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Looking Back with Self-Compassion

Looking Back with Self-Compassion

I am currently in a history of psychology class (sounds riveting doesn’t it?) where we have been learning about how we tend to look back on the past with a presentist point of view. Meaning, we use our present-day lens with our present-day values and ideals to judge what people did in the past. With that lens, no one measures up! We think of them all as ignorant, racist and sexist, and we think of ourselves as the enlightened generation that has got everything figured out. 

These discussions have led me to think about the ways in which I am presentist to my own history and life. With side parts and skinny jeans supposedly going out of style and middle parts and boyfriend jeans coming back in, I have been reflecting on the weird and wonderful fashion trends I looked back on with a presentist point of view. Remember the jeans and dress combo, when the height of fashion was to wear a skirt or a dress over your jeans in the early 2000s? Maybe that was just me…

Or the zig-zag part in your chunky highlighted hair that needed to be dead straight?

Or the crop top with the low-rise jeans?

I’m hoping I’m not the only one here with photographic evidence from my school years that suggests I followed some of these trends. Whenever the old pictures come out, I find a small bead of sweat making its way across my forehead because the photos are so embarrassing! These pictures could certainly be used against me one day (and here’s my presentist point of view being shown!).

When we think back on the past, whether it’s fashion mistakes, or something actually meaningful, I think it’s healthier for our self-worth to do so with a little less presentism and a little more self-compassion. If we’re talking about embarrassing fashion trends, instead of cringing so much that you sweat and rip up every picture of yourself in high school, how does it feel different in your body to respond with “that was the trend at the time, and nearly everyone was doing it – it was actually very fashionable to wear my dress over my jeans” instead of “I am so dumb, that trend is so embarrassing, why did I do that?”. Think about how that difference feels.

I’ve used fashion as an example because it’s always changing and trying to keep up is like trying to sprint through a marathon – exhausting and not the best approach! For more meaningful things from our past than fashion, it can help us move forward more easily to look back with self-compassion instead of the lens of what we know now, or our presentist lens. 

Some of these more meaningful examples from the past could be a bad relationship you got into, or a way in which you hurt someone, or maybe it could just be behavior through high school or how you treated your parents. I have found myself thinking back on the past with presentist thoughts like “why did I do that? My priorities were all wrong. I should have acted [X Y Z] way, I would do it differently now”. Well, of course we would do it differently now, we are different people now than we were in the past. 

Our learning and experience have taught us new lessons, and our brains are more developed; of course we would act differently now. I like to think of it in terms of a tool kit – for each experience we go through, we have a new tool in our tool kit. When you look back with self-compassion instead of presentism, you realize you only had less tools in your tool kit then. You used the best tool you had access to at that time.

The situations I have described already pertain to how we tried to use the right tool but we didn’t have enough tools to pick the right one. Looking back with self-compassion even means being kind to yourself if you purposefully used the wrong tool or didn’t try your best to respond well in a certain situation. 

In those situations, I think it feels a lot nicer to say “I made a mistake, which makes me human, and makes me alive, and helps me to connect with everyone else who has made mistakes” which is all of us! You are not unique for making mistakes, and it can unite us if we can accept that we, like everyone, will make mistakes.

Looking back with self-compassion means no longer cringing at past behavior but sending some love to your past self who was likely trying his or her best. You would hope that other people in your life could look back with compassion for you and for themselves too, but if not, that’s OK – maybe that tool isn’t in their tool kit yet. 

Stop using that lens of presentism and recognize how your knowledge and skills were less back then. And, even if it were purposeful behavior, that just makes you more human and still expands your tool kit in a meaningful way. I challenge you to look at old pictures of yourself from high school (always daunting!) and try some of these powerful ways of speaking to yourself. You might find that being a little more kind to your past self dissipates some of the pain old memories can bring.  

Moving Toward Belonging

Moving Toward Belonging

I recently made a move to a new home. Although it is only 35 minutes away from where I previously lived, it has felt like a whole new world. I have only lived in two cities in my entire life. Moving away from where I’ve made a life for nearly the past decade was difficult and slightly disorienting. Although I was absolutely thrilled to be embarking on a new experience, there was also a lot of grief involved.

At first, I thought my grief centered around familiar places and things. I would miss our favorite acai spot and our go-to local burger joint. I’d miss the beautiful spring blooms in our neighborhood. This town and I had a long history together and I felt such a deep sadness leaving. I didn’t quite understand it, after all, I’d be back to visit friends and it was close enough to even go to dinner there once in a while.

