Been thinking a lot lately about things that stand out. Personalities. Hair styles. Cars. Life styles. Behaviors. Words.

I grew up thinking that something that was extravagant was a negative thing. Superfluous. Not necessary. Excessive. As a result, on some level, whether intended or not, I believe I sought to fit in, not stand out. To be average and not too much or too little. To fly below the radar as much as possible.

So it was rather annoying that the bulk of my childhood I received comments often about my smile and my cheerful expressions on my face. Even earning the nickname smiley at one point. It bothered me that people commented on my smile. I did not want to be noticed. To stand out.

A number of years ago, well into adulthood I read a book with the word exuberance in the title. The author told a bit of biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his love for and passion for forests and national parks and how he fought valiantly for their preservation and protection during his presidency. And I found myself nearly captivated by his drive and determination and his unwillingness to be derailed despite others views or scoffing at his hopes and expectations. He was not only passionate but he was exuberant. Which the dictionary defines as “the quality of having energy, excitement or cheerfulness”. While reading I found myself inspired and even impassioned, by his zest for life’s purpose that felt contagious.

Perhaps excess isn’t always bad.

Today I was listening to a song entitled extravagant, in which it described a love that didn’t make sense, that was unthinkable, above and beyond. I couldn’t help but pause.

If something that is extravagant is unnecessary and excessive. If exuberance is above and beyond expected, superfluous. Then wouldn’t something like extravagant generosity or exuberant expressions of compassion be encouraged, even celebrated?

Perhaps the goal should never be to blend in or fly below the radar. Not to say ones goal should be to be center stage or on display. But perhaps a more candid and honest expression of ones self should be encouraged. Less filtered. Perhaps when it comes to love and compassion, extravagance could be modeled, and portrayed as what it could be in full expression, beautiful.

I don’t think I’m advocating that extravagance be expected or demanded. But what if it were modeled on occasion. Without being magnified or downplayed. But simply seen. And felt. Witnessed. Experienced.

We have new neighbors in our neighborhood. And when they moved in they hung these brightly colored aerial swings in their large tree in the front yard. The first time I saw them I thought it was unique and strange and perhaps a bit dramatic to have multiple very colorful swings in their front yard tree. However I soon discovered that most evenings when I went walking I saw their daughters hanging and swinging in those swings. Night after night. Laughter abounding. Creative expression visible.

Extravagant? Maybe. Exuberant? Definitely. Negative or a bad thing? Not a chance.

Perhaps what felt unfortunate for much of my childhood turned out to be fortune after all. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t really adapt my facial expressions without really modifying my outlook on life in a negative way. So as quietly as possible, I owned my facial expressions. And I smiled often. And I smiled even more when someone commented on it. Cause that was me being me. For it just was what it was. And it seemed the sooner I accepted that. The sooner I was able to just be me. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough. But always true to myself.

Now that I have a daughter who openly prances around the neighborhood dressed up as a princess or a warrior or hula dancer or a magician, I find myself encouraging her self expression and her unique flare. I don’t ever want to stifle that. If exuberance comes natural to her. I pray it always will. Without encumbrance or shame.

I’m sure there are some who still describe me as over the top or unnecessary. Perhaps even excessive at times. But I feel okay with that now. At least I’m channeling my energy toward generosity and compassion and not resentment or judgement. A decision I would make and will make, again and again.


Emotional Contagion


Social psychologists study relationships and people interactions, and the concept of “emotional contagion” is widely used within the scientific realm to talk about the impact of internal states of one person on another…. its kind of a fancy way of saying that we are influenced by the people that we hang with, and the environment that we socialize in and live in, each and every moment. The practical application of that is somewhat overwhelming to me as it points out the Significance of the choices we make around who we hang out with and where we live/work/play etc.

If the internal state of another person, whether that be playful, fearful, happy, sad, angry, dysregulated or any number of other states of being, have emotional and long term impact on my overall wellbeing, then that seems to imply the importance of being very choosy with whom to relate, connect, partner with, work with, etc. So how do we go about making those decisions that have such long term impact?

Most of us don’t go about this process all that intentionally… unfortunately far more of us kind of just “land a job” or “meet a friend through a friend” or “go on a blind date” or “strike up a conversation at a coffee shop” or “meet at a party” and through any remote similarity or connection, we “attach”, “become friends” and “associate with” these random encountered people. Is that all bad? No, not all bad. These random associations and meet ups can turn out to be quite meaningful and purpose filled and we can find others in the world who see it similarly to how we do, and who have similar hopes or goals or desires or fears, and we can Connect with another human being in a very meaningful way, that impacts our “internal state” in a positive growth kind of way.

Unfortunately the opposite can be true as well. We can meet someone, begin to associate or hang out with, and before we realize it, they are a “friend” and someone we are seeing frequently, and without even being mindful of it, we begin to be influenced by this person or these people, and they are impacting our internal state.

