Author Archives: Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

How We Relate to Pain

It seems that one thing most of us have in common is our desire to avoid pain. I see this with clients who so desperately want to change or heal while also desiring to avoid the extremely difficult work of unpacking and sorting through past pains and trauma. I see this with friends as they have stayed in relationships or with jobs they know are unhealthy but don’t want to face the pain of a breakup, possible rejection, and starting over.  And, I see this with myself as well, attempting to avoid pain by getting things “right” and doing what’s asked of me.

We don’t like pain. And of course, this is rational. This is normal. This is human.

This all came back to mind recently while we were taking a birthing class. Giving birth is a well known painful experience, yet it is one that people endure because the reward is great and the pain temporary. Clearly, no one in the class was caught off guard that labor and delivery will be painful. It is simply a given. Even amid this truth, our instructor went through the stages of labor acquainting and familiarizing us with the pain as much as possible. She recently gave us an acronym that I quickly stored away as something helpful both in and outside birthing prep.

P...purposeful. Pain is clearly purposeful in labor and delivery, serving as an indication and call to action,  but what about beyond? Most all pain serves a purpose and call to action. It indicates something is wrong. Physical pain prompts us to move our hand away from the stove or head to the doctor for our sprained ankle. Emotional pain can serve us similarly, motivating us to change our circumstances or relationships. And when this isn’t possible, it can push us to change ourselves. The key is allowing that motivation to move us towards healthy ways of change rather than avoidance and false fixes.

A…anticipated. Labor pain is anticipated and expected. Outside the hospital, pain must become a foreseen part of our existence. Though we all desire to avoid it if we are to create a more balanced relationship with pain we come to be less avoidant, upset, and caught off guard by it. I often tell clients that to be in relationship with others means you will get hurt. Not because people are intentionally out to get one another, rather because we are humans and we make mistakes, say things we regret, protect ourselves, and generally get it wrong at times. If we can learn to accept this pain alongside the benefits and joy of relationship with others, we can thrive in the give and take, the ebb and flow of human connection. Please know this is not a pass for abusive relationships, rather a recognition that it is normal to have feelings hurt in common misunderstandings.

I…intermittent. In labor, contractions start and stop and eventually cease upon the birth of the baby. Similarly, pain most often comes and goes. While some pain is chronic, the pain of both birth and growth is temporary, intense and momentary, allowing for periods of relief and recovery. As is the pain of healing—it will not last forever. Rather, it will be significant and then lessen as it is worked through. Similarly, the other pains in our lives will almost always have periods of intensity and then periods at a lower volume, where we can tune into other things in our world besides the pain.

N…normal. Labor and delivery pain is normal—as is pain in general. Back in November, I wrote about pain and how pain will find us. Because pain is normal, we do not have to run head-on into it. Rather, perhaps we do not avoid pain at all costs. Pain often times isn’t good or bad, it just is. It’s a part of our experience and a part of our life. If we can come to believe we are not given the choice of pain or no pain over the course of our lifetime, we can allow it more easily into our experience.

To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with this acronym. The therapist in me loves it and tries to live it and invite others to live it as well. It makes sense and helps me make sense of the pain in my own life. There is another part of me, though, that hates it. I want to keep doing what I’m doing because avoiding pain is more comfortable. I don’t want to normalize and anticipate pain, I don’t want to find purpose in it, I simply want to avoid it. And still, I know I can’t. It only takes a day or two of trying this old way and I find myself once again wrestling to accept the existence of pain in my experience and world because my attempts to avoid it have failed me.

So perhaps we must learn new ways to accept pain as necessary for the lives we want to live and the men and women we want to be. We must practice ways to endure pain for the pleasure, peace, and possibility that lie on the other side. Perhaps pain isn’t the worst of all possible options. As I head into my final trimester of pregnancy, there is discomfort in sleep, in sitting, in eating, and in the Dallas summer heat. And to be sure, there is a much larger physical pain to come in a few short months. But oh the possibility and promise that lies on the other side of that pain. For the temporary pain of birth seems momentary amid meeting our kiddo and doing life together.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Check out other blogs relating to pain and acceptance or start sorting through your own pain by contacting me today.