We had lived in our house for about two days before I started feeling sad that we hadn’t made any friends yet. My husband laughed and helped me remember that making friends takes time. The first time we went to the grocery store, I was sad I didn’t see any friends I knew. As I reflected on why I was feeling such a loss, I recognized that it wasn’t the place I was missing. I could find new favorite restaurants, make new friends, and re-establish a sense of normalcy. What I was missing wasn’t the grocery store itself, it was the sense of belonging I felt as I saw friends and navigated the store with ease. It wasn’t the restaurants I missed; it was the way I recognized the people behind the counter and the sense of connection I felt with them. I wouldn’t miss the shorter commute (okay, well maybe I would), but mostly I would miss the sense of familiarity the drive is, the way I felt like I knew exactly where I was and how I fit into the world around me.

A change in scenery threw me. It made me feel less sure of myself and how I fit. I don’t know my neighbors; I have to use maps every time I try to go anywhere. I sometimes feel like my friends will forget me now that I don’t live down the road. 

However, through this process I began to reflect on what I know of belonging. Belonging goes beyond “fitting in.” Although I can be highly compassionate with myself and the grief, sadness, and feeling of disorientation and lack of belonging that comes with moving away from a home in which I felt so comfortable and as though I had a place–that was not belonging. To understand truly what I was seeking for, I looked to Brené Brown, who says:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance…True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. – Brené Brown”

 So what did I need to do when I was feeling disconnected and afraid of not quite belonging?

  1. Understand the innate need
  2. Belong to myself
  3. Share myself

 My charge as I sought belonging in a new community was not as much about establishing new routines, new “favorite spots,” or even new connections. My charge was to dive more fully into understanding why this was important to me, to be compassionate with myself, understanding that I felt this way because it was a need! 

My next charge was to work on myself. I needed to invest more time into appreciating and seeing my true, authentic self. I needed to find a permanent home, full of safety and belonging, within myself. 

Finally, I needed to be very careful not to work to fit in, but to work to share my true self with others. My true self who is full of flaws, full of works-in-progress, and full of gifts to give and things to contribute. This can always be intimidating in a new place and in a new experience, however, it is absolutely vital to muster up the courage to share our authentic selves. This belonging, this sense of deep connection, is only found in showing up as ourselves.

I’ve seen this pay off in my own life. I think part of the reason moving has been difficult is because I have shown up authentically and created a true sense of belonging and community. I just need to remember that that community and belonging is not location-specific and stays with me wherever I go. I’ve learned that the risks and vulnerability needed to create deep belonging are always worth it.

How do you see the search for belonging in your own life? How do you dig in and show up with your authentic self? When have you seen this pay off in your life? Do you need to focus more on compassion for this as a deep need? Do you need to work on belonging to yourself? Or do you need to work on (like I do), showing up and sharing yourself with others more fully?

 

Beauty of Body Diversity

Beauty of Body Diversity

How is everyone feeling about summer returning?? On one hand, summer is the best. We get to spend lots of time outside, eat yummy foods, have a break from the hustle and bustle, and the best part: longer days and more sunlight! 

On the other hand, summer can often be hard for those struggling to create or maintain a peaceful relationship with food and body. If you’re having some mixed feelings about the weather heating up, you are NOT alone.

I recently got home from a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. I love Atlanta and the richness of culture there. The last time I was in Atlanta was for a school trip in which we studied Civil Rights and the powerful men and women involved in advancing equality. Upon arrival this time in Atlanta, I was immediately struck by the diversity in race, ethnicity, clothing and hair style, gender expression, religious symbols, and of course, body type. I sat on the train from the airport to the rental car pickup and thought to myself, “I know that body image and eating disorders exist everywhere, but if Utah was more diverse in style, body image, etc., I wonder how that could change my clients’ experiences.”

 Everywhere I turned I saw beautiful people: mothers holding children’s hands, hurrying them from the gate; older women with black hair fading to a stunning gray; men with weathered faces; and young women who were trying to get clear about who they were. All of them looked different: different races, different genders, different bodies, but all of them were beautiful because they each offered something unique.

One concept that has been very healing for me as I navigate difficult and potentially triggering conversations and messaging around “getting a summer body” is paying attention to the beauty of diversity. Can you imagine a world where there was only one type of flower? One type of fruit? One type of animal? A world where everyone’s voices sounded the same? Where food was identical? Where there was only one color? What about a world where everyone had the same body (cue spooky clone visual *shudder*).      

