Author Archives: Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

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!

Feelings: Friend or Foe

There is this phrase that came out a few years ago. I still love it even though it is used all the time now. It’s popularity was helped by the .gif and meme phenomenon. My friends and I use it to refer to songs or stories. My husband describes the popular TV show This Is Us with the phrase as a way of gauging if he is up for watching it or not. And my clients often use it to describe our conversations or in hopes of avoiding other conversations. Simply put, this little phrase shows up everywhere.

All the feels. 

All the feels has become the common way to pluralize our experience and allow it to be more complete. It communicates to others some degree of weightiness impacting us one way or another. It’s the quick joke that can lighten the mood of a heavy conversation. It’s the short quip that conveys the impact of an event. And it’s the phrase that has given us permission to share more emotionally than in the past. With so many feelings, even all the feels, our connections and relationships with feelings surely has changed. Or have they?

Are feelings really any more of a thing we welcome and experience than they were in the past? Or do we still see them as a vulnerability, a weakness, and a burden?

In working on this blog, I googled quotes on feelings. The results were overwhelming and somewhat unapproachable. It seems that every author, every poet, most artists of any sort, not to mention countless therapists, religious figures, and pop culture icons, all have thoughts about feelings. What a funny sentence—thoughts about feelings. Perhaps they are also expressed as feelings about feelings. But more on that at a later time.

No matter what, feelings are a shared and unavoidable phenomenon. Feelings happen as life happens. The argument of which comes first, thoughts or feelings, similar to the chicken or the egg conversation, exists in the therapy world, but that is not the debate of this platform. Here, rather, I invite us to look at our thoughts on feelings. What do you believe about feelings? Are feelings friendly, informative, even helpful? Or are they foolish, stupid, and maybe our foe?

One of my favorite therapy exercises with clients is one in which I process with them their relationship to their emotions; in essence, how do they get along with their feelings. It is often revealing as a question that many have never considered. Yet, we all have a way of relating to our feelings. On any given day I have clients who obey their feelings to a tee, listening to their every whim and worry, and then others who despise their feelings and pretending they don’t have them, bury them into the depths of their core. Some embrace all the feels and some loathe all the feels. I don’t believe any one of these is more “right” than the other, and in fact, they both have their pros and cons. But perhaps even before how we relate to our feelings, we first have to look at some of our thoughts, and feelings, about feelings.

I found a few quotes from folks current and historical that embody so much of what I hear others say about emotions. As you read these, see what internal responses are happening in you. Do you agree or disagree? Are you annoyed or in favor of how these folks articulate the relationship we have with feelings? After reading these quotes, I invite you to pause a moment and think about one belief you have about feelings that impacts and informs the way you interact with them in both yourself and others.

Author, researcher, and Ph.D., Brene Brown states, “All the stuff that keeps you safe from feeling scary emotions? They also keep you from feeling the good emotions. You have to shake those off. You have to become vulnerable.

In his work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde writes, “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.

UCLA psychiatrist and author, Judith Orloff suggests, “How you react emotionally is a choice in any situation.

And Anne Frank penned in her diary,But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.

Most likely your beliefs originated in childhood and/or are based on impactful experiences you’ve had throughout your life. As experiential beings, feelings are vivid and real and can impact us for a lifetime. Biologically speaking, feelings occur in our brainstem, deep in the reptilian part of our brain that is essential to survival—think flight, fight, or freeze.  And one of the fascinating things about this part of our brain, as it relates to feelings, is it has no sense of time. It doesn’t know the threat of a large dog when you are a child apart from the threat of the barista getting your order wrong when you are running late to work. It isn’t meant to give us logical information, it is meant to give us information about survival, threat, values, and the like.

What we do with this information our feelings are communicating, and in a lot of ways, what we were taught about this information, often gives way to our current way of relating to our emotions. We hate them, we love them, we express them, we bury them, we try to turn certain ones off, we avoid others at all costs—this is the way with all the feels. And while I don’t agree with all the above quotes, I think they certainly capture a great deal of the way many of us relate to feelings.

It would take a great deal longer and many more words to fully unpack our relationship with feelings, but I want to leave you thinking about your relationship with them. And I want to propose a possibly new thought. What if emotions aren’t good or bad, friend or foe, but simply just are? They are a part of our experience. They have the potential to protect us or lead us into distress. They can be influenced but our experience of them is not fully in our control. Feelings come and go, they ebb and flow. They desire reaction and yet we have the ability to slow down and respond.

