Can’t You See These Flaws

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There’s a shaky feeling. I should be taller. I should be thinner. Everyone else has the body I wish I had. I’ll never be quite as attractive as that. I mean, it’s fine I guess.

I just know if I were a little more __________ then I’d be more loveable, too. More deserving.

Can we talk about body dysmorphia?

It’s been coming up a lot lately. There is this thin veil of “it’s no big deal,” and beneath it a quivering, painful fear. Hate or disgust. It hurts down to the bone, and we make passing jokes about it. Yet we don’t share just how deep this hurt goes.

I’ve fallen prey to it, myself. It wasn’t long ago I realized a pattern I had. I’d look back at younger pictures of myself and think, “my goodness, I was so _____ back then.” Insert whichever wishful adjective you’d like. Over time, I realized that I felt poorly about my body at the time the picture was taken, just to be wistful at having lost the beauty a few years later. Pictures became mirrors I couldn’t ignore. Maybe, just maybe, I never looked as bad as I felt I did at the time, and only with some years of separation from that body could I see it for what it was: beautiful.

We learn a lot about how we feel about our bodies from our families growing up. We hear our parents, who we initially idolize, judging their own bodies, ours, or strangers on the street. We learn what beauty is supposed to look like, and then we measure ourselves against that standard as we grow into our adult bodies. If we don’t quite measure up, we hate ourselves. If we gain too much weight, we skip meals, restrict calories, or exercise too much. It begs a question: can you hate and/or punish yourself into being attractive?

As a kid, I remember my mom saying how old her hands looked. Now when I look down, the same age she was, I see my mom’s hands in place of my own. I hear the words she spoke and have to be intentional about not buying into that, myself. When I see my hands and notice their age, I try to feel gratitude for having made it this far. For having a daughter who will love these hands like I loved my mom’s.

Culture feeds into it, too, right? With all the airbrushing, photoshopping, and filters, we forget what real humans look like. There’s a reason I’m not often keen on following back those fitness moms who post endless “before and after” pictures of their bodies. Those folks who are always DMing me asking if I’d like to lose weight or get more fit. I’m so glad for them that they are working on themselves. And yet, it doesn’t suit everyone to see so many pictures day in and day out of bodies, with the intention to idealize, improve, or boost sex appeal. It can become obsessive, and it concerns me for the dozens of folx I know who still struggle with loving their bodies. The constant suggestion that there might be an ideal body can be vexatious to the spirit. Confused, the spirit starts to ask, “why can’t I look like that?” The answer is simple: because you’re not them. It can be painful when you feel like culture, family, or your own ideals don’t align with the body you were given.

Body dysmorphia wants you to think you’re flawed. That there is some piece of you that is wrong when in reality, there’s not. But saying that is like saying, “don’t be sad” to someone with depression. In fact, it’s closely tied to anxiety, depression, trauma, and OCD. They share a common struggle: believing that happiness, peace, or worth is something that comes from the outside. Each struggle forgets that worth is inherent and happiness comes from within.

Here’s my thought: Why not love yourself into being healthier?

How about instead of hating, obsessing in the mirror, and shaming ourselves for rolls, wrinkles, or too big/too small of something, why don’t we just love ourselves and show it by being gentle, kind, and tending to ourselves? Eat food that makes your body feel healthy. Get restful sleep. Engage in supportive relationships. Take walks. Enjoy the fresh air. Unplug. Drink water. Wear clothes that match your spirit. Laugh. And under no circumstances, stress yourself out doing any of the above.

Perhaps we’ve had it backward all along. Perhaps it isn’t “once I look this way, I’ll be able to love myself.” Maybe we get further by loving ourselves first, respecting and honoring our bodies, and allowing them to rest in their happy place. Then we think, “I love myself, so I love what my body is.”

There are so many ways to start down this road. Here are a few places to start:

  1. Meditation and Mindfulness.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  3. Radical Acceptance.

There’s something to be said for an attitude of gratitude. Your body will never be “perfect” by any standard other than your own. And sure, walks and happy thoughts won’t make you taller, have different genitals, or re-grow hair. But that’s not the point.

This is the body you have. You won’t ever have another body in this life. This is it. Hating your body is like cooking angry. Your anger taints the food and robs it of its brilliance. Hating your body taints your life and robs it of its brilliance, too.