Theoretically, I think it is pretty easy for us to buy into the idea that more diversity in how bodies look is good! However, it becomes hard to keep this in mind when we are living within a society that glorifies and celebrates certain bodies while other bodies are marginalized and oppressed. 

To make things harder and more confusing, the standards by which society judges bodies changes constantly, leaving every single woman feeling as though she does not fit and is not good enough. This is also true for men and especially true for those in the LGBTQIA+ community.     

Isn’t it amazing that our bodies find their “happy places” at all different weights? Isn’t it fascinating that eyes can range from greens to browns to blues to grays and everywhere in between? Isn’t it remarkable that different bodies and different body compositions carry different benefits? For example, my (very) short legs can build muscle quickly while lengthy limbs can leap and reach great heights. 

Differences in body types are not just something to be tolerated, but to be celebrated. Your unique body is good, no matter how it looks, but there is beauty to the way you are “different” from others in your appearance. I’ve always been a little bit self-conscious of my cheeks. They’ve basically been the same since I was a little girl. After I got married, my husband always talks about how much he likes to kiss my warm cheeks when I wake up in the morning. Although it would take a lot (A LOT) of contour to make my cheeks look chiseled like the cheeks of someone on TV, the way my body is diverse is beautiful!     

What makes unique aspects of your body beautiful? (Not necessarily just physically, but in other ways too). How can you celebrate body diversity more in your own life? How can you help contribute to positive representations of body diversity in social and other media?

 

The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle

As an adult, I find myself dismantling unhelpful, internalized attitudes and beliefs that I picked up from my youth. One that I’ve been confronting recently is this belief that “If you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backward.”

Have you heard that one too?

This belief makes me think about moving sidewalks in airports. My kids and I always love to get on the sidewalks that are moving in the opposite direction so we have to work extra hard to move forward toward our destinations. We giggle as we run full speed but hardly move at all. And then, when we stop, the sidewalk pulls us back, defeating all of our progress. This is a good time.

But it’s not fun and playful if we are all on invisible moving sidewalks that quickly eliminate our progress if we dare to stop moving. Operating from the belief that I’m on an invisible moving sidewalk that requires my chronic movement and dedication to not backslide, is exhausting at best, and fear and shame inducing at worst.

What’s funny about this belief system is it doesn’t follow physics. Well, I don’t know much about physics at all actually…but I feel pretty confident in asserting that if I’m not moving forward, I’m actually staying still.

And is there value in staying still?

That is the lesson I am learning in my life right now. In recent years, I have felt like life is asking me to slow down in important ways. I have been asked to confront and settle into spaces of “not knowing.” While this makes me feel messy, confused and vulnerable, I am learning to trust the process. It feels painfully slow and I’m not sure how or when it will conclude, or what that will even look like. Is this my midlife crisis?

I love how Brené Brown describes this messy place like being on Space Mountain. You are on the roller coaster, it’s too late to get off, and you are in the dark and can’t anticipate the twists and turns you are facing, nor do you know how and when it will end. But it does. It will.

Brené Brown discusses how you cannot skip this messy middle place. She even asserts that this messy middle place is “where the magic happens.”

I’m not feeling all sorts of “magical” but I am learning valuable lessons inherent in this space. I was listening to a guided meditation recently where the guru asked me to start breathing in ways I’d never considered breathing before. I’m used to breathing into my chest, or even down towards my stomach, but this guru asked me to breathe into my back and sides. He asked me to attend to the feeling of expansion from my ribs laterally, instead of feeling my breath move up and down.

That’s what this feels like. A new way of breathing that feels sideways. A way that is teaching me about how I can expand in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It is teaching me to settle and not be reactive. I am learning to be more deliberate and slow as I sort through all the messy pieces I am confronting. 

I am learning to be more present. I am learning to be “ok with not always being ok.” I am learning that I don’t have to be “productive” to be whole and worthy. I am learning to be compassionate with myself. Staying still, right now, is where I am learning to truly listen. So yeah, that all feels cool. I haven’t come out the other side, but I am so glad to learn that choosing to slow down and stop for a period is not the same as moving backwards. Just the opposite.

