Whether we are talking about relationships with friends, parents or significant others, there is a disturbing communication trend I've been seeing in my office and in the world lately. I call it...."taking away people's pain"
This trend typically starts when we are young. Our parents unknowingly interact with us this way and we learn to be afraid of our feelings and pain from a young age. For example, the most common responses to a child when they scrape their knee or fall on the playground are "Shhhh, you're okay, don't cry." Although the parent has the best motives and is simply trying to calm the child down and assure her, the subliminal message is don't express your emotions. This is further reinforced in our society as we praise people for "being strong" when going through hardships and are a culture obsessed with positivity and looking at the bright side. Feeling sad is now looked at as self-indulgent.
I see this all the time in my office. Not only in sessions with families and couples, where people are so uncomfortable with other people's pain, they switch subjects, offer solutions or shift uncomfortably in their seats but also in individual therapy. Women on my couch shush themselves and are ashamed at their own emotions. Somewhere along the way, our society has begun to teach people that emotions and tears are shameful. What's the result? We disconnect from our emotions, hide from them or engage in other activities to cover them up, which leads to many addictions and eating disorders. In addition, we experience reactions to our reactions, such as being angry or disgusted by our emotions.
This reaction to our emotions is a phenomenon known as secondary emotions. It's one of the most important things I teach my clients, within in the first 1-2 sessions of meeting me. Primary emotions are our primal reaction to an event or situation. There are 8 primary emotions: Anger, Sadness, Fear, Joy, Interest, Surprise, Disgust and Shame. These primary emotions are hardwired into our brain upon birth. These emotions cause your body to react in a certain way and for you to feel a certain urge upon feeling this emotion.
All other emotions are secondary emotions, and they are created out our own emotional response to a primary emotion. Unsurprisingly, most people's problems and issues they come to discuss in counseling are not primary emotions. They are secondary emotions. For example, a woman comes to my office and is angry at herself about how sad she is about her boyfriend cheating on her. We cannot even begin to process the pain of her boyfriend's betrayal until we process and release her own anger at herself.
Since many people are unable to be present with their own emotions and often suppress them, its not surprise that people are equally intolerable of other people's emotions. This leads us to "take away other people's pain" and its one of the most costly things you can do in any relationship, whether it is with your child, your partner or yourself.
Common examples of this are:
In closing, emotions are normal, natural responses in human beings and it is important to treat them as such. The more we try to hide from, cover up or pretend over our emotions, the more emotionally unhealthy we will feel and the more difficult it will be to support others in our life. It's time we stop shaming ourselves for our natural human experience because to be human is to have the capacity to feel emotions.
The holidays can be a stressful time, especially for those of us who struggle with our mental health. With all the focus on alcohol and food, and the holidays and gifts can bring about negative habits and added stress.
This year, instead of buying someone another gift card, take the time to give someone a gift that will really take care of them and actually boost their mental health. These gifts are great for everyone, regardless of whether the receiver has anxiety, depression or not! Also BONUS for you, all these gifts are available on Amazon or online, to boost your mental health too by not waiting in line. These are all products I actually use and love (and I don't get any commission off these products, I just wanted to share them with you).
1. Scented Therapy Putty
Recently, I have become very into
aromatherapy, and notice how different scents
can affect and calm my clients’ anxiety. One
of the most effective grounding techniques
involve using the 5 senses and scent is known to
be the most powerful sense we have as it
directly affects the brain. I love this putty
because it combines two grounding tools in
one! Scent and physical touch! Not only does
this putty come in different scents (my favorite
is lavender), but will calm your anxiety and
keep you focused through the tactile movement.
2. Great Books
I love giving people excellent books for the holidays, especially books that I have read and love. It gives us a deeper reason to connect and depending on the book can support emotional growth. Some of my favorite books I’m giving this year include:
3. Massage Gift Certificate
One of my favorite gifts to give are massages. Massages are one of those things that are so good for us, but are rarely a luxury that people will buy for themselves. Humans are hardwired to connect with one another and studies have demonstrated that physical touch can boost mental health. I typically choose to give a gift card to Massage Envy or Hand and Stone because you can order them online and they have numerous locations that are likely close to where your loved one lives. Find them at : https://www.massageenvy.com/ or http://www.handandstone.com
4. Down Blanket
There are few things that I love more than
being wrapped in a down comforter in my
bed. Sometimes when I’m reaching for
something sugary and comforting to eat, I
realize what I’m really craving is the
ultimate comfort…being wrapped in blankets
in my bed. Since its annoying and too big to drag
my comforter all over my house, I love this
down blanket. It feels like a comforter but with
less bulk and all the softness. I also love that
this style has a satin trim for extra softness
5. Aromatherapy Diffuser
Recently, I’ve gotten really into aromatherapy and the positive affects it can have on my mental health. I love having a diffuser running and picking different scents depending on my or my clients’ needs that day. I love the grain wood of this diffuser. I have this one in my office and it blends right in with the decor. It turns different colors and has 1, 3 and 6 hour settings so you can diffuse all day long!
