Weightless A blog about body image, dieting, and self-image. 2017-10-20T22:59:58Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/feed/atom/ Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[Shifting the Focus Away from Our Bodies and onto Our Lives]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33866 2017-10-20T22:59:58Z 2017-10-20T22:59:58Z

When we focus so much on our bodies—berating them, hating them, changing them, worrying about them—we naturally focus less on our lives. We naturally focus less on our relationships, on our interests and passions, on our ideas and our creative work. We naturally focus less on our values.

We do this because our time, attention and energy are finite. There’s only so much to go around. We do this because we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve happiness or nourishment when we haven’t lost weight, when we haven’t followed the (diet, fitness) rules, when we haven’t been “good.”

What if you shift your focus?

What if you stop devoting so much time, energy and attention into weighing your food and counting your calories and instead focus on discovering or prioritizing your values? What if you focus on brainstorming ideas and projects? What if you skip the cycling class (which bores you to death) and instead take walks around the park, snapping photos of the stunning colors of fall?

What if you throw out your scale and replace it with a notebook and pen? Instead of letting numbers dictate your mood (and your self-worth), you decide to take a few minutes to explore and jot down your thoughts and feelings. What if you stop solely eating foods on your meal plan and instead get creative in the kitchen?

What if the time you spent scrolling social media, feeling like you don’t measure up, was spent instead on sketching, writing, singing, learning, laughing?

What if you start the day with a dance party instead of the blaring of a 5 a.m. alarm to a gym class you don’t even want to take? What if all that time, attention and energy spent wondering and worrying why you aren’t losing weight (even though you’re eating the “right” amount of calories and the “right” kind of foods your nutritionist prescribes, and working out as much as your trainer recommends) were instead spent on wondering about interesting subjects and asking interesting questions?

What if we refocus on the activities, acts and people that make us come alive? What if we explore other parts of ourselves? What if we nurture our spirits, our souls?

When we focus on our weight, shape or size, on the numbers on the scale, inside our clothes and on the tape measure, our lives, our days, become so small and narrow. We become more and more rigid, maybe even obsessive. Our curiosity dampens and dims. But when we refocus, the possibilities are endless. Our senses sharpen. We truly feed ourselves. We grow.

I know that this is complex. I know that simply telling yourself to refocus may not work.

So don’t.

Acknowledge that you might not feel good about your body. Acknowledge that you yearn to change it. Acknowledge that dieting is tough to stop—especially in today’s society, where thin is in and “clean eating” dominates. Acknowledge your mixed feelings and thoughts. And then fill your day with joyful, nourishing things. Read the books you want to read. Hang out with the people you want to hang out with. Pursue the projects that challenge, inspire and educate you. Pursue the questions that intrigue and fascinate you.

Remind yourself that life is so much more than points, calorie counts, sizes, and weight. Remind yourself, again, that the possibilities are endless—not after you change your appearance, but actually right now.

Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[When You Fear Gaining Weight]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33839 2017-10-16T01:16:43Z 2017-10-16T01:16:43Z

Many of us fear gaining weight. In fact, it is a fear that’s hard to avoid, according to Kirsten Belzer, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Chicago. Because in our culture, the number on the scale is so much more than just a number. It is so much more than a representation of our weight.

It is everything.

“From my experience, we don’t fear weight gain as much as we fear the association that accompanies the weight gain,” said Britt Frank, LSCSW, a therapist in private practice in Kansas City. We fear the loss of connection, abandonment and rejection, she said.

We receive messages all around us that being in a larger body is unhealthy and unattractive, Belzer said.

While logically we realize that gaining weight doesn’t mean we’ll be shunned or killed by a tiger, our brains aren’t hardwired to process the constant images we’re bombarded with, said Frank. “For the primitive brain, weight gain = rejection = death.”

We also start clinging to cognitive distortions. According to Frank, we might think, “If I don’t fit into these pants, I cannot go out in public because people will reject me.”

We also attempt to gain control. We count calories. We skip meals. We eat “clean.” We start exercising more and more, especially after we’ve eaten something we deem “bad” or “sinful” or “unhealthy.” We shame ourselves.

The fear of weight gain is a stubborn fear. If it’s particularly stubborn, seeing a therapist is important. The below tips also might help in starting the process.

