Friday
Dec082017

Are you Bad at Self Love? Here’s How to Stop.  

“I am so stupid…I can’t believe I….”

“I am so lazy - I should have….”

“If only I was smarter I could have finished….”

Is this something that you hear in your head daily? Do you list all the things you should have done or should be better at doing? Maybe your spouse, sibling or friends tell you that “you are too hard on yourself” and “you need to lower your expectations for yourself?” If so, you might be in need of a tune up around self love. 

I have worked with many women who wonder what “self love” really is and what “lowering expectations” really means. How do we lower our expectations of ourselves when we are the ones making the machine that is our family run. Do we not feed the kids? Do we not make sure everyone has a mittens, underwear and socks? It can feel like we are barely getting by so what do we stop doing in order to lower our expectations? If we can’t figure this out it can feel like one more thing we are bad at - we are bad at self love. 

Many of the women that I see who are extremely hard on themselves are also bad at taking complements, a thank you’s or allowing someone to help them. If someone praises their shirt they might say “thing old thing - it’s not really nice.” If they are offered help their automatic response is “no,” even if they really need some help. Or they might deflect any gratitude or thank-you’s by thanking and praising the other person. These women end up feeling depleted as they care for everyone around them.

The impulse it to go straight toward the “why” of this situation. Why don’t you let others help you? Why can’t you let someone give to you? And while these are valid questions they don’t show us how to change our behavior and begin to feel good about ourselves. I propose that rather than trying to understand they whys we go straight to allowing praise, gratitude and help into your life. I think of this as a back-door, fast-pass to self love. 

This exercise begins with awareness. You are simply going to notice all of the times that you are rejecting the praise, gratitude and help offered to you daily. There is tremendous power in observation and attention; change begins to happen as soon as we take ourselves out of the role of actor and begin to observer what is happening in our lives.

Your assignment is, for one day, to take a post-it note and a pen and mark down how many times someone says thank-you to you, offers you help you or praises something about you, your work or your life. You might be shocked by how often this happens. 

If you are feeling like a challenge, then your next job will be to say yes or thank you to everything offered. You are allowed to ONLY say yes or thank you - you cannot explain why the praise is not earned or how you usually do everything for yourself but are only accepting help because you have to. Nope - you say thank you and then shut up. You might find that you become curious about how so much love could go unnoticed in your day.

The hard work with this exercise is to allow the love that surrounds us into our body or our soul. You want to visualize swallowing it into your gut where it might nurture your instead of having it slide right off unseen. Again, first step is to notice it and the second step is to allow it. 

I realize that this sounds very easy but for those of us who are bad a self love this is actually quite challenging. Please don’t hesitate to find help if you are struggling with allowing the flow love, praise and gratitude that surrounds you. Working with a therapist, coach or counselor is a wonderful place to begin this journey.

Please contact me if you would like to schedule a free consultation to talk about this excercise or if you need other simple exercises to begin to allow more self love, joy and ease into your life.

 

Monday
Nov202017

5 Things to do Right Now to Holiday-Proof Your Marriage (AKA How to Prevent Christmas from Breaking Your Marriage)

Many of us hold a fantasy of what the holiday season will bring and how it will make us feel.  We want for this to be a time when our whole family comes together - healing old wounds by each giving generously with their time, gifts and forgiveness. The dream is that our partner will surprise us with the perfect gift; you will give amazing presents that delight your kids, who will of course behave wonderfully; and your extended family will praise your abilities as a daughter, a son, a parent and a bread-winner. For some out there this is not a fantasy - they will have this holiday.

But for many of us, we will instead, have a holiday that is mediocre or just OK – or perhaps it will be stressful or filled with conflict. Old arguments will arise; there will be too many political discussions; we will have to travel during a time of mass shootings and bombings; and there is a new freedom we feel to disclose past sexual harassment or molestation. Added to this is a bit too much sugar and alcohol and less sleep than we need. All of these things result in us feeling stressed and therefore, not acting as a loving and patient spouse. We lean-in to old family patterns of anger, sarcasm, spending too much, drinking too much or maybe withdrawing. In couples this usually results in arguments so bad that they urgently schedule an appointment with a couples counselor in January.

