The challenge of being seen is that in order to be seen, we need to show our true, messy selves. The self that we aren’t sure others would find acceptable, the one we tell ourselves others might reject or dismiss would need to be shown.
Showing up in an authentic, imperfect way is a practice for me. I can be so edited it is like my face becomes one with the mask at times – the mask of perfectionism, of not risking saying the “wrong” thing. It takes repeated effort to chip away at the mask, take risks in small ways with emotionally safe people to trust that its safe out there to be myself.
Culturally, there are many messages out there with grand sweeping expectations – “just be yourself!”, “be authentic!”, “don’t worry what anyone else thinks!” – but these things are actually much more nuanced than just simply deciding to be yourself. It’s not like you can wake up one day and say oh, okay I hadn’t thought of that. Contrary to these popular phrases, sustainable growth happens in small, teeny tiny moments rather than just deciding one day to be another way.
Perfectionism is a survival skill. We learned somewhere along the way that we need to be a certain way to be loved. That feeling shame was really bad and must mean that we are a bad person, or maybe someone would leave or reject us if they knew the real us. These childhood experiences and interpretations from our innocent little minds get carried into adulthood, and at some point this skill starts to hurt us more than it helps us. It can leave us lonely, lacking true connection, or forcing our way through life’s tasks.
Here are some questions for reflection..
How do you know when you’re editing yourself in front of someone? aka. how are you doing? good. How do you practice hiding? with others? with yourself? How can you practice surrendering in small every day ways to what is? How might life or relationships change for you if you started showing more of yourself?
Therapy is a wonderful way of practicing taking the mask off – being able to sit there with someone else who can gently help you to lift up the rocks and take a look underneath. Group therapy is another way to practice and challenge your relational patterns of how you show up in relationships. Both require safety and trust in your practitioner and fellow group members, which is established over time – as is becoming more of yourself.
Grief is often associated with losing a loved one, and yet grief shows up in our lives often when no one has died. It shows us what is important, how much we have loved, and how much we have yearned to be seen, known, heard, supported, cared for, or noticed by those that are important to us, and the depth of the chasm of how that wasn’t met.
It can be outgrowing situations that can no longer contain us. Outgrowing patterns that don’t serve us anymore but that have helped us survive. There is a pain in leaving that comfort and familiarity, as that way of moving through the world means embracing uncertainty to move forward.
In the context of childhood trauma, its grieving what we didn’t get from our parent(s) that we needed. It’s when we can allow ourselves to touch the pool of pain under the surface that we thought was just a part of being alive. This is a death in itself. It is death of hope for finally getting what you need from someone who isn’t capable of giving it to you. It is the death of putting yourself and your needs second for hoping that if you can behave a certain way and do enough for them, that maybe they will one day turn around and be what you need.
It is a reminder that we are alive, to experience internal births and deaths of different parts of self. It is exactly here, in the place we often avoid because its too painful, that is directly where we can find our growth.
We need people in our lives that will be honest with us about what they notice, where there is a safety cultivated to express our true selves. Only here can healing happen, as the injury has happened in relationship, healing can only happen in relationship.
That kind of being with – whether it be a therapist or a good friend, is essential for our wellbeing. We cannot heal alone and then come back to relationship. The healing must happen in the safe container of a relationship. Only there will we be able to practice messing up, expressing ourselves honestly, and building authenticity.
I was 20 the first time I remember meeting someone who was unequivocally and unapologetically themselves. There was something about their presence that was so vibrant, and so unedited that was deeply refreshing. He was my professor in Social Psychology in second year Uni.
I remember thinking, I want to be like that -someone that is just so comfortable in themselves even when it makes others uncomfortable. Since those deeply impactful classes, I have made becoming more myself to be a guiding principle in my life.
There is a reason that there are so many pop psychology quotes out there about unlearning who you thought you had to be to become who you are. And that unlearning is life work.
