Dear Therapist: My Heart is on the Line

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Dear Therapist:

I told my special someone that I love her. Dang! She didn’t return the sentiment. I’m all in and she’s not. What do I do now?

Signed, Heart On the Line

How courageous to have acted on how you felt and let your partner know. Sometimes this is the only way to open up dialogue about where the two of you are in relation to one another.

I hear how “out there” you feel given your partner has not returned her love to you. It may be a good idea to take an honest assessment of the situation – were you surprised or not? Do you feel you are on the same page with one another or did you feel that you are more invested in the two of you than your partner?

These types of questions can help you discern how you are feeling both on the surface and underneath as well. If you are in love with someone, it is natural to express it with freedom and truth. That turning toward love is worthy. Now that you know it is not returned to you in the same way, you can decide how you want to proceed with your partner and/or on your own.

This is a crossroads moment in many ways. Are you willing to wait and see if your feelings will be returned? Is it not enough to be the only one feeling the love at this point? How does your partner feel about your love? Is it prompting her to draw closer or further away from you? Notice how you are feeling as you interact and observe what is happening between the two of you.

Yes, your heart is on the line and now, because of your courageous expression of love, your partner’s truth is also on the line. What you notice and observe about yourself, your partner, and the two of you together will be key to the next steps you take.

Dear Therapist: Love Is In the Air

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Love is in the Air!

Dear Therapist:

It’s one week until Valentine’s Day – to say that “love is in the air” is an understatement! Everyone is making plans, has plans, completely gaga over someone — ugh! I got no one! I’m not writing because I feel sorry for myself, although I do sometimes. More to the point, how do I get through this week when I feel completely left out.

Signed, One Lovely Heart

Yeah, I get it. Not only do I understand, I have been there myself. Haven’t we all had a year or two or three where everyone it seemed was completely in love and over the moon struck with the love bug — except you? It happens. Ugh is right!

However, these days, like all holidays, love is measured beyond only romantic love. Yes, Cupid was traditionally associated with romance between partners, but anymore love is celebrated among friends, family, and community. It is a time to bask in the glow of love — of all.

And does our world ever need this more thane ever? How to ease a heart that doesn’t have a special someone this week? Expand your thought of who a special someone is in your life?

Who is your best friend, who did something for you awhile ago that you completely appreciated, who is faithful and loyal to you, who makes you laugh, who can you call up and see the same shows you both adore — all of these people, and more, are special someones.

Celebrate them and your relationship with that person. Perhaps send a text, a note, an emoji, share a song, share a candy — whatever you have to celebrate these relationships in your life. I know it is not exactly the hot romantic dinner date that Valentine’s is supposed to promise with someone you over the moon for, but expanding out beyond this notion can really help engage you in the spirit of this loving holiday.

Celebrate LOVE with all whom you share it with this week.

Dear Therapist: Maintaining Those Resolutions

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How’s It Going With Those Resolutions?

Dear Therapist:

I made a few resolutions this year. It’s the end of January and I feel like I have pretty much stopped doing them all at this point. I know it’s common enough and it’s almost February. Should I let them go or try to recommit to them again?

This is definitely a common feeling right around this point in the New Year. The excited feeling of creating something new for yourself – whether that be better health or a new habit like reading more – 31 days in and we are reminded just how hard it is to change and make something new stick.

Here’s the first thing I suggest. No matter which way you go – either to keep on trying or to let them go – be kind to yourself. In the totality of the journey we are on, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Do not use this decision to beat yourself up or be miserable.

Second, think about it. You mention you made several resolutions. Often, trying to change too many habits at once is too much and we need to enter the zone gradually. Is there one that feels really good continuing to pursue? Alternatively, do you want to keep pursuing them all and simply recognize the lull in changing? Or do you want to just let them all be and go back to your comfortable ways?

Any of these choices are valid and fine. It really has to do with you and what intuitively feels right as to how you will continue on.

Perhaps you are going to carve out a middle ground for yourself — something beyond any of those options.

Let’s say you had resolved to go to the gym five times per week. Perhaps you do not stick with any set number, but notice when you do go to the gym and count it as a time you cared well for yourself and felt good about going without the pressure of the artificial number. Basically, noticing the changes as they are organically happening. You may have more success taking the pressure off yourself.

Tomorrow, February dawns in 2020. Some of us are continuing the resolutions, many of us are not, and some are in-between. Wherever you are, make the decision that feels right for you at this moment, knowing there is space to change.

Dear Therapist: Winter Isolation

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A Season of Loneliness?