Think of it this way. Does your body generally work? Try to remember that it’s a miracle you exist. The fact that you can think, that you can breathe, that your heart beats. Maybe you’re missing some digits, or maybe you have a degenerative disease. That’s okay- you still have so many other blessings that many people don’t have. Do you have the disorder where your brain forgets to breathe while you sleep? Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night because you could forget to breathe and not wake up. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have that we consider basic. What we take for granted. Accepting what we have and being grateful can help us see the bigger picture.

Note: Acceptance is not the same as being okay with or giving up. Acceptance simply acknowledges what is. I have a body. It’s not attachment (“I wish I could have a body like that”) or aversion (“I hate that my ____ is so ____”). Acceptance likes facts. This is my body. This is the only body I have. This body allows me to move, speak, breathe, love, and experience pleasure and pain. This is my body. 

Once you can acknowledge your body as it is, you can work toward loving it as it is.

You can do this. If you need help, reach out.

I see your beauty,

D

 

If you’re looking for some body positive insta’s, try: @thebirdspapaya or @lizzobeeating.

When You’re Not Quite Enough

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We can push so hard sometimes. We push away experiences that we find unpleasant, like anxiety, anger, and sadness. We create these beliefs about what it means to be human and then we measure our worth based on how well we meet those expectations. Unsurprisingly, it’s never quite enough, so we hate ourselves a little harder and then hope that by hating ourselves, we’ll learn to do better. But hate is exhausting, so when sticky thoughts come back up we believe them without question. Then, we hold ourselves to those beliefs, and it continues.

Welcome to misery. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Clients often come in wanting me to help them make the sadness, anxiety, or anger go away. I’m here to tell you that I can’t do that. I cannot make your emotions go away, because you’re a human. Humans have emotions. Sure, I can help you learn how to navigate, manage, and experience those emotions without falling into despair, but that’ll take a lot of effort on your part day in and day out.

Geez, don’t sugar coat it, Danielle.

I know. I’m a bit of a pragmatist – I also believe that’s where peace comes from. It’s time we acknowledge (aka accept) where we are. Who we are. Then we can adjust our expectations within attainable limits and feel the joy of small victories.

Meet Sophia. Sophia feels like she should be doing better. She should be further along in her career, more successful in love, and adulting in a way that looks right. She’s been coming to therapy for a while, so she feels like she shouldn’t be still feeling sad or anxious. She snaps at her loved ones when she doesn’t mean to, she questions her worth so frequently she doesn’t even notice half the time, and she clings onto others like air. She sees herself doing these things, and she knows better, so she gets angry that she’s still doing them. The anger doesn’t take long to drift into sadness and despair that she will always live with this struggle. That somehow, she’s broken.

I’ve created Sophia out of thin air. She’s not real. But my guess is that if you’re reading this, she doesn’t need to be. You already know her. I know dozens of Sophias: Men/Women/Non-Binary, later in life and just starting out. I could maybe go so far as to say we all have a little bit of Sophia in us. Some (not so) distant fear that there may, in fact, be something wrong with us when we’re anxious or sad.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are supposed to have all the feels.

It can be really confusing when you’re in recovery from something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder. It can also be frustrating when you’re trying to get into recovery from something like this. The push to feel better sometimes makes us forget we’re still supposed to have sadness and anxiety.

Without sadness, we wouldn’t be able to recognize what is important to us. Without anxiety, we would make rash, potentially dangerous decisions. Feelings serve a purpose. Ever seen the movie Inside Out? That’s what it’s all about. Understanding the why behind our emotions.

Here’s a favorite poem, which I’ll describe more in-depth in another post:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

When we try to push away all feelings we label as negative, we end up numbing ourselves to all emotions, including the ones we typically think of as “good,” like happiness, love, excitement, peace, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, if you could learn to experience your feelings, regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad,” you could see that you are beautifully human. That no amount of sadness, anxiety, or anger makes you broken. You always have room to grow and heal. And yes, you can experience sadness without being depressed.

Our goal, then, should not be to remove the existence of difficult feelings, but rather to flow with them, acknowledging both their presence and their temporary nature. We get curious about them, looking for what they’re trying to teach us, and then allow them to pass when they’re ready. In Buddhism, this is called inviting it in for tea.

How to do this? I recommend you start with getting good at a body scan meditation, which helps you learn how to shift your mind, feel your body without holding/resisting/judging, and bring awareness into your breath.