Sometimes I think back to little me who barely spoke in school until Grade 4 and was so shy that anytime anyone would allude to her or call on her, she would blush. I think back on her sensitivity fondly.
Grade 4 was when I found out I was good at running. When I say found out, I mean I had no idea until we had to race all the other kids in our grade in heats on the field. I surprised myself when I noticed that I couldn’t see anyone beside me about two thirds through the 100m sprints. I gained a lot of confidence there and felt seen by others, respected and known for something.
To become more myself is to honor my younger self and what she knew to be true that she couldn’t explain or didn’t understand. Its in noticing how she speaks to me these days in subtle ways that feel oh so familiar.
As I untangle her beliefs these days its like solving a mystery where clues continue popping up just when I think I’ve solved it only to be humbled by her clever self again. Or dancing the same way your whole life and noticing that maybe you can add in a few steps, or change the sequence to that same familiar dance. Its about recognizing that you are both the investigator and the choreographer. That someone else gave you these steps and this mystery and you are the one who can choose what to do with it now, whether you want to notice the dance, and whether you want to follow the breadcrumbs.
Becoming more myself means allowing myself to be unencumbered, layer by layer, of self criticism and shame. As I lighten the load on my psyche and soma, I make space for my true self to feel relaxed and comfortable as she shines her beautiful light through. This is my life work.
When I started reading about psychology, I was ravenous to “figure everything out”. I could not get enough of learning about our patterns, how to deal with emotions, and to find out how normal I was. I read voraciously for years, believing that if only I had a sense of mastery over my struggles and how to communicate with others effectively, that I would resolve my sense of internal shame.
I will let you in on something. A small percentage of the things I have learned and read about have helped – self compassion, understanding myself better, normalizing my experiences, and gaining perspective.
But the thing that has helped the most? Allowing myself to have my experience and be witnessed by another. I believe that is the healing, and it is also long term work. For myself as someone with relational childhood trauma, the healing has been and continues to be in safe, warm, and receptive relationships.
The thing that hasn’t helped? Rushing to figure out what the next thing might be and actually avoid what I’m feeling through seemingly very productive means. When I devoured self help works the message I was sending to myself was that I’m not okay as I am.
I can completely understand the desire to have someone else give you the answers. I had hoped that too for a long while, that maybe this one book, or that podcast, or this one therapist and it will all change. Therapists are not God. We cannot fix or change you. Even if we were fully healed humans, whatever that means, we still couldn’t give you the answers because that is your work. Believe me, its not because we don’t want to. If we could we absolutely would love to relieve the suffering of our clients.
What we can do is sit with you in your pain. Remind you of your goodness. Allow you to have your humanness. Talk with you about how our minds work and how they are always talking to us and sometimes sharing things we don’t want to hear. Help you practice presence. Bring your awareness to your own patterns. Guide you to take better care of yourself and your mind.
So I remind you lovingly as I once needed to know too, that in my eyes, there is no quick fix and there needs to be a willingness to explore to move forward. To befriend yourself. To unlearn some mean things you’ve been carrying about yourself. To strengthen your voice. To feel your emotions. To stop missing your life.
This website and blog posts are not a substitution for personal therapy or therapeutic intervention.
I have been meaning to write a blog post for months now. I have opened up my blog multiple times, waiting for inspiration to strike me while sitting in front of the computer staring at a blank screen. This is the first arrow. An event has happened. My mind feels blank upon initial inspection, though if I tune in carefully I can hear a dialogue when I compassionately ask myself: “what is keeping me from writing?”
I notice the thought stream: No one wants to hear what you have to share, its all over the internet anyway, you’re preaching at people, they won’t care to read it (it goes on in a similar drone)
This is the second arrow. My dialogue around what others may think, the story I have for myself around writing, that is what causes the suffering – not the event itself. Not writing doesn’t inherently cause suffering, its my thoughts and story about not writing posts that evokes pain.
