As my grandmother told me, “there is more than one way to skin the cat.” Because of modern science, we understand, with great precision, what types of things cause other things. We also recognize the diversity of influence from a broad range of domains on the human experience. In psychology, we consider social, psychological, cultural, and biological factors.
Included in the diversity of these domains are a myriad of theoretical models and their incorporating assessments and interventions. When I first began practicing as a therapist, I would often think, “I wonder which model is the best and which impacting factor is most important.” I have come to learn that the answer is: all.
I think we often get stuck in attempting to fix a problem through the first thing we identify:
I drink too much; I must be addicted to alcohol.
My husband cheated on me; he must not be sexually fulfilled.
I cannot find a good job; I must not be outgoing enough.
I am overweight; I must have bad genes.
And while there “may” be truth in short-drawn conclusions, there are also various determinants, not as alternatives, but as contributors. If true, we can take a holistic approach to complex situations that generate better perspectives, lasting changes, and more permanent resolutions.
I remember working with a client who struggled to find a partner. He felt he wasn’t handsome enough and spent most of his time trying to make himself physically attractive. Admittedly, he was no “don Juan,” but I felt there was more to his situation. As it turned out, he had a tiny social group, and he thought he wasn’t likable because he was older. He also was taught you marry somebody who has never been married because that was the acceptable “way”.
As we worked through these details, my client began to date more, often women who had been in a previous marriage. Eventually, he found his match. Imagine as we wrapped up, he realized looking “good” was only a small part of a giant puzzle.
If you’d like help looking at all the different pieces of the puzzle, schedule a session by calling 801.944.4555.
I have recently had many conversations with individuals who have experienced change in their life that resulted in change to the roles they were used to playing. Perhaps all the children have moved out of the house and the role of parent has shifted. Perhaps job loss or school closure have led to new roles of income provider, or school teacher.
As we find ourselves going through life, we play many roles and wear many hats between personal, family, social, and professional lives, we use these areas of our lives to define who we are, what we like, and how we evaluate our self worth. While roles we play can offer a sense of security, and direction, they are often misunderstood as who we are and what makes us unique.
It is important to distinguish that the roles we play DO NOT make us who we are. We are separate beings outside of these roles. The role of Mother or Father are often ones that tend to consume our identity and while we may take great pride in honoring that role, it is important to note that we have needs and wants outside of these roles. When we let the roles we play become our identity, we lose the internal means of guiding our lives.
Using the example of a solar system; The Sun is the center of our solar system and the planets rotate around with the Sun and the gravitational pull as the guide for how the whole system functions. If we were to pluck the Sun out of the center of the system, the whole system would fall apart and cease to exist. When we use the roles we play such as (mother, father, our occupation, or other) we are making that the center of our system. However, what happens when that role changes, or goes away? Everything we have used to define ourselves no longer functions and we find our system fallen apart. Emotionally and mentally this feels as though our entire world has changed, and it feels that way because of how much power we gave to that role to define us.
Rather, if we understand that we are separate from the roles we play, then we create a system that supports change, and makes it easier to go through hard things or rather big changes in our lives with more acceptance, patience, and hope for the future. Rather than using roles for the center of our identity, we use values and core beliefs that create a foundation in every other area of our lives that can never crumble nor become life shattering.
If you have found yourself feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or unsure of how to guide your future, it may be due to overlapping roles and unclear values. Despite your current situation everyone can learn to better balance their lives, the roles they play, and bring more happiness into your life.
When I ask my clients if they have experienced trauma, often the answer is, “no.” Many individuals think of trauma within the lens of “Big T” traumas, or specific traumatic events. Some examples are those who have been exposed to war, terrorism, catastrophic events, and physical or sexual abuse. While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the most painful experiences an individual can experience during life. However, a person does not need to have experienced a specific event to experience the negative impact of trauma in their life.
Sometimes, an accumulation of distressing life events and beliefs in the form of “little t” traumas can produce a similar negative response in individuals. Some “little t” traumas can include interpersonal conflict, financial difficulties, abandonment or enmeshment, attachment wounds, breakups, moves, etc., resulting in pervasive negative beliefs about oneself or the world around them. The accumulation of these events is important to consider in their impact. Many individuals come to therapy due to this accumulation of “little t” traumas, often noting difficulty pinpointing what is distressing in particular, yet noting a feeling of powerlessness or unhappiness in life.
Whether you have experienced “Big T” or “little t” trauma there is hope in many treatment options. One modality that is helpful with both “Big T” and “little t” trauma is EMDR therapy. Sometimes, clients are unfamiliar with this modality. This short video gives a brief intro to EMDR, and how this treatment can help neutralize the distressing events, while helping the client connect to a more positive belief about themselves.