Do a media detox. Frank suggested replacing the time you’d spend looking at images with practicing self-care. “It generally takes between 60-90 days to form new neural pathways, which are the superhighways upon which our habits travel. If we are habituated to check Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat first thing in the morning, it can take time to train our brains to do something different.”

She suggested doing a 90-day detox from social media, magazines and TV. Use this time to do things that genuinely nourish you. Connect with friends face to face. Read. Take walks. Take an art class. Practice yoga. Journal. Listen to self-compassionate meditations.

According to Frank, “Ask yourself, ‘When was the last time I felt the most like my authentic self?’ Try to recreate as many elements as you can once you have that image.”

Expose yourself to all shapes and sizes. Go to a museum. (If that’s not possible, look at images of paintings online.) “Look at art throughout the ages and see the women of all sizes celebrated,” Belzer said. See the beauty and grace and power in a wide range of women in a wide range of sizes and shapes.

Focus on what you do like and embrace. “For every ‘body shaming’ comment made, turn your attention to a body part you actually like and affirm that part,” Frank said. Belzer suggested thinking of at least one thing you appreciate about your body. “Maybe it’s the way your legs get you around town, or the color of your eyes, or the strength of your arms.”

Go beyond size. Belzer suggested thinking of people who have qualities that you admire or people who have positively affected your life. “Chances are that at least some of these people are not a size 2. When I was in my 20s, I realized most of the women I looked up to for qualities such as their intelligence, positive energy, compassion and self-actualization just happened to be on the heavier side. It was a helpful reminder that what matters most is not someone’s size. ”

We hyper-focus on our weight, and we fear what a few—or 40—pounds will do. We fear what others will think. We fear how others will see us. We fear that at a higher weight we will be unworthy. It’s understandable that we have these fears, because thin-is-in messages are all around us.

Sometimes, we can diminish these fears by reminding ourselves that we are more than our weight. Sometimes we can diminish these fears by refocusing on self-care, by participating in activities that inspire, uplift, empower, energize or soothe, and surrounding ourselves with positive images and people.

And sometimes we can’t. Sometimes these fears are too loud, too persistent. In those times, it really helps to work with a coach or therapist. Either way, know that these fears are not permanent. Know that, with support, you can work through them. Know that you don’t have to stay shackled to your scale.

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[Reflecting on Our Reflections]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33788 2017-10-13T04:23:36Z 2017-10-13T04:23:36Z

If you were asked to draw your face from memory, could you? Could you represent the lines, the moles, the marks? Could you describe the shape of your ears or your mouth? What about the precise hue of your eyes? What about the freckles on your nose? What about your cheekbones?

For many of us our faces are strangers, or acquaintances at best. We are familiar with a few features. But our relationship is superficial. There are glances here and there. We walk by the mirror, say a polite, “Hi, how are you?” and swiftly look away. Or we say “Ughhh.” Or we say, “Wow. I don’t recognize you at all,” or “Wow. I wish you were different.”

Maybe you look at your face as you apply a nightly cleanser and splash some water. Maybe you look at it as you’re brushing your teeth. Maybe you look at your face as you’re applying your makeup. Or maybe you don’t really look at it at all.

Today, we are obsessed with youth, obsessed with freezing time—and freezing our faces. We paralyze muscles so our faces are wrinkle-free. We plump our lips, because thin lips are old lips. We aren’t used to seeing faces with lines and marks and scars in magazines, because everything is Photoshopped. Everything is soft and supple and manipulated. And unreal. All of this makes it harder to accept our faces, let alone look at them.

Have you ever looked at your face for more than 30 minutes? An hour? Three hours?

That’s what novelist Ruth Ozeki did: She spent 3 hours looking at her face, really seeing it, which she chronicles in her beautiful, thoughtful book The Face: A Time CodeWhat she finds is everything from her mother’s and grandfather’s cheekbones to features that, at the end of the 3 hours, have become more familiar, features that have softened, eyes that look less sad.

There were many years when I barely looked at my face, which explains why I thought my eyes were tiny, only to realize that my glasses just made them seem that way. When I started wearing contacts, I essentially saw my eyes for the first time. Because how often do we look into our own eyes?

Today, when I see my face, I see my father. I have his nose. My lips are mostly my mom’s. There is a perfectly round scar almost in the center of my forehead, a souvenir from having chicken pox at 7 years old. There are new lines and old lines. There are freckles and blemishes. There also is acceptance. There is a thought that brings me peace: My family lives in this face. 

