Clinical depression is a scary and often overwhelming condition to face. Prior to becoming a counselor, I had a basic understanding of what depression was, but actually talking to clients who are in the midst of a depressive state has greatly deepened my understanding and empathy for what they are going through. Depression isn’t simply a mood that they can snap out of or a negative perspective that I can help them work through. Thoughts and mood certainly play a part in depression, but it’s more than that as well.
There is a marked transformation in the way that a person views the world, relationships, and themselves; Aaron Beck called this as the “negative triad,” which is a set of pessimistic and irrational beliefs that the self is worthless or flawed, the world is unfair and punishing, and the future is hopeless. As a CBT-oriented counselor (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, pioneered in part by Beck), I believe there is immense value in understanding and challenging this negative collection of beliefs and thoughts, but that’s not the whole story for every client who is struggling with depression. Continue reading
Today is Lundi Gras, which I assume has some sort of historical meaning, but to me is basically just the day before Mardi Gras. The city has been partying its collective booty off for the past few weeks, and this sunny, chilly morning feels like a small pause before the parades resume tonight, leading up to the grand culmination of Fat Tuesday. I always enjoy Mardi Gras, but I’m also always happy to get back to regular life. When there’s basically a giant street party for the whole city happening every night, it’s hard to stay focused and productive on anything else.
However, normal life will resume shortly here in New Orleans, and that will include Valentine’s Day next week. In honor of this holiday dedicated to love and relationships, I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about Love Languages. This incredibly helpful concept is something that I frequently use in couple’s counseling, and most people are somewhat familiar with the idea even if they haven’t read the book. Continue reading
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Happy Mardi Gras, and everyone have a great weekend!
I recently celebrated my 29th birthday, and amongst the well-wishes from family and “you’ll always be older than me” jokes from friends, there were several questions about how I felt about the occasion. “Do you feel any older?” (Yes, but that was already happening well before my birthday, thanks to my perpetually achy joints and tendency to hurt myself doing mundane chores.) “Can you believe you’re almost 30?” (Well, I know how the progression of time works so I can’t say I’m surprised, but no, I don’t always believe that I’m a real adult yet.) And the simplest yet most difficult to answer: “How does it feel?”
I was discussing this question in greater depth with a friend (also on the cusp of turning thirty) who had read somewhere that “everything before 30 is like preparation for your adult life, and everything after is actually living it.” While we both agreed that this statement wasn’t entirely accurate, it definitely captured some of my feelings about the prospect of thirty and put my twenties into an interesting perspective. This idea makes sense of the missteps, confusion, and growing pains of the last decade of my life, without laying judgment or blame on any of it. Thankfully, I feel that I’ve found my way out of the most difficult part of my twenties (and most of the bad decisions contained therein). I am in a place of greater peace, self-understanding, and acceptance now, but this wasn’t always the case! Continue reading
Lately I’ve been exploring something in sessions with clients that is also very personal to me: self-compassion. At first glance, the idea of self-compassion seems pretty simple: be nice to yourself, go easy on yourself, etc. Not exactly a ground-breaking concept, and while it sounds nice, I always figured there were deeper, more “legitimate” issues to focus on in counseling and in my own personal growth.
The more I talk to clients and reflect on the impact of self-compassion (or lack thereof) in my own life and in my clients’ lives, the more I realize that this idea of loving and accepting ourselves IS the deeper issue. The lack of self-compassion—the inability to accept ourselves as imperfect, flawed, limited, and real humans—is the core of so many of the problems that my clients bring into their sessions. Anxiety? Depression? Relationship issues? Guilt? Low self-esteem? Addictive or compulsive behaviors? If you suffer from any of these, there’s a chance you also have low levels of self-compassion. Unrealistically high expectations for our behaviors and performance, paired with low confidence in our ability to actually deliver those results, followed by shame and criticism for our perceived failures, compounded by the guilt of feeling that we “should” be able to do better or feel better—any of that sound familiar? Continue reading
Just wanted to share a short article with some great ideas about how to be kind to yourself and cultivate greater self-compassion and self-understanding.
If this sounds like something you need more of in your life, I’ve also included links to two books that have served as wonderful guides for me to learn and practice self-compassion in my own life.
5 Tips to Love Yourself More
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brene Brown
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions, by Dr. Christopher Germer
Check out these resources, and be kind to yourself today!
