Don’t Forget Your Star Player

Okay, I’m not endorsing all the language used here.  But with all the non-official authority I can muster I am endorsing Katt Williams as a self-compassion ambassador!


Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday

Okay folks, set your tivos for 11amET/PT this Sunday. Oprah has another great Super Soul Sunday coming up this week.  Brené Brown!  Fist pump!  This episode is not to be missed. (Okay, or to be missed and watched on the internet later.)

Authenticity Advice from A Vulcan

Long before Brene Brown came on the scene, Dr. Spock (okay, Leonard Nimoy) was on making the case for connection with others starting by letting go of who we want to be and embracing who we are.

spock advice 1

spock advice 2

Don Miguel Ruiz will appear on on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday this morning at 11 am EST.  I can’t wait!  Click here for Oprah’s webpage for the this episode.


Boston Fraternity Raises Money for Trans Brother | Out Magazine.

Too Skinny? Not to Fear!

February 22, 2013

Too Skinny?

Too Skinny?

It’s easy in our image saturated (and largely photoshopped) culture to think that there is just one, biologically fixed, skinny ideal body type.  But how true this is not!  This advertisement is a fun reminder of just how culturally bound (and ridiculous) beauty ideals really are.  Forget about the favorite body of the moment.  The trend will pass.  Learn to love the body that you have and all it can do for you.  Don’t forget, everything is temporary including you.  Enjoy it while you can.

Happy Friday!

This Can’t Be Good.

This Can’t Bee Happening

I am feeling a deep sadness today for a few reasons.  I shall share one of those reasons here.  Yesterday morning I was sitting at my downstairs desk and heard a buzzing.  When I looked up I saw that the side of my house was being swarmed by tens of thousands of bees, or hornets, or something.  Tens of thousands of them.  It was truly like out of a horror movie.  I have never seen anything like it in real life.  There were so many of them that I could actually hear the steady buzzing of their thousands of tiny wings from inside my house.  I wasn’t sure what to do or even what to feel.  I certainly was trapped in my house. I certainly wasn’t going to risk going outside only to have them chase me like an angry mob back to my front door.

(Funny aside that isn’t relevant to this post:  I really didn’t know what to do so I sheepishly called 911 and explained the situation.  The operator politely directed me to a different entity.)

The next part of the story gets even more menacing. After about 40 minutes of seeing these things in numbers so numerous that they began to cover my window, they slowly disappeared to the point that I felt comfortable going outside to get a better look.  And that’s when I understood the full reality:  those buggers had just taken 40 minutes to take up residency IN MY HOUSE! They had ALL moved in through a slit on the outside wall.  They were building a nest in the walls of my home.  Now I had a better idea of how to feel, and the feeling was not excitement.

I was finally able to have an exterminator come check things out in the early evening.   He got out of his car, took one look, and started laughing in between making comments like, “Ooo, boy!” and “This is like straight out of some horror movie!” and “Hold on, I’ve got to call the office and describe this – they aren’t going to believe it!”  Not the most reassuring words to my ears.  He told me that they were yellow jackets, and they were not here to make friends.  For a fair price he could get rid of them, but they were going to be pissed so I should be sure to not be in my front yard garden for a day or two.

Fair enough.  Just then my boo got home.  He was getting into the drama so I left him and a small gathering of neighbors to watch from the garden while I slipped back inside.  I had seen enough of them while they were moving in.  I didn’t need to be around to see their reaction to getting poisoned.

The Huge and Unfixable Mistake

Twenty minutes later my boo came in with an ashen face and news:  those weren’t yellow jackets.  Those were honey bees.  The same honey bees that are slowly disappearing from places all over this country.  The honey bees that we need to pollinate our garden.  They honey bees that could have been rescued by a local Durham bee keeper so they could have gone on to live peacefully and pollinate for years to come.  WE, GARDENERS AND FRIENDS OF THE EARTH, WERE HONEY BEE MURDERERS.  The horror.

I’m not sure if the shame or the guilt hurts more.  It was a rough night.

This morning my sadness continued to throb as I listened to this morning’s news and drank my coffee.


I found my mind pulled back to a recent episode of On Being, with guest Sylvia Boorstein.  Sylvia describes herself as a wife, mother, grandmother, author, teacher, and psychotherapist.  The full interview is worth a listen.  In an age of lots of opinions she shares the more rare gem of true wisdom.  I’m sure I’ll discuss more about this episode at some point.

In this talk, Sylvia shares with the audience what she always says to herself in moments of fear and anxiety.

“Sweetheart. You are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we will figure out what to do.”

Bam.  Self compassion.

She also discusses the wisdom of GPS devices.  “It never gets annoyed at me.  If I make a mistake it says, ‘Recalculating.’  And then it goes on to say “Make the soonest left turn..”