Maybe a hard sell to some, but I find myself on the friendly side of the feelings equation. They are there for a reason, and that reason isn’t our destruction! Life seems less colorful, passionate, and complete when emotions get pushed away. Feelings connect us, they serve us, they motivate us, and they ignite us. And yet, with all parts of our life, feelings must be in balance. They must rarely be given the reigns to completely control our decisions and behaviors. They are not the enemy, but they are also not the king.

I hope to have given you food for thought this blog. We each are continually navigating and working on all our relationships, our personal relationship with feelings included. I conclude with this quote from my beloved author C.S. Lewis, who I believe captures the essence of a balanced approach to allowing feelings a unique place at our table while also a suggesting a specific route in which they are to be engaged.

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”
― C.S. Lewis

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

Let’s talk about your relationship with feelings!

Do Unto Others

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The Golden Rule; it is plastered around elementary schools and rooted into our psyche with the hope of encouraging interactions with one another that honor, respect, and serve. Ideally, if we can just think about how we would like others to view and treat us, then maybe we will do the same to them. It’s a win for everyone and serves as a subtle reminder of general behavior expectations for children, adolescents, and adults.

Yet what if the Golden Rule is also for ourselves and not just how we treat others?

It’s fair to say that a great deal of us want others to give us the benefit of the doubt, encourage us, allow for our mistakes and do-overs, and genuinely think the best of us. We’d like others to be kind to us, to assume we are trying our hardest, and that our intentions are pure. A lot of us fight for this in friendships, workplaces, and marriages and we may eve debate leaving them if we don’t get this sort of treatment. In short, perhaps we want others to treat us the way we wished we treated ourselves.

So what if we did? What if we gave ourselves the grace that is the essence and driving force of the Golden Rule?

I invite you to examine the ways in which you are treating yourself and if they are anything like the ways in which you treat others? Would you say the things to friends that you say to yourself when you make mistakes? Would you call your spouse the name you call yourself when you are disappointed in your abilities? Would you tell your co-workers the things you tell yourself about your work and production?

If your answer is no, never, or no way, that’s a great starting place. Think of the mercy you freely extend to those you love and care for. How can you extend this to yourself? Maybe it’s creating a postcard to reminding you to love and accept yourself. It might be journaling an affirmation a day about something positive you embody. Or, perhaps it is finding just one of your sticky negative self-talk statements and becoming intentional about challenging and changing it over the coming weeks.

And as I offer up this invitation, I am also fully aware that some of us will answer with an emphatic yes. Yes, I would treat others the way I treat myself. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, either way, the heart of the matter is still important. If treating them kindly, then I applaud you and the way you treat yourself and others. If less so, consider asking yourself the following: Are you ok with treating others in ways that you have experienced? Are these interactions with self and others wounding, discouraging, and hurtful or uplifting, encouraging, and merciful? Does it serve you to be demanding of yourself or others? Is it the kind of man or woman you want to be?

Do unto others and do unto yourself.

And so if you desire to treat yourself and/or others differently, I encourage you to start by learning to let go of judgment. Let go of labels and ineffective interpretations and make way for more factual information. Sticking with the facts of what we observe, both inside and outside of ourselves, helps us to see what we are working with and on—in this moment, regarding this situation, and with these circumstances.

It is here, in the light of what is actually happening, be it a success or failure, an accomplishment or mistake, that we can choose how to treat ourselves. You can let go of being this or that and allow yourself to merely experience it instead. You can allow yourself to either separate from your latest performance or become enslaved by it. It is here, in the reatlity of an individual situation, that you can choose to be kind in your thoughts, be gracious in your feelings, and be encouraging in your actions—both to yourself and to others.

Go forth. Do unto others as you’d want to be done to you. And make sure both are in line with the values you hold to and the person you want to be.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Curious about how to live this way? Contact me!

Alone With Myself

The busyness of life can make it easy to avoid being alone with yourself. Everything from errands to emails and carpools to committees keeps our time locked up. iPhones and Instagram give us the freedom to search and scan anyplace and allow for us to numb our own thoughts and experiences. We put music in our ears and videos in front of our eyes, entering into the noise that tunes out our own thoughts, emotions, and inner experiences. We never have to be bored and if we are not interested in something or someone, we simply tune in to tune out.

But, what is the cost of tuning out ourselves?

What happens when we forget to practice knowing, listening, and caring for ourselves is an unsettling thought. The risk of being disconnected and distracted from the one relationship we will always be a part of is significant. Self-awareness is subpar. Creativity is compromised. Self-soothing is sacrificed. Interdependence is irrelevant. And awareness is absent.

