While on my honeymoon I had the opportunity to eat at delicious restaurants. When I say delicious, I mean some of the most delicious restaurants I’ve ever experienced. As we ate these delicious (and itty bitty portioned—what’s up with that?) meals, my husband and I took the time to really enjoy every bite. Sometimes we would set our forks down and just really taste every single flavor and morsel. I can still taste the chocolate lava cakes and the scallops, truly divine! (more…)
The full memory on my computer has forced me to take a trip down memory lane and peruse through all of my various files to see which ones were worthy of keeping and which could be dumped. I stumbled upon many of my old assignments from graduate school. As I opened one file, I began to reflect on an idea I heard when I was in a particularly moving class in my master’s program. I have seen this theme play out over and over in my own life and in the lives of clients, friends, etc. The idea I’d like to share is the idea that we are, or can become, wounded healers.
Physical & Emotional Wounds
We’ve all fallen down as kids (or, let’s be honest here, as adults) and scraped up our knees. We’ve experienced small wounds: paper cuts, acne, blisters, etc. We’ve experienced larger wounds: wisdom teeth surgery, broken bones, c-sections, etc. It’s always incredible to me to watch the way our bodies heal after they are wounded; to see new skin replace the old; holes close up; our bodies return to normal (or at least semi-normal) function. To watch broken toes and broken legs help us run again. Our bodies are miraculous!
We all carry emotional wounds as well. Wounds that feel just as real and just as serious as broken bones. Broken hearts that feel so excruciating we would have sworn we were experiencing heart failure. Anxious minds that feel just as debilitating as any physical ailment. Grief that feels as heavy as trying to carry a car up the mountain on torn ACLs. The healing that comes with our emotional and mental wounds looks very different. We don’t see the fresh layers of skin or healing bones, but we know that something is changing. We feel more whole, quicker to smile, more like coming back to ourselves.
We All Haves Wounds; We Are All Healers
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a therapist, it is that all of us have emotional and mental wounds. Some that are deep and some that are more superficial. These wounds shape us and change us, forcing our emotional skins to regenerate and our mental bones to regrow and strengthen. I have also come to know that each of us has a deep-seated ability to be healers. Our woundedness does not take away from our capacity to be healing influences. In fact, at time I think that it is our woundedness that allows us to serve and love and aid others more fully. To be truly empathetic requires us to access our wounds. To sit with someone in pain beautifully forces us to sit with our own pain as well. As such, we become wounded healers. We use our wounds to push us forward into more empathy and compassion. We don’t need to be healed to be healing influences, we can do so even as we are still wounded and healing ourselves.
Woundedness as a Gift
I know it’s so cliché to say 2020 has been a really difficult year, but wow! It really has been such a difficult year! As many of you, I have felt more anxiety this past year than in any other time of my life. I have felt afraid and uncertain. This anxiety that I have experienced has felt like a “wound” for me. In talking with a friend, they asked me if I could view my increased anxiety as a gift. At first I scoffed at the idea. Dealing with heavy emotions was not a gift! It was painful and at times, felt too heavy to bear. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this increase in emotional difficulty really was a gift. When friends talked about the heaviness of anxiety, I had a little bit of a better taste as to just how painful this was. When clients spoke of the frustration and desire for anxiety to just go away, I could understand a bit more what this was like. My woundedness didn’t make me less of a good therapist, friend, or healer, it actually helped me connect to people in ways I never could have if I hadn’t experienced an increase in emotional pain myself. My empathy just skyrocketed after this experience and I believe I’m a better therapist, friend, and healing influence because of it.
Embracing the “And”
In what ways are you a “wounded healer?” How are you embracing both your wounds and your capacity to be a healer? What makes this difficult? My clients have been some of my greatest examples of wounded healers. It’s not always easy to get to a place where one aspect does not feel more valuable or important than the other, however, there is a unique power and beauty that comes from embracing them both!
I will be getting married in just a few days! I feel like for so long it has seemed like it would never come and now it’s here! To say I am excited is an understatement. I am also very excited to stop stressing about all the little details of wedding planning. Although I have actually had a lot of fun planning and preparing, it will be nice to not have wedding details constantly running through the back of my mind.
About a week ago, I was feeling very overwhelmed. It seems like every day something new came up to plan or prep that I hadn’t thought of. I’ve planned large-scale events before, so I was surprised every time I realized there was something else we needed to consider. It was all quickly becoming too much. Juggling work/clients that needed my full attention, students and a class that required emotional and mental effort, relationships, moving, wedding planning, attending wedding events, etc. was really weighing on me. I was not having a very fun time anymore and that made me sad. I plan for this to be my only wedding and the stress was really getting to me.