I’ve been talking with a lot of clients about narratives lately – the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Narratives are powerful and shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If you grew up in an environment that didn’t talk about sex, or spoke of it in negative or fear-based terms, that creates a powerful narrative. Just a few of the examples I’ve come across:
Sex is bad, I’m having sexual thoughts/feelings, so I’m bad.
Sex is embarrassing.
Only “those kind of people” are interested in sex.
I want/think about sex too much.
I want/think about sex too little.
I don’t have to right kind of body to be sexual.
Sex is too embarrassing to talk about with my partner.
Many of these narratives are powerful enough on their own, but they often get attached to painful emotions which heightens the power they have over us. If you are struggling with an unhelpful narrative surrounding sex, give yourself a break. You aren’t broken. You’re doing the best you can with the narratives you’ve been given. The good news is that we can change our narratives around sex – much like forging a new path through a forest – we can create narratives that lead to increased peace and pleasure. Some examples:
Sex is good, and pleasurable and multipurpose. My sexual thoughts and feelings are natural and I can choose to engage with those thoughts and feelings in ways that are right for me.
Sex feels embarrassing sometimes, because it’s not something I have practiced talking/thinking about yet. The more I talk about it with myself/my partner, the easier it will get.
Sex is a normal human experience.
However much I think about or want sex is the right amount for me. Everyone has a different erotic template, and that’s okay.
All bodies deserve pleasure in life, there is no such thing as a “right kind of body”. My body is good, and I appreciate it for its real ness.
My partner can’t read my mind, so if I tell them what I enjoy sexually, we will both have a more satisfying experience.
Most of us have inherited unhelpful sexual narratives, this doesn’t mean we have to hold onto them throughout our lives. If you are feeling stuck in your sexual narratives, and need help overcoming them, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice.
For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even function.
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries, fears, anxieties).
When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds, do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back?
Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses, regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.
How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment.
The past has passed.
The future is not yet here.
All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness.
By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without judgment.
This is mindfulness.
We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness.
Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.
Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking us into the past or future).
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment.
It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~ without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and have the opportunity to start again.
We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this.
Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when worries flooded our minds.
If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental discourse).
Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that previously took us away.
Sometimes, in conservative cultures, there is sexual shame attached to the usage of pornography. Listen in to hear the brain science behind pornography use, as well as how to navigate the topic of pornography as a couple, family, and society. Visit the link below or listen on your favorite podcast platform.
We have many internal and external resources available to us when anxiety becomes overwhelming. We can typically recognize an unhelpful anxious thought because it often starts with some variation of “What if…” and or is predicting negative events that are possible but incredibly unlikely. In this post, I will briefly outline some of the internal and external resources that can be extremely effective in confronting and managing anxiety.
1) Talking back to and Challenging Anxious Thoughts:
Anxiety is like an annoying know-it-all and overly critical boss; it constantly points out what might go wrong or what it thinks you didn’t do right, and it is usually flat out wrong! When we talk back to or challenge anxious thoughts with phrases like, “I’m allowed to make mistakes!” or “I’m enough as I am!” and “You don’t know everything!” we are bossing back our anxiety and taking charge.
2) Past Successes:
What difficulties have you overcome in the past? How did you do that? What did you learn about yourself? Anxiety likes to make us forget or discount all the challenges we have overcome in the past. But, as we stack up our past successes, we are reminded of just how capable we really are, no matter what anxiety says.
3) Problem Solving Skills, Creativity/Imagination:
Clearly you have gotten yourself this far in life, which means you have solved literally thousands of problems. Life throws curve balls at us regularly, and it is our creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills that help us work through them. When anxiety says things like, “What if you get sick?” We can say back to anxiety, “Then I will rest, get lots of fluids and take care of myself. I know what to do when I am sick.”
Some problems and concerns are outside of our experience and skill set to solve. Who do you have in your life that you could go to for help? Make a list of people in each arena of your life that you feel comfortable approaching and asking for help. For example, who at work can help you when you have questions or problems? When you are at school, who is most likely to have the information you need? Our external resources include people in our support systems, people who know us and care about our well-being and are invested in our success: parents, teachers, friends, family members, coaches and teammates, therapists etc.
When anxious thoughts and feelings begin to escalate, start by recognizing these feelings for what they are, ANXIETY, and then access your internal and external resources to challenge and talk back to your anxiety.
Whether it is hardships from the pandemic, civil unrest, political discourse, loss of a loved one, fear of the future, or many other aspects of life, it sometimes may feel there is no end in sight to the pain that life can sometimes bring. Finding continued hope through the burdens of daily life can often feel daunting, uncertain, and just out of reach. Through the recent year, many people may have found themselves uttering these simple words either to another or to themselves:
Ex: “ I would like to… but I don’t want to get my hopes up”…
While the simple rhetoric is often over looked, the profound impact on our lives is not to be underestimated.