Dear Therapist,

I am feeling isolated this season. It feels like I am spending more time on my own, at home, binging shows, cooking for one, and generally feeling isolated. Is there any way to alleviate my winter blues?

I get you – particularly after the snowy, cold week we have had in the Seattle area recently. The pattern almost feels painful. Get up, head to work, come home, eat dinner, watch shows, and head to bed. People are over the holiday merriment and the cold has burrowed in to make it hard to feel and/or stay connected.

What to do?

Most likely it’s going to take some energy to break the pattern, but you can choose community over isolation even during this season — even if you find it challenging.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Invite a group of friends over to watch your favorite shows together — or watch a show with a friend on-line using FaceTime or another similar service.
  2. Don’t go home right away after work. Perhaps pop into a book store or a coffee shop and take in the scene. Even if you don’t know anyone being a part of the hustle and bustle of the place will lift the feeling of isolation.
  3. Host a dinner party or a game night – make it potluck in terms of food and games.
  4. Catch a movie on the big screen – with friends or on your own. Again, being in a public place can do a lot to take you out of that felt sense of isolation.
  5. Volunteer — spend some time working on behalf of a cause you love. You will meet like-minded people and gain a sense of purpose

These are only a few of the ways that you can beat winter isolation. Anything that breaks your routine and puts you around people or involves your community will be helpful.

Spring is coming – the days are already lengthening. Winter’s grip will recede in due time. In the meantime, challenge yourself to stay connected.

Dear Therapist: Political Exhaustion

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Political Exhaustion

Dear Therapist:

I am exhausted! After years of political turmoil in this country, I can’t stand it any longer. I feel anxious, concerned, and worried. Further, I am tired of arguing with my neighbors. It used to be we could all get along, but those days seem long past. How do I handle what seems to be a never-ending world of political strife and turmoil that overwhelms me on a daily basis. Help!

Wow! Your question hits home I am sure for many people. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the discourse of what is happening along with the events unfolding each day across a wide range of global concerns is enough to want to simply close your door, pull the covers over your head, and check out!

If you are feeling this way you are dealing with political exhaustion.

Of course, this is understandable:

  • You read the paper and find yourself bombarded with news headlines that are troubling
  • There is the realization that you are only one person and the question comes to mind, “what can one person do about any of it anyway?’
  • You are on social media and there are requests for your money and time to support causes and show up to one more rally
  • You listen to the news and the political talk heads speak your language and incites more concern and worry
  • You bring up a topic or contribute to a conversation with your neighbor and all of a sudden you find yourself in a hot argument because the other is never going to see the world as you do – not interested
  • You try to refresh yourself in nature and your mind is plagued wondering if the animals and trees and fresh air will be around for your kids and grandkids

How can one continue to stay engaged without drowning in exhaustion? After all, you are only one person.

I think it is important to be honest with yourself and be true to yourself. If you are feeling exhausted, disinterested, lethargic toward all of these cares, then it is time to change up one’s routine and ways of interacting with our current political construct.

Mainly this involves holding boundaries around where you will and will not put your time and energy into and prioritizing putting time into yourself and your care. There is no fight without the people and so taking care of one’s self is one of the most critical ways to keep up the fight.

There is no shame in taking a break and refueling yourself. Here are some helpful tips to treat your political exhaustion:

  • Go on a news diet and limit how much you read and watch in a day
  • Say no to events for awhile and, when you feel ready, be discerning about what you choose to say yes to
  • Sleep
  • Self Care — whatever you do to care for yourself, do more
  • Let go of the guilt of stepping back – the struggle will still be there with you either exhausted or refreshed
  • Choose to spend time “doing good” – most likely the flow of doing something good for yourself, another, your community, your neighborhood, your friends and family will recharge you in a way that is not depleting, but fulfilling

It is inevitable to become politically exhausted. This is not a short, quick battle, but a long grind that all of us must contend with each day. We are running a marathon not a sprint. Take care of you and let go of the rest while you need and want to.

Dear Therapist: Procrastination Exhaustion

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Procrastination Exhaustion – It’s Real!

Dear Therapist:

I am the worst procrastinator. Ever since I can remember, I have always put off whatever I need to do. It could be anything from work projects to school papers to getting my errands run on any given day. Help! By the time my back is up against a wall and I have to get it done, I am exhausted from all the energy I put in to not having ever started in the first place. Not good. Is this hopeless or are there any ways I can mitigate my procrastination?

Wow! I hear you! I feel you! Procrastination is a bugaboo that hounds many people. Some will say this is actually how they work best, i.e. putting things off until the last minute and then being forced to get it done (and done well) in a limited period of time.

