Category: “Shoulds”

A Quick Judgment Reality Check: 2 Questions & 3 Fast Facts

A Quick Judgment Reality Check: 2 Questions & 3 Fast Facts

Let’s do a quick reality check in the form of two questions:

  1. Mentally jot down one aspect of your life that you’re worried others judging you about. (Physical appearance? Certain unwanted habits? Your status with work?)
  2. Now ask yourself this: In the last month/6 months/12 months, how many times has someone BESIDES YOURSELF explicitly judged you specifically for those particular things? 

I ask these questions today with curiosity and sincerity. Judgment’s been on my mind since a local magazine writer contacted me to ask about parent shaming for an article she’s writing. (I’ll post a link when the article comes out!)

So often, articles about shame, guilt, and judgment focus on people besides ourselves giving us a hard time. And this does happen. In unhealthy families and friendships and in abusive relationships, we can get torn down and made to feel unworthy for who we are and our choices. And when we go against cultural norms because of values, beliefs, or life circumstances, it can feel like we’re swimming upstream and alone.

But most of the time WE are our worst enemies when it comes to judgment and guilt. Here’s how:

  • We compare ourselves to the curated versions of other people that they showcase online – without accounting for the fact that social media profiles reflect only a very partial reality.
  • We compare ourselves to an ideal version of ourselves – and usually our benchmarks for that ideal self keep moving, meaning we never feel okay just as we are. We “should” be doing more. Right?
  • We have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We cannot do everything. We cannot be everything to everyone.
  • We spend time around people (and websites or blogs) that add to our already-existing worry about not being enough. 
  • We believe our worst moments mean something big and absolute about us. 

It’s natural to compare ourselves to others, and sometimes it’s useful. But if you find that your mind is full of anxiety, guilt and fear of judgment, it may be worth checking yourself to see where the judgment is actually coming from. You don’t need to beat yourself up. But you can see clearly – and seeing clearly is the first step to knowing what you may want to do differently. 



Why You Won’t See Me Quoted In A Magazine Next Month

images-2Last week, my email dinged with a message from a magazine writer asking for an interview. Hurrah! I thought. I love talking about therapy! But then I read closely. The writer wanted my expert tips on how parents should design their children’s rooms for optimal development, including the “right” kinds of toys. I felt my heart slowly sink back to it’s normal position in my chest. For while I love talking about counseling and kids, I hate doing anything to perpetuate parents’ anxiety that they’re not doing enough.

I laughed, thinking about my own kid’s room: a few pieces of used furniture; a motley assortment of stuffed animals (a few of whom have lost plastic eyeballs to our otherwise lovely dog), the usual assortment of kid-related clothing, and lots and lots of books. I’m pretty sure that if I had strong opinions about kids’ rooms, my own child’s room wouldn’t measure up. But the idea that kids only thrive in a very particular set of circumstances simply isn’t true.

So I ended up saying a big fat no to that interview request.

What’s in a kid’s room matters much less than who’s with that kid in life. Research supports that what matters most for healthy childhood development is the presence of caring, mostly-consistent adults, not the presence of particular toys in a certain sort of space.

Is this a missed opportunity for me to spread the good news about good therapy? Perhaps. But I’d rather miss out than spread misinformation and fan the flames of anxiety and guilt.



Newsflash! Self-Compassion and Self-Improvement Aren’t Enemies

Self-compassionI’ve been thinking lots lately about everything that gets in the way of self-compassion. For most of us, it’s much easier to feel compassionate toward others — especially children — than it is to feel some gentle kindness or understanding toward ourselves. When it comes to relating to our own imperfect selves, we’re impatient and critical. I’m an adult; I should have fixed this by now. I should have known better. I need to be accountable.

Newsflash: We can be accountable for our actions and offer compassion toward ourselves at the same time. We can look with a critical eye at something we’ve done that’s flopped while also trying to cultivate an attitude of compassion toward ourselves. We don’t have to pick between self-improvement and self-compassion. We can work toward both.

Self-compassion isn’t a ticket out of responsibility. It’s an attitude we can cultivate that allows us to learn from our mistakes more easily, with less getting caught in a useless web of beliefs about how terrible we are.

One Game-Changing Question for More Effective Therapy

visual-complexity-by-casey-hussein-bisson-creative-commons-by-nc-saIt was as bizarre and shocking and smart of a question as I’d ever heard. “Can you help this be more complicated?” the therapist asked. She was giving guidance to another therapist, a fellow workshop participant, about a client.

At the time I had never considered the idea that sometimes what is called for is creating room for complexity. The task of making something more complicated for clients seemed antithetical to why most people come to counseling in the first place. Clients come to therapy seeking safe guidance through the deepest, hardest, most private parts of their lives–and that’s usually complicated enough.

But as I’ve sat with this question over the last six years, my understanding of its value has grown. Because often clients come in wanting to transform a part of their life that’s grey or rainbow-colored into something black and white. Should I stay or go? Is he good or bad? Am I right or wrong?  

We seek simple answers when we’re overwhelmed and anxious. Uncertainty and ambiguity can be terrible to tolerate.

But settling for false dichotomies (like good/bad and right/wrong) rarely help us answer big questions in meaningful, heart-felt ways. And so I’ve come to see the gifts of that question from years ago. Here is what I know for sure: It’s only when we acknowledge complexity that we can move through it. It’s only when we name the messiness and complications of life that we can begin to sort through it all to see what to keep, and what to release, and what’s beneath, and what’s within.