If you need help, reach out.

Good luck out there,

D

Mothering Is My Mindfulness

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It was something I hadn’t planned but immediately realized the need for: Meditation and Mindfulness during Pregnancy. Somehow I knew that it would benefit not only me and my family but also this little human I had decided to grow. So I set up my area in my bedroom, woke up 5 minutes early, and meditated every day of my pregnancy.

What I didn’t realize, is that it was also what would pull me out of Postpartum Anxiety. We go to the doctor’s office and fill out questionnaire after questionnaire to check on our potential for Postpartum Depression, but we’re never asked about our anxiety.

See, anxiety is a healthy, normal thing. Right now in our culture, we are constantly trying to rid ourselves and others of anxiety. Imagine for a moment, though, life without anxiety. Sure, we’d be peaceful. Yeah, we might stress less. But what about those life or harm threatening moments that anxiety saves us from? What about the places anxiety helps us perform better? … Like in mothering?

That’s right. Anxiety helps you be a better mother. Anxiety encourages you to check on your baby, want them near, listen intently to their stories and cries, keep a watchful eye over their playing to keep them safe and to worry over how they’re developing, feeling, and thinking. Anxiety is useful.

Think of anxiety as a person in your car. They’re keeping an extra eye out, helping you navigate and stay safe in treacherous situations. They serve a purpose, so long as you keep them as a passenger and don’t hand over the wheel. Mindfulness can help make that easier.

Meditation and mindfulness is not just for single 20-somethings out on a personal quest. Nor is it just for monks, nuns, or people without kids who have time for that sort of thing. Mindfulness and meditation is for everyone, including moms. Heck, especially moms.

You can read more about mindfulness here.

Meditation is the formal practice of sitting down and becoming fully present. Mindfulness is the awareness you bring to your daily life between formal meditations. You know those moments when you feel a little (or a lot) overwhelmed by the changes, expectations, and daily life workload and your kiddo won’t stop eating the dog food? Yeah. Mindfulness is for those moments so that you can pause making lunches, packing diaper bags, and worrying over being late and kneel down. It allows you the space to check in on what’s really important in those tough moments so you can respond in a way that encourages cooperation and relationship. It keeps us from scolding toddlers who are being toddlers, pleading with babies to just be okay for a minute in their lounger, or power struggling with our school kiddos about whether they should wear jackets.

When you get overwhelmed, pause. Take in a deep breath, breathe it out slower than you took it in. Ask yourself a couple of things:

  1. What is the most important thing? (hint: it’s almost always your relationship with your kiddo)
  2. What do you and/or they need right now? (go realistic- a deep breath? a hug? a 30-second dance/wiggle party?)
  3. What are your options? And which is the most skillful one? (you always have options: you can scream at them, ignore them, power struggle, melt into a puddle of tears, or come to their level, acknowledge their experience, set limits around misbehavior, and steer them in another direction)

I’ve saved the best part for last.

Here’s my favorite part about mindfulness and mothering: it allows me to enjoy it. Not survive it, not simply get through the day. Mindfulness is what makes me love being a mom. It makes me one of those delusionally happy moms we don’t really believe mean it when they say that it’s the best part of each day.

If I’m caught up in thoughts about my house, work, or relationship issues and I have my daughter nearby, I can close my eyes, kiss the top of her head, and breathe in the oatmeal/calendula scent of her conditioner. Suddenly, whatever was happening before that moment is gone. At that moment, I’m home. If I’m worried about her at night, I can sneak into her room, sit by her bed, and listen to her quiet snoring. If I’ve been stressed and disconnected all day, I can use the warmth of the bathwater and the sound of her laughter to melt away stress. I can use snuggle up in the chair story-time to re-connect.

Mothering is my mindfulness.

Could it be yours?

 

Did you know I run The Mom Circle, now at The Family Village? Check out the info on my Services page.

Take care out there,

D

Thoughts Are Like Boogers

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Welcome back to week two! Have you been keeping on top of your exercise plans? If not, stop right now and do five minutes of stretches.

Ready? Okay, then. It’s important that you keep on top of yourself when it comes to doing what I’m asking you to do, even when you don’t want to. In fact, especially when you don’t want to (that’s when you need it the most). As you get further along, you’ll begin to notice that your body needs different sorts of care on different days. Sometimes you need exercise, others comfort, and others company. How will you start to figure this out? Mindfulness.