Bam.  Action.

So this is my plan for this morning.  First, I will take a moment to be compassionate with myself.  And yes, I will most definitely do that by referring to myself as “sweetheart.”  Second, I shall recalculate… observing without judgment the recent events that have made me feel so profoundly sad… and then I shall choose a direction and move forward, with compassion for myself and for others.

Better Gets You.

May 4, 2012

Friendly Fire

One day I was hanging out with a really good straight male friend of mine.  I happened to mention that I was pretty sure I was going to get a tattoo.  Without missing a beat he grimaced and said, “Oh don’t do that.  I think women without tattoos are so much more attractive.”

I was a little caught off guard by his response.  I can’t remember what I said in that moment.  I think I stammered something like, “Well, I actually wasn’t asking your permission.”  And I’m pretty sure I threw in a light little laugh to let him know that I wasn’t trying to be aggressive by sharing my opinion, despite the fact that he had just shared his opinion without blinking an eye (some old cultured gender habits die hard). Something about his comment was unsettling to me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it so I left it alone.  I have come to better understand why I was bothered by his comment after a few days of reflection, and I think this topic is worth discussing here.

It’s funny that this beloved, sweet friend’s honest (if unsolicited) reaction to my announcement of getting a tattoo was to help me decide what I wanted to do with my own body.  What’s more, his help was to have me think about my body from his white, straight, male perspective.   News flash – I’m a woman in the United States in 2012.  The file in my mind on “What Others Think My Body Should Look Like” is so full that if it were printed out I’d need to rent a U-Haul to drive all of the paper to the dump.

Body Politic

These days I happen to be reading a lot about how our over-developed western culture shapes our thoughts about our bodies, and how we people in the culture play a role in this pressure to conform.  These readings helped me figure out what bugged me about my friend’s comments.  But honestly that is the only reason I figured out what was nagging at me.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  Now that I’ve seen these toxic messages all around me I just keep seeing all the more ways we are told that we need to change our bodies in order to better ourselves….  or to be more attractive to others….  or to prove to the world that we can control our body so we must be in control of our life.  These messages come from popular media but it is important to see that they also can come from well meaning people in our personal lives.  This guy meant no harm.  In fact, he probably truly thought he was helping.

Oh, I can hear you now, dear reader, thinking “Oh wow.  Thanks for helping me see that my body doesn’t fit what my culture says it should be.  SOOO insightful of you.”  But wait!  That is just the thing.  I don’t know who you are.  I don’t know what your body looks like. The odds are that you think your body needs to change to be better (maybe a little, maybe a lot).  This is also true of people I know in my personal life.  How can it possibly be that I have friends from so many different walks of life who all carry around this other, “better” image of themselves in their minds?  And what’s worse, they somehow measure self-worth based upon how close they are to this “better” them.    And let’s be clear – “better” is not typically anything about developing new skills, helping others, or being more patient with themselves.  My awesome, compassionate friends STILL carry the idea that “bettering” the self largely has to do with changing the body.  This is complete and utter poppycosh.  I am not laughing when I say this.  I am not happy.  In fact, I am angry!

Here is the extremely brief answer to why this happens:  we are awash in toxic messages that we need to “better” ourselves through changing our bodies. How this toxic culture came to be is a discussion for another time.

Here is what happens:  all of these messages coming into your poor defenseless ears blend with all of your fears and insecurities that tell you that you need to keep working on becoming something different before you are allowed to accept yourself.  And before you know it, there is a little beast known as the “better” you floating around in your head, like a mirage always just at the horizon.  Always visible but out of reach.  Always taunting you to keep trying to working on changing before you can be truly happy.

Freedom is within your reach

Here is the part I want you to remember.  Read this twice.  Write it on your hand in case you forget.  Call everyone over to the computer, for these next few paragraph are for the whole family to enjoy together.

What I want you to understand…  like deep in your bones understand…  is that you have a choice.  You can change this situation.  You can choose to find these toxic messages (sometimes from well meaning friends) and drop them in the waste bin.  If you don’t try to find these messages and discard them then these harmful “better” messages will continue to sneak into your head and control you from between your ears.

Time for Truth.

You are worthy now.    You are enough now.    You deserve love now.      And finally,  you deserve self-care now.

Self-care is not denying your body calories even when it feels hungry.  Self-care is not making sure that everyone around you will approve of how you look or how you act.  Self-care is taking the time to nourish your body and your mind.  Self-care is learning listen to your body and treat it with respect.  Self-care is making sure you always have at least one thing in your life that you are doing just because it gives you pleasure to do it.