I know this because my schedule has been consistently bursting every January - filled with couples who feel as if the holiday season broke their marriage. After seeing this pattern year after year, I now actively work with my couples on devising a holiday plan. I have come up with a list of 5 things that you need to negotiate with your spouse before the Holiday Season is in full swing. This will help lower your stress levels and as a result will have you feeling closer and more connected by the time 2018 rolls around.

 

Budget

You need to set a budget for your holiday spending - even if money is not a worry in your family. Maybe this is a total budget for all the gifts or a per-person limit, but either way you need to be talking about money with your spouse. Feeling a lack security or safety is a big trigger for stress and there is nothing that can set off panic like seeing your bank account suddenly at zero or finding a credit card bill that is 3 times what you expected. This needs to be done early so that you both know how much you have to spend – on each other and on gifts and events.

 

Create a family plan

Talk with your spouse about your expectations of how much time will be spent with family. You need to negotiate attendance at important family outings and activities. Is there the expectation that everyone attends every event or are there some that you can skip? If your expectations differ, you will need a way to negotiate around this. This is why talking through these expectation before holiday stress descends is so important. You need time and space to think through your reactions and feelings so that you can come to an agreement that you both feel OK about. Once you have privately decided on your plan you can jointly share it with family members. They may have reactions to your decision for one or both of you to skip certain events and it is important that your unified voice is heard.

 

Create an escape plan

Time together with family and friends is wonderful. But December can sometimes feel like a marathon of wonderful events that slowly exhausts the participants. Between wanting to be a good host and not wanting to disappoint family we sometimes forget to take time for ourselves. I usually get some push back when I encourage my clients to plan time away from their families but I think that having a bit of time to recharge is important.

You need to set your plans and expectations before the family is all together in order to avoid hurt feelings. Now, that said, not all of our families want to hear “I am planning an hour on my own on Tuesday afternoon because you all are just too much.” Instead, I encourage you to fib a bit and let your family know (soon) that you have an online class, a work phone call or just a last-minute piece of paperwork due at work that will take you away for 30 minutes or maybe 2 hours.

Set the times and dates of these “get-aways” before everyone arrives. You can always cancel but it is important to have these “pressure release valves” in place before you feel stressed. You can use this time to grab a coffee, watch Netflix, call a friend, or simply do nothing. Think through how many of these you might need. Discuss with your partner if there is a need to sneak away together. I think that the time you spend together is better for everyone if you are feeling centered and calm.

 

Plan for gentle self-care

Holiday schedules are crazy and when we are stressed we sometimes let our self-care routines slip. It is important to think through what makes you feel grounded and calm when your house is full, your schedule is packed or you are traveling. Once you identify these things, begin to imagine where you can gently put these in your holiday schedule. I use the word “gentle self-care” because the goal is not to be perfect, ridged or extreme with taking care of yourself. Your goal is to find a few ways to be kind to yourself and perhaps even to your spouse over a very busy time of year.

A few examples I give my clients might be taking 5 or 10 minutes to stretch, journal or just breathe deeply before engaging with your family each day. I have one client who put a coffee maker in her bathroom so she and her husband could have a cup of coffee by themselves every morning. I have another client who told her family that she was watching her neighbor’s cat while they were away but actually negotiated with her neighbor to use their guest room to nap each afternoon. You need to make sure that your self-care is not something that causes additional stress; it needs to bring you energy.

When you are taking care of yourself you also might find that your patience with your spouse goes up exponentially. Along with your calm energy and patience comes generosity and perhaps even some curiosity about your partner’s stress levels and reactions. I believe that great marriages are filled with generosity and curiosity – and your ability to have these over a busy holiday season will go way up if you are actively taking care of yourself.  

 

Lower your expectations

There are so many expectations that we put on ourselves, our spouse and our family during the holidays – and with high expectations come many disappointments. When we are operating at minimal stress levels we can usually talk with our spouse about feeling disappointed and negotiate a repair. However, when we are already stressed (remember that the holidays in 2017 = family stress, politics gone nuts, fear of terrorism/acts of violence, “me too” feelings, travel as well as a busy schedule) we tend to overreact to disappointments. One solution is to lower your expectations.

