Finding Heart and Soul Connection In A Barn

I found my heart and soul connection in a barn.

      Hear this post on Therapy Chat Podcast  !

  Hear this post on Therapy Chat Podcast!

Note: this was originally published in 2016 and updated with information on the June 2018 2 day Authentic Self Retreat I'm hosting with Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW in Lexington, Kentucky. Register here! 

Yesterday I had a new experience which was a game-changer for me. I've been saying for at least 10 years that I want to take horseback riding lessons. I talked about it on an episode of Therapy Chat earlier this year, vowing that I would make it happen.

 Image credit: Eduard Syslynskyy/Shutterstock

Image credit: Eduard Syslynskyy/Shutterstock

I've ridden a horse maybe 5 times in my whole life, all between the ages of 10-13 years old. For a time I was obsessed with them, as many children are. I grew up in the city but close enough to rural areas that there was one horse farm many of us knew to visit. 

Recently as I've learned more about equine-assisted therapy and the benefits of spending times with horses, I've become determined to increase the amount of time I spend with horses. I'm now 44 years old and my body has changed quite a bit since I was 13. I think it's safe to say that my heart hasn't changed much, if at all, though, as I learned through this experience. 

Before I tell you what happened, let me give you some information from Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association, also known as EAGALA. From their website, www.eagala.org:

 

 

How Does Equine-Assisted Learning and Growth Work?

  • Horses are bigger and stronger than us. They are powerful creatures, and being around them can feel intimidating, which creates an opportunity to get up close and personal with our fears.

  • Like humans, horses are social creatures who live in herds. They have a social hierarchy in terms of how they relate to one another in the herd. Working on how we relate to horses is a way to work on how we relate to other humans and ourselves.

  • Because horses are prey animals, they rely on non-verbal cues to stay alive. Their lives depend on accurately reading these cues. Humans are predators. Yet for some reason horses are willing to interact with us anyway, if we let them know we are safe.

  • Horses know when what we are saying and doing don't match what we are feeling and sensing, even though we might not know. They reflect back to us what we are feeling and sensing, or the incongruence between our feelings, sensations, words and actions, even (especially) when it's outside of our conscious awareness.

The Shadow...Again?

Horses can bring our Shadow to our awareness. Yes, the Shadow again. As a wise person told me, once the Shadow is out in the light you can't ignore it anymore. I am finding this to be true again and again.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out these episodes of Therapy Chat podcast: Episode 53; Episode 38 with Renee Beck, LMFT; Episode 40 with Lourdes Viado, MFT, PhD; Episode 42 with Keri Nola.

So this is what happened yesterday. I went to a workshop on learning with horses. I gathered in a barn with a group of two other women, the instructor and the horse trainer. I really didn't know what to expect, because I haven't done anything like this before, although I have heard about it from fellow therapists. The whole experience was on the ground, not on the horses. 

We were introduced to two horses, a darker colored one and a lighter colored one. I felt super vulnerable and nervous. I wanted to know what to do and not to do, and how, and what was going to happen. I told myself to sit with the discomfort, knowing that this is where growth happens. Part of me wanted to relax, be in the moment, let go and see what happened. Part of me wanted to know, to check whether or not I was doing it right, if I was okay, to understand, to know why. These parts of myself battled for that entire two hour period. 

When we walked up to each horse I had lots of thoughts. I wondered how to touch the horse, if it was okay to touch him, and whether he would hurt me. I was acutely aware of how large and heavy he was, and that he could kick me, bite me or step on me if he felt like it. Then, I went a little deeper into my emotions. I suspected that he didn't like me. I felt self-conscious about being uncomfortable and worried who could tell. I was pretty sure he could tell, though he didn't say anything. I felt his soft, velvety coat and tangled mane. I noticed that he was beautiful and he looked like he had been through some things. I decided maybe he wasn't judging me as harshly as I was judging myself. This all happened in a span of maybe 2 minutes. Feeling a little softer toward myself, I approached the other horse.

One of the other women was standing with the horse, and I felt protective toward her time with him. I held my hand out to him, wondering if he was okay with me petting his nose. He gently nuzzled my hand. I didn't know if this was what they always do, or if he liked my touch. I awkwardly stood there for a few seconds, continuing to let him smell my hand and nuzzle it.

Then something surprising happened. He tilted his head toward me and sort of snuggled up to my neck. I don't even know what to call it. Immediately, tears sprang to my eyes. I felt seen and understood, probably better understood by the horse than I was understanding myself, at least in that moment. I had the strange experience of a felt sense - when you just know something that is coming from within. Your inner wisdom, your soul, your wisest self, whatever you want to call it, it tells you something from within yourself. It's more than just a thought. The felt sense told me "he knows I'm sad."

 Image credit: Melory/Shutterstock

Image credit: Melory/Shutterstock

One of the reasons it was weird is because I hadn't known I was sad until that moment. I felt apologetic toward the other woman standing there, because the horse was giving me more attention, and because I was fighting back tears, which is pretty uncomfortable any time, but especially in front of a stranger. At the same time, I was incredibly grateful to the horse. 

As Brené Brown says, "Vulnerability is courage."

All of that happened in the first 30 minutes of this experience. After that we alternated between activities with the horses and seated in chairs. But more strange things happened. During the time we were seated in our chairs as a group, the horses were free to roam this indoor space. 

We were talking and I was continuing my struggle between the parts of myself that wanted to avoid the discomfort of this new experience and the parts that were trying to be open and let it unfold. I'll point out that while this experience was new, that struggle is not. In fact, it is quite familiar, if I'm honest.

I practice mindfulness by checking in with myself many times throughout a given day. I notice what I am thinking, what I am feeling, what my body is holding. I frequently ask myself what I need, or what my body wants me to know. There is always an answer, if I listen. What I often notice is this struggle to know, to have the answers. It is something that pops up when I am in situations where I feel unsure. It is an attempt to avoid discomfort. I don't do it consciously, it is a defense that I'm sure developed quite early. I know I was always praised for being smart. This quality is one that I never doubted I had, and I received much attention, love and acceptance around being smart when I was a child.  

I felt very uncomfortable quite a lot of the time during childhood, so this defense (it's called intellectualization) served me very well back then and it has helped me many times since. But it does get in the way. I'm grateful for my intelligence, yet I need to ask the part of myself that wants to know to step aside quite frequently so I can stay in the moment. It's okay to be curious, as long it doesn't take me away from the current moment. 

The Most Powerful Moment

So now I'll get back to the most powerful part of the experience in the barn. After the horse snuggled up against me, while we were sitting in the chairs as a group, the horses moved around the barn. Slowly they moved toward us. Eventually, both horses came to stand behind me. While we talked, one by one they slowly crept forward until both horses were standing with their heads over me. I wish I had a picture, because to the others in the group I must have looked funny with one horse's head coming over one shoulder and the other horses's head coming over my other shoulder. They kind of crossed their heads in front of me.

It was so strange, with a result that I couldn't see the other group participants. The group leader noted that the horses could have stood anywhere they wanted, and for some reason they chose to stand over me that way. They remained that way until we stood to do another activity, and then when we returned to sitting, they did it again, just as gradually as the first time. I can't really say what happened, other than the horses knew I needed something. But that can't be all because I'm sure the other group members were having their own emotional experiences in their seats. Yet the horses gravitated to me.

I think the leader was suggesting that they knew I needed either comfort, protection or something. She didn't come right out and say it (I think she wanted me to figure it out myself). All I know is I was in love with these horses. I felt like they got me. I felt like we had a connection. I am laughing as I write these words, but I really mean it, and I still feel that way, even though more than 24 hours have passed. In fact, I've had more experiences of self discovery (what I like to call shifts) since doing that. I am eager to do more work with horses and see what happens. It was truly a magical experience.

Why Am I Sharing This?

 Image credit: Rob Strok/Canva

Image credit: Rob Strok/Canva

You might be wondering why I'm sharing this. There are a few reasons. First, I want to document this magical experience for myself. Also, I want people to know that spending time with horses can be incredibly powerful, almost unbelievably so. Some things you just have to experience for yourself, and I hope this article will encourage some of you who are reading to try Equine Assisted Learning and Growth. Lastly, I'm sharing this because it's important as a therapist that I live the way I encourage my clients to do. I've been on a journey of personal growth - intentionally only for the past two years, but probably for my whole life.  

I believe we never stop growing and learning (unless we refuse to try), and that we must continue pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, because that is where growth happens.

I can't take my clients anywhere that I haven't been. The more I allow myself to be vulnerable and expose myself to new experiences allowing me a deeper connection with myself, the more capable I become of walking alongside my clients as they are on that journey. I have seen this to be true, and I know as my connection with myself deepens my skill as a therapist will deepen as well. 

Next week I'm taking time to venture deeply inward as I spend time with an intuitive coach in California to reflect on the direction of my business in the year ahead and do more Shadow work (gulp!). This will also be a reunion with some beautiful souls who live across the country and I am so honored that I will be spending time with them there. More is ahead, as I head to the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York in November for a retreat with horses and fellow therapists and other healers. I can't freakin' wait. Honestly, I have been bitten by the horse bug now and I can't wait for my next opportunity to spend time among these amazing creatures. And yes, I am still planning to take horseback riding lessons. It will happen! I'm currently exploring various locations to learn with horses in a different way. That will be a new arena (literally!) for me. I know what Brené Brown means when she talks about Daring Greatly. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out her book by that name.

So that is the story of how I found my heart and soul connection, with two horses and with myself, yesterday in a barn. I hope it somehow inspired you to get more connected with yourself. Let me know in the comments!

If you're interested in walking together on your journey of personal growth, and you live near Baltimore, Maryland, get in touch with me. You can also follow my musings on social media. You'll find me on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. And don't forget my podcast, Therapy Chat

And, if you would like to have your own experience of deep connection with yourself and with horses, join Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW and I in Lexington, Kentucky June 1-2, 2018 for a retreat combining The Daring Way™ with relational equine assisted learning. Get all the details and register before May 10, 2018 for best pricing! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Trauma

*The names and characters in this article represent a composite of people I have know personally and professionally. No real person is represented in this article, which is intended for educational purposes.*

When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Trauma

 Image credit: Canva

Image credit: Canva

Michael can't understand it. He just doesn't get what is going on with his wife of over 25 years, Amy. Michael is concerned about her and wondering when she is going to "get over" the childhood physical and sexual abuse she went through years ago.  He really just wants her to be okay. And honestly, he's sick of her trauma symptoms affecting her, him and their children. He's not sure how much longer he can take it. 

Why can't she just get over it?

To be fair, Michael doesn't realize that Amy's mood and behavior are related to her childhood trauma. He just knows that despite years of therapy with various therapists, she sometimes becomes deeply depressed and can't seem to get off the couch for days. Other times the smallest thing will seem to trigger her becoming highly anxious, which can turn into controlling behavior towards himself and the kids. She will sometimes go shopping, overspending with abandon even though they have agreed to stop running up credit card debt - then she hides it from him and acts like she is afraid he will hurt her when he receives the credit card bill. Although he does get really frustrated when this happens, it bothers him that she feels afraid of him at times, because he feels he would never harm her, and he never has gotten physical with her in more than 25 years. He also suspects she may be binging and purging, but they don't talk about it. He's afraid to bring it up and he suspects she would deny it if he asked.. Although she takes medication, her mood swings are still pretty unpredictable and he's never really sure whether he is going to come home from work and find the smiling, got-it-together wife he married; or the disorganized, scattered, overwhelmed and controlling woman she sometimes becomes; or the sad, crying woman he barely recognizes who just wants to sleep as much as possible. He doesn't know how to help her.

"She's Changed."

All Michael knows is that Amy has changed.  He knew when they got married that she had a "difficult" childhood. He also saw how resilient Amy was then. Despite being abused throughout her childhood she had finished college and started a great career before they married. Although she spoke openly about having experienced that abuse, it didn't seem to have a negative impact on her then. Other than acknowledging that it happened, she didn't really talk about it. And he didn't really want to talk about it - then or now - because just the thought of what she went through, particularly the sexual abuse, horrifies him.  He's not sure if the physical abuse was really all that bad, or why it affects her so much. He wonders if she is really trying in therapy, or whether she somehow is doing all this just for attention.