I often tell people who start with me that if I have two clients with the same presenting issues, one of whom meditates and the other who does not, the one who meditates sees more significant change sooner. Why? Because the more aware a person is, not only of their experience but what is happening around them, the better able they are to process in therapy in order to release difficult feelings and cope.

If you already meditate, make sure you’re getting at least 5 minutes each day. The morning is often easiest, as it’s when your mind is most quiet. If you already do 5 minutes a day, maybe now is the time to make it 10.

If you don’t already meditate, you can start with simple mindfulness activities to ease into it. We often envision mindfulness to be this peaceful experience sitting cross-legged on a beach, hands on knees, whispering “om.” That’s not meditation. At least, not really.

Meditation is the act of recognizing when we’ve gotten lost in our thoughts and intentionally bringing ourselves back to the present. Jon Kabat Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.” Meditation is the formal practice, while mindfulness is what we do informally in-between. This being said to explain that mindfulness and meditation are not always awesome. Sometimes they’re grueling, vulnerable, and raw.

This might sound intimidating, but mindfulness and meditation are only grueling, vulnerable, and raw because being human is. Our minds race constantly, wishing for something, remembering something, planning for something. We zombie out on our electronic devices so that we don’t have to face that being human. We fear what our thoughts will become, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to fear your thoughts.

Why?

Two reasons.

  1. Your thoughts aren’t real. Your mind makes thoughts like your nose makes boogers. You don’t live your life according to your boogers, so you don’t need to live your life according to your thoughts. When we talk about thoughts, we very specifically say “your thoughts,” which means there is a you. YOU are in control. Not your thoughts. You can learn to stop believing everything you think and start feeling in control of your life.
  2. While being human is grueling, vulnerable, and raw, it is also awe inspiring, uplifting, and beautiful. Oftentimes in order to get to the latter we must first gather the gumption to face the former. Life is not all good nor all bad. It is a mix and part of getting control of your thoughts is beginning to create a more realistic view of the world.

If you need a place to start, go with a body scan. I’ll work on recording and sharing some meditations in the next few weeks, but there are a lot of places out there you can find guided meditations (See bottom of blog for apps). Body scans are helpful to begin with because we can use our senses, which helps ground us. The act of feeling our toes, knees, back, or jaw instead of listening to and believing every thought that pops into our heads is an exercise. Think of it as building your mental muscles.

You can also work on just following and observing the breath, without trying to control it. Find the place you feel your breath the strongest in your body (nostrils, chest, stomach, throat) and focus on that one place. No need to count your breaths or change them. You just watch your body as it knows what to do.

Alternatively, you can take a walk and notice, one at a time, your 5 senses. It’s easiest if your walk is slow and deliberate. Similarly, you can scan through your five senses while you brush your teeth (instead of what you probably do, which is review yesterday, plan for today, and worry or wonder).

When you get hooked by a thought, pause, acknowledge it, and come back to your body or your breath. By doing this, you weaken the neural connection that wants you to mindlessly think and you strengthen the neural connection for mindful awareness.

Yes, meditation can change your brain structure.

Any time that you catch yourself in ruminating depressive talk, pause, focus on your breath for three full breaths, and then try to return to your day. You’ll know depressive talk by it’s negative tone. Examples might include, “what’s the point?” “I’m never going to…” “why would anybody…” and any version of you not being good enough. Put a pause on those thoughts.

One last thing. It’s normal to have negative first reactions to meditation. I didn’t like it AT ALL for the first six months. Ten years later, it’s my best friend. Here are 5 common struggles with meditation:

  1. “I can’t seem to do it right.” Don’t worry about this. Any time you recognize that you’re lost in thought, you’re doing it.
  2. “It just makes me fall asleep.” Sometimes this is an avoidance thing your mind does. Other times your body is just trying to tell you it needs more rest.
  3. “I can’t stop thinking!” It’s okay. You’re not really supposed to STOP thinking. Instead of that, make your goal to focus your attention on breath, body, etc. Also, you might find that the moment you sit to meditate your mind lights on thought fire. It’s not that you suddenly start thinking more, it’s that you are now aware just how much you already think.
  4. “I get cramps/tingling/itching when I try.” That’s normal. Again, some of this is a distraction technique your mind will use. Sometimes your nose isn’t itchy, your mind is. Other times you might just be really feeling your body when you normally spend a lot of effort ignoring its cues.
  5. “I get really anxious/agitated when I try.” Normal again. Part of this is the fear that we might not do it well or that we’ll uncover some deep darkness. Again with your intention, work on making your goal focusing your attention on your body or breath instead of trying to calm down.

