Category: Relationships

Happy New Year! Your WEIGHT is NOT your WORTH.

Contemplating a new year’s diet? If so, please first consider these words by Anne Lamott:

We need — I need — to have the same little talk we have every year at this time: I know you might be starting a New Year’s diet. I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, “Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

I got rid of her. No one talks to me that way.

Well, okay, maybe it was 10 years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, to friendship with my own heart, to a glade that had always existed deep inside me, to mostly healthy eating, but that I’d avoided all those years by achieving, dieting, binging, people-pleasing and so on.

Lamott goes on to say:

It’s really okay, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185 pounds, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.

Sometimes people seek out counseling because of the pesky problem of a diet that just won’t work. Or in the middle of talking about depression or anxiety, a client will also mention a weight gain that’s simply intolerable. If weight’s not in the foreground, it’s always hovering in the background.

And there are good reasons why. In general, here’s the message that our culture gives us:

Weight is something that can and should be controlled: the more tightly the better. Weight – and appearance – matter more than health and happiness. Fat=bad, and too much if any fat makes us undesirable (to self or others). If we don’t fit the current white ideal of beauty, we should feel ashamed and make a massive effort (often using lots of hard-earned money) to “fix” what’s seen as a problem.  If we’re unhappy and dissatisfied, the messaging goes, losing weight will make us happy and satisfied, fixing all our issues with relationships and self-love and self-worth and self-confidence.

Sometimes these messages are so convincing, so embedded in the fabric of white American culture, that we don’t realize these messages are beliefs, not facts. And when we examine them for their truthfulness, it turns out that these beliefs range from complete bull to containing a bit of truthiness to being only partially true if placed appropriately within a larger context.

But here’s what I know.

*Weight can only be controlled to a certain extent.

*While “dieting” acts like it’s on the outs with certain crowds, it’s merely gone underground. It goes by code words now like eating “clean” and eating for “health.”

*The connection between weight and health isn’t as well established as we’ve been led to believe. The Health at Every Size movement and Lizzo (yay!) are challenging those of us who were raised to believe that being healthy means being skinny.

*When people lose weight, it usually doesn’t change how happy they feel.

*The energy that so many women spend trying to control their weight could be used for SO MANY OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS including: self-care, friendships, walks, exploring interests, toppling outdating systems of oppression, etc.

*We need to look at WHY we feel such a desperate need to control, WHY we can’t imagine being happy without being a certain (different size), WHY our self-love is tied up with weight.

I am so excited to be supporting clients to explore weight, body image, self-worth, and to begin to disentangle weight – and the overall need to control – from happiness. Best of luck to you this year as you experiment with different ways of being in – and thinking about – your body.

 

 

 

I see you, perfectionists.

Perfectionists, I have a heart for you. I get it. You don’t think of yourself as a perfectionist, you just think I don’t like to make mistakes. You know intellectually that your spouse/friend/employer would probably not dump you if you made a mistake… but why risk it? After all, making a mistake feels beyond terrible to perfectionists, like our lives and relationships and careers are on the line and the whole world could implode or explode at any moment.

So no wonder you live with a constant tension, a constant pressure, a constant anxiety, checking and double-checking to make sure nobody can find fault with you (except for you of course). And then of course if you’re critical of yourself—if you let Self Doubt or The Inner Critic be in charge—then maybe it won’t hurt as much if someone finds a flaw in you.

It’s not easy to live as a perfectionist. You might look like you have everything together on the outside—you might be organized, you might show up everywhere on time, your clothes are rarely wrinkled—but the inner reality can be so, so different and so, so difficult. It’s hard to live in fear of mistakes, to believe that mistakes will define us and make us less lovable (if lovable at all). It’s hard living with the belief that we’re one mistake away from unworthiness or that our worth in general stems from our ability to be flawless rather than our humanness. It’s hard to constantly compare ourselves to a version of ourselves we can’t live up to. And of course it’s hard as a perfectionist to open up to others, to admit what’s true: life is hard. Things aren’t easy. (Blog post continues after photo.)

Perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Usually when perfectionists come to counseling, they’re coming to therapy for issues that they see as distinctly separate from perfectionism. But feeling out of control, experiencing anxiety about personal and the political, and feeling alienated and isolated, can all link back to difficulty allowing ourselves to be human and make mistakes.

There’s sometimes a mistaken belief that perfectionists have that anxiety and perfectionism is helpful, that without that pressure and tension and Inner Critic they may not be as effective. If I don’t beat myself up, how will I do my best?