Michael isn't sure how to deal with the emotions that come up for him when Amy is not okay. It reminds him of how he felt responsible for taking care of his mother after his dad died when he was 10. He would often come home from school and his mom would be sitting in the dark on the sofa in her bathrobe. He found himself needing to be adult-like to take care of her, and he was kind of on his own to take care of himself and his younger brother too. He was so relieved to get away from that unhappy childhood, to go to college and start his career, but sometimes he wonders if he married someone he will always have to take care of too. The burden of handling Amy's emotional needs feels very heavy and familiar to Michael. He feels sad, hopeless and discouraged.

 Image credit: Canva

Image credit: Canva

She feels disconnected.

Amy, too, was overjoyed to leave her abusive family behind to marry Michael. She thought things would be so much better once she got away from her controlling, abusive father and her passive mother who was mostly focused on pretending everything was perfect. And things were so much better! She loved her career, she and Michael got along great, and she was very happy to raise her three beautiful children. However, when her third child, little Megan, turned 5 years old Amy started having flashbacks to the abuse that her father inflicted on her as a little girl. A part of her had always felt that she was somehow responsible for the sexual abuse and deserving of the beatings. But seeing her sweet, innocent little Megan, a bright, inquisitive kindergartner, she pictured herself as a little girl and wondered whether it was really true that an innocent child could ever be deserving of being harmed the way her father had harmed her. These thoughts were so sad and overwhelming she tried to push them away. Sometimes she was successful, but other times, particularly in the Spring, she was overwhelmed with fear and worry that something bad would happen to Megan or her two sons. She is bothered by nightmares, trouble sleeping and physical symptoms like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a feeling that someone is watching her which makes her skin crawl. Sometimes she suddenly vomits, just out of the blue, and she never knows when a panic attack is coming. Much of the time she feels like she is going through the motions of life. She feels disconnected from her neighbors and the other moms in her community. She describes herself as "on the outside looking in" to her life. She doesn't work outside the home now, and she's not sure if she ever will again. Most of the time she feels like she is barely holding it together. She wishes Michael were more empathetic and supportive of what she's going through but he doesn't seem to understand why she can't just "put the past behind her." She feels alone and disconnected from him, and wonders what happened to the happy newlyweds they once were. She is sad and worried about the way she feels, but she doesn't know what to do about it.

The Truth Is, They Are Both Struggling

This dynamic is all too common and I hear stories from both sides of the relationship described above in my office every day. Many of my clients are women like Amy who feel deeply ashamed that they are still affected by the abuse from their childhood years. And others are men like Michael who wonder if they can handle the emotional burden of their partner's PTSD. Regardless of gender, both Amy and Michael could be any one of us. They both feel alone and don't know how to reach the other partner.

Whether you can relate to Amy's feelings or Michael's, it's helpful to understand a few things. 

Three Things to Remember:

1. You are not alone. Whether you are the person who experienced childhood trauma or the person who loves them, what you are feeling is common. Many people are affected by childhood trauma. It is so much more common than most of us realize. Click here to learn more about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) and the prevalence of childhood trauma. 

2.  Trauma survivors aren't trying to be difficult. They are actually just trying to feel normal. In the scenario I described above, both Amy and Michael are affected by childhood trauma, though neither of them understands the effects in depth. Amy could be described as the "identified patient" - she's the one who is seen as having a problem and needing help. And she does need help. She is suffering so much. Amy's trauma is that she was physically and sexually abused by an adult (her father) whom she trusted to take care of her and keep her safe. Her mother was unable to protect her and pretended nothing was wrong. So both of her primary caregivers, whom she depended on for safety and protection, let her down. She is affected by a loss of attachment as well as the effects of the abuse.

But Amy's not the only one in this example who needs help. Michael, too, experienced childhood trauma. His father died when he was only ten, and in her grief his mother was unable to attend to Michael's emotional needs. Instead, in order to be safe, Michael had to take care of his mom's emotional needs, and his own needs were ignored. He also had a younger brother to look out for. So Michael experienced a loss of attachment when neither of his parents was available to take care of his emotional needs, as well as the trauma of his dad's sudden death.  It's no wonder that Amy and Michael were drawn to each other, because they both had unresolved pain they were trying to escape when they met. However, Michael's role as a caregiver in his family may have helped him feel comfortable marrying someone who he perceived as having gone through something terrible (without realizing how he himself was affected by his own trauma). Both Amy and Michael were young when they met, and they were both doing the best they could. They both wanted to be okay, and they were trying to be okay together. For a while they were, but the effects of trauma always pop up just when you least expect them. Neither Amy nor Michael is able to be a support for the other, because they are both affected by their own childhood trauma. They can both benefit from counseling with a skilled trauma therapist.

3. Trauma therapy can help. The reason Amy has been in and out of therapy for 10 years without experiencing relief from her trauma symptoms is that she hasn't had the right kind of therapy. 9 times out of 10, my clients with extensive trauma histories will tell me that their previous therapists never explained trauma to them or told them that their symptoms could be related to trauma. Why? The therapists probably didn't know. Trauma is still a newer field of study, although its effects have been documented for years.  Understanding that your symptoms are caused by trauma helps take an overwhelming set of symptoms that are seemingly unrelated and offers hope and clarity. You begin to recognize that you developed these coping methods (like dissociation, comfort eating, compulsive shopping, depression, anxiety) because of the effects of trauma, and not because there is something wrong with you. 

Can You Relate?

You may be wondering if you are an Amy or a Michael. I can't answer that for you, but here are some symptoms which may indicate that you are affected by childhood trauma. 

If you have had some kind of disturbing experience in childhood that has always bothered you, for example:

  • Loss of a primary caregiver
  • Any unwanted sexual experience
  • Any sexual experience you were too young to understand
  • Witnessing violence, whether it happened to you, your caregiver or another family member
  • Feeling that no one understood you, no one cared about you, or that you were abandoned, unwanted, or unloved
  • Being bullied
  • Receiving physical punishment, including spanking, beating, whipping, or being physically abused or harmed by an adult when you were a child
  • Having a parent or primary caregiver who abused alcohol or drugs
     

These are just a few examples of situations that could be traumatic in childhood. Read this article for more, and consider taking the ACES quiz as well. 

So if you have some kind of childhood experience you think might have been traumatic AND you have some of these symptoms:

  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares, sleep paralysis
  • Feeling numb, detached, zoning out, trouble concentrating, easily distracted, losing time
  • Memory issues - feeling forgetful, being disorganized
  • Feeling a nagging sense that there is just something wrong with you, something that makes you different from everyone else
  • Feeling like you are on the outside looking in
  • Trouble feeling close with other people, trust issues, feeling suspicious of other people's motives, thoughts like "no one can be trusted" and a feeling that it's you against the world
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, need to maintain control at all times, rigidity, need for order
  • Feeling mistrustful of your partner, feeling judgmental and critical of others and yourself
  • Body image issues, physical symptoms like chronic pain, stomach issues, migraines, 
  • Sexual problems - lack of interest in sex, shame related to sex
  • Constantly on high alert, watchful, vigilant, can't relax - you hate it when someone comes up behind you and touches your shoulder or stands too close to you

You might be affected by childhood trauma. No article can substitute for talking with a qualified therapist. If you are wondering if you are affected by childhood trauma, talk to a therapist. You can usually speak to them by phone before scheduling an appointment to make sure they feel qualified to help with the issue that affects you. 

Here are some resources for finding a qualified trauma therapist:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

ISSTD

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute

EMDRIA

Sidran Institute

Somatic Experiencing Institute

RAINN

And here are some suggestions for further reading and learning:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

In the Realm Of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

ACES Primer (video)

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of trauma on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. Whether you are directly affected by childhood trauma or it is a problem for someone you love, therapy can help. You don't have to keep suffering.  The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes - trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. I am one of them. If you're in the Baltimore area of Maryland, I would love to talk about how we can work together to help you feel better. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can also contact me directly through my website at this link. Or visit my website to learn about how I work with trauma. 

I hope this article was helpful to you. If it was, please share and/or leave a comment below! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Sources:

ACES Primer video found here: http://www.acesconnection.com/g/resource-center/blog/resource-list-aces-videos

ACES Quiz found here: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

What Is Trauma? Maybe Not What You Think.

What is trauma? Maybe not what you think.

When you hear the word "trauma," what do you think of? If you're like most people, you probably imagine that people experience the effects of trauma after a plane crash, surviving a fire, a major car accident, or participating in military combat. It's true that all of those things can cause someone to experience trauma symptoms, but there are many other traumatic experiences which are more common in the general population that we don't always recognize as being traumatic.

I must point out, though, that I have talked to many people who have survived house fires or military combat. Most often when I describe that these experiences - which you and I can pretty much agree, can we not, are considered by most people to be experiences fitting the definition of trauma - could have been traumatic, the person sitting with me in the therapy room will say, "I don't really think of it as traumatic. I mean, so many people have been through much worse." 

There is a reason why that statement is so interesting, which I'll explain in a minute so bear with me.

Going back to my first point, that there are many traumatic experiences which are more common to most of us than plane crashes and military combat. Some may be more common than others. Tell me, have any of these things ever happened to you? 

  • The loss of someone dear to you
  • Witnessing violence and feeling helpless to do anything about it
  • Any unwanted sexual touching
  • Being hit or hurt as punishment
  • Feeling unsafe in your home
  • Feeling unsafe in your community
  • Being afraid of being physically hurt by one of your family members
  • Being bullied in your family, at school or in your community

Some other types of trauma are more common

When it comes to sexual violence - my definition is ANY unwanted touching of your sexual body parts - or any touching of your private areas that you felt powerless to stop - it is so much more common than most people realize. For example, one out of five women has experienced some kind of unwanted sexual touching. Look around. If you are female, and there are 4 women nearby, one of you has probably experienced unwanted sexual touching. Most of us don't even identify many of these experiences as sexual assault because they happen so often to us and people we know that we think it's normal. But thinking it's normal doesn't mean you are unaffected by such experiences. By the way, if you're having trouble believing that statistic you can go here for reference. To understand more about childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault at any age, listen to my podcast episodes on the subject. 

do I have trauma

Speaking of violence, intimate partner violence is another common cause of trauma. Children who witness domestic violence in their homes often become adults who are in abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence includes pushing and shoving; the larger, stronger or more aggressive partner using the threat of violence to intimidate and control the smaller or less aggressive partner; and can also include controlling one partner's whereabouts, isolating them from their friends and other sources of support. Children often feel they need to intervene to protect one parent when there is domestic violence in the home. When children feel responsible for protecting adults, they are doing so to help themselves feel safe. If the adults are not safe the kids are not safe. You can find more information on intimate partner violence at this link

I talked about a character from the show "Mad Men" and how he exhibits the symptoms of trauma but doesn't realize it in Episode 54 of my podcast. Listen here.

I talked about how children watch adults to find out if they are safe in this podcast episode.

Physical violence is another confusing experience which we often struggle to characterize as being traumatic. There are many ways children can experience physical violence in childhood under the umbrella of punishment. I know several people in my personal life who were hit by their parents - with wooden spoons, hairbrushes, belts, brooms - and laughingly tell of running away from their parents or putting a book in their pants to avoid the pain. Ask any of these people if that was a traumatic experience and they will likely tell you that they deserved it because they were mischievous kids. But children depend on their parents for love and protection. It is a very confusing message that the person you trust to keep you safe also hits you and hurts you to teach you to behave properly. That was common in the 1960's and before, but we now know hitting children does not make them behave better.  In fact, it often increases undesired behavior. It is hard to admit that your parent did something that harmed you, and since a child depends on their parent being benevolent in order to feel safe in the world, the child tells him/herself that s/he is the bad one. In reality, parents who used physical punishment often believed they were doing what was right, and certainly what was done to them, in most cases. However, I have heard far too many stories of the parent hitting the child with an object until the object broke, or using a wooden spoon of just the right size and shape to hurt the most, to deny that sometimes the parent's anger was running the show in those situations. Listen to my podcast interview with Eric Greene of 1 Awesome Dad on peaceful parenting.