Does that not scare the hell out of you?? By choosing to hang out with someone on a regular basis, you are actually allowing them to impact your internal state of being!!! Am I the only one that this is a bit disconcerting to??

A simple and not so long term impactful example would be when you see someone else taking a drink of water, and you suddenly find yourself reaching for your water cup or bottle without even thinking about it, feeling thirsty. Or seeing someone wipe their nose or brush it off, and immediately finding yourself brushing your nose to make sure nothing is there. These are subtle, yet classic examples or how we are influenced by what we see in others around us. So if we are influenced by someone simply taking a sip of water, how much more are we impacted by someone who is angry all the time and wears that in their demeanor? Or someone who is anxious or worried about everything and constantly expresses their anxiety about everything in their day to day life?

Dr. Dan Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and well known author in the world of neuroscience and brain integration speaks of this concept in his book Mindsight in which he describes the idea of “mirror neurons” and “resonance”, in which he outlines the way in which we are impacted by one another and in fact are wired to even feel what others feel…”When we attune with others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another…” he continues by noting that it is this ability to resonate with another being that allows us to connect on a deeper level and even attach to another being. “This resonance is at the heart of the important sense of “feeling felt” that emerges in close relationships.”

It’s the beauty and the beast of this emotional contagion… We can be so very positively influenced by another being and the way that they life their life and on the other hand we can be very negatively influenced by another being. Socially, emotionally, spiritually… even physically. Ever noticed how couples that have been together for many years start to almost look like each other, let alone act a lot like one another?  They have been in “training” and they have been influencing each other through mirror neurons and resonance for so many years that even their physical attributes and mannerisms start to match up. (you can read a lot more about influencing your brain and reshaping how you think and behavior in any one of Siegel’s books, which i HIGHLY recommend.)

So who is influencing your inner state of being?? Who’s inner state of being are you influencing?? These are the questions that I am asking today, and that I am challenging each of us to ask. Because there is nothing superficial about an internal state of being…

It is at the heart of who we are as people. It’s how we come to see and experience the world, it’s how we relate to the world and to each other, and how we navigate our way through life, and that is Significant! Yet so many of us take it so lightly and think so little about who we engage with or who we allow to have space inside our world…

Today I am contemplating emotional contagion and I am choosing to be intentional about who and what is influencing me, and how I am influencing those around me. I hope that you can do the same!

Facing Fear

In my line of work, there is a lot of talk and hype around depression and anxiety, as both disorders and symptoms. We also tend to do a fair amount of assessment around mood and affect regulation (a fancy way of saying the ability to increase positive feelings and minimize stressors and negative feelings). All of these symptoms and disorders are very widespread and popular in experience, and I don’t want to minimize any of them, but it seems to me that we have drastically under-focused on fear. Fear as an emotion, fear as a symptom, fear as a crippling disorder.

Whether an individual, a couple or a family, I see fear more often than I see any other symptom… and the glaring reality is that these fears are CAUSING vast amounts of anxiety and depression and mood dysregulation.  So, we provide treatment for the symptoms that our patients present: depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, mood instability, etc.  All the while, we often miss what is underlying these symptoms: fear. We as professionals end up spending a great deal of time providing “symptom management” rather than healing at the root cause of the symptoms.

What is it that is so powerful about fear? How can a single emotion have such a widespread impact on our daily lives? Many of us do not even know that we are afraid, let alone have the ability to share with someone else, what we are afraid of and be able to connect this to the many other symptoms that we experience. Why is fear so difficult to identify, let alone fully understand the ripple effect of widespread influence?

My hunch is that in a culture where we turn to medications as quick relief and abatement of discomfort, that somewhere deep down, we know that there’s no medication that will treat fear. Sure we can give you an anti-anxiety to reduce the feelings that often come alongside fear, however all we’ve done is blunt the affect, we have not directly addressed the fears and what resides below the fear. Which leads me to my next question, of why are we afraid? What are we afraid of? There are many different ways to answer these questions… and I will begin by acknowledging that the bulk of what we fear is being judged, or unaccepted by someone else or a group of people. And from this very large and pervasive fear stems many more fears of inadequacy, insecurity, doubt, shame, and failure.

So how do we begin to address the fears and their underlying influence in our lives? I propose that we begin with a journey of self-discovery, perhaps alongside someone to guide in the process, to explore the many facets of who you are, and what you contribute to this world.

Our contributions do not have to be large and world wide, they can be a small and still be incredibly significant. Our positive impact on even one person can send even the greatest of fears far from our mind, even if momentarily. We need to identify what we have and what we give to our world.  Once we have identified that, we can begin to explore how to continue to give and creatively be who we are, in a world that is much in need of thoughtful, compassionate, caring individuals.