But research shows that we learn and perform much better when we’re open and curious and allow our humanness to shine (including the messy parts). Shame and self-judgment, it turns out, bite us in the ass more than we think. It is possible to create a different relationship with ourselves, the Inner Critic, Self Doubt, and our lives.

Here’s a perfectionism test if you’re curious to learn more… and you’re always welcome to talk through concerns in our Kirkwood therapy office.

Family Therapy Works!

There’s a lot that I’m not intimidated by. While I’m naturally a bit introverted, I’ve worked hard to talk in front of groups fairly comfortably. I’m not scared of Atlanta’s parking garages, elevators, or boats (unlike certain family members). I don’t enjoy shopping, but I can hit up an Ikea and come out alive and well. In my therapy practice, I can comfortably help clients tackle sticky issues like challenging relationships, infertility, abortion, depression, grief, and trauma. But what puts fear in my heart?

The idea of being in counseling with my parents.

And I’m not the only one. Quite often when I’m working with a kid or teen, I mention that a few family counseling sessions might help with improving communication or clarifying expectations or figuring out how to respectfully disagree with one another. And then I watch those teens as their faces go from open and interested and curious (because after all, teens are awesome if you’re not their parents) to shut-down, please-Dana-don’t-make-me-you-must-be-crazy-if-you-think-I’ll-do-that.

And I get it. Family therapy can be intimidating. Kids worry they’re going to get teamed up on or lectured. Often they hate their parents seeing them emotional and would really rather not cry in front of their parents. Teens already recognize there’s a lot they don’t control in their lives, and family counseling can appear—at first—to be another place where they won’t have control or a voice.

And yet. And yet. Family counseling can be powerful: healing, reinforcing and strengthening relationships, shifting communication patterns to be more healthy and constructive, and building trust and mutual respect. Kids and teens find they have a voice and relax as they see their parents listening to them; parents find that their kids can hear them differently through family therapy. Together, we make strides to strengthen the family. Because at the end of the day, none of us lives in a vacuum. We’re all connected. So let’s work on being connected in healthy, happy ways… even if it’s intimidating at first.

Let’s have more moments like these, okay?

Where’s the manual for parenting adult children?

Summer is often a time that some kids and teenagers find relief from stress. Young people who find school challenging – either because of social stuff or academic work – often describe summer being a relief. Less is expected of them. They can give themselves permission to expect less of themselves.

But summer for the parents of recent grads and young adults is sometimes a different story. After all, the role of a parent of an adult child isn’t well defined. What does it look like to parent a 20-year-old during a summer spent at home? Once a young adult hits the magic age of 18 and is legally in charge of their own health and well-being, how should a parent proceed?

Lots of people are trying to navigate this terrain in a way that respects the autonomy of their adult child while staying connected. Here are a few tips to help you figure out how to proceed:

  1. Overall, what’s your parenting philosophy? Sometimes laying out your big picture principles about parenting can help us then decide how we want to proceed.
  2. Try to have check-in conversations with your kid about how they envision your relationship moving forward. Give them a heads up first that you want to have this conversation and find a mutually-agreeable time and place for it – no one likes being surprised by a serious conversation! You may want to ask questions like this: How can I be most helpful to you if you sound stressed/depressed/anxious? How would you like to spend time together?
  3. Catch yourself before you give unsolicited advice! Ask first: “Are you open to some thoughts here?” If they say no, keep your thoughts to yourself. Most of us need to learn from experience anyway.
  4. It never ever hurts to let your kid know how much you unconditionally love them.
  5. If you’re not asking them questions about their life in attempts to be respectful of their privacy, let them know that! “It’s not that I don’t care; I’m just trying to be respectful and follow your lead.”

It can also help for parents to figure out who they are and what they want to invest in, now that parenting is taking a different shape and perhaps less time. As your child launches, it’s an opportunity (for better or worse) to consider what you want now in your life. At the very least, such exploration can make it easier to tolerate worry about an adult child. At the very most, it can help you discover what’s next for you. 

 

 

A Way Out of Loneliness — And It’s Link to Depression, Anxiety and Other Ailments

A Way Out of Loneliness — And It’s Link to Depression, Anxiety and Other Ailments

The research is out, and loneliness is a public health epidemic. I was struck by this story on NPR earlier this week about not just its connections to depression and anxiety, but also its link to stress and resulting physiological problems. Of particular note: about 40 percent of people experience loneliness. That means there’s a lot of people feeling lonely… meaning we’re simultaneously alone in it, and also not alone with the experience.

The story comes from reporting from — who knew? — the Harvard Business Review about the impact of loneliness on workers.

