What I learned from Dr. Marsha Linehan: To change ourselves, we have to accept ourselves.

To change ourselves, we first have to accept ourselves

REAL CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.

This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a 2-day training workshop by one of my all-time favourite psychologists and gurus, Dr. Marsha Linehan. Marsha is a pretty remarkable woman. In case you don’t know who she is, she is the pioneer and founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). DBT is all about building a life worth living and reducing suffering. It aims to find the synthesis of opposites. It embraces the idea that real change is possible, but that to create real change we first need to find the synthesis between acceptance and change. DBT affirms that everything is always changing, that truth evolves over time, and that everything is connected, ultimately. To change ourselves, we first have to accept ourselves; and likewise, to help change others, we first have to accept them!

Attending the workshop and meeting Marsha was such an amazing opportunity for me as a psychologist. A highlight was when she signed my copy of her DBT Skills Training Manual. I didn’t say much to her, just a simple “thank you”, to express my gratitude. She stopped writing to turn and smile and say, “You’re welcome”. It was definitely a major career highlight and fan-girl moment for me!

Sit back and let your mind figure it out.

SIT BACK AND LET YOUR MIND FIGURE IT OUT.

One of the first things I took down in my 20+ pages of written notes was something Marsha said right at the beginning of day one: “sit back and let your mind figure it out”. She was referring to being in a counselling session with a client, and giving yourself the permission to pause and reflect before responding. One of the biggest mistakes we make when communicating with others is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply. Marsha was saying that therapists should allow themselves the time to tap into their ability to figure things out first, to trust and to listen to their intuition. I liked that idea quite a lot, and I don’t think it just applies to therapists. So often, we get caught up in the chaos of the moment, processing a million things at once, the voice of our intuition is drowned out and we forget to sit back and figure it all out. So that was a major epiphany for me.

There can be more that can be known than what can be known from the senses

THERE CAN BE MORE THAT CAN BE KNOWN THAN WHAT CAN BE KNOWN FROM THE SENSES.

At end of day one, Marsha talked a little bit about her own personal journey and about spirituality… Marsha defines herself as a “Catholic Zen Master”, whatever that even means! I liked that she spoke about spirituality, because it’s often completely ignored by other prominent psychologists in the field. Spirituality is a really important area of life and one of my key research interests. I wrote my Master’s thesis on the role of spirituality in facilitating vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training. Marsha said, “there can be more that can be known than what can be known from the senses”, and that experiencing a sense of connection and “oneness” would lead to a sense of freedom and contentment. Marsha emphasised that freedom beats joy. Joy, realistically, is a temporarily emotion, while contentment and freedom can be ongoing. Marsha suggested using Mindfulness as the pathway toward finding more of these moments of oneness and connection with ourselves, and the world around us.Everything is being impacted by everything it’s connected to.

EVERYTHING IS IMPACTED BY EVERYTHING IT’S CONNECTED TO.

Marsha also talked about how change is transactional, and that everything is being impacted by everything it’s connected to. We often assume that all behaviour is chosen and deliberate and often it is simply automatic. Many problem behaviours are a result of a causal pattern or chain. Just stop for a minute and think about that…. It completely obliterates the concept of blame. If all behaviour is caused, how can we ever blame anyone for anything? We can’t! However, independent of what caused the problem, we do have to solve it! One way to do that is to give up judgment and the idea of “good and bad” and instead evaluate the consequences of behaviour – focus on what is effective and what works! Remember that there have to be consequences to behaviour for people to change. Being non-judgmental doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of it, either, it just means there’s a difference between thoughts and observations.

We are always learning and we are always doing the best we can (accept yourself).... AND, we can always do better (change yourself)!

YOU CAN ACCEPT YOURSELF, AND CHANGE YOURSELF.

The most important (and validating) reflection I walked away with from the 2-day workshop was that even Marsha (the guru herself) makes mistakes. During the workshop they showed a few videos of Marsha’s therapy sessions and it was extremely normalising to see that she wasn’t “the perfect therapist”. There is no such thing. If the woman who developed DBT and wrote multiple books and manuals on it can stuff it up (and admit to stuffing it up) then it’s most certainly ok for me to stuff it up. It all comes back to this very important dialectic: We are always learning and we are always doing the best we can (accept yourself)…. AND, we can always do better (change yourself)!

Your Body Is Your Temple: Why You Should Move Your Body

Your body is your temple. Moving your body is the ultimate form of self-love and mindfulness

Moving your body is the ultimate form of self-love and mindfulness.