Letting Balls Drop

I had a position at a job once in which the demands for my work outnumbered my hours and abilities. All the items I was asked to do were important in their own right, yet I was simply unable to do all of them without burning at both ends and sacrificing my own sense of self and well-being. I became frustrated. I felt disrespected. Resentment was building in my heart with anger towards my supervisor. Above all, I was tired. I wanted to do a good job, truly, and yet I was stretched too thin. I talked with a mentor at the time and his reply both terrified and freed me.

“Lindsay, you have to let some balls drop.”

As someone who works hard and wants to do the best job I can at all times, the idea of intentionally letting things drop seemed out of the question. How could I just choose not to do a part of my work? People depend on me, I may get in trouble with my boss, I don’t like negating my responsibilities. I had adopted the attitude that it wasn’t my fault, there was simply too much to do, and that the demands would have to change in order for my attitude and well-being to change. It wasn’t up to me, the job and expectations had to change.

However, this belief system flew in the face of my agency and choice. The resentment I was inwardly brewing was impacting only me and keeping my hands tied. I wasn’t getting more of my life back with this demeanor–quite the opposite actually. I quickly became aware that changing my attitude and actions was the only move towards power and freedom that I actually had.

So I asked my friend a bit more about this idea of letting balls drop. Questions like what if I drop the wrong ones or get in trouble with management? What if folks are upset at me and families I work with lose trust in my abilities? He kindly walked me through this, reminding me to trust myself in knowing which balls were droppable and which I must keep juggling. He challenged my beliefs that perhaps by letting balls drop, those above me might take action upon seeing the workload is too much for one person. He encouraged me to choose my needs and a work/life balance, which means both things have to give a little.

Part of my story is my need to get things right and the idea of choosing to let them be wrong was extremely uncomfortable at first. I knew there would be questions from my boss, and there were. I knew I would be tempted to blame and defend myself, and I was. I knew it would be uncomfortable to simply acknowledge I couldn’t get to it all, and it was. And in it all I hoped it would be ok, and ultimately it really was.

I got some life back. I found myself less tired and frustrated. My arms were no longer tied up in exhaustive juggling, rather more open to critically deciding what would make it onto my plate and what would have to be dropped. In some ways it was a practice of boundaries. In some ways it was a practice of self-care. In some ways it was a practice of my needs being of equal importance to others. And in all ways it was a practice of balance, choice, and empowerment.

As I write this, the critic in my own head desires to explain my absence from blogging over the past month. And the truth may be that my reasons are legitimate and worthy. However, I also acknowledge that though those are true, I fully decided to let this ball drop because ultimately it was droppable. It’s a hobby I enjoy and hope is of some value to others, yet it is droppable when I start juggling too much. And in the end, it is freeing to hold that truth tightest.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

For more, contact me!

People Like Yourself

In her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards.” The book, written as a series of practices that provide insight into the gifts that come from doing things imperfectly, offers it’s readers a new way of interacting with themselves. Perhaps learning to be kind, gentler, and forgiving, to actually treat yourself like you like yourself amid the perfect standards of the day, is actually the way to be more fully human.

In a world full of competition and pursuing excellence, it is easy to feel like one isn’t enough, doesn’t measure up, and at the end of the day really doesn’t matter. These thoughts and practices of our day quickly take a toll on our well being, moving from passing thoughts to sticky reminders of why we shouldn’t like ourselves. In 2018, it seems the chase for the newer model this and the more expensive that keeps us striving and we often allow our negative thoughts to serve as motivation. And though this sort of criticism and shame may work to help us with short-term change, we often soon become fed up and therefore give up before we’ve even given ourselves a fair shot.

Taking this into mind alongside our desire to avoid arrogance and presumptuousness, finding a balanced middle path where we can accept, and even like, ourselves while still allowing for the reality of the work to be done can be challenging at best. To admit and find peace in the truth that we can affectionately care for ourselves, not be selfish, and still be in process, well that all seems much harder to put into practice than the beauty of our opening quote. So how do we do it? How do we genuinely learn to like ourselves in a healthy way?