Another common but often overlooked experience which causes trauma is called Childhood Emotional Neglect. This term, which was coined by Dr. Jonice Webb, refers to experiences in childhood of not having your emotional needs met by the adults who took care of you. It could be because your parent grew up with their own emotional needs unmet, so they didn't know how to meet yours. It could be because they were depressed, or affected by substance abuse, or chronically ill, or taking care of a family member who was chronically ill, or they may have been physically absent for a variety of reasons. Listen to my interview with Dr. Jonice Webb on Childhood Emotional Neglect here.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is a type of attachment trauma. For more about attachment trauma, listen to my podcast interview with Amy Sugeno here.

How does trauma make us feel?

I specialize in working with people who have experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect, sexual assault, witnessing domestic violence in childhood as well as physical abuse in childhood. I mentioned earlier in this article that it is interesting that people who have lived through house fires or military combat often say "I don't think of it as traumatic, because so many other people have been through much worse."  Guess what. My clients who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused say the same thing. Another thing they often say is "it wasn't that bad because I had a roof over my head, I never went hungry and I had clean clothes to wear." It's great that your basic needs were met, but emotional needs are important too. 

trauma makes us feel alone

Trauma makes you think what you went through isn't that bad. But there is a part of you that knows that it was very hurtful. That part might be an inner voice that says "you deserved the abuse because you were a bad kid." Now here is adult me responding to that. There is nothing you could have done as a child that warrants you being kicked, slapped, punched, whipped, hit with a hairbrush, forced to participate in sexual activity before you were old enough to understand what was happening, called stupid, told you were worthless, beaten with a broom - whatever it was. Children are small and powerless. The adults in their lives should not hurt them. And that voice inside that tells you your pain isn't real, or isn't worthy of being addressed (or maybe that you are too screwed up to be helped) is not accurate. 

Okay, so I realize I have experienced trauma - now what? 

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of trauma on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. You can feel better than you believed possible. The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes - trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. I am one of them. If you're in the Baltimore area of Maryland, I would love to talk about how we can work together to help you feel better. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can also contact me directly through my website at this link. Or visit my website to learn about how I work with trauma. 

If you are not in Maryland (or if you are and you don't want to work with me), you can find a therapist specializing in trauma through these resources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

ISSTD

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute

EMDRIA

Sidran Institute

Somatic Experiencing Institute

RAINN

 

Sources:

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://www.mcasa.org/_mcasaWeb/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/National-SA-Prevalence-Updated1.pdf

National Network to End Domestic Violence. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://nnedv.org/downloads/Policy/AD14/AD14_DVSA_Factsheet.pdf

University of Texas. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: https://news.utexas.edu/2016/04/25/risks-of-harm-from-spanking-confirmed-by-researchers

Cornell University. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/parenting/parents/upload/Spanking-Research-Brief.pdf

 

 

 

Doing Hard Things

Doing Hard Things

We Can Do Hard Things Glennon Doyle Melton

Today, I did something hard. Have you heard Glennon Doyle Melton say "We can do hard things"? Well, we can. I can. I think. It's not always something huge - for me, today, it was trying something new and very challenging.

Fulfilling a promise I made to myself and to listeners of Therapy Chat (talk about accountability!), I took my 45 year old body which has not been on the back of a horse for 32 years - and even then, at age 13, my experience was limited to two or three times I rode a horse while someone held on and walked it - and had my first horseback riding lesson. My first lesson, ever. It was clear that the people at the barn and at the shop where I bought my helmet today expected I had SOME kind of experience on a horse when they were talking to me. They kept saying "so you're coming back to riding?" I was like, "no, I'm an absolute beginner. I've never done it at all." 

I like knowing.

I'll be honest, I hated how it felt to admit that I didn't know ANYTHING about horsemanship. I am realizing more and more - I LIKE KNOWING! Not knowing is totally uncomfortable! At this stage of my life I feel like I KNOW in most situations. Maybe it's because I'm a parent and I've become comfortable in that "bossy know it all" role. Maybe I don't push myself out of my comfort zone often enough. Yet I do challenge myself fairly often! In fact, when discussing this with my husband he noted that it seems easy for me to do new things. Not really! Recent experiences of stepping into unfamiliar territory have reminded me (i.e. I've reluctantly accepted) that it's okay to be a beginner. But I am not going to lie, I strongly dislike that feeling. 

It seems like a metaphor for what it must be like for my clients to come to therapy. And what it has been like for me to go to therapy. It's vulnerable!!! Vulnerable is an understatement. Vulnerability makes my skin crawl.

In fact, the more I know as a therapist, the harder it is to be the one on the couch. Yet I also know that I will be my best self as a therapist when I continue exploring the parts of myself that I don't really enjoy looking into. For all of us, those parts are there and they are either in the shadows, where we don't see them as they are calling all the shots, or they are in our conscious awareness and we can manage them more effectively. [Listen to previous Therapy Chat episodes on the Shadow here, here, here and here]

So today I was struggling with not knowing, being a beginner. Pretending I don't feel that way - or avoiding noticing this overwhelming sense of wanting to know - might seem easier. I certainly don't need to write about it here! I'd rather play it cool. I could just have this private experience and not say anything about it publicly. I am sharing it here because I hope it will help you sit with that discomfort when it comes up in your life. You can turn toward the discomfort - feel it - or turn away from it - avoidance.

It's much more fun and interesting, from my perspective, for me to sit back and tell you how much I know about what you might want to try doing differently so you can feel better in your life. But what I really know all comes from my own experiences of struggling and figuring stuff out the hard way. Yes, I have a lot of training and experience but if I couldn't apply these lessons to my own life something would be missing. So showing you that I struggle too is a way I hope to help. 

How did I get here?

How did I end up on the back of a very large horse today? I've been talking about wanting to learn horsemanship. I've been talking about it for more than 10 years. I talked about it in a previous blog and Therapy Chat episode.  I've told myself that all I need to do is sign up and get started. True. So this year I signed up. I got started today. And this is what happened:

Spoiler: it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies.

I was scared. I was nervous. I struggled with not knowing. I found myself using self-deprecation while purchasing a helmet at the Saddlery and while learning how to groom and tack at the Equestrian Center. I probably won't remember how to groom and tack and will have to re-learn next time. I judged myself - fairly harshly. I told myself my body isn't able to do this - even while knowing that my body is strong. I kept telling myself I am too big for this - too tall, not slim enough. Maybe the people who ride are slim because it's great exercise. Maybe I will become slimmer too. Maybe I won't. Maybe they aren't all slim. Maybe it doesn't matter.

A horse weighs over 1,000 pounds. The horse did not seem troubled or disturbed to have me sitting on his back. He wasn't groaning at holding me up. I watched myself in the mirror, thinking, "ugh, do I look like that?" even while knowing my body is strong. Knowing I've never done this. I don't have muscle memory for this. I will learn this. I am strong! But I was judging myself. Judging my appearance. Judging myself for judging myself. Yes, I'm serious. 

Getting up on that horse was HARD. It was SCARY. It was really high up! I was afraid I wouldn't be able to mount the horse. I literally felt like I felt when I went skiing at age 13 and I fell, and I didn't think I would be able to get up. It is not easy to follow verbal directions in that kind of situation when the animal you are trying to climb onto is moving and you can't really see where to place yourself. By the way, getting down was even harder and I almost fell. But I didn't. And even if I did. so what? Even if I got hurt?! I will be okay.

There is an element of trust to this. I'm working on it. Do I need to trust the horse or trust myself? Maybe - probably - both. As my daughter said to me today when I was telling her how hard it was, "Not everything is a therapeutic experience, Mom." Well, true. But I am convinced that this can be. And I am struggling - so apparently it already is. 

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Copyright: Petri Volanen

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Copyright: Petri Volanen

[Click here to listen to my episode with Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy]

When my hourlong lesson was over today, I wanted to be like "this was so amazing!" But I didn't feel like it was amazing. I had about 5 seconds during the whole experience when I was like "Wow, I'm doing this!" I also thought "Does this horse like me? I'm grateful he hasn't tried to throw me off of his back. Am I doing this correctly?" That last thought occurred at least 20 times. I said it maybe 5 times to the instructor. I wanted to say it like 100 times, at least. I judged myself for feeling scared and unsure. I wondered how the horse and the instructor were judging me.

Judging, judging, judging

When I got in my car, I felt like maybe I wanted to quit. Maybe I can't do it. And I was judging myself for feeling that way. Are you confused yet? Me too! I hated feeling like this vulnerable kid who doesn't know how to do things and doesn't believe in herself. But I allowed myself to feel that way instead of pretending it was different. I was telling anyone who would listen - my friend Anne, who I talked to after the lesson; my husband; my daughter; the saleswoman at the Saddlery; the riding instructor  - how hard it was, and how discouraged I feel. As I was telling them my feelings I was judging myself for feeling that way. At home I felt exhausted. Bone tired. Emotionally worn out and physically worn out. An Epsom salt bath is in my future. 

Has this ever happened to you in any situation? How often do you push yourself outside of your comfort zone? Do you like it? Hint: NO.

So why don't I just quit this silly horsemanship idea? Well, I actually believe that I will get better at this. I believe that I will have the experience of learning how to do something new, overcoming my doubts, and it will result in not only a sense of mastery - eventually - but also it will remind me that I can do hard things. I am strong. I'm stronger than I think I am. Emotionally and physically. Cognitively, in my logical brain, I know this. The part of me that is a scared little girl is just one of my parts. There are also other parts of me that are confident. Somewhere in there a part of me knows that this will be FUN! One day! If I keep at it. I am giggling to myself as I write that. Somewhere inside I know that's true.

No Mud No Lotus Thich Nhat Hahn

Again, it's like therapy. You go through the hard parts because you know something better is on the other side. Or you believe it is. You hope it is. And it is. Something good will come from it. I realize therapy isn't all fun and games. But it's better than staying where you are and what comes from the hard work is so beautiful, indescribably so. And you're permanently changed - you can never go back to who you were. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "No mud, no lotus." That is true of large and small experiences of discomfort over our lifetimes. And what's the alternative? 

Embracing what is (?)

So I'm going to treasure this experience of being so new at horsemanship. I'm going to try to enjoy this feeling of being a beginner. I'll remember that once I didn't know how to do this at all. One day I'll be on the back of a horse, galloping through a field, maybe even jumping. Who knows? The sky's the limit. I have a long life ahead of me and I am going to do hard things, even when I'm scared. I mean, I don't actually know how long my life will be. Of course, no one does. But in this moment, I did this hard thing. And I am embracing that feeling, in all of its glory. The good and the bad.

I hope this will inspire you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, too. That is where the magic happens. That is where we grow. And that is really what life is all about - a journey toward self-actualization, whatever that means for each of us. It's going to be okay. 

My next lesson is on Thursday of this week. Wish me luck.

If you want to read more of what I write, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also visit iTunes to subscribe to Therapy Chat. There you'll hear me talking about what I talk about and interviewing other people about what I'm interested to discuss. Or you can listen to Therapy Chat on my website, or on iHeartRadio, Stitcher or Google Play.

If you're in Maryland, and you want therapy to explore the vulnerable parts of yourself that are in need of healing, check out my website. You can also call me at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. I look forward to connecting! In the meantime, take care!

Warmly,

 

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Episode 33: Worthiness, Perfectionism & Self Compassion

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 33: 

Worthiness, Perfectionism & Self Compassion

Hitting My Growth Edge

Click here to listen to this on Therapy Chat podcast! 

  Click on the image to hear podcast episode 33!

Click on the image to hear podcast episode 33!

Once in a while an experience comes along which is just beyond what you ever imagined. It’s like you never really dreamed things would get this good. I don’t know if everyone has a growth ceiling, but I think most of us do. It’s the point that is the highest you thought you’d ever go in your life. It might be that you thoughtyou’d one day get married, but you hit your growth ceiling when you make plans to marry someone so wonderful, who seems so much better than the partner you thought you’d end up with. This can cause a lot of anxiety, because we are going past what our expectations were for ourselves. Another example – maybe you hoped you’d become a doctor, but you didn’t expect to attain the position of CEO of a huge medical organization.