What would you discover if you looked at your reflection? Would you discover the different generations that are encoded in your nose, your eyes, your forehead? Would you see specific memories etched into your scars? What stories or silly moments would your smile lines tell? What would happen if you let your childlike curiosity take over, if you observed without judgment?

In The Face Ozeki writes, “My face is and isn’t me. It’s a nice face. It has lots of people in it. My parents, my grandparents, and their grandparents, all the way back through time and countless generations to my earliest ancestors—all those iterations are here in my face, along with all the people who’ve ever looked at me. And the light and shadows are here, too, the joys, anxieties, griefs, vanities and laughter. The sun, the rain, the wind, the broom poles, and the iron fences that have distressed my face with lines and scars and creases—all here.”

What would happen if you stared at your face for longer than 5 or 15 minutes? What would you discover if you looked into your eyes? What people, memories, stories, emotions would be present?

Your face is and isn’t you.

Ozeki was inspired to try her experiment by Harvard professor Jennifer L. Roberts, who asks students to stare at a single work of art for 3 hours and record their observations, thoughts, questions. Because Roberts doesn’t simply want her students to look at art. As Ozeki writes, she wants them to see it.

What if you started seeing yourself?

Photo by Christopher Harris on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[50 Fun Ways to Spend a Few Minutes or Hours]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33806 2017-10-13T02:58:01Z 2017-10-09T03:58:35Z

Sometimes, we take life very seriously. That’s because life is very serious. It is precious, and fragile. It is filled with responsibilities. But it’s also important to be serious about being silly. Because silliness and play create incredible moments and memories. Silliness and play is how we connect—to others, to ourselves.

As psychiatrist Stuart Brown, M.D., writes in his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, play “allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others…Play is the purest expression of love.”

Below are 50 ways you can play. Consider making your own list, and consider checking it off. Maybe this year. Maybe in the next few months. Make it a playful challenge.

  1. Play old-school board games such as Monopoly or Candy Land or Clue or Scrabble or Guess Who (and keep your phones in the other room).
  2. Play tag.
  3. Make s’mores.
  4. Play hide-and-seek.
  5. Ride your bike.
  6. Write a three-line poem about your favorite food.
  7. Take a quick walk and challenge yourself to find five new things you’ve never noticed.
  8. Make up a new dance move.
  9. Draw with your mouth.
  10. Go to any kind of museum. Pick one piece to observe. Stare at it, and let it spark a story.
  11. Write a three-line poem about your favorite song.
  12. Set a timer for one minute and trace your right hand.
  13. Blow bubbles.
  14. Spend the day taking pictures of things your 7-year-old self would’ve stood in awe of.
  15. Go to a water park.
  16. Read a children’s book.
  17. Go to the grocery store, and pick up a new fruit, a new veggie, a new dessert, and a new something else that you’ve never tried before. Make this a weekly ritual.
  18. Plan a theme night for dinner this weekend—like an 80’s night with movies, songs and snacks from that decade.
  19. Get your hands on a dictionary, and spend a few minutes searching for the strangest word.
  20. Draw the stars.
  21. Visit an aquarium.
  22. Come up with your own truly positive, inspiring magazine (versus many of the shame-inducing “health” magazines on the newsstand today). What would your magazine be called? What would the covers look like? What columns would it contain? What advertisers would you allow?
  23. Watch a TED talk about something you know nothing about.
  24. Make up a knock-knock joke.
  25. Play charades.
  26. Draw what the world and people will look like in the 30th century.
  27. Write a five-line poem about a funny memory.
  28. Skip everywhere you go today.
  29. Jot down the different things you smell in one day.
  30. Spend one minute creating an inchie.
  31. Watch your favorite Disney movie or cartoon.
  32. Buy a book of jokes, and start the day by reading one joke—and tell the joke to as many people as you can that day.
  33. Make a Halloween costume from scratch (sorta).
  34. Swing on the swings.
  35. Create a comic-book that celebrates a trait you previously disliked (or even hated).
  36. Play Hangman.
  37. Find an inspirational quote, and jot it down in your planner or somewhere else you’ll always see it.
  38. Make a list of five things that make you smile. Draw them or snap their photos.
  39. Make a logo for your pretend (or real) company.
  40. Think of silly solutions for daily irritations.
  41. Cut out images from weight-loss ads (and related ads), and turn them into body-positive slogans.
  42. Draw a body part of yours that you love.
  43. Play with Legos.
  44. Hula-hoop.
  45. Use your pots and pans as instruments.
  46. Jot down the different tastes you savored in one day.
  47. Create an original sign that simply says, “No, thank you.” Decorate it any way you like. On the back, list alllll the things you’d like to say ‘no’ to. Any time you’ll be saying ‘no,’ picture your fun sign.
  48. Respond to prompts such as: If I were a ________, I’d be ________. Respond through writing or drawing or taking a photo. For instance, If I were a flower… If I were an animal… If I were a food… If I were a song… If I were a notebook… If I were a sculpture…
  49. Make up a word. Slip it into a conversation, as though it’s a real, totally legitimate term.
  50. Make a list of 50 playful, silly, fun, creative, uplifting, interesting, exciting, sweet things you can do—some things that take a few minutes, some that take 30 minutes, and some that take much longer. Give yourself plenty of options. And consult your family and friends.