There is no easy answer, no quick change that allows us to live this way, but rather a series of small choices that help us to live life liking ourselves rather than beating ourselves up. Here are few practical and tangible ways we can separate from the burdens of life and live in ways that celebrate the men and women we are.

  1. Come up with a mantra to live by. We all have negative thoughts about ourselves swirling about our minds, waiting to appear in both the good and bad. We must be intentional to fight these sticky thoughts and putting new thoughts in is a surprisingly easy place to start. A mantra of mine I stole from a colleague. It has appeared throughout my blog and points me back to my values and worth. This saying, “show up as the woman you want to be,” encourages and motivates me onward rather than keeping me stuck in self-defeating thoughts. I encourage you to come up with a quick sound bite that you can hold onto that points you back towards liking yourself.
  2. Write personal daily affirmations. Try starting your day with writing present-tense “I” statements about character traits or qualities in yourself that you are proud of or simply like. Make the words into art or collect images that represent those parts of you. Whatever you do, keep them positive and keep them current.
  3. Do something that supports your values every single day. One of the quickest ways to self-defeat is acting outside our values. When we act differently than what our values suggest, we become duplicitous. This is extremely difficult for us to manage and often results in a negative downward loop of actions confirming negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves. However, by acting on our values, even amid the judgmental thoughts and feelings, we can learn to like ourselves more and more, trusting the feelings and thoughts will eventually catch up. (If you aren’t sure where to begin, try identifying some of the values that guide your life. Google “Value Card Sort” for an array of different and free online resources to help get you started!)
  4. Be kind to yourself. I end many therapy sessions reminding folks to be kind to themselves because I know from my own experience, that the minute you leave you are more determined than ever to change and get things right. And then we don’t because we are humans and perfection is impossible. We must be able to practice kindness and grace in our mistakes, failures, and growth rather than condemning and punishing ourselves. Change takes courage and bravery, acknowledge that in yourself through kindness and mercy.
  5. Start a gratitude practice. It’s tricky for us to hold onto the anger and the burdens of our day when we take time to focus our heads and hearts on the things we are grateful for. Maybe it’s jotting down three unique things every night that you were thankful for that day or doing a more formal practice like The 5-Minute Journal — whatever the practice, try sticking to it for at least a month, jumping right back in if you forget a day or two.

Working on more closely living our values, solving our own problems, getting in the grit, and taking responsibility are all wonderful practices in life. Practices I encourage you to continue. The striving in our lives towards the beauty of perfection is rarely the issue. However, the ways in which we do so, cutting ourselves down and our self-worth often taking the hit, lead to the opposite outcomes. And these outcomes create hopelessness, helplessness, and discontent rather than spurring us onward.

As I close, I invite you to reflect on the relationship you have with yourself. How would you describe the relationship and how is life within that relationship? Take notice if it is one of kindness and compassion, mercy and grace, that allows you to honestly say you like yourself. And if it is, well done and keep up the hard and fruitful work. If it is not and you would like that to change, consider one or two of the practices above that you would be willing to incorporate starting today.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

For more information on living a life of liking yourself, contact me today.

Presence

The idea of the gift of presence has been in my heart for the past few weeks, even coming up on last weeks blog. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, my personal desire to pull my past into my present with those who have gifted me with presence. Or, with the passing of the holidays and extended time off, presence seems more easily available over coffee or lunch. Or maybe it’s because amid my introverted nature, I long for deep connection, conversation, and communion. And while I’m not sure the motivation, I am sure about my passionate value of presence.

As I sat down to write, my dog reminded me of the need for presence. Stella is what veterinarians call a “social eater,” meaning she really isn’t interested in regular feeding times but rather eating around when she can remain socially connected to me. It took us quite a bit of time to figure out her routine, as she would willingly forego food for days so long as to stay connected to her humans. The easy solution of letting her free-feed 24/7 has become difficult with the inclusion of a dog food-eating cat into our family. And so, in order to gift her with my presence during eating, she is currently on the floor less than 2 feet from where I sit writing on the couch, happily munching away while I protect her from the cat.