Maybe you always fantasized about being a musician but you weren’t expecting to be invited to write all the songs for the next Broadway hit. For me, I always hoped to become a therapist (and there were many times I doubted I’d achieve that goal). I even thought one day I might go into private practice. I never imagined having a thriving full time private practice where I’d love going to work with the clients I most enjoy serving. I never expected to have a podcast and when I did begin podcasting I surely didn’t think I’d have the chance to interview so many wonderful guests. I really never even dreamed I’d be able to interview someone like Dr. Dan Siegel. I’d admired Dan Siegel’s work on the neuroscience of attachment for about 6 years when I made a contact who facilitated my opportunity to interview him. It was then that my feelings of scarcity began to show up and loudly make themselves known.

Scarcity Rears Its Ugly Head

As soon as I heard the news that Dan Siegel had agreed to be interviewed I was elated. I was literally screaming and jumping up and down. Yes, it was that big of a deal to me! It only took about a day for me to begin wondering what was going to happen to prevent this from happening because I knew it must be too good to be true. In Brené Brown’s work, she calls this “foreboding joy.” She talks about when she was on the plane to go be interviewed for the first time by Oprah and she was super excited, but a delay was announced. Immediately she realized the plane was likely to crash and she would never have her moment with Oprah. Every time the foreboding crept in as the day of my Dan Siegel interview drew closer, I reminded myself of that story.

  Kristin Neff's Three Elements of Self Compassion

Kristin Neff's Three Elements of Self Compassion

When thoughts of “who am I to think I, a humble podcaster, am going to interview someone like Dan Siegel, a world famous expert on attachment, neuroscience and mindfulness?” crept into my head, I reminded myself of Brené Brown on her way to Oprah and told myself to stay in the moment. Just feel how excited I am, and stay with that. I’m a podcaster, and I have a platform to ask Dan Siegel some questions. There’s no reason the Universe (God, Source, whatever spiritual being fits for you) would think I don’t “deserve” to interview him. In fact, the Universe doesn’t think Dan Siegel is more worthy as a human being than I am, because to the Universe, we are all equally worthy. Here I used the three elements of Self Compassion identified by Dr. Kristin Neff: self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

Worthiness and Shame

Even as I used self compassion and mindfulness to help me remember that it’s okay to feel really excited about the amazing opportunity to interview someone I respect so highly on Therapy Chat, I struggled with scarcity. Here’s how I knew I was operating from a place of scarcity:

I didn’t want to tell my podcasting friends I was interviewing Dan Siegel. Why? I was secretly afraid it wouldn’t happen. I was secretly afraid they would snag him before me. I was secretly afraid something would happen to make them all see that I’m a fraud and a phony, and that I was a fool to think I could ever interview someone like that. I told a few trusted friends (only one was a podcaster – this person has a totally different podcast focus) and family. I’m hiding this exciting news like I’ve got a shameful secret.  In truth I really doubted I was worthy. I was so starstruck! It was kind of ridiculous, looking back. For all of his accomplishments, Dan Siegel is just a person. A brilliant person, but still just a person.

So the day finally came. It was my big moment. I have never been so prepared. I checked and double checked everything. I made sure I didn’t schedule anything else that day except for dinner out with good friends and my husband afterwards. We had the interview. It was incredible. I felt like I was floating, I was so happy to be able to interview Dan Siegel. It was a fascinating conversation and when it was over I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I immediately checked the recording to make sure everything was okay.

Here’s where things get ugly. Everything wasn’t okay. When I listened to the recording, I only heard my voice. There was no Dan Siegel voice. I actually wondered whether I had hallucinated the whole thing. If so, I knew I was really losing it. I tried several things to see if I could get his voice to come up, and I couldn’t. I called a podcasting friend, Christy, to see if she could help me. She kindly and generously spent an hour on the phone with me trying everything to fix the recording. She never shamed me or made me feel stupid. But it was all for naught. It turned out I had a bad version of the recording software many of us use, and I never knew because before that day it had always worked great. Apparently after an update there was a compatibility issue with Skype, which I use to conduct my interviews.

How Self Compassion Saved Me!

But this is the crazy part. I wasn’t freaking out. After all that buildup, to find out the episode didn’t record, I would normally have gone into a shame spiral. I would have been so embarrassed, thinking, “I knew I was crazy to think this was going to happen for me!” I would have felt like I didn’t want anyone to know what happened. I would have wanted to hide. But I didn’t feel that way. Even though it didn’t record, the thoughts and feelings that made up about 95% of my conscious awareness were: wow, I just had such an amazing discussion with Dan Siegel. How lucky am I that I got to have that beautiful conversation. I even thought, “how can I be upset? I just got to spend an hour having a personal conversation with Dan Siegel that I will never forget, and I’m considering the nature of consciousness and the Universe...” Of course, I immediately reached out to his assistant, apologetically explaining there was a technology failure, and requesting to re-record if possible. In the past I would have been so afraid to let him know everything got screwed up and his time was wasted. But basically I felt that I hoped he would agree to re-record, and if he didn’t, then it would be okay. Not because I didn’t care, but because I was at peace.  I can only attribute this sense of calm belief that everything would be okay to my self compassion practice.

I’m not going to pretend that I have this Zen lifestyle in which I meditate daily for an hour and nothing rattles me. But I have been practicing self compassion, through regular meditation, since September 2014 when I learned about it at Brené Brown’s Daring Way™ training. If you’re interested in doing this (developing a self compassion practice), you can find free Self Compassion guided meditations on Kristin Neff’s website, www.selfcompassion.org. I also highly recommend her book, Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

My self compassion practice saved me. After all of this, I had sent the e-mail to Dan Siegel’s assistant and then I went out to dinner with my husband and our friends, a therapist and her husband, a college professor.  I told them all what happened and I wasn’t that horrified. Don’t get me wrong. I felt bad that Dan Siegel’s time was wasted. But other than that I was still feeling gratitude and some disbelief that I had such an amazing conversation with him. I just couldn’t find myself feeling devastated. And I didn’t want to hide. I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t blaming myself. This is different. The perfectionist in me would have fallen apart 2 years ago. It was incredible to observe myself and the difference my self compassion practice has made in my life, and I felt so grateful for that change! What a better way to feel.

My sense of worthiness remained intact; I told all of my friends who knew about it what happened. People were shocked, horrified, several friends said they had tears in their eyes imaging how they’d feel if that happened to them. They felt humiliated and ashamed for me! But I told them they didn’t need to worry about it, because I was okay. And late that evening I received a very kind and non-shaming e-mail from Dan Siegel’s assistant saying that they were sorry to hear about the technology failure and he was willing to re-record. I was so grateful, and I can’t wait for you to hear our interview in Episode 34, which will air next week.  I even mentioned to Dan Siegel how I felt about it and how mindfulness helped when we re-recorded. I would never have been able to say that to him if I were operating from a place of shame – I would have hoped he’d forgotten and be afraid to mention it. It’d be the elephant in the room. You’ll hear how he reacted in Episode 34.

So that’s my story. I can’t recommend self compassion practice enough. It has truly changed my life, and this experience proved that to me. Please check out Episode 34 and if you like Therapy Chat, visit iTunes to leave a rating and review, download episodes and subscribe so you can hear the latest episodes as soon as they’re released. Thanks for listening!

You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now!). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter. You can also sign up for information on my Daring Way™ offerings and other groups and workshops; sign up to receive the latest episodes of Therapy Chat when they're released; sign up to receive my latest blog posts when they are posted, and follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest, Instagram & Google+If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 25: What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 25 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 25 OF THERAPY CHAT!

Welcome! My guest for Episode 25 of Therapy Chat is Dr. Jonice Webb, a clinical psychologist and blogger for Psych Central. She’s the author of the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. We’ll delve into this topic and its impact in our society today. Listen to Episode 25 by clicking here or on the image at right.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • The definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect: a parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs
  • This is different from physical neglect and abuse.
  • In her private practice, Dr. Webb kept seeing clients with the same patterns.
  • She has identified 12 different types of parenting styles that lead to Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  • Children who experience may grow into parents with the same communication patternsif CEN isn't identified and addressed.
  • Dr. Webb has developed a questionnaire, designed for adults, to determine if you’ve been affected by this CEN.
  • Her book gives case examples of parent-child dynamics leading to CEN.
  • She explains how to overcome CEN. 
  • Dr. Webb wants to put together CEU trainings for therapists who want to work with this specialty, but first, she wants to complete a research project to compile results.
  • She has a special offer for therapists working with clients who struggle due to Childhood Emotional Neglect. Listen in to hear it!
  • Contact Dr. Webb at www.emotionalneglect.com or email her at jwebbphd@rcn.com. Sign up for her newsletter on her website and check out her blog at Psych Central!

It was great hearing Dr. Webb share her knowledge about Childhood Emotional Neglect! If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now in some areas). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, Instagram & Google+. If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Is Shame Stopping You From Apologizing?

Say You're Sorry: Don't Let Shame Stop You!

A guest post from Ruth Spalding, LMSW

Recently I've talked about the pain we can experience when an important relationship falls apart (read and listen here) and considered whether or not forgiveness is necessary (read and listen here). Today I invited my colleague, Ruth Spalding, LMSW, who practices in Traverse City, Michigan to explain the role of shame in our reluctance to apologize when we do something that is out of alignment with our values. 

I've been wanting to write this post ever since reading Amy Poehler's Yes Please memoir. In it, she talks about how she really screwed up and waited a very long time to apologize. She goes into detail about what makes a good apology and for the most part I agree with her. So here are the steps to apologizing like you mean it.  

Mean It

Shame paralyzes motivates defensiveness

A lot of times when we screw up we're mad at ourselves but don't want to be. So we direct that anger at other things, maybe what we see as our excuse for our mistake. Maybe we squash it down. Either way, we usually have to really look at ourselves and what we've done. And we have to accept it so that we can get in touch with our healthy regret instead of toxic shame. Healthy regret motivates us to apologize. Shame paralyzes us and motivates us to act defensively. 

Say You're Sorry

Sounds simple, right? “I'm sorry.” That's a complete sentence. You should have a sentence like that when you apologize. If you're more of a formal person you can say “I apologize” or “I deeply regret...” If you have neglected step 1 then step 2 will be pointless because it will sound insincere. You actually don't have to say much. As long as you mean what you say it will have a powerful impact. 

Identify the Problem

Name what you did that you regret. Do not say you're sorry about someone's feelings. Their feelings are valid and do not require an apology. The hurtful actions are what require the apology. If you “don't know” what you did wrong you need to go back to step one. It's actually okay to be confused about this, we often make mistakes in a haze of strong emotions and then have difficulty rationally sorting through it. We can be really good at denial and hiding our shame and this might be preventing you from getting in touch with feeling regret for what you've done. The good news is that with some introspection you can figure out what you did wrong, but it might take some time and painful honesty.  

Do not justify, excuse, rationalize or minimize what you did. No explanation is going to reduce the other person's pain as much as a genuine apology. Shame makes us not want to exist. Regret makes us want to stop doing bad things.

Shame vs regret

Make Amends

If it's applicable, try to make up for what you've done. Did you destroy someone's furniture while partying too hard? Offer to pay to have it fixed. Of course, there are situation in which it's hard to “make it up” since the damage done isn't easily repaired. You can always say you'll make it up anyway you can but please refer to step one before you do. If you've followed all the previous steps, when you're called to make amends, you'll do so genuinely.  

Don't Ask For Forgiveness

I've seen other folks recommend this when apologizing. I don't because the apology is not about you. It's really about repairing the rupture you caused. Focusing on how you feel, what you need, is not a healthy frame for an apology. If they want to forgive you, they can, but don't ask them for that or pressure them in anyway. If they decide to forgive you, they will have given you a great gift that will probably help you feel better about the situation, but such a gift must be freely given.

Never Do It Again

For some offenses, this is easier said than done. But you should really try to stop the problematic behavior that caused issues in the first place. This might require a better understanding of your own patterns of behavior and internal dynamics that led to the problem, or it might be very straightforward. 