Play is a vital part of our self-care routines. Play is a vital part of our lives.

How can you play today? Tomorrow? This week?

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[Are You in a Fun Famine?]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33424 2017-10-06T18:12:21Z 2017-10-06T18:12:21Z

Do you feel like every waking moment is packed with something productive and useful? When was the last time you did something solely because it made you smile? Have you played any games lately—like board games or tag? Spontaneously started a dance party or tea party with your family? Does it feel like you’re always working or thinking about work or reading some article that tells you how to work better or smarter? Does it feel like you rarely take breaks to just be, to just be silly, to just laugh? Does it feel like your days are filled with too many tedious, blah tasks?

If it does, you might be going through a fun famine.

According to Rebecca Scritchfield, a wellness coach and registered dietitian nutritionist in her excellent book, Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out—And Never Say Diet Again, a fun famine is: “scarcity of laughter, silliness and joy; the state of taking life too seriously; extreme absence of pleasure, as evidenced by severe facial expressions, bodily grunts, growls and sighs, and the presence of a never-ending to-do list.”

Of course, everyone’s definition of fun is different. Maybe dancing isn’t your thing. Maybe you hate board games. Which is why it’s vital to explore what fun means to you.

Scritchfield shares many wonderful tips and insights in her book on incorporating more fun into our days—whatever fun looks like for you. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Complete this sentence: “Fun is __________.” Think of at least five scenarios. Maybe it’s playing pretend with your kids. Maybe it’s attending an art gallery. Maybe it’s doing anything outside or by the water. Maybe it’s reading children’s books. Maybe it’s seeing a funny movie.
  • Infuse dull tasks with fun and meaning. For instance, here’s how Scritchfield views grocery shopping: “When I get my reusable bags and strap my daughter in her car seat, I’m not just going grocery shopping. I’m going on a treasure hunt. I look for at least one fruit or vegetable I don’t normally buy. I get excited about the possibility of discovering a new recipe or some other food trick to make my life easier. Sometimes I challenge myself to see how quickly I can get in and out of there by sticking to my list. I assign my daughter to help me spot items on the shelf. It gives me a chance to talk about food and build a positive connection to eating, which is very meaningful to me…” How can you make seemingly boring or tedious tasks a bit more enjoyable, more lighthearted, more meaningful?
  • Jot down the first activities that come to mind for these descriptions: “You can’t wait to do it again… You lose track of time… Spontaneous laughter erupts… Your spirit feels lighter… Your worries disappear…” How can you add these activities to your days?

Your days are no doubt busy. You work. You need to make money. You have many responsibilities—which you can’t ignore or put off. All of this is true and real and important. But what’s also true and real and important is: What is it all for? Because this talk of fun brings up some serious questions: How do you want to be living? What do you want to change?

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[When You Need to Slow Down But It’s Hard]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33758 2017-10-02T02:18:26Z 2017-10-02T01:27:24Z

Productivity is so seductive. It feels wonderful to accomplish a task and check it off our to-do lists. It feels awesome to accomplish more than we even thought possible in a given day.