Now it’s your turn! In addition to more maintainable exercise, it’s time to add meditation to your daily self care routine. Here are some apps to help:

Calm

Headspace

Smiling Mind (Free and has versions for Teens)

Stop, Breathe, and Think (There’s also a kid version)

 

See you next week!

D

Couch Slug No More

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Exercise. It’s the first step in our time together and it is an important one. I also acknowledge that it’s probably the last thing on your “sounds good” list if you’ve been struggling lately. I know, there are some days when your body feels like lead and simply presenting yourself to the world with a half brushed mouth, two day old hair, and sniff-tested clothes is almost more than you can take. I know the fury of frustration and fatigue that can come with a bouncy encouragement to get exercise from someone who clearly doesn’t get it. I also know that even if you don’t want to, even if you have to curse me, the world, or your depression. Even if you have to tie your shoes while you throw a two year old tantrum on the floor, or slither off the couch like a deflated slug- you have to get exercise. Remember? The only way out is through.

So let’s talk about why.

Certainly a piece of the puzzle to our moods are our neurotransmitters, or our “feel good” chemicals. When we’re low with dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, or oxytocin, our mood is lower. That’s the basics of it, right? And we all know that exercise is a way of releasing these natural chemicals, as well as increasing blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for our emotions.

Did you know, though, that positive mood changes occur more readily when you’re engaging in aerobic exercise? Anaerobic, or more intense activities, don’t show the same level of benefit. So what types of exercises are helpful?

  1. Yoga. I first recommend yoga because not only does it increase strength, endurance, burn calories, and is often done in a group setting, but yoga also adds a mindfulness component (which we’ll cover in more detail next week). When doing yoga, you get more connected to your body, feeling the consequences of each action. Yoga also helps release tense areas that hold stored emotion, like your shoulders and hips. If you’re new to yoga, there are classes for you. If you need to de-stress, try a yin or restorative yoga class. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Walking (or jogging). No need to sprint or try and be in a 5k next week if you’re not usually a runner. If you want to work up to that, try something like the Couch to 5k program. Otherwise, walking is perfect. Not only does walking get your heart pumping and your muscles moving, it also gets you outdoors with fresh air. Walking is helpful for the brain in a similar way to EMDR in that it uses bilateral brain stimulation. The movement helps with funneling your attention and reorganizing your brain.
  3. Swimming. Ideal for people who struggle with aches and pains (or are pregnant, this is great for pre/postnatal ladies!), swimming is easy on the joints. Swimming also incorporates water (duh!), which has a natural connection to our emotions and is often found to be relaxing.
  4. Dancing. Nobody has to see it, or you can be up there performing. Dancing is great not only for many of the reasons mentioned above, but it includes music. Be aware of what music you expose yourself to. Pump some happy, life-loving tunes with a beat that gets you moving and dance to your heart’s content. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Dancing is in our genes as humans, just ask any baby.

There are other reasons exercise is important as well, such as improved body image, endurance, and improved energy (the more you move, the more you want to move… to a point). Getting good exercise during the day helps you sleep more soundly at night, which we’ll talk about in weeks to come. If you’re feeling more energized, spending more time in the sunlight/fresh air, and sleeping better at night… doesn’t that already sound like not-depression? The more fatigued you are, the more depressed you feel simply because fatigue feels like depression, even when it isn’t. It’s like the opposite idea of smiling to trick your brain into feeling happier. Couch-slug feeling tricks your brain into feeling depressed.

Now is a good time to talk about the intention to our exercises. We often see exercise as a means to an end (i.e. look better/thinner/more ripped/etc). In my program, though, exercise is not about looking a certain way or fitting a certain size. Nor is it about what other people think. Stop that, right now. If you’re holding onto “skinny clothes” for once you look a certain way, get rid of them. We want to learn how to love exactly what we have as it is. Once we love what we have, we have more flexibility to improve it. What does that mean? It’s about feeling strong, energized, and connected to your body. If you’re connected with your body you treat it better, and in turn it treats you better. Trying to punish yourself for looking or weighing a certain way is a breeding ground for depression. It’s like wanting to get rid of the stray animals on your front porch, but secretly leaving them scraps from dinner each night.