If you're struggling with repeating hurtful behavior, a therapist can help you move away from toxic shame toward a healthier mindset. Apologizing when you've screwed up is the biggest credibility boost you can ever get. Owning your mistakes is so highly respected because most people understand how difficult it is to do. Grappling with your defenses so you can apologize and really mean it is tough. That kind of self-awareness shows through to all that you do. Saying you're sorry is a big opportunity to show commitment to integrity, love, honesty and compassion.

I'm Ruth Spalding, a therapist, trauma guru, and LGBTQ advocate. I love to help burnt out healers find their healthy spark again and guide black sheep to their own awesome herd so they're no longer left out. My private practice, Live Well Counseling LLC, is based in Traverse City, Michigan. If you want to read more blog entries by me or learn more about what I do visit my website. 

Thanks, Ruth, for your guest post! Readers, do you agree with Ruth's suggestions for a good apology? Please share your comments and ideas below!

And as always, for more of what I'm doing, you can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

And to listen to The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast you can click here!  You can also listen on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play. Please download, subscribe and consider leaving a review on iTunes if you like it! 


The Parent Coach Who Doesn't Have It All Figured Out

My Podcast Interview with Washington Post Parenting Expert Meghan Leahy

Meghan Leahy is a parenting expert who writes a weekly column for the Washington Post. She's a parent coach helping parents who are overwhelmed with their children's behavior. Yet she is the first to admit that she gets overwhelmed with her children's behavior too. Does this seem counterintuitive? Not if you talk to Meghan. 

Meghan states that her job is not to tell parents what to do. Her job is to teach parents what their children need She teaches that the problematic behavior is the child's developmentally appropriate way of telling the parent what he or she needs.

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE 20 OF THE BALTIMORE ANNAPOLIS PSYCHOTHERAPY PODCAST!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE 20 OF THE BALTIMORE ANNAPOLIS PSYCHOTHERAPY PODCAST!

Listen in to this fascinating interview in which Meghan shares why she doesn't tell parents what to do, why self care is important - hint: it's NOT so we can take better care of our kids! - and tells us about the theory informing her work. 

Find out more about working with Meghan by visiting her website

And if you like the podcast, please visit iTunes and download episodes, subscribe and leave a rating and review.

You can also find the podcast on Stitcher, Google Play and on my website at www.laurareaganlcswc.com/podcast.

I'd love to hear your comments on this episode! Comment below!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 


The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma

The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma - A Public Health Issue Which Is Preventable

On Episode 19 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I talked about a subject which is extremely important to me. It is an issue I talk about every day in my psychotherapy practice, as I specialize in helping people who have experienced childhood trauma. Many of us have experienced traumatic events in childhood and think "that was a long time ago, I should be over it by now," or "it happened before I was old enough to remember so it can't be affecting me so many years later." But whether or not we consciously remember traumatic events, they can still affect us. 

 

 

Click here to listen to this discussion in podcast form on Therapy Chat (formerly known as the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast)!

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

And these effects are not only emotional - although the truth is that childhood trauma can have long-lasting emotional effects, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yes, you read that correctly - PTSD, which we usually associate with veterans who have experienced combat, can be caused by experiencing childhood trauma too. 

In additional to the emotional effects of childhood trauma, a large study has found a connection between childhood trauma and physical ailments as well. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (also known as ACES), which was conducted beginning in 1987, found that people who had experienced childhood trauma had higher rates of suicide, mental health problems, addiction, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, lung disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses contributing to shortened lifespan than people who had not experienced childhood trauma.

The study also illuminated the fact that childhood trauma is much more common than most people realize. Sixty-four percent of adults have at least one traumatic event in their childhood history, according to the study. 

I'm passionate about intervening as early as possible to help people who have experienced traumatic events in childhood, which is why I decided early on to work with children as well as adults. It is never too late to work on healing childhood trauma, but the earlier the better. 

If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in healing trauma click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

To listen to Therapy Chat, where I discuss trauma as well as mindfulness, psychotherapy, worthiness, perfectionism, self compassion and many related subjects, click here! Please consider subscribing on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or Google Play if you like it!

Sources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from:http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

 

What is Perfectionism & Why Should I Care?

Perfectionism - What is it? Why should I Care?

We all know them. People who have it all. They drive expensive cars , live in large, beautiful houses in the best communities and have lucrative, prestigious jobs.

They volunteer in the community, drive the carpool, bring just the right dish to the neighborhood gathering and casually deliver a hand-made hostess gift which strikes just the right note - and look gorgeous doing it. They make tons of money, their houses are decorated just so and beautifully landscaped. They're attractive, smart, fun, and everyone envies their perfect marriages. Their kids are cute, smart, athletically gifted and well-behaved, with excellent grades and participation in many extra-curriculars (they excel in all of them). They're the people everyone wants to be around. Many of us wish for such perfect lives.  So who are these amazing specimens of humanity, these superachieving individuals who walk among us? 

Well, around here we just call them our neighbors, colleagues and friends. I live in a community in which it seems that everyone is super-human. Everyone is outstanding, the best of the best. High schoolers with 4.5 GPAs (on a scale of 0-4.0) worry that they won't be accepted to the colleges of their choice.  We must be thin, beautiful, smart, athletic and likable. There is so much focus on being the best that many people struggle with anxiety and depression, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.  If you're a highly intelligent person who also happens to be a gifted athlete you should stand out - but there are so many highly intelligent gifted athletes here that it creates this intense push to rise to the top of a group of people who are the cream of the crop.  And for those who have any learning issues, or those who are not athletic or even - gasp! - don't like sports, it can feel like there's something wrong with you.  

In fact, oddly, even those who are the cream of the cream of the crop seem to feel something is missing. They always try their best but it still doesn't seem good enough.  Does our community put too much pressure on all of us to achieve? Are we the ones putting pressure on ourselves? When you have it all and you still feel like it's not enough, you may be a perfectionist. In fact, those of us who have loving families and a safe place to live already have everything that matters, so why are we constantly striving and striving for more, more, more?  Not necessarily striving for material things, but working so hard, always doing, never pausing to pat ourselves on the back and appreciate just how great our lives really are? 

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE ON BRENE BROWN'S GUIDEPOSTS FOR WHOLEHEARTED LIVING!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE ON BRENE BROWN'S GUIDEPOSTS FOR WHOLEHEARTED LIVING!

If any of this resonates with you, listen to Episode 7 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. In it, I talk about Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection. I recommend this book to so many of my clients. It helped me understand how perfectionism was holding me back in my own life, and what can be done about it. 

One of the problems with perfectionism is that is prevents us from truly enjoying life. Instead of living in the present moment, appreciating being alive, we are looking outside of ourselves, comparing ourselves to our friends and neighbors and imagining that their lives are so much better than ours. While we are striving to compete and be the best, we are presenting an image to the outside world which isn't authentic because we don't want anyone to know how small we feel. And it gets in the way of having deep, meaningful relationships with others because there is so much focus on pretending to be fine.  

For more on this subject, check out my upcoming workshops, learn more about The Daring Way™,  or contact me about working together in individual therapy, clinical supervision and consultation or schedule a burnout prevention consultAnd if you'd like to hear more from me you can sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me  on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

What did you think of this Podcast Episode 7? I'd love to hear your comments! You can also rate and review the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. If you like it, please consider subscribing! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

 

Connecting With Your Own Needs: Vulnerability in Action

Connecting With Your Own Needs: Vulnerability in Action An Interview with Dr. Agnes Wainman, the Self Care Activist

Recently I was fortunate that Dr. Agnes Wainman of London Psychological Services in Ontario, Canada - also known as The Self Care Activist - allowed me to interview her about self care for The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. 

Agnes and I had an interesting (and funny, in my opinion) interview in which we discussed society's unreasonable, unrealistic and unattainable expectations of women which encourage us to neglect our own needs and see self care as indulgent. We talked about how social media can make our relationships with our children, our partners, our friends and ourselves more difficult than they need to be. Agnes shared her own journey from "burned out to blissed out" as a mother of newborn twins and doctoral student and the lessons she learned about vulnerability and authentic connection. She shocked me by telling me what Canada does to support new mothers! 

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #16 WITH DR. AGNES WAINMAN

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #16 WITH DR. AGNES WAINMAN

Click on the image to listen to Episode 16 of the podcast and if you'd like to hear more of what Agnes has to say, check out her website: www.londonps.ca or visit her YouTube channel where she shares tips and tricks to incorporate self care into your life.  

What did you think of this episode? I'd love to hear your comments! You can also rate and review the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. And if you'd like to hear more from me you can sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me  on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

Update: As of March 4, 2016, the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast has a new name: Therapy Chat! It's still found in the same locations online - my website, as well as iTunes, Stitcher and (soon) Google Play.  So when you listen to the podcast episode attached to this article, don't be confused! 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

There have been a lot of horrible things in the news lately. There was another mass shooting just yesterday. Terrible things are always happening: violence, hatred, fear, oppression...they all seem to go together, don't they? Is this inevitable?

These are scary times.

Scary things are going on. We're more aware than ever before of our shared humanity. Has it gotten worse or was it always like this? Globalization is bringing our world together. Our young people are growing up learning that people all over the world share the same feelings. We all want to be safe and free. 

I remember when I was a child of about 9 reading a short news article in our local paper. It said that a large number of people - maybe 1000, or 10,000 or even 100,000 - had died when a landslide happened in East Asia. I wondered at this story, feeling sad and scared. I was reassured by an adult who told me that it was nature's way of correcting the overpopulation in that country. Those humans who died were individuals with their own stories, their own hopes and dreams, just like me. Their lives mattered. But in that time, we were so detached from a reality of life different from our own here in the U.S. that it could seem as if people in faraway places we never saw were not actually humans like ourselves. Those people who lost their lives were not "others." That concept creates an artificial distance between us. Distancing ourselves from others' pain can help us feel safer, but it also creates disconnection.

Those people who died that day, and everyone who has died before and since, regardless of geographic location, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, skin color, hair color, eye color, language or any other characteristic wanted safety, belonging, connection and control over their own lives just like you and I. 

Now, thanks to global 24-hour news and the internet, we can see the devastation and pain when an earthquake or tsunami destroys a town, or when flooding or tornadoes hit and people lose shelter and suffer injury or death. We see the humanity of those who are affected. We witness their pain and loss, and we can feel empathy for them and gratitude that we were not directly impacted. But it can feel like too much.

Sometimes it feels like too much.

It's too painful. Watching and reading news of terrorist attacks around the world is so painful. We may want and need to turn away because the pain is too much for us to bear. We begin to fear that we may be at risk of experiencing this same pain and loss. What if terrorists attack here? How will we be safe? How can we keep our loved ones safe?

Please know, if you have trauma, such stories can trigger trauma symptoms which can sneak up on you. Not sure if you might have trauma? Read this post.

I talk about this often with my clients.  Suddenly you have a general sense of unease which becomes a feeling of being unsafe. Next thing you know you've switched into autopilot, survival mode. When you're in this mode you're usually not consciously aware of it. So check in with yourself: Am I absentmindedly checking Facebook? Obsessively checking e-mail? Wanting to micromanage my kids or my spouse? Suddenly forgetting about self care? Feeling stuck, immobilized? Click here for a short body scan mindfulness exercise to help you get centered and grounded in your body. 

I'm scared! What can I do?

So why do these bad things happen? The world's problems are so complex. Are the natural disasters caused by climate change? Well, if so, what can be done about that? Some are saying our planet isn't going to survive unless something changes. It's a terrifying thought! What can be done to protect the Earth for our children's children? It can feel hopeless. I see the feeling of powerlessness to effect change as the result of our overwhelming anxiety and fear. In other words, although it may feel like a hopeless situation and you may feel powerless to make a difference, that is not reality. You can take action if you want to change the way the world is.  As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has!"  That's one of my very favorite quotes. 

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

Using the example of climate change, if you feel worried about it, ask yourself what one small change you can make that will have a ripple effect. Can you teach your children not to litter? Can you make a change in what you consume? Can you donate old clothing instead of throwing it out? Post a Facebook status that raises awareness of the problem? Make a donation to an organization that is working to address the problem? Volunteer to pick up litter on a road in your town one Saturday? 