Now this is not a way we avoid suffering entirely, to be human is to suffer. We can’t control the events that happen to us and they often won’t be what we choose. However what we can control is whether we add fuel to the fire or not. Notice how when you’re having a tough time and you drink some sort of toxic thought cocktail like: get it together, you’re overreacting, you’re crazy, etc. that it makes it feel so much worse? There’s your second arrow.
Here’s how I took out my second arrow with writing: I took a few breaths, I noticed the narrative running through my mind, acknowledged it, recognized that they weren’t helpful, and encouraged myself to continue by telling myself that I understand why I would feel discouraged, there is a lot out there, and not everyone has what I have to give in the unique way that I do.
This involves a sense of acceptance – allowing yourself to notice that you will have thoughts that aren’t helpful, are mean or discouraging and that is very brain-like of you. It also involves an awareness and willingness to be curious with self without judgement. Add in a large dose of self compassion and recognizing your common humanity – anyone would feel this way in your situation.
Mostly, we recognize that we have choice. We notice the power we do have in the situation, that we aren’t victims of our thoughts or helpless with ourselves. We can choose differently.
From the Book: Tara Brach – True Refuge: Finding Peace in your own Awakened Heart
It is hard to slow down in a fast paced world, where the expectations for us to perform and always be “on” are high. Sometimes, this cleverly gets integrated into how we manage our anxiety – we keep busy, keep hustling, keep proving, striving, keep trying to figure things out.
I remember it dawning on me that I was someone with anxiety. I brought it up with my best friend in University. “I think I have anxiety” to which she said “You think?!” Apparently I was the last to find out.
Before that I remember learning about it in first year like yeah yeah, excessive worrying, got it. It didn’t have much significance to me except for how much of it would be on the exam. But once I realized I was someone with anxiety, I noticed the nuances that I experienced that others didn’t seem to or found odd. Like leaving a party without telling anyone because I felt uncomfortable, talking quickly, having difficulty engaging in and following a conversation when something was coming up like a job interview or something where I would need to perform. It is also things like not being able to relax, even though you have down time or days off.
While I do think anxiety is an overused term these days, I also think that its not uncommon to feel it regularly. For people that have always lived on overdrive, slowing down is way easier said than done. Keeping busy either with thoughts or with tasks is something that helps to manage the anxiety, whether that means indulging it or distracting from it. Both maintain it.
A big credit to learning how to slow down has come from sitting in therapy myself in a space that doesn’t have an agenda, that is focused on me, and allows for co-regulation (for you to regulate to the tune to a calmer, more grounded nervous system). It’s like a safe container for the discomfort. In starting to learn to slow down, this can be so helpful because you have a guide.
Other baby steps are things like giving yourself more time in between tasks or locations so you’re not rushed. It could mean reassuring yourself and talking to yourself like a small child. It could be doing breathing exercises while driving or commuting (safely and not meditation). It could mean encouraging yourself to stay at the party even though its hard because it might get better, or thinking of times when making a connection with someone else turned out well. What could happen if it worked out?
It could be starting to notice more. That’s all, just noticing. Witnessing yourself when you are rushing, or multitasking, or moving quickly through the world. It’s noticing when you get caught up in worst case scenarios, and reminding yourself that things often don’t go as expected (in a good way).
Mark Twain said “I spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened” and damn is that so true. Its like imagining terrible scenarios which your body reacts to, and is in an entirely different world than reality. Spending a lot of time there is exhausting because you’re constantly living awful scenarios that feel very real.
Where there is lots of anxiety, there is also often a lack of emotional regulation from parents who weren’t capable of containing their own anxiety. Our nervous systems tuned into the nervous systems that were taking care of us. We learn unconsciously how to be in the world by how our parents are in the world.
From this viewpoint, slowing down can look like having compassion for your young self who didn’t have the nurturance and containment of their emotional experience that they needed. It can look like orienting yourself towards self respect inwards rather than looking for it outwards.