I talked with my very level-headed and calm fiancé about this. We resolved to spend more time enjoying what we were doing and to stay present and engaged with whatever was taking our attention at the time. I set my intention to find more joy in the process.
The Perfect Bouquet
One of my unknown hobbies is floral design. I took a class in college and absolutely became obsessed with the unique colors, shapes, and textures florals offered. I decided to create my own bouquet for our bridal photos and was so excited to spend time working with high-quality flowers. I went to the flower wholesaler and spent about an hour in the cooler with all of the blooms. I stumbled across the perfect shade and variety of roses—garden roses, my very favorite. I’m running the risk of sounding dramatic, but I almost cried seeing them. My heart was so thrilled by the beautiful and unique flowers. I was so excited to go home and spend time assembling the perfect bouquet.
The bouquet turned out to be stressful as well. My floral design skills were rusty and I found myself taking to the internet to look up floral design tutorials. I accidentally dropped my first arrangement on the ground, snapping off the heads of several of the precious and very expensive “red tess” garden roses. I was not having a very good time with this endeavor. This exciting, creative, fun process suddenly felt exhausting and stressful, just like the rest of wedding planning.
I thought about it for a second and recognized that although it was okay and made sense that I was frustrated, my frustration was coming from my high expectations of my floral-arranging experience. I did not have to continue to feel defeated and sad. Instead, I could change my expectations to be “have a fun and enjoyable experience engaging in something I love.” I needed to drop the expectations that my florals would look like professional Instagram florist pages. I decided to try again, to just enjoy the process and the journey creating.
This time was much more successful and fun. I found myself returning to the feeling in the floral cooler at the wholesaler. I was excited and almost giddy. The bouquet turned out beautifully, although not professional level (I’m not a professional, so duh it didn’t look that way).
The next day when we went to take our bridals my future sister-in-law, who was taking our photos, had a catastrophe with her camera and it was rendered useless until it could be professionally examined. She was so disappointed and felt horribly. However, I did not bat an eye. I returned to my intention of being excited, happy, and enjoying the journey. I was in a beautiful landscape with people I loved, playing dress-up with my fiancé, and filled with so much joy. Although our bridals were taken on an iPhone, I am not disappointed! We had a blast and my expectations of “Instagram-worthy perfection” wasn’t helpful anyways. So, in my black winter boots (the snow was very deep), with a homemade, rustic-looking bouquet, we took photos on an iPhone and I couldn’t be happier.
Although it is okay for us to feel disappointment, stress, and discouragement, these feelings are sometimes rooted in our unrealistic expectations and perfectionism. Unfortunately, these two things can steal away our ability to see things as good and meaningful, although imperfect.
Challenge Perfectionistic Expectations
I don’t know if there’s a magical solution for moving away from this style of thinking, but I have found it very helpful for me to recognize when my expectations and perfectionistic tendencies are getting in the way of me being present and experiencing joy. I think the first step to moving past this is to spend more time recognizing these thinking patterns within ourselves. When we feel discouragement, anger, overwhelm, etc. it might be helpful for us to do a quick internal and compassionate inventory: Why am feeling this way? Could this problem be lessened if my expectations were adjusted? Are my expectations getting in the way of me enjoying what I have and staying present? How do I shoot for “good” rather than the ever-elusive “perfect.”
As I was able to understand my own thought processes and emotions, everything changed for me! It doesn’t mean I don’t still experience stress during this time of planning and prep, but the overwhelm and desire for things to be “just so” has decreased significantly. I can more readily challenge these unhelpful thoughts now that I am more aware of them. What unhelpful thoughts of perfection and unrealistic expectations are getting in the way of your joy and presence? Drop a comment below or on our Facebook page and let us know!
Good Trouble in a Classroom Setting
Happy Black History month! Along with working with clients at Balance Health and Healing, I also teach a class at BYU called Cross-Cultural Families and Human Development. It is a class focused on race, ethnicity, families across the world, privilege, socioeconomic status, gender, etc. I am very passionate about this class and the way it added to my own education when I took it in my undergraduate career. It is an honor to be back in the classroom on the other end of things. I love the opportunity I have to help students navigate difficult topics with compassion, understanding, and research.
This winter is my third semester teaching the class. During one of my previous semesters, I had a student who disagreed with much of the material. She was very openly vocal and often told me I was wrong in front of the class. As a therapist, I naturally tried to take a compassionate stance while helping her to understand and interpret research. Much to my chagrin, she ended up being very dissatisfied with the class and it reflected in her final course ratings. I was initially devastated. I had spent time nurturing her education, having conversations with her after class about material, and seeking to understand her perspective. Why did the end of the semester review reflect so poorly on my efforts?