Many of us are feeling fear and a sense of helplessness from the violence we see and hear about. Most recently the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris this month have created fear that we won't be able to stay safe. With so much anger, hatred, violence and talk of vengeance, are these problems ever going to get better? And will we be safe? 

  Image copyright Laura   Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

I'll quote Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Our discussion about terrorism and violence in general tends to be overly simplistic. We break it down into "good guys" and "bad guys." There are no good guys and bad guys! There is just us! We can do good things and we can do bad things. 

We look at people who do bad things with disgust and wonder how they can be so cruel. Are they just bad people? Maybe they were born bad. How can they hurt others and seemingly not care? How can they be so heartless? It would seem that people who commit acts of terrorism actually take pleasure in hurting others, torturing them and seeing them suffer. This is incomprehensible to most of us.

Yet some voices call loudly for vengeance, saying the only way to solve the problem of terrorism, to keep us - the good guys - safe, is to blow 'em up! Nuke 'em off the face of the earth! Or capture them and torture them until they admit who their leaders are so we can kill them! Harsh, yes, but they deserve it for what they've done to the good guys! Bad guys deserve what they get! We hear a lot of bloodthirsty cries for justice - swift and deadly. I'll be clear that these are not my views. I feel that anyone who hurts someone else should be held accountable with a justice process that is fairly and evenly administered. However, violence begets violence. If we react with vengeance instead of understanding the cause of the behavior and addressing that, we do not resolve the problem. 

Often people who use violence and vengeance to express their pain use their interpretation of religious directives to justify hateful and destructive behavior toward various groups based on ethnicity or culture. We, the good guys, know this is wrong. But Xenophobia (defined as fear of what is strange or different) tends to be our knee-jerk reaction. How is that any different from the attitudes driving terrorists? 

Then what's the answer? Or is it hopeless?

The opposite of this hatred and fear is empathy and compassion. What if we believe that the people who commit acts of terrorism and violence are human beings like ourselves who feel justified in their actions? What if they think their behavior is justified because of their own desire for vengeance related to some hurt and pain they feel? What if we could look at the conditions that create whole groups of people who fear and hate other groups of people and address the underlying causes? I know that sounds complicated but it really isn't as hard as it seems. 

Sociologists and other human behavior researchers have been studying the causes and solutions to these issues for years. What if we looked at the causes of violence, oppression, racism, misogyny and actually addressed the underlying reasons for those attitudes and behaviors? What if we looked at each other as fellow humans, regardless of what makes us different from one another? Could we live more peacefully, feeling safer and having more freedom and ease if we were able to consider that everyone else is doing their best in a given moment? I'm no better than you and you're no better than me. What if we are all equally worthy of love, acceptance and approval? Because, whether or not we believe it, it's actually true. As humans, no one is better, and no one is less than another. How might things be if we lived this way?

Wanting everything to be okay

As for feeling that we need to have some reassurance that we will stay safe and that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love, we don't get that. There is none. Bad things will happen. We will hurt. And we will get through them and we can be okay. 

I used to believe that a good life is one in which I would always be happy, or at least content, and nothing bad would happen to me. I still want to believe that I can get through life feeling safe from pain and most importantly, that I won't lose the people I love. I don't know if any of you have felt this way. I know I'm not alone in the feeling. But I don't feel this way because it's how life is, or how it's supposed to be.

I feel this particularly deeply because of the fact that in my early years I did experience loss of people who were most important to me. It took a long time for me to process how these losses affected me. So the worry about losing the most important people in my life comes from that early experience. Now that I know that and now that I've processed the pain of that loss, I can live in the reality that nothing is certain. No matter what I do, there is really no way to insulate myself from the possibility that I might lose the people I love. 

In some small ways, my children growing up can be an experience of loss. It's a process of losing the close connection we've had their entire lives. It is tempting to try to hold on to them in a way that prevents them from becoming independent adults, to serve my own desire to feel connected and loved. But that's actually not healthy for them or for me. Being conscious of that feeling of wanting to keep them close to fulfill my own needs keeps me in check, and I set boundaries on my role in their lives to create a healthy relationship. Setting boundaries (defined as what's okay and what's not okay with me) isn't just a one time thing. As we all grow, the boundaries are re-drawn. The relationship isn't static, so the boundaries must change too. 

So how do we live with the reality that we can't possibly prevent every bad thing from happening, no matter what we do? How do we go through life and be okay, even when something bad can happen that might take us by surprise? Well, one way to do it is to live your life worrying about every possible risk and taking steps to avoid it. I wouldn't recommend this strategy since it could eventually make you feel afraid to leave the house with no one wanting to be around you because you worry so much you make everyone else nervous. 

 Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Another option is to pretend everything is fine even though inside you're dreading the moment when everything falls apart. This strategy often leads to feeling disconnected from yourself because you get so good at ignoring that constant worry that you don't really know how you feel anymore. People who do this will sometimes say, "I don't know who I am anymore. What do I like? I have no idea." Those of us who do this frequently find ourselves taking temporary comfort in numbing out through watching TV, becoming absorbed in social media, binge watching DVDs, compulsively eating, shopping, using sex, gambling or substance abuse to escape. But does it make you feel safe? Not really. There will be loss. You will suffer at points. It's the human experience.

Getting grounded 

So what does help? How can we go through life trying to be okay if we can't be 100% sure that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love? For me, two things have helped. First, healing from the traumatic experiences of my life by working for much of my adult life (starting at age 29) to process my trauma from those early losses I mentioned and other painful experiences has helped me to feel much safer in the world. The second part of my healing, and I share this in hopes that it will help you too, is implementing a self care practice.

Being grounded means being in the present moment, in your body, here and now. From what I've experienced personally and witnessed in others, any regular practice which makes you feel grounded is key to being present in your body, mindfully aware. I can say unequivocally that when I feel grounded and centered in my body I feel safe and I'm not worried about anything happening to me or the people I love.  I wrote a blog post about getting grounded when trauma symptoms are triggered. It, and the graphic above, explain basic grounding techniques. Click here to read the post.

Here and now. This moment is literally all we have. We truly cannot know what's going to happen next, in any area of our lives. Having control is only an illusion. I saw a beautiful quote by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe which read, "I say to the moment: 'stay now! You are so beautiful!'" But do we really stop and appreciate the moments of happiness we experience? I've found myself in the middle of a joyful moment worrying when it's going to end rather than just being. Have you ever done that?

Finding gratitude

So how can you feel okay, knowing there is no guarantee of what will happen next? Well, let me ask you - are you safe right now? Can you be okay in this moment? Check in with yourself. What are you feeling? What are the emotions? The thoughts? What body sensations do you notice? What do you hear? How is your breathing? Can you experience gratitude for this moment that you're allowing yourself right now, just to feel how you are? Can you be okay right now, even if everything is not okay? Right now you're safe. In this moment, there is nothing you have to do or be other than just being you. 

Right now, as you are, without changing anything about yourself, you are enough. See if you can take a deep breath and just let that wash over you. You don't have to do anything else right now besides just be. This is the only moment. There is nothing to think about that happened before, and nothing to think about doing next. There is this moment, right now. Just breathe into it. And as you are doing this, just being, ask yourself if there is anything you can feel gratitude for right now. Sometimes when we feel really good it can be a feeling of gratitude for how well things are going. And if there are some things which aren't going so well, or things you're worried about, see if you can find anything that you can feel gratitude for. 

In any moment, as worried and stuck as I might feel, if I try I can always find something to experience gratitude for. When I feel critical of my body or discouraged with myself for getting out of my regular workout routine, I can experience a feeling of gratitude that it's not too late, that my body is strong and I don't have any health problems at the moment to prevent me from being able to go ahead and do something active like stretch, take my dog for a walk, do yoga or go to the gym. 

Sometimes it's simply helpful to notice that right now, in this moment, I and the people I love are all okay. No one is hurt or sick and we all love each other. That can help me stay grounded and present instead of worrying what if something bad happens?  Another practice I find helpful is listening to guided meditations. Click here for a guided meditation I recorded to help with grounding, gratitude and creating a sense of safety for yourself and the world. 

Thanks for reading my longer-than-usual post.  I hope you found it useful in these scary times. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you.

If you’d like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

3 Reasons You Might Not Be Feeling It During the Holidays

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" But not for everyone.

 

It's that time of year again, late November. Time for holiday cheer in all of its forms. It starts with everything pumpkin spice followed by turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, lights, wreaths, peppermint mocha, evergreen trees and family gatherings. At the tail end of the season you have  New Year's parties and resolutions for the year ahead.

Holiday cheer

For some of us, this is a time of year to look forward to with excitement and joy. We envision happy reunions with loved ones who live nearby and those who don't visit as often. Everyone is laughing, enjoying time together, feeling gratitude, contentment and peace. There are parties to attend, heartfelt gifts to give and receive, special traditions and family celebrations which have been repeated year after year. 

Not everyone is feeling the love, though. For many of us, the holidays are quite the opposite. My clients often share that the holidays are the most difficult time of year. Why? I will give you three good reasons below. In my next two posts I will talk about ways to survive, and even thrive during what can be a tough time for so many of us. Read on below to find out why my clients say that the holidays can be the most stressful times of the year, rather than the most joyful. If you've ever felt the holidays are more challenging than fun, tune in to the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast to hear strategies for making this time of year more bearable! You can listen to the podcast episode on this topic by clicking on the image below. 

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE ON THE PODCAST 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE ON THE PODCAST 


1. You want to feel excited about the holidays, but you can't be with the people you love. 

Holidays can feel lonely
  • You may have lost someone you love in the past year. The first everything without them is hard, but the holidays seem to hit particularly hard. It might feel like you are just going through the motions. Even if their loss is not new, you're reminded of the pain of missing them every holiday.
  • Maybe this is your first Thanksgiving or [insert the winter holiday you celebrate] since an important long term relationship ended. Being suddenly single at the family gathering can feel like you have all eyes on you as you try to act normal and hope no one will ask about why you and your ex aren't together anymore.
  • Perhaps you can't be with your family, and it just doesn't feel right celebrating the holidays away from the people you love. Whether you're a deployed military member or the family left back home, it's hard to be away from the people you love at the holidays. Sometimes geographical distance just makes it too hard to visit at the time of the year which is, let's face it, the most expensive and stressful time for air travel. You may have limited time off from work and spending those precious days hustling through airports or driving on congested roadways for a short visit, only to turn around and do it again to get back home, may be less than appealing.
  • Maybe you're divorced and dreading dividing holiday time with the kids between you and your ex-spouse. 
  • You might be local, but you're staffing the hospital, fire or police station, mobile crisis team or other 24/7 job so your co-workers can be home with their families. While you love your job, it does put a damper on holiday celebrations. Don't forget to take care of yourself - helpers need help too! 

 

 

2.  Trying to create the "perfect" holiday is stressing you out! 

  • Consumerism is at an all time high during the holidays. We all know that stores have started putting up Christmas displays sometimes even before Halloween. Black Friday, the annual shopping day after Thanksgiving that supposedly offers the best sales has creeped into Thanksgiving, and there have been a lot of complaints about intruding on this annual holiday and forcing retail store employees to miss their families' celebrations.
  • You may feel pressure to find the "perfect" gift for everyone on your list. You worry about finding the right combination of thoughtful and affordable for each person and your list is growing year after year! 
  • You feel the "proper" way to celebrate the holidays is to decorate your house just so. This means putting up lights outside, decorating with wreaths, electric candles in the windows, and setting just the right festive tone. It has to look better than everyone else's house, and can't be the same as what you did last year. This is expensive, time consuming and can be stressful for you and anyone who is helping you with all of this setup. 
  • The holidays can put a huge strain on finances! When you add up the costs of greeting cards, postage, home decorations, holiday meals for large numbers of people, buying the right outfit for each holiday party you attend, alcohol and travel, you have quite a large amount above your usual monthly budget. And for many of us, there is no extra pay in the months of November and December to cover these expenses. 
  • You're putting pressure on yourself to create perfect holiday memories. Buying children expensive gifts can be a way that parents try to ensure their kids' happiness. If your financial situation is strained you may find yourself comparing the number of gifts you're giving your children for Christmas or Hanukkah with what other families are doing and feeling you come up short. This can cause a lot of shame at this time of year.  If you put too much pressure on yourself to create a "perfect" family, click here! 