And so here is your call to action.  Find that beastly “perfect” other you, hiding away in your mind.  She is probably hanging out somewhere near your Crazy Freak Out Voice*.  Right now they may even be conspiring to tell you that you are the exception to what I wrote above.  Most people are enough now, but YOU aren’t…    until you are “better.”  See her??  Great!  Now grab her by her judgmental arm and toss her out!  She’ll come back, so toss her again.  Learn to find her sneaking into your thoughts, then toss her again.  You may have to spend the next year throwing her out, but it’s worth the work to eventually get rid of her all together.


You will never be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist.  You will never be attractive to everyone, because each person is different from the next in what they find attractive.   You will never finally have everyone’s approval.

True freedom is taking the risk to do what you want to do now.  Today.  In the body you have now.  With the time you have left.  The rewards are finding genuine connection with other lovely beings in your life.  There are people out there who would love to know you.  Today.  As you are right now.  Really.  Perhaps those people even have a few tattoos.

*”Crazy Freak Out Voice” is from the wonderful work of Rachel Simmons and the Girls Leadership Institute.


April 29, 2012

Yesterday I heard someone telling a story about his therapist who liked to say, “Always move forward.”  I liked the idea and wanted to think more about it so I wrote it down on a slip of paper and put it on my desk next to the few other notes that always seem to be floating around my workspace.  It seemed like something that might be handy to pass on to my patients.

Move forward to today.  Sunday afternoon.  Prime gardening time.  This is one of my favorite times in the gardening cycle.  We started our seeds in January in our indoor grow room.  (As you can imagine, the glowing grow lights from the second story of our house are the start of many jokes from neighbors.)  There they live in near jungle like temperature and humidity, slowing breaking through the soil, slowly growing, slowly turning from little wisps of green into the huge plants they will become.   Just after the last frost (as best we can guess) we move our little darlings outside so they can harden to their new environment.   It’s a rough transition for them.  Many go limp and look like they have given up the ghost over the first few days.  But almost all come back, stronger than ever.  Ready to go.

As so here we are at one of my favorite times:  time to lie out the garden.  The tomatoes are in (all seven kinds), as are the okra, collards, beans and corn.  But this is a Big Weekend.  This weekend we are putting in our 11 (!!) kinds of peppers, which will take up almost a third of our yard.  I guess you could say we are a pepper family.  One of my very favorites is the ají dulce, which tastes and looks almost exactly like a habanero but has none of the heat.   We almost didn’t get to have them this year because we couldn’t find any seeds but I finally was able to get some and start them, although they were about five weeks behind the other peppers.  And so here we are at the big moment.  What were once dormant seeds are now robust plants ready to be put in the ground.  We began by counting the pepper seedlings that are still with us.  But wait?  Where are the ají dulces?  Where are my beloved not hot habaneros??

Now yes, I am a psychologist.  But let’s get something straight.  That doesn’t mean I don’t carry some of my own bananas.  And something that can make me a little bananas is a plan that hasn’t gone according to plan.  My boo and I tried to figure out what went wrong with the ají dulces.  My boo is able to dedicate 100% of his brain power to this task.  I’d say I am at about 50%, as the rest of my brain is now being taken over by my awakening Crazy Freak Out Voice (CFOV).  My CFOV is starting to remind me that “This just cannot happen” and, with a creative spin, “This simply just cannot be happening.”  We walked through the steps of seedling care over the past few months and realized that he probably threw them out while moving the seedlings outdoors, mistakenly thinking that they were just some bad seeds since they had not yet broken through the soil.  He had forgotten that they were much younger in their growth and doing just fine.  But now we are almost in May.  Without so much as a seed for one of my favorite peppers.  My CFOV is going for her bananas, getting ready to strike!  How could this happen??  Hadn’t I planned sufficiently???

And suddenly, out of no where, the thought comes to my head:  ALWAYS MOVE FORWARD.  Yep, my favorite peppers are gone.  Yep, that sucks.  Nothing to be done here.  MOVE FORWARD.  And I’ll be darned if it didn’t (mostly) work.  Now admittedly this wasn’t a big thing.  No one was hurt.  Life will go on.  But I am not really known for being flexible when plans change.  And then here today it was just a little bit easier to get past it by moving forward.

So I think maybe I will try out this idea of always moving forward with some folks I see in my practice.  And like, duh, looks like I will be starting with me.

How Not To Create Behavior Change: Willpower

Somewhere along the way, it seems a lot of us got the message that the best way to change an unwanted behavior is to guilt and shame ourselves into action.  I like to refer to those nagging thoughts of guilt and shame as the guilt gremlins.  Recent research on behavior change tells us that using our guilt gremlins to motivate ourselves to change is actually one of the best ways to ensure that we won’t create any change at all.  Such a strategy is also a great way to feed the guilt gremlins and make them even stronger, thus making behavior change seem even more difficult.  “This is Why I Will Never Be An Adult,” a post on one of my favorite blogs called Hyperbole and  Half, captures the cycle wonderfully.   (WARNING:  some naughty words are used).  The good news is recent research is shedding light on a much more effective (and nicer!) way to help us change.