 

It’s OK to Fall Over

It’s OK to Fall Over

Over the Christmas break, I was gifted an evening of night skiing with my brother and my husband. I was so stoked to dust off my old ski gear and strap on my salopettes. It had been years since I had been skiing – an activity that my family and I used to love. Growing up, we would spend one week each winter in the Alps (a 12-hour drive from where I grew up in the U.K.) where we would ski to our heart’s content each day. It had been a huge family bonding activity, one that we all look back on with fondness. 

Fast forward 11 years, and I was missing the feel of the snow beneath my skis and the crisp mountain air in my face. On the evening that we were supposed to go skiing, I pulled my old gear out of its dusty box, got dressed (well…my snow pants from when I was 15 were markedly tight, because I don’t have the body of a 15-year-old anymore, thank goodness my body has grown with me!), and we headed for the slopes. 

As we approached the towering mountainside, I noticed my thoughts turning towards fearful nerves and “what ifs”. Like, what if I couldn’t remember how to ski anymore? What if my pants that were so tight they had to be undone fell down while I was skiing (please no!)? What if I fell over? What if I hurt myself? 

I acknowledged my nerves to my brother and husband, who were regulars on the mountain, and apprehensively clipped myself into my skis and we set off. As we glided up the mountain on the chair lift, taking in the glorious nature around us, I found myself setting the goal to “just get through the whole night without falling over” this evening. 

Having been skiing quite a lot growing up, I had been very confident on my skis and barely fell. But here I was, 11 years later, hoping that skiing was like riding a bike or a horse, and that muscle memory meant you could just pick back up where you left off. I told myself if I can make it through the evening without falling over, it would be a success. That was my goal. And I worked toward that goal, I went slower than I could have, I took safer routes than I could have, I turned slower and certainly did not attempt any jumps. I even sat out on some runs. When the evening was coming to an end, I quickly agreed that it was time to go because so far I had made my goal of not falling over – what if I did one more run and that was where it all went downhill (no pun intended)?

I loved my evening of skiing; it was a fabulous gift and so good for the soul! But, as I look back on the evening, I can’t help but regret my goal of not falling over. With that vision in mind, it stopped me from fully living in the moment and having the most fun I could have had. I was so concerned that I would look like I’d lost my skill level, that I actually looked like I’d lost my skill level by going so slow and avoiding anything remotely adventurous! 

I had self-sabotaged! I had not lived in the present moment, I had been more conscious of what I looked like, and I had set an AWFUL goal. What is wrong with falling over when you’re trying something you haven’t done for 11 years? Would I care if I went skiing regularly and then went with someone who hadn’t skied in 11 years and they fell over? No! So why did I put that on myself?

My daughter is currently in the phase of life where everything is brand new to her. Walking, climbing, jumping, sliding…the list goes on. She falls over about 200x a day. And the most miraculous part of that? She jumps back up without any look of embarrassment and tries again. She could not care less about how she looks and would probably never set the goal to not fall over, because that would mean she’s not having fun doing what she wants to do. 

I learned a valuable lesson during that skiing trip, that falling down is not the enemy – living in fear of falling down is the enemy. Falling down doesn’t stop you progressing – but living in fear of falling down stops you progressing. It reminds me of the beloved phrase from the classic 2004 film A Cinderella Story featuring Hilary Duff, which says “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. Call me cheesy, but I think that phrase epitomizes the lesson I learned that night. I was so scared of striking out that I barely played the game.

In eating recovery, there will probably be times you strike out or fall over, and that’s OK. It’s all part of “playing the game”. In fact, that’s expected. In fact, that’s part of recovery.Don’t put your eating recovery on hold because you’re afraid you won’t always do it perfectly all the time. Don’t be too worried about what your dietitian or therapist or doctor will think if you have a bad day in your recovery – they will likely understand better than anyone. 

Don’t listen to that little voice that says it’s easier on my self-esteem to not try than to try and fall over. It might be causing you to move slower or take safer routes, like me on that mountain. Think of yourself in the way that you think of a child you love who is learning to walk. They fall over and you probably don’t berate them for it. You probably lovingly hold them and tell them it’s OK and to try again. 

Think of the power you would have in your recovery if you could lovingly hold yourself when you fall over and tell yourself it’s OK and to try again. That’s a lesson I learned from my experience of skiing again: it’s OK to fall over – don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.