Lowering your expectations does not mean that you have no expectations or standards. It means that you actively choose the areas of your holiday on which you want to spend your time and energy and then actively let go of the others without guilt. For some, this lowering of expectations means that they allow themselves to purchase ready-made foods or go out to eat. For others this might mean that they give themselves permission not to purchase gifts for family members or neighbors, or perhaps they decide not to send holiday cards.

When you allow your holiday to just be OK instead of perfect it also means that the holiday itself does not have to produce overwhelming feelings of love and joy. Can you give yourself permission to just feel good or OK during the parties and meals instead of fully connected, loved and valued? Many times, it is our own expectations of how we should be feeling that sabotages us.

In our marriage, our expectations of our partner also go up during this emotional time. We expect them to save us from our family drama, give exceptional gifts, look fabulous and sometimes even to be a punching bag for us when we are overwhelmed. While it might sound difficult, it is important to vocalize our expectations of our partner – to ask for what we want.

You can’t begin too early mapping out your holiday plans with your partner – some items may need extensive thought or negotiations. I encourage my clients to be as transparent as possible with each other around expectations and disappointments but I realize that there are times when finding the language is difficult. If you are having a tough time talking through planning please consider finding a counselor to help. Counseling provides a holding space to express emotions and begin to find the steps toward feeling connected through busy times. If you would like to talk with me about your holidays plans I can be reached at www.CouplesCounselingBoulder.com.

 

 

Tuesday
Oct312017

A Quick Path to Mindfulness.

What does Mindfulness really mean? You see people talking, posting and blogging about mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful texting and even mindful sex. But what does this mean? What is Mindfulness? How you do become more mindful? And do you really need to?

Mindfulness simply means focusing on one thing at a time – and only on that one thing. This is difficult to do with your phone beeping, text arriving, Facebook pinging at you and the TV blaring inflammatory news. We are all used to multitasking in a storm of activity and thoughts - and many of us have lost the ability to quiet our minds. Being mindful is the act of quieting the mind. I use the word “act” purposefully. Being mindful is an action and it takes practice.

Adding a little bit of Mindfulness to your day is like having a personal time machine – it slows down time. Is that possible? Well, kind of. When you focus on something small (like breathing) you might find that just one minute of intense focus can feel a lot longer.

A simple exercise is to take 10 breaths and while breathing in say to yourself “I am breathing in” and then “I am breathing out” while you are breathing out. I realize that this sounds very simple and it is, but as you breath in and out you might find that your mind wanders away from your simple sentence. It takes refocusing and action to stay on task.

This is because Mindfulness is a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it atrophies, and then you are left feeling at the mercy of any passing thought like a small boat in a stormy ocean. Being mindful means that you are actively choosing what to think about and in many ways, you are therefore, choosing what to feel.

I have had many clients who want to learn about mindfulness but feel flooded or lost when they try meditation. I recently had a client find a wonderful tool that when used a few times week (or daily!) provided her with a gentle path to Mindfulness.

It is a planner by Panda Planner and it takes only 2 minutes in the morning and evening. It will, however, require you to actively think about what you want your affirmation to be; what you choose as your daily habits; as well as figuring out your focus for each day. I realize that these words might all sound like the same thing but they are different and are each important. This Daily Pro Panda Planner can be found on their website at www.pandaplanner.com or at the link below.

Using a planner is not for everyone just as meditation, yoga or therapy is not for everyone. But I do believe that finding a way to become a bit more mindful about your life is a good thing. I believe we all need a few breaths each day where we get to feel centered, good enough and calm.

If you are having difficulty find a place of calm in your life and would like to learn more about Mindfulness - I can be reached at www.AshleySeeger.com, www.CouplesCounselingBoulder.com or please call me at 720-551-8084. I look forward to our work together.
- Ashley Seeger, LCSW




 

Tuesday
Oct242017

My Partner just Posted “Me Too…” and I had no Idea. What do I do Now?

3 Things to do Right Now if you Partner or Spouse just Admitted that she has been a Victim of Sexual Abuse or Sexual Harassment.

If you are on social media these days then you have seen the “me too” campaign where women are bravely stepping forward to admit that they have experienced incidents of sexual abuse or sexual harassment. This simple and powerful campaign has uncovered an overwhelming amount of abuse that was seemingly invisible. I believe it was invisible to many of the victims as well. If you are not someone who has experienced harassment you might not realize the breadth of this behavior. And it might confusing why has no one spoke up before.