3.  You can't stand getting together with your family of origin.

 Feeling alone? Left out in the cold?

Feeling alone? Left out in the cold?

  • If you had a less-than-happy childhood, those feelings frequently come to a head at this time of year. When gathering with extended family, unresolved and unspoken issues can be the elephant in the room. No one is willing to talk about it, but everyone knows it's there - Tommy and Joey don't get along, and Mom and Dad keep trying to get them to spend time together. Or Uncle Fred is creepy and everyone feels uncomfortable around him, but no one feels like they can speak up. There are secret alliances and certain people being kept in the dark to avoid upsetting anyone. The kids, who can usually sense what's really going on, may act out, feeling the stress and tension that is palpable while the adults seem oblivious.
  • Some family members may think of family gatherings as a time to pretend to be one big happy family, while others are just waiting for the chance to air their grievances. Or maybe everyone is pretending to be happy through clenched teeth, but once the alcohol starts flowing people are saying what they really think. Longstanding jealousy and resentment between siblings tends to show up in these situations. Part of us is hoping to have that perfect holiday that we think everyone else enjoys, while another part of us is dreading seeing these people again.  

We get the message that we are supposed to love the holiday season, but for those who feel disappointment and grief over what's missing, it can be overwhelming. If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in getting through the holidays click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

I'll write more about getting through the holidays soon and I'm planning to host some workshops on self care during this festive and stressful time of year. Get in touch with me if you'd like more info on that!

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

And to listen to The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast you can click here!  Please consider leaving a review on iTunes if you like it!

Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C




Mourning the Loss of An Important Relationship

Is there someone in your life with whom you used to be close, but you are no longer on speaking terms? Or maybe you still talk, but rather than the close connection you used to have, things feel strained between you. There is so much unsaid that the tension is palpable. The holidays are coming, and challenging family relationships often come to a head at this time of year. 

In my psychotherapy practice I work with adults who feel worthless, despite success and high achievement in their professional lives. They have everything anyone could want - great jobs, wonderful spouses, children who seem to have it all together...they are the envy of their friends and neighbors.  For many of these clients pain from childhood hurts continues to be a barrier to having close relationships with their families of origin, even into their 40's and 50's. 

I'm not talking about being upset because your big sister wouldn't let you ride her bike, but deeper hurts, like childhood abuse. I'm talking about feeling as a child that your needs weren't being metFeeling like you never mattered, and you may still question whether you are lovable because of it. Deep, painful emotions. Despite trying to "just get over it" and "put the past behind you" as people often advise, these feelings aren't getting better.

Read on below!

In this episode of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I talk about the issue of being estranged from someone who used to be so important in your life, whether it is a parent, sibling or friend. Most people who experience the loss of those important relationships feel hurt by the estrangement, even though they may try to avoid thinking about it. In the podcast I talk about some of these feelings and offer some journal prompts to help get to the bottom of what is really felt inside.

Our society tells us forgiveness is key to feeling better in these situations. However, I think sometimes we rush to claim that we have forgiven someone for hurting us without acknowledging to ourselves how hurt we really feel. It's the "right thing to do." But I question whether true forgiveness is possible without first healing the hurt. My next podcast episode will discuss forgiveness in more detail. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your feedback. Have you had this type of rupture in one of your important relationships? Were you able to resolve it? 

Therapy can help if you are struggling to heal from the hurt of a broken relationship with important people. If you're in Maryland, get in touch with me via e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com, by phone at (443) 510-1048 or send me a message through my website.    

Want to know more? Find me on FacebookTwitterPinterest andGoogle +You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here.  Check out my website,www.laurareaganlcswc.com for information on upcoming workshopsgroups and retreats. I'd love to talk about how we can work together!  

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Click on the image above to listen to the podcast episode. 


For more episodes, click on the image above. If you like what you hear, please consider subscribing and leaving an honest review on iTunes! 

 

 Laura Reagan, LCSW-C 

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C 

When You Can't Let Go Of Your Adult Child

Growing Up Is Hard To Do: When You Can't Let Go Of Your College-Aged Child

To Listen to Part 1 on the podcast click here.

Click here to read Part 1 on the blog. 

Letting Go, Part 2 - When You Can't Let Go 

You did it! You successfully launched your adult child. He or she was admitted to the college of his or her dreams and is on the way to a great four years of making lifelong friends, expanding horizons and learning everything he or she will need to know to start a great career or go to grad school. After dropping your child at college, it's your turn to sit back and relax knowing your work is done and your kid, who is now growing up, is ready to take it from here. Time for getting back to being you, instead of feeling like your only purpose in life is raising children. 

There's just one problem. While your child said goodbye and seemingly hasn't looked back, you cried the whole way home and you haven't slept for days. You find yourself having panic attacks when you think about your child living without you there to help. Your child seems to feel ready for this transition, but you? Not so much.

Or maybe that's not you. Maybe you're not crying yourself to sleep in your child's bed every night, but you're dealing with the other extreme. You don't feel much of anything. You've lost your appetite and you feel nauseous most of the time. You have unexplained headaches, feel tired all day long but can't sleep at night, and you're obsessed with texting and calling your child to find out how he or she is doing.  You and your spouse don't seem to have much to talk about, and you when you do try to talk to one another, it frequently ends in an argument. You're not interested in socializing with friends or doing anything, really, except finding out what is really going on with your college-aged kid. Like, obsessing about it. Like, you can't get anything done at work because you're wondering how your child is and what he or she is doing at college.  Or you are home with a long to-do list but you find yourself on Facebook or watching TV all day and ending the day feeling no more accomplished than when you started. You're drinking more alcohol than usual, your exercise routine is long forgotten, and you feel like you don't know who you are anymore

Losing Your Identity As An Individual

When your child is away at college

When raising children has been our focus for eighteen years or more, parents can feel as if we have lost our identity as individuals once the children leave the nest. In fact, we may not even know who we are anymore. Throwing all of your emotional and mental resources into being a wonderful parent to your child feels fine until the child begins the normal developmental process of beginning to individuate - separating from childhood and moving toward independent adulthood - and he or she needs you less and less. That means you have done your job well! But it can be very painful for the parent to let go. It might feel like - if my child doesn't need me the same way anymore, what is my purpose? These existential questions might seem cliché but when you're experiencing this, it can bring about a very real sense of aimlessness, hopelessness and despair. 

You don't have to feel this way. 

In part 3 of this series on Letting Go I will talk about issues from our past which can interfere with a "clean break" when our kids leave the nest. For now, know that you don't have to settle for feeling like this. Talk to a trusted friend, especially if you know someone else whose child is away at college. Talking to parents who have been through it can be helpful. If you tend to compare yourself to your friends, and they never let down the facade that everything is perfect, you might want to talk to an objective outsider. A therapist can help you process and move through these feelings.

Here's a hint. If it feels this way now, you will probably have a hard time as your child moves through each milestone of his or her adult life, and it will be easier for your child and for you - short term and long term -  if you address what you're feeling. The goal is to raise a well-adjusted adult who is able to have happy, secure relationships. If you want this for your child, it's important to let go. And if letting go is too hard, you have some feelings which deserve your attention. Attending to our own needs is easier said than done when we've spent the past 18 or more years putting our own needs last. But it's not too late to focus on what you want and need.

Working With Me 

There are several ways you can work with me if you're having trouble letting go. We can do individual psychotherapy if you can come to my office in the Baltimore area. You can attend one of my in person workshops or retreats. I can also offer coaching to help you develop a self care plan. You'll learn techniques to take care of your emotional and physical wellbeing and these coaching consultations are available either in personal or virtually. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com if you'd like to discuss getting started. 

If you need psychotherapy outside of Maryland, I urge you to find someone you connect with and trust to help you with these feelings. It's better for you and for your child if you can let go and allow him or her to become an adult. You will be there if he or she needs you, but you will be allowing him or her to live and learn, just like  you did.  Your child will be okay, and you can be too.

I'm also on social media on FacebookTwitterPinterest,  and Google +You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here. 

Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Your Relationship Is Ending - Do You Know Your Rights?

Your Relationship Is Ending - Do You Know Your Rights?

My Interview With Evan Koslow, Esquire, Maryland Family Law Attorney

 

Earlier this year I was lucky to score an interview with my colleague, Evan Koslow of Koslow Law Firm in Annapolis, Maryland.  Evan is one of those people who is so kind and caring that he makes people feel more comfortable while they are involved in stressful life transitions, such as being involved with the courts for separation, divorce and custody.  I'm honored that he allowed me to interview him for the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast.

Our conversation was focused on the ways a family law attorney can help someone know their rights when ending a relationship, whether marriage or the end of a relationship between two people who have children together.  Evan is both an attorney and a mediator, so he is able to help people with legal representation or mediation (but not both). He explains this in more detail in the podcast interview, which you can hear by clicking on the image below.

 Click to listen to my interview with Family Law Attorney Evan Koslow on the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast!

Click to listen to my interview with Family Law Attorney Evan Koslow on the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast!

In our interview Evan explains some considerations which are specific to same-sex relationships. Those of you who live outside of our state may not know that Maryland voters approved same-sex marriage in 2012, before the Supreme Court's decision this year which made it legal throughout the U.S.  This interview was recorded before that historic decision.

One of the things I appreciate about Evan is that he understands how painful legal action to end relationships can be for everyone involved. Children can be particularly affected. I know from my former job as a paralegal and in my experience as a psychotherapist that emotions run high when families are going through divorce or custody proceedings. Evan's perspective is that it is best for all involved to amicably resolve these cases if it is possible to do so. Of course, he will go to court and advocate for his client's rights when needed, but he knows how much more stressful that can be for all parties.

If you'd like to get in touch with Evan to talk about your Maryland family law case, his website is: www.koslowlawfirm.com. You will find all of his contact information there including his phone number, e-mail and where to find him on social media.

If you're dealing with the pain of a relationship ending, therapy can be helpful. I can help you work through your feelings in this painful time.  Feel free to contact me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or by phone at (443) 510-1048. I'm also on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google +. You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here. 

 

Being Grounded Is A Good Thing!

How grounded are you?

Do you know what it means to be "grounded"? Not like when your parents said you weren't allowed to go outside and play with your friends. Being grounded means being present in your body. Being in the here and now. Knowing where you are and what is happening around you.

For people who have experienced trauma, sometimes being grounded and present in our bodies is not as easy as it sounds. If you have ever felt like you are floating around above your body, then you know what I mean. Or if you never feel anything in your body, it's just numb. Or if you find yourself zoning out and missing what's happening around you. If the person you are talking to says, "Hello, are you listening to me?" and you suddenly snap back to reality and think Where did I just go? 

I'm talking about dissociating, and some people do it more often than others. It's a great way of coping with negative emotions when we have no other way to escape. For that reason, many of us who were abused or neglected in childhood, or have experienced any other type of traumatic event over our lives may find this happening. Or we may not know it's happening, which can be scary. In spite of how effective dissociation can be in helping us avoid our unpleasant feelings, it can get in the way when we want to be focused at work, at home and in relationships.

Sometimes trauma survivors find unwanted thoughts or feelings coming into our heads when we don't want them to. We may even have flashbacks, in which we feel as if we are reliving the event. People often describe this as feeling as if they are watching what happened to them all over again - like a movie. However, unlike a movie that you want to see, this is one that brings up the same feelings of horror, helplessness and fear that you felt when the traumatic event occurred. It can be confusing and sometimes people have panic attacks when flashbacks come up unexpectedly.

It's important to feel grounded.

If any of these things are happening to you, I want you to know that while these are typical responses to trauma, you do not have to suffer alone. Help is available. My practice is focused on helping people who have experienced trauma to recover from the effects.  Below is an infographic I created which describes a simple, free and commonly used grounding technique. 

Grounding yourself in your body

Image copyright 2015 Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

Feeling less than grounded? Let's talk!