The gift of presence with Stella seems silly and at times inconvenient. I’m sure it has cost me some undue anxiety and concern, alongside the need to rearrange my living situation and daily schedule. It certainly has received it’s fair share of questions and judgments from others. And while I’d like to say, oh that’s just the cost of presence for a picky spoiled dog (fair enough) I think there are plenty of similarities in gifting others with our presence as well. Maybe gifting our family and friends with our presence is just as involved as gifting my “social eater” pup.

So what exactly is presence? I admit that while Stella ate, I continued typing and paid little attention to her. This presence may nearly always work with dogs but often much less so with our friends, our spouses, and our children. Because presence is a feeling and a reality, a way of being and a way of being with the other, it requires some degree of intentionality. For, it’s not only our existence that matters but also the manner in which we do so.

To be present is to be invested in seeing and knowing the other.

Let that sink in because it is not just a nice idea. It is a way of connecting and doing relationship. Seeing and knowing the other means asking the hard questions and leaning in; it’s getting involved when maybe you’d rather not. It’s seeing past outward appearance and glimpsing the heart in love and care. It’s a way of knowing beyond facts and data that requires time and tension, awkwardness and availability.

Hopefully, this idea of seeing and knowing, along with being seen and known, makes your heart stir. It’s scary, it’s risky, and it’s chalk full of vulnerability. It risks exposure and rejection. Presence comes with fear and uncertainty riding shotgun and a desire to steer you away. And yet, it is where shame dies, where belonging begins, and where freedom is found. Presence, being seen and known and seeing and knowing, is at the center of healing, reconciliation, and redemption. It’s meeting the other in the depths and saying I’m with you. It’s reserving judgment and instead offering yourself.

This is, of course, a two-way street, with the gift of presence allowing for movement in the first place. The gift of time and possible inconvenience, of attention and rearranged schedules or priorities, all accompany and preceded seeing and knowing. There is intentionality behind creating space between you and another, be it getting coffee, having date nights, or co-creating homework projects. The true gift of presence never just happens because one must pursue the other, leaning in and learning them, seeing and knowing them through questions and shared experiences.

Biblically speaking, to be known by God is one of greatest gifts of relationship with Him. As Curt Thompson writes in The Soul of Shame, “Paul indicates that being known by God is the signpost that we love him. And to be known necessarily means that we are willing to expose each part of us, especially those parts that feel most hidden and that carry the most shame… In contrast, to be known is necessarily to be vulnerable, to open ourselves to God’s love. It is to be asked questions. To be observed. To be seen.”

This model of vulnerability, of being seen and known, serves as an example of how we thrive relationally. Though counterintuitive to risk betrayal, isolation, and abandonment, only by risking these, are we best connected and free to live fully. From our thriving, we also practice knowing and pursuing, we practice asking, listening, and seeing, and we practice the sometimes inconvenient and often uncomfortable willingness to be present for others.

Presence. The work of getting involved in others lives in a way that meets, encourages, and honors them. It is one thing I hold fast to offering all my clients; the willingness to see the ugly, sit in the dark, and be with. But it’s also the way I live outside the office doors. Having both those who know me well, the good, bad, and ugly, and those who I deeply know and see, isn’t optional for—which is perhaps why I am so passionate about presence.

While you ponder the idea of presence in your life, I encourage you to do so this within the counsel of others. This isn’t an invitation to be seen and known by all, nor a suggestion to extend your presence to those who may not respect you in the process. It is, however, a hope for you to look inward and outward as to how you can offer yourself and your attention fully, with cell phones away, TV off, emails ignored, and others postponed, to the ones in your life that need to be seen, heard, and known, and to those in your life who desire presence with you.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

For more info on presence, please contact me today.

On Being a Job Comforter

It seems that perhaps I have a therapist heartbeat; a drive and determination to being with others in a way that offers hope and help. With this lot, I’ve learned to accept the blessings and burdens of connection with clients and relationships lost. I’ve wrestled alongside addiction, anxiety, adolescence, and abuse and together with clients, take on suffering, sorrow, separation, and sexuality. Folks come and go, some better, some sober, some frustrated, and some who don’t make it. And in it all, I must admit, sometimes I wonder if there is more.