No anxiety is not the goal here. It is awareness of how your nervous system has been programmed and having deep compassion and healthy anger around that not being your choice, while also acknowledging that you may be perpetuating your own suffering. It is both.
This relearning takes time and practice. We can’t expect ourselves to change a pattern that has been happening for years in one try. Be kind and patient with yourself as you bravely step out into noticing what it would be like if things were different.
This is for Shaila Patel who lights up my tuesdays, inspires me to keep writing, and is the kind of confident woman that I strive to be.
I have been thinking for a while about what would be the most helpful to write at this time for you. I decided I’m going to write you a list of reassurance from the heart. These are some of the things I have been thinking about lately, I hope something here lands for you.
I’d like you to know that you don’t have to have everything together, right now or ever. That there is no good or bad, right or wrong way to go about life. It just is.
We don’t get a medal when we have sacrificed ourselves to the point of exhaustion. We just get exhausted and resentful.
There is nothing wrong with you. How do I know? Context is everything. Given things you’ve been through, its quite understandable you have that belief. Having that belief doesn’t make it true.
Everyone can benefit from therapy, and therapy is not always for everyone.
There is way more to life than just productivity. Productivity is a capitalist value that we have been socialized to believe that we must be productive in order to be of value. Perhaps this was intially meant value as in money, however there is much guilt we harbour over not being productive, so I believe that value can also mean self worth. Productivity does not equal self worth. You matter because you exist.
You are always allowed to change your mind.
There’s more to see and enjoy when you slow down.
Uncomfortable emotions and feelings are part of the human condition. They need to be felt.
While its important to be informed about world events, we have had more than our share in these past few months alone. Over-immersing yourself with the news is not helpful as it can be immobilizing where you are unable to take action in any regard. It is okay to give yourself permission to turn it off for a while. It’s self care. Period.
Take a few minutes where you don’t do anything. Put down the phone, stop and sit and feel into how you’re doing. You are not a productivity machine. Humans have capacities and we also have limits. Getting as present as you can helps get you into your body and grounded back into reality.
When we’re overwhelmed, we cannot take in any more information. These are the times when you need to get things out. Choose an expressive activity like journalling, talking aloud to yourself or someone else, painting or creating artwork, dancing, etc.
Talk to A Therapist
Talk to a therapist about all the things swirling in your mind. Its our job to help you straighten them out and unload. We can also support you to prevent overwhelm in the future. I am currently providing virtual therapy during this time. Reach out to me and lets connect!
Recognize Your Power
Recognize that you have the power to choose what you consume and how often. You can change how you take on more than your capacity.
Look for one you like as a person, rather than a style of therapy
Study after study shows that the therapeutic relationship is more important than the style or therapeutic modalities used. That is the greatest predictor of change in therapy. While there are effective and wonderful types of therapy out there, if you and your therapist don’t have strong trust and rapport, there likely won’t be much movement. While it sounds simple, trust your gut with your impressions of them.
Look for a therapist that is engaged in their own self work
Some therapists have a great facade of having figured it all out. Be critical of this, because no one has. Sure, we have our specialities and focuses that we may be very sharp at. But everything? Nah. In graduate school, therapists are trained to be generalists, and then find their way from there. We are, like you, in a steady process of becoming. The therapist can only go so far with you as they have gone themselves. An effective and “good” therapist is one who gets in the trenches with their own stuff, and sits where you do, in the clients chair, often. Be willing to interview your potential therapist by asking them if they are engaged in their own work, and what that looks like.
Look for a therapist that is Registered in your provincial guidelines
Here in BC, the term counsellor or therapist is unregulated. Which means that anyone can call themselves one. A common popular alternative is life coach. While some life coaches are well informed and do great work, they are not upheld to the same ethical guidelines as registered counsellors, and can do a lot of damage particularly around deep emotional work and not recognizing trauma where it lives. A life coach is not the same thing as a counsellor. Do your research when it comes to what the counselling registrations are for your in your province/state/country. The counsellor/psychotherapist should have a registration number associated with their title.