Hope: “ (A belief that things can be better than what they are”) is one of the most powerful aspects of human life. The instillment of hope can offer peace in a moment of chaos; comfort in a moment of fear; and courage in a moment of despair. The loss of hope, or (hopelessness) often results in a person loss of will to live.
Maybe this past year you have found yourself not planning, not hoping out of fear of disappointment. Maybe you have felt lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. Maybe you have lost a family member or loved one and need to find a way to some how keep moving forward. The joy of hope is that it is accessible to all who seek it, and is found all around us. May I offer 3 principles of Resiliency to help you increase your hope, and in turn, increase your ability to manage hard times in your life.
We commit to the challenge ahead of us. We commit to the strength, the endurance, and the help needed to survive. Asking for help is not weakness. Everybody in life needs help. Most of all we commit to not let our burden consume us, destroy us, or allow us to lose our selves in the process. We tell ourselves, “ no matter what happens, I will be ok”.
A main source for unmanageability and discourse is caused by trying to control things that are out of our ability to control. Learning to let go of what is out of your ability to control, and having the courage to do something about what you can control can drastically reduce the out of control feeling life can bring.
Much of the research about resiliency and hardiness speaks to how we choose to look at a situation. Some are financial, others physical, some trauma, others mental health related. Challenge, adversity, and pain are essential to provide opportunities for growth. Seeing our problems through a lens of opportunity rather than suffering can help provided a new perspective of hope that will allow us to face our trials with gratitude.
Symbols of hope can often provide something that reminds us to have hope in a moment we need it. Find something that inspires you, makes you feel happy, or gives you courage to keep moving forward. Symbols of Hope include:
A favorite quote,
A person you look up to
A deity, religion, or spirituality practice
Surround yourself with little things that bring hope into your life. As we move into a new year I am reminded of a statement from Viktor Frankel:
“ We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
Frankl, V. E. (2006). The meaning of life. In Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy (p. 108). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
This is the season of goals and change. Goals can be wonderful benchmarks to help navigate us toward the life we want. However, goals can sometimes lead us into rigid thinking, frustration, and shame when we aren’t connected to the value, or “why,” behind those goals. 2020 has taught us that the unexpected happens, and circumstances can change quite rapidly and drastically. However, even amidst uncertainty and change, you can continue to move in a direction that aligns with your core values. When obstacles beyond your control prevent a desired goal from occurring, it is possible to pivot and continue in the direction of the value connected to that goal in new, and possibly, unforeseen ways.
A helpful exercise is to sit down and journal all the values that matter to you. Some examples of these values are: curiosity, resilience, spirituality, love, empathy, safety, compassion, growth, learning, spontaneity, joy, humor, creativity, grace, flexibility, and so many more. As you review your listed values, I encourage you to narrow those values to your top three, and then, choose a top value to focus on for this year if one stands out to you. This will help guide decisions that arise throughout the year, as you return to your core value of focus, when navigating the nuances of life.
Goal Driven Life
I want to run a marathon.
I want to go on a vacation with my family this year.
I will complete my degree.
I want to stop yelling in my home
Value Driven Life
I will value health and determination
I will value adventure and connection with my family.
I will value education and lifelong learning.
I will value safety, connection, and mindfulness.
If you would like help focusing on the values that drive your life, please call 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment.
You might be asking yourself why is a therapist writing about Movember? Isn’t that just about men’s prostate cancer and mustaches? While yes, both of those things are true, Movember is so much more. Movember is primarily to bring attention to various medical and mental health issues that men often face or go unspoken, and to promote longer healthier men’s lives. During this month of Movember, my goal is to let everyone out there, mustache or no mustache, know how they can participate and show love for the men in their lives.
One of the primary causes that is talked about during Movember is suicide. Every hour of every day we lose 60 men to suicide. In order to bring attention to this and build resources to support men’s mental health, Movember gives you the option to move for 60 miles throughout the month. If this doesn’t get you up and make you want to move, I don’t know what will. Moving can look like, biking, swimming, walking, hiking or running. Follow along with my Movember while I run 60 miles. You can find it on Instagram @natewatkinslmft. If you do not want to move or grow a mustache, here are some other ways to show your support.
How you can show support:
Move for 60 miles for the 60 men lost across the world
Grow yourself the best mustache the world has ever seen
Donate to the Movember cause
Do your own epic adventure and tag Movember
Host a gathering (via zoom or follow your local health guidelines) and highlight the importance of Movember