It can also be confusing as to what exactly a “me too” post means. Does this mean that your wife was raped?; was your girlfriend abused or harassed?; or has your friend simply felt the long entrenched objectification by some men that made her feel isolated, powerless and fearful? And how do you as a partner, spouse or friend ask them what their post means without doing further damage? 

I have put together a list of 3 things that you can do to support your wife, girlfriend or friend if she posted “me too.” 

 

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

Most women want to talk about what happened to them but they want it to be taken seriously. It is cathartic to be able to talk about these long hidden and shameful experiences. I think that many women rationalized what happened to them as a way to move forward. If it was no big deal then I don’t have to make a big scene or have everyone question, blame or shame me. It can be very cathartic to be able to talk about it as something that was very wrong instead of just something we all have to endure (like humidity). 

So ask. And then ask some more questions. A wonderful follow up question to “what happened?” is “how did you feel afterward?” or “has that happened before?”  

A good way to judge if a question is not OK is if you want to follow the question with a statement like “I would never do that.” These questions that you should never ask include:

“Why did you let that happen to you? I would never let it happen to me.”

“Why would you ever return to work/social event/family afterward? I would have quit or left.”

“How can you face yourself after that happened? I could never live with myself.”

 

2. Repeat back what you hear.

When we are talking about an emotional or traumatic event we just want to feel heard and understood. A great way to give your wife the experience of being heard is to simply repeat back what she says. This can feel silly or “too simple” but the goal is that she leaves the conversation feeling heard. This is different than you comprehending what she says. We usually say things like “I hear you,” “I see” or “you said this before” and none of these responses give the speaker the experience of feeling heard. A simple repetition will do more to help them feel safe, to open up and to begin to move through their feelings than anything else you say or do.

A conversation like this might look like:

“I felt humiliated and ashamed when he talked about my body that way in front

of the whole company.”

“You felt humiliated and ashamed when he did that.”

You might find that as your partner feels safe/feels heard, she opens up and tells you even more about her feelings. By repeating back you are allowing her experiences and feelings to stand alone without judgements, rationalizations or excuses.

 

3. Don’t judge, rationalize, dismiss or excuse what happened.

You were not there. You were not inside her head or her body to fully comprehend that experience. If she says she felt unsafe, threatened, silenced, harassed, objectified, humiliated, abused or shamed then this is how she felt. These feelings are facts in her history. It happened that way. Your job is to allow these feelings to stand unchallenged but heard.

You might not feel this way in the exact same situation and I understand that this is confusing. You might even feel like she should feel flattered or that what happened should be a turn on. Your job is to work at understanding her feelings and then give her the experience of feeling heard. I think that for so long we have all rationalized away both the subtle and not so subtle abuses in our lives. Many of us have felt them at our work, seen it in our TV shows and movies and sometimes even experienced them in our families. We all seem to be very good at excusing and rationalizing bad behavior but when we step back and really look at what has happened it seems so obvious that it is abuse.

This is an interesting time in history. Many have given themselves permission to speak truths long hidden from the majority or power-holders in this country. Racial and sexual abuses are being talked about in ways that I have never seen.We seem to be questioning the status quo about what is acceptable behavior and what is no longer tolerable. As a partner, spouse or friend it is your job to listen and allow these feelings and experiences to surface. It will be interesting to see where we go from here. 

If you and your partner are in need of a safe place to talk about “me too” posts or anything in your marriage, please call for a free consultation. I can be reached at www.CouplesCounselingBoulder.com.

- Ashley Seeger, LCSW


Wednesday
Oct042017

Just Moved and Feeling Crazy? 10 Tips to Help you Feel Grounded, Happy and Settled after a Relocation.  

Moving is tough. Almost everyone reports feeling physically and emotionally drained after a relocation. In my work with clients I find that even if you wanted this move, planned for this move or sacrificed for your move - it is still very hard on your body, mind and emotions. Why? Because you have just lost most or all of your routines, support networks, communities, friends and sometimes even family. Many people assume that once the the “hard work” of a move is done they will feel settled. This “hard work” includes: packing, saying goodbyes, loading the truck and then unpacking at the new house. What is not taken into account is the work that you are left with after you unpack; you have to rebuild  complicated by the anxiety, grief and stress that comes up with any change - especially a change as big as a move.