Like any relationship, to learn and know the other, we must spend time together. We learn ourselves in this same way. We spend time in thought, learning about where our mind takes us–what ideas it brings up, what stories it tells us, and what it longs to know more of. We spend time in emotion, noticing what information our feelings are giving us and how they are hoping to serve us best. And with time we become curious and responsive to our feelings rather than avoidant and reactive.

“Truly transformational knowledge is always personal, never merely objective. It involves knowing of, not merely knowing about. And it is always relational. It grows out of a relationship to the object that is known—whether this is God or one’s self.”

―David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

As Benner writes, and I echo, “knowing of” is different than knowing “about,” or knowing facts about oneself. You can know you don’t like eggplant, classic rock, or math. Knowing of though, knowing of is knowledge about your identity. It is the backdrop to what makes you tick and how you know your worth. It’s the awareness of your comfort with certain ideas and fear around others. It’s the weight of resting in your abilities and limitations. It’s the why behind your preference of ideas and information that resonate in your head and heart.

Knowing of oneself is the beautifully messy practice of being seen by yourself, faults and all, and learning yourself. It’s going deeper into your needs and wants, stretching yourself in acknowledging the parts of you that create discontentment, and making peace through acceptance and love for the unique way in which you are you. It is learning to be ok with you, and maybe even learning to like you, not in spite of your humanness, but alongside it.

This isn’t an excuse to stay stuck or ineffective. Rather, an honest acceptance of where you are and what you are doing, effective or not, that gives grace to your faults and less desirable parts.  This self-given grace gives way to growth and change. It cannot help but give birth to ideas, talents, and passions. As you learn the ways in which you best learn, grow, connect, and soothe, you move towards goals, values, and contentment.

As the temptation towards busy arises within you this coming month, I encourage you to take time alone. Absorb the silence on an early morning run, letting your mind and heart connect. Pause over a cup of coffee, no agenda or technology, simply noticing those around you. Make space to learn yourself by experiencing yourself without distraction or easy ways of disconnecting. Learn to be alone with yourself and learn to be in the best relationship with the one person who will be with you the rest of your life.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Feel like this connected with you? Give me a call!

 

 

Worth Some Pain

Have you ever gotten a really good massage? You know, the ones that leave you a little sore the next day and even hurt a little in the midst of receiving. The massage therapist pushes on muscles that have been under or overworked and you breathe deeply to take your mind off the soreness radiating from the tissue deep within. Sometimes it tickles, sometimes you tense up, and sometimes it simply feels on fire. Your body releases tension and toxins, and slowly but surely your body relaxes and realigns.

This may sound terrible to some of you, and that’s fair, but I invite you to stick around and keep reading. It is true, this kind of massage is not for everyone. It certainly may not be the relaxing experience that you had imagined for a day at the spa. The deep tissue work that hurts can be too much for some people and they happily prefer, and are most content, with a Swedish massage. Perhaps you even think pain is a waste of money when calm unwinding is on the agenda. And in the realm of massage, this is fine and good.

But what about the rest of your life? Are there places you avoid pain and this avoidance also keeps you from relief, joy, perhaps even freedom?

There are things in every part of our lives that require a bit of pain to reach the goodness and enjoyment on the other side. Be this getting into an exercise routine, working out the pain of your marriage, learning guitar, even going to the dentist. Our muscles are sore from lifting weights, our hearts are tender as we try new ways of interacting with our spouse, our fingers hurt and our frustrations high as we strum a guitar for the first time, and our mouth poked at, maybe even bleeding, as the dentist assures the health of our gums and teeth.

We learn to withstand these things because we trust they are ultimately for our good or things we want. We accept the temporary pain and make peace with it. What seems like a terribly uncomfortable experience actually leads us to a greater joy. And yet these experiential learning labs don’t necessarily transfer to the emotional side of our life. When the possibility of feelings of rejection or insignificance arise, we dodge and manipulate with the best of them. Why do so many of us actively avoid pain?

Because it hurts.

And that’s the point.

Not all hurt is equal and not all hurt is bad. Our relationship with pain is of utmost importance because pain usually accompanies growth. The saying “pain is temporary” couldn’t be truer and our mindset around our ability to tolerate the temporary nature of pain must be strengthened. 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.

This is not a call to run haphazardly into foolish relationships and unsafe experiences. Pain will find us; we do not need to run head on into it. However, it is an invitation to 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. We are not given the choice of pain or no pain, and yet we are given the complete ability in how to respond. Our journey is how we respond. Our growth is how we allow for and dare I say, embrace, the pain that comes our way.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

For more on creating a new relationship with pain, email me.