I talked about this with a dear mentor and someone integral to my understanding of race. I expressed to him how sad I was at the painful and harsh rating. He reminded me of John Lewis, a pivotal Civil Rights Activist, who frequently spoke of creating “good trouble.” He meant that it was important, and necessary, to stand up for the things that mattered, whether others appreciated or understood your message. Senator Lewis is quoted in saying: “Do not get lost in the sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Good Trouble + Eating Recovery
I sometimes feel like being in the eating recovery world requires me to get into a lot of “good trouble.” This is sometimes hard for someone who historically does not like to “ruffle feathers.” However, Senator Lewis inspires me to work harder to be an advocate in whatever my sphere, whether that gets me into trouble or not. Eating recovery is one of those areas that I have realized it is important to for me to work harder to get into “good trouble.” As a therapist who focuses mostly on eating disorders, I cannot sit by and be silent. Advocacy against the diet industry, media, skewed social beliefs, etc. necessarily involves “good trouble.”
John Lewis helps us understand some main ways we can use our voices to get into “good trouble.” This was originally discussed in advocating for equality in race but can also be applied to any important issue.
Focus on what you can do versus what you can’t
Changing a diet-culture and weight-centric world is no joke. It’s hard to know how to tackle a billion-dollar industry and deeply internalized ideas as just one person. The fact of the matter is that we do not have to take on changing the world and creating “good trouble” on our own. I always tell my class that it’s important for them to discover their role in advocacy and work within their spheres of influence. This is true for creating “good trouble” as advocates for eating recovery as well. Although we cannot change everything on our own, we can do what we can where we can. Perhaps this is in teaching our kids, setting boundaries with our family members, helping create policy, working in helping professions, using inclusive language, advocating for size diversity and inclusivity, etc.
When it comes to being an ally or advocate in any situation, it will require persistence. Eating recovery is no exception. The culture that tells individuals that they are not enough based on their body is not easily changed. Once we are able to find our voice and our role in creating change, we must persist!
Be optimistic about the future
I believe that our world is changing! Part of creating “good trouble” means believing that things will get better because of it! We must be optimistic about the prospect that our efforts are actually making a difference. I know that the work we do is creating a safer world for people in all bodies and holding onto hope is not a naïve thing, it actually enables us to move forward and continue to stir up “good trouble.”
“In these bodies we live, in these bodies we die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” -Mumford + Sons
Our relationship to our bodies is complicated sometimes, isn’t it? It’s easy to get caught in the traps of comparison, ingratitude, and criticism. It makes so much sense that we fall into these patterns of dissatisfaction with our bodies because of the societal pressure and influence to look a certain way. However, as we invest more of our love into our bodies we will be able to live out fuller and richer lives.
One place that it is easy for me to slip into old negative patterns of comparison is at the gym. It seems that someone is always faster than me, stronger than me, or less red-faced than me (if you know you know). I have gotten a lot better over the years at appreciating my own body and what it can do, but these comparisons still sometimes come: an automatic thought pattern that is hard to shake. I have done a lot of work here and can quickly move towards thoughts that are more in line with my values, but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes that takes active work!
The other day I got a text message from my fiancé. We talk about body image and eating concerns frequently because of my job. He was at the gym and said the following: “Everyone thinks from time to time, ‘I wish I could have that person’s body, or just swap out a few features.’ First of all, swapping parts would just produce a lot of Frankenstein’s monsters. Secondly, why would you want to trade a body that you have spent a whole lifetime learning, protecting, nurturing etc.? All the sports you’ve played, all the people you’ve hugged and kissed. All the injuries and diseases you’ve gone through was in YOUR body. There is just too much history to just not want it anymore. Even people that have really broken bodies or broken relationships with their bodies have enough positive history to make it all worth it.’
I recognize that people who have experienced trauma within their bodies may have a different experience. However, this text got me thinking a lot about what our bodies carry for us. Our bodies have been with us through every deep belly laugh, every hand hold, every excited & joyous emotion, every repaired bone or scar…our bodies have been a constant for us. They have been our partners throughout life and have carried both the good and the bad with us and for us. Our bodies have held our sorrows with us as they gushed tears of loss. They have felt our pain as they bled with us. Our bodies are incredibly protective and we, in turn, protect them as well.
Our relationship with our bodies is complicated and nuanced. However, if we can begin understanding our bodies as companions rather than antagonists, something changes. This perspective allows us a deep gratitude and appreciation for our bodies, including the scars and “imperfections”. I put quotations around that word because this sense of gratitude even changes the way that we view parts of us that may not meet societal expectations or standards. I think about my body and even specific parts that have been hard for me. Although I sometimes desire to “fit” better into what society expects, I think on a good day I would not trade my body or any part of it. We have grown together and loved together. In this body I will live and in this body I will die. I may as well invest more love into it if we’ll be partners for life.
Awake My Soul by Mumford & Sons