If you recently moved you might be feeling out of sorts - perhaps unmoored, tired, tearful or easily angered. The first thing to know is that it takes 1-3 years (yes, years) to settle into a new city or town. Many clients get frustrated that they can’t just “get it together” after a few weeks or months following their move. This can easily cause a spiral into a self defeating inner monologue which makes everything feel worse. 

Here is a list of a few things to do right away to begin to feel grounded in your new home, neighborhood and community. 

 

1. Set up a ritual. 

Go to the same coffee shop each day; get ice cream on Friday evenings; watch your football games at the same place. Whatever you choose, it is important to set a daily and weekly rituals to begin to structure your time. This is important for your family, your marriage and yourself. These don’t have the be routines or rituals that you keep forever. This is just a way to begin to feel held within your day or week. It also allows you to see the same people over and over which is how we build community. 

After we moved, my family and I went to get ice cream every day at 3pm. No, I don’t advocate this as a long-term healthy food choice. However, for us, this was a way to begin to feel like we had a routine during this time where we all felt completely unmoored. We also took our dog to the dog park at the same time each morning where we saw the same people over and over. As they became familiar and we began to feel like we were part of this small community.


2. Tell everyone you just moved.

It may feel awkward to begin every conversation with ‘hi, we just moved here…,” but it is a wonderful conversation opener. People, for the most part, want to help and knowing that you are new to their community allows them an opening to offer help. As I used this opening with folks I discovered that many of the people I met were also transplants (some a year before and some 20 years before) and they wanted to offer advise on settling in or finding resources. They remembered how difficult it was for them.

Once you have told people you just moved this sets you up for Tip #3

 

3. Ask everyone for advise.

If you can be brave enough to let people know that you just moved you will most likely find that people will want to help you. It is a great idea to give them something to help you with. And you do need help - you need a doctor, a barber, a mechanic, a place to hike, a place for brunch and the best place for Thai noodles. You job is to ask for something specific - even if you know you can research, Google and Yelp your way to an answer. Ask them anyway - even if it is the same question you asked the last 10 people.

If there is something that you desperately miss from you old city - ask for that. Miss your poker night? Ask everyone if they play poker or know of a regular poker game. You might just find you get an invitation and suddenly find a wonderful group of friends. 

You may not be able to think of anything that you want to do or find. This is when you need to use your imagination and remember to get specific. Perhaps it is Dim Sum, the best consignment shops or where to find gourmet ice cream. If nothing else this will get people talking, thinking and then offering to get back with you or even inviting to take you somewhere.

I find that the asking for advise is mostly about finding openings to connect with people. Finding friends takes time and you will need to meet 20-30 people before you find someone that you might consider for a friend.

 

4. Go out for walks.

Even if you don’t have a dog - go for walks. Try to go walking at the same time each day so that you begin to see the same people. People who are walking are mostly moving slowly and have a minute to say hello. This is where you use your now familiar opening of “hi, we just moved here” and then throw in a question. 

Walking along your block also gives you an opportunity to catch your neighbors outside so you can introduce yourself. Not all of us live in places where neighbors go out of their way to bring over a pie and introduce themselves. You might need to go out and find your neighbors. When you do meet them I find that many “nosy neighbors” will want to pop into your house if you let them - so invite them in for coffee or simply a “want to see the house?” People are nosy and want to see if you repainted; they want to check out your stuff; and they want to share neighborhood gossip. Remember to ask them for their contact information, permission to contact them with questions and then write down their house number. And thinking about Tip #3 - follow up by emailing them with a question. Again, make it up if you need to. This is about opening conversations not actually finding the best ice cream in the neighborhood.

My father was out walking in our new neighborhood and started a conversation with someone who had kids close to my daughter’s age. He ended up dragging the family over to our house so that their daughter could meet my daughter. This ended up with a party getting organized by this wonderful family for all of her daughter’s friends so they could meet my daughter. This was all initiated by my father going out for a walk, saying hello and asking for help.