I hope you find this simple grounding technique to be helpful if you, or someone you know, needs to get grounded in the body. If you need additional support, contact me by phone at (443) 510-1048, by e-mail: laurareaganlcswc@gmail.com or via my website. I would be happy to talk about how therapy can help you get more grounded and focused. 

Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

It's Easier Not to Care - Or Is It?

Feelings are hard.

Tomorrow is going to be hard. I'm having my dog euthanized.

I'm so sad about this but I know it's time.

I don't want to do this! As tears stream down my face I'm thinking, "I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to deal with this!" 

Why have a pet when you know they will die at some point? I mean, why did I even open up my heart to a new puppy 11 years ago, when I knew I would eventually have to say goodbye? I'm remembering when we had to put down our other dog (10 years ago). It was so sad, definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And now we are doing it again tomorrow, and this time our kids are old enough to understand. Crap. I don't want to feel these feelings!

This is part of life. Part of love. Life is not just the happy times, or even the neutral times when we are just chugging along - not really happy or sad. Life is filled with ups and downs. Overall, I've noticed it's more ups than downs. But the downs stand out more! 

Can I just not feel this?

This is hard. I wish I didn't have to feel this and that I could protect my family from having to feel this. Tomorrow is going to be SO HARD. Not having our dog anymore is going to be so sad. 

Part of me would prefer to pretend this isn't happening. Part of me would like to look online for puppies to adopt through a rescue organization and pretend my dog is already gone. You know that scene in the movie "American Beauty" when Annette Bening's character cries and screams for about 10 seconds and then fixes her makeup and acts like nothing happened? Part of me wants to do that. 

I want to numb my feelings. The problem is, as Brené Brown says, "We cannot selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light." 

Numb the Dark and You Numb the Light - Brené Brown

It's not possible to truly enjoy the companionship of your dog or cat (or your people) if you avoid opening your heart to him or her. When you do open your heart you can have countless hours of fun and mutual companionship with your pet over his or her lifespan. But the price you pay for opening your heart is that you must feel the pain of loss at some point.

Love hurts.

Isn't that true of all of our relationships? We never know when they'll be lost, but at some point they will. One of the people in the relationship will die and the other will experience loss. We never know when this will happen, but at some point it will. Wouldn't be easier just to keep our hearts closed off, protected, guarded by barbed wire, and never let anyone in? 

Well, yes, easier...if you don't mind feeling alone and lonely for your whole life. But we humans aren't made for that. We are social creatures and we need connection to survive, beginning at birth. The key to tolerating the pain of loss is the make sure to enjoy the good moments, really feel them and experience gratitude for them. And even in the neutral moments, can you find something to be grateful for? There is always something. It helps make the ups of life stand out as much as the downs.

So I will do this hard thing tomorrow. I will treasure my last hours with my dog, whom I love, and tomorrow I will take her to the vet so she will not suffer anymore. I don't want to do it and I wish I didn't have to. But I will. And I will open up my heart to another puppy (maybe two!) because it's worth it. I choose to feel because that's what life is.

"Carry on, warrior."

This morning I discovered that Glennon Doyle, Melton author of "Carry On Warrior," has a TED Talk. I have followed her blog, Momastery, but I haven't read her book yet. I watched the TED Talk today and - full disclosure - I cried through the whole thing. Maybe I'm just extra raw because I'm saying goodbye to my dog tomorrow, but I'm sharing it here because I feel pretty sure you will find it meaningful too. 

I think I need to read Glennon's book. It might take my mind off of being sad (or I will cry more - a win/win situation). I'd love to know what you think of the video and of this post in general. Please comment below!

And if you believe that risking heartbreak in the pursuit of connection is worthwhile, you'll probably want to read more of my posts. If you want support in opening your heart, get in touch with me by phone (443-510-1048), e-mail (laurareaganlcswc@gmail.com); or click "Work With Me" on my website to discover what I offer that can be of help to you.

Vulnerability Is Courage

I'm a psychotherapist, consultant, clinical supervisor and Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator. And a mother, wife, sister and friend. Although it was uncomfortable to do so, I made this video to tell you about my work offering The Daring Way™. As you will see, it's not a fancy, glossy, high production value video. It's just me. Therapists are just people who want to help people. We have specialized training in helping people with emotional pain and we can use our own experiences of struggle to relate to the suffering of others. And we are regular people. 

I want you to know that I offer The Daring Way™, based on the research of Brené Brown, because this model has changed my life. That's a big statement! In fact, before reading Brené Brown's books I probably wouldn't have said that out loud for fear that people would have thought my statement was stupid. That's exactly the point of this article. When I attended The Daring Way™ training, I was able to experience the model myself, and it changed me both personally and professionally. I've written more about how Brené Brown's work has changed me, and you can read it here

If you want to live a life that feels more authentic and build deep, meaningful connections with the important people in your life, The Daring Way™ might be a good fit for you. I'm offering this model in the Baltimore Annapolis area and I invite you to get in touch with me if you want to know more. 

(Click here for information on my upcoming weekend intensive. Early Bird Registration Discount ends June 15th!)

So although it felt vulnerable to make this video, I posted it anyway. It's what Brené Brown calls an "Arena Moment" in her book Daring Greatly. I posted the video even though:

  • I don't look perfect. (You're going to find that out sometime...might as well be now!)
  • I filmed it myself on my iPad - it's not glossy and professional-looking.
  • I don't sound as "smooth" and "cool" as I'd probably like to. 

And I like myself anyway! In fact, I'm an expert in the work I do and anyone who decides to work with me is going to see my imperfections eventually. I could try to present you with some kind of mask to make you like me more...but it would show through because I'd be playing a role instead of being authentic. How safe would you feel in a therapy session with a therapist who is hiding behind a mask of "being the expert" and trying to hide his/her imperfections from you? 

As Brené Brown says, "I am imperfect and I am enough." I am, and so are you. So even though I've said a lot about myself, this isn't really about me. It's about you. 

Do you want to show up and be seen as your true self? Are you ready to take off your mask and see what happens when you connect with other people from a place of authenticity? The Daring Women Weekend Intensive takes place July 17, 18 and 19, 2015. You can save $50 on the cost if you register by June 15th! The group is limited to six women and participants will be screened to ensure a good fit with the group. You can find all the details on this special intensive, the only one I'm planning for this year, at this link.  And if you're not ready to try a group setting, I use the model in my work with individuals and couples as well. To get started, give me a call at (443) 510-1048 or send me an e-mail at laurareaganlcswc@gmail.com to talk about how we can work together using The Daring Way™. 

If you want to read more of what I share, you can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, and sign up for my e-mail newsletter (I won't spam you). 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Vulnerability Is Courage - Brené Brown
 

What If You Could Show Up and Be Seen As You Really Are?

Today's post explores the first of Brené Brown's "Guideposts for Wholehearted Living" from her book The Gifts of Imperfection. If you're reading the book title and thinking, "How could imperfection possibly be a gift?!!" then this is a great book for you to read. I thought the same thing at first, and I absolutely love this book. I frequently recommend it to my clients. So if you're interested in understanding how the Guideposts can help you live your life more wholeheartedly, then read on! 

What If You Could Show Up For Who You Really Are?

In my last post of this series on living an authentic life, I listed the Guideposts and how I (and many other people) have used them to help me live my life in a more fulfilling and joyful way.  The first Guidepost is: Cultivating Authenticity - Letting Go of What People Think. That can be a tough one. What does it mean to you? 

Here in the greater Annapolis area, where I live and work with clients, it can be really hard to let go of worrying about what other people think. Conformity is prized in our community, and fitting in feels better than being excluded. I think that is true no matter where you live. But what if you aren't the same as everyone else? I'm kidding. None of us is the same as everyone else! We're all unique, and our differences are what make us who we are. For some reason, though, we tend to hide what makes us unique in order to fit in with the group. 

If you want to dig deeper into Brené Brown's work, join me July 17-19 when 6 women will use The Daring Way™ model to discover how connecting with their most authentic selves can help them build meaningful relationships and live wholeheartedly. Click here for details.

When you don't like who you really are it can be tempting to hide, pretending to be someone you're not. You might find yourself trying on different personas until you find one that people respond to in a positive manner. This often starts in childhood, and some of us are so skilled at it that we don't even realize we're doing it anymore. It becomes automatic, like a chameleon changing color to fit its surroundings. Eventually you may wonder, "Who am I, really?"

There are many common strategies that are used by people to get by. One of these strategies is going along with things that you don't really want to do. You may hate playing golf, but you do it to fit in with your work friends because it seems to be expected. Another strategy that many people use is participating in social gatherings with people who don't talk about meaningful subjects, instead limiting conversation to surface matters. There is a time and place for this, but if these interactions are your only social relationships, it can feel lonely and hollow to feel as if you have no one to talk to who understands what you're going through.  It's isolating, and you may even think that you are the only one who wants to talk about anything more than the weather, what home improvements your neighbors have done recently, and which Kindergarten teacher you want your child to have next year. 

Many women compensate for such feelings by anticipating other people's needs and trying to meet them before the person asks. Our society emphasizes women's role as caregivers, and sometimes this helps us avoid thinking about our own needs. It's usually met with a positive reaction from others, too. Are you the woman who always brings the perfect dish to the neighborhood gathering and the first one to start cleaning up for the hostess when the evening comes to an end?  Do you have a hostess gift every time you show up for an informal happy hour at your neighbor's house and send a thank you note as soon as you get home that evening? Are you the one who is always doing favors for everyone else in the community? There's no doubt that you have impeccable manners and others probably appreciate everything you do for them. But are you doing this because you want to, or because you want to be liked? Don't get me wrong, I want to be liked too - we all do - but I would prefer to be liked for who I really am, rather than how good I can make the other person feel about themselves. What about you? Would you rather be liked for your true, authentic self (even if you don't always have time to send a thank you note right away) or for your ability to change your behavior to suit the other person? People pleasing and hiding our true selves can create a prison with us trapped inside. How can you ask for help when you need it (and we all need it at times) if you are too busy taking care of everyone else?

What would it take for you to believe that your own combination of unique qualities is what makes you special? Think about it. What do people like about you? Is it your outrageous sense of humor? Your joyful laugh? Your artistic ability? Do you have a great singing voice? Maybe you make the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Do you have a family recipe that you have mastered but you never cook it for your friends because it represents your family's cultural heritage which is embarrassing to you? It might be hard to imagine showing your neighbors, friends and co-workers your true self. Are you afraid they wouldn't like the real you? Or worse, do you feel like you don't even know the real you anymore?

For many of us it can be difficult to imagine being accepted as we are, with the pretense stripped away. It might be easier if you imagine a child. Whether you have children of your own, or you have children in your family - nieces, nephews, cousins - or your neighborhood. What would you tell a child about being the same as everyone else? Can we agree that each child is unique and special exactly as he or she is? Sometimes it's easier to believe that when thinking about children than ourselves. But let's remember that we all started out as children too, and our special qualities didn't stop being valuable just because we have grown up. 

It's important for your own well-being and that of your children, if you have them, that you understand that you are just right, right now, exactly as you are.  If you have trouble believing that, and want to work on connecting with your authentic self so you can feel confident showing up as you really are, get in touch with me! I would love to work with you on this. I am certified to use The Daring Way™ method, based on the research of Brené Brown, to build shame resiliency and help you remember what you loved about yourself when you were a child.  You deserve to love yourself for who you are, and to stop hiding your true self from the important people in your life! To work with me see below for contact info.

If you want to dig deeper into Brené Brown's work, join me July 17-19 when 6 women will use The Daring Way™ model to discover how connecting with their most authentic selves can help them build meaningful relationships and live wholeheartedly. Click here for details.

Brené Brown's Guideposts to Wholehearted Living

Thanks for reading this installment of the blog series on living authentically. If you like what I've written here, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for more. You can also sign up for my e-mail newsletter, which is sent every so often with updates on new offerings including workshops, groups and intensives, as well as recent blog posts and news about the practice.

Have you ever wondered whether you'd still be accepted if people knew the real you? If you're afraid of the answer, but brave enough to want to find out anyway, then get in touch with me! You can call me at (443) 510-1048, send me an e-mail at laurareaganlcswc@gmail.com, or visit my website for more information and to schedule an appointment

Source:

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.