Plus, there are many tasks that are non-negotiable. There are many chores that as responsible, mature, working adults we must do. Or many projects, that if not done today, just get transferred onto our lists for tomorrow. And then we’re behind. And then we’re scrambling. And what if we never catch up?

There’s also the gnawing anxiety of tasks remaining incomplete, in limbo, messing with our desire to have closure. There’s also the need to be useful and effective. There’s also the anger (at ourselves) for wasting time (precious time), for not being quick enough, for getting sucked into social media. (Interesting how we will search for relief and reprieve in all sorts of places, places that don’t necessarily nourish us very well.)

Yet we’re also tired. So tired. Our minds shout GO, GO, GO, while our bodies yearn to cuddle up on the couch and watch a sitcom or take a 20-minute shower, just because.

It’s funny how complicated and multilayered slowing down and resting have become. Why do we expect ourselves to keep moving when we aren’t machines? Why do we expect so much of ourselves? Why do we expect to function and produce when we don’t feed ourselves? Why do we glorify efficiency and exhaustion?

In the wonderful book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday LifeRenée Peterson Trudeau includes a list of questions she gently asks herself when she’s “seeking to come into balance with being and doing,” which I think are vital to ask ourselves, too:

  • What choices can I make every day to feel more grounded, relaxed, and focused?
  • What can I do to live intentionally?
  • At the beginning of every day, what can I do to feel more centered?
  • What self-care practices add spaciousness to my days?
  • What can I say ‘no’ to in my professional and personal life?
  • How can I support my loved ones in being less busy?
  • Am I getting sucked into someone else’s “busy-ness” and sense of urgency? Or am I staying true to what’s important to me?
  • What decisions do I need to make in order to create more blocks of unscheduled time in my days?

Trudeau includes a thought-provoking quote from Joan Borysenko’s book Inner Peace for Busy People“Remember—your to-do list is immortal. It will live on long after you’re dead.”

Maybe the answer is to regularly ask ourselves tthese questions. Maybe the answer is to keep reminding ourselves that to-do lists will never empty, which means that in order to slow down, in order to really rest, we need to make the commitment. We need to say, it’s enough, and we’re enough. And we need to carve out time and honor that time like it’s precious. Because it is. And because we are.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[The Power of Health at Every Size: Q&A with Therapist Kirsten Belzer]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33738 2017-10-09T01:54:52Z 2017-09-29T07:13:16Z

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Health at Every Size movement changed my life. Essentially, it gave me permission to practice compassionate self-care without waiting until I lost weight and finally, supposedly deserved it. It gave me permission to focus away from weight (and other arbitrary numbers) and to truly focus on my well-being, to focus on the joy of movement and the pleasure and flexibility of eating. Because our health and wellness is not dependent on weight.

It gave me permission to embrace and honor my body and myself. It also revealed many eye-opening, vital facts about health (more on that below).

Today, I’m sharing my interview with Kirsten Belzer, LCSW, a Chicago psychotherapist who also promotes HAES. (How wonderful and refreshing to find others who feel the same way!) Belzer specializes in couples, trauma, loss and life transitions. Below, she shares why HAES resonates with her, why it’s so powerful and so much more.

Q: How did you first discover Health at Every Size (HAES), and what resonated with you about it in particular? 

A: I have to admit that I, like almost everyone in our culture, had previous biases against people who accepted being fat and said they could be healthy.  From everything I had heard or read, being larger was something that was always unquestionably unhealthy.

I learned about HAES approximately 7 years ago. I had gained weight due to thyroid and adrenal issues.  While in the past I had always been able to lose weight when I put some effort into it, this time nothing worked. Now I understand that after decades of dieting on and off, I was primed to gain weight and each time would be harder to lose it.

I read Judith Matz’s Diet Survivor Handbook on mindful eating, which was like a breath of fresh air. Matz mentioned HAES and Linda Bacon’s work. I then read Linda Bacon’s HAES book and it just clicked and made so much sense.  It truly felt like a consciousness raising. The sense of freedom that came with releasing the struggle from the idea that I and others had to lose weight was truly liberating and intuitively felt much healthier. It’s also been a real gift to accept myself at this age and weight in a way I never did as a younger, thinner woman.

I was struck by so much of the scientific evidence HAES notes that is quite different from what the media promotes. For instance, the longest lived people have a BMI that is considered overweight. Yet doctors still tell people at this BMI they need to lose weight.