Surviving Our Families Over the Holidays


“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.”

-Ram Dass

It’s that busy few weeks right now between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when many of us have barely had time to recover from one family gathering before the next one looms. We don’t need to have deep, dark family histories in order to find extended time with family challenging. Stick us in a house with anyone, add in lots of expectations for how Thanksgiving or Hanukah or Christmas or Kwanzaa “should” be, and we’re bound to feel challenged.

Holiday survival with familyToo often, these holidays are also a reminder of loss – who isn’t here with us, how these holidays used to be, and what may be missing right now from our lives. Underneath the cheer is often a layer of sadness or worry or regret tinged with some self-recrimination. Shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves right now?

My wonderful colleague Tara Lozano reminds me that sometimes the only thing to say in these moments is “This too.” It’s the exciting holiday season – and we feel sad. We love our extended families – and they drive us crazy. Saying “This too” makes room for the fact that our lives often have elements of wonder and despair at the exact same point. Saying “This too” makes space for the facts we can want to hug and kill our relatives, sometimes at the exact same time. This is normal. It doesn’t make us bad people that we hold such a wide range of emotions – it just makes us human.


Don’t Believe Facebook! Comparison, Judgment and What’s Not to Like

Facebook contributes to comparisonY’all, it’s time to talk about Facebook, that addictive, terrible-wonderful black-hole of photos and words from friends and “friends” that makes about 90% of us feel like our lives are crap, at least occasionally. How do I know this? I was on Facebook for ten minutes up until about 10 seconds ago, and in that time I came to believe that all of my friends and “friends” are all unambivalently happy about everything in their own lives — kids and jobs and partners and the like — and all having a terrific ball in their abundant free time. Just like all of our lives really are, right?

Facebook comes up in my counseling office fairly regularly, since in addition to connecting friends and “friends” it also provides constant opportunities for us to compare ourselves and our lives to all the people we know. Since Facebook has us comparing our own inner experiences with curated external experiences, we’re usually doomed to feel bad. There is research to back this up.

Here is what I want to tell friends and clients: What people post on Facebook does not reflect the entirety of their inner and outer experiences. Since people rarely post, “Oh, hey, I feel really depressed today” it can be easy to think that nobody else ever feels depressed. Since people rarely post, “Oh, hey, I spent Friday night alone eating marshmallows and binge-watching American Ninja Warrior” it can be easy to think that everyone except you is always out having ridiculous amounts of fun with their amazing, hilarious friends.

But it’s important to remember that people only post on Facebook what they want you to know about their lives. And it’s the rare person who wants all our friends and “friends” to know about our deep sorrows, big regrets, chronic worries, or loneliness. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t all have deep sorrows, big regrets, chronic worries, or occasional loneliness. We are all human; we all feel all the human emotions, even the difficult ones. We just don’t always share them with others.

Most of my clients do have Facebook accounts. And if you met most of them, you would never think that they struggle in the way that almost all of us do at some point in our lives. My clients are good at putting on happy faces, just like most of the rest of us, and my guess is that they only post positive things on Facebook.  And until the Facebook Revolution or Be Honest On Facebook Day, it’s up to us to remember that what’s visible on the surface is rarely the full truth of what exists deeper down.

Serving as Our Own Judge and Jury

figure-with-a-gavel-7523“I know you’ll judge me for this, but…” my client starts. She tells me what’s happened the previous week, and I keep waiting for the moment in which I will feel like condemning her to the ends of the earth. But… that moment never comes.

Oftentimes the depressed or anxious people who show up in counseling believe that I, or any other therapist, will judge them as much as they judge themselves. They feel so embarrassed or humiliated, so they assume we will laugh or humiliate them further. They look critically at themselves and their choices, and fear that I and others will too. This is why people dealing with depression and anxiety often isolate themselves and shut down. It can be terrifying to spend time with people if we believe that if they really know us they will judge us.

A big part of the work I do is helping clients look clearly at their own judgments of themselves, instead of simply staying immersed in the judgements themselves. Sometimes self-criticism can be a useful tool, but sometimes we can use it as a weapon against ourselves. Here are the sorts of questions I invite you ask yourself right now:

  • How would my life be different if I was less self-critical?
  • What stops me from being as critical or judgmental of my friends?
  • How self-critical would I want any children in my life to be? 

“I shouldn’t be feeling like this”

Physical and emotional painSomething I hear a lot is “I shouldn’t be feeling like this.” Instead, we think we should be feeling happy about our lives when we’re not, or shouldn’t be feeling jealous or worried or upset when that’s exactly how we’re feeling in the moment.

Compare that to physical pain. We rarely tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling the pain of a headache or stomachache. We accept that our physical pain is real and figure out how to take care of it — with a nap, or medicine, or whatever is right for that moment. We know that telling ourselves “I shouldn’t be feeling this papercut right now” doesn’t actually help the papercut feel better.

So why the difference? After all, brain scans show that humans register emotional pain in the same part of our brains where we register physical pain. In other words, to our brain there’s not a whole lot of difference between the pain of feeling rejected and the pain of a sprained ankle. They both hurt; they both need gentle attention and care. And while counseling can’t take fix sprains or cuts or physical bruising, it does provide first aid for the very real emotional challenges that we all experience.

Ready to get help? Contact Dana to set up an appointment to talk through your goals.