I have always loved to move my body. As a child I loved to swim and a dance (ballet and jazz), but over the past 5 years I have mostly moved my body through Zumba, yoga or walking. I started running about 6 months ago, and I can honestly say that it has changed my life. I have never been more present and aware of my body than when I am running. Running makes me feel alive in a way that no other form of movement ever has. It allows me to be in tune with my body; I can feel my muscles burning; I can feel the breath moving in and out of my body at an even pace; I can feel the momentum of my stride; I can feel the rhythm of my heartbeat and the rush of endorphins. For me, running is a form of moving meditation.

Running is a form of moving meditation

Running allows you to honour the process of change and transformation.

As I commit myself to moving my body, I am amazed by the gradual, but measureable, change that is happening to my body. There’s nothing more incredible than watching your body slowly transform. Every time I move my body, I feel stronger, leaner and more perseverant than the last time. I can run faster and longer but I’ve also learned to listen to my body. I’ve learned to trust myself and to push past the fear that was previously holding me back, but I’ve also learned to be aware of what my body is capable of in that moment or on that particular day. Thanks to running, I totally “get” the mind and body connection.

Moving your body helps you to honour the process of change and transformation

Unite with your higher self.

The word “yoga” makes reference to this. The root, “yuj” means “unity” or “yoke”. Yoga is one of my favourite forms of movement. Whilst running connects my body to my mind, I feel that yoga connects my body to my spirit. Yoga is special. It’s mindfulness in motion. I love it because it’s so grounding. With openness, curiosity and willingness, yoga can take your body to a whole new realm of experience. I feel so uplifted and in tune with myself after practicing yoga. One day soon I will write a blog post all about yoga.

P.S. I’m currently completing 30 days of Yoga with Adriene, which is really amazing by the way! You should try it!

How do you like to move your body? What helps you to feel in tune with your body? Tell me.

The Key To Unlocking and Accepting Change

The Key To Accepting Change

From the moment we are born, until the moment we die, our life is a series of highs and lows, gains and losses, beginnings and endings. It’s true that the only constant in life is change. Not to sound morbid, but one day we are all going to die – it’s actually one of the few things we can be completely certain of! Yet, we are actually programmed to deny our own mortality on a daily basis in order to maintain our existential stability. Can you imagine what it would be like if you walked around every day constantly fearing your own death? You’d be an anxious mess, and you probably wouldn’t be able to thrive or function. So, we become attached to things, people, environments, the past, thoughts and ideas to keep ourselves sane. It’s actually quite optimistic of us, when you think about it like that, and for the most part, it works…. except when it doesn’t, and that’s when things gets a bit messy and shit. So, today, I’m going to talk a little bit about change.

Change is happening constantly. It is happening within your body every single second of every single day. Your cells are constantly working, communicating with each other, multiplying, evolving and dying. Change is also happening outside of our bodies too, and our bodies are constantly adapting to these changes, however subtle. In fact, we’ve evolved to become so good at doing this, that most of the time we don’t even notice that we’re doing it. Our bodies adjust to light, temperature and atmospheric changes. Our bodies actually even have to rely on some changes in order to function. Biological rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a cycle. In fact, we all have a master clock inside of us that keeps track of all these rhythms and it is ticking away in your hypothalamus right now as we speak. Our sleep-wake cycle is dependent upon a circadian cycle and light changes; the reproduction of our species relies on a menstrual cycle and hormone changes; our ability to maintain our attention even runs on a cycle, the ultradian rhythm, which is 90 minutes in duration… I think you get the gist.

change2

So, you can already see how change is essential for life, and adapting to change is also essential for life. Not just for human life, but for all life. Think seasonal changes, think weather changes, think climate changes. Everything is interconnected, and yet somehow, it just magically works and flows. Things change at just the right time for the right process to occur. Just thinking about all that makes me feel in awe of the existence of life and its ability to evolve and thrive on this planet. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was the ultimate story of change, and I remember being so excited to learn all about it in Human Physiology 101. It also helped that I had a lecturer who was discernibly excited about teaching it.

The good news is that a lot of good stuff happens because of change. For example, if nothing ever changed, we wouldn’t have butterflies! When people think of change, they often think about the metamorphosis of the butterfly. The butterfly must struggle to come out of the cocoon, but did you know that if there were no struggle the butterfly wouldn’t be able to fly? This is because during the struggle, the blood flows into its wings, which allows it to fly. It gives purpose and meaning to the suffering when you think about it like that. We can sometimes find meaning and purpose in our own suffering, too. I did a lot of research on Post-Traumatic Growth when I was writing my thesis (which was on vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training working with clients who have experienced trauma or difficult life events, in case you were wondering). I know that I’ve talked a lot about stories on this blog, but the other cool thing about stories is that the more meaning we are able to attribute to the story of our suffering, the more likely we are to be able to cope with it. That’s what Narrative and Schema therapies are all about – changing stories. The experience of pain is inevitable, but our interpretation of the pain is what causes the suffering. In some ways, this can be empowering to know, because it means we have options in the face of change, suffering, loss and pain. Changing the way we think about it can sometimes change our perception of it. In psychology, when a story is helpful, it’s said to be adaptive, and when a story is not so helpful, it’s maladaptive. My job is to work collaboratively with people to help them change their maladaptive stories into more adaptive ones.