I see teen and adult clients every day who you wouldn’t expect to be lonely. Lots of people have busy lives that may look fulfilling from the outside. Lots of us have relationships with people that have substance and depth. And yet – it may be that when we’re alone with ourselves, loneliness creeps in. Or we’ll be at a party, or at work, or with our families, and feel separate, like we’re pretending to feel something we don’t actually feel or pretending to be someone we’re not. Sometimes when we feel isolated, we stop going out — and then, as a result, feel even more isolated. Or we get busier and busier to avoid the feeling altogether.

There is a way out of loneliness that doesn’t require becoming busy beyond belief. I work with people every day on loneliness in a few different ways. First, we work so that relationships can become more authentic – so you have to hide less of yourself. This can mean dropping the need to look perfect, to yourself and others, which isn’t an easy task for many of us. We work on figuring out what you want for your life, so that you spend less time on things that feel fake or meaningless to you. We also work on your relationship with yourself. How can you spend time with yourself in a way that’s comfortable, and grow to have a relationship with yourself that’s companionable? Loneliness loses its steam when we grow comfortable with ourselves, and with being ourselves.

A Quick Note on Birthdays

happy-birthday-to-me-memeMy birthday has come and gone once again, and unlike my daughter – who would like to have her birthday happen every day – I’m a little relieved it’s over. As a kid, birthdays are hopefully magical. Presents! The world centering on you!

But as an adult, birthdays can so often be bittersweet or downright disappointing. We may note who has or has not called. We find ourselves in comparison mode with other people based on our age. We may find ourselves comparing aspects of our lives — relationship, work, home, interests — with where we’d hoped we would be. (To state the obvious: These are not usually comparisons that make us feel better about ourselves.) Perhaps we touch into our mortality in a way that’s uncomfortable. Perhaps we are all too aware of who is no longer alive or in our life to celebrate us. Sometimes things get better with age … but sometimes we end up feeling jaded and confused about our own meaning and purpose.

As a mindfulness-informed therapist, here is the long-winded question I have at moments like this: How can we turn toward the difficult feelings that events like birthdays conjure up, getting curious about our experience so that we can find clarity and create intentions and actions that enable change? 

I offer this question to you in hopes that it will be useful.

All my best,
Dana

 

Grief Before They’re Gone

It’s become clear to me that it’s time to say a bit about anticipatory grief, that sort of pain we feel when someone we love is dying. This is different from grief we feel when someone is already gone; rather anticipatory grief is what we experience when we’re fully aware that a loved one is mortal, and dying, and that we’ll likely be here without them after they die.

anticipatory griefAnticipatory grief carries with it all the usual emotions of regular grief — including anger, guilt, anxiety, denial, bargaining, and sadness, to name a few — but is complicated because the person is still here, in some form or another. We can’t have the same relationship as before, and acting like everything’s “normal” can be a huge strain. We can’t imagine living without them, but we know things will not get better or easier. We know that dying leads to death, and the anticipation of this can be terrible – worse, even, than the death itself.

It’s an honor to get to support people who are experiencing grief. These are some of the most difficult, lonely moments that life brings us, and a time for deep reflection about who we are and what’s most important. It’s a privilege to walk with people through the desolate landscape of grief and help them find their way back home to their own precious life.

 

When the Political Gets Especially Personal

Sexual desire or its absence. Religious beliefs or the belief that the here-and-now is all we’ve got. The thoughts or experiences that make us feel weird, or embarrassed, or alone.

One reason I’m such a fan of counseling is that it’s a space to talk freely about aspects of our lives that sometimes go unspoken to even our closest friends or family members. We need places in our lives to talk openly about who we are without fear of being judged, criticized, or excommunicated from our most important relationships.

personalpoliticsIt’s been especially important to me lately that clients of all political persuasions know that politics is something they can talk about openly in sessions. Some are excited and hopeful as a result of this new presidential administration. Other clients are finding their anxiety aggravated and their depression worsening as a result of recent political actions. More than one has been in a fight with a loved one about ideology or the “right” way to act or react.

For many clients, the political situation has been a catapult into de
eper exploration of meaning and purpose. I can relate. In and out of session, so many of us are wrestling with questions of how to better translate personal principles into purposeful actions that go well beyond our own self-interests. We are exploring how to live with difficult emotions without acting out or checking out. We are figuring out how to engage in respectful dialogue that avoids condescension and assumes best intent. And, of course, we continue to discern how to respond to our own limits and needs with self-compassion.

This isn’t selfish navel-gazing; rather it’s trying to figure out how to live and stay connected to ourselves and to one another despite sometimes widely different beliefs about how to make the world a better place.

It is an honor to walk with clients through these questions, holding space for uncertainty, acknowledging fears and courage, and helping them connect to their deepest values.