For within this, it’s become foundational to both my personal and professional life that I must hold tightly to the belief that I do not change people; for that is not my lot nor within my control. Rather, I deeply respect the honor and privilege it is to walk beside others in their struggle as they try to adjust to new thoughts, feelings, and actions. In this, I take seriously the role entrusted to me and do my best to be faithful towards others and myself. Living my values gives me the courage to balance academia with intuition and humor with directness. And I am beyond thankful for those willing to take a chance on a relationship with me in hopes of finding healing for their own heart.

But maybe even beyond all of this, beyond the joy of seeing folks grow and attain the lives they desire to live, I am drawn towards brokenness itself. And maybe this is my lot.

“I am, you see, a Job’s comforter. Far from lightening the dark valley where you now find yourself, I blacken it. And you know why. Your darkness has brought back my own. But on second thought I don’t regret what I have written. I think it is only in a shared darkness that you and I can really meet at present; shared with one another, and what matters most, with our Master. We are not on an untrodden path. Rather, on the main road.” –C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcom

This Lewis quote seems to so soundly capture much of my role and my heart for counseling. While I can rarely provide clients with the easy outs, the quick fixes, or step by step instructions, I can attempt to invite them into presence; a presence with our Maker and myself. And it is here where folks are at that I sit with them amid the anger, defeat, pain, and fear interrupting their lives. For in joining together in the dark, together we find a way out.

Though scary as hell, there is connection in brokenness and I have always found purpose, comfort, and place by entering into that space. This is likely due in part to the ways my life has been shaped. For I am a therapist, not because of the ease my life has afforded me, but rather the struggles God and others have helped me through which brought me to such work. I want to comfort by reflecting the comfort I have received, amid a life that seems desolate, destructive, and defeating.

And so my hope is to, in humility and my own limitations, provide space where others feel seen, heard, known, and supported—where they are encouraged and invited into new ways of interacting, relating, and being validated.

I acknowledge my bias that everyone should be in counseling, yet still hold tightly to the benefits it offers. There is such joy to have someone to celebrate the seemingly small changes that we work so hard to attain; changes that the world outside the walls of therapy might not acknowledge, yet impact us to the core. And the journey, oh the journey. The journey and hard work that no one can take away from you is a gift to both yourself and me.

So perhaps my lot is to come alongside and comfort in the darkness and deep. Though outcomes are always out of my hands and therapeutic work comes with ethical limits and guidelines, I am a Job comforter because of the peace I find being a part of the work. And as I eluded to earlier, I am certain there is more; there is definitely always more. But meeting folks in the present, in the midst of heartache, hurt, or hopelessness is a lot I am thankful to have been given.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

If you or someone you care about need a safe and confidential place to be heard and helped, please contact me and we can find a fit for someone to join in your story.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

This Christmas, while singing carols, this line stood out to me in a new and unusual manner. “The hopes and fears of all the years…” And while having heard it and sang it all the years of my life, it struck me with it’s opposing nature as the words escaped my lips. How can two seemingly opposite emotions and states of being be brought together? And how do we live in that place, year after year?

My DBT training has taught me well to live the tension of conflicting thoughts and feelings, and so perhaps for me, it is less about the “how do we do it,” and more about the “but do I have to…?” I don’t want to live this way, in the tension of hope and fear. I want to live freely in hope and hope alone. I want to let fear go—it not getting a place in my life outside of keeping me safe and alive. I don’t want to live scared that I may fail at this, might not get those, or may lose that.

Plainly put, I want to find hope that is certain and without the accompanying partner of fear.

Yet, as I sit writing at the start of 2018, I can quickly and easily think of many things in which I am both experiencing hope and its companion fear about for the coming year—hopes for my personal life, my professional life, my spiritual life. And as much as I think I can control my destiny, work hard enough, choose wisely, or make fewer mistakes, when all is said and done, I cannot control the outcome of many of my hopes and fears.

They simply are.