However, if it is causing you to feel exhausted so that when you have to get to the grocery store because there is no food left in the house or the paper is due tomorrow or your big work presentation is here, then it’s not an effective way to actually work and get things done. Rather, it sounds anxiety provoking, exhausting, and overall stressful.

However, if you have been doing this for most of your life, this is not going to be an easy habit to break. So, my first tip is go slow with this and be gentle on yourself as you work to undertake your tasks over the course of time rather than at the last minute.

Second, it is a mental trick, but one that is helpful. Back up any due date by a couple of days to a full week. If you hear that a due date is Wednesday the 10th, in your mind and in your calendars, make the due date Wednesday the 3rd. When you play this time trick, you will be left with anywhere from a few days to a whole week to get the project/paper completed without procrastinating through the actual due date.

Third, in terms of errands, make a “to do” list for any given day and stick with it. Need to pick up the shirt at the drycleaners today for an event tomorrow? Add it to the “to do” list and get it done – so you can cross it off. Never underestimate the utter gleeful feeling of marking off an item on a list like this. If you think it will be impossible, do you have a partner, friend, roommate who is good at getting tasks done like this and would be willing to help you out? Then delegate and ask if the person can help you out. Perhaps you can offer one of your strengths to them to return the favor.

Procrastination is never fun when it leads to anxiety and exhaustion. Finding solutions to help you out of this loop is key, but remember it will take time. One last thing you may want to ask yourself — how did it all begin with anyway? Thinking about the baseline issue of how it started may also help you gain more of an understanding of yourself as you seek to change the behavior.

Here’s to completing things on time every time without stress, anxiety or exhaustion!

Dear Therapist: Now What?

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Three Days In, Now What?

Dear Therapist,

We are three days into the New Year…now what? The celebrations are over and the long, cold winter is staring me in the face. What to do?

Breathe and relax is the answer that comes to the top of my mind, but that is anything but easy.

Why does it seem so impossible?

There may be a couple of reasons:

  • A whole new year is staring you in the face – and you have not a clue what to do.
  • The old is very much a part of your life and you feel stuck in it all and there are no holiday distractions to keep the feeling at bay.
  • It’s cold, dark, and the days are super short.
  • You’ve already broken your New Year Resolution

None of these make anyone feel very comfortable – let alone desiring to breathe and relax.

So, what to do? First, remember January is 31 days long. It will be here and gone – nothing lasts forever and neither will this month if it feels bleak to you.

Second, what are some pleasures that you can incorporate into your days. I listed a few of my own yesterday here, but surely you have your own list of ways you care for yourself and things you do to take pleasure in the days no matter the season. Find one or two and bring some pleasure to these days.

Third, although its winter, getting out into nature and witnessing her beautiful nature during this season is also a way to refresh yourself. Perhaps you will take a Forest Bath — perhaps you will just walk your dog around the block. Whenever you are out there, breathe deep and take in the beauty.

Finally, make a plan for the spring! Is there a special outing or trip you would like to take when the days are longer and warmer. Dream on it, armchair travel, and make a plan. You will have something to look forward to and a pleasant way to pass the time.

Yes, the celebrations are over, but a whole new year has dawned to capture your attention and imagination. Live into it and go gently with yourself.

Dear Therapist: New Year Resolutions

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Dear Therapist,

It’s that time of year! What do you think about New Year Resolutions? Should I make some or let it go for 2020?

Ah! Yes, a new year is about to dawn as is a whole new decade.

That means the pressure is on to resolve something for all of these new days to come. However, there is much evidence year in and year out that three weeks into the new year, the resolutions have been broken and we’re up to our old ways again.

Oh well, we gave it the good college try! But it does beg the question, should we even bother? Isn’t this just something else artificial that we lay upon ourselves to feel bad about in the not too distant future?

Through that lens, I would say let it go. Do not officially make any New Year resolutions.

At the same time, if there is something you want to resolve to do, be, take action on, etc. do it now whenever “now” arises. Do not put off change to some designated day in a given year.

Start now and make the commitment to yourself for you not because it is some season to do so. I think then and there we have a better chance of reaching our goals.

Whether or not to mark January 1 with a resolution, well that is entirely up to you. Only thing, if you do and you don’t stick to it, let it go and don’t worry about it. The effort is what counts.

Start the new year resolving to go gentle with yourself!

