I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way

The statement echoes in my mind, “because you’re sensitive.” I pause to reflect how I feel about the statement. Am I offended? Do I agree? Is it a compliment? Was it intended to be a putdown?

The pause in reflection continues.

I grew up in an environment where being sensitive meant something less than ideal. It meant you needed some special kind of care or tending to. It meant you required sensitivity in others’ approach. It meant you were high maintenance. It meant that you were a girl…and even worse the combo of being a high maintenance girl. The thing that no girl ever wants to be, but I believe that every girl, somewhere deep down, senses that they are.

I was told that I was high maintenance from a very young age. I was the youngest of two older brothers, 6 and 8 years older than me. I was isolated in the very nature of being me, by being the only girl, the sensitive one, and apparently, the worst kind of high maintenance where I thought I was low maintenance and everyone around me would say otherwise. Even in my larger family of cousins, I was the youngest, and seemingly the most needy of the bunch.

I spent a large portion of my growing up years trying to be tough, trying to grow thicker skin. I pretended some things didn’t bother me, that I didn’t feel a lot of the things I actually felt, and that I could handle anything that those around me could handle. Perhaps to my own detriment, I acted as if I was low maintenance and insensitive, in order to feel like I didn’t stand out or look odd.

I can still remember when I was in highschool, I first heard the song that artist Jewel recorded, “I’m Sensitive.” I couldn’t help but relate to its theme and repeated line, “I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.” I can remember playing it over and over again, and feeling a small sense of empowerment within the lyrics. Then I wondered how on earth I could own it and begin to actually like the fact that I was sensitive, enough that I could say “I’d like to stay that way.”

How do we really feel about other people’s sensitivities and their particular needs for careful tending? In my line of work I have come to find that all of us are delicate in our own unique ways, male or female, young or old, there is no discretion for vulnerability and our desire for safety. We are all sensitive, and desperately seeking to feel like we belong. Yet somehow we look around us and everyone we see, we assume they are strong, they are capable, they are untouchable and solid, no need for special treatment or gentle reposes. It stands out as ironic to me that we could all be walking around so oblivious to the realities around us, so consumed by ourselves and needs that we do not recognize those around us as the same.

I had a professor in graduate school who used the analogy of an ostrich egg, rather large in size and tough exterior in appearance, but incredibly fragile to the touch. Moas, the distant cousin to the ostrich found in New Zealand, actually had such tender shells that if held by human hands one had to use extreme caution and avoid any fingertip pressure that might puncture the egg. Often how something looks exteriorly is nowhere near the whole picture or reality.

This is how I have come to consider the human experience of emotion and soul. We all present so rough and tough and as though we can take on pretty much anything. But it’s total bullshit. We are fragile. We are sensitive. We are emotive. We are feeling-filled beings and we are desperate to connect in a meaningful and safe way with others. In fact we are so incredibly fragile that we actually push others away and go to great lengths to hold them at a safe distance in order to avoid the horrid pain of being hurt, neglected or even rejected.

So, how does one harness such intricate and beautiful fragility with strength, composure and grace for the infinite little gaps in between? If I could adequately answer that, I feel that there would be far less need for any kind of therapy…

The truth is that we are beautifully broken. We are all longing to belong, to feel known, to know someone on a deeper, heartfelt level. Yet we shrink back and we ache in the pain of feeling isolated and unable to really open up and be our sensitive, emotive selves for fear of being rejected and even more alone.

The irony? We have the potential for being alone either way…so why do we hold back? Why do we go to such effort to protect oneself from others, while painstakingly assuring our own isolation?

Is there potential to be hurt? Hell yes. Is there potential to feel misunderstood or alone? Absolutely, without a doubt.

But what is the alternative? Do we stay guarded, hidden, safe and tucked away in our caves of self protection? What do we gain through this arduous journey to stay safe and comfortable? I would argue that we gain nothing but heartache and an entry into an infinite circle of self-perpetuated grief and isolation, and self propelled disconnection from others who could otherwise share in our vulnerabilities and great longings.

So, I naturally come back to my ponderings of “because you’re sensitive” and how I really feel about that. I will be honest and say that it’s far easier for me to encourage others in their brokenness and to own their sensitive and vulnerabilities and then hide behind my professionalism as a way of easing my own discomfort with the subject. Cause truth be told, I still don’t like the fact that I am sensitive or that others might think that means that they need to handle me with care. Because I really want to say that I’m a big girl and I can take it and no kiddie gloves please. But here’s the deal; being a sensitive and emotive being that feels and becomes comfortable with owning those realities, can come with some perks.