I was amazed to find out how the BMI numbers that supposedly constitute “overweight” and “obesity” were arbitrarily decided upon by a committee composed mainly of people with ties to the diet industry.

Q: Why is HAES so powerful and important? 

A: HAES powerfully allows people to have compassion for themselves and accept themselves as they are. The work is important because it is a social justice movement. Bias against heavy people seems to be the last remaining accepted prejudice. I look forward to a time when the majority of Americans come to an acceptance of a variety of sizes and body shapes.

Q: How have your clients benefited from adopting HAES? 

A: I feel much more compassion and understanding as a therapist toward my clients who are heavier. I don’t assume they want or need to lose weight if they are larger. Often I think it’s a great relief to them that someone in healthcare is not telling them directly or implying they must lose weight.

If they bring up the topic, they often look at me with wide eyes when I acknowledge to them my understanding that weight loss is almost impossible for the vast majority of people for the long-term without crazy-making, OCD-like behaviors. I think it frees them to know they are normal.

Q: What are the most common myths about HAES that you’d like to clear up?

A: I think some people may think HAES promotes eating whatever you want, whenever you want it and they assume this means lots of sweets or unlimited junk foods. The point of mindful eating is to really pay attention to what feels like the right match for your stomach, to enjoy your food, but also to listen to your body’s cues that you have had enough.

Many people have a misconception that the word “acceptance” implies a fatalistic giving up of any positive change. Acceptance simply means we acknowledge where we are in this moment without judgment. We can choose to makes positive changes if we realize in that moment of non-judgmental acceptance that something no longer works for us.  As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about HAES? 

A: Before one writes off HAES without reading about it, take the time explore the ideas further and then come to your own informed conclusion. You may be surprised.

People also need to know that changing one’s perspective on weight and body acceptance is not an overnight shift. They should expect to take time on learning to eat mindfully. There is no perfect. It’s all just a process of accepting where you are in the present moment.

To learn more about Health at Every Size, read my interviews with Linda Bacon: Part 1 and Part 2. Read this interview with Bacon on myths, as well. And check out https://haescommunity.com and https://lindabacon.org

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[How Therapy Can Help You Cultivate Self-Acceptance]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33694 2017-09-25T05:38:10Z 2017-09-25T05:38:10Z

Today is National Psychotherapy Day, a day that aims to demystify therapy and celebrate it. I interviewed one of its founders, psychologist Ryan Howes, about how therapy can help us cultivate self-acceptance.

“Self-acceptance is setting aside what we’re not, or what we ‘should’ be, and accepting who we are, right now,” according to Pasadena psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D. Self-acceptance is not a destination we reach and simply stay. Rather, it’s a “a moment-by-moment phenomenon,” Howes said.

That is, there are days when we accept our “flaws” and imperfections. And there are days when we are self-critical, when we are embarrassed of our thoughts, feelings, actions, appearance, mistakes. But, when we start cultivating self-acceptance, these days become fewer. And instead of being cruel and careless with ourselves, we’re able to access self-compassion a bit more easily. We’re able to notice what we’re doing and gently quiet our inner critic. We stop seeing the mean thoughts as cold, hard facts, as proof of our brokenness, and see them for what they are: thoughts. Thoughts that we can get curious about and question and revise.

Accepting ourselves is vital because “life is too short not to,” Howes said. “To put it another way, we can use up a great deal of time and energy in life trying to change the unchangeable, preventing us from enjoying who we are and what we have. Some people spend years dwelling on what they’re not while precious time passes them by.”

Sometimes, no matter how much we try, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to accept ourselves. Most days we berate everything from our bodies to our behaviors. Most days we feel ashamed and annoyed. Most days we struggle with seeing ourselves in a positive light. Which means we need extra support. We need a professional.

According to Howes, therapists can help us cultivate self-acceptance in these ways:

  • They can help us understand why we are who we are. For instance, exploring your childhood can help you understand and accept that your current fears, insecurities and skills are a response to your early environment. “This knowledge helps you accept who you are today and identify areas for growth.”
  • They can help us to challenge distorted beliefs. “Therapists are trained to be accurate mirrors.” Often we are not. Often we develop distorted beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of. These may be beliefs that we internalized from our childhoods, inside our homes or inside our schools, or other experiences. For instance, “A woman who believes she is weak may find that she is actually quite strong in certain situations. A man who thought he was dull might discover that he is actually very interesting and creative. A woman who was told she is cold and detached may find that her work at the animal rescue is a very loving and intimate practice.