Two months ago, I wrote an incredibly vulnerable and important blog about my experience of being raped. It was simultaneously was one of the best things I’ve done but also one of the scariest by far. Today I want to talk to you about an equally important conversation, and one that is somehow even more vulnerable because of the reaction it may garner. I want to talk to you about the opposite side of “me too.” I want to talk about the perpetrators.
First let me say, obviously I was a victim of rape myself, so I know this is an especially icky thing to talk about and I don’t want it to be misinterpreted. Therefore I want to be very clear that I am in no way condoning any illegal, predatory or rape behavior. I believe there are consequences to everything we do and we all make choices. I believe that if people break the law, there are consequences. However, I also think that it is important to not simply demonize and write off the perpetrators as "bad or evil" people. If we resort to casting people off, we are doing the same thing that was done to us.
As Brene Brown says in her book Braving the Wilderness
"There is a line. It's etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and the left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization- the primary instrument in violence that has been used in ever genocide recorded throughout history."
It may make us feel good temporarily, to write people off...we think, "these are bad men, they will pay for their mistakes and never hurt anyone again," but ultimately, it fuels the issue because this provides no solution to the systemic problem.
You may want to snap your laptop shut or click out of this article right now...I feel you. When I first heard the news about Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer, my initial response was honestly "this can't be true," followed by anger and hatred. As I went about my days I was hit by the question, what would I do if this person were my CLIENT? What if this was my boyfriend or father? How would I cultivate empathy? As a therapist, I am clear that empathy and understanding are the most important tools we have. People do not get well when they are ridiculed and de-humanized. People get well when they are seen, heard and given an opportunity for healing and forgiveness.
I talked to one of my good friends who is a social worker about this topic and she said something so insightful, "Do we let a behavior define someone for the rest of their lives or do we teach them how to be better so that they can set an example for future generations?" I believe this is the ultimate question, how we respond right now is important because it will set the precedents for how we deal with such issues. The first part of that standard is being set. It is clear, no longer can men abuse their power in the workplace and get away with it. However, now we have a new standard to set. How do we create a culture where men don't do that in the first place?
From what I’ve seen, the few brave men that have come forward and admitted faults have been scrutinized and shamed, even threatened, rather than acknowledged and appreciated. This only leads to more hiding, denial and shame, which equals less healing for everyone. What I do think so that everyone deserves compassion and understanding. “Hurt people hurt people” as the saying goes, and publicly crucifying people, even rapists, doesn’t diminish the rape culture epidemic. In fact, I would argue it fuels it.
In grad school, I was taught that it is possible to cultivate compassion and empathy for anyone by getting curious and putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. It's definitely not easy, especially with a subject matter like this. It takes true COURAGE and VULNERABILITY to lean into the messiness, the discomfort and the unknown. We need to be sensitive to each other and seek to understand, rather than fall back into what is familiar and safe, like anger and frustration.
Maybe it’s just because I am a therapist, but I really make it my mission in life to look for the WHY behind someone’s behavior. I invite you to take on these questions...
What is the person going through?
What pain are they in?
Why do they feel like this is the best way to act?
What are they getting out of acting in this manner?
Imagine if a young guy, felt safe enough to go to someone and say, “hey I messed up, I think I did something bad and I need to talk to someone.” That could put an end to many more people being hurt, raped, taken advantage etc. We all make mistakes, of course some of them are much more extreme, harmful and dire than others. Of course there are also consequences to every mistake we make. However, as a person in recovery, I can tell you I have made many mistakes. I lied, cheated and stole during my active addiction.
I was able to heal and transform through being given the opportunity to hold myself accountable for my mistakes, forgive myself, as others for forgiveness and do whatever it took to make things right.
I see the transformation that happens on a daily basis, when people are seen, heard and given the space to forgive themselves. We can't just talk about what is wrong, but we need to talk about what these men can do to make it right and how we can create a societal shift to prevent these situations from happening again.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Sources: Brown, Brene. (2017). Braving the Wilderness. The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC.
Five months ago, I reached a bit of a breaking point with teaching yoga. On the outside, things looked like they were going really well. My classes were filled with students, I was getting good feedback and I was teaching workshops and signing on to grow my teaching schedule. It was all what I "should" be doing. I had recently quit my 9-5 job, opened my private practice and I thought that teaching more was what I wanted. It was what I told everybody I wanted.
I never questioned whether I actually wanted to teach yoga. I have taught yoga for 4.5 years and never once have asked myself why I was still teaching. For the first few years of teaching yoga, I taught it because it gave me an outlet to authentically share my experience. As I've shared before on this blog, yoga was instrumental in me becoming sober. I was unable to workout at a gym or take workout classes when I first got sober because I was recovering from an eating disorder. A gym was the worst place for me to be as the obsession would start all over again with questions and calculations of how many calories I was burning, how much I weighed, what I looked like and how else I could push myself. It was an eating disorder's paradise. In a yoga room, it was all surrender. I had no idea how many calories I was burning, there were no mirror to scrutinize myself in and no control over the difficulty of the sequence or pace we moved. In those rooms, I found my true self and recovery. Then, when I had a transformational experience in yoga teacher training, I had a deep desire to teaching yoga in order to be of service and share what others had generously given me.