If nothing changed

Accordingly, you can see that we can create or unlock change within ourselves to help us deal with pain, suffering and loss. We don’t necessarily always have to change the story to cope, either. Sometimes it’s a more practical approach that creates meaningful change. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, for example, clients learn that when they are faced with a problem they have four options:

  1. They can either identify what needs to change and solve the problem,
  2. If they can’t solve it then they have the option to change the way they feel about it,
  3. If they can’t change the way they feel then they have the option to accept it (which, once again, doesn’t mean liking or approving of it) or,
  4. They can choose to stay miserable.

Marsha Linehan is pretty blunt at the best of times! Thinking of problems in this way can sometimes help you to move into a problem-focused coping mode. It basically helps you to shift the focus away from the stuff you don’t have control over, and back onto what you do have control over. It’s directing your focus to what’s going to be most helpful and adaptive in that moment. It also allows you to take some responsibility and ownership over your life and whatever has happened or changed. When we have an external locus of control we are always focused on attributing responsibility to external factors and events (blaming others, for example), whereas when we have an internal locus of control we are able to focus on our own role within the system. Given we don’t really have much control over anything outside of ourselves, it’s obviously going to be more helpful to focus on what we do have control over rather than what we don’t. It allows us to be the change we wish to see in the world, as the famous saying goes.

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As a helper, I have learned that human beings can go through some really awful shit in life, and yet most of the time they can still manage to come out of it and not only survive, but thrive! This is because resilience is born out of struggle and we are a pretty resilient bunch. This is good news! The other good news about change is  that it means that the bad times don’t last forever. Of course, the flip side of this is that good times won’t last forever either, but being aware of this only makes you appreciate them more when they do happen, right?

Some people not only fear changes that are outside of their control, but also fear initiating positive changes that are within their control, and this keeps them stuck in a “comfort zone”. They don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone because they are scared of what might happen. But by not stepping out, they also miss out on the magic of life. Besides, the comfort zone is an illusion anyway. Bad stuff can happen even when you’ve created an imaginary comfort zone, no matter how high you build those walls. The comfort zone serves no other purpose besides convincing you that you are safe within it… it creates a false sense of security in a world where there simply is no certainty. Remember, taking well informed and calculated risks is a wise move, and increases your chances of finding success and happiness, too. You can’t control what happens, but you can believe in yourself and have faith in your ability to cope with whatever does happen. Everything you’ve ever wanted is usually on the other side of fear. It takes courage to take that leap, but what other choice do you have? To stay stuck? How boring!

 

“Sometimes your only available form of transportation is a leap of faith” – Margaret Shepard.

 

After a loss or change, you can beg and beg for it to go back to how it was before. You may feel that you need whatever it was that you lost in order to survive. You don’t. Whenever I have felt this way, it’s been because I was scared of letting go. It takes bravery to finally let go and say good-bye… but you do need to let go in order to welcome new beginnings. Every ending leads to a new beginning… it really does! You never would have believed me if you told you where I was this time last year and what I was going through… but here I am. It was hard…. really hard, but now I am in a better place. It’s powerful to realise that you are the only person who can save you. Other people can be there for you and support you, or even give you some ideas on how you might get through the change. But, I’ll tell you a secret, the only person who has ever been there for me through thick and thin, who has comforted me when I have been down, who has provided me with the strength I needed and who I have been able to rely on is me… It takes courage to love and nurture yourself through the process of change, but you are the one who is coping with whatever it is, so you need to be caring for yourself through that process.

Change3

I have learned so much about myself and the world just by paying attention to the things I previously used to ignore. Of course, I had to learn all this the hard way. I stayed in a job I hated until I got sick. I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy until I had a break down. We all have life traps. We all fall down holes. It takes courage and strength to recognise when you’ve fallen into a hole and to be able to find the way back out…. but we always do, and when we do, we grow stronger and more resilient. My favourite social researcher, Brené Brown, talks about this in greater detail in her latest book, Rising Strong. Each time we fall, we learn something new about ourselves and the world. Knowledge is power. We can’t change what we don’t notice. So pay attention to what your body and heart are telling you…. and put it into action. You won’t regret it.