  • They can help us practice being ourselves. Howes likened therapy to a laboratory. It’s a safe space to practice any parts of ourselves that we’d like to further develop. This might mean being assertive and setting boundaries with difficult people (i.e., thereby taking care of ourselves). It might mean learning to practice self-compassion, even when it feels impossible.
  • They can help us become more curious and self-aware. Therapists are curious about who we are, and how we became the way we are. “And this curiosity becomes contagious. After a few sessions of self-exploration, you’ll probably find yourself noticing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and asking why you respond as you do.”

You might not be able to accept yourself exactly as you are right now. But maybe working with a therapist can change that. Sadly, there’s a lot of stigma about seeking therapy. But what we tend to forget is that seeking therapy makes us strong (not weak). Remind yourself of this.

And remind yourself that you deserve to savor self-acceptance. You deserve to live a life where you feel comfortable in your own skin, where you spend most days focusing on what matters to you, on what brings you meaning and laughter and joy, and less on lashing out at yourself for your supposed shortcomings. After all, life is simply too short.

More about National Psychotherapy Day:

Psychologist Ryan Howes and several psychology graduate students started National Psychotherapy Day because they believe that psychotherapy as a profession has an image problem. Therapy takes place behind closed doors, so the public relies on movies and TV to tell them what therapy is like, and those depictions are rarely accurate.

They’ve set out to demystify therapy, educate the public about what real therapy looks like and how effective it can be, and create a fun day to celebrate therapy, rather than hide it.

You can find more information on their website https://nationalpsychotherapyday.com and on their Facebook page. They’ve also held two storytelling events, called “Moments of Meaning,” which are especially powerful. I encourage everyone to watch the videos here.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[Tending to Yourself When There’s No Time]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33696 2017-09-24T17:26:50Z 2017-09-24T17:26:50Z

You yearn to be productive, to blast through your to-do list every single day. You experiment with all sorts of hacks to attain the ultimate efficiency. If you have kids, you take advantage of their nap time, folding, preparing, putting things back, emailing, writing, working, running. There’s so much running.

No wonder you often end your day feeling out of breath (and out of it).

You yearn to have a tidy house, where every item has a home, and there aren’t piles of unpaid bills on the counter. A pile you’ve been avoiding for a while. All the laundry gets put away, and doesn’t resemble the leaning tower of Pisa on your dryer.

You yearn to be able to subsist on little sleep and a few fancy cups of Starbucks coffee.

You hope not to get sick because you don’t have time for that. So when you feel the soreness in your throat, you ignore it. You continue with your day, blasting through that list, and wake up feeling like there are weights attached to your entire body, sinking you further and further to the floor, further and further through the floor.

You are sick. You are burnt out. You yearn to sit down (and possibly sob). You yearn to watch TV for hours and hours. Yet you don’t. Because there’s life. There’s work. There are responsibilities and errands. And there’s tending to others.

There are always things to do. There will always be things to do. Dishes. Laundry. Lots of laundry. New projects. Unexpected fires to put out.

But “Your needs are not a distraction” (as Mara writes in her gorgeous piece). They are not a distraction from your to-do list. They are not an annoying alarm that you silence or snooze or turn off and then move on to the important things. Your needs are the important things.

Your needs “are teacher guides here to provide you with turning points to truly know and honor yourself. They are opportunities to tend to yourself, and being cared for allows you to create and serve,” Mara writes.

Your needs are windows and doors to a fulfilling life. Your needs are everything from drinking enough water to dreaming of your own business (and making this dream come true). Your needs are everything from getting restful sleep to joining a support group. Your needs are everything from dancing in the morning to making a meal for yourself, even though that means taking a break from playing with your child. (We cannot give from an empty well.)

Delve into your needs. Name them. Explore them. Respect them, and honor them by meeting them.

It often feels like our needs are an interruption, an obstacle. It feels like they hinder our ability to be efficient, to get things done, to move quickly. It feels like they get in the way. Because our needs force us to slow down, to stop.

But our needs are not an interruption from our lives. They are our lives.