The more aware and comfortable we become with our own emotions and our own intricate details of how we feel and and even exploring why we feel what we feel, the more naturally available we become for being aware of others emotional presence. The more available I am for someone else, to share my story and to listen to theirs, the more I realize that you and I, we are the same. We all have similar needs. We all have sensitivities. We all feel alone sometimes and we all seek connection and a way to feel less alone… But it is only through admitting that of myself that I can be open and share that with you, and then have a chance to hear from you and know that you are the same, and that we can connect in our shared humanity. If I walk around posing my strength and tenacity and reporting that I don’t have any needs or unmet longings or failed relationships or heartaches, then I a rob myself of a chance to connect with you.

So, from my heart to yours, I am coming out. I am ready to admit that I’m sensitive, that I feel, that I have needs, that I long for more, than I need others, and that I’m capable of love and hurt, joy and sorrow. I say this in hopes that you too will feel safe admitting the same, and that together, we might connect and foster authentic and genuine relationships.


Be Inspired

Have you ever participated in one of those feel good groups where everyone goes around at the end and shares a word that summarizes how they are feeling post discussion? Well I have joined plenty of these “inspirational” endeavors, and along with the rest of herd, come up with my word, which is often a somewhat forced and made up last minute under pressure declaration, than it is truly a summary of what my experience was. I often feel like the outcast during “circle time,” you know exactly what I’m talking about, the tone is set, the mood is intense, the purpose is clear, which is to state the profound impact this has had on you. While it is true that often I have learned a thing or two and maybe even had an aha moment, I am rarely the girl in the circle with tears rolling down expressing how awe-inspiring this workshop was… it’s just not in my makeup. Nor do I feign interest very well as the rest of the group shares their oohs and awes….

Inspire has always been a word that I have coveted, quite literally. I connect with the word and what it implies and how I feel it compels me to be and do. In much of my education experience however I came to somewhat despise that word, feeling like it was overused, misunderstood and even abused! So I cut it out of my vocabulary for a while, to make a statement… kind of like love… “I love chocolate,” “I love grapes,” “I love puppies,” “I love this book,” “don’t you love this blouse?” These are the phrases that make me sick to my stomach when I hear them tossed around so lightly and without true intension.

To inspire, is to elicit movement, to arouse passion, to stimulate drive, to encourage, to challenge, to stir one to be more than what they are at present. So when some self-help junkie uses it to disclose how she felt during circle time, I find it somewhat offensive. The truth of the matter is that to be truly inspired is a personal experience, and not one that someone else needs to understand… therefore I would like to try to withhold judgment, however I stand by my belief that this notion should not be taken lightly. We all seek inspiration in unique ways and what speaks to one is different than another. The main objective here is to seek out a way to be not only inspired in theory, but also in action.

This morning I was at the gym working out on the rolling staircase, my nemesis and best friend rolled into one. I was reading my current autobiography by Susannah Cahalan, entitled Brain on Fire, as I have most days for the past few weeks… only this time I found myself feeling, wait for it; inspired. I won’t ruin the book for anyone who wants to read it themselves, but I will say that what this girl went through and how she came out the other side of her experience is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The kind of inspiring that elicits movement and arouses passion and stimulates drive and challenges one to hold on, fight hard, and transcend pretty much anything.

To be quite blunt and share my genuine interest, the point here is to challenge you to seek out something to be inspired by. If you find yourself without inspiration at present, then start searching, and keep searching until you bump into it, or create it yourself. Sometimes inspiration involves digging deep within yourself and whole-heartedly recognizing the strength you had within all along and how awe-inspiring that can be all on its own. Sometimes we have to reach out, claw, scrape, scratch, dig, juggle, and fumble… because sometimes you have to fall before you reach up or reach out. And “sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly.” (Cahalan, 2012) Sometimes you have to realize you’re lacking motivation or disconnected from your purpose before you find something you value holding onto or are passionate about.

The notion that life will be simple, uncomplicated or filled with happiness without blemish or doubt is complete and utter bullshit- pardon my exuberance, but it is true! It simply does not exist, not for long anyway. At some point, the tide changes, the wind shifts, the sun goes behind a cloud, the thunder rolls and even the ground beneath your feet crumbles away and it’s in that moment, that you realize your own capacity to dig deep and power through, or fold and give up. In those moments is when we need inspiration most. Something to give us hope that we’ll come out the other side, at some point, even if it’s not today or tomorrow and even if we don’t know when.

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To my mini inspiration

Hope can keep us hanging on a lot longer than any one of us think, but we don’t even have the chance to know that if we haven’t experienced a period of time, even a day or an hour, where we weren’t certain of the outcome, or felt we weren’t in control.

So today, I’m challenging all of us to look within and look around… find something that inspires you, even if it’s just for this moment, and relish in it. I’ll end with one of my very favorite quotes from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Confessions of a Psycho Therapist

I came home today after a long day of working with couples and individuals, mind filled with thoughts swirling around like clouds in the sky. I often find myself processing through the issues and symptoms presented throughout the day and going over how I could best benefit someone seeking insight on their struggles. The truth of the matter is that some days that is far easier than others.