Image courtesy of Britt-knee, via Flickr
I recently came across an article that listed thirty different questions to ask your best friend in order to get to know each other better. I loved the idea, so I started emailing a few each day to one of my best friends from college; she now lives in Chicago, so we don’t get to see each other often and this seemed perfect for us. Some of the questions are silly, some are interesting, and some are a little more serious. The question today was, “What makes you feel afraid?”
Hmm…wasn’t sure where to go with that one. Are we talking deep, primal fears? Daily fears? Little nagging fears? The question didn’t specify, so I just started listing things.
About a paragraph in, it became pretty obvious that I’m afraid of a lot of things! I don’t consider myself an overly fearful or anxious person, but all of these fears came tumbling out of me with very little thought or reflection necessary. They were right at the surface, swirling around in my brain, just waiting for a reason to come forward and name themselves. Some of the fears were deep-seated, emotional and irrational: things that will likely never come to pass in my life. Some were possible but not probable, and some were silly things that I deal with every day but still make me feel afraid. Continue reading
Image courtesy of Chris Acos, via Flickr
Something that I hear all the time in counseling sessions is, “I feel like there are two different versions of me. One is strong and confident and does the right thing, and the other one is weak/selfish/insecure/mean and makes terrible decisions.” None of these clients are diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder and all are fully aware of their own thoughts and actions, so how can it be that so many people feel that they have no control over half of their personality?
We all have aspects of our personalities that we dislike or wish we could change, such as being selfish, shy, insecure, dependent, or impatient. These traits tend to have a negative impact on our personal happiness or our satisfaction in other areas of our lives, such as relationships or careers. They often manifest in a cluster of feelings and behaviors, such as shy-insecure-jealous, selfish-impatient-irritable, or dependent-needy-controlling. People get so frustrated and disappointed with these negative traits that they often develop an antagonistic relationship with that part of their personality, which is evidenced by statements such as “I hate how needy and pathetic I sound when I ask my husband to compliment me” or “I know I sound so rude and mean, and I can’t stand it because I don’t mean to act like that.” However, the more we turn against that part of ourselves and judge, censure, or punish ourselves for feeling/acting that way, the lower our self-esteem becomes and the more difficult it becomes to understand and change those traits. We reject these traits in an attempt to separate our “good” selves from them, but this just creates division and discord within our feelings and actions.
Image courtesy of Andreas Levers, via Flickr
Something that I’ve been focusing on with a few clients lately is the overall idea of mental “fitness.” There’s a lot of talk out there about mental health, but what really goes into being mentally healthy? Is it a quality you either have or you don’t have? If you aren’t mentally healthy, how do you change that? We use the words “mental health” so much that they have become more of an idea, a state, a term, rather than what they actually describe: a process and a commitment. To understand a little better what I mean, let’s break it down and think about the core element here: health.
How do we get healthy?
Our culture is so inundated with information about physical health that most people could recite in their sleep the key elements of being/getting physically healthy. Eat well, exercise, sleep eight hours a night, drink lots of water, avoid junk food, wear sunscreen, and floss regularly. Just because people KNOW how to get healthy doesn’t mean they actually DO all of those things, but most people realize that physical health isn’t just magically bestowed upon them: you have to actually make changes, create healthy habits, and stick to them if you want to lose weight, gain muscle, reduce cholesterol, or whatever your goal is. It’s a process and a commitment. Some people are naturally more athletic or thin or fit than other people, but most people have to put forth some effort or make some conscious decisions to maintain a healthy body. Continue reading
Image courtesy of Julie Ann Johnson, via Flickr
Thank you for so many things. For being an unconventional woman, and for showing me that I can do anything I damn well please, and that being a female is not a limitation. I doubt I’ll ever meet another woman who can roof a house AND parallel-park a school bus. For diving head-first into your passions and interests. For having the courage to start your life over twice, and for sticking around in the wake of a devastating loss. For reclaiming who you are and being true to yourself, no matter what people say. For believing in me, even when I don’t. For sharing your mistakes and failings in the hope that I would learn from them (I have). For teaching me how to wear makeup like a classy woman, but making me wait till an appropriate age to do so. For making me turn off the TV and go outside.
For setting limits and boundaries, and for teaching me that three cookies a day is enough. For convincing me to play with my brother when I didn’t want to, “because some day you won’t have the chance anymore.” For modeling good fitness habits and showing me the satisfaction of feeling my muscles burn from hard work. For making me contribute and help around the house, and for giving me responsibilities. For holding me accountable and never letting me get away with half-assing something. For teaching me how to clean a bathroom and wash a car really well. Continue reading