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/ <![CDATA[How to Tell Yourself the Truth]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/?p=33629 2017-09-21T20:50:58Z 2017-09-21T20:50:58Z

We lie to ourselves all the time. We say that our evening glass of wine is simply to unwind, and we don’t need it. We could stop drinking, and it wouldn’t really phase us. It’s just not an issue.

And that’s a lie.

We say that we didn’t want the job anyway. We didn’t want to reconcile with our ex anyway. We aren’t dating that person solely because we’re lonely. We aren’t restricting what we eat, and we aren’t starving. We’re simply trying to be “healthy.”

And those are lies, too.

We lie because we naturally want to show our best selves and hide our imperfections, said Michael Morgan, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and clinical director of Wasatch Family Therapy, a private therapy clinic located in Salt Lake City, Utah. And we assume that our flaws reside in the truth. (Actually what resides there is our humanity.)

We lie because we don’t want to disappoint others or ourselves, he said. We don’t want to be embarrassed. We want to prove to others, to ourselves that we are good enough, Morgan said. We want to prove that we are worthy and of value.

We want to prove that we are put together, that we have everything under control. We want to prove that we are “strong.” We are not sensitive. We are not vulnerable. We can become thin, and we can become lovable.

Telling ourselves the truth is hard, because it’s painful. It’s painful to admit that your drinking is a problem. That it’s masking another problem. That you’re actually not doing well. At all. It’s painful to admit that you are vulnerable, that you are hurting. It’s painful to admit that you are lonely. It’s painful to admit that you hate dieting, that you yearn to lose weight, because you think it’s the key to happiness and peace. (Thankfully, it’s not.) But you can’t take it anymore.

Pain can actually be helpful. As Morgan said, “Pain is the ultimate teacher.” We need it so we can grow in all sorts of ways, like emotionally and spiritually. It is the only way we learn new lessons, he said.

Telling ourselves the truth is hard because we fear failure. If we can’t enjoy a drink or two, then clearly we’ve failed. If we can’t stop eating X number of calories and lose weight, then clearly we’ve really failed.

But “failure” sparks growth. It sparks important questions—questions like: What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? How did it go wrong? What can I do next time? What’s working? What isn’t working for me? What really matters to me? What’s really important? What do I want my life to look like? What do I want to let go?

For instance, in the case of dieting and not losing weight, maybe what went wrong is that you weren’t nourishing yourself, you weren’t giving yourself the nutrients you need. Maybe you were still hungry. Maybe you were eating foods you didn’t enjoy. At all. Maybe your natural weight is this weight, and losing pounds would actually be unhealthy. Maybe you were searching for happiness in a place where happiness doesn’t stay.

If your failure was something like getting your manuscript rejected by dozens and dozens of literary agents and publishing companies, then that failure means you’re trying. It means you’re showing up. And maybe after you ask yourself if you still love your book, if you still stand by it, you’re left with a resounding yes. And you decide to self-publish—something that will no doubt be another powerful learning experience. And so you keep going.

And sometimes you flat-out fail. Sometimes your fear becomes real. But you get to decide whether your “failure” is actually final and whether it actually defines you. Because it doesn’t have to. At all. One of Morgan’s friends in college failed an English exam. Instead of feeling ashamed or terrible about himself, he taped the test to the fridge. He even had a party to celebrate the F. As Morgan said, “He wasn’t afraid to fail and wasn’t afraid of people knowing he failed. Where is he now? He is an accomplished family doctor.”

What also helps with telling ourselves the truth is to say our fears out loud, Morgan said. Declare them. I am afraid of feeling my emotions, because I am afraid I’m going to fall apart. I am afraid that I’m an alcoholic. I am afraid I’ll always hate my body. I’ll always hate myself, if I don’t change my weight. I’m afraid I’ll never find a job I like. I’m afraid I won’t find a partner who loves me. I’m just afraid, of what I don’t really know. 

Try not to be ashamed of these fears. Bring them into the light. If it helps, remind yourself that you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels and fears this way. “Everyone has the exact same fears,” said Morgan who also pens articles at his website understandingtherapy.com. “The ones who confront them are the ones who grow. The ones who hide from them and cover them up are controlled by their demons.”

Start by telling yourself something sincere today. It can be small. Admit it. Embrace it. And then acknowledge your courage. Thank yourself for it. It all counts.

Photo by Nicolas Picard on Unsplash.