pressuring them and yet these teens feel pushed to the brink. My theory —it is because their parents don’t have to say anything for them to understand. Their parents are living and breathing the very same thing. When we exist on this whirly ride that never stops, we are showing our children that this is what life is and what it’s supposed to be.

We live in a culture that values being busy and exhausted but the problem with this is that we end up feeling overwhelmed and rundown.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s almost taboo not to say “busy.'“ Why? Why do we have to be so ridiculously busy all the time?

To tell you the truth, I don’t know the solution to this. I know it’s a problem, but I don’t know how to fix it exactly. I live and breathe it myself. Every day. Running around, always feeling like it’s never enough and I can’t get it all done. I do my best and still, I have to go up and down the stairs between the laundry room and my room because I never get around to putting all my clothes away. And all I have is this—

We need to model self-care too. We need to get off the whirly ride sometimes and take a breath. And maybe it’s okay to miss a practice now and again or to take a day off from all of it, not because you’re sick. Because you need time off the whirly ride before you throw up over the side of it or really do get sick and have to stay home.

We live fast paced lives of constant movement and exhaustion. Our children watch us do it and learn that they must do it even when we communicate otherwise to them.

What would it be like if we didn’t have to always be on the whirly ride like this? How do we collectively make it stop?

Do your part. Slow down. Just for a moment. Let your kids slow down. Don’t fill your quiet moments with the noise of social media or mindless television. Notice what it’s like to just be for a few minutes. Just be. Let your kids do the same.

Get off the whirly ride and remember what it feels like to be off of it.

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.