Let’s look at how believing our guilt gremlins can throw us into the cycle of struggle.  It all begins when a behavior that used to help, or at least not cause harm, now seems to bring problems of its own.  We find ourselves contemplating things like changing the way we treat our bodies, our family and friends, or our email inbox.  We want to change in a way that is healthy and more balanced.  Our desires to change are good.  But change is hard and it is natural to look for motivating thoughts.  And so the guilt gremlins roll into the scene.  The guilt gremlins are happy to provide some motivating thoughts.  They tell us that we are a terrible person for not “doing better” and we can’t possibly be worthy of love/respect/friendship until we change.  Often this thing that we want to change feels like a Really Big Secret, making us feel all the more isolated with our feelings of guilt and shame.  The more we think about how terrible it is that we do this unwanted behavior, the louder the gremlins become. Eventually they wear us down.  Exhausted, we decide we need to be a different person RIGHT NOW!  And so we tackle change like it is a fight to the death.  We throw ourselves into change, accepting nothing less than total reformation into what we think will make us a better, more functional being.

Trying to change habits in this way – completely and immediately – relies almost exclusively on willpower.  Willpower, it turns out, is a lot like your gas tank.  We know this it true because there is a lot of great research is being conducted to shed light on how willpower works.  Willpower is not an infinite resource.  The more you try to change all at once, the more quickly you will run through your resource of willpower.  Willpower is a biological fact.  Unless you are a cyborg then you cannot escape the annoying truth that you won’t get very far using willpower alone.  Soon you will be running on empty and when you run out of willpower you will likely fall back to the habits that you were trying so hard to change.  Meanwhile, the guilt gremlins know nothing about the science of willpower (they are too busy making us miserable to have time to read the latest psychological research).  The guilt gremlins will use this “failure” as evidence to tell us that we didn’t successfully change because we are just a loser all along and we aren’t capable of change.  And so what started out as an attempt to grow and change becomes another painful experience that we’d rather just forget ever happened.

So let’s recap.  We decide to change a behavior in the direction of living a more balanced healthy life.  We start the movement towards growth by telling ourselves that we should feel guilty and ashamed about ourselves until we “do better.”  The guilt and shame catapults us into using all the willpower we have to create change.  This willpower works for a little while, but eventually runs out because that is the nature of willpower, and so we return to familiar behaviors.  Suddenly our guilt gremlins are jumping up and down screaming, “I told you so! I knew you’d fail!”  The guilt gremlins may start screaming so loudly that we will do anything to drown out their voices.  And where does that push us?  Right back to our old behaviors.  In fact, often our very noble attempts at change end up pushing us even deeper into our unwanted behaviors.  It’s a cycle that is all too familiar to many of us.

How To Create Behavior Change:  Self-Compassion

Just as science can show us the pitfalls of using guilt and willpower, science can also show us a more effective way to create lasting change.  This way is to harness the power that comes from self-compassion.  Pause for a moment.  Did you hear the gremlins?  They LOVE talking about self-compassion.  They often say things like, “Self-compassion?  You mean accepting myself as I am now?  But I’m a mess!  The last thing I want to do is love myself as I am today.”  They often say things to therapists like, “You clearly don’t understand where I am at.  If I wanted this wavy-gravy stuff I could have found a mountaintop to sit on.  Remind me, just where did you say you got your degree?”  I certainly can sympathize with that sentiment.  I was skeptical myself when I first heard about the role of self-compassion in behavior change. But after reading some of the research, particularly the work done by Dr. Kristen Neff,  and working with real people with real problems I have come to understand that self-compassion is an essential ingredient in achieving long lasting change and growth.  It isn’t the ONLY ingredient, but it does need to be part of any attempt at behavior change.

Self-compassion is what allows us to set a goal of a big change, and then take small steps towards this goal.  Self-compassion helps us cultivate the patience that is needed to accept that changing long repeated behaviors takes time.  Self-compassion helps us gain the long view, helping us remember that occasional slips toward a goal is not a fall or a fail.  Self-compassion does not always come easy but it can be learned.  If you are having trouble knowing where to start how about try this.  The next time you hear your guilt gremlins chiming in, acknowledge that they are there, acknowledge that most people have them, and acknowledge that they might not be the best source of wisdom on how to take care of you.  Then take a moment to think about what you would say to help a friend in the same situation.  So often we already have the seeds of compassion within us and we use it to help others.  Now science can help us understand the value of also being compassionate with ourselves.