 

5. Have kids? Stay at drop off and pick up.

It is so uncomfortable to spend time in a crowd of people who all know each other and are all greeting one another. You can feel so longly as you walk between groups of friends laughing and sharing inside jokes. What you will want to do is flee - for home or your car. But what you need to do is just stay - for 5 or 15 minutes every day. Remember Tip #2 and #3 - approach people and say - “hi, we just moved - do you know a good place to get my car worked on?” But at a minimum just stay.

Just seeing people over and over again begins to build a sense of familiarity and a relationship. When you first move everything is new and unknown and you are new and unknown. As you simply spend time next to the same people - over and over/day-in and day-out (even if you don’t speak to them) - they become familiar. And as familiarity and comfort grows it becomes natural to say hello. And after a few weeks of saying hello, you will find it feels normal to ask them a question, tell them a funny story or commiserate about the news. The people you meet at your kid’s drop off may never become your best friends but you just never know. It is amazing how day-in and day-out greetings can quickly blossom into intimate friendships. Don’t underestimate the power of proximity with friends. Put yourself in their proximity.

 

6. Exercise - join a gym or a class.

First, exercise is a great stress reliever; it is good for your body, your soul and your emotional balance; and it is good for your skin. Secondly, classes or gyms can be great social environments especially if you stay after or arrive before class and ask people questions. Where to get good shoes? Any smoothy places nearby? Or if you are like me and are a bit introverted - just hang around and after a few months of seeing the same faces over and over again, I promise that they will begin to feel familiar. There is a strange phenomenon that happens when you just see the same people over and over - you gain comfort with them and begin to feel like they are friends. You might even feel comfortable asking them for coffee after class. And yes, this process takes weeks or months. You cannot get angry at yourself that after one spin class you don’t have a bestie.

 

7. Put everyone you meet into your address book.

Everyone is exhausted after a move. Just think of all that you just accomplished: packing, saying good-bye to friends, family, jobs and routines, moving and finally unpacking). It is exhausting and a tired brain cannot process new information well. It will be difficult to remember all the new names and faces you will be meeting. You need a way to store this information. I decided to enter every person I met into my address book - along with a short description of their physical appearance, where I met them, their address and the sometimes something obvious like the word “neighbor” if there were on my street. Before my move I would not have needed all these descriptors in my address book; before my move I could have relied on my memory. You can’t expect your brain to keep up with the torrent of information coming at you - outsourcing is a wonderful way to remove the expectation that you will remember anything.

 

8. Be gentle with yourself. 

This is the most important piece of information that I want you to take from this blog. You need to be very gently with yourself right now. Not just for today or for a week - but for a year or three. Gentle means allowing yourself to fall apart when you can’t find the eggs in the grocery store even though you have been there 5 times. Gentle means that it’s OK to have many movie nights at home on the weekends or to purchase season passes to local amusement park because you don’t have any invites yet. Gentle means that it’s OK to cry when your other new neighbor who moved the same week as you has girlfriends to hike with and go on weekend excursions with. Actually, I will amend that to just say it is OK to cry at silly things. Gentle means understanding that you are transforming and changing and that no transition is without pain, mistakes, missteps and feeling like it will never be completed. If you are crying reading this then you are doing it exactly right - you are totally normal. Yay.

 

9. Remember that it takes time to truly feel settled.

It truly takes 3 years to feel settled in a new city or town. Even using all of these tips you will still have a large amount of time where you will feel anxious, depressed or like you have lost your identity. It is normal for the first year to have many at-home nights, or to spend more than budgeting on eating out. Give yourself a break and allow for there to be a year where you don’t do big outgoing events but rather spend time being quieter and focusing on comfort foods and comfort events. Many people look back on this coccooning year as a precious family-building time. One thing that can help is to say to yourself (outloud) “I am exactly where I should be and things are unfolding in the exact right time.”

 

10. It bears repeating - be kind to yourself. And if needed, ask for support from a counselor, therapist or religious leader.

Change is difficult and if you find that you would like some additional support to discuss how this move is affecting you, your family or your marriage please call for a free consultation or to schedule a session in my sunny central Boulder office. I can be reached at 720-551-8084.

- Ashley Seeger, LCSW