And so I must choose to accept the feelings that come. To live in peace during the holidays, the new year, and beyond, I must actively accept the hopes and fears that swirl into and around the reality I am living. Though I may prefer hope and must fight the urges fear suggests of hiding and setting hope aside, I deliberately welcome both instead of trying to pick one. While choosing fear might seem safer and keeps the heart more guarded, it isn’t, however, the way that leads to a true life worth living. And holding hope alone is near impossible given its uncertain nature. I must invite both, I must hold both, and I must grasp both with open hands.

Not to be overlooked, the ultimate understanding and acceptance of hopes and fears as conveyed in the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, points at the birth of Jesus. The hope realized and the fears assuaged, all were met together in Christ. And, Jesus, the anchor of hope that can bear the weight of my fears was not lost on me this Christmas. For when we have hope bigger than ourselves, our fears seem to shrink back and find their rightful size and place. This and this alone is where we tighten our grip and hold on for dear life. For it is here and Him that will see us through the hopes and fears of all the year.

As you begin 2018, I encourage you to see how you are letting hope in, holding fear loosely, and what anchor keeps you amid the two. What do you cling to when fear grows and consumes your heart? What do you clutch for the answer to your hopes? And is there space for the two to collide and coexist, hope and fear crashing into one another while you withstand the impact?

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

 

Holding Expectations with Open Hands

It’s the holiday season. A time of year that can bring with it an array of emotions and memories, hopes and disappointments, joys and longings. It can be hard to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps for the first time without a loved one lost over the past year to the battles of life. And it’s difficult to enjoy a Norman Rockwall season in the midst of estrangement, pain, or let down. We can all admit, even if we don’t want to, that holidays aren’t always easy.

Society seems too often sell us an idea of holiday spirit—of connection, of laughter, of gathering, of love. Immaculately decorated homes filled with the overflow of conversation. The scent of homemade traditions engaging our senses. The shared cooking, the loud stories, the new dessert, and the fireplace glow—we love this stuff! We connect. We laugh. We gather. We love.

It stirs in us because we were created for these.

Our hearts are moved by the expectation that this idea is what life is supposed to offer us. Reuniting with those who love us, sharing a good meal or two, and giving of time and resources—this is the stuff that moves and soothes the soul. It may be nostalgia, it may be our reality, or it may be a foolish desire, but we tend to become hopeful and expectant during this time of year.

And perhaps it is because this is how it is meant to be with expectations. We feel the mundane of the work week, basketball practice, preparing dinner, and the like. We want more from the days and from life in general. We want those things that make life richer and more enjoyable. We want and even expect happiness and ease, community and the picture-perfect Christmas. Yet few of us rarely get the total package and instead must make due with our family members in jail, our parents divorced, our kids struggling, our spouses angry, and our homes far from the magazine image.

There is so often a tension between what we want and what we have. A tension between the longing and expectation and our acceptance of reality has the potential to leave us with feeling frustrated, hurting, scared, and defeated. And so, too frequently we begin to shield ourselves from the expectations and hopes by simply letting go of them. We shift towards expecting the worst and living muted from anticipation.

However, to be true to ourselves, we must acknowledge and embrace the hope and longing. They are our life line and anchor, pulling us onward and holding us firm to rise once more and fight the good fight. Hope lights the way and expectation can motivate us toward the actions and behaviors that we ourselves become proud of.

It is in finding the balance between gripping expectations of things beyond our control and turning our back altogether on hopes and expectations that true freedom is found. Similar to an analogy I once heard about sand, the tighter we hold our expectations, the quicker they seep through our hands. Rather, we must learn to hold them with open hands, allowing them, and the metaphorical sand, the ability to simply be.

As you and yours head into the coming week of Christmas, I hope you might look at what expectations of the season, of gatherings, of family, of life, and of yourself that you are tightly gripping. I invite you to loosen your fingers while still keeping your palms up, not dismissing hope and expectation altogether. Allow for some space, for the middle to exist, and for the joy of a willing approach—willing to be surprised, willing to take care of your disappointments, willing to attend to your feelings, willing to embrace the small moments—this holiday season.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

For more by Lindsay, check out her weekly blog. And if this particular piece felt helpful, contact me today!