Four years later, I was still teaching, though to be entirely honest, my own yoga practice and beliefs changed a lot. I was practicing yoga about once a week, and was able to make sense of this by believing that yoga was bigger than the physical practice of yoga (asana). This is absolutely true, and something I still believe, however, for me, it became a justification for my lack of practice rather than an actual value. And yet, here I was signing up to teach more classes, workshops etc.
"Deep down, I began to get this feeling that something was missing. That I was a fraud...that I was teaching yoga because it was how I identified myself (on social media) rather than becauseI loved teaching or wanted to do it."
In reality, I was getting more from going to Soul Cycle and working out at home than going to yoga classes. Most times I was in a yoga class, I felt frustrated and judgmental of myself and others. I left class feeling more confused about myself and life, which is exactly the opposite of what yoga is designed to provide. Rather than facing it head on. I kept teaching but not practicing, not wanting to look at this glaring inauthenticity. Then, after making a particularly dumb mistake at the yoga studio I was teaching at. I got honest with myself and decided it was time to take a break and discover if I actually wanted to teach yoga.
Five months later, I'm happy to share that I did really miss teaching yoga. I was able to be a student for the past few months and actually discover what I love about yoga again and new things that work and don't work in my practice. In particular, I'm very excited that I connected a group of yoga teachers who have also had the experience of something being missing in their yoga practice. An intensity and an athleticism that has been missing for me. This is the reason I'm so excited to have found/ be teaching at Torc Yoga (opening at the end of this month.) It's a specific style of power yoga that adds that extra challenge, but still using just your body weight.
This style of yoga is the best of both worlds: the spirituality of your favorite yoga class + the amazing music, and workout of a cycle or boot camp class.
I'm so excited for you to try it! Head over to www.torcyoga,com for more info and a special intro rate. I'm going to be teaching FRIDAYS at 9am and SATURDAYS at 9:30am. See you on the mat!
I've been typing and deleting and trying to muster up the courage to write this post for the last 24 hours. Its so clear to me how important it is to write this post, and yet, like everyone, I hate vulnerability and recoil from it like a hot flame. Must look good, must not embarrass oneself or others, must not cause a commotion, what if people identify who it is? are just a few sentences that run through my head in attempts to not post.
But screw it. Here we go. Nine years ago I was raped. I was at a party and was very drunk and high during my active addiction. I knew the guy and he was older than me and really cool. I desperately wanted him to like me. I hazily remember him inviting me back over to his place and I accepted. I had only had sex with 2 people at that point in my life and both were serious boyfriends. This had been a value of mine, and it was a big part of who I was. Soon after going over to his place, things began to move quickly and I asked him to stop. He ripped my dress and pushed me on the bed. He refused to use protection despite my protests. I remember at some point, he left and other people came into the room. I was lying naked and helpless on the bed, I was too intoxicated to speak or move.
I woke up the next morning covered in bruises. I walked back to my dorm the next morning in my ripped dress I had to hold together, feeling so ashamed. I was so angry at myself for getting so wasted. I thought it was my fault. I rationalized and made sense of the situation by saying that I must have wanted to have sex with him.
Soon after, my drinking and drugging spiraled out of control. I stopped caring about myself or my values. I became very promiscuous.
Years later, while studying to be a therapist in school, I learned that promscuity is actually a response to sexual trauma. If a child is physically abused, a common way a child's brain will reprocess the trauma is through re-enacting the same behavior with toys (or other children). The child will do the same behaviors and often mimic the same words that were said to him or her. This is the reason that so many female strippers or prostitutes have a history of sexual trauma, they learn (unfortunately for many at a young age) how to survive, and that survival includes using their body for sex often so that somebody else doesn't use it for themselves instead. Learning this dramatically impacted my life. For the first time since iI was clear that I wasn't a bad person or a slut. I didn't "want this" just because of my sexual history that followed. And it is the reason I'm so passionate about working with young women.
If we can convince ourselves that it was our idea, it gives us a sense of control. We feel as though it won't happen again, or in the very least, it will be our choice and thus less painful.
There are many therapists who choose not to disclose to their clients. I have lots of respect for them. I know what I'm doing is risky. They believe that it is better to be a mirror and be as plain and objective as possible in order to bring healing to their clients. I have a different opinion. I find that there is so much power in sharing, in a client both seeing me and being seen. For me , this type of one-sided therapeutic relationship did not work. I needed a clinician who I trusted, who I knew had gone through a similar experience to me, who I believed would understand me. This is why I share. This is why I self disclose.
Because if its one thing I've learned from being in therapy and also facilitating tons of it over the years, its that there is so much power in speaking our truth. In sharing our stories with each other, in shining light on the darkness. And ultimately, saying, ME TOO!
P.S. Disclaimer: please note that the #metoo campaign is a spectrum. It doesn't necessarily look just like rape. Many women have been groped, assaulted, name called etc. and absolutely fit into this category. This is simply my experience. Abuse is a spectrum and is up to the individual to choose and classify for his or herself is she falls into that category. It is never our right to label someone else's experience.