I came to the realization a long time ago that I work from two places simultaneously, both from my education and from my own personal experience. It is from that place of personal experience that I was processing today, particularly after a conversation gone awry with my husband, partner and friend. So I sat down to write him a letter, as I often do, a way to express myself more openly and thoughtfully, given a little time and perspective.

As I was writing I could not help but think about my experience providing couples therapy and the impact that has on my relationships and the universality of challenges within long-term committed relationships, particularly with that of communication. So in an attempt at vulnerability and authenticity, I share my letter, in hopes to break any false belief of my own lack of relationship struggles and in a true desire to break the silence on interpersonal struggles to connect- a truly universal battle.

My love, I found myself wishing that I could say a hundred different things at the same time tonight as we talked. Such a challenge for me to dig down and share what my heart wants and not just get lost in jargon or intellectual banter… An equal challenge to be vulnerable enough to express a hurt and not simply mask it with anger.

What my heart wanted to say to you is that I want and need to know you more. That I want for you to feel comfortable being yourself around me. And by that I mean enough comfort that you can be not only who you are as you see yourself, but that you could share how you feel about that and know that I care. Sometimes I struggle to listen and really just listen, without judgment or my own assumptive interpretations of your intent, but I need you to know that I am aware of that and am seeking to make a change.

My heart needs for you to know that I want for you to be able to crave adventure and passion in your life and to invite me to join you in that… and I so desperately need for you to find stamina and strength to keep inviting me, even urging me to join you… until I give in- despite my ingrained nature to protest anything not already on my list or pre-planned or prepared for. This is not an obligation nor an intended guilt trip, but more of my pleading with you to engage me, because my heart needs to be engaged. That is not likely what you heard tonight, due to the thick top layer of frustration and anger that spoke so loudly.

My heart wanted to express to you that I want to grow and change to become a more refined version of myself and that I want to inspire you to want to be everything that you are capable of being- not because of a sense of obligation or guilt but because you could not imagine any other way of living. That anything else would be feel stale or stagnant, without life.

I need for it to be tolerable, even acceptable, that I want more from life. That growth and change are on my radar and a strong passion of mine. I crave inspiration and vision, and without a goal to work toward I wander aimlessly and feel empty, without cause. I need to be able to invite you to join me on a quest for creative living and continued learning and the inherent adaptation that comes with intentional living beyond survival… I need to be reaching toward something more, thriving on some level- even if I don’t ever “arrive”.

My heart wanted to share that I am forever sorry for any time that I have made you feel like you were not worthy of love or that who you are is not enough -as is- because that could not be further from my belief of you. I see so much strength and ability and stamina in you, and that is why I challenge or encourage or “nag” for more of you… but that is not an excuse for those times that what I have conveyed instead, was that you were not enough. You are enough.

I whole-heartedly believe that I was born with some set of unrealistic expectations that would forever be rising and never be met… even by myself, let alone anyone else. For this my heart wants to express regret, for how I have allowed my crazy to negatively impact you, and us, and many others if I’m honest. Sometimes the glaring reality of ones own action’s consequences is necessary for honest perspective.

My heart needs to be known more than anything. It needs validation and affirmation and it needs encouragement to keep at it… and while I desperately need solo time to recharge, fuel and connect with my own sense of purpose, I could not survive without connection to you- another human being to know and be known by. Without this I would wither and die.

Forgive me for not being better at openly expressing from my heart, more often. It is not for lack of desire. I see relationships at their darkest and bleakest moments and at times, I am blessed to sit with a couple week after week, to duke it out, to work hard, to create change, to grow and to find connection where there was loneliness… it is both humbling, perspective giving and awe inspiring. Please know that I will continue to try to be here, and present, to share my heart, and to listen whole-heartedly to yours each and every day, full well knowing that this requires effort and passionate stamina and is not for the faint of heart.

Sincerely, your wife, partner and friend~

Finding Strength Within

I often times find myself encouraging clients to push through an initial emotion or sense of doubt or lack of belief in something… It seems all too common that we go through life holding back, stuck in indecision and even completely disabled in creating the life that we actually want to be living. I often get caught up on how to help someone push past whatever is holding them back, in order to find their own sense of purpose or fulfillment.

I often turn to my own experience or cling to a shroud of research or statistics that help build my argument for grabbing ahold of a strength rather than getting trapped by weaknesses or regrets. I have learned that I can give a mighty pep talk and maybe even leave a client feeling empowered and energized when they walk out of my office space… but a week later when they return, I am met with fizzled excitement, a new sense of self-doubt and a plethora of reasons for why change was not possible this week. There is something to be said for needing to find your own belief within… for it to truly move you to change. 