Look for one that engages in regular supervision
An ethically responsible therapist is seeking supervision and consultation with other therapists. This helps us gain different perspectives in our work, learn and grow. We are held accountable in these groups, and others are able to support us in recognizing how we can support our clients in better or different ways. Be willing to ask your potential therapist if they have a supervisor, especially if they are newer therapists.
Finding a therapist can feel like finding a good pair of jeans. Don’t stick with one that you feel isn’t a good fit, while also trusting that you are giving it a good try before dismissing it. Therapy can be (and will be) uncomfortable at times. Its about being willing to sit through it with someone you trust that is qualified and confident that you can do the work.
For anyone that knows me, they know that I usually have at least 5 books on the go at any one point. I pick up different books depending on what I’m feeling that day. While it means I have a lot of unfinished books, I also have many that I have read cover to cover, again and again. These are some of those books.
Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This book has been deeply influential in reaching that soul place within, a place we don’t visit as much as we could. It holds a power in its own existence and gives women permission to rest and not tame their intensity. I treat this book like a bible of sorts, as a reference book of spirituality and living true to oneself.
“What is homing? It is the instinct to return, to go to the place we remember. It is the ability to find, whether in dark or in daylight, one’s home place. We all know how to return home. No matter how long its been, we find our way. We go through the night, over strange land, through tribes of strangers, without maps and asking of the odd personages we meet along the road, ‘what is the way?’ The exact answer to ‘where is home?’ is more complex… but in some way it is an internal place, a place somewhere in time rather than space, where a woman feels of one piece. Home is where a thought or feeling can be sustained instead of being interrupted or torn away from us because something else is demanding our time and attention. And through the ages women have found myriad ways to have this, make this for themselves, even when their duties and chores were endless” – p.283
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Arguably the most influential book in trauma research and digestibility of how trauma is stored in the body. A fantastic and very readable tool for self study and understanding regarding being a human being and how things affect us.
“Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself. The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind- of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed” – p.205
Guilt Is The Teacher, Love is the Lesson by Joan Borysenko
This is one of those books that you will feel drawn to or you won’t and that is how you know. I read this book back in early undergrad days, and it spoke truths for me I didn’t know how to verbalize. Joan talks about self esteem, shame, healthy vs. unhealthy guilt, and learned childhood experiences as shaping how we interact with people today and who we believe ourselves to be based on past experiences.
“We stand in the midst of an almost infinite network of relationships: to other people, to things, to the universe. And yet, at three o’ clock in the morning, when we are alone with ourselves, we are aware that the most intimate and powerful of all relationships and the one we can never escape is the relationship to ourselves. No significant aspect of our thinking, motivation, feelings, or behavior is unaffected by our self-evaluation. We are organisms who are not only conscious but self-conscious. That is our glory and at times, our burden” – p.46
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
I remember reading this book for the first time. I read it in two days, and I cried on the train back home from University immersed in the words of Louise Hay. A beautiful book that speaks to our inner child. It highlights how light life can feel if we allow it to be so.
“Almost all of our programming, both negative and positive, was accepted by us by the time we were three years old. Our experiences since then are based upon what we accepted and believed about ourselves and about life at that time. The way we were treated when we were very little is usually the way we treat ourselves now. The person you are scolding is the three year old child within you” – p.79
Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About The Mysteries of Life and Living by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler
I am a big believer in acknowledging death as a motivator to truly live. This is a compilation of client and therapist’s stories of loss, love, grief and what it means to be human.