I’m starting to learn to listen to myself and my body more, and you should too. I used to be someone who would push myself and have unrelenting standards for myself… and I still sort of do. I am ambitious. I am a dreamer. I am idealistic. However, I listen to myself now. If I am tired, I rest. If I am feeling overworked, I delegate out. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a break. If I’m not enjoying something, I stop. I follow my heart now and I listen to my intuition. I listen to my body and my feelings and I respond appropriately. I no longer ignore the feelings. I respond to them and validate them. Our feelings are messengers and they are telling us something. If we ignore physical pain then we get sick. In the same way, if we ignore our emotions, we get mentally unwell. Therefore, I bring a greater sense of kindness and compassion to myself when I’m going through a difficult time or coping with some change, and this helps a lot.

In a world where everything is constantly changing all around us, we can maintain some consistency in how we cope. Look to your core values to guide and direct you toward the best way to cope. Everyone copes differently. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to figure out what helps you, and put it into action. I believe in you and I know you can get through it, whatever it is that you’re faced with. You’re programed to, after all 🙂

How do you normally cope with change? Do you like it or loathe it? What are your thoughts on change? What helps? You can share them with me and each other, if you want 🙂

Authenticity: How your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe.

Authenticity

Being authentic, owning your own story and taking responsibility for your life requires you to let go of seeking approval from others for your life choices, opinions, style, taste and quirks. This is really bloody hard to do, for most people.

Being true to yourself means you must listen to the voice that comes from within that tells you what you like and don’t like and then follow through with that by communicating it, both to yourself and to others.

Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we'll ever do.Brené Brown

It’s really tricky because we all want to connect with others and be liked, but yet, if you constantly chase for other people’s approval, you are compromising your own needs and doubting yourself, which leads to you feeling fragmented. It also undercuts the conviction of your overall message or assertion and leads to other people also doubting you. When you are constantly trying to win fans by giving them what they want, your sense of identity starts to disintegrate. Your identity is what makes you unique and special and is ironically the very thing that will make people like you. It’s that perfect combination of personality traits, opinions, views, style and quirks that makes you, you.

Just be yourself.Let people see the real, imperfectflawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magicalperson that you are.-Mandy Hale.

Authenticity fosters connection. When you have the courage to be yourself, it gives others permission to do the same. It’s nice, and it’s all well and good if you like yourself enough to do that in the first place. However, most people, at some point in their lives, go through the battle of wanting to be authentic, but also wanting the approval of their peers. High school is the typical time when this happens, but it can also happen during other points in your life. Most people have experienced some kind of rejection or criticism, and if it happens that it’s been repeated or consistent, it may starts to erode your self-esteem and confidence. It may start to impact on and change the story that you have formed about yourself. You may start to see yourself through the eyes of your haters instead of through the eyes of your fans. You may start to question and doubt your opinions and you may even try to change yourself to fit in with what you think is more likeable or acceptable. The voice inside of you that tells you what you like and don’t like may start to fade and become softer and quieter and you may even stop listening to it altogether. Indeed, you may even start to become preoccupied by all the things you have said or done, and become hypercritical of yourself. Basically, you may start to lose yourself and feel depressed and anxious because you’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. You may have gained yourself a few friends or fans along the way, but the constant appeasing and accommodating is so exhausting, and the connections you have made feel so fake and inauthentic anyway. A crowd of people may surround you, but you feel so alone and empty and it sucks.

One thing I’ve realised in my own life and experience is that not everyone is going to like me. In fact, quite a significant chunk of people don’t like me, and that’s ok. It used to really bother me when I was younger, probably because I didn’t rate myself that highly back then. I really, really, really wanted to be liked, but I also really, really, really wanted to be liked for being me. I was too strong-willed to want to change myself to be the version that other people wanted me to be. Besides, as much as you can try and fit yourself in to be what you think people want or need, it’s impossible to maintain over time; eventually, your true self shines through the façade. What I realised over the years is that the more and more I started to like myself and was comfortable to show my authentic self, the more and more I was able to attract people into my life who were more like me. My vibe was attracting my tribe, so to speak. It was awesome. I realised that I didn’t need to be anyone but myself to be liked. Instead of focusing on my imperfections and trying to change them, I realised that my flaws were perfect for the hearts that were meant to love me. The more I gave myself unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the more I started to attract other people into my life who did. The more I validated my own feelings, the more other people did.

TAKES

The point of this story is to share that sometimes we forget that we are all unique and special, and that instead of constantly trying to fit in or be liked, sometimes you just need to be yourself and have faith that the right people will come into your life and accept you for being that perfect combination of unique that makes you, you. When you do things from your soul, other people really dig that shit. So, let yourself be flawed, fuck perfection, fall in love with your life – all of it, and learn to celebrate yourself and love the crap out of yourself! If you want to find out more about how to do that, stay tuned.