 

Gardening Themes for Cultivating your Mental Health

Gardening Themes for Cultivating your Mental Health

As the days grow a little longer and the temperatures begin to flirt with the idea of staying above freezing, my gardening soul grows restless. I feel a need to get my hands in the dirt and order more seeds than I could possibly ever grow.  I love my garden. One thing I love about gardening is that as I work, I often find myself making connections to the therapeutic work I do. There is something about open air and plants that leave me feeling connected to the earth, and waxing poetic about my existence on it.  (more…)

Lessons Learned from a Year of COVID19

Lessons Learned from a Year of COVID19

As I write this, it is exactly one year ago that my phone exploded with emails detailing how every organization I was involved with would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was terrifying, and if I’m being totally honest, a little bit thrilling to see life as we knew it shift and evolve completely. I sensed that we were a part of history, and that this would be a day I would remember for the rest of my life. As time has moved slowly forward, and we haven’t reached normality yet, I have found myself musing over the lessons we’ve learned during this unique time.

What have we learned?

We are resilient. 

Persistence works. We keep on living even in the face of tough things. We can do hard things. We can beat our personal Goliaths. For many, the pandemic has been a time where mental health struggles have increased. Rates of eating disorders have increased, rates of domestic violence have increased. People have lost their jobs and lost their loved ones – the pandemic has been horrifying for so many people across the world. And if you’re reading this, you’ve made it through that. You can do hard things!

We work well together; together is better than alone. 

There has been a special sense of togetherness that I’ve felt while we’ve been separated from one another. My parents (who still live in England) have been totally locked down since March of last year, with strict rules regulating when they can leave their house, for what purpose, and how often. They are not allowed to see other people at all. Yet, they reported that there is a marvelous sense of togetherness that they each feel while segregated in their own homes, almost like the feeling that prevailed during the war years of the 1940s. They expressed a sentiment that abounds in the UK is that we humans are stronger than any of these elements that wage against us, and that we will simply be victorious. While we may be physically separated from our loved ones, we can share in that glorious feeling that we are fighting the same battle and will eventually succeed.

We are creative and adaptive. 

Look how we have adapted to this situation! We are used to sanitizing everything, wearing masks, and using zoom like it’s all we’ve ever known. We’ve been creative and learned that it’s OK to ask for help to meet our typical demands in an unusual environment. For some that might look like extensions for deadlines, for others that could be changing their job, and for others that could be looking for the silver lining like being able to wear pajama bottoms most of the time.

We need to take care of ourselves, in all ways. 

Self-care has almost never been more important than right now. We need to know our own limits and set boundaries that help us to stay sane through these times!

Our thoughts play a huge role in the way we feel and the way we act.

What I tell myself when bad things happen is important. When the clinic closed, think how differently I would have felt if I had told myself “coronavirus is going to infect me and I will likely die” to “what an exciting opportunity this is to live life differently for a short period of my entire life”, and in turn, how different my actions would be.

We are more similar than we are different. 

We each are trying to get through this time and keep our loved ones close – that unites us more than our political or religious beliefs may separate us.

How are we different now?

Preparation is important…

otherwise we run out of toilet paper!

Some things are more important than others.

For example, relationships matter…a lot. We have seen how being isolated from one another makes us feel.

Fluff doesn’t matter much; we know more about what is important. 

We got down to the basics, for some people that included family, for other people that included having time without work which meant figuring out what are necessities and what is considered fluff.

We are harder in some ways; softer in others. 

I would guess we are “harder” in that it would take more to knock us down now; we know we are larger than many trials, and we recognize our own strength in the face of them. Yet, I think we are softer in how we view others’ needs, the suffering of our fellow men/women, and in how we make time to care for our own needs.

What we can control and what we can’t control may be clearer. 

We know that we cannot control a pandemic, and we cannot control what our neighbor chooses to do. But, we have learned that we can control our behavior in response to events, and we can control how prepared we are.

Overall, I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been one of the most difficult years of everyone’s lives, with circumstances that we will hopefully never have to repeat again. As we aren’t through this yet, keep your chin up, seek help when you need to, and move toward the things that keep you going. We will get through this!

Special thanks to Dean Barley, Ph.D. (the Director of the BYU Comprehensive Clinic) for sharing some of his thoughts on this subject.

 

Becoming a Hopeful Realist

Becoming a Hopeful Realist

I was discussing with a friend what I should write for this post. He brought up an interesting idea. My friend discussed the common glass half full vs. glass half empty scenario. He said there could be a third group: the people who see half a glass of water. Between the optimists and the pessimists there are people who simply see things for what they are. While this analogy might not work perfectly, it reminded me of one of the most interesting concepts I’ve learned of in recent memory. (more…)