“As I thought about the lessons of love, I thought about myself and my own life. Naturally, that I’m still alive means I still have lessons to learn. I, like everyone else I’ve ever worked with, need to learn how to love myself more. One would assume that if you are loved by so many, you would love yourself. But this is not always true. It’s not true for most of us. I’ve seen it in hundreds of lives and deaths, and now I see it in myself. Love has to come from within, if it is to come at all. And I’m still not there.” – p.27
I Am Her Tribe by Danielle Doby
Danielle Doby brilliantly captures a sense of being instantly understood as a sensitive human through her poetry. She highlights the struggles we all can relate to such as relationships, getting through hard times, and connecting to ourselves.
“The light in me cannot always see and honor the light in you. And its because of this. The love of the process. The love of this journey. I keep showing up to practice. For me, its all yoga. Finding steady breath in the unknown. The rhythmic flow when words fall off my tongue and down onto paper. Granting myself permission to say no- without apology. Grounding my feet into the space that was created after he left me. All is not right. Nor wrong. It just is.” -p.57
Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by John Welwood
While I would love to just quote this whole book right here, I’ll have to hold myself back and let you explore the power of it yourself. Single or Taken, this book is essential reading for anyone who loves.
“Thus, apart from a few biochemical imbalances and neurological disorders, the diagnositc manual for psychological afflictions known as the DSM might as well begin: ‘herein are described all the wretched ways people feel and behave when they do not know that they are loved’… When people do not know they are loved, a cold black hole forms in the psyche, where they start to harbor beliefs that they’re insignificant, unimportant, or lacking in beauty and goodness. This icy place of fear is what gives rise to terrorist attacks of all kinds – not just in the form of bombs going off, but also in the emotional assaults that go on within ourselves and our relationships” – p.12
I Need Your Love- Is That True? by Byron Katie
Questioning the stories that we tell ourselves right off the bat, Byron Katie sings a different tune to the ones we typically hear. She has a beautiful way of encouraging you to ask yourself different questions and interrupt the typical loop of thinking your mind goes into. One of my favorite quotes by her is “stress is caused by not accepting reality”
“The thought that kicks you out of heaven could be ‘I’d be a little more comfortable if I had a pillow’ or it could be ‘I’d be happier if my partner were here’. Without that thought, you’re in heaven- just sitting in your chair, being supported and being breathed. When you believe the thought that something is missing, what do you experience? The immediate effect may be subtle- only a slight restlessness as your attention moves away from what you already have. But with that shift of attention, you give up the peace you have as you sit in your chair. Seeking comfort, you give yourself discomfort” – p.9
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Love me some Brene Brown. Her warmth and genuineness shine through in her writing about shame and vulnerability. She is the queen of letting us know that we are not alone in our suffering, and normalizes the experience of shame. Brene helps facilitate self acceptance through her kind words and research.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”
Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth
If I had to choose one book for the rest of my life, which would be incredible painful, but this would be the one I would hold on to. This book taught me a lot about filling voids and the impact of childhood relationships with caretakers and how that translates to our relationship to food and other sources of nourishment. Despite the title, anyone who doesn’t identify as a woman can benefit from this.
” Of this I am certain: something happens every time I stop fighting with the way things are. Something happens to every one of my students when they stop running their familiar programs about fear and deficiency and emptiness. I don’t know what to call this turn of events or the freshness that follows it, but I know what it feels like: it feels like relief. It feels like infinite goodness. Like a distillation of every sweet fragrance, every heartstopping beauty, every haunting melody you’ve ever heard. It feels like the essence of tenderness, compassion, joy, peace. Like love itself. And in the moment you feel it you recognize that you are it and that you’ve been here all alone, waiting for your return” -p.74
Boundaries by Anne Katherine
Breaking down what boundaries are, how they get violated and how to set them, this book is gold. It is easy to get through and deeply impactful. A must read for anyone who struggles to say no, feels angry at others actions toward them, people pleasers, or those that feel guilty for doing things for themselves.
“In every one of your relationships, you are on a continuum between intimacy and separation. You stand on a slide that tilts you toward either intimacy or separateness. Exactly where you stand at any given moment is the result of your decisions, your feelings, how you handle situations, and the way you and the other person communicate.”