Dear Therapist: Gift Disappointment

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Dear Therapist:

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this time of year stresses me out in a way that may sound selfish. To be perfectly honest, I give good gifts to my family and friends. What I mean is the gifts are perfect for the person because I have heard them when they get excited about some item or another. The holidays are a time for me to surprise them with the thing they have told me they love. Not the case for me. I get a bunch of stuff that could be for the mailmxn quite frankly. I am always disappointed, but I never tell the person but rather hide it. I find myself taking a big bag of stuff to Value Village every year. How can I avoid feeling this disapppointment for yet another year?

Gifts – pretty as they are packaged – may sometimes disappoint!

Talk about a taboo topic! So glad you wrote in and brought some breath to what I believe many people feel in their hearts this time of year when they are opening their gifts from friends and family. Instead of genuine surprise and joy, most people have to put on their best role to pretend that this is the best present ever. How uncomfortable and tiring.

And, yet, as you point out, to show anything less than gratitude would mean you are selfish and ungrateful. Neither of these look good on anyone this time of year so we smile, act out our appreciation, secretly feel hurt and disappointment, throw it into the bin, and take it to the charity come January. We simply chalk up our disappointment as par for the season.

Ugh! To think this is what millions of people do each and every year. I can see why you want to avoid this uncomfortable rut.

Your question further delves into being someone who takes time to think about someone and then thoughtfully purchases something for the person to delight her. When this type of thought is not reciprocated it is doubly hurtful as you can easily begin to question if the friend or family member even knows you.

Well, what to do?

We cannot control anyone else but ourselves. It sounds important that the people whom you buy gifts for have something special from you. Feel good about this just for the way that you honor your loved ones.

Regarding the presents you receive, you could try moving into your truth by speaking it in a kind way. Letting the other know how much you appreciate that she thought about you and that this doesn’t feel like you for x, y, z reason. Even as I type these words, I feel how this sentiment can be taken as selfish,. Yet, being honest in a world where people smear over hard feelings to make the other feel OK, is actually a gift one can give another person.

First, that person is going to notice that you noticed what she gave to you. It’s not just one other thing you have now, but something that either suits you or does not. This leads that person to knowing two important things about you: one. you care about what she gave to you and two, she now knows what you do and do not like. It could be the person was just regifting something she didn’t want and didn’t know you cared so much. Either way, your truth will offer emotional vitality behind the gift received and given.

If you are truly sick of the cycle, but can never imagine bringing your truth to the table for whatever reason, you could also create a boundary and simply not exchange any longer. Perhaps these gifts are from long ago friends who really are out of touch with who you are now, but keep up the annual gift exchange without thinking. It’s OK to call it a day and say no to the entire exchange. This may also bring relief from your disappointment.

The holidays always offer some awkward moments, particularly around gift giving. Owning your feelings and bringing them forth in your truth is one way to set yourself free from this cycle of disappointment.

Dear Therapist…

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Dear Therapist,

My partner doesn’t listen to me, or at least it doesn’t feel like she does. She is there in the room, I am talking, and I think she is hearing every word I am saying and then, a few moments later, she asks me all about what I have just told her. When I tell her I just told you all about that, she disagrees. Why doesn’t she listen to me — more importantly, why does she think she is listening to me?

Help!

Listening Muses

An all too familiar complaint in our relationships: a lack of listening! Take heart, this is common.

However, the reason someone may not be listening can vary greatly.

  • Perhaps your partner is doing something else at the same time and is not good at multitasking and, although she thinks she is listening, she is actually not wholly present to everything being communicated.
  • Perhaps although she wants to listen, she actually has something on her mind she wants to tell you about and so her mind is naturally more on her topic than yours.
  • Perhaps she is hearing you, but filtering in a way that is unique to her and so is experiencing your words and what you are communicating in a way that is about her and less about you and your experience.

It’s a very good question you pose — not only why is she not listening, but why does she think she actually is listening. And only she can answer this question.

So, this begs the next step. Sitting down and discussing the mechanics of how you communicate. This sounds almost like a business meeting of sorts and it kind of is – a meeting about the business of your communicating.

You can cover topics in this meeting, inlcuding:

  • What are the best conditions by which she can listen and hear you. Does she need quiet? Does she need to be fully focused on you and your words?
  • Does she have anything on her mind that she wants to talk to you about that she is distracted by?
  • Is something you are saying disturbing her or causing her anxiety? If so, how can she communicate this to you in the moment?

A series of questions like this can help you both better define the optimal conditions for communicating. Also, in the moment of speaking, you may want to check in with her to see what she is hearing you say so she can follow what you are saying and you can have confidence that she is with you.

Although we often think that communication is natural and easy, two people must open up in these ways to optimize the experience of not only speaking, but feeling heard by the other.

May attuned listening be the prize!