So how do we break out of our negative patterns of behavior and get out of our own way, allowing ourselves to forge a new path, and perhaps find the strength we were looking for, within, where it was all the time? I am convinced that this process is one more similar to the tortoise than it is to the hare. I don’t fully understand why we all want to be the hare and literally race through the seasons of our life and feel continually let down by our own selves when we don’t act or accomplish what we had hoped in the short amount of time we gave ourselves.

If it were actually possible to give yourself permission to be the tortoise, to slow down, to be more contemplative and possibly more intentional about our actions, and allow ourselves the grace to do this without the self or other imposed pressure to be something or someone we really are not ready to be, or perhaps even meant to be…. Imagine what we might be able to do with our lives!

I say this a lot in my office, and am often met with rolling of eyes, but I truly believe that the process of change begins with small baby steps. They need not be giant or monumental or earth shattering, or mind blowing as we often build up in our mind making it nearly impossible to succeed or even remotely reach the bar. Sometimes they are small, and small does not mean insignificant.

Sometimes small looks like a smile to someone at the grocers when you would otherwise not make any eye contact. Sometimes small looks like a 10 minute walk around the block, the beginnings of finding health through the discipline of exercise. Sometimes small looks like considering if forgiveness could ever be possible. Sometimes small looks like stepping outside your comfort zone and doing something scary or new or different. Sometimes small looks like glancing in the mirror and saying you’re beautiful, whether you fully believe it or not. Sometimes small looks like acceptance of what is. Sometimes small looks like agreeing to swallow that little pill that could potentially help you. Sometimes small looks like asking your partner what you can be for him or her today. Perhaps small looks like making cookies with your little one, or leaving dishes in the sink, or postponing an appointment to show someone you’re there for them in that moment. Sometimes small is monumental in that this one small step was the first of a miles worth of steps that led you to clean and sober, or helped you find hope, or let you forgive yourself, or laid the foundation for friendship…

So take a small step. Dig deep. That is my challenge to myself and to you. That we would choose to dig deep within, and find the strength that was there all the time, even if hidden underneath a lot of doubt or grief or cynicism or fatigue… Tap into that strength and take a small step, whatever that looks like to you. 

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Hope Monger

I had an incredible professor in grad school who used to tell us on a regular basis that the greatest purpose that we had in our job was to have hope. He said that clients would come to us when they were struggling with finding hope or they had already lost all hope, and what they needed most was to have someone else have enough hope for them to lean on. I remember this standing out to me as the single most powerful comment in a lecture that I had heard through all of grad school. Even now, years later, I bring those words to mind and hold onto them with fervor.

 The other day I had a client sitting in my office sharing her own experience in working with people who are struggling to get by and who are hurting for hope. As she sat there with tears in her eyes, expressing how helpless she feels in doing anything to change their reality, or even give them anything of value for problems so big, I found myself resonating with her on so many levels. Hope is what came to my mind. All any of us really need when we are feeling overwhelmed or lost or lonely or tired or scared, is hope. And when we cannot connect to or find hope on our own, we lean on someone else who has it, as though it were our lifeline.

 Perhaps hope is our lifeline. Perhaps if we were able to call on hope or even fall into hope when we are feeling like we have no other option, then we might just rest there gently until we find enough strength to get back up.

 I sat with a woman who’s dear friend was recently killed in an accident over the past few weeks and I grieved alongside her, and amidst her pain and suffering and questions and doubts, her loneliness and her quest for connection, I heard her clinging to a hope.

 I have sat with a mother and father who were tragically processing a loss of innocence of their 5-year-old daughter, who were racked with guilt and questions and anger and sadness. I heard them asking if there was hope beyond this pain.

 I have listened as a mother pours out her heart, overwhelmed with regret and doubt as she questions why her daughters are in such horrible circumstances, and addicted and wounded. I hear her ask what is next. I hear her inquiring of hope.

 I have listened to countless others grieving, anxious, depressed, angry, addicted, confused, isolated and infringed, lost and insecure. There are days that my own heart becomes heavy and somewhat disillusioned by the amount of pain and suffering that goes around in this world and touches each and every one of us at one point or another.

 At the end of the day, I rest in the hope of healing. I rest in knowing that acceptance and peace are possible. I rest in the belief that all is not lost, and that good is still possible. That broken relationships can be healed. That while innocence may not be fully regained, that strength and perseverance are powerful tools for overcoming. I rest in the fact that addicts can get clean, that abusers can stop abusing, that we can learn to forgive and that we as human beings can dig deep and show up for one another. We can learn to be present in a way that literally heals the person we are being present for, and if that does not instill hope, I cannot imagine what will.