Doesn’t work.

The same is true with too much exercise. If you are pushing yourself into oblivion with exercise, you’re exhausting your body and causing the problems noted above. We’re not talking about becoming triathlon athletes here or trying to squeeze some control out of our bodies in an uncontrollable world. We’re talking about improving your mental landscape by creating a healthy connection with your body. Remember, it’s the only body you get. And your body, just like every other body, is absolutely beautiful, just as it is.

Are you wondering how in the world you’re going to find time to exercise in your busy life? What about the kids, my social media presence, work, school, etc? It doesn’t have to be crazy (in fact, it shouldn’t be!). Think small to start. Take a walk around the building on your lunch break. Park in a space in the back of the parking lot to go grocery shopping. Go play outside with your kids or animals. Work your way up so that you’re exercising for 15 minutes 5 times a week. Or 30-45 minutes 3 or 4 times per week. Stretch for 10 minutes before you get into bed at night. Make it a goal to join one fitness class per week (plus, then, several walks around the neighborhood throughout the week). You DO have time to get more exercise. In fact, I’m going to go do 15 minutes of Yoga before my daughter wakes from her nap.

See you next week! Feel free to comment your plans for exercise below. It can be helpful to write them down, here or elsewhere!

D

5 Steps Toward a Healthier Fight

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One of the most rewarding parts of being in a committed relationship is that feeling of being seen, understood, and loved anyway. It’s a feeling we all ache for, and it is what leads us into arguments with others. Wanting to be understood is what fuels disconnection, whether in a relationship or in a country. The stronger we cling to the desire to be understood, the more we begin to believe that our side is the right side. This, in turn, fuels us to push understanding into the minds and hearts of others. Round and round we go, down a spiral of unhappiness.

I often say to my clients, “would you rather be right, or happy?” Being right means another is wrong, and in relationships you can’t have one person always be wrong. If one person is wrong, the relationship suffers. Often, in order to find happiness in our relationships, we have to have a willingness to be neither right nor wrong, but to find an answer somewhere in between.

Perhaps part of the issue is that we confuse love and attachment. Love says, “I want you to be happy.” Attachment says, “I need you to make me happy.” Similarly, in arguments Love says, “I want to understand you.” Attachment says, “I want you to understand me.”

What is this attachment? Attachment is wanting something we cannot have. When we feel attached to someone being a certain way or to winning an argument, we are wanting something inherently impossible. Nobody will stay just as they are, and no argument can be won without losing something. Attachment breeds suffering, whereas love ignites openness. When we’re open, we can experience happiness.

I know, easier said than done. In the heat of an argument we become angry and lose sight of the end goal. What is your end goal in a fight? Is it to win and be right? If you’re just dating, perhaps your end goal is to figure out if this is going to work. If you’re married, you’ll benefit if your end goal is, “how do I make this relationship stronger?”

In order to fight well, it’s important to keep the intention for understanding the other person and wishing happiness for them. Keep in mind, there is a difference between intention and action. The goal is to hold the intention, but not necessarily to do anything and everything to make them happy. Your job isn’t to make your partner happy, only they can do that. Your job is to wish happiness for them, so that you interact with them from a place of openness, understanding, kindness, and truth.

It can be scary to try to understand your partner in a fight. Sometimes we worry, “then who will be trying to understand me?” Relationships take faith, and if you are willing to model what you wish to receive, they’re more likely to reciprocate.

So how do you fight fair? Here are 5 ways to have healthier fights:

  1. Be honest. So often we skirt around the issue, do little jabs, use sarcasm, or just stew in our feelings. I see a lot of red cheeks in my office when I ask the question, “have you talked to them about how you feel?” An obvious solution, yet why don’t we use it more often? Being honest doesn’t mean you say what anger wants you to say. Being honest means saying what’s underneath the anger. Instead of “You never even ask how my day is anymore. All you care about is yourself.” try “I’m worried I don’t matter to you like I used to. I’m scared we’re losing what made us so great. I miss us.”
  2. Seek understanding instead of being understood. We so often think we’re listening, when really we’re planning our comeback, correcting mistakes in their stories, or wondering what we’ll eat for our next meal. When we listen to understand the experience of others, we use our critical mind to not only pay attention, but understand the emotional needs under what they’re saying. If you get distracted, pull yourself back to the conversation with a few deep breaths. It’s okay if you need to ask someone to repeat, so you can understand.
  3. Speak from love instead of attachment. You can learn to decipher between the two through somatic awareness. When we’re acting from love, we feel calm, warm, open. When we’re acting from attachment, we feel tense, closed, and anxious. If you’re getting stuck in attachment, imagine the other person as a small infant, and the warm, loving feelings that come with holding babies. Conversely, you can imagine the pain you would feel if you lost them (the pain comes from love). If this were the last conversation, how would you want it to go?
  4. Take accountability to resist defensiveness. It is incredibly tempting to shift blame away. Owning our mistakes leaves us feeling vulnerable, which we mistakenly believe equates to weakness. When you understand your impact on others and take accountability for how you affect them, you are standing squarely in strength. It doesn’t mean you lost the fight (remember, we’re not trying to win the fight!). Instead of, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” try this: “I realize when I said that, it hurt your feelings. That was unfair of me, and I’m sorry.”
  5. Keep your end goal in sight. If your only goal is to win this battle, you might just end up losing the war. Relationships can feel like war sometimes, when we’re stuck between struggling to feel understood and frightened at the idea of losing the other person. Take some deep breaths. Look at your partner with fresh eyes. Eyes that give them the benefit of the doubt. Remind yourself what you hope to come of this argument. A stronger relationship? Deeper connection? How do you ask for what you need? Using healthy argument rule #1, be honest and ask. Try, “it would mean a lot to me if we could take a few minutes each evening to see how one another’s day was. Could we try 10 minutes once we get home?”

Lean in to the beauty, the delicateness, and the strength of your relationships. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, vulnerable, or honest. That’s where the good stuff happens.

Good luck out there,

D

Loving Them Anyway

It doesn’t always end up the way you expected. In your imagination it was like a dream. A pure life you would get to love and be loved by. Someone you could influence to be a better part of this world. Sometimes we even hope they’ll be better than us.

Yet, it doesn’t always turn out how we thought. Divorce happens, parents fight, step-parents and half/step siblings enter the picture, and sometimes they experience a bigger trauma like loss or abuse. We always want to protect the tiny humans in our lives, but we cannot protect them from life itself. So what happens after they’ve gone through difficult transitions, experiences, and changes? What are you supposed to do with the screaming child in front of you? Continue reading

New Years Intentions

 

It’s the first part of a new year, and resolutions are popping up left and right. How often have you found your firm decision to do or not do something work out? Did you stop smoking, lose weight and keep it off, eat healthier all year, become a better parent or partner, or find your dream job? Or, like many New Year Resolutions, is your untouched gym membership taunting you as you berate yourself for still saying “this is the last one?”

I read on Forbes that only 8% of New Years Resolutions are successfully met. That means that 92% of New Years Resolutions are not met. That is an overwhelming majority. What else do we continue to do, year after year, with such a low success rate? Continue reading

Falling In Love

I’ve been faced with the question of ‘who am I’ with my clients lately. Often the suffering that enters my office is in the form of feeling at odds with self, how self fits into others and community, and questioning the value of self. Sometimes this is in the form of constantly rescuing others, other times in the go-getter American attitude of non-stop distraction. Don’t be fooled, I see this in 7 year olds as much as I do in adults.

Self. It’s not a topic we talk genuinely about often, but simply one we refer to. “I’m hungry.” “I’m bored.” Yet rarely, “I’m feeling vulnerable.” We put so much energy into our outside worlds. We even kid ourselves into thinking that we’re taking care of ourselves by watching TV, shopping, or playing video games. Yet when we do this, is our attention, compassion, and energy focused inward? Or are we temporarily escaping reality by putting our energy into something else? Continue reading

Meeting Grief

 

It is on the one year anniversary of a lost loved one that I write this. As a therapist, I get the supreme pleasure and the difficult task of not only moving through my own life, triumphs, loves, and losses, but bearing witness to those around me as well. Life has a funny way of bringing into my office those who are struggling with whatever I might be facing that week. I believe this is a gift, both to me as the therapist, and to those who seek my help. The gift to me is that I am challenged to grow and remain genuine and congruent: practicing what I preach. The gift to the client is the keen empathy I feel for their difficulties, and if I use my experience in an appropriate way, they don’t have to feel alone. Continue reading